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Brandishment Bluff

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"You had nothing, but you used it well."
Teurac, Farscape, "PK Tech Girl"

The act of threatening someone with a weapon you do not have, or telling others to back off or you will use a hidden weapon when no such weapon exists. A few variants of this trope include:

Please note that this trope is for instances when someone is pretending that they have a weapon, so if they are threatening to use something that is completely recognizable as a weapon (be it empty, an antique, or even a fake or toy that looks extremely realistic), then it's Weapon for Intimidation.

Also note that doing this trope in real life is a felony offense: Threatening with a weapon, even a non-existent one, is considered Aggravated Assault. Do Not Try This at Home. Using a Brandishment Bluff during a robbery makes it an armed robbery in many jurisdictions; that the person being robbed believes the robber to be armed generally trumps the fact that the robber was only making a Finger Gun in their pocket.

Super-Trope of Stick 'em Up, for when this trope is used in conjunction with the element of surprise and a sharp poke in the back.

See also Finger Gun where the "weapon" is just a pointed finger, He's Got a Weapon! where the bluff prompts a panicked outburst that the bluffer is armed, Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet! where bluff is met with deadly force, and Fake Special Attack where a flashy weapon or ability is used or charged but is little more than a distraction or bluff. If someone bluffs being more dangerous in general, rather than pretending to have a weapon, they may be seeking a Scarecrow Solution, or if they're trying to capitalise on a specific reputation, they might be a Legendary Impostor.

Sometimes, it turns out that the bluff isn't that much of a bluff: see This Banana is Armed, Improvised Weapon and Improbable Weapon User. Alternatively, the weapon itself might be fake, but the person using it is actually armed with a Cover-Blowing Superpower, and if pushed, they'll toss the fake aside and deliver a beatdown.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In A Certain Scientific Railgun S, Shinobu pretends to have an esper ability that allows her to kill anyone she touches with a thought in order to frighten some thugs into leaving her alone. She pulls this off through the use of a tiny needle of anesthetic on her palm and acting.
  • In Space Runaway Ideon, Karala threatens to shoot Commander Doba with a small remote control-like object that she claims can emit a tiny laser. It's later revealed that the object in question was actually a communicator.
  • Vash the Stampede does this in an episode of Trigun. He'd didn't have his gun with him, and so he stuck his finger in his jacket pocket and extended it to make the bad guy of the week think he had a gun. Amusingly, we later find out his "arm" really is a gun.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! episode "Duel Identity- Part 2", Yami Yugi is facing Mai with only Catapult Turtle and a face-down card on the field and 300 life points, while Mai has three Harpy Ladies and 850 life points. Yami basically tricks Mai into thinking that his face-down card is a Trap card when it's actually Monster Recovery, causing her to waste an opportunity to attack him while allowing him to draw a new hand and prepare a defence until he can properly strike back.

    Comic Books 
  • During the '80s, a recurring Batman character named Joe Potato worked as a private detective in Gotham. Occasionally he would threaten suspects with his Potato Peeler, a six-inch knife with a narrow hole along the blade. Batman once saw him brandishing the Potato Peeler and angrily confronted him. Joe then revealed that the knife was rubber and that he only used it for intimidation.
  • In the Silver Age of comics, Magneto faced off against the Fantastic Four and Mr. Fantastic wound up threatening him with a gun even his magnetic powers couldn't influence. Magneto surrendered, and we all learned it was a gun made of cardboard. This was animated as well.
    • The Hulk, in an early story where he was intelligent, once pulled off an identical ploy against the alien invader Metal Master.
  • In a classic Stan Lee / Jack Kirby Human Torch story, the Wizard confronted the Torch with photos of him in his civilian guise of Johnny Storm (early in his career, the Human Torch briefly tried to keep a Secret Identity, but it didn't stick). The Torch countered by using his previously unrevealed "telekinetic powers" to retrieve the photos from the Wizard's hands. Turns out it was just his sister The Invisible Girl taking the photos while invisible.
  • Lucky Luke: When the Dalton brothers want to escape and their usual way is out, Averell shows Joe a perfectly accurate replica of a revolver carved in soap and says that with some shoe polish it will be perfect. When Joe compliments him on how realistic the gun looks Averell says that he had a model to work on that a guard forgot on a table which he snatched a while ago (it's even loaded). Joe makes him eat his soap gun.
  • In Power Girl, Starrware employee Nicholas Cho confronts Karen Starr about her secret identity. In order to force a confession, he levels a device that looks very much like a ray gun at her and counts to three. During the count of three, Karen grabs the gun from him and changes into her costume. She then notices that he was wielding a handheld vacuum cleaner.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) does this in the story "Tails' Taste of Power", where Tails gets Super-Intelligence from eating a special fruit that allows him to pull off incredible feats through Awesome by Analysis and build amazing contraptions, but also becomes an Insufferable Genius (to the point of fashioning himself a "#1" medal) and decides to try and take down Robotnik by himself. Unfortunately, the fruit's effects wear off just as he's about to have his confrontation with the doctor, forcing Sonic to rush in and try to save him. With no obvious way of getting himself and Tails out of this trap, Sonic grabs the #1 medal and bluffs to Robotnik that Tails made it into a powerful explosive and that his plan was to use it to defeat the doctor, even if only by pulling a Taking You with Me, and threatens to do just that if he doesn't let them go, trusting the doctor's Dirty Coward nature to do the rest. Robotnik obviously calls the bluff at first, but as Sonic winds up to smash it on the ground while counting down, the doctor panics and lets them go at the last second.
  • Spider-Man combined this trope with Large Ham in one scene, by pretending to have powers he didn't have when a bank robber takes a hostage.
    Spider-Man: I'm summoning the spiders...I'm Spider-Man. And you're making me mad. I'm summoning the spiders. They will come to my call. Hundreds of them. Thousands. And all at my command. [Beat] Because I'm SPIDER-MAN!
    Thug: I give, dude! I give!
  • Tintin:
    • In Tintin - Tintin in America, when two gangsters are seeing if they've actually killed him after throwing a dummy in the lake:
      Tintin:"Hands Up! Put your guns down and slide them behind you"
      (Gangsters comply. Tintin collects guns.)
      Tintin:"Much obliged, seeing as I didn't have one of my own."
    • He does it again in Tintin: The Black Island, using a Finger Gun in an attempt to stay in character:
      Tintin: Hands up! (Two Mooks Tintin is standing behind put their hands up.) Put your guns down on the ground. And don't turn around, or I'll shoot... Come on, I said put your guns down!
      (Mook 1 puts a gun on the ground.)
      Mook 2: I... I...haven't got one.
      (Snowy picks up the gun and walks toward Tintin.)
      Tintin: Don't try turning round! Make just one move, either of you, and it'll be the last thing you do! (Tintin slips and falls.) Oh!
      (The two Mooks turn around.)
      Mook 1: Tintin! (The Mooks run toward him.) And he wasn't even armed!
    • In Destination Moon, Tintin pointed a real gun at a spy who had come to exchange data with Frank Wolff. The animated version turned it into this.

