Next to "Off with His Head!", snapping a person's neck is one of the surest ways to kill someone in media.
Typical procedure: Alice stalks Bob. Catching him unawares, Alice grabs Bob's chin with one hand and his opposite temple with the other. Bob just has time enough for his eyes to go wide with the realization of how screwed he is when Alice wrenches his head to the side with a hideous cracking of bone. Bob is always killed instantly and usually with his eyes open. Sometimes Alice appears to put in an effort (or has superpowers or something) but often is remarkably blase about it.
Note that in Real Life, it takes a considerable amount of strength and/or training to snap a person's neck 1 Go ahead and (carefully) check your own neck - it takes considerable effort to turn your own head past its normal stopping point. The human spine is not to be trifled with! People who actually suffer broken necks tend to have had very hard trauma from falling or a car accident., especially if the character getting it snapped is considerably big and strong. It's possible if you know where to grab and twist, and can pin your opponent to get leverage.
Also note that in Real Life nothing dies instantly from a fractured neck unless it sends vertebrae fragments into, or contorts, the brain-stem in such a way as to shut down all lower brain functions. A broken neck is no guarantee of a "silent kill" either as, if the aforementioned brain-stem damage is not inflicted, all you are left with is a quadriplegic victim, dying, but not yet dead, and still able to speak and scream.
The frequency of this in film and TV is possibly because it offers a fairly brutal way of killing someone without having to use or show any blood.
As a Death Trope, expect spoilers.
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Kirika snaps a man's neck using his own tie and a fall down an elevator shaft in the first episode of Noir.
Balalaika, in a truly ruthless and Badass moment from Black Lagoon, snaps the neck of the leader of the Washimine group in one of the final episodes of the anime.
Cowboy Bebop episode "Boogie Woogie Feng Shui". Jet snaps the neck of a syndicate goon after interrogating him. The offhand, blase manner discussed in the trope description is justified here — Jet uses his cybernetic arm. In a later Jet-centered episode we learn that his cybernetic arm is no more stronger or more resilient than any other human arm (although he has little to no feeling in it). He's just that Badass.
This is subverted in the Tournament Saga: Videl apparently snaps Spopovich's neck in self defense when it was becoming apparent that he is trying to kill her, and nearly gets herself disqualified as a result, but then he not only revives himself, but even spins his neck back into place in the most disturbing way possible.
In Naruto, Tobi does this quite nonchalantly (though seeming somewhat pissed off because he was annoyed by something else) to one of two men he captured when told a techniques demonstration required a live subject and a dead subject.
Subverted with Nicholas's death in Cyborg 009, since he gets this done to him via Telekinesis. (And considering how it was done, he likely had had all of his limbs snapped at once, not just his neck.)
In Fate/Zero, Kiritsugu kills his wife Irisviel (or rather, a representation of the Holy Grail in her form) in this manner.
Though she seems to prefer going for the spine, Nico Robin of One Piece certainly isn't above doing this when she feels like it. Even worse, she has powers that allow her to make copies of her limbs appear on surfaces up to a fair distance away, meaning she doesn't actually have to physically be anywhere near the person she's doing it to.
In A Certain Scientific Railgun, there's the Dorm Supervisor, who punishes people this way while somehow not killing them. She's snapped Kuroko's neck at least twice and Mikoto's at least once. She's actually scary enough that at least two level fives fear her.
In "The Warrior Princess", an arc of the X-Wing Series comics, there is a resistance movement fighting an Imperial presence, one of the members is captured, strapped into a chair, and tortured. Then the beloved leader of the resistance walks in, tells him that he'd done well and will be sent home and set free, and then gets behind him and breaks his neck. Then he makes out with the head of the local Imperial forces in front of the dead man's staring eyes. ...As it turns out, the leader of the resistance is secretly evil!
Green Lantern: Hal Jordan kills Sinestro by breaking his neck. Sinestro recovered.
The Kingpin made his final ascent to power when he snapped the neck of his boss, Don Rigoletto.
The Authority: Killer cyborg Seth does this to Midnighter. It has no effect.
Spider-Man: This is how Gwen Stacy died. The shock of being stopped so abruptly by the web line attached to her foot broke her neck.
Darth Vader is ambushed by a group of Jedi in an EU comic. One of them is properly prepared for the fight (she was the only one who knew that it was coming, having lured the rest to the meeting area under false pretenses), and disables his lightsaber before going in for the kill. He proves in an instant with this trope that he doesn't need a lightsaber to kill.
Colossus from the X-Men angrily kills Riptide this way during the extremely dark Mutant Massacre storyline.
Some characters in Ace Combat The Equestrian War die this way, though the neck-breaks usually happen from impacts of punches and kicks in an all out fight, rather than a stealth attack.
