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Deer in the Headlights

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Kell Dewclaw presents a good demonstration of this trope. Venison lunch will follow the seminar.

Shuri: Did he freeze?
Okoye: Like an antelope in headlights.

A specific variant of the Heroic BSoD (or its villainous counterpart) in which Bob sees the danger coming right at him but is in so much shock that he cannot move. He just sort of stands there, like... well, a deer in headlights.

The causes for this vary. Maybe Bob has just seen a big monster charging right at him, ready to gore him with its giant horns. Maybe his best friend Alice has a gun pointed at his head and he has just realized that she's turned on him. Or maybe he's just noticed that a Spanner in the Works has just ruined the careful arrangement he's spent years building.

Actual deer exhibit this behavior because of the internal defense mechanism they've developed to deal with predators. Imagine two circles, one inside the other, centered around a deer in the woods. If a deer picks up on an unknown approaching into its outer zone, it will focus on it with eyes and ears as it approaches. If said entity gets within the inner radius of the deer, then it will flee. Most predators try to sneak up as close as possible to potential prey, saving their energy for that last bit of distance to overpower it and chow down — contrary to what the Super-Persistent Predator trope suggests, most do not have the stamina or desire to chase prey over long distances. Most predators who notice the deer noticing them will back off at that point and slink away, which saves both predator and prey energy and is a mutually beneficial outcomenote . In essence, a deer staring down a predator is saying, "I know you're there — go bother someone else and save both of us the trouble."

The deer's method fails, however, when it comes to motor vehicles, since motor vehicles (and the humans operating them) A) usually don't have deer high enough on the list of concerns to try to avoid them from far off (e.g., going off the pavement — in many cases this would be impossible anyway, like in wooded areas), and B) are already moving at high speeds when they get close, so that by the time the deer's inner defensive circle is broken there's too little time for the deer to get out of the way and avoid a collision. The "deer in the headlights" look comes when the deer picks up the approaching car and focuses in on it but the car has yet to get close enough for the deer's internal GTFO alarm to trip.

May overlap with Oh, Crap! Didn't See That Coming may lead to this in a villain. May also shade into Naked Freak-Out when the suddenly-naked Alice is more preoccupied with protecting her modesty than reacting to whatever stripped her (or getting the hell out of there). If Bob is in immediate danger, then Alice may Take the Bullet for him out of desperate fear for his safety.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Arachnid begins with heroine Alice finding her abusive uncle being hanged by a assassin, who then moves to kill her. She freezes at the sight, but concludes that she must kill to survive and jumps at his neck. She later becomes feared for being able to remain concentrated even in such dire situations.
    • One flashback shows antagonist Dinoponera in a similar situation during her childhood, cornered by a bunch of mercenaries and without the concentration disorder Alice was born with. She miraculously develops a form of Hyper-Awareness to kill them all and breaks down crying with relief.
  • Happens a few times to various characters in Attack on Titan, such as Petra just before she is crushed underfoot by the Female Titan. Honestly if this trope happens to someone in Attack on Titan, you can be sure that someone's about to die.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Thor shows off his newly acquired Teleport Spam ability and beats the shit out of Touma, with the hero helpless to fight him. Eventually, Touma gets an idea and stands in a certain spot. Thor appears behind him to deal the final blow... then finds that he's materialized in the path of a train. He becomes so shocked that he just stands there and gets run over (though this doesn't kill him).
  • In A Certain Scientific Railgun, Tsuzuri Tessou does this when she is attacked by the AIM Burst. Mikoto pulls her out of the way and berates her for freezing up.
  • Holm from Delicious in Dungeon has a bad habit of freezing up whenever Team Kabru gets into trouble.
  • Happens on separate occasions in Digimon Adventure and its sequels Digimon Adventure 02 and Digimon Adventure tri. with Taichi Yagami. First he froze up when found out he could die in the Digital World. Then in 02 he freezes up again when he is attacked by his own partner who was being controlled by the Digimon Kaiser. Finally in tri. he freezes up during the fight against Alphamon.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Gohan is prone to this:
    • In the battle with Raditz, after Gohan unleashes his rage and injures Raditz, only to have no memory of what he just did, Raditz angrily approaches him. Goku repeatedly tells him to run, but he just stands there confused until Raditz knocks him out.
    • During the battle with Nappa and Vegeta, he freezes up when Nappa blasts an enormous beam of energy at him. Piccolo ends up Taking the Bullet in a Heroic Sacrifice.
    • On Namek, he is frozen with fear when Freeza No Sells his vicious attack. Vegeta yells, "Don't just stand there kid! Look out!" Too late, Freeza beats the shit out of him.
    • Later, when Freeza reaches his final form, Gohan freezes again when Freeza fires an energy beam at him. This time, Vegeta just knocks Gohan down so he's not hit.
  • Early on Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward and Alphonse are warned by a soldier that a serial killer known as Scar is targeting state alchemists. The soldier is promptly blown up right in front of them and the brothers are paralyzed by shock. Thankfully they're literally saved by a clock's loud bell, which gets them to return to their senses and flee.
  • Kagerou Project: The most oft shown version of Hiyori's death inside the Haze is her running out onto the road after a cat without looking and this trope happening. It is also implied that this is how both Hibiya and Hiyori died outside of the Haze in the real world in every timeline.
  • In Magi: Labyrinth of Magic, Alibaba has this response on a very regular basis. Usually after an Obviously Evil character has revealed that they're doing something evil. It typically falls to Aladdin or Margiana to snap him out of it.
  • In the climax of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, Quattro freezes up when she realizes exactly how Nanoha plans on defeating her. She doesn't move until the blast has already entered the room she's in, by which point it's too late to run or fly out of the way (and even if it was, she ends up suffering from 1-Dimensional Thinking).
  • Happens in Puella Magi Madoka Magica when Mami thinks she's gotten Charlotte (who takes the form of a tiny plushie) beat, when suddenly Charlotte pukes out a giant carnivorous worm towards her. Mami freezes, and loses her head.
  • In Soul Eater, Maka freezes in this way after Soul takes an attack meant for her. Only a well-timed Big Damn Heroes moment saves her from Crona.
    • Both heroes and villains froze in horror at Asura's resurrection and Eruka was completely paralyzed as he stepped closer and closer to her. Thankfully, Asura was just as afraid of her as she was of him.
  • In the Warrior Cats manga Warrior's Refuge, Millie freezes when crossing a road. Graystripe has to grab her by her scruff and drag her out of the way of an oncoming car.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, Yusuke does this after Toguro first showed him sixty percent of his power. Thankfully, Toguro wasn't going to kill him there just yet but sent an invitation to a Dark Tournament where Yusuke will need to confront such power for real.

