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Hollywood Blanks

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Firearm blanks are shown as harmless.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
kelly-away-from-home on Mar 3rd 2019 at 3:27:40 PM
Last Edited By:
kelly-away-from-home on Mar 14th 2019 at 3:57:36 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Guns are dangerous. It's kind of their thing. Sometimes, though, our heroes need a way to make it look like they're shooting someone when they aren't. Enter the Hollywood Blank. In Real Life, blanks are extremely dangerous, and mishandling them can (and has) resulted in the deaths of actors. The high pressure gasses used can fracture bones, and parts of brass casings and paper wadding can be driven into flesh.

In fiction, however, blanks are completely harmless, producing nothing more than a loud noise and flash of light. Also commonly seen will be characters using unmodified weapons with blanks. Some guns, like revolvers and bolt-action rifles, can be used without modification, but automatic and semi-automatic guns must be extensively modified in order to cycle blanks properly, and cannot be used with live ammo afterwards.

Shows up almost all the time in fiction, making this an Omnipresent Trope. As such, please only list aversions and inversions.

A Sub-Trope of Guns Do Not Work That Way. See also Artistic License Gun Safety.


Examples

Film

  • In In Bruges, when a petty crook tries to rob one of the main characters, who he doesn't realize is a much more dangerous gangster. The main character takes the crook's gun away from him and shoots him in the face. The gun turns out to be loaded with blanks, but the blast of flame and hot gas destroys one of the petty crook's eyes. The main character then upbraids him for being stupid enough to try to rob somebody without real bullets in the gun.

Literature

  • In the solution of the Sir Henry Merrivale novel The Ten Teacups, in which the victim is wrongly assumed to have been shot at close range because he had a powder burn from when the killer "accidentally" shot him with a blank cartridge the previous day.
  • In one of ''The Continental Op's stories, a minor crook steals the Op's gun and shoots him in the gut before fleeing. As it turns out, the Op actually anticipated this and loaded his own gun with blanks. He still gets a painful burn from the shot (and it ruins his shirt), but doesn't suffer any long-term harm.

Live-Action TV

  • In an episode of CSI: New York, in which one Victim of the Week was accidentally killed by a blank-firing gun going off point-blank in his chest. The murderer — a down-on-his-luck actor that was humiliated by the victim — makes clear as he confesses that he didn't thought a blank could do that.
  • In an episode of Law & Order, a murder scene from a web series within the show results in the actor dying for real, on camera. The detectives spend a while fruitlessly investigating who could have swapped out the blanks for real bullets. Then they find out from the coroner that there was no bullet; the victim was killed by a blank fired too close.
  • Averted in one segment on 1000 Ways to Die. An abusive father tries to scare off his daughter's boyfriend by "shooting" him when he catches them together in her room. After traumatizing his daughter and her boyfriend, he mocks them by admitting that the bullets were blanks, and attempts to demonstrate by putting the gun to his own head and pulling the trigger. The burst of air from the blank cracks his skull, sending fragments into his brain and killing him on the spot.

Real Life

  • This is how Brandon Lee was killed while filming The Crow. A prop tech not certified as an armorer had to come up with inert "dummy" rounds on short notice and simply removed the gunpowder (but not the primers) from six cartridges and reseated the bullets. The primer from one went off and propelled the bullet slightly down the barrel, creating what's known as a "squib load." When a later scene (the scene where Funboy shot Eric Draven) required a blank to be fired, the blank propelled the bullet down the gun with near the force of a live round, which struck and killed Brandon.
  • This was how the model and actor Jon-Erik Hexum accidentally killed himself while messing around with a prop gun on a TV show set - he fired a blank into the side of his head at point-blank range and the blast from the explosion fractured his skull and drove a piece of it into his brain.

Feedback: 61 replies

Mar 3rd 2019 at 3:40:17 PM

This is my first TLP and it's not great so far. If we have this already I'm sorry, but I dug through a couple of indexes and couldn't find anything.

Mar 3rd 2019 at 5:47:09 PM

Should trope examples be anytime blanks are used? Also Compare to Hollywood Silencer.

Mar 3rd 2019 at 8:28:03 PM

Your idea is off to a decent start. I'll watch this and wait for examples before I make up my mind on whether or not to hat this.

Mar 4th 2019 at 1:49:54 AM

I think this is one where it's worth drawing attention to aversions, as their less common.