Subverted in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fic Xenophilia: after several ponies suffer a bad case of Bullying a Dragon, Lyra Heartstrings grabs one of the attackers with telekinesis and it looks like she killed her. However, it turns out she knocked her out with a sleep spell and only jerked her head a bit to make it perfectly clear that she could have.
In chapter seven of Bait and Switch, Crewman Cdebaat, a Tellarite redshirt attached to Eleya's away team, gets his neck broken by an Orion matron who manages to get the drop on him with a stealth module.
Much like in the comic it's based off of, the second part of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns has Batman decide that he's done playing around and snap The Joker's neck, rendering him paralysed without killing him. The Joker, satisfied that he finally made Batman lose control, finishes the job himself by snapping his own neck completely, killing himself and making sure that Batman would be hunted down by the police for supposedly killing him.
Gimli does this to an orc in the movie version of The Two Towers. Gimli's version is exceptionally badass in that he does it with one hand while facing the orc and while trapped under a huge corpse.
Aragorn does too during the Battle of Pelennor Fields in Return of the King.
Varla snaps a man's neck during a fight in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! At least that was during a knock-down, drag-out fight though. She uses her entire body, and it takes her several seconds to accomplish.
During John McClane's first brawl in Die Hard, he does this to a guy by putting him in a choke-hold and falling down the stairs with him. Missing the usual "walnut-snapping" sound effect.
Darth Vader appears to crush a Rebel ship captain's spine while strangling him in A New Hope, but that's not a typical example, as it wasn't exactly a surprise, and he has super-robot-strength arms.
A Spinosaurus kills a Tyrannosaurus this way in their laughably bloodless battle in Jurassic Park III. Same sound effect even. One of the raptors also performs this trick on the last remaining mercenary.
In Commando, John Matrix snaps the neck of one of Arius's henchmen while aboard a plane (differing slightly as the said henchman is knocked out first). This leads to the immortal line, "Do not disturb my friend, he is dead tired."
Arnie again: Douglas Quaid pulls off a sickening neck snap in the original Total Recall (1990) when he is first ambushed by the Big Bad's goons after he leaves Rekall.
Arnie once more in True Lies. Bonus points for being performed while hanging upside down using only his legs to hold onto a rope.
In Clear and Present Danger, the drug lord's right hand man Felix kills his lover/informant Moira by breaking her neck while they're making out.
In The Long Kiss Goodnight, amnesiac Samantha hits a stag and crashes her car. In the aftermath, she finds the deer bleeding to death and snaps its neck to put it out of its misery. Then she wonders How did Ido that?
Borderline example in the Elektra film, where a ninja mook snaps his own neck, just by turning the head very fast.
The Avengers (1998). Mrs. Peel's clone does it to a Prospero Project Lab staff member while breaking into the facility.
In The Grudge, this is how Kayako is murdered by her husband, thus starting the curse. In the sequel, this is also how Aubrey and Doctor Sullivan meet their ends.
In Kung Fu Hustle, the uber-martial-artist known as the Beast becomes annoyed at the prattling of the mob boss who's hired him and gives him an irritated backhand that causes his head to twist around at least 720 degrees. The Beast runs the mob from that point onward.
Subverted in Jason X. Jason-fucking-Voorhees snaps someone's neck, not quickly, but slowly, and having to use all of both arms. Kane Hodder (Jason's actor) clarifies that script called for him to go for the quick snap, but decided that such a kill was So Last Season and instead convinced the director and writer to go with the slow kill instead.
In the first Resident Evil, Rain Ocampo does it to a zombie attacking her and Alice does it repeatedly to zombies with kicks (including multiple dogs) and one Murderous Thighs attack.
Chuck Norris dispatches three or four Vietnamese soldiers this way in the third Missing in Action film. Somewhat unusually, it's used for stealth kills.
In Kiss of the Dragon Jet Li's character disposes of a pair of sadistic martial artists with a pair of neck snaps but with unorthodox methods. The first he catches in the middle of a flip and forces him head-first into the floor, and the second he finishes with a brutal roundhouse kick to the head while the guy is on his knees.
The Annihilators from 1984 has a rather bad example, with the character simply grabbing an enemy soldier in a headlock and lightly squeezing and pushing his head to the side with his palm, with the soldier's head falling limp with a popping sound effect.
Kable kills Hackman this way in Gamer. He has to do it twice before Hackman finally dies.
Cato does this to one of the other tributes in The Hunger Games after Katniss succeeds in blowing up all the food the career tributes had hoarded. It's not terribly convincing, but they are minors acting and adding a crunching sound effect would have pushed the films rating up from PG-13.
In The Raid this is how Mad Dog finishes off Jaka.