    Comic Books 
  • Happens in the the Batgirl (2011) comic book series. Since in the new continuity the paraplegic Barbara Gordon had a complete recovery over a three years period, when she gets a gun pointed at, at the exact spot where she had been shot by the Joker, in the first issue Batgirl froze in terror and could not prevent the bad guy from killing the man he was there to kill. Actually, the sheer risk of accumulating new, unhealable spinal damage seemed to lock Barbara into an instant Heroic BSoD.
  • Judge Dredd: In "Necropolis", a group of student Judges led by Cadet Giant try to escape the hellworld that Mega-City One has become after its takeover by the Dark Judges. When they're pursued by the skull-headed Judge Mortis, several of them simply give up in the face of the undead abomination. Giant has to blast off Mortis's head to shake them out of their coma.
  • Mighty Avengers: James Lucas senior's response to winding up in the middle of a super-human brawl under the streets of Manhattan, which is when he decides he's got no part dealing with super-beings and swears it off forever.
  • Robin (1993): When someone tries to carjack Ives he stomps on the gas and completely freezes up, forcing Tim Drake to shove his foot off the petal and swerve the car to the curb from the passenger seat before they end up in an car crash.
  • Star Wars: Kanan: Despite being new to the battlefield Caleb Dume doesn't freeze up or hesitate in a fight until Order 66 causes his friends he was just joking with to turn on and try to kill him and he's simultaneously hit with visions of the deaths of other Jedi at the hands of their own clone troopers. He only comes out of it after Depa Billaba yells his name twice and she's had to deflect several blaster bolts from hitting him.

