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Bullet Holes and Revelations

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"And then the punches flew
And chairs were smashed in two
There was blood and a single gunshot
But just who... shot... who??"
Barry Manilow, "Copacabana (At the Copa)"

Two characters are struggling for a gun. There's brawling, rolling, clenching... Suddenly the gun goes off. They both stop with identical looks of shock on their faces, and the viewer is left to ponder for several seconds which one of the characters was shot, usually with a headfake in the direction of it not being the character who was actually injured. It can be fatal, or not. It can also be done with a knife, although there are less options for targets since it's a melee weapon. Extra points if it occurs right before a commercial break which leaves you hanging.

Another common way to obscure the recipient of the injury is to cut away to nearby characters in the middle of the fight and have them hear the gun go off, maybe some blood hitting the ground, and then have the audience find out at the same time as the arriving character.

This trope is standard for basically any fighting anime, but especially those involving swords (see especially Bleach and Rurouni Kenshin). Both characters call their attacks and rush forward with dynamic lines behind them. Swords clash, lines blur, the speed increases... and then they are on opposite sides of the battlefield, while the camera freezes for a moment until one (or both) topples over.

In literature, you get much the same result by describing just the action; e.g., "the gun went off" or "the knife struck home." As literature can then continue to talk about "the body" or "the winner" for some time, it can prolong this for rather longer than is possible in a visual medium. It can also cut to a different scene while the information is still in abeyance, just as in visual media.

When the reveal is delayed for a long time, or if the character who wasn't killed in the struggle was also injured, it may be a Secret Stab Wound that they're hiding from their friends.

Trope name is a play on the title of a Muse album, Black Holes and Revelations.

Compare Bait-and-Switch Gunshot. See also Framed for Heroism. The Single-Stroke Battle is the swordplay version of this. This is a specific kind of Mortal Wound Reveal.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 

    Film — Animated 
  • Peter Pan: In a moment of anger, Captain Hook shoots his gun in the general direction of Smee and another pirate. Smee gasps loudly, his hand flies to his chest, he turns to make eye contact with the other pirate. And then the other pirate silently topples over.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Dark Knight Rises, Blake rushes to the hospital when he realizes Bane will target the hospitalized Gordon. As he's driving there, two mercenaries arrive at the hospital with submachine guns. Gordon is alerted to their arrival when the power fails, and climbs out of his bed. While Gordon does that, we cut back to Blake searching the corridor with a shotgun in hand. He hears gunshots, rushes to Gordon's room, kicks the door open, and finds the two mercenaries sprawled dead on the floor, at which point Gordon puts a pistol to the back of Blake's neck and says, "Clear the corners, rookie." It's implied that the gun was stashed under his hospital bed pillow, rendering him Crazy-Prepared if you think Gordon was expecting Bane to harm him in some way to keep him from talking.
  • Invoked in House of Games. The female lead and a cop are scuffling when suddenly the cop's gun goes off. After a moment of stillness, the cop sinks to the ground.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indy's original side-kick is holding the Chinese gangster at gun point when champagne corks pop, covering a gunshot which breaks the champagne glass on the tray he's holding. Then a dark red stain starts to appear on his shirt...
  • During the climatic fight in Johnny Reno, Joe Conners and Charlie the bartender are wrestling for control of Charlie's shotgun. They fall to the ground and keep struggling, then there a blast from the shotgun. After a few seconds' pause, Joe stands up.
  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life: Lara and Terry square off. There is a bang and Lara begins to collap-...oh, nope, that's Terry faceplanting while Lara looks on with a tragic expression.
  • Minority Report, ending with Anderton confronting Burgess with the assumption that Anderton's predicted murder by Burgess will come to pass. A gunshot later, it's revealed Burgess took his own life.
  • Parodied in the soap opera dream sequence of Mr. Mom.
  • The Opposite of Sex: Struggle for the gun version was used, including the subsequent fakeout, which is lampshaded after the reveal, with this line:
    "What, you thought I'd be the dead one? I'm the fucking narrator, guys. Keep up!"
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Elizabeth is running to the action, Barbossa pulls his gun on her, we hear a gunshot, Elizabeth starts... cue the camera cutting to Jack holding the smoking gun, aimed at Barbossa. The same gun he's been carrying around for ten years with no additional shot or powder specifically for that purpose. Too bad for him, his immortality curse was just lifted.
  • Pitch Black: Subverted. Sociopath Riddick and pilot Caroline are wrestling in the mud. Riddick has his bone knife throughout the fight but does not seem inclined to use it until the pilot jerks, stares at him in shock and is snatched away by a carnivorous alien pterodactyl that impaled her through the chest.
  • Pulp Fiction features a variant where right after Jules and Vincent gun down Brett, someone bursts out of the bathroom firing a Magnum. The camera stays on the shooter for quite a while before a jump cut shows that neither of them were shot and there are six bullet holes in the wall behind them.
    • This trope name can be taken quite literally in this scene. Immediately after this, Jules looks at the bullet holes in the wall...and suddenly finds religion.
  • The Third Man has Holly Martins and Harry Lime having a stand off on the stairs up to a manhole tunnel at each other, then cuts to the British intelligence officer hearing the gun go off Holly comes walking down the sewer tunnel.
  • U571: Two characters struggle with a screwdriver, and in a nod to Anyone Can Die, the protagonist in the struggle is killed.
  • Waterworld: The Mariner and the man who wanted to solicit the affections of the female characters struggle with a knife below decks. It cuts to the man climbing out from below decks with the implication being that he killed the Mariner, until the knife is revealed to be sticking out of his back, at which point he keels over dead.

