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Dead Man's Trigger Finger

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Defending fire had stopped, except for the occasional stutter of a weapon discharged as a finger shriveled too tightly in death. That hardly counted, though Topper knew a bullet was a bullet no matter who had fired it.
Rolling Steel: A Pre-Apocalyptic Love Story

If you are a fan of the action genre (particularly the Heroic Bloodshed subgenre), you’ve probably seen it. A character, typically a mook, is shot and reacts by firing his gun randomly as he falls. The victim is almost always lethally wounded and dead as soon as he hits the ground, and he is usually equipped with a one-handed automatic weapon to make his erratic death-spasm shooting more visually impressive. Redshirts killed this way are prone to accidentally offing any comrades standing too close and/or hitting nearby metallic surfaces for the sake of Bullet Sparks. Seldom does anyone manage to kill his attacker in this fashion; if he does, it’s also an inadvertent example of Taking You with Me.

The trope was once exclusive to film and television due to technical limitations, but certain video games have included Dead Man’s Trigger Finger animations since the late 1990s. Now you, too, can enjoy forcing mooks to spray bullets indiscriminately as they’re killed!

Sister trope to Last Ditch Move and Last Breath Bullet, differing from both in that the Dead Man's Trigger Finger occurs whenever the weapon discharge is (at least mostly) involuntary and not deliberately aimed anywhere. Deadfoot Leadfoot is the vehicular version. Compare with visually impressive but functionally pointless action maneuvers such as the Unnecessary Combat Roll. Combines well with something like a Wilhelm Scream. Slow Motion is optional.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • A Captain America/The Punisher team-up comic, Blood & Glory, has Frank do this with a precise knife throw into a guard with a machine gun, which takes out the other guards for them.