    Comic Strips 
  • One Calvin and Hobbes arc had Calvin making a safety poster for a contest at school. When asking Hobbes for advice on a slogan, Hobbes suggest, "Don't look into car headlights and freeze, because you'll either get run over or shot!" Calvin points out that doesn't happen to most people, to which Hobbes responds that there's more to this world than people.
  • Spoofed in The Far Side, where a deer shows the neighbors his car headlight device, shining it in their faces and making them stare transfixed at it. Quoth his wife: "Okay, Frank, that's enough. I'm sure the Jeffersons are quite amazed at your car headlight device."
    • Another strip features a couple of guys looking to catch frogs, with one shining a flashlight at one and saying "See, Frank? Keep the light in their eyes and you can bag them without any trouble at all." Frank, meanwhile, is staring blankly up at a light shining down on himself.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): Vivienne Graham goes catatonic when she first sees MaNi/Elder Brother due to the sight of his Ghidorah-like head triggering a PTSD attack, in Chapter 15.
  • Played with in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. Paul, both awed by Lord Equus and trashed out of his mind, simply stares at the approaching horse mecha until it kicks him over the valley.
    • Also, when Paul is grabbed by the Octo-Bot and slammed around in the cave, George and John can do nothing except fall over laughing.
  • Hellsister Trilogy: At the climax of "The Apokolips Agenda", a group of heroes freeze up as Darkseid approaches and fires the Omega Effect at them.
  • Much Ado About Shakespeare: Love's Labours Won: Archie Kennedy freezes in shock when he understands that his friend Horatio Hornblower realized what had been happening on the Justinian, i.e. that Jack Simpson had been molesting him.
    "[Archie] became motionless as a statue, still leaning forward, his expressive face frozen with his wide eyes staring uncomprehendingly at Horatio."
  • Olive's Last Partner: Oscar tries to use a banana creme pie to scare the Blobisite away from them and into Otto's arms, since Blobisites don't like pies. To prevent Olive from freaking out (since pies are her Trauma Button), he tells her not to turn around, but she does so anyway and becomes near-paralyzed with fear. She screams takes a couple steps back, slams into the boiler in the center of the room, and creates a large hole in it, the orange juice within it of which sends her colliding with a wall and causes her and Oscar to nearly drown.
  • The Resident Evil fanfic The Progenitor Chronicles has an instance where a Hunter catches up to the MC and Jay. It decapitates Jay in one swipe. The MC falls back in shock and completely freezes with the Hunter right in front of his face, about to kill him.
  • When Izuku finally recognizes Aizawa in Waiting is worth it, he becomes paralyzed with terror. He knows that Aizawa's quirk is to be able to rob others of their quirks, and as someone who relies on his quirk to maintain a slim facade of normalcy (like going anywhere without his wheelchair or telekinetically cooking and cleaning around the house), this horrifying possibility nearly reduces Izuku to tears.

