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Bullet Counting Failure

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Someone tries to shoot someone else with a gun, only for the gun to run out of ammo at the last moment.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
MetroidPeter on Nov 13th 2017 at 8:27:00 AM
Last Edited By:
MetroidPeter on Jun 19th 2018 at 12:19:28 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

"9 shots: you're out."
Robocop, Death Battle

A character (usually the hero) is being chased by an armed gunman (usually the villain). After some time of chasing, shooting, and loads of property damage, the gunman corners them. There's nowhere left for the character to run, and they cower in fear as the gunman lines their sights (possibly after reloading) with their target's head, and pulls the trigger.


Nothing. Not even a misfire. The shooter's gun runs out of ammunition right when they can get the killing shot.

This can represent the shooter's recklessness, especially if they've been shooting wildly & destroying all sorts of items & scenery in their efforts to kill the hero without paying any attention to the state of their firearm. However, this is not a case of Reckless Gun Usage as that concerns people unfamiliar with firearms, while this is about characters that are. This is a nice aversion of Bottomless Magazines. This isn't to be confused with Where's the Kaboom?, as that is for explosive devices, while this is specifically for guns.

It's not enough for a character's gun to run out at any point for it to count. The gun has to run out when it having ammo would allow the shooter to kill the target with a well placed shot. This is why it's dramatic for the gun to fail at the one point they need them most. It's very rare for the audience to know that the weapon has no ammo, but the characters don't, but it's not unheard of.

The inverse is Counting Bullets, where the hero counts how many shots the villain has fired and specifically analyzes the situation to their advantage. This is different from that trope in regards to the fact that in the heat of the moment, most characters can't be bothered to try to analyze such a hectic situation like that. Even then, if the villain isn't counting, and runs out at the last moment, it's an example of this trope, not Counting Bullets. Because the villain is not counting.

This is more often than not done with villains, but examples of this happening to heroes exist.

A variation of this is It Works Better with Bullets, where another character deliberately invokes this by removing the bullets from the gun beforehand, or takes another step to make the gun inoperable. A Subtrope of Reliably Unreliable Guns. See also Convenient Misfire.


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    Films — Animation 
  • Ratatouille: When Remi and Emile are discovered by the old lady in the film's opening scene, she goes for the most extreme form of pest control available: a pump action shotgun. She shoots the rats several times but misses, and when Emile is helplessly dangling from the ceiling lamp, she gets a clear shot as he cowers. She pulls the trigger, and nothing happens. However, she remembers to reload.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Deadpool: During a shootout on a highway, one of the bad guys starts shooting at Deadpool with their rifle after he peeks his head out from behind a car. He shoots at him all the way until he runs up to Deadpool afterwards and takes aim, only to discover that he emptied his clip on the car. Deadpool points out his stupidity and promptly shoots him in the head.
    Deadpool: Someone's not counting.
  • Jumanji: The ruthless hunter Van Pelt chases the protagonist out of their home after he is summoned from the game with a large lever action shotgun. After some chasing, and even attacking a police officer, Van Pelt lines up a good shot on the protagonist, but has already used his last shotgun blast.
  • Back to the Future: After one of the Lybian terrorists guns down Doc Brown, they try to shoot Marty next, only for their gun to not fire. It's not clear whether the gun jammed or it was out of ammo, or both.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day has a heroic example. Sarah Connor keeps blasting the T-1000 with a shotgun, pushing it towards the edge of a ledge above a pool of molten metal. However just as the T-1000 is about to fall off, Sarah runs out of ammo. The T-1000 heals up his wounds and starts taunting Sarah, before the T-800 arrives and blows it off the edge using a grenade launcher.
  • Full Metal Jacket: In the climax at 'Nam, James "Joker" Davis searches for a Viet Cong sniper that killed several of his squad members. After some sneaking through a burning building, he finds the sniper, and points his rifle at their head. He realizes far too late that his gun is jammed when it clicks and alerts the sniper to his presence.

  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets plays with this at the beginning of the climax with Ron's wand of all things. Professor Lockhart tries to use Ron's wand to wipe Ron & Harry's memories, completely unaware that the wand is damaged. It backfires, and wipes his memories instead. This is one of the few examples that involves Dramatic Irony.

