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Pretty Little Headshots
Spider-Mannote  and his assistantnote  demonstrating the new and improved Uncle Lee's No Mess Bullets!

And the men of the First Shikaris
Picked up their Subaltern dead,
With a big blue mark in his forehead
And the back blown out of his head.
Rudyard Kipling, The Grave of the Hundred Head

Whenever someone gets shot in the head on TV, what generally happens is that they end up with a little hole in their head - and that's generally it. There may be a little blood on the wall behind them, implying a fairly gory exit wound, but not one you're likely to see.

In Real Life, a headshot virtually never leaves a neat little exit wound. There is either no exit wound at all (the result of a low-powered or small round), or a pretty serious chunk of the skull is blown away by the exiting bullet (high-powered or large caliber bullets or a close-in shotgun blast). If the round doesn't exit the skull, the blood will be mostly around the entry wound, with possibly a bit of spatter if the victim jerked or twitched. If there is an exit wound, there's going to be bits of bone, brains and blood (and maybe teeth) all over. Often it's implied that the neat little hole we're seeing is the entry wound, and You Do Not Want To Know what it looks like from the other side — sometimes this will be lampshaded in order to keep the gore down while at least paying lip service to the messy reality.

Generally subverted in video games, where anything bigger than a pistol has the capacity to cause obvious damage. The head usually still remains intact, though.

Contrary to popular belief, a gunshot wound to the head is not actually always fatal in and of itself, nor is it an Instant Death Bullet. Probably the most famous example of this was the head wound of Phineas Gage, who managed to survive a three foot long steel rod through his brain (not without ill effects though). For more details, please see the Analysis page

This sort of head shot has a startling tendency to occur exactly in the center of the forehead, especially when it would be startling, unlikely, or even impossible to hit there.

It's generally a holdover from the days when Bloodless Carnage was the rule, and is still often used to avoid getting a more restrictive rating than the producers of the show want.

Has nothing to do with Pretty Little Liars.

See also Bloodless Carnage, Magic Bullets, Moe Greene Special and Boom, Headshot. Contrast Pink Mist. This is very unlikely to happen if the victim Ate His Gun.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • Happens often in Case Closed where the victim, if killed by a gun to the head, will usually have one tiny hole in the front with a trickle of blood coming down and a huge splatter of blood on the other side, despite no indication of structural damage to the skull itself.
  • Golgo 13's trademark is killing his targets with a single shot in the forehead, and all of the shots obey this trope. One particularly annoying example had him snipe a target who was in the window seat of an airliner; not only is there no spray of blood, but the other passengers on the small jet don't even notice he's dead — nobody even notices the hole in the plane beyond a comment about a draft.
  • The first episode of Cowboy Bebop had a strange use of this trope. A bullet that went through a man's head, instead of creating a gaping hole, made a perfectly neat hole that didn't bleed and could be seen all the way through from the entry to the exit point.
    • In a later episode a character has a small bloody hole in his head after being shot despite that fact that he was shot in the head by a 7.62x39mm rifle bullet which should have obliterated his skull.
      • The charcter in question had been made unaging and unkillabe due to the gate incident that destroyed the moon. That may have had something to do with it. (of course, the bullet had been made of the material that ''could'' finally kill him)
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00 does this - When Lockon Stratos snipes three terrorist guards, later (very obviously, thanks to a loving close-up) when Alejandro Corner shoots Aeolia Schenberg, and later towards the end of the second part when Ribbons Almark gets shot to the forehead.
  • Happens in Black Lagoon to Gretel, although there's lots of blood you don't even see the hole (although the hair probably got in the way). Then again, Gretel was wearing a wig over her actually rather short hair...
  • In Code Geass, C.C. takes a shot right through the center of her forehead when she takes the bullet for Lelouch in the first episode. Quite an impressively perfect shot, in fact, considering she wasn't being aimed at and that it hit dead center of the tattoo on her forehead. Buuuut anyway, no gore on Lelouch behind her and a quick pool of blood after. Though there is a partial gory discretion shot about a minute later where this trope is averted.
    • This might justified by the fact that C.C. is immortal. If your head asplode, you can't really continue life, so she's kept intact by her immortality.
  • Justified, but hard to believe, in the first story of City Hunter. Hired to kill a boxer who intimidates other boxers into throwing their matches with him (and hurts or kills those who aren't intimidated), Ryo Saeba shoots him in one ear with a golden bullet. Everything, from uncanny aim to speed and metal ductility is studied to splat the target's brain without leaving the slightest external sign. In fact, he just bled a little before dying. Just to raise the hand, the shot is synched with the target's opponent's punch, so that it seems to be a technical KO.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, when Accelerator gets shot in the head, he falls, blood pooling behind his head. Still not subverted when he gets up again, even though he is bleeding a lot. Justified in that he activated his powers at the last minute, preventing the bullet from going any further into his brain than it did, though he's still brain damaged afterward.
  • This is how Takashi dies in the AKIRA manga.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, one of Princess Snake's servants shoots herself in the head while playing a game of Russian Roulette.
  • Happened Once per Episode during the early days of Katekyo Hitman Reborn!. Reborn shoots Tsuna in the forehead, a small spurt of blood, and Tsuna goes all Dying Will on whatever is giving him trouble.
  • Monster does this surprisingly often, although it's heavily implied to be because most of the characters use small pistols, because it's sometimes averted when bigger guns are used.
  • The Battle Royale manga strongly averts this.
  • Baccano! has Dallas Geonoard's immortality first (chronologically, on-screen) being demonstrated when he's shot through the head, leaving a clean bullethole just in the middle of his forehead. Averted in all other examples. Everyone else who dies in this manner does so bloodily.
  • In the Fate/Zero anime (but not in the original novel), Ryuunosuke Uryuu dies in this fashion.
  • A rather nasty subversion happens in the Space Runaway Ideon movie, where a little girl named Ashura dies by being shot in the head... but since she was shot with a bazooka, her head vaporizes.