  • The final chapter in the Alex Rider novel Stormbreaker has Big Bad Herod Sayle pointing a gun at Alex on a rooftop. Two shots are fired, Alex looks down... and Sayle drops dead, having been gunned down by Yassen Gregorovich, in the helicopter sent to collect Sayle.
    • Skeleton Key sports this trope as well; the penultimate chapter ends with the statement that Sarov, face to face with Alex, "raised his gun and fired a single shot". A few pages into the next chapter, it's revealed that Sarov shot himself after Alex rejected him as a father figure.
  • Dragonlance: When the guardians of the Tower of High Sorcery in Palanthas review Raistlin's memories of his duel with Fistandantilus, they are unable to determine who won and stole the "life-force" of the other, but conclude that either way, the winner was before them and qualified for entrance.
  • Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel First & Only has two instances of it:
    • When the Ghosts' raid into the Patricians' quarters is caught, Caffran is knocked down, his foe turns his gun toward him, and "the shotgun fired."
    • Inquisitor Heldane manipulates "the pawn" mentally. Plentiful Red Herrings point to Rawne, but it's not him.
    • In Straight Silver, we are told that Muril whirled about, and a knife struck to the heart, but not until many scenes later do we know that Cuu killed her, and not she Cuu.
  • In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Galaxy In Flames, when Cassar learns that Turnet knew of, and supported, the treacherous attack on their own forces, they draw their guns and fire. Cut to another scene. After it, we learn they both missed.
  • In one The Savannah Reid Mysteries book, Savannah and Dirk are listening outside a room, hearing the bad guy talking to his friend, a cop who has come to arrest him (and who had to put down his weapon so that the killer didn't shoot him earlier). The bad guy announces his intent to shoot the cop and then commit suicide, and Savannah and Dirk rush in. After some brief, tense words:
    Then three shots exploded, filling the room with smoke and the smell of cordite.
    Three bullets seared burning paths through living flesh.
    Two bodies hit the floor.
    • Turns out that both Savannah and Dirk's bullets hit the killer in the heart. The killer's bullet only grazed the police officer, Bloss, in the leg, but the shock of the moment made Bloss have a heart attack, and he has no pulse, so Savannah has to perform CPR on her archenemy. She lets Dirk know he owes her big time for making her do that.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Happens in Star Wars: Allegiance. LaRone is snidely accused of disobeying orders by an ISB officer who then pulls a blaster on him. LaRone instinctively wrests it away, the officer pulls out a holdout blaster, there is a "soft flash, a muted blast" — and the officer falls dead. Damn You, Muscle Memory! Stormtrooper combat training doesn't cover ISB officers playing threat games.
    • Also happens in the X-Wing Series. Corran is rescued from Imperials by an old enemy's lover and then taken to that old enemy, who has her remove his blaster. The enemy levels a blaster at Corran, "the whine of a single blaster shot filled the hangar and the bolt tinted everything with the color of blood," and then the enemy crumples because his lover shot him. She'd gone through a slow Heel–Face Turn that culminated here.
  • In Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, this happens during the showdown between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge near the end.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Part 2 of the Syfy miniseries Alice (2009), Carpenter/Robert Hamilton and Walrus are struggling with a gun, there's a shot and Walrus topples over.
  • The season 4 finale of Babylon 5 shows a scene where Garibadi is being held by a group of renegade telepaths who are threatening to shoot him (and others) if their demands are not met. After a few moments of trying to reason with them, Garibaldi is interrupted by Sheridan appearing on the com screen saying he has rejected their demands and telling them to surrender. Garibaldi mutters "Swell" as a gun is raised and pointed at his head. The clip ends with the sound of a shot being fired. It's not until midway through season 5 that we find out that the one who fired the shot was Byron, the one the hostage takers were trying to get freed, who shot the gunman himself and allowed Garibaldi and the other hostages to go free.
