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Bulletproof Human Shield

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Congratulations! You have been promoted from Mook to Human Shield!

Dixon: How did you know I was wearing a bulletproof vest?
MacGruber: You're wearing a bulletproof vest? Awesome.
MacGruber, after using Dixon as a human shield
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Action Hero Bob is sneaking into the villain's secret base when he's suddenly spotted! As the enemies open fire with their automatic weapons, Bob grabs the nearest mook and lets him take the shots instead. While the hapless henchman soaks up the bullets and twitches like a spastic marionette, Bob drags him along and heads for safety.

Fictional works love this trope, giving the hapless mook the stopping power of twelve inches of reinforced concrete. It's popular with anti-heroes, as it serves to show off the hero's cold-blooded resourcefulness. It's also a trope used by a Jerkass Technical Pacifist; they aren't supposed to kill people, so they grab the nearest enemy and let their opponents take out a few for them. "I didn't kill anybody," says the blood-covered pacifist, after dragging numerous enemies into the paths of other people's bullets.

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In Real Life, a human shield would be good for a last resort and basically nothing else. You MIGHT be able to stop small-caliber hollow-point rounds, but even then it's a gamble. Army engineer manuals state that it takes 60 cm (2 feet) of soft wood to stop an M16 and 120 cm (4 feet) to stop an M60.note  But that wouldn't look very cool without some big guns blazing, would it? This trope almost always involves at least one automatic weapon, and the more there are, the cooler it looks. So, in Real Life Bob is likely to find himself in serious trouble; though some shots might stop inside his co-opted mook, the automatics being fired would have enough power for others to pass through and into Bob. Also, considering the number of bullets usually taken by the mook, some would miss him and hit parts of Bob that are unprotected because Bob is now standing in one place, and his mook is unlikely to be bigger than Bob and able to cover him completely.

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The trope can be justified somewhat if the mook is wearing protective gear like a Bulletproof Vest: the vest stops or slows the bullets on entry, they're slowed more by the body and stopped by the back of the vest. Unfortunately, this only works for the areas covered by a vest; furthermore, a mook wearing full body armour would probably survive as well, and won't appreciate being used in this fashion. It might also be somewhat justifiable if a mook is only being used to block one or two bullets instead of the usual fusillade of fire, though this would still entail an element of chance.

A Sister Trope to Human Shield, but where that trope talks about using bystanders as psychological protection, this trope covers the bullet-stopping tendencies of the bystander. Related to Concealment Equals Cover, with the mook serving as the eponymous Concealment.

If this results from a Video Game making units immune to fire from their own team, think of it as a Good Bad Bug.

Contrast with One-Hit Polykill, where the bullets do go through the mook to hit Bob, Grievous Harm with a Body, for when the mook is used as a weapon, Shoot the Hostage and Shoot the Hostage Taker. Compare Taking the Bullet. Also see Annoying Arrows, Concealment Equals Cover, Improbable Cover, Magic Bullets and Pocket Protector.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Played ridiculously straight in Brynhildr in the Darkness. When Chisato Ichijiku is Taking the Bullet for a fellow villain, Hexenjagd fill him with what probably is a few magazines' worth of More Dakka. Despite showing no signs of wearing any armour, not a single shot gets through.
  • Lucy does this more than once in Elfen Lied, including the memorable opening scene where she uses the Cute Clumsy Girl's decapitated corpse as said shield.
  • Exaggerated in Fullmetal Alchemist. During the Ishballan War, Kimblee uses one of his own Mooks to shield him from an explosion. Although the explosion killed the soldier instantly, the only thing Kimblee complained about was that his uniform was messed up.
  • Gantz as the picture above demonstrates. A barrage of full auto can be easily stopped by holding a random corpse in front of you.
  • Ghost in the Shell:
    • In Ghost in the Shell, Batou casually stops high velocity, very penetrative shots from an SMG using a silent, nameless civilian appearing onscreen for about one second, which is the only screen time of the civilian during the entire franchise. The shots could be interchangeable with shots that passed through a police car door. By the way, the protagonists are all cops.
    • In an episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, members of an anti-cybernetics terrorist/revolutionary group scale ropes during an attempt to stop Section 9's assault on their base. The first group are easily gunned down in large numbers trying this and hang limp on the ropes. The second group to scale the ropes simply pushes the corpses of their allies in front of them to act as shields, drawing surprised reactions from the Section 9 team. A comment suggests this may have been the terrorists' plan all along to level the playing field against the small number of heavily armed Section 9 agents.
  • In MD Geist II - Death Force Geist uses a soldier for this purpose. Then he pushes his own gun through the man's chest and returns fire.
  • Noir features this VERY often. Kirika is probably the one who pulls it off the most, but Mireille and Chloe have used meat shields as well.
  • In One Piece, Buggy The Clown used his own Mooks to shield himself from a cannonball.
    • Hody Jones does this to a fellow fishman, what contrasts his personality to Arlong's.
  • At the end of the Oniwabanshu arc of Rurouni Kenshin, Shikijo uses himself as one to protect Aoshi... against a gatling gun.
  • Used strategically in Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online. LLEN takes advantage of her small size to hide behind enemy corpses. By the second tournament others have caught on to the tactic, even having teammates sacrifice themselves to provide a shield for others. In this case, it's justfieid by the system mechanics; player corpses don't despawn during the tournament and are registered as "Immortal Obejects", which means they can't be damaged and thus projectiles won't pass through.