A rather interesting variation occurs in Prometheus in which not only does the Last Engineer use this on David but also decapitates him. However at the same time it's subverted as being an android, David's head is still able to function, though he needs Shaw to carry him out of the ship.
In End of Days, Satan kills a guy by grabbing his head at twisting it 180 degrees.
In the 1929 film version of The Desert Song, General Birabeau grabs Azuri by the neck.
In the made-for-video B-movie Airline Disaster, Agent Vitale snaps a female hijacker's neck. A rare example that suggests that a) it takes effort and b) it actually hurts the person being killed.
RoboCop 2. When Cain (in his Robocop 2 robot body) meets Angie in the warehouse, he grabs her head and breaks her neck, then does a Neck Lift on her body.
Unbreakable. David Dunn uses this technique during his climatic confrontation with the orange-clad janitor/serial killer/kidnapper. It's justified, since David is explicitly superhuman and is implied to have well above average physical strength. Even so, he only pulls it off after putting the janitor in a chokehold for over thirty seconds straight and forcing the guy to tire himself out. In addition, it takes him multiple attempts to finally snap the neck cleanly, thus ending the fight. The scene in question can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-waJsBs0eBQ
A yakuza thug captured by the heroes snaps his own neck to avoid being interrogated.
Kenner also breaks a mook's neck during Minako's rescue at the boss's mansion.
A telekinetic does this to a cop in Momentum with a simple wave of the hand. Given that they are shown to be able to break open bank vaults with their minds, this is justified.
One of the primary methods used by the wrestlers in Pro Wrestlers Vs Zombies to kill the zombies, always from a sleeper hold. In particular Shane Douglas does one after another to his zombified family, giving him a chance to whisper agonized goodbyes before snapping their necks.
In Blue Jasmine, Jasmine's husband Hal committed suicide in prison by hanging himself. Jasmine's listeners think it must have been horrible to suffocate to death, but she enlightens them that hanging actually kills you by neck snap.
Happens at least three times in Tank Girl: Tank Girl to a Water and Power trooper after offering him an "oil change"; a Ripper to a W&P trooper during the attack that freed Tank Girl, and a Ripper to a W&P trooper during the attack on the W&P fortress.
Done realistically in The American. George Clooney's character runs a rival hitman off the road, then grabs his head as he leans out the window to shoot him, using his weight to break the man's neck over the car door.
In the David Palmer novel Emergence, Candy Smith-Foster (an eleven-year old girl) kills an enemy agent by pretending to cry, then snapping his neck when he hugs her. (She is a black belt with the ability to access greater-than-normal strength, and they're in free-fall in an orbiting spacecraft at the time.)
Happens by accident in the Honor Harrington novel The Shadow of Saganami, when an arms dealer supplying anti-Manticoran terrorists makes a desperate, ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent one of his fellow crew members from firing on a RMN shuttle coming to board the dealer's ship, after sensor readings by the Hexapuma showed that the dealer was running under false transponder codes. Done deliberately in Flag in Exile by an assassin sent to kill Honor on a guard.
Near the end of The Last Argument of Kings, Frost does this to a maimed and tearful Severard. Both turn out to have been informing on Glokta, though he at first didn't realize that Frost was a traitor, too, and was seemingly going to let Severard live. Then the epiphany hits, and Frost silences Severard before going for Glokta.
George R. R. Martin's Haviland Tuf short story "A Beast for Norn". During a fight between a strangling ape and an ironfang, the ape kills the ironfang by breaking its neck.
In Sharpe's Trafalgar, the eponymous hero proves his Badass nature by deliberately snapping the neck of a man trying to blackmail him. He does note it took a lot of effort.
Walter and Phyllis kill her husband Herbert this way in Double Indemnity. Since The Hays Code was in place at the time, it is not shown on-screen in the film.
In the final duel between Corwin and Strygldwyr in The Guns of Avalon the combatants end up grappling, and each tries to do this to the other. Corwin succeeds, if only barely.
In The War of the Ancients novel trilogy, Archimonde kills Malorne this way, who was trying to protect his son Cenarius. To his credit, it still took considerable effort, despite Archimonde being a giant demon. Malorne was no pushover either.
Suggested in the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Traitor General: When Brostin is a bit too careless in his stealth, MkVenner oh-so-gently places his palm on the other guy's neck. We're not told how Ven's going to do it, but considering that this is one of the most badass guys in an already badass regiment, Brostin wisely decides not to press his luck.
Appears and is discussed in Term Limits. After a Senator gets his neck broken by an assassin, a soldier comments that the one time he tried to do that in the field, he failed miserably and had to cut the man's throat instead. The fact that people with the strength and skill needed to break a man's neck with one's bare hands is so rare helps point to the discovery that the killers were ex-US Special Forces.
