"This fun, all-ages activity brings history alive! All you need is a bow, an arrow, an apple, and an idiot."Shooting an apple or some other item off another character's head, to show off one's Improbable Aiming Skills. Usually with a bow and arrow. This is based entirely on the legend of William Tell, though the same story has existed before his time in similar variations. In the legend, William Tell, who originally came from Bürglen, was known as an expert shot with the crossbow. In his time, the Habsburg emperors of Austria were seeking to dominate Uri. Albrecht (or Hermann) Gessler, the newly appointed Austrian Vogt of Altdorf, raised a pole in the village's central square, hung his hat on top of it, demanding that all the townsfolk bow before the hat. When Tell passed by the hat without bowing to it, he was arrested. (In some versions, Tell told Gessler that he didn't know about the law, but then boldly insulted him by saying he'd never have bowed before it even if he had.) As punishment, he was forced to shoot an apple off the head of his son, Walter. Otherwise, both would be executed. Tell was promised freedom if he successfully made the shot. On 18 November 1307, Tell split an apple on his son's head with a bolt from his crossbow. Gessler noticed that before the shot Tell had removed two crossbow bolts from his quiver, not one, and after the shot asked him why. Tell replied that if he had killed his son, he would have turned the crossbow on Gessler himself. Sometimes played for laughs like the target suggesting a more suitable fruit on his head, like a watermelon! A common variant involves shooting something, like a cigarette or a straw, out of the target's mouth. (Compare Close-Call Haircut.) Needless to say (and since when has that ever stopped us from saying?), Don't Try This at Home. There's a reason the trope-naming incident was such a big deal: It's shooting a deadly weapon at a small object near a person's head. Mess up, and someone is likely going to become seriously injured or even die. Compare Splitting the Arrow, the signature feat of another legendary archer.
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- In one of the old Federated commercials in the 1980's, Shadoe Stevens (as Fred Rated) shoots merchandise off the head of a female assistant (apparently missing his last shot, as he gets a squeamish look and frantic stage hands rush past him to assist the girl).
- This ad for Gillette featuring Tennis player Roger Federer.
- One PSA of old showed a fellow (in Robin Hood's Iconic Outfit) pulling off the stunt. Everyone celebrates, and that means drinks all around. So, then there are murmurs of "bet he can't do it again", and drunk logic being what it is, the whole scene is set up again, but with everyone drunk....
- An amazingly irresponsible bubblegum ad from The Golden Age of Comic Books has a kid demonstrating his skill as an archer by shooting the bubble being blown by his bubblegum-chewing buddy. You can check it out here at Comics Make No Sense.
- One of Jim Henson's Wilkins Coffee commercials has Wilkins shanghai Wontkins into this. Evidently, he missed his target.
Wilkins: We can still use the apple again!
- Averted in a Red Bull commercial where William Tell has a shaky hand so his son gives him Red Bull to sharpen the mind and the body. Tell then realizes he should shoot the apple, then put it on his son's head.
Anime & Manga
- Fist of the North Star used this as a Kick the Dog moment in an early episode, with one of Diamond's men forcing a villager to try to shoot a can off the head of his son with a bow and arrow. When the father can't go through with it, the scumbag takes it upon himself to "help" him, taking hold of the bow and arrow in a Hands-On Approach fashion, but deliberately shaking up the poor guy's aim just to be a sadistic asshole. When the arrow finally does get launched, Kenshiro intervenes before it can go into the boy's throat, catching the arrow between two fingers with Nishi Shinkuu Ha before sending it into the mook's shoulder.
- In episode 12 of Jewelpet Happiness, Apel kidnaps Sango and ties her to a fake tree in a theatre, then puts a mochi on her head and challenges anyone to shoot it with a bow and arrow. Several characters try it with Epic Fail results, then Mouri, the archery club member, steps up to the challenge and successfully pulls it off.
- In the Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine episode ".357 Magnum", Jigen Diasuke demonstrated his incredible skill by firing a bullet through a cherry Cicciolina was holding between her lips.
- Episode 11 of Revolutionary Girl Utena features the Greek Chorus playing out William Tell, albeit with the "son" pointing out that it's the 37,919th time in a row the apple has been shot, with the "father" saying that they'll keep going until somebody stops them. There's some point about being trapped in a destined eternal horror.
- A variation of this occurs in episode 9 of Upotte. Sig annoys HK by calling her Chuusuri-chan, and Chuusuri shoots the cover on the book Sig was reading on the beach named Wilhelm Tell, which featured an arrow piercing an apple on the cover. After getting it shot, Sig holds the book up, and points out that its a library book, and Chuusuri gets a scolding from one of the teachers.
- Samurai Champloo. In "The Art of Altercation", our three adventurers are (as usual) broke, so raise money with a demonstration of their swordplay. Mugen and Jin are blindfolded and have to cut two fruits balanced one-on-top-of-the-other upon a nervous Fuu's head. It doesn't help that Mugen and Jin are visibly hung-over from last night's debauchery.