Averted in In Bruges, when a petty crook tries to rob one of the main characters, who he doesn't realise is a much more dangerous gangster. The main character takes the crook's gun away from him and shoots him in the face. The gun turns out to be loaded with blanks, but the blast of flame and hot gas destroys one of the petty crook's eyes. The main character then upbraids him for being stupid enough to try to rob somebody without real bullets in the gun.

Also averted in the solution of the Sir Henry Merrivale novel The Ten Teacups, in which the victim is wrongly assumed to have been shot at close range because he had a powder burn from when the killer "accidentally" shot him with a blank cartridge the previous day.

Played straight in an episode of Bron Broen where a gangster tortures a character by forcing him to play Russian Roulette. The gun goes off but it turns out to have been loaded with a blank cartridge. The victim is completely unharmed, whereas in reality firing a blank into the side of your head at point blank range can fracture your skull. (This was how the model and actor Jon-Erik Hexum accidentally killed himself while messing around with a prop gun on a TV show set.)

Mar 4th 2019 at 1:51:10 AM

Averted in an episode of CSI New York, in which one Victim Of The Week was accidentally killed by a blank-firing gun going off point-blank in his chest. The murderer — a down-on-his-luck actor that was humiliated by the victim — makes clear as he confesses that he didn't thought a blank could do that.

Mar 4th 2019 at 4:12:37 AM

  • In an infamous Real Life example, Brandon Lee was killed while filming The Crow when a blank loaded into a prop gun propelled a fragment of bullet that was jammed in the barrel at him.

Mar 4th 2019 at 6:01:51 AM

Parodied in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "People are Bunny", where Daffy Duck gets shot by hunters in a TV show.

Bugs: Don't worry, Daff. They always use blanks in these TV shows.
Daffy: (his bill shot full of holes) Blanks, he says. (spits out buckshot pellets into his hand) Have a handful of blanks. Sheesh!

Mar 4th 2019 at 6:20:59 AM

Literature:

  • In one of The Continental Op's stories, a minor crook steals the Op's gun and shoots him in the gut before fleeing. As it turns out, the Op actually anticipated this and loaded his own gun with blanks. He still gets a painful burn from the shot (and it ruins his shirt), but doesn't suffer any long-term harm.

Live Action TV:

  • In an episode of Law And Order, a murder scene from a web series within the show results in the actor dying for real, on camera. The detectives spend a while fruitlessly investigating who could have swapped out the blanks for real bullets. Then they find out from the coroner that there was no bullet; the victim was killed by a blank fired too close.

Mar 4th 2019 at 6:15:36 AM

Throwing in a bomb because, despite the fact I think this is tropable and splittable from Guns Do Not Work That Way, without any examples, it isn't ready for launch thus shouldn't have a hat.

Mar 4th 2019 at 7:49:45 AM

Live Action TV

  • Gilligan Island: One episode has Gilligan believe he saw Mary-Anne shoot the Professor, when in reality they were helping Ginger practice a scene. When clearing up the mishap, Ginger points the gun directly at her chest and fires to show its only loaded with "blanks".

Mar 4th 2019 at 10:21:58 AM

^^ TBH, I don't think that's the best course of action. I mean, there's a further 3 bombs which this draft certainly doesn't deserve now. One unnecessary hat isn't going to cause any confusion, but a bomb from the outset seems to give a certain type of lurker the scent of blood.

Mar 4th 2019 at 11:32:18 AM

Yeah, I'm going to hold off on tossing another bomb even though I have a concern of my own. I'm in agreement with Londonkid- this should be an aversion only type of page, since straight examples are common.

Mar 4th 2019 at 11:32:26 AM

Added a bunch of your examples! Thank you all so much! I'll fix the markup errors when I get home from work.

Mar 4th 2019 at 11:37:46 AM

In Snatch, Sol tests out a blank-firing pistol in a car, which blows out the car's windows.

Mar 4th 2019 at 11:54:33 AM

Additional info to the Snatch example: because Bullet-Tooth Tony is close enough to read that the guns of Sol's gang are replicas (with extra-loud blanks, hence the aforementioned window destruction) he gives absolutely no care about being threatened with them and even managed to intimidate the gang into running away, even if the fact the gun muzzles are inches from his face should worry him a bit and the fact he puts on earplugs before unloading his Desert Eagle thirty seconds later shows he does not has Steel Eardrums.

Mar 4th 2019 at 3:13:24 PM

Aversions/lampshades only makes a lot of sense, yeah.

Mar 4th 2019 at 3:45:47 PM

May have some stuff for Bodyguard (UK) and The Park is Mine starring Tommy Lee Jones.