    Video Games 
  • Heavy Rain: During the fourth trial, the shark, Ethan Mars has to break into a man's home to kill him. Said man turns out to be an armed drug dealer. After he refuses to leave, the drug dealer punches him, pulls out a shotgun, and tries to kill Ethan with it. He chases him around the apartment destroying many of his own valuables, and corners him into a bedroom. He lines up the shot and pulls the trigger, but nothing happens.
  • In Life Is Strange's second episode, there's a scene where Chloe practises with a gun she stole from her step father in the junk yard. She hands the gun to Max to try, when Frank (a drug dealer who Chloe owes a lot of money to) shows up and begins threatening the girls with a knife, causing Max to point the gun at him (giving the player a choice of whether or not to shoot at him). If you decide to shoot, it will turn out that Chloe had already used up all the bullets (but the fact Max was willing to pull the trigger is enough to scare Frank off and impress Chloe).
  • The Last of Us
    • Exploited in the first game: While Joel or Ellie will start panicking if you run out of ammunition, it's possible to make other hunters try to come closer to you if they hear the clicking of an empty gun. Cue Ellie tossing a brick at them and giving you the opportunity to close in for a Finishing Move.
    • In the trailer for The Last of Us Part II, the antagonist has a revolver & pulls it out when she has one of the protagonists cornered. She hears noises coming from the forest & fires a few shots. When the other protagonist tries to attack her, she fires again but misses as the first protagonist grabs her and pins her down. She tries to fire at the first protagonist, but the revolver is out of ammo.
  • Due to the nature of the game, it's entirely possible to have this happen to YOU in Receiver. You don't have a magic link to your gun that tells you how much ammo you have in your magazine. If you don't keep track of your bullets, it's your fault if you cause a flying taser bot to close in on you by shooting it and your clip is suddenly empty. There's also the fact that you possibly didn't cock the hammer, or turned the safety off, or didn't check to see if there was even a round in the chamber at all.

    Web Animation 
  • In Death Battle: Robocop VS Terminator: Terminator starts firing at Robocop with a powerful shotgun repeatedly as he approaches. When he finally aims the killing shot at his head, he's out of shells. Robocop provides the page quote.

Feedback: 73 replies

Nov 13th 2017 at 11:31:07 AM

Is this worth splitting off of Counting Bullets?

Nov 13th 2017 at 1:31:01 PM

This might be too similar to It Works Better With Bullets, or at least a subtrope.

Nov 13th 2017 at 7:34:01 PM

Nov 13th 2017 at 9:00:47 PM

Nov 14th 2017 at 3:21:51 AM

  • Examples section
    • Added a line separating the Description and Examples section.
    • Added the word "Examples".
    • Italicized work names as per How To Write An Example - Emphasis For Work Names.

Nov 14th 2017 at 9:53:22 AM

There, I renamed it. Is that better?

Nov 14th 2017 at 10:53:54 AM

Not quite sure if this is an example (since the ammo was used up on something other than the intended target and it involves the protagonist trying to shoot someone), but for your consideration:

  • In Life Is Strange's second episode, there's a scene where Chloe practises with a gun she stole from her step father in the junk yard. She hands the gun to Max to try, when Frank (a drug dealer who Chloe owes a lot of money to) shows up and begins threatening the girls with a knife, causing Max to point the gun at him (giving the player a choice of whether or not to shoot at him). If you decide to shoot, it will turn out that Chloe had already used up all the bullets (but the fact Max was willing to pull the trigger is enough to scare Frank off and impress Chloe).

Nov 29th 2017 at 2:04:48 AM

I don't understand people throwing bombs around when a working title is still in the form of a quote. This is the easiest thing to fix. Just mention it. If the entire thing was based around a quote that would be different concern.

Nov 14th 2017 at 12:47:41 PM

A bomb means "this isn't ready for launch." That's all. So even if there's an easy fix, it's genuinely irresponsible not to throw bombs in if there's something to fix.

Personally, I 100% think there's a trope here, but right now it (and especially the examples) are a bit muddy between "shooter finally lines up the kill shot, only to dramatically not have any bullets" (which I think is a trope), "someone runs out of bullets" (which is just an aversion of Bottomless Magazines which isn't its own trope), and straight up It Works Better With Bullets.

