Giles: She's not a vampire.
Buffy: Yeah, well, you'd be surprised how many things that'll kill.
In the center of the chest (and tilted slightly to the left) lies the heart: an extremely important muscle that happens to be the sole thing responsible for moving blood throughout the entire body. As such, causing severe enough damage to it is one of the surest ways to kill someone. In real life, police and military personnel are trained to fire at the center of mass (read: chest/heart) specifically for this reason: it incapacitates or kills a target much more consistently than aiming for extremities.
Along with throat-slitting, decapitation, and shots to the head, this is one of the classical ways of killing someone in media. Generally speaking, any character that takes a direct hit to the heart will either die instantly or drop dead after just a few seconds.
This trope can easily overlap with Impaled with Extreme Prejudice or Inertial Impalement. Vampires, which are otherwise immortal, can often be killed anyway by impaling them through the heart with a wooden stake: a depiction so common that it's a trope in its own right. If the attack actually removes the heart from the body, the victim will often see their own heart, still visibly beating before they die.
A fairly common, yet equally interesting method of subverting this trope is to have a character be hit where their heart should be, only to survive because they have the rare condition dextrocardia, where, instead of facing to the left, the heart is mirrorednote , with its apex instead being on the right side of the chest. Assuming the attack doesn't damage anything else in the area the attacker was aiming for, survival in this manner can be Truth in Television.
Because filmmakers aren't necessarily familiar with anatomy, on occasion a wound will treated as damaging the heart even though it's clearly not in the center of the chest. Instead, they place the wound beneath the left shoulder, where the heartbeat can be felt. That would be the aortic pulse, not the heart itself. That said, almost any penetrating wound to the thorax has a high chance of being fatal due to the number of important organs and (more significantly) major arteries and veins. In fact, a shot to the Aortanote is often considered more fatal than being shot in the heart, since the victim would likely bleed out more rapidly from the former than the latter. The heart itself can also be affected by shock damage even if the injury itself misses, so there could realistically be no difference.
As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.
- Assassination Classroom: One of Koro-sensei's greatest weaknesses is his heart, located right underneath his tie. When fighting against Kayano, Koro-sensei allows her to attack his heart (albeit not long enough for it to be lethal) in order to create an opening for Nagisa to distract her, thus letting Koro-sensei take out her tentacles before they fully exhaust her. Also, in the finale, Koro-sensei allows Nagisa on behalf of Class 3-E to assassinate him just before graduation day, by having Nagisa stab his heart.
- Code Geass: The penultimate episode has a geassed Schneizel shoot Diethard through the heart. In his dying moments, Diethard askes Lelouch to geass him, only for the latter to reply that he's not worth it.
- The default method of death in Death Note is a heart attack.
- Dragon Ball Z: Early on in Goku's fight against Frieza, the latter blasts a critically wounded Vegeta through the heart in response to Vegeta's boasting over Frieza getting in over his head with Goku. Before dying, Vegeta tearfully reveals what Frieza did to the rest of the Saiyan race and asks Goku to avenge them all. Of course, this being DBZ, he gets wished back to life along with the rest of Frieza's victims on Namek.
- Dr Prisoner: Tsukishima, the female protagonist got hit from the force of a bomb explosion. The impact of the explosion has caused cardiac tamponade to Tsukishima's heart. Fortunately, Reiji is there to save her life.
- Hajime no Ippo has a non-lethal example in Eiji Date's "Heartbreak Shot"; It's a corkscrew punch aiming directly for the heart, which jars its victim's systems for a second.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2016), Wolf Link defeats Dark Beast Ganon by biting his heart out.
- Red Sprite: Tatsu kills Shepherd by stabbing him in the heart with his sword, but only penetrating up to the pericardium so he can electrocute it with his Thundercore powers. The resulting convulsions cause the heart to implode and crush itself.
- The page image is ironically a non-fatal example: early in Wonder Woman (2011), Wonder Woman gets shot in the heart by Hades with the Eros' pistols that she just relinquished in exchange for Zola to get her to love and marry him. After convincing him to give up, she leaves, but not before she returns the favor by shooting him with the aforementioned pistols into his heart, just as he gazes into the mirror Hephaestus left him, so that he may love himself.