  • A variation in Battlestar Galactica. When the resistance is ambushed by Centurians a shootout begins. Helo and Anders start shooting and leading people into the woods to escape but Starbuck just stands around in the middle of the firefight by the jeep. After a few seconds the camera pans down to reveal that the first shot caught her in the gut, hence the dazed. She falls. Don't panic though.
  • CSI: NY did variants of this twice.
  • Cannon: In "Call Unicorn", Cannon and the villain of the week (played by Wayne Rogers) are in a Gun Struggle after a truck wreck. The gun goes off, and after a moment, Cannon — who was on top — sits up to reveal Rogers with a non-fatal bullet wound in his chest.
    • Season 5 ends with the drive-by shootout of the bar where the team has gathered. We don't find out until the season 6 opener that Danny has been hit in the back and is paralyzed from the waist down.
    • In the season 6 finale, we see Shane Casey holding Lucy with a gun in the other hand, and Lindsay going Mama Bear with her own weapon. The screen goes black and we hear the gunshot. We don't find out until the season 7 premiere that it was Casey who got shot.
  • Degrassi: The Next Generation: This happens when Rick brings a gun to school. After shooting Jimmy in the back, which turns him into a paraplegic, Rick and Sean wrestle for the gun and a news report reveals that Rick died.
  • An episode of Dollhouse starts out In Medias Res with someone struggling to not get Wiped. Cut to outside the room where the action is taking place, where we hear a gunshot and see blood splatter on the frosted glass window. Turns out Dominic tried to blow his brains out rather than be wiped, but hit DeWitt in the side instead.
  • Farscape: Chiana and Krackic struggle for a pistol in the season 2 episode "Liars, Guns, and Money 3: Plan B". However, instead of the normal "both parties look shocked", when the pistol goes off, Chiana looked shock while Krackic looked pleased. It's not until he falls over that we see which of the two were shot.
  • Firefly: Played with in "Objects in Space", when Simon and Jubal Early struggle for the gun. It's obvious that Simon is the injured party, but the seriousness of the injury is perceived as possibly fatal until after the commercial break when you find out he was just shot in the leg.
  • Episode 20 of The Flash (1990), "Good Night Central City," involved an inventor (Bill Mumy) being pressured by his cousin into using his sleep-inducing invention to commit robberies. When the cousin proved willing to kill with the device, Mumy rebelled and tried to stop him, they wrestled over a gun, and the gun went off between them. There was a suspenseful pause... and at this exact moment in the original April 4, 1991 broadcast of the episode (at least on the East Coast), CBS cut away to a special report in which Dan Rather spent the rest of the hour reporting on a minor and ultimately harmless heart flutter that had been suffered by then-President George H. W. Bush. As a result, the suspenseful moment was never resolved, at least until the show went into reruns. In fairness, though, it was easy to guess which character must have died.
  • Fringe had something similar to this. Agent Dunham and an assailant are fighting, both armed with a gun, but they're at close range, and so are resorting to brawling. eventually Olivia puts some distance between them and they both fire at each other. The attacker falls over dead with a Pretty Little Headshot, and Olivia glances over and sees a bullet hole mere inches from her.
  • In one episode of Get Smart, Max and a KAOS agent are fighting over the agent's gun. When the gun goes off, Max says, "Hold it! I think one of us has been shot." After a moment, the KAOS agent collapses to the floor, saying, "I think it's me."
  • In the Haven episode "Crush", Nathan finally convinces Audrey to help him make his Heroic Sacrifice to save the town. Meanwhile, the Teague brothers are explaining to Duke and Jennifer that circumstances have made Nathan's plan into a Senseless Sacrifice. After Audrey takes aim to shoot Nathan, the POV switches to the others looking for Nathan to tell him the good news and hearing the gunshot. The next episode "William" reveals that Audrey is shooting at a pair of villains who have broken into her home.