Nov 15th 2017 at 2:15:00 PM

Well you can at least provide some feedback on what needs to be fixed.

Nov 16th 2017 at 12:59:04 AM

What I meant is instead of saying that a trope isn't ready for launch and why, give me something that can help improve it to be ready, like another example that works or helping clear up what sets it apart from other tropes. You said some of the listed examples don't work. Which ones do you think should be removed?

Nov 25th 2017 at 6:02:03 AM

Would "Can't Count Bullets" be a stock phrase? Or am I allowed to use that?

Nov 29th 2017 at 8:09:19 AM

I'd say that's an even worse title, and the fixation on counting bullets is part of what drags this TLP down. Something like Dramatic Gun Failure (making it a supertrope to It Works Better With Bullets) would be much better and more of a trope than "literally every time someone runs out of bullets."

Nov 29th 2017 at 8:31:53 AM

Number 120 in the Evil Overlord List Cellblock A: "Since nothing is more irritating than a hero defeating you with basic math skills, all of my personal weapons will be modified to fire one more shot than the standard issue."

Dec 2nd 2017 at 12:31:12 PM

V For Vendetta: Almond had V cornered and brings up his gun to shoot him... and it's empty. It turns out he forgot to reload it earlier after scaring his wife by acting as though he was going to murder her.

Dec 2nd 2017 at 12:54:40 PM

Note that this was pre-maturely launched as Cant Count Bullets. I've brought it up in the crash rescue thread, but I'm not really sure what happened or how Cant Count Bullets was launched without being tied to this draft or why this draft is not on the launch list...

Dec 2nd 2017 at 2:48:51 PM

I don't know how it was launched either. I was going to make improvements on it.

Dec 2nd 2017 at 7:50:00 PM

Actually, this is a misfire (wet primer), but it's still a firearm failure at a dramatic moment, so :


  • Notorious gunslinger Bill Munny from Unforgiven has Sheriff Daggett squarely in front of a shotgun in the Big Whiskey saloon, and has recovered his health after the Sheriff curb-stomped him several days prior. However, when Munny pulls the trigger, his firearm sputters because the primer is soaked with rainwater. The Sheriff instantly identifies the problem, and orders his posse to open fire on Munny. Munny survives despite being badly outnumbered because he's an experienced gunfighter while the posse is mostly nervous noobs and sloppy amateurs.

Dec 3rd 2017 at 1:35:05 AM

Home Alone 2 has Kevin about to be killed by Harry with his revolver, only to be interrupted by the Pigeon Lady. He tries to turn the gun on her, only for the gun to not work because the varnish that Kevin used in one of his Booby Traps has gummed up the inner workings.

Dec 3rd 2017 at 3:32:42 AM

^^^ Since it was launched by you outside TLP, do we have to assume a case of Criminal Amnesiac here?

Dec 3rd 2017 at 3:52:30 AM

^^ Wrong trope? I believe the name Dramatic Gun Failure (and the current laconic) make this trope appear broader than it was initially meant, as in any dramatic moment where the gun doesn't work, not explicitly for oblivious gun users running out of countable bullets in crucial moments. Or has this trope now evolved to a broader scope? If so the description needs updating.

Dec 3rd 2017 at 6:42:23 AM

I did consider launching it, but I cancelled the process. Not sure it if was a bug.

Dec 3rd 2017 at 10:48:16 AM

I see. Btw, Bottomless Magazines seems to encapsulate this trope nicely in two sentences at the beginning of the second paragraph.

Dec 3rd 2017 at 11:26:30 AM

In Batman Returns, the Penguin attempts to shoot Batman in the back with his last breath, only to pick the wrong umbrella.

Dec 4th 2017 at 8:50:51 AM

In Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater, Ocelot's gun jams during a confrontation with Big Boss. Big Boss proceeds to kick his ass and the asses of Ocelot's entire squad. He then explains exactly why Ocelot's gun jammed on him, why his technique is an inefficient way to handle an automatic, and why he'd better off with a revolver. Not only does Ocelot take this advice to heart (by the end of the game, he is carrying three revolvers), in Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain he repeats it nearly word-for-word to a group of Diamond Dogs during a training session.