In the Noughts & Crosses series, Jude, as general of the Liberation Militia, does this to a subordinate who has betrayed them. He does this one handed, by jerking her upwards while he was standing behind her chair and she was turning to look up at him. He is a fit, strong man, the attack came totally by surprise, and one might suspect that her neck might be less muscled and more fragile than the normal victims of this trope, so it's difficult to tell how realistic this example is.
In His Dark Materials, Will Parry accidentally kills a man who invaded his house by pushing him away, resulting in the man tripping over Will's cat, falling down the stairs and hitting a piece of furniture, bending his neck at a twisted angle. What Do You Mean, It's for Kids??!
In The Hunger Games, Cato does this to the boy from District 3 in a fit of rage after Katniss set off a chain reaction with the landmines surrounding the Careers' food supplies, destroying all the food.
Angel uses this trope SOOO much. There are so many times that this is how Angel and co. dispose of pretty much every one of their enemies. In order of most common cause of death: Neck snapping is number one, with shot to death (by bullet or arrows) in a close second, followed by decapitation. No, but really. It's so common, it could be used as a drinking game. Angel especially has used this on demonic entities more than anyone else. He also used it to kill Marcus Hamilton (albeit just by punching him in the face really hard) and Drogyn in the series finale. Angelus mentioned when he killed Jenny Calendar with one that he never gets tired of doing it. Maybe Angel just got into the habit.
It was also used as a diversion once-Angel got into the Scourge by snapping Doyle's neck. But, it turns out Bracken demons can survive a neck snap, and Doyle stands up after Angel leaves and pulls his neck back into place.
In an especially jarring example, Captain Crais does this to a subordinate ONE-HANDED. C'mon, the guy has some training but he's not exactly a ninja.
The subordinate's head also barely moves a few degrees. There's no way Sebacean necks are so fragile. They're supposed to be genetically-engineered Super Soldiers.
Scorpius also managed a one-handed Neck Snap in the fourth season, but then again, Scorpius is much stronger than the average Sebacean.
Aeryn snaps several necks too throughout the series. Clearly it is the Peacekeepers' favored close-up method of killing.
In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Journey to Babel", an Orion spy breaks the neck of the Tellarite Ambassador using the Vulcan execution technique tal-shaya in order to frame Ambassador Sarek for the crime.
In an episode, Quark asks Garak to kill him, and Garak demonstrates various methods he could use on the holosuite. One of these is sneaking up on holo-Quark and performing this maneuver, leading the real Quark to lampshade this trope by exclaiming, "Did you hear that sound? Of bones snapping? I don't want that to be the last thing I hear!"
In one of the more memorable Deep Space Nine scenes, Weyoun taunts Ezri Dax with some personal information he got during her Mind Probe interrogation, forgetting that he's standing next to Worf who promptly breaks his neck.
In "Hard Time", O'Brien killed his cellmate this way.
In "To the Death", a Jem'Hadar "First" snaps the neck of his "Second" for insubordination. The main point the producers wanted to get across with that was that the Jem'Hadar are far less sympathetic than prior Trek antagonists....
The Jem'Hadar First is visibly angry that Sisko doesn't discipline Worf in this manner.
After his attempt to turn in Simon and River for the reward money goes wrong in "Ariel" and he gets arrested right along with them, Jayne decides to get the two out of there and kills one of the two Feds holding them in their cell by snapping his neck while handcuffed (though it takes some doing), giving Simon the opportunity to disable the other one.
In "Bushwhacked," Mal also uses his handcuffs to snap the neck of the settler-turned-Reaver who is trying to kill the Alliance officer at the end of the episode.
Number Six does this to a Caprican baby in the opening few minutes of the pilot by reaching into the stroller and twisting when the mother isn't looking. Justified in that babies' necks are ridiculously easy to break.
Appears to be the preferred unarmed killing technique of Cylons. Of course they are stronger than humans. Examples include Caprica killing Boomer when the latter threatened Hera, Gina killing the guard outside her cell, and Boomer killing a Simon in the Grand Finale.
If Steven Seagal appears in Mad TV, someone is about to get a neck broken. Likewise in a lot of his movies.
While it's not done by another person, on Big Love, Kathy Marquardt's neck is snapped when she crashes a truck with her braid stuck in the door.
Jack recommends doing this to the Master in "The Sound of Drums".
The Weeping Angels turn out to be very fond of this in Series 5. It quickly replaced the "trapping victims in the past" method from Blink, likely to avoid villain decay (since that's easy to undo with a TARDIS). The Doctor tried to explain this as an exception since they needed the body or soul to talk, but they go on doing it after creating "Angel Bob". Of course, sending people to the past is a way to feed, and they already get enough power from draining the ship's engines.