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • A rather horrifying example in All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) when a soldier wielding a flamethrower is hit and ignites a couple of his companions as he jerks and spins in a panic.
  • In Big Game, when Morris dies, his finger stays on the trigger of his Uzi and he ends up taking down his own helicopter.
  • Cash manages to clear a hallway full of mooks in Cyborg 2 by throwing a knife at one of them, who then proceeds to mow down everyone behind him in his death throes.
  • Played with in Déjà Vu (2006): at the climax, Carroll (the Mad Bomber Big Bad) carries two sub-machine guns and opens fire at Carlin, leaving him distracted as Claire (Caroll's hostage) puts the car she's in on "drive" and rams Caroll, crushing his legs in between the front and side of two jeeps. Caroll, in agony, keeps blasting away at nothing and stops when Carlin blows his brains out.
  • Dick Tracy. When Big Boy's minions try to break past the police cordon, Flattop comes out of his car shooting a tommy gun at the cops. He's riddled with bullets, and as he falls to the ground he continues to fire his weapon in the air.
  • Happens by implication in The Dirty Dozen. Briefly, in a wide shot, you can see Posey - who is manning the heavy machine gun - jerk back as if he has been hit by the Nazi gunfire, then we cut to a shot of a German motorcycle being hit as if the machine gun went off as Posey slumpes over, dead.
  • During the gun battle at Candie's mansion in Django Unchained, Django pulls a One-Hit Polykill on two mooks, who reflexively then blast each other again for good measure.
  • The Blast Out at the climax of Enemy of the State is ignited when Krug is shot in the back by a cook with a shotgun, then falls to the ground firing his submachine gun into the air.
  • In Green Room, the Big Bad Darcy dies this way, fortunately missing.
  • Displayed by some of the dozens of random Triad mooks gunned down in John Woo’s spectacularly violent (and awesome) Hard Boiled, a classic of the Heroic Bloodshed subgenre.
  • Heat repeats the exact same sequence as in True Lies with the same actor (Max Daniels) and weapon.
  • A machine-gun-toting American Marine in Invasion U.S.A. (1985), gunned down while stupidly standing still in the middle of the huge climactic battle and firing from the hip on full-auto.
  • James Bond has seen a few.
    • Some of the AK-wielding Russian soldiers killed during Bond and 006's raid on the Soviet chemical weapons plant in GoldenEye's pre-title credits action sequence.
    • Die Another Day: During the VR simulated attack on headquarters, a mook lights up the ceiling with an impressive post-mortem burst after being nailed by Bond's Walther.
  • Parodied in Last Action Hero: in the middle of the shootout at his ex-wife's house, Jack Slater takes cover behind a chair in which a dead mook is sitting, rips out a power cord from a nearby light, and shocks the goon's arm with it, and the jolt makes the man twitch spasmodically, blasting three nearby goons with the SMG he was holding.
  • Odd example where the shooting mook is dead to begin with: After a shootout in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, there's a face-down dead guy holding a shotgun. When Rory turns him over, the dead guy's shotgun is pointed at him. Rory shoots the dead guy and is then promptly killed by the shotgun, due to the movement of the corpse.
  • Miller's Crossing has a Black Comedy version as a gangster pours bullets from a Tommy gun into another gangster's back, and the other gangster, firing his own Tommy gun in a wide arc, shoots bullets all over the room, including into the chandelier above him and his own feet.
  • Performed by one of the mafia goons Leslie Nielsen shoots in The Naked Gun 33⅓'s Untouchables parody opening scene.
  • A variant in Predator. The title creature blasts Dillon's arm off with its Shoulder Cannon. The arm falls to the ground, with the dead hand still pulling the trigger of the weapon it's holding and the gun still firing.
  • Riddick. Riddick forms an Enemy Mine alliance with two Bounty Hunters, Boss John and Diaz, riding on their hoverbikes to retrieve the power cells that for the spacecraft that can take them off the planet. But once they've done so, Diaz knocks out Boss John and tries to kill Riddick, only to get a blade in the face. His pistol continues to fire, shooting up one of the hoverbikes. Boss John informs Riddick he's no intention of riding with him now that they've got the nodes...until Riddick points out that Diaz sabotaged John's hoverbike first, intending to abandon him out there. So they both have to fight their way on foot past hordes of lethal alien creatures.
  • RoboCop (1987): One random henchman gunned down by RoboCop during the drug factory shootout blasts his shotgun in the air as he falls, and another sprays wildly with his machine gun and kills his boss.
  • An early source of conflict (and Dark Comedy) in Starship Troopers, a recruit is shot in the back by a Static Stun Gun during a (very dangerous) live-fire exercise, and inadvertently fires a burst that ends up hitting another recruit in the head, right after he had removed his helmet.
  • Parodied in ¡Three Amigos!. When El Guapo's men desert him he calls out "Come back, you cowards! You traitors!" His second-in-command Jefe says "I'm still here, El Guapo!" and is shot off his horse. He ends up on his feet, fires one shot in the air, and falls on his face, dead.
  • Johnny Ringo in Tombstone has one after Doc Holliday beats him to the draw and plants a round in the Cowboy's brain pan.
  • During the bathroom fight in True Lies Harry shoots one of Aziz's mooks several times in the chest in the middle of wrestling with the other one for control of the gun. The shot mook spastically lets off a burst from his submachine gun that goes nowhere important.
  • Underworld (2003) has one in the climax, when the vampires assault the Lycan base in the sewers. Selene shoots the last Lycan, and he falls to the ground spraying bullets.