     Comic Books 
  • Used in Y: The Last Man but to beautiful effect with the death of Agent 355. Seems fake though, as earlier headshots (such as Hero headshooting a teenage girl on the orders of cult leader Victoria) didn't stint on the gore.
  • Curiously played straight in Watchmen, given its realistic treatment of superheroic violence. Moloch has been shot in the head, but Rorshach believes he's alive and sitting quietly until he comes around and sees the bullet hole in front (and there was a small bullet hole in the back, meaning it had to have gone all the way through).
  • The Batman Gotham Knight story "Deadshot" opens with Deadshot killing a politician with a well-aimed sniper shot. The result is a tiny hole in his head and a little blood.
  • There's a Comic Book Adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities, where Madame Defarge's death by a pistol shot, point-black, to the forehead, is an example, which somehow also results in Blood from the Mouth and the nose.
  • Averted in Kick-Ass when Big Daddy is executed by Johnny G's men. His face is drawn being blown out by the gunshot to the back of his head. An eyeball can be spotted, no longer part of his head.
  • Averted in The Punisher MAX which, due to the absence of content restrictions, allows the artists to show exactly what happens when someone is shot in the head. Its not pretty.

    Film 
  • Layer Cake uses a straight example when the Villain Protagonist kills his treacherous boss, Jimmy Price. Oddly, the original book is a real aversion, and has the protagonist catch blood lust and go out of his way to splatter his victim's head.
  • Averted in Angel Heart. Dr. Fowler is shot through his left eye, and there's plenty of blood, skull and brain on the pillow under his head.
  • The corpse in the freezer from The Goonies was apparently shot in the head, although the bullet hole is so tiny and clean that it looks more like the Fratellis whacked him by putting a cigarette out on his forehead. No exit wound, either.
  • In Baz Luhrmann's Setting Update of William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet Juliet's suicide by hand gun looks like this.
  • Subverted in Fight Club, where Bob is shot. We don't see it happen, but the end result is that he has a little hole in his forehead, and when they take the ski mask all the way off there's a really big mess, one of the Project Mayhem guys vomits on the spot. It looks like maybe the bullet went across the back of his head horizontally.
    • And again in the climax when the narrator shoots himself in the mouth. Tyler, stunned by what just happened, exhales a little smoke but a later camera angle reveals a fairly nasty exit wound before he keels over. The narrator's own wound is pretty nasty too, though the bullet passed through his neck rather than skull.
  • In the live action Death Note films, a character shoots herself in the head. No blood, no damage, just falls over.
  • Mostly played straight in In Bruges. The first death we see, a small boy accidentally shot by Ray, gets the standard pretty dime-sized headshot. Two other deaths avert this and then some but only because of the use of dum-dum bullets.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, with one of Sao Feng's girls. With a lead ball, no less, from a smooth-bore weapon.
  • In Watchmen, the assassination of Moloch was clean enough that Rorschach could talk to him at length before realizing his audience was dead.
    • For another example of playing it straight, see also Lee Iacocca shot during the faked assassination attempt on Ozymandias.
  • In Baader Meinhof Complex, one of the female protagonists is shot right under her eye, causing only a small trickle of blood. The next shot shows that the back of her head is not even bloody.
  • Obvious in the film version of Angels and Demons, where at one point the viewer can see a head-shot policeman lying on the ground with a neat hole in his forehead.
  • The Illusionist has this happen with Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince, although there is a little squirt of blood, but that's pretty much it.
  • In Seven Psychopaths, Charlie shoots Myra in the back of the head. When Hans finds her body, one wall of her hospital room is covered with blood, but she has only a little exit wound in her forehead.
  • In RoboCop, Alex Murphy is finally killed by one. However, this is subverted in the Director's Cut. In this version, for a brief moment, you can see a piece of his head flying out. Basically, destroying the only part of his body OCP needs.
  • James Bond
    • Occurs in Octopussy when Bond shoots a Russian soldier dead, complete with surprised expression on the guard's face.
    • When Alec is shot by Ourumov in GoldenEye, there is no blood and not even a hole. Justified in that he faked his death.
  • Played with in The A-Team. When Lynch shoots "General Morrison" in the head, there's a lot of splatter on the wall behind him. Then it turns out to be ketchup as Murdock was wearing a bulletproof mask. One suspects that if there was no blood, Lynch would have smelt a rat, although he should probably have noticed the lack of bone and fabric bits.
  • Happens in Inception, when Cobb shoots Arthur in the head so the latter can escape from the dream. The result is a neat round wound with little blood. Justified in that they are in a dream world.
  • In the 1960's Japanese film Branded To Kill, the antihero realizes that the #1 assassin always kills his targets with these. During their final battle, he wears his late girlfriend's narrow hairband over the exact middle of his forehead, which deflects the bullet.
  • The Maiden Heist opens with a badass gunfight where Christopher Walken takes a bullet to defend his favorite painting, and then puts a bullet in the bad guy's head (a small clean hole) before dying. it's just an imagined fantasy
  • In 22 Bullets this is Charly Matteď's 'signature', followed by a shot to the body.
  • In Young Guns Murphy is shot by Billy. This is followed by a 20 second slow-mo of him flailing then falling, with a tiny bullet hole precisely in the center of his forehead with just a trickle of blood coming from it.
  • Both played straight and averted in The Assassination Of Jesse James. When Wood Hite is shot in the head, there is no blood spatter (likely due to continuity) but there is a massive bloody exit wound. During Jesse's death, there is no exit wound but a large bullet hole is present.
  • Subverted in The Departed. After Billy is shot in the head, there is a very large amount of blood spatter on the wall behind him. While we don't see the blood in other instances, a large amount can be seen upon impact
  • Subverted in Goodfellas. When Tommy is shot in the head, there is a massive amount of blood. Henry notes that they shot him there so that his mother couldn't give him an open casket funeral.
  • Taken to the extreme in Ronin, where Gregor is shot in the head at close range by the Russian mobster with a Hollywood Silencer. The bullet not only punches a perfect, bloodless hole in the center of his forehead, it also appears to have stopped there, the base only millimeters below the skin. Presumably this was meant to imply a very low-powered round intended to be discreet although the bullet could not have penetrated the skull. Nonetheless, Gregor collapses and is shortly found dead on the floor, having bled a small pool from his wound.
  • Averted in The Sixth Sense, when a ghost says that he knows where his dad keeps his gun. Then he turns around, and the back of his head is in pieces.
  • Played straight in Prizzi's Honor. Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner) shoots a woman in the center of the forehead, leaving a neat round hole but no blood.
  • In the B-movie Guns, a character played by Allegra Curtis is shot in the forehead. No blood is visible as she topples over backward, but her body is seen a couple of minutes later with blood liberally streaking her face.
  • In Shooter, Mark Wahlberg's character is framed for attempting to kill the US President and for killing the Ethiopian Archbishop. The shot is taken from a long distance requiring a relatively large bullet, and the movie in fact shows more than just a neat hole, however, in the DVD extras, several comments are made regarding the shot by a weapons coordinator: that at that distance the target wouldn't have even been in the scope's line of sight due to bullet drop and that the actual shot would have been a lot gorier. As in the Archbishop's head being split in half gorier (due to the fact that because of bullet drop the shot wouldn't have been anything resembling a straight line, it would have been more like lobbying a bullet down into his skull).
  • Averted and played straight in Der Untergang. When the Hitler youth commander shoots himself and when the old soldier gets headshot there is barely any blood, but a Mook's suicide later in the film yields a large gory explosion on the wall behind him.
    • Discussed by Hitler, Eva, and the secretaries, when they discuss how to commit suicide. Hitler explains - correctly - that putting the barrel of a pistol in your mouth then pulling the trigger will entirely destroy your brain and head. Eva responds by going "eeeeek" and deciding she is going to take poison, so as to leave a pretty-looking corpse.
  • Graphically subverted in Drive. When Christina Hendricks' character gets shot in the head, it basically explodes in a shower of blood. A very shocking moment, given the car-chase action and lack of significant gore up to that point.
  • Inverted in The Room, where Johnny's bullet-in-the-mouth suicide at the end of the film winds up with blood everywhere.
  • Initially averted, then played straight in Nurse Betty. When Chris Rock's assassin character is shot in the forehead, it's a Pretty Little Headshot. However, a deleted scene entitled "The Flap" shows that it really was graphic at first. This was probably changed on the account of it being really gross and not fitting the mood of the scene.
  • Quite horribly averted in Stiletto, where Kelly Hu's Detective Hanover is shot in the back of the head. The exit wound blows away half of her face.
  • Used in Del Torro's Pan's Labyrinth. When the Big Bad is cornered by the good guys he is shot in the head from a pistol that was mere inches from his head. The only effects are a tiny bullet hole in his lower face and the blood slowly draining from an eye. His head does not even move as the bullet slams into his face, he just stands there and dies calmly.
  • Averted in Super. When Frank and Bolty are being shot at, they both fall to the ground. When Frank looks over at Bolty all he can see initially is that she's limply lying there. Until he crawls over and sees a good chunk of her head is missing.
  • In The Heat one is seen on a corpse and later the albino guy is killed with one.
  • Averted with a passion in Taegukgi, when a wounded South Korean soldier kills himself by resting an M1 rifle (.30-06 round) against his chin. The bullet sprays out the back of his head, leaving a sizeable exit wound, and a shot of his body shows a puddle of blood mixed with brain matter.
  • In X-Men: First Class, that coin did make a pretty smooth journey through Shaw's head. Scarier when you realize that Erik is probably very aware of the fact that he's causing excruciating sympathy pain for Charles.