    Fan Works 
  • Ashikabi of Thunder and Lightning sees a thorougly pissed off Sahashi Minato confront a group of foreign operatives who had invaded his mothers lab with the intention of kidnapping some Sekirei that she had been adjusting. He then told them that Karasuba of the Disciplinary Squad will arrive in one hour, and the foreign operatives have two options: Either they tell him everything they know about their operation, or he'll leave them to Karasuba. This qualifies as a bluff because Karasuba had no idea what was happening in the lab.
  • In the Firefly/Pirates of the Caribbean fic “Browncoats at World’s End”, the crew of Serenity basically use this when they find the ship (their travel back in time somehow separated them from their vessel) and bring it to the final battle between Beckett’s forces and the pirates; Serenity has no weapons as it’s just a transport ship, but as Zoe observes, nobody told their enemies that Serenity has no weapons…
  • In the sequel to Child of the Storm Harry uses this - specifically, he pretends to go Dark Phoenix against Dracula, who has a very understandable fear of the Phoenix, as part of his Kansas City Shuffle at the end of the Bloody Hell arc. It works, for just about long enough.
  • In Dreaming of Sunshine, Shikako will occasionally call out an attack that does not exist or use an extremely misleading name. For example, “Nara Art: The Shadow Devours” isn’t a shadow jutsu but merely a genjutsu. “Lightning Style: Super Beam Cannon” doesn’t exist at all.
  • Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters: After the Nobles surrender following their loss at the Battle of Meridian Plains, Jade demonstrates the ability to use her Blood Magic to affect their blood, even while still in their bodies, causing them extreme pain, because she tricked them into ingesting it during the negotiations. She then tells them that if they step out of line after Phobos is defeated, she can kill them wherever they are. In reality, she doesn't have nearly that large a range with it, but they don't realize it or wish to try and call her bluff.
  • In Harry and the Shipgirls, it is revealed that Kamo, the leader of Magical Japan during World War II, had intended for his "Grand Heavenly Fleet" to invade America via Alaska. He was stopped by learning about the battleship Emperor Norton being stationed there. Turns out, Emperor Norton was nothing but a training ship: She had the hull, two boilers, and some guns, but not much else.
  • The medieval AU How to Train Your Dragon fic “The Imposter” reveals that Drago Bludvist has basically been doing this for years; the Bewilderbeast he claimed to command was actually a mummified corpse Drago had preserved to give the impression he controlled it.
  • In Life Ore Death Zatanna does a version of this, freezing a bunch of mercenaries by producing 20 illusory soldiers that are all armed and aiming at them.
  • "Luminescence": While attempting to establish a treaty with the Quileutes, Victoria claims she's planted C4 explosives in the clearing where they're meeting, to get them to listen to the rest of her demands (in reality there is no C4 and she just covered herself and the area with bleach to mask the scents).
  • Subverted in The Secret Return of Alex Mack when Alex starts carrying around a plastic-and-metal tube and claiming it's a taser. It's really just a prop, but holding it gives her a plausible cover if she needs to shoot someone with her electrokinetic powers when not in costume.
  • Spontaneous Earth: In nothing is more sacred than any other thing, Dr. Lee staves off potentially getting kidnapped by Starscream by claiming that the sample of chicken-of-the-woods fungus she has is capable of eating metal. Starscream decides to not risk having holes chewed in his frame and leaves her alone.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Ratatouille, one of the stories Horst tells of why he was in prison is that he once "robbed the second biggest bank in France using only a ball-point pen," implying this trope.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In 30 Minutes or Less, Nick gets Dwayne and Travis to surrender by claiming he hired a sniper, then a Laser Sight appears on the two. It's really Nick's friend Chet hidden and using a laser pointer.
  • In The 39 Steps, a tobacco pipe in a coat pocket gets a woman to play along.
  • In Aloha, Bobby and Rose, Bobby pokes a jerky stick into a teenage cashier's back, pretending it's a gun, to scare him and amuse Rose. Unfortunately, the store owner comes out at that moment, brandishing a real shotgun. Rose hits him on the head with a vase, causing him to fall over. The gun goes off, hitting the cashier.
  • In Armor of God: Operation Condor, a pair of goons approach Jackie with one pointing what looks like his finger through the pocket of his coat. An unfazed Jackie rolls his eyes and returns the threat, claiming to also have a piece. Of course, the goon isn't bluffing. Whoops.
  • In The Arrival, when Zane suspects that his former boss is an alien, he calls him out into the garden in front of the building, then sticks his hand into his pocket, making something there point threateningly at the guy, saying "Fucking NRA, it's just so easy to get one." After the guy finally admits to his people speeding up the greenhouse effect in order to kill off humanity and prepare the planet for them, Zane take out... a camera remote. Turns out he planted a camera in the tree to record the whole conversation.
  • Averted in Assault on a Queen (1966). Submarine Pirates fire a dummy warhead at the Queen Mary and threaten to follow it up with live warheads if they don't hand over a cargo of gold bullion. The ships' officers think they're bluffing but can't take the chance. However when a Coast Guard cutter intervenes it turns out the submarine really is carrying live torpedoes, contrary to what their captain assured his crew, and a fight breaks out as they try to stop him firing them.
  • Bandits: The first bank they rob is with a highlighter, pressed against the back of the bank guard's neck, in order to steal the guard's actual gun and rob the bank.
  • The Bargain: Jim the Wild West bandit knows where the stage will go, through the mountain pass. He rigs up three dummies with pipes that look like rifle barrels, puts hats on them, and stages them on the rocks. Then when he flags down the stage, he robs it while his three dummy "partners" hold the stage at "gunpoint."
  • In Batman Begins, Batman sneaks into Gordon's office to introduce himself for the first time. To keep Gordon from turning around and seeing him, he imitates a Dramatic Gun Cock using a stapler pressed to the back of Gordon's head.
  • In Bean, when Mr. Bean first arrives in America, he sees open-carry guns for the first time at the airport. He then play-acts pulling a Finger Gun from his jacket, and when a guard spots him he hastily puts the "gun" back. This leads to every DEA agent in the airport chasing him, leading to the hilarious scene of them surrounding him and ordering him to put his gun on the ground, and their WTF expressions when he complies with his hand.
  • Bright Lights: Parada seems to be about to attack Louanne again when Wally jabs a pocket knife into his back and pretends that it's a gun. It works.
  • Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman: Santiago attempts to bluff Panguinao by jamming his airsoft pistol against the base of his skull. The bluff fails almost immediately when he accidentally fires and a hard plastic pellet hits Panguinao in the back of the neck.
  • In The Chase (1994), Jack (Charlie Sheen) takes a heiress (Kristy Swanson) hostage in a convenience store and sticks something in her back to force the officers confronting him to drop their guns. Once Jack and his hostage hop in her car, though, he holds up the Butterfinger he used to fool her.
    Natalie: You kidnapped me with a candy bar?
    Jack: It makes a handy weapon in a pinch.
  • Field of Dreams: Ray, out of desperation, tries to kidnap Terence with a finger in his jacket. Terence isn't fooled for a second.
  • Enzo the baker, at the prompting of Michael, in The Godfather, to convince the assassins attempting to finish off Vito Corleone to back off. Afterwards, Enzo's hands are shaking too badly for him to light a cigarette, while Michael observes mutely that his own hands are rock-steady. In The Godfather Part III, decades later, the Corleone family are still ordering extravagant cakes from Enzo as a part of their ongoing gratitude to the man.
  • In Godzilla vs. Gigan, a man gets held up with an ear of corn pressed against his back, making him think it's a gun.
  • Subverted in Jackie Brown. Ordell Robbie, after a lot of arguing, convinces a criminal associate to hide in the trunk of his car for a weapons deal. When the trunk is opened, he's to do a Dramatic Gun Cock with a shotgun, which Ordell stresses is unloaded as he's not anticipating violence. What he's actually planning to do is murder his associate, hence the unloaded gun.
  • Jingle All the Way: Twice, when mailman Myron Larabee finds himself in a pinch, he grabs a random package out of his mail bag and claims its a bomb in order to escape. The second time he does this, the package really does contain a bomb; something that Myron didn't know and is quite surprised to find out.
  • In K9, Dooley threatens the bad guys with what he claims is a beeping remote detonator to the charges he says he planted. Just as he's getting what he wants, the "detonator" plays an electronic jingle, revealing it to be a handheld game.
  • Legend (2015): Played with; when a gang corners the Kray brothers in a pub, Ronnie bluffs his way out with his hands in his coat pockets, supposedly holding firearms. This leaves Reggie to face the mob alone, but Ronnie sneaks back in to reveal that he didn't actually have guns in his pockets — but he did have hammers, which he uses to devastating effect in the ensuing melee.
  • Both played straight and subverted in the Burt Reynolds movie Malone (1987). The villains suspect Malone is a Professional Killer after he beats up local thug Dan Bollard, so to find out they fill up his brother Calvin with beer, give him a gun and sic him on Malone to see what will happen. Malone is having his hair cut, and claims he's got a gun under the barber's gown. Calvin says it's just his finger, but when Malone dares him to find out the hard way, Calvin flees. Malone then reveals to the others in the barber shop that it is his finger after all. Outside the man who gave Calvin the gun taunts him for being a coward, so he charges back inside, gun blazing. Malone however has gotten to his coat that's hanging behind the door and removed the .44 Automag from his shoulder holster which he promptly uses to kill Calvin. The incident becomes a Brick Joke at the end of the movie. Malone has single-handedly destroyed the villains when he comes across a corrupt sheriff, who cowers away in fear when Malone makes a threatening move, only to reveal he's holding a Finger Gun.
  • Mars Attacks!: Subverted. When the Martian ambassador addresses congress he yanks out his speech as if he's about to pull out a gun, causing the people to tense up. The second time, when congress is lulled into a more relaxed state, he actually does pull out a ray gun and kill a large amount of people, with his two aides following suit.
  • In The Phantom of the Opera (1925), when Erik is cornered by the mob, he appears to hold something in the air and brandishes it to hold them back, even turning to make those behind him retreat, then he laughs and shows an empty hand, prompting the mob to move in for the kill.
  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu: Tim realizes there is an intruder in his apartment, so he holds up a stapler and pretends it is a gun. The intruder reveals himself as Pikachu, and is not fooled for a second.
  • The Punisher (2004) has a variant of this, as the titular vigilante interrogating a criminal by using a blowtorch... on a side of meat while jabbing him with an iceepop, telling him that damage an intense flame causes to nerves can feel ice cold.
  • In Quicksand, Dan holds up Shorty by holding a comb in his coat pocket and pretending it's a gun.
  • In Scavenger Hunt (1979), Jenkins holds up a shopkeeper by jabbing a carrot in his back and claiming its a gun.
  • In See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Dave breaks into the hotel room of the woman trying to kill him and rifles through her bag, only to find her showering, and blinded by the soap. When he accidentally makes a noise that makes her run out, he sticks his hand in his pocket and pretends that his erection is a gun in order to escape.
  • In Snatch., Boris the Blade sells Tommy a revolver that turns out to be a dud. Later, Tommy uses it to save Turkish's life from Brick Top's thugs by pointing it at them and summoning all his courage to sell the bluff.
  • Early in Solo, Han tries to get out of trouble with the White Worms by pretending a rock he's holding is a thermal detonator and makes a clicking sound with his mouth to mimic it being armed. Lady Proxima doesn't fall for it, mostly being baffled that he keeps on blatantly lying even when she calls him out.
  • Sunset features a scene in which a Hollywood actor standing in the shadows cradling some kind of pipe in his arms manages to convince two mobsters that his mop is a shotgun long enough for their hostage to take the only real gun in the room.
  • In The Thief of Bagdad (1924), the thief gets the drop on the Mongol slave by holding a knife to her back. He then walks her into a corner, and braces the knife against her back with a pillow to make her think he's still there as he makes his escape.
  • Used by The Three Stooges in the short "Dizzy Detectives." and revealed by Moe poking his finger through a hole in his pocket.
  • True Lies: Helen Tasker brandishes a lipstick holder to the head of a wannabee spy, making him pee all over himself.
  • In Vabank, two crooks are robbing stores by threatening their assistants with a silencer, alleging they also have a gun (they don't). Kwinto instantly sees through this and counter-"threatens" them with a (detached) nozzle from his trumpet, making it look like a gun muzzle, revealing the bluff when this works to show he's not interested in working with them.