Kings does something very similar to The Long Kiss Goodnight when Silas, driving alone and angry in the country at night, hits a deer, then gets out of the car and snaps its neck with his bare hands. Of course, since this is Kings, this is all very symbolic and there is an awesome monologue first.
Most bad guys in Supernatural prefer this method of killing someone, with demons usually doing it with Telekinesis. Since it's mostly supernatural beings, the ease with which the neck breaks is justified. Most notably, this is how Lucifer eventually kills Dean in an alternate future.
One of JD's fantasies on Scrubs involved his faking his own death and setting up an elaborate funeral solely so that Dr. Cox would hug him. When fantasy-Cox learns this, he snaps JD's neck. "Worth It!"
In Dark Angel, Max (Jessica Alba) snaps Terrance's neck in the episode Prodigy (Season 1, Episode 7). In Pollo Loco she mercy-kills her serial killer 'brother' Ben in the same way; he, in turn, had been snapping the necks of his victims.
Torchwood: Miracle Day episode 2 ("Rendition") has a suitably bizarre example where Rex neck snaps a bad-girl CIA agent. In keeping with the theme of the series, however, she doesn't die and later tries to attack Rex while looking like Meryl Streep from Death Becomes Her. Further neck-snapping goodness occurs during the Miracle Day finale, too.
The 2000s TV version of Sheena often featured the heroine dispatching bad guys this way, usually after morphing into a monster.
The remake of Hawaii Five-0 has an episode in which Kono does this to a mook.
In the Season 1 Andromeda episode "A Rose in the Ashes", the prison warden does a one-handed neck-snap to a revolting inmate. Justified, in that the warden is an android.
Also, the inmate is able to still talk for a minute before expiring.
This is discussed and demonstrated in an episode of NCIS.
Actually, it's been demonstrated at least twice now, first on DiNozzo and then on McGee. In both cases, it was Gibbs providing the demo with the "victim" not really wanting to participate.
In the miniseries Masada, one of the Zealots breaks a Roman soldier's neck by placing the palms of his hands on each of the victim's cheeks and twisting?!
CSI NY has an ep where the victim was killed by a man who was a martial arts expert-he used a single blow to snap the vic's neck from behind.
The Salvatore Brothers and other vampires in The Vampire Diaries use it all the time, very often against each other. justified because in this series, vampires are supposed to be super strong, but still, Death is Cheap when this does not kill them. (It does kill the humans, though).
Jeremy has his neck snapped by Silas, the original vampire, after the latter feeds on him, though whether it was this or the massive blood loss that killed him is unclear.
Beautifully subverted in True Blood, in which Sarah Newlin — an ordinary human with no combat training in a world full of vampires — attempts the classic twist-from-behind on an unsuspecting woman, who is very confused as to what is going on. Then Sarah beats her to death with a shoe.
Happens a number of times in various The Outer Limits episodes. One episode involves a suspect snapping her own neck to avoid being questioned. Slightly justified because she was a mutant with enhanced strength. It's also possible that the same mutation also weakened her neck. Another episode starts with a frail-looking woman having sex with a man and then snapping his neck afterwards. Actually, his neck comes off revealing him to be an android. She's an android too. This was a test of a Mata Hari-type Killer Robot, so her strength is justified.
Arrow: pretty much Oliver's preferred method of killing other than his bow.
In Ivy's (banned) "Temptation of Sonata" music video, as a reenactment of Tifa and Loz's fight in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Tifa's victory involved a necksnap on Loz. It ended up banned due to her essentially infringing on copyrights.
There are youtube videos demonstrating the proper technique, many of them overemphasizing the danger of the neck snap, since it's already both extremely dangerous and relatively simple to perform. The videos often come under fire for potentially inciting violent behavior that could either be justified by or hidden under the label of "self-defence". The matter is hotly debated.
Call of Cthulhu supplement Fearful Passages, adventure "Sleigh Ride". One of the giganteus sneaks up behind Professor Chance and wrenches his neck with a sickening crack.
You can do this in GURPS as part of grappling, but you usually fail at the required rolls, unless you have high ST and/or points in the Neck Snap technique.
In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the Beadle, Judge Turpin's dragon, does this to the poor little bird that was Anthony's gift to Johanna in a quite cruel Kick the Dog moment before threatening Anthony with the same if he ever steps foot on their street again. In the non-musical version of the play by Christopher Bond that the musical was based on, Sweeney kills the Beadle by dropping him right down the chute with the chair in such a way as to break his neck upon landing, a nod to the way the original Sweeney murdered his customers in The String of Pearls.
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within lets you do this in combat if you only have one weapon, usually vaulting over the enemy, stunning it in the process and strangling it. If it's already critically wounded, you then disarm it and execute it Anakin-style with both your and its own weapon — otherwise you just take a long, long time twisting its neck which potentially makes you vulnerable to its friends.