    Comic Books 
  • Used utterly ridiculously in one Batman story, where a character uses a crook as a shield against another, who appears to be shooting an assault rifle at him from pointblank range. What the hell was that guy made of?
  • In Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, a newly-resurgent Batman chases three bank robbers to an abandoned apartment complex. He pulls one robber beneath the floorboards, then uses him as a human shield while the other two open fire.
  • The obscure Howard Chaykin comic Power & Glory featured a government agent and a Superman expy with severe neurosis. The expy was a Corporate-Sponsored Superhero that looked good for the public while the agent was the real Badass Normal that was secretly taking down the bad guys. One image from that series involved the agent using the superhero in this fashion as seen on this cover.
  • A single-issue Punisher story released the same time as The Movie featured a shoot-out in a morgue, with Frank giving the rather sage advice of "Don't hide behind the thin guy."
  • In one comic Metallo shoots Superman with a kryptonite bullet (the one kind of speeding bullet he is not faster than) and knocks Batman out with a blow to the head and buries the two alive. Batman comes to and blows himself and Superman out of the ground with his utility belt plastique, using Superman as a literal bulletproof human (er, alien) shield (along with the fact his batsuit is fully armored and fireproof).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Spoofed in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, where Austin uses Robin Swallows (one of Dr. Evil's agents) as a shield against a thrown knife, submachine gun fire, a bazooka round, and breaking his fall from a five-story building. Though she's actually a robot assassin.
    • In a deleted scene, Austin and Felicity are driving around when Dr. Evil's hitmen drive up and spray their car with bullets — but Austin grabs Robin's body out of the trunk to block the salvo.
  • In Crank, Chev Chelios uses his friend Kaylon's dead body as a shield.
  • I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. After an innocent bystander is killed by machine gun fire, John Slade grabs his body and uses it as a shield against the incoming fire.
  • James Bond:
    • In Thunderball, Bond is dancing with villainess Fiona Volpe when one of her henchmen attempts to shoot him in the back. Bond spins her around at the exact right time that the bullet kills her instead.
    • Bond also does it in The Spy Who Loved Me, quite disturbingly as the woman may have been meant to be working with the bad guys, but it isn't made clear.
  • John Carpenter's Vampires: During Valek's massacre at the motel, he grabs one of the hookers to have her soak up some bullets. He's not even doing this for protection but purely out of sadism, as he's actually immune to gunfire.
  • Shows up a couple times in Mad Max: Fury Road, done more realistically than most since most of the bullets being taken are handgun rounds fired from quite some distance across moving cars. Max uses the massively obese People Eater as a bullet sponge because there's a lot of meat to use in his meat shield.
  • Happens in Sherlock Holmes (2009) during the first fight scene, when Sherlock spots a mook coming towards him with a revolver and uses some fancy martial arts technique to maneuver the mook he is currently fighting into taking the bullet for him.
  • Shoot 'em Up. During a skydiving battle Smith grabs a mook and uses him to protect against submachine gun fire as well as borrowing his pistol for a mid-air reload. When the gun gets shot out of his hand, Smith opens the man's parachute to envelope the shooter.
  • In the film version of Sin City, a federal agent is used as a shield while Sociopathic Hero Marv hacks up his teammates with a wood ax. This actually seems to be unintentional on Marv's part since he was busy killing one of the agents when the human shield basically ran into the path of the bullets.
  • In Total Recall (1990), when Arnold Schwarzenegger's character is attacked by goons while on an escalator, an innocent bystander catches a bullet while next to him. Ah-nold grabs the man and uses him as a shield. He even spins the dead man around to block more gunfire from the other direction.
  • V for Vendetta: V uses this tactic to outmaneuver the constables in Jordan Tower.
  • In Wanted, during his assault on the Fraternity's headquarters, Wesley shoots a guy in the head, jams a looted revolver through the hole, and fires through it, while carrying the body along to soak up rounds.
  • What Happened to Monday: One of the sisters pushes a goon out in front of her just as his buddy fires, and it works (at close range with a machine gun, too).