- The Arithmancer: In the sequel Lady Archimedes, Hermione's medical research leads her to develop a variation on the Sumerian Strike Hex, which is no more powerful than being punched in the nose — but her version delivers that force directly to the heart in a way designed to cause cardiac arrest. And it can penetrate single-layer shields. She almost kills Bellatrix Lestrange with it in the Battle of the Department of Mysteries, but another Death Eater, Rookwood, was smart enough to revive her.
- A Darker Path: Path to Ending allows Taylor to hit a person in the right place and time to stop their heart. Sophia Hess learns this too late. It also throws the police off her trail, since such precision would only be possible to a martial artist or a particular type of parahuman, and Taylor isn't known to be either.
- Dungeon Keeper Ami: Zarekos temporarily kills Wemos — a vampire — by attacking his heart:
cracked-open ribcage, grabbed the beating heart, and plucked it from its exposed perch in a shower of blood. Immediately, the separated organ and its owner dissolved.
- In Rabbit of the Moon, Bell finishes off the minotaur that killed him by reaching into its chest and ripping out its Magic Stone.
- Doraemon: Nobita's Great Adventure into the Underworld has Doraemon and the gang facing a new threat, the all-powerful demon Lord Demaon, whose sole weakness is his heart. Trying to attack it as harder than it sounds, however, because it turns out Demaon's heart is not in his body, but is a floating lump of flesh in outer space.
- Frozen (2013): Played with. When Anna is hit in the head by one of Elsa's ice beams, she's knocked out and gets a permanent white hair streak. The troll shaman manages to heal her, but warns that a similar strike to the heart will not be so easily healed. Such a strike occurs later, and is revealed to lead to a painful, slow, and inevitable transformation into solid ice unless cured by "an Act of True Love". Anna ends up sacrificing what she believed to be her opportunity in order to save her sister, but survives because such a sacrifice is an Act of True Love.
- Assault on Precinct 13 (1976): In an infamous scene, a member of the Street Thunder gang kills a little girl by shooting her in the middle of her chest at point-blank range.
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Both Superman and Doomsday are stabbed through the heart, simultaneously. Superman got better.
- Equilibrium: John Preston kills DuPont with a single gunshot to the heart.
- Ouija Mummy: Ahotep the 1st kills Chase soon after he is released from her influence by pulling his heart out of his chest.
- Scream 4 switched up from the usual Boom, Headshot! for the Ghostface killer's demise. Here, the mastermind, Jill Roberts stabs the accomplice, Charlie Walker in the heart after no longer being necessary. In the final confrontation, Sidney shoots Jill in the heart to kill her.
- Smokin' Aces 2: Assassins' Ball: Katlyn Tremor is shot twice in the heart, and finished off with a shot to the head.
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: The Klingon Chancellor Gorkon is assassinated via phaser shot to the center mass.
- Terminator Salvation: Marcus is a Meat-Sack Robot with a human heart, among other organs. Towards the ends of the film, a Terminator attempts to destroy his heart because it's his only vulnerable spot.
- The heroine is aiming for this during the Final Battle of The Assassins of Tamurin. She misses but hits a major vein, so the villain is still doomed, but they have a few seconds to exchange final words before it's all over.
- Dracula: The titular vampire is actually killed by a knife through the heart (not a stake) and being decapitated by another knife at exact the same moment.
- In the Endgame Trilogy, Kala is stabbed into the heart by Baitsakhan. However, it doesn't kill her immediately.
- In The Grimrose Girls, the fake Penelope is killed by being stabbed in the heart. Her blood stains her killer's clothing over their heart, as if they were wounded as well.
- The Inheritance Cycle: Shades are sorcerers who have been possessed by one or more spirits. They are extremely difficult to kill as destroying their body will leave them temporarily disembodied and make them reappear elsewhere in their spirit form until they recover their physical form. The only way to kill a Shade is to stab them through the heart, as Eragon and Arya proceed to do with Durza and Varaug respectively.
- Into the Heartless Wood: The Gwydden kills Elynion by thrusting a sharpened tree branch through his heart.