  • After Doomsday. The Kandemirians force their captive humans to work on technical projects for them, but keep a strict eye on every component to ensure they don't build tools or weapons to escape. However the humans construct a fake rifle using the non-essential chassis used to house and support the components, and use it to bluff them into handing over real weapons.
  • This becomes a plot point in The Caves of Steel. The android R. Daneel, while working as a plainclothes policeman, quells a potential riot by threatening deadly force. His human partner worries that he might not be Three Laws-Compliant and even suspects him of committing the murder they're investigating, but Daneel reveals that his blaster has been disabled so it's not even capable of firing—he only carries a weapon because it would appear strange if a policeman was not armed, and he's trying to pass as human.
  • Timothy Zahn's The Conquerors Trilogy, everyone remembers the last big war between humans and an alien empire, when humanity brought out a Superweapon Surprise called CIRCE that annihilated an entire enemy fleet so horribly - boiling its crew inside of their untouched spaceships - that the aliens promptly surrendered. Everyone expects the humans to do the same when the Conquerors show up, turning the war into a race to reassemble this Dismantled MacGuffin. Except, as you may guess from this trope page, CIRCE doesn't exist - a freak solar flare took out the alien fleet during that first conflict, and the humans took credit for it in order to convince their enemy to surrender. Which means the human military is trying to find a new weapon against the Conquerors while simultaneously keeping anyone from discovering the secret behind humanity's control of space.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • In Death Masks, Harry holds up and interrogates a professional thief with a wind-up toy duck in this manner.
    • He pulls the same trick on a professional assassin in Small Favor.
  • Attempted in Good Omens in order to break into a military base. The plan works. Complete with an Exact Words threat — the person tells the soldier not to move, or she will regret what she will have to do, and her inner monologue continues that what she really means is she'll regret having to be shot.
    • Also happens earlier in the book to the Demon Crowley. Trying to defend himself from his fellow demons (who discovered that he misplaced the Antichrist), he successfully destroys one of them via Holy Water and a Bucket Booby-Trap - but he was left with one more pissed-off demon. He tries to bluff that his plant mister is actually filled with more Holy Water rather than just ordinary water. Unfortunately for him, the other demon calls out his bluff, forcing him to improvise another plan to outsmart him.
      • In the miniseries, the other demon sees a drop fall onto Crowley's finger, which is how he realizes that it's a bluff.
  • One played by both sides at the same time in Halo: First Strike. When the main characters find an Insurrectionist-controlled asteroid field in a captured Covenant ship with the desperate need to get some repairs done on their ship, they detect nuclear radiation, and the rebel governor threatens to destroy them with nuclear weapons. In response, Vice-Admiral Whitcomb has the Covenant ship's Plasma Cannon fired to incinerate a random asteroid, before training the rest of the cannons on the Insurrectionist base. In truth, the rebel nuclear weapons were merely neutron emitters hidden in the asteroid field. On Whitcomb's side, while the Plasma Cannon did function properly, it was in fact the only operational one on the ship, and the ones pointed at the rebel base were non-functional. The governor ruefully lampshades this when both sides are forced to admit to their bluffs when they have to deal with the Covenant showing up hunting the heroes down.
  • Incarnations of Immortality: Used in For Love of Evil by Satan himself to hold power over the demons of hell.
  • Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson. During Julian's campaign in Labrador, rumor spreads among his soldiers that he has a secret weapon sold to their side by the Chinese. Julian doesn't discourage the rumors as he figures they are good for morale, but when he finds his forces surrounded and cut off from friendly forces, he realises that a Brandishment Bluff is the only card he has to play. Unfortunately it works too well; the Dutch bring up extra forces in preparation for the 'secret weapon' who eventually overwhelm his initially successful attack.
  • Naughty: Nine Tales of Christmas Crime: In "Naughty," Hannah is terrified Diesel will shoot her with an object in his jacket pocket that he keeps pointing in her direction. It turns out to be an ice scraper.
  • In the first OpCenter: Net Force book, an FBI Agent (the Love Interest of one of the main characters) has reason to think that the character's life is in danger, and storms into the room holding a pen to resemble a gun. He is immediately shot dead by the would-be assassin, providing just enough of a distraction for the main character to overpower her.
  • McAuslan: In The Sheikh and the Dustbin, George MacDonald Fraser tells of a piece of outside-the-box thinking used by an eccentric brother officer to put down a riot in Libya circa 1947: He wired up a plunger to an (empty) crate and parked the crate on a bridge in full view of an angry mob that was about to cross it. As soon as the plunger was raised ready for "blasting," the crowd dispersed with extreme alacrity. He doesn't just rely on this though, as it's implied the same officer is the mysterious sniper who later shoots dead the nationalist leader behind the uprising.
  • Played with in Mick Oberon. When people comment on how the title character's holster contains a piece of wood, he claims it's for this trope, when in acutality, it's his Magic Wand.
  • The Running Man: Ben Richards is able to bluff his way into getting a fueled up airplane by pretending to have 12 pounds of a powerful explosive at the airport, enough to level the facility (and ignite the massive jet fuel reserves present). The authorities suspect he is lying, but can't be sure and eventually capitulate.
  • In the climax of the second Spy School novel, Spy Camp, Murray holds up Ben from behind with a stapler. All Ben feels is the metal pressing into the back of his head, and knowing Murray has firearm experience, he obediently does as he's told.
  • Star Wars Legends: In X-Wing: The Bacta War, Rogue Squadron amasses hundreds of proton torpedoes as part of their campaign to take down an enemy with a Super Star Destroyer. The missiles will be launched from support ships using the X-Wings' sensor data, so this leaves the squadron will lots of spare targeting systems, which they install on the space station they're operating from as a deterrent. It works, too - when the enemy fleet shows up and gets painted by three hundred torpedo locks, the Super Star Destroyer cuts and runs, while the remaining Star Destroyer surrenders.
  • The Thinking Machine: In "The Problem of the Organ Grinder," Van Dusen manages to bluff a burly burglar into dropping his pistol by waving a clinical thermometer under his nose in a half-dark room, while Hatch holds the burglar's female accomplice prisoner at the point of his pipe case.
  • At the climax of The Three Hostages, Mary Hannay terrifies the Big Bad into surrendering the final hostage by showing him a small green-glass bottle and giving him a vivid description of what its contents will do to him. Afterward, when her husband expresses concern at how cavalierly she's handling the bottle, she admits that it's just a bottle of perfume she happened to have in her purse.