- The William Tell scene is parodied in Astérix in Switzerland, where Asterix meets the local Swiss people who are having an archery contest. A little boy eating an apple is ordered to hang the target on a tree and while he is busy doing this, he balances his apple on his head. While Asterix is aiming and waiting until the boy is ready, Obelix sneezes which causes Asterix's arrow to be fired involuntarily. The scene is subverted by the arrow hitting the bull's eye of the intended target, when it looked like it might have hit the apple. The Swiss liked the spectacle, but still feel that "something is missing", causing one of them to mutter: "Yes, but what?"
- Deadshot does it to Captain Boomerang in an early issue of Suicide Squad as part of a plan to discredit a vigilante called William Hell. Captain Boomerang is the one with an apple on his head and is not pleased with the situation.
- In a Tim Traveller story in The Beano, Tim, unable to make a hole in his conker, goes back in time to find William Tell. William, bored with constantly shooting apples on various people's heads, relishes the extra challenge that comes with shooting such a small target.
- Suske en Wiske: In "Lambiorix" Tante Sidonia has to aim her longbow (and not a crossbow, as you might think) at the apples on Suske and Wiske's heads. Trying to hit two apples with one arrow is a bit more complex than what William Tell had to accomplish, but she manages to pull it off by aiming at a pillar left from them, which causes the arrow to ricochet to the right splitting both apples in the process.
- In an issue of Green Lantern, Roy Harper talks Kyle Rayner into being the target so Roy can impress a girl. Roy looks away at the last second when the girl flirts with him; he doesn't miss the shot, but he does give Kyle heart failure.
- In Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Robyn Hood #3 (the original mini-series), Robyn shoots an apple off the head of Little John during a bonding session with the Merry Men.
- In Mezolith, Poika's father is forced to shoot an arrow into a tree, right above Poika's head, to get them safe passage from the Owl People. It's played straight down to the father having a second arrow to shoot the Owl People leader if he had missed.
- In one Golden Age Batman story, Batman fast-talks the Joker and Penguin into a marksmanship competition where they shoot small vases off his and Robin's heads. Both of them make the shot, enabling the heroes to use the vase shards to cut the ropes they're tied with.
- Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin tries this with a snowball and snowman. He fails, and despite the subject being made of snow, we're treated to a Gory Discretion Shot.
Calvin: Ahhh! He flinched!
- The Far Side did a strip depicting William Tell's less fortunate son Warren, balancing an apple atop his gigantic head and encouraging Dad to shoot it off. Gary Larson caught some flak for this one, as some assumed he was mocking people with encephalitis.
- Done in FoxTrot. Roger asks Jason what sport he has taken up and Jason tells him to put an apple on his head and he'll demonstrate. Roger, wisely, flees.
Jason: This way, we're only being sorta stupid.
- Another time, Jason shoots apples at an arrow tied to Marcus's head.
- Happens in Garfield: the protagonist being the glutton that he is misses intentionally so that he can eat the apple afterwards.
- Part of Willie's Knife-Throwing Act in Modesty Blaise.
- Used in a Mutt and Jeff strip:
Jeff: I pitch a pretty good game of baseball! Hold still, Mutt, and I'll knock this apple off the top of your head!
Mutt: What? Are you crazy?
Jeff: Why? I'll bet cha two bucks I can do it?
Mutt: You little boob! You gotta be a marksman, an expert to do a stunt like that! Suppose you miss!
Jeff: Yeh, I suppose you're right! It is kinda risky at that!
Mutt: Of course, silly!
Jeff: O.K. then instead of two bucks I'll only bet a dime!
- Charlie Brown does it to Snoopy in this early Peanuts strip. Subverted, since the pop gun he has doesn't fire a projectile.
Films — Live-Action
- In the James Bond film Skyfall, Big Bad Raoul Silva does a particularly cruel version of this trope to Severine, with a glass of whisky on her head and old guns, and forces Bond to play the game. Bond misses, but Silva kills her. Deliberately. This example has a subtle difference from the original tale. The goal was to knock the bottle off her head, not shoot it. So, by aiming at Severine, Silva actually won the contest.
- In The Film of the Book Naked Lunch, William Lee is shown shooting a glass of whiskey off of Joan Lee's head in what they called their "William Tell act." At the end of the movie, he attempts this again and accidentally kills her. This is based on the actual death of William Burroughs' common-law wife, Joan Vollmer.
- This happens in Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past involving an arrow, a rising pop star, and the 6th place Japanese archery champion.
"She didn't even medal!"
- Happens in A Fish Called Wanda, in the bank heist in the beginning, as the four thieves are about to get away with their bank heist, Otto pulls an apple out of his sack and places it on a bystander's head. He readies his crossbow, scaring the bystander, but he's stopped by Wanda (not the fish) before he can pull the trigger, though.
- In the strangely notorious Exploitation Film Axe!, two gangsters do this to some poor grocery store clerk for amusement.
- Done in The Warrior's Way; first with a bucket of water placed above the clown's head, and then a glass of whiskey.