    Literature 
  • Inverted in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, when the Italian soldiers are executed, Carlo Guercio deliberately steps in front of Captain Corelli and holds him there, saving his life. His body doesn't completely stop the bullets, only absorbing enough of the force that the Captain's injuries aren't fatal.
  • In The Crossing, bad guys Ellis and Long are engaged in a shootout with protagonist Harry Bosch. As Ellis turns to flee, he yanks Long over between himself and Bosch to serve as a shield. It works, as Long takes a couple of bullets in his bulletproof vest and one in the hip.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor, the heroine uses an unconscious enemy soldier to shield herself from a "nerve disruptor", a science fiction ray-gun that destroys nerve tissue, but is evidently absorbed by human tissue in the process.

     Live-Action TV 
  • In the pilot episode of Alphas, the Villain of the Week is holding Rachel as a Human Shield, forcing Hicks to use his Improbable Aiming Skills to save her, ricocheting a bullet off a nearby sign into the the villain's back, luckily without it going through him.
  • John Crichton from Farscape, during an Enemy Mine situation with Magnificent Bastard Scorpius, grabs him and uses him as a walking talking piece of cover. Scorpius is half Scarran who are bulletproof to anything smaller than anti tank weaponry, even before taking into account his body armor. Scorpius even compliments John on remembering this fact.
  • Lampshaded in the Human Target episode "Victoria", when Guerrero uses a startled mook as a human shield against a sniper on a nearby roof. When the EMT they're protecting at the time manages to drag the mook in for inspection, he comments that the bullets passed straight through the mook's bulletproof vest, and that Guerrero's lucky they didn't hit him as well.
    • Happens again in the episode "Run," when Chance uses a mook both to shield himself from a guy who's firing at him from across the room, and to fire at said guy via the mook's gun. There's no lampshade this time, though.
  • Luke Cage (2016): Luke himself is one, due to his unbreakable skin. In The Defenders (2017), we see a demonstration of this when he shields Danny Rand during the Midland Circle hallway fight.
  • One of the many Tropes Examined by the MythBusters. Long story short, the MythBusters found that doing this is far too unreliable to be effective as a defensive technique. More often than not, it would just produce two gunshot victims instead of one.
  • Sense8: Wolfgang used a guy this way during a gunfight. Sun later does the same with one of her brother's goons.
  • In the final episode of Starsky & Hutch, Hutch is ambushed by two hitmen, one with a gun and one with a knife. He manages to take advantage of this by maneuvering the knifewielder between himself and the gunman, just in time to take the shot.
  • In the final episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Weaver saves Sarah, John and Ellison from a Skynet drone attack by shapeshifting into a manta ray-like form to block the bullets and explosion.
  • Played ridiculously straight in an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. A young woman has been taken hostage and placed in front of a shotgun set to go off at a certain time. Walker finds the villain's hideout, beats him up, and drags him in front of the gun just in time to protect the girl and make the bad guy take the blast. Of a shotgun. True to form, only the bad guy is killed, when in real life, the shot probably would have gone through him, Walker, and the poor girl.
  • The Walking Dead:
    • In "Home", Carol uses a dead body (mainly, Axel's) this way after they're killed by the Governor; Played Straight as it blocks multiple rounds from an automatic rifle without her being hit. Although they were shot in the head, and may have been wearing a bulletproof vest, since they were in one of the former guards' uniforms, but this still probably wouldn't stop all of them.
    • In "Too Far Gone", Daryl uses a zombie he shot to provide cover from weapons fire from the Governor's forces when they were assaulting the prison in the mid-season finale for season four, as he ran from one shielded area to another.
      • Bonus points in this case, as shortly before that, another Character (Bob) catches a shot which goes right through him and he explicitly demands Maggie to examine the exit wound. Obviously that only happens if you're not an enforcer of Rule of Cool (as Daryl).
  • Wonder Woman: In "The Man Who Could Not Die", Wonder Woman ducks behind the aforementioned man to throw her lasso of truth around a Mook. He blocks the bullets with his body which is slightly more efficient than letting her deflect the bullets with her bracelets and lassoing the thug as he runs away - as is done every other time this comes up.
  • You Can't Do That on Television's firing squad sketch usually depended on this trope, as a typical outcome had the chief executioner being tricked into saying "Fire!" while standing between his men and the condemned.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Played amusingly straight in indie Roleplaying Game @ctiv8, which has a section listing how much damage is stopped by various forms of cover. A human body used as a shield provides more protection than bulletproof glass.
  • With the GMC update to New World of Darkness, human shields do provide cover equal to their Stamina. Anything that gets through goes to the guy using a human shield. This is also the update that made combat far more lethal. Make of that what you will.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed III employs this as a combat mechanic. Connor can grab enemy soldiers and use them to absorb a volley of musket fire, then drop them to close on the remaining soldiers before they can reload. The E3 trailer also shows him using a horse for this purpose — while riding it. Even more far-fetched is Desmond being able to do this while storming the Abstergo HQ. The guards take as long to aim their sidearms as the 18th-century officers, allowing Desmind time to grab the nearest guard as a shield.
    • You can also do this in Assassins Creed IV, with the process streamlined from the previous game.
  • BioShock and Bioshock 2 lets players have fun with this: basically kill a splicer or big daddy, use telekinesis to lift body and you have an instant human shield, and when you're close enough, just toss that body at the attacker to hurt or kill them.
  • A wild variation occurs in the video game BloodRayne. There, one of the titular hero's special moves is to grasp a enemy goon, bite down on his neck (she is a vampire dhampir Dhampiresa, after all), and while wrapped around him, spin him around to block enemy shots, using him as a shield and gaining health at the same time.
  • In Borderlands 2, the Nomad Torturers carry massive, bulletproof riot shields with a hole in the center. A hole they patch up by strapping a Midget to the shield. (The Bandits are competent metalworkers, and could probably patch up the hole with a more conventional fix, but Nomads like to make Midgets suffer.)
    • A hilarious example occurs in Episode 4 of Tales from the Borderlands. During the finger-gun fight, "Rhys-quez" uses one of the accountants as a shield, and the fellow ends up getting 'shot' by his coworkers. Naturally, he's fine afterwards.
  • The video game adaptation of The Bourne Conspiracy uses both this trope and Human Shield, depending on the fire discipline of the enemy.