At the end of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Zant apparently snaps his own neck to kill Ganon? It's not really clear. It obviously has something to do with the stated connection between Ganon and Zant, but what exactly it means isn't stated (though seeing as Zant does seem to consciously do it to himself, it could be thought that he is disillusioned with Ganon, knowing that he's not a god after all, and is taking him with him in death out of spite.)
In one early cutscene in Jade Empire, Master Li snaps a Lotus Assassin's neck by karate chopping it. It should be noted that his strength was sufficient to shatter a ship with a punch, so breaking someone's neck is really to be expected.
7 Days a Skeptic, game two of the Chzo Mythos. Particularly noteworthy for being the absolute sickest breaking sound (and therefore most effective breaking sequence in recent memory) despite the King's Quest-like graphics. Also shows up in 6 Days a Sacrifice when the tall man kills the clones.
Danette from Soul Nomad & the World Eaters constantly threatens to snap people's necks. When she actually does so at one point, she manages to surprise Gig, who had long since written it off as mere boasting.
This is how Shao Kahn kills Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat Annihilation and Kung Lao in Mortal Kombat 9.
Speaking of Mortal Kombat, snapping your opponent's neck is just one of the ways to finish off a "Kreate-A-Fatality" in Mortal Kombat Armageddon.
Heck, in two of the stances you can do this to an opponent without it being a finisher. So you could technically snap a neck 3 times in succession as the last 3 hits of your Fatality.
Havik can snap his own neck. To regenerate health. He is a freakish undead contortionist thing, so it makes sense. Kinda...
In the opening sequence of the Deadly Alliance, this is how Shang Tsung kills Liu Kang.
This is actually a rather popular way of finishing an opponent in the series; Hotaru and Tanya both twist an opponent's neck past the point where their head should even be attached (Hotaru with his bare hands, Tanya with her Murderous Thighs) while Quan Chi has a rather lame neck-stretching move in Deadly Alliance, and Scorpion himself has this as his Hara-Kiri and as the final blow for one of his fatalities in Deception. It's also starting to become customary to break a person's neck before ripping it off Sub-Zero style (or breaking the appropriate bones before dismembering them, if not specifically going for the head)
Mortal Kombat 4 also has several non-lethal neck snappers. Tanya, Sonya and Reptile all have a "bone breaker" move that makes them twist the opponent's neck 180 degrees before it snaps back into place.
Quan Chi has this as part of his X-Ray move in Mortal Kombat 9, but it's specially notable in that he's controlling the oponent, meaning he's making them snap their own neck.
In the Fight Club activity inside Saints Row 2, you must finish off your opponents in this way. It is portrayed as being rather difficult though, as it will later involve a lot of Button Mashingto kill, and it is done in a full rear chokehold like in Metal Gear Solid. This is also how human shields are disposed of when unarmed or equipped with a rocket launcher.
In Third, this is an optional way of disposing of human shields.
played straight in the optional "Kill Killbane" ending in Third, which is basically an interactive cutscene (his neck's a-breakin' regardless what happens). Regardless of the type of protagonist design (male, female, skinny, amazon) it takes some effort to break the neck, and it's rendered somewhat realistic by being done as a legitimate wrestling hold, but one taken to a lethal end.
Konoko does this in one of her more elaborate attacks. It involves running up to your opponent frontally, simultaneously grabbing them by the neck, jumping in the air and using your momentum to do a 360 spin kick, with the guy's neck as a pivot axis. Since his body only goes about 180, you get rewarded with a satisfying crack. Did I mention you can use it to knock down multiple opponents, if they are clustered together?
Muro (who can be controlled in certain levels with a cheat code) plays this one straight if you sneak up behind an opponent and use the default grapple.
In the original Metal Gear Solid, the quietest way to kill guards after you have snuck up on them is to snap their necks (although for some strange reason, the guards still seem to bleed after the move is successfully performed as if shot or hit with a killer punch/kick even though that shouldn't happen).
In the mercenaries minigame, HUNK's special move is the neck breaker...But it's quite noisy this time. Although it kills the target instantly, the mook will still shout out or sigh; on top of that, they'll bleed out of their mouths. Not sure whether that makes it more or less realistic.
When Chris or Jill performs a neckbreak in Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, they simply fall down silently. In Chris's case, they don't even try to resist and will simply stand straight up with their arms to their sides when grabbed.
As does Ibuki, which becomes a triple Neck Break when powered up.
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Hurricane Polimar's level 3 Hyper Combo caps off with him breaking the prone opponent's neck with a slight twist of his foot. It does quite a bit of damage, too.