- In X-Men: First Class, Charles Xavier and Hank McCoy have to help Alex Summers master his energy-blasting ability, which leads up to both of them standing beside his target during the final practice... but not before backing off a little to the side.
- The Jackal: The eponymous Jackal tries out one of his new guns by having his "buddy" hold out a pack of cigarettes. He ends up blowing off a good chunk of the poor guy's arm. The Jackal was planning to kill the man anyway, so his only concern is that the sights aren't aligned properly.
- In the short Cavalcade of Archery, Howard Hill (who did the archery stunts for The Adventures of Robin Hood) demonstrates his skill with a bow by shooting first an apple and then a plum off his partner's head. The partner flees when Hill suggests a cherry, however. The short is included as a bonus feature on the DVD of The Adventures of Robin Hood.
- In Posse, when Jesse Lee is ordered to execute a prisoner, he instead demonstrates his marksmanship by shooting the prisoner's cigar out of his mouth.
- A Life Less Ordinary begins with Celine shooting an apple off her butler's head with a revolver. By his behaviour, this is a regular occurrence. It's later revealed that she once shot her (now ex) boyfriend in the head while trying the stunt.
- Two bikers take turns to do this to each other with beer cans in Stone Cold. It ends when the other whips out an uzi, and amazingly, doesn't get his friend killed while blasting wildly.
- In Ball of Fire, the protagonist's professor friends get a gangster to stay seated in a chair by challenging him to hit a coin held by one of them in his fingers.
- In Erik the Viking, after a raid, the Vikings take turns throwing axes at a captured girl's braids. To make matters worse, many of them are drunk and the axes fly all over the place, even killing a guy. Eventually, a woman tells them to cut it out, and the argument degenerates into a brawl.
- Played with in The Addams Family. Wednesday is shooting an arrow at Pugsley, but the apple is in his mouth instead of on top of his head.
- In the Dutch short film A Curious Conjunction of Coincidences', Jacob van Dyeck and his brother-in-law, during their Alcohol-Induced Idiocy, decide to re-enact the myth with an axe instead of a bow and arrow. It results in the latter’s demise.
- And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself. During his stunt-riding contest with Raoul Walsh, Pancho Villa while riding his horse swings under the horse's neck and fires a bullet through the tip of a cigar held in someone's mouth. Then he does it a second time.
- Shiri. In her Training from Hell, a North Korean assassin must walk at a steady pace past the assembled ranks of her classmates, firing a pistol past their heads at targets in the back row.
- In The Umbrella Coup, Radj proves his aiming skills by hitting a pineapple placed on Grégoire's head.
- William Tell, of course.
- Henning Wulf, or von Wulfen, of Wewelsfleth in Holstein sided with Count Gerhard in 1472 and was banished by King Christian I of Denmark. In a folk tale, the king had him shoot an apple off his son's head, and a window in the Wewelsfleth church depicted the boy with an apple on his head, pierced through by the arrow, while Henning's bow was undrawn but there was another arrow between his teeth. Between archer and boy there was a wolf.
- The earliest version of this trope may be from the 12th century, in Saxo Grammaticus' version of the story of Palnatoki, whom he calls Toko (Gesta Danorum Book 10, chapter 7).
- One related story turns the motif on its head: after matching him in swimming and in other shooting contests, King Olaf of Norway converted Eindriði Pansa (the Splay-Footed) from heathenry by shooting at either a chess piece or a writing tablet on Eindriði's son's head. The king's shot narrowly missed but the boy was unharmed; Eindriði gave in to his mother's and sister's pleas and did not try the feat himself.
- Two boys are playing this trope. The boy with the crossbow shoots — but hits the other boy's left eye instead. He shoots again — hitting the right eye.
Now-blind boy: I'll go home!
Boy with crossbow: Come on, don't be a spoilsport!
Now-blind boy: I have to, my mom said I have to be at home when it's getting dark!
- In another joke, three grown (and drunk) men are playing this with a woman being the "target". The first man manages to shoot through the apple. He declares: "I am William Tell!" The second man shoots through the arrow and the apple. He declares: "I am Robin Hood!" Then, the third man shoots through... her forehead. He declares: "I am sorry."
- In the first Doom novel, Flynn Taggart reminisces on the day his comrade and best friend Arlene Sanders first joined the Marines and took care of any latent Stay in the Kitchen mentality they had by participating in a William Telling contest with the best marksman in the unit. They both took a turn with an apple on the head and being the shooter, and both hit the apple. Some of the guys started calling her "Will" afterwards. It's the first hint of her marksmanship, which Flynn admits is much better than his.
- On Gor the Wagon Peoples had a similar thing as a contest of skill - a slavegirl would stand in profile holding a piece of fruit in her teeth and a warrior would lance it while galloping by on the local equivalent of a horse. They'd do it while she was facing him head-on.
- And if she really loved him she would swallow. To explain: a girl accidentally stabbed in the back of the mouth was shown to have been swallowing the blood released by the (non-fatal) injury rather than let her owner lose face by forfeiting the contest.