    Films — Animation 
  • Bambi II: Bambi is lured out into the open by a deer call (which he mistakes for the voice of his deceased mother, after a dream in which he's reunited with her), and then freezes when a pack of hunting dogs charge out of the trees toward him. (The crows' sounding the alarm to Man's presence doesn't help matters.) It takes his father tossing him out of the way with his antlers to snap him out of it.
  • Hoodwinked!: Kirk freezes up in fear when the giant tree is falling towards him.
  • Happens to Diego in Ice Age: The Meltdown, when a carnivorous water creature approaches him and Sid while they are in an ice floe. Due to his aquaphobia he freezes in panic until Sid is able to snap him out of this state.
  • Lilo & Stitch: Nani does this on the night she gets fired, when she's talking to David on the phone about Stitch. She stops dead when she finds Stitch taking a can of soda from the fridge.
  • A literal example in Open Season: When confronted for illegally having Elliot the mule deer tied to his hood, Shaw claims "he ran right in front of my truck!" The scene then cuts to a brief flashback with Shaw deliberately veering off the interstate and colliding his truck into Elliot.
  • Over the Hedge: Hammy is often found doing this to initiate fear. This is very similar to how squirrels in real life react at the first signs of danger.
  • In the opening of Princess Mononoke, Yakul does this as the demon that curses Ashitaka rushes at him. Despite Ashitake shouting at him to run, he just stands there, staring and trembling slightly — finally running away when Ashitaka shoots an arrow in his direction.
  • In Turning Red, Mei finds herself in the street with an oncoming car and doesn't do anything but scream and brace for impact.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Alien:
    • During the chestbursting scene, Captain Dallas goes rigid with fear and keeps staring at the bloody mess, even after the baby alien has scarpered. His face is beet-red and soaked with sweat and his hands are up, but they don't do anything except twitch.
    • Lambert just stands and stares the alien, quivering in fear as it slowly advances on her. This inaction winds up costing Parker his life too — he's unable to fire as Lambert is in the way.
  • Angst: When the young woman is being attacked and tied up by the killer, her elderly mother stands there watching instead of trying to intervene, escape, or try to protect her infirm son.
  • In the infamous 1977 PIF Apaches, Danny, the posthumous narrator, just stands there with a dumb look on his face each time one of his friends falls victim to another completely avoidable farm-equipment-related accident. Mocked mercilessly here and here.
  • Parodied in Austin Powers with the guard who gets run over by a steamroller, too terrified to get out the way even though the steamroller is coming at him veeeery slowly from a looong ways away. What makes it even better is a cut scene that can be played later on the DVD, where the Mook is shown to have friends who hear about the accident and mourn his death. They probably never realize that the guard's demise was, in a way, largely his fault!
  • As it's set in Africa, Black Panther uses "antelope in the headlights" instead, referring to T'Challa's sudden brain freeze on encountering his ex-girlfriend after he'd singlehandedly beaten up a human trafficking ring. Just as his head bodyguard warned him about moments before. Judging by his little sister's response, this has happened previously. A lot.
  • Claw (2021): When a T-Rex crashes Julia's comedy club performance, most of the audience flees in terror. Kyle, however, remains rooted to his chair as the T-Rex stares at him. Then it eats him, and then Julia wakes up screaming.
  • Drag Me to Hell: Clay, while Christine sits on the train tracks and is dragged to Hell.
  • Godzilla:
    • Gojira: A crowd of humans can only watch as Godzilla first shows up and looms over the hills before he starts to make his way towards Tokyo.
    • Godzilla vs. Kong: Madison briefly freezes up when Skullcrawler Number Ten is being released from its paddock, and she doesn't run in the same direction as Bernie and Josh. The novelization confirms this is the result of a PTSD attack because of her experiences in the previous film.
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The entire DA when Umbridge blows down the door to the Room of Requirement.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy freezes in shock once he realizes the German tank he's standing on is about to roll off a cliff (the driver and all other passengers having been killed). We see a close-up of his bugging eyes (and his trademark fedora blowing off for some reason) and then a shot of him tumbling over the side of the tank. Indy's father, Marcus Brody and Sallah think he's died, but Indy manages to grab onto the rocky cliff face and laboriously make his way back up (though his clothes get shredded in the process). His hat also magically reappears.
  • Pulp Fiction: In an Imagine Spot joke, Jules and Vincent adapt this look after Bonnie comes home to find them dragging Marvin's bloody corpse through her house.
  • Discussed in Snatch., with the Lemony Narrator remarking on the tendency of people to do this in the face of danger, offering the example of someone who accidentally steps in front of speeding car and freezes out of surprise while pulling a stupid face instead of trying to jump to safety. Moments after this is described, the Big Bad ends up having a shotgun pointed right in his face and promptly freezes in shock while pulling a stupid face just before his head gets blown off.
  • In Spider-Man, Green Goblin knocks over a giant globe and the crowd scatters out of the way, except for a boy who stares at it blankly. Spidey goes, "Come on, move, kid!" but is forced to dive in and carry the boy out of the way.
  • In The Thing (1982), Windows freezes in horror when the Palmer-Thing drops off the ceiling in front of him. The Thing uses his moment of indecision to maul him to death.
  • In War of the Worlds (2005), when the Tripods appear at the ferry, Ray and family freeze and stare. The other people around them have a similarly delayed reaction, taking at least a few seconds to start running. And earlier, when Rachel runs off to find a place to use the bathroom, she comes across a river with countless bodies floating downstream. At the sight of this, she seems to completely forget what she was doing and just stares.
  • Withnail and I: Marwood is unable to move and just stares for a few very, very long seconds when he realizes that Withnail's uncle Monty has come to his room. Monty is gay and thinks that Marwood is too, and he wants to have him, even if it must be a burglary. Poor Marwood.