  • Duty Calls: Cain invokes this trope during a standoff near the end of the book, telling the book's Big Bad (who is holding a gun on Cain) that if he shoots, Cain's finger will reflexively pull his own trigger and kill the villain's main ally. Too bad the villain didn't really care whether or not that ally lived or died.
    I can always get another techpriest ....
  • James Bond loves this trope — almost nearly every automatic-wielding mook that gets killed in one of the books will have his gun continuing to fire until it's empty or falls out of his hands.
  • Lensman: Specifically First Lensman. Inverted. The bullet that kills the assassin Mook smashes through his brain before he finishes pulling the trigger, causing his hand to twitch and spoiling his aim. He still delivers the shot and it's still a hit, but it's off target and his intended victim survives.
  • In the Nick Carter story "Marked for Death", Nick shoots a gangster named Mike in the back and initially thinks that he missed because Mike fires while spinning in place. But no, he was just reflexively pulling the trigger as Nick's shot turned him around, and Mike is already dead.
  • The poem "Old Christmas Morning" by Roy Helton has Lomey dropping in to visit Sally Anne. It isn't daylight yet, and Sally Anne wonders why Lomey is out so early. Lomey's answer is that she's been to visit her husband's grave. Sally Anne's husband, Taulbe, had killed him. The poem turns creepy when Lomey confesses to having seen Taulbe along the way and, her husband's rifle in hand, she killed him to avenge her husband. But as he fell, he got in a last shot and took her down with him. Sally Anne's visitor is in fact the ghost of Lomey, telling her where she'll find the bodies after the sun rises.
  • In the finale of Rainbow Six, one of the Horizon militiamen killed by the Rainbow team pulls his rifle's trigger and lets off a ten-round burst while dying. This is the only reason a few of the militiamen survive the final battle, as the gunshots cue them to break and run (prior to this, Rainbow had been quietly killing them with carefully aimed three-round bursts from their 10mm submachine guns).
  • One mook in Role of Honour accidentally shoots another, and the shot mook keeps firing his submachine gun as he falls over dead, killing the other as well.
  • Safehold: The resistance leader who tries to kill Sharleyan during How Firm A Foundation gets a second shot off due to this trope and a double-barreled pistol. It misses.
  • At one point in The Thrawn Trilogy, a stormtrooper cut down by Luke Skywalker's lightsaber is mentioned to have squeezed down on the trigger as he died, randomly firing his blaster. Fortunately, no one gets hit by it.

    Video Games 
  • Some of the shotgun-toting soldiers in Alpha Protocol will fire off a burst of assault rifle rounds if you gun them down while they charge to close the distance.
  • In the Blood series, cultists who burn to death fire off their Tommy guns in a short burst while their burning flesh falls from their bones.
  • In Call of Duty: Finest Hour shooting a German soldier with an MP 40 will sometimes cause him to fire several shots as he dies.
  • Crash Bandicoot (1996): When you deal the final blow to the Tommy gun-toting Pinstripe, he'll spin in place, then fires his gun in a spaz, which hits the glass-covered reactor in the background; this, among other things, leads to the Cortex Castle blowing up.
  • Ork grunts in Dawn of War II occasionally put a couple rounds in the ground when shot to death.
  • Occasionally occurs in Deus Ex: Human Revolution to enemies armed with the machine pistol or assault rifle.
  • In Fleeing the Complex, the taser variant mentioned under Real Life below is used in one path; If you choose to flee with Ellie, when the two of you have to pick a weapon, the correct combination is to give Ellie the taser and yourself the rifle — Ellie will tase Henry and his resulting erratic shots will hit all the guards.
  • Enemy soldiers in First Encounter Assault Recon frequently do this. It's not just for show; these stray bullets spraying can hurt and even kill you, especially in the first game. It crosses over with Reliably Unreliable Guns too, in that sometimes these bursts will happen even if the enemy lets go of the weapon as they die, it firing off a couple rounds entirely on its own.
  • In the Half-Life 2 and Portal series: Knocking a turret over causes it to blindly fire for a second before shutting down for good.
  • Happens in Halo. An enemy killed by shooting often fires a couple rounds into the floor before dying. These actually can hurt you so be careful, especially if the gun is the Brute Shot or Fuel Rod Gun. Fortunately, these shots can also kill your enemies.
  • Stormtroopers gunned or chopped down in Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast sometimes shoot their blaster rifles into the air while spinning. Enemy Sith in the sequel Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy occasionally do a variant with their lightsabers, flailing wildly when struck with a fatal blow; it is quite possible for Jaden to perish by standing too closely.
  • The original 3DO version of Killing Time features zombie gangsters who keep firing off their Tommy guns as they spin and drop to the floor when killed. This doesn't happen in PC/Mac version, which replaces all the digitized enemy sprites with more generic prerendered models.
  • Can happen in both Max Payne 2 and Max Payne 3 to mooks wielding a single one-handed weapon, particularly if you shoot their legs out from under them just before they fire at you.
  • In MechWarrior Living Legends, destroying a Humongous Mecha occasionally causes its ammunition to cook off in sympathetic detonation, though ballistic weapons won't actually fire. Missile racks cook off even more spectacularly, with their rockets blasting them in a wild (but harmless) gyrating flight across the sky.
  • Medal of Honor has had this since the first game. Luckily, you never have to worry about the bullets hitting you.
  • A non-fatal variant is in PAYDAY: The Heist and its sequel, where players stunned by a Taser will uncontrollably fire their weapon as they're being shocked. It's both a blessing and a curse, as you're likely to accidentally kill a civilian and take a hit to your earnings if you're near one when getting stunned, but it also means that if the Taser is close enough you can hit him with your wild burst and free yourself.
  • Enemies may rarely do this in Perfect Dark, although it could be a bug due to their shooting animation not terminating properly as they die.
  • In Quake II, defeated enemies often do this unless they become Ludicrous Gibs. Smaller Guards sit up and fire a few shots before going down, and big Enforcers let their arm-mounted Gatling gun fire off a burst that moves upwards. There's a half-second delay between the actual kills and the shots firing, and a wary player can use that to strafe or crouch out of the way.
  • Implied in the original Resident Evil: Joseph Frost finds a guy's hand still holding a pistol, with the finger on the trigger, right before Joseph gets killed by a pack of Cerebus.
  • This can happen in the original Splinter Cell or Pandora Tomorrow if you knock out or kill a guard while he is shooting at you. The bullets from it can still damage or kill you even when he is knocked out/dead.
  • All NPCs in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series are able to pull this off, more apparent with NPCs carrying automatic weapons.
  • Time Crisis:
    • This happens a few times in the first game where mooks end up destroying some of the scenery, most notably in the first level in the submarine pen—when you shoot the first mook wielding a rocket launcher, he falls back and fires a rocket into the roof of the submarine, destroying it in a fiery explosion.
    • Time Crisis II:
      • After you defeat Buff Bryant (the stage 2 boss), he falls over backwards with his minigun still firing, destroying the helicopter he's in.
      • In one of the Crisis Missions on the PS2 version, you have to fight without the ability to take cover. All enemies only go down if shot three times in rapid succession. Landing fewer shots will result in this trope, and it's always a 'crisis bullet' that will hit you.
  • Zap Dramatic: In episode 1 of Ambition, Ted straps dynamite to his chest and threatens to blow up himself and the surrounding building. If the player chooses to shoot him, Ted's thumb lands on the detonator switch and sets off the bomb. As the game tells you:
    Firing upon an emotionally disturbed person who is wearing a bomb is not very smart. Even if your bullet were to kill him instantly (which is highly unlikely) he could still fall on the detonator, and blow you, and all the people you are supposed to serve and protect, to kingdom come!