A chokehold and neck snap are elements of one of Heihachi's basic throws in the Tekken series. However, as disgusting as it looks, opponents do not immediately die from it. Other characters in the Tekken series whose moves include neck snaps are: Feng, Christie, Lili and Zafina. King has one as the start of one of his most powerful combination throws, which also includes a suplex, power bomb, and piledriver.
In Shinobido, this is one of the more popular ways to kill someone with a stealth kill attack. Usually performed in midair (Goh will use his arms, Kinu her legs) or while hanging from a cliff (drag the victim down and break his/her neck). The other ways are usually bloodier (slicing throats and impaling with extreme prejudice).
In Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines a vampire with Obfuscate powers or simply some skill in stealth can do this to score an instant kill on an unsuspecting victim. And the trope is justified by the fact vampires are wicked strong.
In Gears of War 2, characters dispose of their human shields by doing this.
In the third game, the execution move for the Sawed-Off Shotgun has the player opening the loading catch, wrapping around the enemy's neck, and giving it a sharp twist, resulting in a broken neck accompanied by a spray of blood.
In The King of Fighters '98 Rugal (non-Omega) has the "Dead End Screamer" which in its SDM/MAX version starts with him snapping the opponent's neck with his feet.
Early on in Planescape: Torment, if your Dexterity score is high enough, you have the option to use this on anyone who stops you while trying to escape from the Mortuary. Things go better for you if you just bluff your way through, though.
The Big Bad of Baldur's Gate, Sarevok, shows his villain credentials in the opening when he uses his monstrous strength to crush an adult man's neck one-handed.
Despite putting guards in a headlock being his preferred way of dealing with them, it took until Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory for Sam Fisher to learn this trick, as the lethal variant on his new 'death from above' attacks.
The sequel retains the snap-after-choking, as well as an upgrade that replaces the garotte stealth kill, and is much faster. Oddly enough, though, it is executed by grabbing the victim with your garrote wire. For some reason, your character strangles them with the wire for a second or so, complete with distressed gurgling from the victim, then snaps their necks to kill them quicker.
In The Warriors, some of the bigger and stronger warriors will use this as their sneak attack if you come up behind an enemy from out of the shadows. The smaller guys usually stick to the karate chop to the neck routine.
One of the many ways of killing your enemies in Tenchu.
Seen A LOT in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Whenever you sneak up on an enemy with a melee attack, expect to see some necks broken, and a very satisfying snap. Also, in the online co-op modes, there are exclusive enemies that sneak up behind you, grab your neck, and attempt to snap it. If your buddies don't take him out in time, well, hope you've gotten used to hearing that snapping sound so much.
Also given a slight nod to realism, as when Nate breaks an opponent's neck, he's almost always putting his full body weight into the effort, either getting them on the ground first to abuse his leverage, or otherwise maneuvering them into a position in which he can exert a lot of pressure. They still die silently, though.
Thane Krios of Mass Effect 2 demonstrates this on one of his target's guards when you first encounter him. In fact, according to the Shadow Broker's dossier on him, it's his preferred assassination technique on any species including the krogan, who have necks like tree trunks. He needs a "running leaping spinning neck-snap" to get up enough momentum for that last one. However, half the time he'll just plant a bomb instead.
Shepard can perform one on a mouthy mercenary captain if a Renegade interrupt is taken during Miranda's loyalty mission. Shepard is fortunately both a trained combatant and a cyborg.
Basically the first thing you see Samara do on her recruitment mission is snap the neck of an Eclipse merc with her Combat Stilettos.
In the original game, Riordan does this to a mook to escape from a dungeon cell when you first meet him.
In Dragon Age II , Fenris does this first to a mook whom he was questioning after pinning him to the ground. Later he crushesDenarius' neck effortlessly with one hand after lifting him off the ground by it. It's justified; his tattoos grant him magical combat boosts.
In Fable III, one of the fancy counter animations when using a sword has you do a slo-mo forward flip over them. You snap their neck on the way over.
In the opening cinematic of Assassin's Creed: Revelations, the protagonist Ezio snaps a soldier's neck like a twig. Considering that he's a trained killer and pretty darn buff, it's reasonably believable.
Two different neck snaps are present as finishing moves in darkSector. One is fairly pedestrian, the other is an unusual and especially brutal variant where Hayden bends an enemy over backwards, places it in an upside down headlock and lifts up sharply, breaking the neck.
In Halo: Reach, there's an assassination animation that utilizes this trope for three enemies: the Grunts (in which the Spartan simply cups its head and twists), the Elites (the Spartan leaps on its back, grabs its snout and pulls), and other Spartans (the Spartan knocks his target on his/ her stomach, leans down, and casually twists the head).
Available as a melee attack in the reboot of Syndicate. You are an advanced cyborg, after all.