  • The Animorphs can only stare in horror when Visser Three devours Elfangor alive in the first book.
  • In Blindsight, it's claimed that to look into the eyes of a vampire triggers evolutionary ingrained responses to predation in humans that causes them to freak out and stand paralysed. This is why Jukka Sarasti wears sunglasses at all times when interacting with his crew.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's Brightly Burning, Lavan Firestorm's mentor has to be physically dragged away when Lavan gives full rein to his powers (killing himself and an entire army in the process) after his Companion dies.
  • Naturally played with in Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards!. While Vimes is being shot at, his mind goes into this state. His legs act of their own volition and throw him out of danger.
  • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, after chasing Bellatrix through the Ministry of Magic because she killed Sirius and having Voldemort appear, Harry goes into a state of shock.
    "I have nothing more to say to you, Potter," he [Voldemort] said quietly. "You have irked me too often, for too long. AVADA KEDAVRA!"
    Harry had not even opened his mouth to resist. His mind was blank, his wand pointing uselessly at the floor.
  • Lilly and Fin: A Mermaid's Tale: When Lilly and Fin see the Snorkels' massive submarine coming at them, Lilly immediately swims away, but sees that Fin is staring wide-eyed at it, rooted where he was swimming. This allows the Snorkels and Detective Harkenear to capture and bottle him.
  • In the The Mysterious Benedict Society books, Mr. Nicholas Benedict has narcolepsy. In the second book, The Perilous Journey, it's revealed that his spells of sleeping caused by his narcolepsy are also often accompanied by frightening hallucinations, such as the Old Hag, a terrifying woman who appears before him. Unfortunately, this particular hallucination is also often accompanied by cataplexy, a form of paralysis. In the same book, Reynie falls into a deep sleep while in an abandoned village and awakes to see a woman standing before his bed. Unable to move, he thinks he's having the same hallucination until the woman herself lunges and he realizes it's his old nemesis Martina Crowe.
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:
    The sun of Kakrafoon loomed terrifyingly large on the vision screen, its blazing white inferno of fusing hydrogen nuclei growing moment by moment as the ship plunged onwards, unheeding the thumping and banging of Zaphod's hands on the control panel. Arthur and Trillian had the fixed expressions of rabbits on a night road who think that the best way of dealing with approaching headlights is to stare them out.
  • RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnant: In The Warrior in the Woods, the hero is so stunned by the appearance of his first-ever Grimm that he screams in terror, which only attracts it to him. When it charges him, all he can do is throw up his arms in front of him and close his eyes. Running away or climbing a tree never even occurs to him. The only reason he survives is because the Warrior arrives just in time to save him.
  • Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: This trope pops up a few times. Sweet Revenge has Isabelle Flanders freeze up when reporter Ted Robinson asks her questions about Rosemary Hershey and apparently is getting too close to finding out Isabelle's intentions towards Rosemary. Razor Sharp has lawyer Cosmo Cricket meet a client who has this sort of reaction upon seeing him, but that could be because she is afraid for her life.
  • The Stand by Stephen King: A character was in a quarantine with one particular guard who, he somehow sensed, would be the one to kill him if things went bad. The character had read Watership Down and was so scared of this guard he compared it to the "tharn" concept.
  • Star Wars: Republic Commando: In the first book, several of Dr. Uthan's assistants are shot by the clones after they freeze in panic rather than follow their bodyguard's orders to duck and cover.
  • In Watership Down, the rabbits have a term in their Fictionary for this: tharn.
    • A literal version occurs when the rabbits are pinned by carlights while raiding Nuthanger Farm. They get out of it by closing their eyes and running blind, which gets them out of the immediate area.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Apple Tree Yard: Yvonne is so shocked and terrified when George attacks and rapes her, she completely freezes up. Her husband later lampshades that this can be a natural response to such a situation, although it's pointed out that some people will question as to whether it was really rape because she didn't fight back.
  • In El Chavo del ocho, when the titular character gets really scared about something, he'll become paralyzed in a ridiculous pose, known as "La Garrotera". He is not aware of his surroundings when he's in that pose, and only returns to normal when someone splashes water on his face. In fact, it's so iconic that an official figurine was made of him in that pose, and it reproduces the real deal's expression perfectly!
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Stolen Earth", Jack Harkness just stands there shaking and holding his (remaining) team members tight when he first hears the Daleks' EX-TER-MIN-ATE. It takes a Get a Hold of Yourself, Man! from an authority figure to snap him out of it. Sarah Jane Smith isn't much better off.
  • Game of Thrones: Part of Hodor's refusal to fight is his good nature but also that he is simply too scared to act coherently. When a wight jumps on him, he just didn't know what to do and when the mutineers picked on him, he can just scream Hodor and run left and right.
  • The Golden Girls: Sophia figures out that a teenage neighbor is pregnant because she had this expression, citing her experience with Dorothy. She thought it was unique to pregnant teenagers until she saw Dan Quayle on TV.
  • In the Haven episode "Sparks and Recreation", a boy stares at a lamppost falling at him, until Audrey pulls him out of the way.
  • Horatio Hornblower mini-series:
    • "The Even Chance": Midshipman Archie Kennedy is alone, grabbing his hat and preparing for a night raid, when his tormentor Simpson comes in, and says ominously and sleazily: "Jack's missed you, boy." Archie just freezes and goes pale, unable to move or talk. The menace is palpable, and this scene is frequently cited as a proof of implied sexual abuse.
    • In "Mutiny", Mr Midshipman Wellard got beaten unjustly as Crazy Captain Sawyer simply didn't appreciate Wellard's doing his duty. Sawyer later concludes that Wellard is conspiring against him and orders to have Wellard beaten once again. Poor Wellard has a pure Deer in the Headlights stare when he hears it as the beatings hurt like hell.
  • Happens to Roy in an episode of The IT Crowd, when he figures out the robot Moss is fangirling is actually a bomb-disposal robot. He's stuck there for hours, until it's finally confirms to be a balloon. It gives him "a small fright".
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Midge has a moment of this during her gig in "Midnight at the Concord" when she spots her father in the audience:
    Midge: ...the first time I ever let a boy go Christopher Columbus on my nether-regions, it was in the Catskills. And this boy, he was my [spots her father] papa.
    [she freezes up, staring at her father for several seconds]
    Midge: [stammering] I...I...[remembers she's performing and continues her performance]
  • Michael Emerson is very good at this, the most prominent examples of this are during his roles of Ben Linus and Harold Finch (especially when Locke or another character surprises Ben or when Finch sees a gun).
  • Smallville:
    • In "Commencement", the town is bombarded by a kryptonite meteor shower. As everything is being destroyed, a boy stares at a meteor coming right at him. Clark Kent runs up and carries him to safety.
    • In "Bizarro", a boy stares at a Giant Wall of Watery Doom coming at him. Clark Kent runs up and vaporizes it with his heat vision.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Obsession", both Capt. Kirk in his younger days and a young officer spend some time kicking themselves for doing this instead of instantly shooting a vampire cloud attacking their comrades. As it turns out, phaser fire has no effect on the creature so even if they did, it wouldn't have made a difference.