    Literature 
  • In the Warhammer 40,000: Gaunt's Ghosts short story In Remembrance, one of the troopers takes a headshot that was not powerful enough to go out the back of the head. The POV character, a sheltered artist, notes "the little black hole .... made in his forehead" and would be traumatized by the sight, which he calls "quite simply the most awful thing I have ever seen", claiming that "if there had been more blood, more obvious physical damage, I could have coped better". Justified because of the cauterizing effect of las weaponry. You might think that surely a laser weapon would cause his head to explode as his brain turned to steam, and indeed lasweapons, the "flashlights" of 40k, are able to blow apart people's heads, as told in the official fluff; however, it is explained in the books - Lasguns can be dialed to any power level, either powerful enough to remove limbs or set lower to save ammo (while still able to deal lethal blows) or at its lowest setting, used for laser-tag (for training exercises) At one point, a character is shot in the head point-blank and survives with a minor burn where he was hit, due to the weapons power cell being almost completely drained.
    • There's also the fact that it's stated continually everywhere in the fluff that a las-weapon automatically cauterizes anything it hits. When it leaves a fist-sized hole in someone's chest, that's all it leaves.
  • Addressed and subverted in Simon Spurrier's Contract: Michael Point, the assassin and main character, observes and performs several headshots and sees no examples of "neat little skull vaginas," as he contemptuously calls them.
  • In the novel And Then There Were None Judge Wargrave fakes his own murder by dabbing some red on his forehead and putting a wig on. Nobody investigates further. When he actually does shoot himself in the head later, the police who investigate cannot figure out that he did it in his bed, rather than the parlor.
    • Made even worse by the fact that the gun was explicitly described as being a "heavy revolver", possibly a .357.
  • Justified in Spider Robinson's "Lady Slings the Booze," the sequel to "Lady Callahan's Place." In it, the villain, having failed to hurt a bound Arethusa with his gun (the characters are all wearing a durable, bullet-proof lotion on their skin), shoots her in the mouth. The lotion prevents an exit wound but, the narration explains, causes the bullet to ricochet around in her skull.
  • Agatha Christie uses this in her novel "Curtain: Poirot's Last Case" which sees Poirot race against time to stop a serial killer after a man called Norton is murdered where he and Hastings are staying. Unfortunately, Poirot dies before the identity of the serial killer is revealed forcing Hastings to continue the case with only the clues Poirot left behind for him. The headshot turns out to be the clue to the identity of Norton's killer: Poirot himself whose legendary fastidiousness caused him to make an unnecessarily symmetrical headshot. Norton was the serial killer who had been trying to brainwash Hastings into committing murder on his behalf. The only way to save Hastings, given that Poirot didn't have enough hard evidence, was for Poirot to kill Norton before Hastings was completely brainwashed and then take his own life to avoid the temptation of becoming a serial killer himself.
  • Tom Clancy sometimes drops into this territory, depending on the weapon used. When John Kelly is going after targets with a suppressed .22, the relatively small bullet doesn't have the power to punch back out through the skull, thus leaving a small entry wound and many bits of the now-fragmented bullet in the target's cranium. Contrast that to what happens when people get shot in the head with a .45 or a rifle bullet, now.
  • Famously averted in Hemingway's description of a man who had been shot in the head: "... a hole in front you couldn't put your little finger in and a hole in back you could put your fist in, if it were a small fist and you wanted to put it there"
  • David Weber's Hell's Gate series includes this when the Arcanians first see a man killed by a firearm. A few characters express surprise that anything leaving such a small, neat hole could kill someone that quickly. Then they turn him over and see the exit wound...