- In Heinrich Kramer's 1486 Malleus Maleficarum (Book 2, chapter 16), a similar story to the William Tell legend occurs: Punker, Puncker, or Puncher of Rohrbach in the Upper Rhineland is said to have been ordered by "a very eminent person" in about 1430 to prove his extraordinary marksmanship (regarded by Kramer as a sign of consorting with the devil) by shooting a penny off the cap on his young son's head without disturbing the cap. He, too, kept a second arrow in reserve to kill the prince in case he failed.
- In Sonmi's storyline in Cloud Atlas, Boom-Sook Kim gets drunk and does this to Sonmi after his friends mock his marksmanship. He starts with a melon and moves down to increasingly smaller fruits. This is what leads to Mephi taking Sonmi away from him and placing her in a more friendly environment.
- In 1066 and All That, the unpopular reign of Rufus is brought to a Good End this way:
"Rufus was hunting one day in the New Forest, when William Tell (the memorable crackshot, inventor of Cross-bow puzzles) took unerring aim at a reddish apple, which had fallen on to the King's head, and shot him through the heart. Sir Isaac Walton, who happened to be present at the time, thereupon invented the Law of Gravity."
- In a Babylon 5 Expanded Universe novel, G'Kar fantasizes a variation of this while a prisoner on Centauri Prime during the Shadow War... a variation involving Emperor Cartagia, a large gun, and a raisin.
- James Bond does this in The Man with the Golden Gun. Infiltrating Scaramanga's business as his assistant, Bond is told to liven up the festivities after a meeting between criminals at Scaramanga's unfinished hotel. He asks to borrow Scaramanga's gun, and uses it to shoot a pineapple that a singer is wearing on her head.
- Monte Cassino by Sven Hassel. Porta takes up shooting at the Americans with a bow and arrow, and adopts the name Red Flame (for his red hair) after killing eight officers in two days. An Alaskan sergeant takes offense and challenges Porta to shoot a forage cap that he places on top of his helmet. If he misses, he and the other Native Americans in the unit will hunt Porta down and castrate him. Porta makes the shot successfully and is acclaimed by both sides, until their commanding officer turns up and angrily orders everyone to get back to fighting the war.
- In the "Tale of Heming Aslaksson", an Icelandic short tale from the Book of Flatey (c. 1390), Harald Hardrada challenges the archer Hemingr to shoot a hazelnut off his younger brother Björn's head, which he does.
- On one live episode of I've Got A Secret, Johnny Carson's secret was that he would shoot an apple atop host Gary Moore's head. He did it too...with Moore safely behind a sheet of pexiglass.
- The conceit of the British Game Show segment "The Golden Shot", in which a viewer would attempt to direct "Bernie the Bolt" via commands over telephone to shoot a crossbow bolt at an apple to win prizes.
- In Germany, Der Goldene Schuss was a game show and the first show to officially be broadcast in colour. Candidates directed the crossbow similarly to the British example through the phone. The 'golden' shot was the last shot in the show. The candidate had to hit a string a bag with gold was hanging on — if he hit the string, the gold was his.
- In the German version of Monty Python's Flying Circus ("Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus") a scene shows William Tell shooting an apple from his son's head. He's applauded by everyone for his good shot, until the camera pans out and it turns out his son is completely maimed with arrows. The shot the audience saw was the only good one.
- In the 2000 Arabian Nights mini-series, one of Scheherazade's stories concerns a prince who sets out to obtain a great treasure. As he is justly proud of his archery skills, the guardians of the treasure tell him he must prove himself worthy of it by shooting a target balanced on a child's head. It turns out to be a Secret Test of Character: when he declines to take the shot, admitting he's not certain he won't hit the child, he passes the test.
- Played with in an episode of Batman. Alfred attempts to show off his archery skills and places an apple on Dick Grayson's head. Bruce stops him saying it's not worth taking the risk so Dick places the apple on a stationary target. Alfred shoots and misses. Had they gone through with it the arrow would have hit Dick right between the eyes.
Alfred: I... uh.. I think I'll go dust the Batcave. (quickly leaves)
- One time on Bones when she and Booth were undercover at the circus doing a Knife-Throwing Act, she made him throw a knife at an oversized prop apple on top of her head. She sprang it on him all of a sudden during the show. She then puts on a prop nose, visibly worrying him (and the team watching back in the institute). Made funnier by the fact that she was wearing an eye-patch at the time.
Crowdmember: Be careful, she's only got one eye left!
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Superstar" Jonathan alters reality to change himself from a geek into a demon-fighting James Bond-expy. One scene has him putting on a blindfold in preparation to shooting apples from the heads of several Initiative soldiers.
- Actually subverted in the live-action series Crossbow, which is a fictionalised version of Tell's legend. How so? Tell (Will Lyman) faints after passing the test, thus in a Kick the Dog moment Gessler (Jeremy Clyde) makes him and everyone else believe that his son Walter (David Barry Gray, who is here renamed Matthew) is dead, via having the the kid taken away and slandering Tell to Hell and back. It'll takes a while to see that it's not true.