- Jaine Austen Mysteries: If someone is stabbed in these books, expect it to be right in the ticker. There are exceptions, like Frenchie from Shoes to Die For, who was stabbed in the neck.
- The Origin of Laughing Jack: After saying his final goodbyes to Isaac, Laughing Jack yanks his heart out of his chest as a last act of violence on Isaac's heavily mutilated body.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Roose Bolton kills Robb Stark during the Red Wedding by stabbing him through the heart and twisting.
- Sandor Clegane issues a Mercy Kill to a bowman who was mortally wounded at the Red Wedding in this manner, teaching Arya in the process. Later, Arya uses the same heart-piericng technique to finish off a squire after a fight where she stabbed him in the stomach.
- Highlander: Tessa, presumably. The bullet hit her right in the heart area and killed her instantly. At least one immortal died their first death due to stabbing in the heart as well.
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: The Original Series: In "A Private Little War", Spock is shot through the center mass by revolutionaries on planet Neural. He only survived because his Vulcan heart is located where the Human liver is.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: Captain Picard has an artificial heart as a result of an incident in his youth, he proudly antagonized a Nausican, who then stabbed him through the heart. Since then, he's been a much more mellow individual.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: After overhearing Ziyal's confession of freeing war prisoners, Damar summarily executes her by shooting her in the heart with a phaser.
- The Twilight Zone (1985): In "The Toys of Caliban", Toby Ross accidentally kills his mother Mary when he removes her heart from her chest using his ability to manifest anything from a picture. He had seen a diagram of a heart in a magazine and wanted to know how it worked.
- Avencast: Rise of the Mage: The final boss is a colossal Demon Lord who needs to be fought in stages, ending when you expose and destroy his crystalline heart. It's stationary, naturally, but uses a variety of energy attacks.
- Drawn to Life: To defeat the Giant Robosa, The Hero must first take out its mechanical eyes; when that's done, you must destroy their giant mechanical heart. Fittingly, it's the most heavily guarded part of the robot's inner body, but is also exposed enough to allow for constant attack.
- Dragon's Dogma: The Dragon, as well as its smaller cousins Drakes, have a weak spot located on their chests where their hearts are, which glows and deals more damage to them when struck. Subverted with the rest of the lesser dragonkin that appear after the Dragon is defeated: Wyrms and Wyverns have their weak points located on their stomachs and backs instead.
- Dwarf Fortress: While you cannot currently aim for the heart specifically, enough upper body damage is bound to damage it, be it through direct injury or through shattering a rib so hard it gets jammed right inside. A proper heart-tearing injury will damn near always kill anything that bleeds. Unfortunately, anything that doesn't bleed will probably shrug it off.
- Fallout: New Vegas: The Fallout series is generally known for its preference towards Headshots, since the head is the body part the player can shoot in V.A.T.S. that’ll cause the most damage (and is the hardest to hit). However, New Vegas also has a perk that the player can choose called “Center of Mass”, where the player gets a 15% Damage Bonus to any shot to the torso region with V.A.T.S., which makes its damage pretty close to headshot damage while being much easier to hit than the target’s head.
- Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel has the most common zombie enemies, whose hearts are bulging out their chests and glowing red for good measure. It's their main weak spot, expectedly, shooting their exposed hearts will kill them easily. Due to how blatantly highlighted the heart is, the only thing missing is a neon sign that says "AIM HERE FOR EXTRA DAMAGE".
- Heavy Rain: In one of Jayden's possible deaths, he's killed by having a katana run through his chest. The Origami Killer can also die this way, via gunshot to the heart.
- Kid Icarus: Uprising: While being forced to travel inside of Hades after being eaten, Pit has a run in with the Lord of the Underworld's heart which serves as the boss for the chapter. The heart actually explodes upon being destroyed... but Hades ends up being no worse for wear despite his heart having literally blown up inside his chest.
Hades: That really hurt. But hey. At least I'm not dead!
- In Lugaru, Turner always throws his knives at the heart.
- Prayer of the Faithless: One of the ways to kill Revenants, as said in the Guide:
Severing the head or piercing the heart should be enough to kill it.
- In Red Orchestra, a gunshot to the center of the chest is a One-Hit Kill with a unique kill icon, just like a headshot.