     Live Action TV 
  • Episode 405 of 1000 Ways to Die ("Death Certificates"), detailed a head-tap assassination with a silenced pistol that had the power to penetrate the skull once but not twice, ricocheting around the inside to scramble the brains of a very unhappily married couple.
  • When Anna Espinosa (who has turned into a copy of Sydney Bristow) is shot in the back of the head in Alias by Sydney Bristow (yes, you read that right), there is just a little hole at the front.
  • The death of Ryan Chapelle in 24, again shot in the back of the head.
    • Likewise, in Season 7, when Agent Walker is seemingly executed, the bad guy (Emerson) seems satisfied by Jack's only slightly messy deliberately-grazing neck shot. As a hardened paramilitary type, Emerson should have been sufficiently unconvinced to check the body himself, but he doesn't.
  • Supernatural
    • It was slightly odd considering their usual aversion of the Gory Discretion Shot but there was the time when Dean gets shot in Sam's vision; his eyes are open, the blood spray is on the wall but the creepiness is let down somewhat by the tiny hole in his forehead. Creator Eric Kripke was amazed that they even got away with that. The full scene, which can be found on the DVDs, actually shows Dean getting shot, instead of just the gun firing then cutting to Dean, dead on the floor.
    • A fifth season episode manages to avert this trope, as a noticeable chunk of the back of the head can be seen flying off the victim. Probably helps that the victim was a reanimated corpse to begin with...
  • In Criminal Minds episode "Omnivore", a woman gets shot in the forehead with a .44 Magnum, and only has a tiny bullet hole with a little blood tricking from it. Pretty much the norm, even in the episode with the sniper.
  • In Breaking Bad, this is both prevalent and averted in two separate instances. In "Grilled", when Tuco is shot in the head by Hank, there's barely a noticeable wound, just some blood and a small hole. Reversely, in "One Minute", when Hank shoots Marco in the head (who, interestingly enough, was trying to exact revenge on Hank for doing the same to Tuco), the potency of a hollow point bullet is shown, blasting the back of his skull "clean" out.
    • Averted again in "Half Measures": the fatal headshot the drug dealers that killed Tomas received makes a large exit would with quite visible splatter.
  • In one episode of Quantum Leap, Sam leaps into a coroner who has to investigate the death of a girl who, at first glance, seems to have been shot in the head. One of the things that makes Sam disbelieve this cause of death is the lack of blood and the lack of damage to the other side of the victim's head. Turns out she was stabbed through the temple with the heel of a high-heel shoe, making a wound that visibly resembled the classic version.
  • Averted throughout Boardwalk Empire.The fact that it is on HBO undoubtedly helps.
  • Somewhat averted in Carnivŕle. After Samson shoots a man in the face,the wound is relatively small but we do see some blood spatter on the fall
  • Averted in Dexter in which the title character works in Blood Spatter analysis. A Gunshot Suicide is shown to blow out the head and skull and cause massive bleeding.
  • NCIS is bad for this.
    • It's actually played with and lampshaded with Kate's death. Tony explains to McGee that while the hole in the forehead can be easily covered up, the back of the head would be a nasty gaping wound. The actual shot did show a decent-sized splash from the back of the head, although only the entry wound is shown to viewers. Tony, who is standing next to her, gets blood splattered over his face.
  • Averted in Bones with the assassination of the Gravedigger, whose head is OBLITERATED, splattering gore all over Sweets, giving him a mild Heroic BSOD.
  • The death of Reed on Grey's Anatomy is a perfect example. The effect is much heightened because the viewer had no idea until that moment that the killer even had a gun; the shooting effectively starts a temporary Genre Shift for the entire two-parter.
  • In the pilot of The Shield, after Vic shoots Terry Crowley in the face,there is only a small wound with little blood
  • In The Wire, Jelly is shot, point blank, in the side of the head facing away from the camera and nothing is visible but a small blood spurt from the other side.
    • Happens with both Bodie, and Cheese, as their headshots have no exit wound. Omar however had a clear exit wound when he was shot in the back of the head. Though in reality, it should have take a chunk of his face along with it.
  • Averted in one particular episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where a Businesswoman tells everybody off in a press conference, and then bloodily offs herself, ala Bud Dwyer. I saw the possibility of her suicide coming, but wasn't sure it was going to be as bloody as it was, but suffice it to say that wasn't a neat little hole that bullet left.
  • Happens in Fringe when one of the characters gets shot in the head, though this may have to do with it being point blank with a silencer.
  • Several times in The X-Files, most notably with Krycek's death; he's shot in the forehead point-blank, and has only a neat little hole in his forehead when he drops.
  • Castle averts this with one of their victims-of-the-week, who was shot in the face. Said face was obliterated (not shown on screen, thankfully).
  • Strike Back has an affinity for averting this. The most obvious instances include Porter's death and a sniper mook who gets the left side of his skull blown away THROUGH A BRICK WALL! Besides that, point-blank executions tend to be performed from one side, thus guaranteeing that the bullet passes through both lobes (reducing the chances of survival), and distance shots often hit in places other than the usual "center of forehead" (for example, the terrorist leader from episode two, who got shot through the eye.)
  • Played straight in Burn Notice when Michael shoots Tom Card.
  • True Blood's deceased vampires aside, the show plays the trope straight in the deaths of Benedict "Eggs" Talley, Sam's shapeshifter friends and Marnie Stonebrook but averts it painfully in the death of Debbie Pelt, who is shot with a shotgun (Sookie is seen picking up bits of Debbie's head, including her jaw).
  • Arthur Petrelli on Heroes meets his end this way. Sylar stops the bullet from Peter's gun and then flicks it into Arthur's head, leaving behind a hole with a trail of blood.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel: When Lord Tony Dewhurst is shot in the head, it results in nothing more than a smear of blood on the wall. The scene was gorier on the DVD, though.