  • Near the end of Invasion: Earth, when all the gloves are off and the aliens are threatening to drop bombs on human cities if their demands are not met, the military informs them of a secret laser weapon that can obliterate any ship in orbit. The aliens call the bluff, Rob picks up the phone and says "Fire!", and the alien ship explodes. The rest of the aliens are hesitant, even though no weapon fire was detected (then again, a laser would be kinda hard to detect). It turns out that the soldiers simply planted charges on the ship, when it was on the ground, and detonated them on command. The next bluff is against The Mothership on the other side of the Moon. The American general claims that NASA has secretly planted nuclear mines all across the Lunar surface. Unwilling to test that hypothesis, given what happened to the other ship, the aliens hightail it out of the system. When Nadia asks the general if that's true, he smiles and tells her it's classified.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel: Cordelia manages to distract Angelus while keeping him away by pretending her water bottle contains holy water. It works because Cordelia's Bad "Bad Acting" is a Running Gag, so he doesn't think she can pull of such a bluff. Turns out Cordelia can lie pretty well when her life is on the line.
  • Blake's 7:
    • In "Aftermath," Servalan reveals at the end of a Mexican Standoff that her gun was out of ammunition. Avon is impressed.
    • In "Volcano", Villa of all people is able to get Servalan to back off by threatening to destroy her with the Liberator, without mentioning the power cells are low so the ship doesn't have enough energy for its weapons.
    • In "The Harvest of Kairos," Servalan is able to capture the Liberator, but Avon finds a lifeform that defends itself by projecting a mirror image of any attacker, but in a more powerful form. Servalan's scans show that Avon has somehow got hold of a powerful warship, and she abandons the Liberator in a panic.
    • In "Shadow," a crime boss is robbed and told to lie face down on the floor. A sensor device is left behind that triggers a recorded threat when he starts to move, making him think he's still being held at gunpoint.
  • In the series finale of Breaking Bad, Walter White warns the people he's threatening that trained snipers are watching and ready to open fire, and on cue, a pair of laser dots appear on their chests. Once Walt's left the house, it's revealed the "snipers" are really a couple of numbskull acquaintances with laser pointers.
  • Bones: Bones uses a phone app that makes gun noises to intimidate a suspect who's holding Booth at knifepoint.
  • Colonel March of Scotland Yard: In "Hot Money", Colonel March gets the drop on a safecracker by jamming his finger into the middle of his back. The crook is convinced that it is a gun.
  • Daredevil (2015). Just before a Hallway Fight, Daredevil puts a pistol to the head of an outlaw biker and tells the rest of his gang to drop their guns. Once he's done so, and cleared a civilian bystander from the hallway, Daredevil deliberately pulls the trigger to let them know the gun is empty and takes them on hand-to-hand.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Time Meddler": The Doctor jabs a branch into the Monk's back and claims it's a Winchester '73. The bluff works till he is interrupted by Vikings.
    • "The Faceless Ones": The Doctor threatens to blow an entire airport to smithereens, throws the bouncy ball he was bluffing with at the authorities, and runs off.
    • "The Face of Evil": The Doctor, cornered by a tribe who believe him to be their equivalent of Satan, threatens to kill one of them with a jelly baby. To his shock, the others say, "Kill him, then." Determined not to be upstaged, the Doctor eats the jelly baby instead. "I don't take orders from anyone."
    • "The Visitation": A highwayman working with the Doctor tries to scare off some minions with his unloaded flintlock pistols, but the Doctor points out they're under Mind Control so it won't work.
    • "Ghost Light": The Doctor holds Josiah hostage with his radiation detector, which looks just enough like a gun to do the job.
    • "Victory of the Daleks": The Doctor convinces the Daleks that a jammie Dodger (a type of biscuit) is a TARDIS self-destruct button.
    • "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS": The Doctor sets a timer on the TARDIS for 30 minutes, and convinces three scavengers that the TARDIS will self-destruct when it goes off unless he deactivates it.
  • In Farscape episode "PK Tech Girl", the crew of Moya, a living ship with no weapons, comes across an old enemy ship lost in space. When confronted by some pirates returned to finish salvaging the ship, Moya crewman D'Argo, who is of a race of fierce warriors, starts yelling in frustration. Zhaan, another crew member, has Moya's Pilot send a transmission of D'Argo to the pirates, which both intimidates and confuses them: Why would a warrior be on a ship with no weapons? During future talks, Zhann would feed D'Argo lines on how to comport himself to maintain the ruse. When the episode ends, the captain of the pirates isn't angry about the deception, accepting it to be a great strategic maneuvering on their part. He provides the page quote.
  • Firefly: In the beginning of "The Train Job", the crew is being held at gunpoint, when Wash appears in the completely unarmed Serenity: "Every man there go back inside, or we'll blow a new crater in this little moon!" Quoth Jayne, after they all follow orders, "Damn yokels can't even tell a transport ship ain't got no guns on it."
  • The Flash (2014): In "Going Rogue," Cisco forces Captain Cold to back down by pointing something at him that he claims is a prototype cold gun. It is actually the STAR Labs vacuum cleaner with a bunch of LEDs stuck on it. It's suggested Snart may have suspected Cisco was lying, as he still refuses to give up the diamond he has stolen, telling Cisco not to "push it."
  • For the People: As Jill and Sandra are on their way to make a deal with Roger and Leonard in the pilot, she hands Sandra a stack of papers. What's on them isn't important, they're just a prop so that the opposing council thinks they have something heavy against them.
  • Subverted in Get Smart with a gun disguised as a finger. Zig-zagged in another episode in which a KAOS agent intentionally seeking to be captured pretends Smart's finger is a disguised gun.
  • In the Happy Days episode, "The Cunningham Caper", a burglar tries to rob the Cunningham house when Richie is by himself, by acting like he has a gun in his jacket pocket. Eventually, with the help of Fonzie, he manages to trap the guy in a closet. The burglar threatens to shoot his way out, but the Fonz knows he's bluffing.
    Fonzie: There's an old saying among crooks — "He who steals with a gun in his hand, gets ten years to life in the can."
    Burglar: Oh great! I gotta get a hood who knows prison poetry!
  • It Ain't Half Hot, Mum. Supplies haven't been getting to the camp because Japanese soldiers have been firing on any vehicles. It turns out there's just a single Japanese soldier with a bunch of straw dummies wearing helmets. After our heroes deal with him, Sergeant Major Williams radios back to HQ that they've wiped out an entire unit of Japanese soldiers, and are bringing back their helmets as "proof."
  • Justified: Raylan at one point has a stand-off with a bank robber wearing a bomb vest and threatening to blow them all up if his demands aren't met. Unfortunately for him, Raylan previously worked as a coal miner and knows the difference between dynamite and the road flares that man strapped to himself to imitate a bomb.
  • In the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Closure", the Victim of the Week describes her rapist holding a gun to her head throughout the assault, but can't describe it as he told her to keep her eyes closed. When they talk to another victim, she mentions daring to open her eyes and realizing that he was holding her curling iron. They realize that he likely pulled the same trick on the previous woman and others.