- In The Goodies, there's an episode in which our heroes are challenged to a medieval battle by a team of black knights. One of them successfully shoots a melon off of Graeme's head, nailing it to the tree behind him. Bill then has to one-up him by shooting an olive off Tim's head — he does, but nails most of Tim's hair to the tree as well.
- In Married... with Children, Kelly becomes a skilled archer and accepts her opponent's challenge to shoot an apple on Bud's head. She balks at going through with it, not wanting to hurt Bud, but when her opponent accuses her of cowardice, she shoots the apple without warning, causing Bud to pass out and, upon reviving, regress to toddlerhood.
- Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The monster of "Foul Play in the Sky" was the Snizzard, a Snake-Lizard monster whose weak spot/power artifact was a golden apple atop his head. This was a Kimberly-centered episode, and Kimberly's weapon is a bow. Cue *Twang* Hello + Blasting It out of Their Hands, and then an arrow to the apple.
- There is a similar gag to the Python example in the final segment of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "The Dead Talk Back."
- One of the most famous moments of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was when he had famed actor Ed Ames (who played the Indian "Mingo" on Daniel Boone) demonstrate his tomahawk-throwing skills. Ames was to throw an axe and try to hit the head of a cowboy silhouette set up on stage - unfortunately he hit the drawn cowboy's crotch, with the handle pointing up, eliciting the longest laugh in television history.
- The big laugh really comes with Johnny's line: "I didn't know you were Jewish!" (Followed, when the laughs begin to die down, by "Welcome to Frontier Bris!")
- Done in a "Secret" game on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, with Ryan Styles as William Tell and Colin Mochrie as his son. After Colin bites into the apple and finds hidden nude pictures of Friar Tuck, Ryan unsubtly attempts to Make It Look Like an Accident by attempting to shoot a grape off his head. And then doing it blindfolded.
- In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Coda", Janeway suggests to Chakotay that he could play William Tell and blast an apple off of her head with a phaser for Neelix's Talent Night.
Chakotay: Sounds great. If I miss, I get to be captain.
- The first we see of Mordred in the 1998 Merlin mini-series is him practicing archery with a group of servants standing with apples on their heads. True to form, it's a Kick the Dog moment.
Mordred: If you gentleman don't stop trembling, I might miss and kill you all!
- The Danny Kaye Show once cast the comedian in a double role as a myopic William Tell and his son; together, they performed Rossini's "The William Tell Overture" as a duet.
I'm a darn, I'm a darn, I'm a darn good shot/Even though my vision's not so hot/Even though, even though I squint a lot/I'm a darn, I'm a darn good shot!
- In the final episode of The Tripods, the protagonists are hiding in a traveling circus traveling to Geneva and one of them (whose name happens to be Will) is forced to take part in a Knife-Throwing Act. The final part involves Will with an apple on his head; he ducks just as the knife splits the apple into two halves that Will catches in each hand.
- Averted in The Legend Of William Tell, when it's Aruna who makes the famous shot. Will does shoot an apple, but it's tied to a string, not on anyone's head.
- In "Vendetta", Oliver demonstrates his marksmanship by shooting objects out of the air after Helena tosses them. When she picks up a tennis ball, he shoots it out of her hand while she is still holding it.
- In "Vertigo", Oliver is suffering from the after-effects of being injected with the eponymous drug. Diggle holds a tennis ball next to his head and says that if Oliver can shoot it then he is fit to go out. Oliver nocks an arrow and sights on the ball before deciding his aim is too bad to risk the shot.
- Adam Hills Tonight: In one of the "Hannah Has a Go" segments, Hannah had a go at learning archery. To demonstrate what she had learned, she offered to shoot an apple off Adam's head. Adam asked her to shoot an apple of the head of his cut-out to prove she could do it first. She ended up shooting the head off the cut-out.
- In Danger 5, 'John Baccarat' (Jackson) while blindfolded shoots holes in cards held in a woman's cleavage.
- In the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode "Reign of Terror", King Augeus gains Zeus' powers and forces a man to stand with an apple on his head while he takes shots at the apple with lightning bolts. He misses wildly. Aphrodite saves the man by distracting Augeus, just as the last bolt passes between the man's legs.
- Once Upon a Time: Peter pulls out an apple. Henry says he doesn't like apples—"It's a family thing." Peter tells him that the apple's not for eating...it's for target practice. Henry then asks why Peter put poison on the arrow if he's shooting an apple, and Peter replies "motivation not to miss." The Lost Boys apparently regularly do this for fun.
- In The Drew Carey Show Mr. Wick decides to get an extra laugh out of firing Johnson. He hands him a crossbow and says that he's fired unless Johnson can shoot an apple off of his head. When Johnson pulls the trigger, a flag that says "You're Fired" drops down from the arrow. When Johnson shifts the the crossbow in his hand to be able to read the flag better he hits the trigger again firing the arrow and hitting Mr. Wick in the um... goodybag.
- Frontier Circus: In "The Smallest Target", Bonnie shoots out the flame on a candle being held by Casey.