     Video Games 
  • Despite their reputation for ridiculous violence, this is actually fairly common in video games. Only a handful actually have headshots realistically result in part or all of the skull being missing. At least until recently, this was probably due to engine limitations.
  • One of the weirder aversions is Unreal, where headshots with the appropriate weapon cause the enemy's head to shrink (watch it in slowmo!). It'd make some sort of sense if you were using a weird tech gun, but no, bullets cause head shrinkage. This is a visual artifact of the rather hacked method used to animate decapitations; since the head is part of the player model, it can't be deleted from the rest of the model on-the-fly, so it's animated to shrink away to nothing in a single frame as the game spawns the actual head gib (which suddenly has blood all over it) in the same space, but if a modern machine is rendering fast enough, it's visible.
  • Deus Ex, based on the Unreal Engine, was fairly realistic for the time as far as gameplay was concerned. For example, you could shoot someone in their gun arm to make them drop their weapon, and headshots greatly increased the inflicted damage - although some of the tougher enemies could actually survive a headshot if inflicted with a low enough skill level and with a weak gun (and certain important characters, like Alex Jacobson, were immortal). However, graphically, the game was the description of this trope. Point-blank hit to the forehead with an autoshotgun blast? Target falls on the ground in one piece, with the only indication that he's dead being (aside from the obvious stillness) a little pool of blood under his corpse. The game did feature gibbing, but as with most games that do, there was no middle ground between "slight bleeding" and "meat chunks all over the place".
    • The sequel was downright stupid as far as headshots were concerned. The only way for headshots to be an instant kill was with the sniper rifle, and even then it had to be zoomed in. You could honestly take a pistol and shoot guy in the head, and they'd only lose a little health. And these weren't Bad Ass bosses either, these were the civilians! Sometimes even a shotgun took two blasts to the head to kill somebody. There wasn't even blood on the ground anymore. Unlike its predecessor, it has no "good for its time" excuse, considering all the great games that were out that year. This was just downright retarded programming. The game was released in 2003, for those keeping score at home.
    • Unreal Tournament, though, had the tendency to take off the enemy's head completely with a single, well-placed round. And quite often with clearly ill-placed rounds.
  • In Mass Effect, you can convince a certain enemy near the end to shoot himself with his ultra-high powered energy pistol. The result? His head doesn't show any signs of damage, and when his skeleton is laid bare by another enemy there is a hole... but in an entirely wrong place. Said shot produces a lot of alien blood, but given the lack of hole it is pretty hard to see from where it is coming from.
    • Mass Effect 2, during Thane's recruitment mission, an Ecplise mercenary is found shot in the head. Garrus will remark "A perfect headshot, with no collateral damage". As expected, the guy's head is intact, with only some blood-smear on the ground.
    • Justified by the fact that guns in the Mass Effect series shoot very small and very fast bullets, which would likely be able to penetrate the skull from the inside without blowing a large chunk off; the bullet likely just goes straight through the target's head and trusts to hydrostatic shock to destroy the brain on its way.
    • However, using the Sniper Rifle or high powered pistols can result in rather nasty headshots. While the corpse does not leave exit wounds, getting headshots with the likes of the Widow Anti Material Rifle shows massive amounts of blood and bone flying off.
    • Mass Effect 3 goes to the other extreme on human victims. Any headshot kill pretty much causes the entire head to explode.
  • In the Soldier of Fortune games, the results of a headshot are actually handled comparatively realistically — even your 9mm pistol leaves very large and ugly entry and exit wounds, and if you use your shotgun, .44 Magnum or sniper rifle, you blast their head clean off, leaving only a ragged bit of lower skull. The problem comes in that these results occur even farther away than these weapons would produce such wounds in real life.
  • Another Unreal-powered franchise, Gears of War, plays this trope straight and messily averts it, depending on the weapon. Smaller caliber guns (like the Gorgon Pistol) and automatic weapons (like the Lancer) deal more damage from headshots but don't noticeably damage the body. Powerful weapons (like the Boltok Pistol and Longshot sniper rifle) will cause the target's head to burst like a melon.
  • The near-ending cinematic in Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy has a straight example, when Sarah shoots her twin sister from behind.
  • In Urban Chaos Riot Response, normally when you score a headshot nothing happens but if you score a headshot with a shotgun, magnum or some other powerful weapon their head will be obliterated.
    • Some enemies will actually notice this with comments such as "Oh shit, he blew his fucking head off!" or "Hey! Where'd his head go?"
  • In Devil May Cry, Dante is shot in the head repeatedly throughout the series, but it only ever results in a small trickle of blood down his face which quickly heals later. Possibly justified by his tremendous healing ability. Considering that after one such headshot he pulls the bullet out of the entry wound, it's possible that the bullets don't get very far.