Mar 4th 2019 at 4:46:13 PM

^^Tony's behavior could have been a case of genre savvy and/or fridge brilliance; because he told Vinnie and Sol that he knew the guns were replicas, he was betting that the 2 wouldn't know that a blank at such close range could still be dangerous, and they wouldn't shoot the replica guns (and even if they did, he showed them that he had a non-replica Desert Eagle...)

Mar 4th 2019 at 7:06:31 PM

Has there ever been a work that shows conspicuous blank-firing adaptors being used during an exercise, like the ones that can be seen here? https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Blank-firing_adaptor

Mar 4th 2019 at 9:54:25 PM

"This Park Is Mine"? Oh, hell, yeah! That movie needs a Tropes page STAT!

And regarding Bullet Tooth Tony: him being savvy that Sol's gang was easy to intimidate may be true, but a more normal (or smarter) man wouldn't have liked to be so damn close to a gun, even a replica, in case one of those idiots got trigger happy.

Mar 5th 2019 at 12:57:28 AM

Mc Lintock: Downplayed when George McLintock shots Devlin Warren with a blank cartridge. It sets his shirt on fire, but he is otherwise unharmed.

Mar 5th 2019 at 4:11:11 PM

  • Bodyguard UK 2018: Downplayed, following failing to save Julia, David Budd attempts to blow his brains out. However, someone switched his rounds for blanks, so he only accomplishes temporarily knocking himself out and giving himself a nasty burn. In real life, even blanks should have killed him as he held the barrel directly against his head.

Mar 5th 2019 at 3:21:56 AM

  • Blue Linked TV Tropes page names.
  • Examples section
    • Corrected spelling (who's bullets -> whose bullets, its only loaded -> it's only loaded).
    • Corrected punctuation (changed a comma to a colon).

Mar 5th 2019 at 3:55:52 AM

^^^

Definitely. Enjoyed the movie when I was young.

But yeah, it's blatantly like the second Die Hard when the main man switching live and blank rounds without a care in the world.

Mar 5th 2019 at 5:48:25 AM

I'm a bit curious: if blanks are supposed to make the gun only produce smoke and the bang, then how are they still dangerous?

Mar 5th 2019 at 6:18:21 AM

Because to produce smoke and a bang, they still need gunpowder and a projectile. Blanks just use a projectile that will quickly lose speed when it exits the gun and thus become harmless sooner. But they're still a projectile, and there's still the danger of muzzle flash.

Mar 5th 2019 at 8:17:11 AM

Blanks have a bit of wadding (usually paper or cardboard) to hold the powder in, or sometimes a bit of brass crimping on the end.

The internal pressure of the blank is still measured in tens of thousands of PSI, it creates a ton of hot gas and force. It's basically a rocket motor that lasts for a couple of milliseconds. At a decent distance you'll get burns, closer the pressure can actually fracture bone. See: Jon-Erik Hexum https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon-Erik_Hexum#Death

Mar 5th 2019 at 8:49:43 AM

BTW, turned my bomb into a hat. This looks great.

Mar 5th 2019 at 9:57:36 AM

Thanks for the vote of confidence! I'm honestly shocked we didn't have it already. I kinda expected to get 50 people saying "ITS RIGHT HERE"

Mar 5th 2019 at 10:52:40 AM

Excellent TLP! Theatre example:

  • In Theatre/Sleuth, a significant plot point involves a blank bullet which is fired point-blank (no pun intended) but apparently does no damage whatsoever.

Mar 8th 2019 at 8:40:02 AM

Added a bit more detail and elaborated on the "The Crow" incident.

Mar 8th 2019 at 9:06:58 AM

Averted in one segment on One Thousand Ways To Die. An abusive father tries to scare off his daughter's boyfriend by "shooting" him when he catches them together in her room. After traumatizing his daughter and her boyfriend, he mocks them by admitting that the bullets were blanks, and attempts to demonstrate by putting the gun to his own head and pulling the trigger. The burst of air from the blank cracks his skull, sending fragments into his brain and killing him on the spot.

Mar 8th 2019 at 9:26:54 AM

@4tell0life4: Because the "smoke and bang" are heat and pressure from a chemical explosion powerful enough to propel a small, soft piece of metal to sufficient velocity to puncture skin, shatter bone, and even penetrate wood, metal, and concrete. That's still a very dangerous amount of kinetic energy coming out of the barrel of a gun firing blanks. And as mentioned, there might be less-dangerous projectiles, but still projectiles, involved, which retain lethal kinetic energy for several feet.