  • Heroes: Sylar accidentally kills his mother while struggling with a pair of scissors. The effect is mostly lost, though, because another superhero has predicted the future and we know Sylar survives.
  • Los Hombres de Paco: Played with when Sara and Alison are struggling for a gun while Sara's relatives look on from a live camera feed via computer. The camera cuts to them as two gunshots ring out from the computer, and it's unclear who, if anyone, was injured. We later see that Alison is alive, but shot in the shoulder. For the next twenty minutes it is unclear if Sara is alive or dead, but all seems to be fine when she shows up for her elopement with Lucas. Until halfway through the ceremony, when it's revealed that she's been shot in the stomach. She toughs it out in order to finish the wedding, but then collapses after the priest pronounces them man and wife.
  • House: In episode 10 of season 6 "The Down Low" there is an interesting twist on this trope. After the gun goes off one man falls to the ground apparently dead and the other moves off. But the one standing has been shot in the foot, and the one unconscious on the ground is unhit. It turns out that a symptom of his disease is that loud noises make him pass out.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: In episode 4 of season 10 "Lunacy", astronaut Col. Finley tackles Anton Thibodeaux to the ground after he has shot a suspect. The two wrestle on the ground, a shot goes off and both men lie motionless for a few seconds before Finley stirs, unharmed.
  • In the end of the season four premiere of Mission: Impossible, the team is listening through a planted bug as the two villains of the week accuse each other of being the reason their plan failed (as they are totally unaware of the fact that the IMF team was there sabotaging their efforts). Then a shot rings out. The team wonders which one shot who, but ultimately decide that it didn't really matter in the context of their mission and left.
  • In the Nashville episode "I Can't Keep Away From You", Sadie's abusive ex-husband breaks a restraining order and confronts her in a parking garage. Sadie threatens him with a handgun she purchased illegally after the last time he beat her. He scoffs and lunges at her, there's a struggle, a gunshot and Luke Wheeler drives up in his truck just in time to see Sadie standing over her husband's body, holding the gun and covered in blood.
  • Weapon-free version in NCIS: The murderer of the week kills his victims by snapping their necks, a technique Gibbs is familiar with and demonstrates (non-fatally, of course) to the team. Once they catch the killer, he and Gibbs wind up grappling on the ground, and they get each other into position for a snap. Cut to Tony and McGee racing to reach them. When they reach the room, Gibbs gestures to the killer's limp body on the floor... and orders them to cuff him.
  • In the season 2 finale of Nip/Tuck, Adrian and Ava are close together and we hear a stabbing noise, Ava's shocked look and bloody hands, but the reveal shows that Adrian stabbed himself so that Ava would never leave him again.
  • The O.C.. The season 2 ending had the girl fire the gun and a moment's pause (along with some choice music) before revealing which of the two feuding boys was actually hit.
  • Happened in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Prometheus" between Col. Simmons and the Goa'uld-infested Adrian Conrad. Turns out Simmons mortally wounded Conrad, but the symbiote bailed out and infested Simmons.
    • The two-part episode Heroes had a bit of a protracted version. We see O'Neill get hit with a staff blast during a battle off-planet, then the show cuts back to the SGC. Samantha Carter is visibly upset and O'Neill is absent from most of the rest of the episode — until we see video of the incident and find out it was Dr. Janet Fraser who was killed, while Jack was saved by a new armor that was introduced earlier in the episode.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess liked this trope, except with swords.