  • In Lie to Me, Torres scares the hell out of a man in the rough part of town by walking aggressively, wearing a hefty jacket, and then shoving her hand into her pocket to grab something. She talks to the man, mentions how he's scared that she has a gun (which is intentional on her part), and then stops the charade and pulls out her card.
  • The Magician: In "Lady in a Trap," Tony is able to bluff a Dirty Cop into handcuffing himself to radiator by convincing him he has a gun aimed at him under the desk.
  • Midsomer Murders: A larger scale variant is used in "Blood Will Out": Barnaby deters Hector Bridges from having his army colleagues force the travellers out of the village by threatening to call in an armed response unit to stop them, only to later tell Troy that Midsomer doesn't have an armed response unit.
  • Misfits: Nathan takes Virtue Girl hostage at gunpoint, dragging her out of her office and up to the rooftop of the community center, where he preaches the values of hedonism to her brainwashed abstinence cult below. It's at this point she realizes the gun is fake.
    Rachel: Your gun's leaking. So you threatened me with a water pistol?!
  • My Name Is Earl: One flashback shows Earl and Randy robbing a bank with pistols, then Randy sneezes and accidentally pulls the trigger causing his "gun" to squirt water on the teller.
  • Subverted in The Muppet Show: in a cowboy sketch, Fozzie has "a loaded pickle." It goes off.
  • Played for laughs on The Newsroom. Sloane enters Will's office waving a piece of paper around and declaring "Drone strike!" When new hire Jerry Dantana asks to see the paper and get more info she admits it's blank and she "just wanted a prop".
  • On Perfect Strangers, Balki briefly manages to ward off some criminals who are threatening him and Larry by pretending he has a gun in his pocket.
  • Person of Interest:
    • As he's about to be shot in an ecstasy lab during season 1, Reese holds up his water bottle and says it's hydrochloric acid. "You don't want me to drop this." The criminal accuses him of bluffing, so Reese throws the 'acid' in his face, then kneecaps the crook while he's frantically trying to wipe it off.
    • In the final episode, Finch calmly walks into the Federal Reserve and gets them to evacuate the building by telling the guard he has a thermonuclear bomb in his suitcase.
  • Power Rangers:
    • In Power Rangers in Space, Bulk nearly managed to scare a monster away by pretending a toaster was a weapon. Unfortunately, Professor Phenomenous had to open his mouth and ruin it.
    • Ziggy is introduced attempting this on Dillon in Power Rangers RPM. Thanks to his cybernetic enhancements and knowledge of cars, Dillon recognizes that it's a car part merely being held as a gun without even looking at it.
  • On Schitt's Creek a masked man enters Rose Apothecary and declares a robbery. The show uses this trope in a very meta way since the editing does not show the man's weapon and the audience realizes along with David and Stevie - after the robbery - that the man probably didn't have a gun and was just pretending to have one using his hand inside his sweatshirt pocket. This fact embarrasses David and Stevie since they were so quick to offer wine, cheese, and tapenade to the robber since there was no cash in the till.
  • Star Trek loves this trope.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series:
      • In the episode "The Corbomite Maneuver":
        Kirk: This is the Captain of the Enterprise. Our respect for other life forms requires that we give you this... warning. One critical item of information that has never been incorporated into the memory banks of any Earth ship. Since the early years of space exploration, Earth vessels have had incorporated into them a substance known as... corbomite. It is a material and a device which prevents attack on us. If any destructive energy touches our vessel, a reverse reaction of equal strength is created, destroying—
        Balok: You now have two minutes.
        Kirk: —destroying the attacker. It may interest you to know that since the initial use of corbomite more than two of our centuries ago, no attacking vessel has survived the attempt. Death has... little meaning to us. If it has none to you then attack us now. We grow annoyed at your foolishness.
      • Corbomite was apparently a popular choice for Kirk. In a later episode, he successfully bluffs an attacking Romulan fleet into withdrawing by sending a transmission home in a code the Romulans had already broken, detailing the effects of the detonation of the ship's corbomite device for them in the guise of a warning to Starfleet.
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Samaritan Snare", Riker and Geordi pull a version with the "Crimson Forcefield", which supposedly depowers the Pakled ship's weapons. It's actually blowing hydrogen back through the Bussard Collectors. It helps that the Pakleds are, as a species, dumber than a sack of hammers.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
      • In "Emissary", the heap of junk space station has zero guns and six photon torpedoes. It's a sitting duck for the Cardassian warships outside. Commander Sisko is missing, and so is another Cardassian ship. It's on not-so-ex terrorist Kira to get the Cardassian warship to stand down. So, she exploits O'Brien's engineering genius to make it look like the station is armed to the teeth, shoots every torpedo they have to make it look like a warning shot. And when they get the Cardassians on the line, Kira dares them to fire back. It doesn't work quite as well as she'd hoped, as the Cardassians open fire anyway, stopping their attack only when Sisko returns after rescuing the missing warship.
      • Reappears again in "The Way of the Warrior" when another hostile fleet (Klingon, this time) fails to fall for the same bluff, knowing full well that the station is essentially defenseless. This time, it's not a bluff.
    • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy", the Doctor threatens the bad guys of the week with "The PHOTONIC CANNON!" Naturally, there is no such thing — however, because he imagined that it existed earlier, and the bad guys' main method of collecting data on Voyager is by examining the Doctor's dreams (thinking them to be memories), it's a very effective one. In addition, the "memory" that they see shows said cannon destroying a Borg Cube in one shot. When the bad guys say they're not detecting any weapon activation, the Doctor points out that the Borg didn't either, as it was designed to be undetectable.
  • In the Supergirl (2015) episode "Distant Sun", Winn gets an alien bounty hunter to stand down by holding a stapler to his back and threatening to shoot him.
  • In an episode of Taggart, a detective bluffs an IRA terrorist into putting down his gun by jamming a metal pipe in his back. When he realises he's been fooled, he just laughs.
  • Played with in an episode of the Australian anthology series Twisted Tales 1996, in which the presenter Bryan Brown also guest stars as Jack Jackson, a liquor store owner who prides himself on being able to talk his way out of anything. When a knife-wielding junkie tries to rob his store, he grabs a cordless drill and tries to convince the junkie that it's a gun. His employees back him up, but then a man walks in off the street and the junkie asks him what Jackson is holding. After a long beat, the man tells the junkie that it is indeed a gun. After the cops arrive and cuff the junkie, Jackson says to him "just so you don't go out of your mind..." and pulls the trigger. The next thing he knows, he's staring in disbelief at the junkie, who lies dead with a hole in his head. "I thought it was a cordless drill!"