  • In Conkers Bad Fur Day, characters on multiplayer could have their heads blown apart in quarters, either losing 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, or the whole thing, as long as they were Squirrels, Undead or Tediz (Tediz and Undead could have this happen during "It's War" and "Spooky" single player as well, respectively). Multiplayer characters with smaller heads (weasels or uggas) would always lose their entire head. Squirrels/Undead, in particular, were rather nasty, as the grey matter could be seen from any remnant of the head. All characters would stumble for a few seconds before falling when victims of the headshot. Played straight in Live & Reloaded, however, as part of the game's extensive Bowdlerization.
  • Perfect Dark. A good headshot close to a wall will leave a huge splash of blood, though engine limitations only show redness on the skull. Oddly, one can let the blood fly even on corpses already, say, sprawled in a chair.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV is, for the most part, a perfect embodiment of this trope - headshots cause a blood splatter and the enemy falls down, disconcertingly intact. One rather classy exception is during a cutscene, when Niko shoots Vlad in the face. Not only does the wound spew an impression fountain of blood, but Niko knows it is coming and shields his face before firing. Curiously, one of the earlier games from the same developer, Manhunt, quite strongly averts this trope. And, actually, averted in previous GTA games, where a typical side-quest is to "pop a dozen [random gang] heads with a sniper rifle" and this literally leads to said Mooks' heads exploding. It's interesting that GTA IV, in many ways the most realistic title in the series, went for a less realistic depiction of headshots.
  • In Team Fortress 2 headshots will leave your head bloody but otherwise in-tact. However, in the "Meet the Spy" promotional video, when the BLU Spy is killed, his head explodes in a particularly over-the-top manner.
  • Magnifi Gramarye in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney.
  • Played straight and subverted in The Conduit. In the single-player campaign, getting a headshot on a human with one of the sniper weapons results in a brief, Teen-friendly red spurt and a collapsing body. Do the same with one of the alien Drudge, however, and their heads pop off with a fountain of yellow fluid.
  • A controversial ad for Hitman: Blood Money features a beautiful woman in lingerie lying in bed. The only clues that she's dead are the slightly-pale skin tone and a small bloodless bullet wound in the center of her forehead.
  • Space Quest III shows this in the Have a Nice Death box if Roger gets shot by the Killer Robot guarding the grabber.
  • Halo games play it straight most of the time: headshots with any weapon might get blood, but because enemy corpses remain intact, their heads appear mostly undamaged. Halo 3 and subsequent games, however, include a "Skull" (part easter egg, part optional game modifier) called "Grunt Birthday Party" that makes the heads of the weakest enemies, Grunts, explode on headshots... into confetti, accompanied by the sound of cheering children. (Examining the corpse reveals that the head remains unharmed, except for their mouthpieces.)
  • Red Dead Redemption subverts this trope by making any headshot actually create an in-game "model" of an exit and entry wound appear on the head with very grotesque results. This applies to all NPCs, even women.
  • Call of Duty games play this straight, with headshots resulting in a splat of blood behind the victim, although one level in the Bloodier and Gorier World At War has a Marine taking a round to the head in a landing craft and having his head split open. Can also be found in Call of Duty: Black Ops.
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty has a rather strange occurrence when Olga is killed by Solidus via headshot - a huge display of blood and gore shoots out of her head when the bullet goes through it, but the exit wound itself is as tiny as you'd expect from this trope. Especially odd in that, not thirty seconds later, the weapon in question is shown firing exploding bullets that really should have blown Olga's head off entirely.
  • Sniper Elite pretty much averts this - rifle headshots often leave a big hole, with obvious bits coming out when seen in slow motion.
  • The same Fatality in Mortal Kombat games both plays this straight and averts this. Explaining: in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (which had a T rating), the uncut version of the Joker's headshot Fatality had the opponent getting shot and falling with his head intact, with only a spatter of blood coming from it. In Mortal Kombat 9 (with the more familiar M rating), when Shang Tsung appropriated this Fatality for himself (though turning into a different Monster Clown), the opponent's head gets blown to bits when it's shot.
  • Extreme in Section 8: Prejudice. When Thorne is shot in the head, there's no visible damage. To make things worse, this is from a Sniper Rifle used to fight Powered Armor that laughs off suborbital insertion.
  • In Brain Dead 13, Lance can die from a shot to the forehead, followed by multiple bullet holes that reduce his entire body to eyeballs, if you're not quick enough during the final confrontation.
  • Strongly averted in Space Marine. Shooting Orks or Chaos soldiers in the head results in serious carnage.
  • Spec Ops: The Line - Even the smallest pistol, the Beretta, causes a huge spray of blood on headshots. The strongest weapons, such as sniper rifles or the .44 revolver, cause half their head to explode in a shower of blood. When Lugo shoots the Radioman repeatedly in the head with his Beretta, the player's camera is covered in blood.
  • Max Payne 3 averts it by showing grisly entry and exit wounds if enemies are shot in the head.
  • The Last of Us goes to great lengths to avert this trope to hell and back. It doesn't matter what gun you use, there will always be blood and brains all over the floor or wall. The bigger the caliber, the greater the damage until all you have is a bloody stump when firing with a shotgun or rifle.