  • A staple of old Radio Drama. Indeed, any audio production in which gunfire is re-created by sound effects is likely to be this, as the identity of the survivor(s) won't be clear until someone speaks aloud.
  • In the Star Wars Radio adaptation Leia struggles to get a blaster off of the Imperial Lord Tion. There's a zap...

  • In David Williamson's Dead White Males, postmodern Dr. Swain and Shakespeare are wrestling over a gun when it goes off. When Shakespeare recommends letting the audience know who was hit, Swain protests that nobody expects narrative closure anymore. Then Swain limps off, having shot himself in the foot.

    Video Games 
  • In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, the last leg of the final battle against Dracula has both of you flying downwards at high speed, with the player given the task of catching up to him to stake him in the chest. When you do this, you're met with an extreme zoom-out and copious amounts of blood shooting out. The next scene shows Dracula standing over Trevor's body, with the stake Trevor was using being stabbed through his own chest.
  • In Halo 3, Keyes decides to to kill Johnson and herself to prevent activation of the Halos, but Truth kills Keyes first.
  • Metal Gear:
    • In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Raiden and the President of the United States of America are struggling over Raiden's pistol, what with Mr. President wanting Raiden to kill him and Raiden refusing. A shot rings out; the camera pans to reveal that Revolver Ocelot, who before was not even in the scene, has shot the President himself.
    • Used in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots at the end of the game when Solid Snake puts a gun in his mouth, and the camera cuts away on the sound of the gunshot, presumably to spare the player from the gore. It then cuts to another scene entirely for several minutes, leaving you with the feeling that Solid Snake is dead. As it turns out, Solid Snake did not kill himself, and Big Boss, his father, appears to meet his son for the last time.
  • Case 4 in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney starts with two men in a boat. We see one firing a gun, then one falling into the water, and then the next shot shows Miles Edgeworth left alone in the boat, holding the gun. Edgeworth is subsequently accused of murder, but in the end it turns out that the murderer had already killed the victim, then got into the boat disguised as him, fired shots into the water, then jumped off the boat himself leaving the gun behind, so that witnesses would think they'd seen the murder happen.
  • One of the assassination attempt cutscenes in Total War: Shogun 2 ends like this. Both fighters appear to slash each other and remain still for a moment, until one of them slowly keels over. The cutscene can end with the assassin or the target being the one who dies.


    Web Original 
  • In Shadow of the Templar, Simon is wrestling with Farraday, who ends up with the gun. Simon hears a gunshot and thinks he was hit. It takes him a few seconds to realize that Jeremy found the gun that Simon lost and has shot Farraday.

    Western Animation 
  • Blake and Mortimer, "The Francis Blake Affair". Fielding and Olrik fight over a gun... and Fielding dies, because Olrik is the recurring villain.
  • In the Looney Tunes cartoon "A Corny Concerto", Bugs Bunny is being hunted by Porky Pig and his hunting dog. Bugs throws away their rifle, which hits a chipmunk, and then the chipmunk fires the rifle. After it goes off, all three characters put their hands over their chests with expressions of horror. Porky looks under his hands — he's OK! The dog looks under his hands — he's OK! Bugs looks under his hands — and faints in horror while the dog and Porky cry. Porky opens Bugs' clasping hands to check the wound, and finds... a bra! Bugs slaps Porky for being so fresh, puts the bra over their heads, and dances away, unharmed.
  • Subverted in South Park: Wendy and Bebe struggle over a gun, which goes off... and doesn't hit either of them, but instead manages to hit Kenny, who was at home eating dinner with his family at the time.


Video Example(s):


Gun Struggle aftermath

A Gun Struggle ends with a shot going off. We see Clifford holding the gun and assume that it's Shane who got shot but after a Mortal Wound Reveal it turns out it was the other way around.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / BulletHolesAndRevelations

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