A lot of blanks will involve reduced powder loads, to still get the smoke and bang that looks good on camera but reduce the amount of kinetic energy the gun puts out to safer levels. Others will use heavier powder loads to get more impressive muzzle flashes, though this makes the "blanks" even less safe.

Even when blanks are involved, the first rule of gun safety applies: never point a gun at something you do not intend to destroy.

Mar 8th 2019 at 9:51:03 AM

It seems that there are more aversions than the trope being played straight; perhaps this should be renamed "Not so harmless blanks?"

Are there any other scenarios like the one with the horse from Animal House, where a blank is physically harmless, but the sound/shock of the blank causes a heart attack or other fatal reaction in the target?

In Escape from LA, the first clip of Snake's gun is filled with blanks, so that he won't be able to shoot the agent giving his briefing; they work, despite the gun not having a blank-firing adapter.

Mar 8th 2019 at 12:02:23 PM

Additionally, Snake blasts a full burst at point blank range at the agent ("are you gonna be there (when I come back)?" "No." "Good! (opens fire)") and other than a lot of noise and muzzle flash, nothing happens. The agents don't even flinch at the discharge.

Mar 8th 2019 at 3:08:10 PM

Not a big fan of the title change but who am I to argue with the wiki hivemind? It is done.

Mar 8th 2019 at 4:27:34 PM

"Blanks just use a projectile that will quickly lose speed when it exits the gun and thus become harmless sooner."

Then I don't know why they're called "blanks". That sounds more like a "dud" to me (a potentially harmful one, but still).

Mar 8th 2019 at 5:23:52 PM

  • In the "Glamour Assault" arc of Schlock Mercenary Elf shoots two cops in the face with stage blanks, with a footnote that she fired from far enough back to avoid causing permanent harm

Mar 8th 2019 at 5:24:50 PM

I like the title, but now the description and examples aren't consistent with it.

Mar 8th 2019 at 5:59:30 PM

The title, the description, and the examples all need to match—the current title of Not So Harmless Blanks conflicts with the description focusing on the more typical treatment of blanks as harmless and the examples of harmful blanks being listed as aversions.

IMO, the possibilities are:

1. It could be an Omnipresent Trope focusing on how most media considers blanks harmless (in contrast to reality). As an Omnipresent Trope, only aversions (or played with examples, I believe) would be permitted. This matches the current description and example list, but is opposite of the title Not So Harmless Blanks.

2. It could be a (non-omnipresent) trope focusing on media using the dangers posed by blanks as a plot device, and only straight examples would be listed rather than aversions. This version of the trope would probably often play on the widespread perception of blanks as harmless, so that perception (influenced by "harmless" blanks shown in media) would also need to be addressed/described in the description. The option matches the Not So Harmless Blanks title very well but would require a description rewrite. Most of the current examples would become straight examples rather than aversions (i.e., require minor revision of the example write-up).

3. (Maybe—not certain if this conforms to wiki rules) Two separate tropes, one an Omnipresent Trope of Harmless Blanks capturing the more typical treatment and the other Not So Harmless Blanks focusing specifically on cases where the harmfulness of the blanks is a subversion—the audience is intended to expect Harmless Blanks, and the subversion of that is a plot point. Note that, in this option, Not So Harmless Blanks would not encompass all aversions of Harmless Blanks, but rather a specific subversion forming a trope in itself (I'm not sure if that's technically a Subtrope or not, but it would be a similar argument for why it may justify a separate page).

Personally, I think that the Harmless Blanks concept is the primary trope appearing in media, so I don't like option 2 of only having Not So Harmless Blanks—note that, without the common portrayal of blanks as harmless, Not So Harmless Blanks is simply being Like Reality Unless Noted. I lean towards option 3 of the two tropes, since that subversion of presumed-harmless blanks turning out to be harmful does appear to be a significant pattern based on the examples collected so far.

Mar 8th 2019 at 9:32:23 PM

^^^^It's a matter of vocabulary. A "dud" is something else entirely; it's a round that fails to go off because of factors such as a manufacturing defect, rather than being an intentional feature (there are also inert rounds, used when closeups of ammunition is needed, or when demonstrating how to load a weapon; they are kind of the opposite of blanks, in that they have all the parts of regular ammunition except for the primer and gunpowder). Blanks are rounds that either don't fire a projectile at all, or they fire some kind of wadding or light projectile (so that it's safe to be fired at from 15 feet+ rather than still being lethal at several hundred feet away).