    Web Original 
  • Usually averted in Survival of the Fittest, which tries to be as realistic as possible, there are only two cases where this is played straight, in the case of Andrew Klock and Alan Shinwrath in v1. When they were shot in the face at relatively close ranges (more or less point blank, for Alan), this happened. There was a neat hole in their forehead/between their eyes, some blood, and they fell over. After this though, it was extremely uncommon, since most people on the board learned about the reality of this trope.
  • Elizabeth Avery in lonelygirl15.
    • And also Claire.
  • Don in Rick Point Blank.
  • When The Nostalgia Critic gets shot in the forehead, there'll be just a small hole with some ketchup surrounding it. Justified, as it's for comedy and seeing a massive gape in his head would make people have nightmares.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in an Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode where Frylock shows Meatwad a video on "Standards of Decency". One clip shows a nun getting a shot to the head by a shotgun, exploding in a bloody mess. The "decent" way is the same exact thing, only instead a rainbow comes out of the nun's body.
  • Whenever someone is shot in the head on Archer, the trope is averted. Thankfully, they tend to use discretion shots, but there's still a lot of blood and Pink Mist visible.
  • In Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, the Thomas Wayne!Batman shoots Professor Zoom in the back of the head in the middle of his Evil Gloating. It's large, you can see inside his and and right through him.