- Horrible Histories: One of the Stupid Deaths segments involves a Tudor archer telling his friend, "I bet you can't hit my hat!". Guess what happened?
- Murdoch Mysteries: In "Mild Mild West", Lightning Wilcox's sharpshooting act has him shooting the hat off his partner's head and then a bottle out of his hand.
- Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: In "Death at the Grand", Phyrne's father shoots the hat off the man he was fighting a Ten Paces and Turn duel against as a way of proving his point.
- One of Night and Day's many fantasy sequences featured Charlie Doyle imagining himself in the role of William Tell, shooting an apple balanced on the head of his former and current wives.
- In The Musketeers, this is used as a form of Perp Sweating. When it doesn't seem to be having the desired effect, D'Artagnan hands his musket to Cadet Brujon, who holds it nervously as he aims shakily at the apple. Once the Mook has told the Musketeers everything they want to know, Porthos throws the apple in the air, and Brujon hits it with a single shot.
Mook: I thought you said he was a cadet.D'Artagnan: He is. He's a cadet musketeer.
- Appears in a variation of The Three Stooges' "Maha" routine that they performed on The Steve Allen Show. Moe arranges for the nearsighted Rajah (Curly-Joe) to attempt to shoot a raisin off of Larry's head with a rifle.
- The game show Double Dare (1986) had two variants. One had a contestant attempting to knock a plastic apple off a pedestal while spraying a bottle of seltzer at a teammate. Another had contestants shooting plunger arrows at fake apples which would target a bucket of slime to fall on their family members.
- One sketch on You Can't Do That on Television involves all of William Tell's children dead with arrows through them and apples lying near them, except for one remaining son who's left confused as to how this could have happened. Turns out William Tell had a case of the hiccups.
- In the Northumbrian ballad of Adam Bell, Clym of the Clough, and Wyllyam of Cloudeslee, which was a source of Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, William of Cloudeslee tells the king he will put an apple on his seven-year-old son's head and shoot it off at 120 paces:
I have a sonne seven years old;
Hee is to me full deere;
I will tye him to a stake—
All shall see him that bee here—
And lay an apple upon his head,
And goe six [score] paces him froe,
And I myself with a broad arrowe
Shall cleave the apple in towe.
- Gonzo's amazing new act in The Muppets is head bowling, which involves him attempting to knock a bowling pin off Jack Black's head with a bowling ball.
- The Muppet Show:
- One the episode guest-starring Alice Cooper), a William Tell routine was playing onstage, but all that is seen are the stray arrows falling backstage. At the end, the boy has an arrow through his head. "You know me. In one ear and out the other."
- Another example has an orchestra performing the William Tell Overture and finishing with the cellist firing the bow from his cello to shoot an apple off Beauregarde's head.
- Wednesday does this to her fiance in The Addams Family, as a test of his love for her. He ups the ante by removing his improvised tie-blindfold and blindfolding her instead.
Wednesday: What if I miss?
Lucas: Then you'll be the last thing I ever see.
Wednesday: That is so hot.
- Fortunately, she doesn't.
- In The Pajama Game, Heinsy tries to do this in his knife-throwing act. While visibly drunk. She ducks in time.
- Of course the scene is used in Friedrich Schiller's play William Tell, in which a nobleman forces Tell to shoot an apple off his son's head. Tell is later chosen to kill the same nobleman because every knows how gifted he is with the crossbow, making this William Telling one of the oldest Chekhov's Skill in the book.
- Parodied in a William Tell themed sketch by the Danish comedy troupe, Ørkenens Sønner, wherein William, portrayed as a cross-eyed simpleton, attempts the classic feat of shooting the apple off the head of his son, but instead ends up shooting him in the throat. William fiercely insists that it still counts, because he did indeed shoot the apple off his son. The Adam's apple that is.
- In Kingdom of Loathing, one of the possible minigames (all of which have the exact same function of distributing 99.9% of the bet money to one of the two players completely at random) in the Money Making Game has the player that accepts the bet trying to do this to the player that placed it. If he hits the apple, he wins. If he misses the apple, the other player wins. And if he misses the apple, he always hits the other player. This doesn't actually harm the other player in any way.
- A trailer for Portal 2 has one robot attempting to shoot an apple of another's head, with a foot wide laser beam.
- Suikoden II has the hero participate in a traveling circus's show by having various pieces of fruit placed on his head while knife-thrower Eilie impales them with expert precision. You can throw off her aim and get hit with a knife yourself by choosing to wimp out and move to either side before she throws.
- One of the plays in Suikoden III, which includes William Tell... and can screw up if you pick incompatible actors as William Tell and his son. Will net a boo, but who cares, it's funnier that way!
- Invoked in the Team Fortress 2 achievement "William Tell Overkill", though to achieve that you shoot an arrow through an enemy's head.
- Team Fortress 2 has the Fruit Shoot item for the Sniper, and apple that has 3 styles, "Dangerous", with an worm, "Tasty", bitten, and "Deadly", with an arrow, equipping the item with the Huntsman, a bow, triggers the Dual-Purpose Fruit set, which "Reduces the chance of hunger by up to 13%".