  • ""Meeting Across the River" by Bruce Springsteen:
    And all we gotta do is hold up our end
    Here, stuff this in your pocket
    It'll look like you're carrying a friend

    Myth and Religion 
  • Older Than Dirt, this was employed in the Book of Judges by Gideon against the entire Midianite army. He and his puny company snuck into the Midianite camp in the middle of the night, blew a horn to sound an attack, and smashed a bunch of pots, which supposedly sounds like a thousand swords being unsheathed at once - plus, the pots all had lamps inside them, making it look like the torches of a large army had just been lit. The groggy enemies panicked and ran for the hills.

    Video Games 
  • Halo 3: ODST's intel sub-plot has a moment where Sadie and Mike break into a police station to reactivate the Superintendent AI (specifically, its Vergil subroutine) after Kinsler had it shut-down, and end trying to hold up a desk officer with a stapler. The desk officer knows immediately that it's really a stapler, but plays along because the "hold-up" gives her a plausible excuse to do the right thing and reactivate Vergil.
  • Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker features several missions where you have to "hold up" every guard in the area and convince them to surrender... armed with nothing but a banana. You have to do so without being seen - should anyone notice what you're really holding it's game over (and Snake is presumably gunned down).
  • Persona 5: In his Confidant, Yuuki Mishima bluffs a couple of bullies bullying someone who used to bully him by telling them he was recording everything they just did, with the intent to hand said (nonexistent) evidence to the police if they didn't scarper. Not every weapon has to be physical...