Dec 4th 2017 at 9:30:56 AM

Is there a reason this has to be villain-specific?

Dec 4th 2017 at 9:46:06 AM

In the Endeavour episode "Prey", when hunting an escaped maneating tiger (It Makes Sense In Context) Lord Mortmaigne suffers a repeated misfire with his shotgun as the tiger steadily advances on him down the narrow corridor of the maze.

Dec 5th 2017 at 1:45:15 AM

^^ Not entirely, it's just that this is one of those tropes that's more likely to happen with villains than heroes. Heroes falling victim to this isn't unheard of though.

Dec 6th 2017 at 3:31:16 PM

  • In the Payday 2 'Deathwish' trailer, an elite Bulldozer has gunned down 3 of the 4 heisters and was caught in the middle of reloading by Chains. Chains nods and slowly takes aim at the Bulldozer, only to hear that his gun is empty too, before the two race to reload their weapons first.

Dec 6th 2017 at 8:46:58 PM

Comic Books

  • In V For Vendetta, Richard Almond's"hobby" of terrorizing his wife with an unload revolver comes back to bite him in the ass when he runs into V. He pulls his gun, only to realize too late that he forgot to load the bullets into it. V promptly kills him.

Dec 26th 2017 at 7:18:12 AM

In Commando during a fight Duke (the big black Green Beret) has Matrix dead to rights with a revolver aimed directly at his head and after a Pre Mortem One Liner pulls the trigger only for a loud "click" to occur and an Oh Crap moment as he realises he's out of rounds. Matrix promptly finishes him by impaling him on a handy bit of broken furniture.

Dec 26th 2017 at 3:55:59 PM

^ Good find. This draft seems to be about lack of bullets instead of jammed weapons at dramatic moments but narratively both scenarios cover the same ground and could be merged.

Jan 2nd 2018 at 8:54:21 PM

Happy new year everyone! Finally back! I agree there are similarities eroock, but I'm not sure how merging this trope with that one will work.

Jan 14th 2018 at 5:45:07 AM

I'll be adding all of the examples that people have suggested here later, but do you guys think this is launch worthy now?

Jan 14th 2018 at 10:03:44 AM

Cant Count Bullets still exists... That's gonna redirect to this, or what?

Jan 14th 2018 at 12:39:16 PM

"The gun has to fail when it working would allow the villain to kill the hero with a well placed shot."

Why not hero-to-villain?

Jan 14th 2018 at 2:26:11 PM

^^ I suppose we can have it redirect. ^ There, I mentioned that heroic examples are possible.

Jan 14th 2018 at 6:03:54 PM

Draft needs improved contrast against Convenient Misfire which is basically the same trope for guns jamming during crucial moments. Adjustments (to avoid misuse) would include:

  • A different title to emphasize that it's the lack of bullets and not the gun mechanics causing the failure
  • Not using the generic "gun failure" throughout the paragraphs but phrases like "running out of bullets".

Mar 19th 2018 at 10:27:42 AM

Hasn't been touched the creator in months, I'm assuming this is Up For Grabs now.

Mar 20th 2018 at 1:44:16 AM

I'd say, grab it. But there's work left to be done like changing the trope name to something more descriptive, see ^^^. Suggestion in ^^ is a good starter.

Mar 19th 2018 at 6:39:59 PM

  • Happens in the last scene of The Time Of Your Life, after Joe witnesses an incident of Police Brutality:
    Joe: I've always wanted to kill somebody, but I never knew who it should be.
    (He cocks the revolver, stands real straight, holds it in front of him firmly and walks to the door. He stands a moment watching Blick, aims very carefully, and pulls the trigger. There is no shot.)
    (Nick runs over, grabs the gun and takes Joe aside.)
    Nick: What the hell do you think you're doing?
    Joe (casually, but angry): That dumb Tom. Buys a six-shooter that won't even shoot once.

Mar 25th 2018 at 10:01:36 AM

Shoot! I completely forgot about this! But you know what, I'm not entirely sure if it's launch worthy yet, but I'll remove the "No Launching" tag. If you guys want to make any edits or add more examples, then by all means do so.

Apr 12th 2018 at 7:56:59 AM

My issues have been dealt with so I've turned my bomb into a hat.