  • Crysis allows the player to use Korean soldiers as shields (and improvised throwing weapons if the situation calls for it).
  • Dead to Rights and the sequel have human shields as a major source of armor. Enemies don't stop shooting, but you really, really do need the shields. Really.
  • In Gears of War 2, Marcus may actually randomly say "Hope you're bulletproof" when grabbing an enemy for this move. Just don't try it against a Grinder. That minigun will rip the guy in half in seconds.
    • Both COG and Locust players in multiplayer may pick up downed enemies as a "meatshield". The possibility of using them to dissuade being fired on out of fear of hitting the hostage as a Human Shield is impossible as the move causes the downed enemy to be dead for all intents and purposes, leaving it solely to be used by players soak up more bullets. Using this slows the player down and limits them to their pistol, though the meatshield can be instantly disposed of by swapping to another weapon (and more entertainingly disposed of by snapping their neck before dropping them).
  • Half-Life 2 lets you do this when you have the Super Gravity Gun. After you kill an enemy with the "pick up" function, his levitating corpse makes a great temporary shield against his friends' weapons. Especially the heavily armored Elites.
  • In Chapter 11 of Max Payne 3, Max cold-cocks an AUP mook on a zipline and uses his body to shield himself from the other mooks' gunfire while he rides the zipline. At least the mook he's holding onto has body armor.
  • The Metal Gear games use both this trope and Human Shield, depending on who you capture. In Portable Ops and 3, attempting to shield yourself with a higher-ranking officer would cause enemies to hesitate, while shielding yourself with a scientist does nothing and they'll still shoot you freely.
  • Operation Thunderbolt (a sequel to Operation Wolf) had this at the end; the villain used the hijacked plane's pilot. You get the Bad Ending if you kill the pilot.
  • Painkiller has Skulls, enemy monsters who can pick up and use lesser mooks as shields.
  • The Punisher has both the hero and the bad guys able and willing to use Bulletproof Human Shields.
  • In the trailer for Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, a member of the Special Forces is caught in the crossfire after dodging a grenade explosion. He grabs a convenient nearby zombie, which takes a few bullets for him, allowing him to run for cover.
  • Saints Row 2 allows you to use just about anyone as cover. Taking a Banger causes the others to open fire and kill their friends while you take them apart.
    • Enemy gang members will do this too. Unfortunately, they tend to grab random civilians rather than members of your gang, meaning there's little emotion and more "Man, having to waste random bullets". One boss fight does use Shaundi as a human shield to turn it into a sort of Puzzle Boss, though.
    • The Boss in a cutscene uses a bartender he/she has just sat down in front of when a SWAT team begins raiding the place with lethal force.
    • Taking a cop or civilian will cause other cops to not shoot. Unless they're behind you. They also think nothing of running you both over with a car.
  • Time Crisis 2 had part of the final boss battle feature him using Christy as this. You're penalised points if you tag her, and if you spend more time shooting her than the boss you get a time over, but that's about it.
  • In Zone of the Enders you can grab enemies and use them as Giant Robot versions of this trope. The enemies will still shoot, causing them to hurt their allies instead of you, and you still can hurl your grabbed foe and destroy both.