  • The Order of the Stick examples:
    • Vaarsuvius has to battle a gnome druid with an army of sylvans and attempts various elemental spells whilst Calling Your Attacks, ergo, "FIRE!" and "LIGHTNING!". Neither works but the wizard then tries "SONIC!" and the druid outright panics, cursing his foolishness in not preparing for that and bemoaning his inevitable defeat...up until he realises Vaarsuvius didn't actually cast a spell, but just shouted really loudly. This turns out to be a Chekhov's Gun, given that a sonic wave winds up destroying his tree army later.
    • A bounty hunter threatens to blow everything up with a thermal detonator unless he is paid more. General Tarquin immediately sees that he's really holding a can of tomato soup. The bounty hunter sheepishly admits that he really wanted to do a Shout-Out to the thermal detonator scene from Star Wars.
  • A social version is seen in Sandra on the Rocks:
    Éva: (about Sandra) Is that your protegé? So... innocent-looking. It'd be a shame if one of your rivals were to strike at you through her and squash her career before it started.
    Zoé: Quite... Just as it would be a shame if pictures of you with your original nose "happened" to surface.
    Éva leaves without another word, and Zoé turns towards a bewildered Marie.
    Zoé: I don't actually have any pictures, but you'd be surprised how often that line works.
  • In the Team Fortress 2 comic "The Naked And The Dead", Medic prevents the Classic Heavy, who has a life-extender attached to his side, from killing the Modern Heavy by tricking him into thinking that the pen he was holding had been turned into an inductor for the baboon uterus that he'd put in Classic Heavy's body three comics earlier. Medic's actual goal was to distract him long enough for Modern Heavy to tear off the life extender. The trope is also subverted in that Medic actually did put a baboon uterus inside the Classic Heavy three comics earlier, he just couldn't get to the actual inductor in time.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series two-parter "Feat of Clay", Batman corners a henchman who's Terrified of Germs in a medical lab's disease storage room. Batman grabs one of the random containers and reads the label as "Crimson Fever", claiming it to be a "nasty way to go" and incurable. He sets the container on a shelf over the lacky's head and punches the wall every time he doesn't get the answer he wants, inching the container until it will fall on him. Once he gets the answer, Batman removes the container, and the audience can see it's labeled as sea water meant for laboratory testing, no disease.
  • In the Futurama episode "Fry and Leela's big fling", Bender fakes having a gun by sticking a carrot in his trenchcoat so he can mug people in the park. When he reveals the ruse to Fry and Leela while also attempting to mug them, Leela beats him up while she and Fry make off with his loot.
  • Played with in the Generator Rex episode "Badlands": Rex, Noah and Bobo are given the task of transporting a small container of valuable and unstable nanites, which they are told will "go off" if they are handled roughly. When the group is attacked by anarchists who want the nanites for their own purposes, Rex grabs a can of soda (which is the same size and shape as the nanite container) and threatens to intentionally make the nanites go off, and kill all of them in the explosion it will cause. This manages to scare the anarchists off, just long enough for Rex and Noah to steal one of their vehicles. It's only later that Rex and Noah find out that the nanites were not going to "explode" if they were handled roughly, they were going to "go off," as in turn off.
  • Jonny Quest pulls this off in an episode of Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures, convincing a Mook that he had him covered with a gun, allowing Jessie Bannon to disarm him. When Jonny reveals that he was wielding a fire extinguisher, the Mook turns to attack him, only to find that Jessie is now holding his own gun on him, and that she "doesn't have a problem with them."
  • Happens during The Simpsons episode "The Seemingly Never-Ending Story," as Moe, Mr. Burns and Rich Texan are facing off:
    Rich Texan: (taking the gold from Marge) I'll take that gold...
    Mr. Burns: No so fast, Shady Bird Johnson!
    (Burns steps out from behind a stalactite)
    Burns: I'll take that gold...
    Moe Szyslak: (enters from the shadows, holding a baseball bat) Yeah, you'll take it, and then you'll give it to me if you know what's good for ya.
    (Burns and Rich Texan aim their guns at Moe)
    Moe: You guys have guns?! Well, so do I! (steps back into shadows, making gun-cocking noises) Heh? Heh?
    • In The Simpsons Movie, Homer tries to scare off the rioters outside by claiming to have a chainsaw, and then making unconvincing chainsaw noises.
  • Thunder Cats 2011 has the Drifter, a Badass Pacifist, pulling this on an attacker who's an experienced swordsman. The Drifter first parries an attempted In the Back, then continues to mock-attack while relying on his opponent's own startlement and reflexive movements to trip him up. The "weapon" the Drifter uses is a harmless willow reed he usually keeps in his mouth.
  • In the Phineas and Ferb special "Summer Belongs to You!", after Doofenshmirtz gets arrested in Paris by Monogram, his daughter Vanessa threatens Monogram and Perry with a black hair dryer, pretending that it's a gun. Surprisingly enough, it works, allowing her to steal Perry's hovercar and take her dad back home.