Mar 8th 2019 at 10:27:34 PM

We could rename it as "Hollywood Firearm Blanks" or something similar and make it a general "guy gets shot but it's blanks so it's okay" and "guy gets shot and killed and killer goes 'I thought blanks were safe!'".

On that end, this Trope is also a sub-division of Artistic License Firearms and maybe one of the ways Television Is Trying To Kill Us (well, we have two Real Life examples of the 'didnt expected blanks to do this' part).

Mar 8th 2019 at 10:45:44 PM

  • In Jon Sable Freelance #28-30, Jon investigates when an old friend of Sonny's is killed while seemingly stealing the Maltese Falcon from an auction of movie memorabilia. Jon eventually discovers that Sonny's friend surprised the thief who grabbed Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum from another display and fired. The gun was loaded with blanks, but fired the cardboard wadding with enough force to fatally wound him. He managed to grab the Falcon and stagger away, collapsing on Jon's doorstep.

Mar 8th 2019 at 11:57:07 PM

"Blanks are rounds that either don't fire a projectile at all, or they fire some kind of wadding or light projectile"

This sounds like an important info to me. The first kind actually sounds like it's harmless.

Mar 9th 2019 at 12:22:05 AM

In Black Lagoon, early in the Wired Red Card arc Rock mentions having fractured a rib from Roberta shooting him with a blank in the previous arc.

Mar 9th 2019 at 2:51:51 AM

^ Wasn't it Roberta's master who shot him with a blank, though?

Mar 9th 2019 at 6:28:13 AM

I don't see any more conflict between trope title and description. The way the trope was being described when it was called Hollywood Blanks, we were looking at "blanks" that could be just as dangerous as the real thing and therefore not so harmless.

Mar 9th 2019 at 7:23:45 AM

^^^The first kind might sound harmless, but it still can be dangerous or fatal when used at close range, for the reasons described several posts above (a non-projectile blank still gives off noise, flames, and kinetic energy). Non-projectile blanks aren't just cap gun rounds...

Mar 9th 2019 at 7:24:02 AM

  • Parodied in Naitonal Lampoons Animal House, where Flounder is instructed to shoot Neidermeyer's horse. Bluto and D-Day obviously knew there were blanks in the gun and the guy did not even try to aim. It kills the horse anyway because the gunshot scared it to death.

Mar 9th 2019 at 8:05:18 AM

I'd consider the Animal House example to be more of a zigzag than a parody

Mar 9th 2019 at 12:35:18 PM

What's with the "not so" in the title, yet the laconic says they are harmless?

Mar 9th 2019 at 2:15:09 PM

^^^ Shown as, proven to be not so.

Mar 9th 2019 at 3:39:16 PM

^^Because the OP has changed the title, but not the laconic version.

Mar 9th 2019 at 4:46:50 PM

Then again, we haven't decided on whether we count only really harmless blanks, or when a blank round actually harms someone, or both. We can only decide on a title after that.

Mar 11th 2019 at 4:44:17 PM

Eh i'm not digging the "not so harmless" bit so i switched it back. seems overly narrow so back to hollywood tropes.

Mar 11th 2019 at 4:45:29 PM

^ Good move, since that title wasn't indicative of the actual draft content.

Mar 11th 2019 at 8:01:25 PM

  • Hill Street Blues: When LaRue suspects Hunter might be considering suicide, he replaces the bullets in Hunter's gun with blanks. The next day Hunter has a burn on his forehead but is otherwise unhurt. In real life, shooting himself in the head with a blank at point-blank range should have seriously injured if not killed Hunter.

Mar 11th 2019 at 10:38:19 PM

Anime and Manga

  • At one point in Death Note, as part of a test set up by L, Soichiro pulls a gun that had been loaded with blanks on his son Light and fires it. At point blank range. Nothing happens to Light, but in real life, the gunshot would have blinded him permanently and left him needing immediate medical attention.

Mar 12th 2019 at 4:50:33 PM

kelly-away-from-home, keep in mind that you will need to figure out whether this is a regular trope, in which case Aversions should not be listed among the examples, or an Omnipresent Trope, in which case only aversions/inversions are listed. Currently, both aversions (i.e., blanks causing harm) and straight examples (i.e., blanks being unrealistically harmless) are listed in the draft.

Mar 13th 2019 at 9:24:35 AM

It really is an Omnipresent Trope. Edited the description and removed straight examples.

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