    Web Animation 
  • This happens in an early episode of Madness Combat, despite the characters being usually Made of Plasticine. Also happens many more times in future installments. Bullets can't seem to penetrate bodies very well, but can tear through cover easily.
  • Agent South in Red vs. Blue picks up a soldier's corpse at one point and uses it as an impromptu shield against snipers. None of the bullets end up hitting her anyway, but even with the body armor soldiers wear, you have to wonder what good it would have done against a sniper.

    Web Comics 
  • Terra: On page 243 a mook grabs the corpse of one Alex already shot and killed and uses him to block her fire while he returns it. This set off a brief bout of Wild Mass Guessing in the comments. Eventually Holly put her foot down and pointed out that Alex never actually shot the human shield because the mook holding it was quicker on the trigger; therefore whether her rifle fire would or would not penetrate was a moot point.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Beast Wars episode "Code of Hero," Dinobot is under attack from Blackarachnia's eight machine guns. He grabs the already semi-bisected Inferno to absorb her last bullets before using Inferno's gun to shoot her down. Then he uses the poor Predacon's gun against him, blowing his head sky high.
  • In the murder mystery episode of Family Guy, Stewie shoots through Diane Simmons with a sniper without hitting Lois who was standing right behind her. But hey, Rule of Funny.

    Real Life 
  • Aside from calibre and type of firearm, different types of ammunition have characteristics that may or may not allow them to fully penetrate a human body. For example, a full metal jacketed 9x19mm Parabellum bullet may be able to go straight through a human torso, while a wadcutter .45 ACP bullet is more likely to lodge itself somewhere inside an organ (although the possibility of the bullet going out the back shouldn't be ruled out).
    • Expanding ammunition flattens on impact to increase the size of the wound (and therefore its lethality) while reducing its penetration, which would allow for a human body to better absorb the bullet. Soft Point Ammo has the jacket removed from the nose while Hollow Point has an internal cavity. Cruciform ammunition has an X shaped incision in the tip, causing it to split and expand in a controlled fashion. While the Hague Convention prohibits the use of expanding ammunition in warfare, it is permitted or even required in certain circumstances such as hunting or law enforcement, where quickly disabling the target may prevent loss of life and over-penetration may put bystanders at risk (though the latter point isn't nearly as significant as people make it out to be - even if your bullet won't over penetrate, many of the other bullets you shoot can still easily miss and hit a bystander—a source of civilian casualties more common than over penetration by orders of magnitude).
    • Frangible bullets are designed to disintegrate into tiny pieces when they impact a hard surface; this can protect against the danger of ricochets in close quarters, and limit the chance of, say, shooting through the skin of an aircraft, as well as do more damage to the body, as most criminals can't afford body armor. Air marshals would be likely to carry such ammunition.
  • MythBusters once did a test to see how much tissue a bullet went through (based on myths that a very fat or very muscular man survived a gunshot). 16 inches of fat couldn't stop a bullet, nor could 14 inches of muscle. They were using a .223 Remington round, a rifle round that can easily penetrate non-plated body armor, so the results aren't surprising.
    • The reality is a little different; 12 inches of penetration in ballistic gelatin is considered the absolute minimum for a law enforcement pistol round,note  simulating passing through a target's arm at an angle and still wounding the heart sufficiently to incapacitate them. This is because Michael Platt survived such a shot.
  • Of course, even if the bullet or fragments of the bullet do make it through a human shield, it could still reduce the lethality of the shot.
    • Or increase it, as the bullet will likely be tumbling when it comes out of its first victim.
      • Or, in the case that it pencils straight through tissue, still retain sufficient velocity to wound and possibly kill.
  • BBC reporter Kate Adie was in Tiananmen Square when the army started shooting into the crowd of demonstrators. She was slightly injured by a bullet that had just killed the guy in front of her (and possibly others).
  • In David Simon's Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets, Simon relates the story of detectives who were called to investigate the death of a man shot thirty-five times and the wounding of a man shot four times. It was ultimately revealed that a drug dealer and his muscle had gone to meet with another man. When an argument occurred, the dealer ordered his muscle to open up on the man with a MAC-10. Thinking fast, the man grabbed the dealer as a human shield, and the muscle ended up riddling his own boss with bullets. Only four passed through to wound the man, who survived the ordeal.
  • The FN 5.7×28mm bullet (used by the sci-fi looking FN P90 and Five-seveN) deserves mention because it was designed to expend all its kinetic energy in the first person it hits, so if it hits your human shield in the center of mass, you're going to be okay.
  • Some soldiers will attempt to do this in certain situations, with results being varied.
  • There were rumors that during the Iran–Iraq War, Iraqi engineers would pile up the bodies of Iranian soldiers after a failed attack to use as foundation materials for their troops' fortifications.
    • Similar, in the defense of "Pavlov's House" in the siege on Stalingrad during World War II, the Soviet troops holding the house, by the final weeks of the battle, would routinely have to run out after a German attack to kick over the piles of corpses, lest the German troops in the next attack be able to use them as protection.
      • That is actually a trope in and of itself. Any party in a prolonged war has claimed that sort of thing, among them all combatants in WWI and WWII, forces on both sides in the American Civil war, etc.


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