    Real Life 
  • A possibility in real life, if a person is shot while holding his finger on a gun trigger and jerks it back due to some combination of pain, surprise, and instinct. It falls under the general umbrella term “accidental discharge”. This makes it dangerous to Shoot the Hostage Taker and is why police don't use tasers against people holding firearms.
    • This is why police snipers are trained to target the brain stem. Destroying it results in no nerve signals being sent out to the muscles. Which is in turn why true Dead Mans Switches exist - there's very little one can do to reliably prevent a muscle from relaxing.
  • One edition of Ripley's Believe It or Not! recounts the tale of a dead man who won a duel - he died with his finger on the trigger, and then rigor mortis set in and killed his opponent.
    • In this case, choose "Or not," as rigor mortis takes hours to set in. Before this, the muscles usually go flaccid. This would require the "dead duelist" to somehow not lose the gun when his hand went limp, for it to coincidentally be aimed at his opponent hours later, and for rigor mortis to time the shot just right. It is far more likely that a mortally-wounded individual fired just before losing consciousness; this happens all the time as a person acts while fatally injured before succumbing to their wounds, resulting in a Mutual Kill. Additionally, there is a phenomenon called cadaveric spasm, where an already-clenched muscle remains clenched after death. This occurs when a person is holding or tightening that muscle before death and does not occur after death. Muscles require energy to relax (not contract), and without the cellular machinery in place to replace that energy, the muscles are unable to loosen up until they start breaking down. Also, it's tough to call Taking You with Me a win...