- One of the Halloween spin-off comics had the Funny Background Event of the Sniper aiming at an apple atop the Demoman's head. The next time they're in the shot, there's an apple with an arrow in it stuck to the wall.
- Ragnarok Online also has an already shot-through apple as a hat, called "Apple of Archer". Very popular amongst archers and, surprisingly, wizards.
- This quest in World of Warcraft is an obvious parody.
- A quest in the Hearts of Stone expansion of The Witcher 3 involves shooting apples off of an elf's head, hands, and foot with a crossbow as part of a circus act. If Geralt hits him however, he's more angry than injured in the cutscene following it regardless of where the player was aiming.
- Skylanders: Hats sometimes appear on the trolls in Cloud Patrol so that you can blast them off. Played with in that you're trying to shoot the trolls and their hats.
- Gotham City Impostors: In the help guide for the Bear Stalker, which is a bow, it shows the "office batman" doing this, but hitting the joker target in the head rather than apple, and splitting the tree.
- In Heimdall, one of your tests of manhood includes trying to cut the braids off of a barmaid with throwing axes. (She has her head stuck through a wooden panel with her several braids nailed to it.) Humorously, if you throw an axe at her head, she'll immediately pull back to save herself, leaving the braids behind. On subsequent throws, they're hastily taped back in place.
- Happened on Tom and Jerry at least once, with the apple on Jerry's head.
- In the Van Beuren Studios Little King cartoon "A Royal Good Time", the King has his servants place apples on their heads, which he perfectly shoots off with his rifle as he moves along.
- On the Classic Disney Short "The Tortoise And The Hare", Max Hare shows off his speed by shooting an arrow, running ahead of it, standing in front of the target with an apple on his head, and letting the arrow split the apple in two.
- In The Simpsons episode "The Cartridge Family," after Bart finds the handgun Homer acquired stowed in the freezer, he aims it at Milhouse who sticks an apple in his mouth. Marge manages to find the two just before Bart could pull the trigger.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender has an example involving Firebending. In a flashback to Zuko's childhood, Azula demonstrated a "game" by fireblasting an apple set on Mai's head. She successfully hit the apple, but Mai started freaking out from having a burning apple on her head and Zuko, trying to help her, accidentally knocked her into the fountain. All this because Azula suspected Mai had a crush on Zuko.
- The extra comic "Going Home Again" shows how Zuko and Mai get together. After Azula ruins the dinner she set up by giggling in the bushes with Ty Lee, the couple go on a walk where they run into Jin. Mai, suspecting a history, demonstrates her knife throwing prowess by standing Zuko in front of a fountain, sticking a fish on his head and then chucking an icicle at the fish. She then offers Jin another icicle to try it out for herself. Jin hurls it a Zuko who dives out of the way and falls into the fountain. And to top it all off, Mai leans over him and says, "Now we're even."
- This is one of the training methods employed by Prince Derek in The Swan Princess, only the Plucky Comic Relief Brom shoots the arrow at the back of Derek, who turns, catches it mid-flight, and shoots the apple tied atop Brom's head (who has the sense to wear a helmet). It turns out to be a Chekhov's Skill, when they use it to take down the Big Bad. Can be seen here.
- The Penguins of Madagascar: Kowalski wishes for a plasma blaster and then uses it to shoot an apple off Rico's head.
- An episode of Total Drama Island had a "Reverse Willam Tell" challenge, wherein one member of each team must balance an arrow on their heads, while a teammate must fire crabapplesnote from a slingshot—blindfolded, no less—to try to knock the arrow off.
- On Phineas and Ferb the trope is played with, in "Picture This".
Buford: Bet you can't shoot this apple off my head.
[Ferb takes a photograph of the apple, shows it to Buford]
Buford: [pause] ... Not really what I meant, but okay.
[Ferb puts the apple photo into machine and it teleports the apple off Buford's head along with a tiny bit of his hair]
Buford: ...nice! High and tight!
- Sonic does this to one of Robotnik's robots in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Getting up in Robin Hood garb and balancing an apple on his head, Sonic tauntingly asks the robot (Called Dragon Breath in Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine) if he's ever heard of William Tell. Infuriated, Dragon Breath throws his spiked club at Sonic, but the hedgehog's super speeds allows him to dodge just in time, so that the only damage done is that apple is split in half...and the tree behind Sonic falls over onto Dragon Breath.
- For some reason this was part of a "Cutest Kitty" competition on The Twisted Whiskers Show.
- One scene of The Venture Bros. has Hank and Dean trying to do it to each other. It doesn't work out very well.
- Stoked!: In "Surfer's Got Talent", Broseph discovers he has an uncanny aim with a water hose and attempts to shoot a half-eaten apple off Emma's head.
- Subverted on an episode of Dexter's Laboratory, in which Dexter and Dee Dee go on a sibling vs. sibling game show. Dexter's just there for the prize, and starts one of the challenges before the host finishes explaining the rules, knocking an apple off of Dee Dee's head with a cream puff. He loses, as the host reveals that the challenge was to hit your sibling without making the apple fall.