Apr 12th 2018 at 9:25:14 AM

My points from above have not been dealt with. If this is being launched before title. laconic and description have a clearer contrast against Convenient Misfire (missing ammunition vs jamming), this will go straight to YKTTW Crash Rescue.

Apr 12th 2018 at 11:11:01 AM

A Scotsman In Egypt: During a battle farcically mismanaged by both sides, the commander of the remaining Scottish forces finds himself facing a cannon at near-point-blank range... and it misfires, somehow missing him and letting him finally rally what's left of his troops to end the battle.

Apr 12th 2018 at 12:16:43 PM

^^ Hrm, I see that Convenient Misfire does specifically say that "any type of failure to work" qualifies, and running out of bullets certainly qualifies as not working.

Apr 12th 2018 at 5:15:56 PM

^ That sentence can be rewritten since we now have a separate trope for running out of bullets. And perhaps examples could be checked if they better fit here.

Apr 14th 2018 at 4:51:29 PM

^ agree, thr title's too broad currently

Apr 14th 2018 at 8:15:54 PM

  • Ash Vs Evil Dead: Pablo confronts Kelly (who's possessed by a demon) at the high school dance, but can't bring himself to shoot her. She steals his gun and has no problem firing several shots at Pablo instead that all miss. Just when she has him cornered, the gun has run out of bullets.

Apr 16th 2018 at 2:39:17 AM

What about No Bullet Left, as a snowclone of One Bullet Left?


  • The current page quote seems to exemplify Counting Bullets.
  • The Harry Potter example talks about a damaged wand, not a wand that has run out of power.

This trope still doesn't fully know where it wants to go. [thumb down]

Apr 15th 2018 at 7:27:46 PM

^ no, we're still having problem with the title

And unadded examples

Apr 16th 2018 at 9:42:46 PM

Should we start a crowner to vote for a new title?

Apr 16th 2018 at 10:18:56 PM

  • In Homestuck, Andrew Hussie tries to shoot Lord English when the latter shows up to kill him, only to realize that he didn't think to reload the "deudly magnum" he'd lifted off of Doc Scratch's body.

Apr 17th 2018 at 10:23:17 PM

^^ I think the trope title should cover the gun failing for any reason, not just "misfiring" or "running out of bullets". I don't understand how "Dramatic Gun Failure" doesn't cover both of those. If anyone has something to say about this, please let me know. I'll get to adding the new examples listed.

Apr 17th 2018 at 10:34:16 PM

As for those who think the title's too broad, one of the previous titles I had was "Bullet Counting Failure". Make of that what you will.

Apr 17th 2018 at 10:48:17 PM

^ Your description was specifically about running out of bullets. The title thus should be specific, as well. (Unless you wanna change the description, instead?)

Apr 18th 2018 at 8:55:06 AM

I changed the description to cover both forms of the trope, running out of bullets, and the gun jamming/not firing for whatever reason. Does it work better now?

Apr 18th 2018 at 9:31:40 AM

This seems to be just a remake of Convenient Misfire. The descriptions are functionally the same.

Apr 18th 2018 at 9:57:47 AM

That trope seems only to ever cover when the gun misfires though, not generally failing to go off or because the gun was out of ammunition. At this point I think this trope and that one may be merged, but I'll have to see.

Apr 18th 2018 at 9:59:36 AM

The gun jammihg is already covered as Convenient Misfire, meaning that you can't cover jamming in this draft.

Just go with the idea of convenient bullet depletion that this draft had before.

Apr 18th 2018 at 10:21:31 AM

  • In The Matrix, Agent Smith and Neo have a shootout in a subway. They eventually end up on the ground with each of them holding their pistols at the other's head. They in turn point out that the other's gun is empty. They switch to Good Old Fisticuffs.

Jun 18th 2018 at 7:28:09 AM

OK, so I removed all examples that fit more into Convenient Misfire and made this trope exclusively about occasions where the shooter runs out of ammunition. I'll add a few more examples later, and then I'll probably launch it.

Jun 19th 2018 at 12:21:23 PM

  • Defied in Django Unchained. In the finale, Django shoots miss Candie and her entourage with his revolver. Stephen then points out to him that he fired all six of his shots, so he has nothing in the hand against him. Django then just pulls out a second revolver.