In Anarchy Reigns, the Rin sisters can do this if they grapple an someone from behind. They jump onto the enemy's shoulders and give the necks a good cracking. However it's generally not lethal unless said enemy has little health at that point.
Gary Stoneman in Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain uses this as a stealth assassination attack, and the main player character can learn it as well.
In Headhunter, protagonist Jack Wade does a swift, one-handed Neck Snap when doing a stealth kill from behind. He must have some impressive arm strength.
Bioshock Infinite. Booker can do this to human opponents with the Skyhook device. The game has him do a Neck Lift with the Skyhook on them first.
In Nidhogg, you can score a kill on a downed opponent this way if you attack them while standing near their head.
A difficult but high-scoring move in Tori Bash involves holding your opponent's head somewhere in the vicinity of your elbow and giving a good, hard twist. On 'softer' game modes, the neck joint will break and be rendered useless. On any game mode which involves dismemberment (including the default setting), it's a good way to messily decapitate someone.
One of the most popular Do-It-Yourself modding projects in Dwarf Fortress is to add these as a move in wrestling. It's as simple as going to the anatomy files, finding the neck, and adding the [JOINT] tag. From then on, you can snap a neck like it was an elbow or knee. Realistically enough, this isn't quite an instant kill, but still cripples instantly, while the actual kill is done by the ensuing asphyxiation.
In Yarudora series vol. 3: Sampaguita, Boy performs this on a mook guarding the enemy headquarters, in order to storm it with maximum surprise effect.
The technique is described in loving detail in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer webcomic, Pillars of Faith. Given Faith has Slayer strength, this is performed as a decapitation technique involving a double torque.
In Gnoph, Abbey dispatches a Mook this way early on, demonstrating her superhuman strength.
An imprisoned owlbear is incapacitated after going on a rampage against its cruel captors. Upon hearing that the creature will be kept alive and tortured, a fellow prisoner uses this method to give the owlbear a mercy kill.
In episode 7 of the Xiao Xiao series, the main character snaps a couple of mooks' necks, but it sounds less like a snap, and more like someone tapping a brick against a cookie jar.
Hilariously parodied in the Escapist webseries Doomsday Arcade. When Shanks and Lund have to break out of a prison, the guards' necks snap with the slightest twist. They even manage to snap their necks by touching them on the shoulder and staring at them.
Stan Smith does this several times in American Dad!. Stan, while being high on crack, kills a monkey this way (which wouldn't really be that hard). He also kills Jay Leno this way in a fit of anger.
Patrick Smith's short Delivery features two brothers fighting over a package. One of them eventually defeats the other by snapping his neck. And the box they were fighting over? Empty. According to Smith, it was a meant to be a rebuttal to all those Anvil On Head cartoons, saying that his character will die if one falls on them.
In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Asajj Ventress and her allied Nightsisters decide to test the loyalty of their newly-empowered minion, Savage Opress, by commanding him to kill his brother. Savage does so with a Neck Snap. (Not with a Force Choke Neck Lift, mind you, as is traditional in this universe—Opress has only an instinctual knowledge of the Force in this episode, and no formal training. He does it with his bare hands.)
Brock Sampson tries to walk a reluctant Hank Venture through this in "Ghosts of the Sargasso". Fortunately, Hank isn't strong enough to actually break any necks, but he does knock out a couple of the goons and ties them up, with bows.
Hank: And that'll knock him out... even more? Brock: That'll kill him.
In "Ice Station Impossible!" Hank, facing possible doom as a human bomb, asks Brock to kill him if the need comes.
Hank: How would you do it? Brock: You're asleep, quick jerk of the neck. Never feel a thing. Hank: You've thought about this! Brock: Yes, I have.
This is the intended result of long-drop hanging style of execution. It is actually very difficult to achieve, and that is the reason why hanging has been pretty much superceded by firing squads or, in the 21st century, lethal injection.
To give some perspective on how difficult it was to do the long-drop correctly, you had to calculate the length of the rope very carefully based on the weight of the convict. Too short and the neck wouldn't break and you had to wait for him to strangle to death. Too long and the force applied to the neck would be so great that...well, the best outcome was a snapped rope. The worst outcome was a total decapitation. More than a few hangings were botched in this way, such as Black Jack Ketchum, and there have been several judicial hangings in Iraq (not Saddam Hussein) where this has happened.
Killing someone instantly like this in real life is possible, but completely impractical. You need to put one hand on the top of their head and the other on their chin, then wrench their head down to their shoulder while twisting the head to the side in the opposite direction. It doesn't actually snap their neck, but rather damages the nerves in their spinal cord in such a way that they stop breathing and collapse instantly. It is disturbingly easy to find how-to self defence videos on YouTube demonstrating how to kill people this way.