- King Arthur's Disasters: King Arthur becomes the target for one of these in "The Ice Palace". He has to stand with an apple on his head and be shot at in turn by Robin Hood, William Tell and Sir Maragaret.
- Taz-Mania: According to "Unhappy Together", 'William Tell' is favourite game of the Platypus Brothers and Daniel gets quite upset when he thinks Timothy is playing it with Taz.
- Possibly referenced at the beginning of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Call of the Cutie": one filly with a bow-and-arrow cutie mark has an apple in her school desk.
- One Johnny Test episode has Johnny practicing shooting plungers at the apple perched on Dukey's head. He fails to hit the apple until he has to shoot something else that's more important.
- The Merrie Melodies cartoon "Daffy Duck and Egghead" (1938) has Daffy placing an apple on his head so Egghead can shoot it. But he misses each time, no matter how close Daffy gets to him. Daffy chucks the apple, gives Egghead a tin cup of pencils, a pair of sunglasses and a "Blind" sign around his neck.
- The 1961 Al Brodax Popeye cartoon "William Won't Tell" has Popeye as William Tell forced to shoot a very tiny apple off Olive Oyl's head for refusing to remove his hat before the king. Popeye uses a trick arrow to spear the tiny apple but it boomerangs around and removes his hat to reveal what he did not intend—a kiss on his forehead, bestowed upon him by the Queen for helping her in a time of need.
- One of the original Fleischer shorts has Popeye meeting the William Tell, who is forced by the evil duke to do his signature thing with an apple on top of Popeye's head. Popeye actually gets shot right in the chest, but the arrow was blocked by his can of spinach.
- One episode had Poopdeck Pappy looking after Swee'pea and deciding to teach the baby about William Tell by trying to shoot an apple off Swee'pea's head with a shotgun.
- Gasp: In "Alien Trash", Mrs Winston uses a whip to cut in half an apple balanced on top of Dogbox's head.
- Adventure Time:
- Fiona is doing this in the Fiona & Cake story Marceline tells in "Bad Little Boy"; using a throwing axe to cut an apple balanced on BMO's head in half.
- In "Holly Jolly Secrets", the Ice King attempts to use his ice powers to shoot an apple off Gunther's head and ends up encasing Gunther's head in ice.
- In the cartoon Early To Bet, this is one of the penalties the cat is subjected to after losing a card game to a bulldog.
- The story of William Tell is retold in Sherman and Peabody's segment on Rocky and Bullwinkle. In this version, Tell is nearsighted and has broken his glasses, leaving his son fearing for his life as the date approaches. After failed attempts to replace the glasses, Mr. Peabody solves the problem by replacing the apple with another one with a powerful magnet inside, which Tell is able to hit easily.
- Family Guy: In "Herpe the Love Sore", Peter tries to whip a cigarette out of Meg's mouth. The whip knocks Meg to the floor, but the cigarette stays perfectly in mid-air.
- In one episode of Kaeloo, Mr. Cat tries doing this to Quack Quack. He misses the apple and shoots Quack Quack... on purpose.
- Potatoes and Dragons: "Far From Heaven" opens with Hugo attempting to shoot an apple off of Harry's head. Hugo misses and his arrow knocks Hermes out of the sky.
- All Hail King Julien: In a series of extremely dangerous stunts, King Julien has Ted try to shoot a fruit off of his head with a harpoon gun the guy can barely even hold steady.
- William S. Burroughs accidentally killed his wife while trying to shoot a drinking glass off her head with a gun. This incident is revisited in the Film of the Book of his work Naked Lunch.
- This kind of trope was also done with guns, by Annie Oakley. There was a bit in her act where she would shoot the ash off her husband's cigar.
- At one point, Kaiser Wilhelm was in the audience. Annie's husband asked for volunteers, as he always did, and to his surprise the Kaiser stood up. Annie pulled off the trick, and after World War One started said she regretted not shooting a few inches further down the cigar. (She sent the Kaiser a letter asking for a second shot. To no one's surprise, he never sent a reply.)
- Obviously appeared among Darwin Award stories.
- Straddling the line between Real Life and folklore are the tales of American Mountain Man Mike Fink. Several stories tell of him and his friends shooting cups of whisky off each other's heads. One account of his death says that in 1829 in a drunken stupor, when aiming at a mug of beer from the head of his longtime friend, John Carpenter, he shot low; shortly thereafter, his other longtime friend, Talbot, retaliated by killing Fink, using Carpenter's pistol.
- By Freddie Wong, with a watermelon in place of an apple and a sniper rifle in place of a bow. Naturally, it's all VFX.
- The designers of a slingshot did this using their dad as the person that was at risk for a commercial. It was never put in the ad because, after they shot the scene but before they televised it, they realized people might look at that and then try it at home. But that didn't stop one of the designers from later talking about the un-televised ad on television at a later time.
- While playing this with his brothers growing up, author James Thurber was shot in the eye with an arrow. He lost his sight in that eye and eventually became permanently blinded in the other eye.