    Real Life 
  • Real Life tends to avert this trope like a bitch. Anyone who has ever been shot in the head doesn't tend to look "pretty" afterward. A look at descriptions of Abraham Lincoln and images of John F. Kennedy post-shooting can tell you that.
    • Deserving mention is the so-called 'Krönlein shot', result of a close range gunshot from a high powered round, in which the skull bursts open, and the brain is ejected (relatively) cleanly and lands some distance from the body. Google some images if you wish.
  • Also averted with Benigno Aquino. During the preparations for his funeral, his mother explicitly gave orders not to disguise the gory exit wound on his face. "I want everyone to see what they [the assassins] did to my son." Ninoy's wrecked face was visible to all who cared to take a look in the coffin.
  • The classic medical text Gunshot injuries; how they are inflicted, their complications and treatment by Louis Anatole La Garde includes this description of a suicide by rifle:
    • Patrick Dolan, Co. "K" 27th US Infantry shot himself November 13, 1911. The muzzle of the piece was probably held in his mouth or near it in a direction of base to vertex of the skull. The extensive destruction of soft parts obliterated all semblance of a wound of entrance or exit. The photographs show extensive destruction. The face above the lower jaw; the entire cerebrum and cranial vault were blown away. "The entire squad-room, especially the ceiling, was stained with blood and fragments of brain." The reporter very properly adds "If this body had been found on a battlefield after an action in which artillery fire had played a part it would undoubtedly be assumed and with good reason that the head had been carried away by either a large projectile or a large fragment of the same."
  • This trope was averted BIG time when it came to the death of Osama bin Laden. While real photos of his corpse have not been released, the description of his body, namely that his brains were hanging out through his eye socket(s) after being shot in the head is enough to prevent anyone from thinking the headshot that killed him was pretty.
  • The attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on January 8th, 2011, focused a lot of attention onto the practical effects of a headshot, according to the laws of physics. The bullet struck Giffords in the head near the temple, and passed completely through her skull and out the back. You see, if the bullet doesn't exit the head it won't create a ghastly exit wound, but that also means that the energy from the bullet's motion gets dissipated inside of the skull, causing massive damage. Thus while Giffords was left with a grisly exit wound, the energy of the bullet didn't get dissipated within her brain, so this was actually the better of the two options. What also saved Giffords' life is that the bullet went clean through the left hemisphere of her brain, instead of tearing through the bridge in the middle between the left and right hemispheres; the catastrophic damage caused by breaking this central bridge is usually fatal.
  • There's an infamous video out there, of a kid jumping into the sea and landing face first on concrete bank. Cut to the emergency room to show the kid's whole face cracked in half like an oyster shell-if you Google it, beware, it is not for the faint-hearted, especially not when the doctor closes the face again, just like closing a book) Well,as it turns out, the two clips, though edited together, are not related- the first clip has no follow up. The second, face cracked guy was a Gunshot suicide attempt; apparently he put the gun under his chin and it caused his skin and skull to crack and split open so he looked like Predator. Believe it or not, he SURVIVED. If you look hard enough you can find 'after' pictures of his repaired head.
  • Bud Dwyer, State Treasurer of Pennsylvania in 1987, resigned and shot himself in the head during a press conference he called.
  • Low caliber cold load bullets (eg. .22 rimfire) - the sort of thing you might load into an actual covert pistol (as opposed to one fitted with a Hollywood Silencer) - have enough difficulty getting through the skull once, and might well leave a small entry wound and no exit wound.
    • A .22 with a half powder load fired point blank into the mastoid process behind the ear has on average just enough power to enter the skull but not enough to get out. The wound is barely noticeable unless you know what you are looking for.
  • The shot that finished off John Dillinger entered the back of his neck and exited just under his eye. These photos from the morgue show a very small wound. Public Enemies also portrays the shot this way.
  • Can be Truth in Television if used to cut down on the gore, especially in suicide scenes. A 9mm ball round would take out most of the back of the head, but the exit wound, while not quite so neat, would be smaller than seems realistic. Through the mouth would definitely remove the rear half, but there have been cases of people committing suicide in this way in front of police, and their bodies taking several more rounds before the back is seen.
    • If used with a high-powered rifle, however, this is unforgivable.
  • Adolf Hitler's head was apparently mostly intact after his suicide. Certainly, his pallbearers describe only a small pool of blood by his left hand and a small exit wound. No effort seems to have been made to clean him up, so he probably was not too destroyed.
  • Yook Young-soo, the wife of South Korean President Park Chung-hee (and mother of the current ROK president Park Geun-hye), was shot (fatally; she died later in the day after surgery) in the side of the head during an assassination attempt on her husband on August 15, 1974. Accounts of the incident describe her as having bled profusely from the wound (and at least one picture of the chair she was seated in when she was shot shows it and the surroundings spattered with blood), but the pictures and TV footage - admittedly rather blurry ones, considering 1970's photography and video tech - of her being carried away by aides show her head and face as seemingly being undamaged. There's also video footage showing her physical reaction to being shot, jerking sharply to the left side and then starting to slump over to the right.


Pink MistSniper IndexScope Snipe
Pie in the FaceStay Ahead of This IndexRemoving the Head or Destroying the Brain
OverheatingGuns Do Not Work That WayReckless Gun Usage
Orifice EvacuationAnatomy AgonyRemoving the Head or Destroying the Brain
OverheatingGuns and Gunplay TropesReliably Unreliable Guns
Spider-IslandImageSource/Comic BooksThe Spirit

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