    Real Life 
  • The Ghost Army during World War 2 (not to be confused with Germany's Ghost Division under Rommel). Composed of artists and armed with inflatable tanks and prop weapons, they have been known to scare the enemy to surrender.
    • Similarly, maskirovka on the Eastern Front. For examples, the 1942 attack at the Rzhev-Vychama salient involved over 800 false tanks, vehicles, and logistics systems operating at a railhead over 200 km to threaten a separate area of the salient, distracting the Germans and causing them to redeploy their forces, while preparations for the Soviet counterattack at Stalingrad (Operation Uranus) were facilitated by the construction of 17 false bridges and the development of massive fall-back trench lines never intended to be used.
  • Many years ago, two women behind the counter at a liquor store were stuck up by a lone robber doing the "gun in the pocket" routine (actually a banana)... whom they proceeded to beat up with whiskey bottles. When the banana was revealed, they just started beating him even harder!
  • Following his capture by Japanese forces, American fighter pilot Marcus McDilda told his captors that the U.S. had 100 atomic bombs. Some historians believe this was a factor that influenced the surrender of Japan.


Video Example(s):


"I've got a chainsaw!"

In order to try and frighten off the angry mob after them, Homer attempts to fool them into thinking he has a chainsaw. With only mouth noises to go on, he does a rather unconvincing job.

How well does it match the trope?

4.89 (55 votes)

Example of:

Main / BrandishmentBluff

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