- Resident Evil 6: Carla is initially killed by being shot in the heart by a sniper.
- Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island: The boss of World 5's fortress, Sluggy the Unshaven, is a giant Sluggy whose weak point is his heart. Although initially protected by his gelatinous body, it becomes vulnerable after hitting him with several eggs to deform his body. After that, a few direct hits to his heart will defeat him.
- Transistor: Red kills the Spine by walking inside and destroying its heart.
- Titan Quest: Referenced with the Heartpiercer Legendary Weapon.
- Trauma Center: Under the Knife and Second Opinion have the GUILT named Paraskevi. It takes the form of a worm that can burrow its way through its host's organs, until it reaches the heart. If it burrows through that, your patient dies immediately. It's not codenamed "Arrow to the Heart" for nothing.
- In Zombie Army 4: Dead War, a shot to the heart is one of the three precise shots that will kill a basic zombie grunt and leave it Deader than Dead, rather than having a chance to potentially revive. The other two shots being the traditional bullet in the brain or a testicle-exploding bullet to the balls. The game also features a set of Elite Zombies who can only be killed by a precision shot to the heart, collectively known as Zombie Officers.
- Bloodbound: This is one of the only ways to kill vampires, the other being decapitation.
- Fate/stay night:
- In one of the routes, Gilgamesh kills Illya by ripping her heart out. In another, he thrusts a sword through her heart.
- Lancer's Noble Phantasm has his spear killing his target by gorging their heart. Even if the target tries to avoid the hit, the spear inverts the laws of cause and effect to make sure the hit happens. At best, you can "only" get away with a graze on your heart since it still technically hit it.
- Kirei takes the cake in that he dies in every route via heart-related destruction, though he's able to power through for a time in some of them. It was also how he was supposed to die back in Fate/Zero before he got drenched in Grail mud.
- True Assassin's Zabaniya curse creates a copy of the victim's heart which True Assassin can then crush to destroy the real thing as well. Lancer gets hit with the Heaven's Feel route, and in Presage Flower, True Assassin took this a step further by ripping out Lancer's heart after it gets crushed then eats it. It didn't work because, as mentioned above, Kotomine's body is already full of curses.
- The Royal Masquerade: Discussed. At the Tournament of Flowers in chapter five, if Julia suggests to the heartbroken Theodosia Nevrakis that they break Cyrus's heart to get back at him for two-timing her with Emery, Theodosia takes it literally:
Julia: We can break his heart.
Theodosia: Yes. I can reach into his chest and crush his beating heart.
Julia: I meant metaphorically...Theodosia: ...I did too.
- In Slay the Princess, this is one option when attempting to slay the titular princess. So far, this is the only way to guarantee the Princess' death. Stabbing her in the heart and leaving her for dead is the only route in which the Princess actually seems to die.
- Girl Genius: The Smoke Knight Malek is killed when a Geisterdamen spears him through the near center of his chest with a type of hook and then uses it to yank him out of the carriage he's in and fling his body away.
- Homestuck: When Spades Slick kills Snowman in [S] Cascade, he does so by shooting her directly through the heart. When this happens, the animation shifts to a closeup of the organ in question being run through by the bullet.
- Midnight's War: One of Lord Ruthven's associates is killed this way after an assassin baits her out of her office.
- Sleepless Domain: Tessa attempts to kill Anemone in her sleep by shooting a massive needle clean through her heart. It doesn't work — Anemone promptly wakes up and pulls it out.
- Codex Inversus: One of the most feared techniques used by Hesizainak, orcish duelists who scribe spells mid-combat with their sword flourishes, is the "heart piercer", which allows the swordsman's blade to burst directly out of his opponent's body — which, most often, is used to have it dramatically explode from the target's heart.
- Adventure Time: This trope is discussed by Princess Bubblegum. She points out that it's a bad for her opponent — a walking heart by name of Ricardio — to have his heart exposed.
- Zigzagged in an episode of Futurama, where Leela attacks a monster clearly based on Zoidberg by cutting out his heart, only for him to laugh it off because he has an extra heart. She cuts that one out too, and he proclaims that he is dead. However, his severed head stays alive for the rest of the episode.