  • In "Masters of Destiny" by Delain, the narrator is frozen in fear as she thinks she can't fight fate.
    And like a deer, still I stood on the road
    As headlights approach
  • Florence + the Machine's "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)"
    Here I am, a rabbit-hearted girl
    Frozen in the headlights
  • Owl City has a song by this name.
    If love was a beam, you'd be blind in both eyes
    Put your sunglasses on 'cause you're a deer in the headlights.

  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • This is Rose's reaction when she sees Benjy's new, monstrous bug form for the first time in the flesh. While the other characters in the scene prepare for a battle, she freezes on the spot, unable to do anything.
    • When Josephine is forced to pick between staying in the school, putting her in the way of a bomb, or evacuating, which could potentially put her in danger with the local government agent, she freezes up- literally, her ice power freezes her hands to her desk.

    Video Games 
  • Fate/Grand Order: When Lev Lainur was killing Olga Marie Animusphere, Ritsuka Fujimaru and Marie Kyrielight were so shocked that they froze and watched her die. They never forgave themselves for not saving her. Later, when Goredolf Musik is about to be killed, they freeze again, but when Goredolf begins to unknowingly echo Olga Marie's last words, they snap out of it and save him, determined not to let history repeat itself.
  • In The Fool's Errand, The Grim Reaper grudgingly spares The Fool after mistaking his "deer in the headlights" reaction for a fearless, unflinching one.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, as the Bulblins who invaded Link's home and kidnapped the children there arrive in Kakariko Village, Beth is too scared to move, unlike her friends. Colin notices it just in time, grows a backbone, and pushes her out of the way just in time, leading to him getting kidnapped instead. Beth is quite grateful for it after Link saves Colin.
  • This happens to Samus in Metroid: Other M when she encounters Ridley.
  • Minecraft: Story Mode:
    • Lukas is frozen in place during Petra/Gabriel's capture, which leads to Axel holding him accountable for the incident.
    • Similarly, Ellegaard freezes in shock when she sees the Wither Storm for the first time. Jesse and Olivia had already described it to her, but she hadn't fully understood how big the threat was until then, so all she can do is stare at it and stutter out a terrified apology to Jesse.
  • In the intro for Mario Super Sluggers, Diddy Kong freezes and screams in terror as he almost gets run over by a large barrel. Fortunately, Donkey Kong rescues him, much to Diddy's relief.
  • In the Wii iteration of Punch-Out!!, the Contender half of the game has all of the opponent boxers get stunned in fear of Little Mac's signature Star Punch should he throw one while they're in their idle animation. All of them (even Glass Joe) grow out of this in time for the Title Defense portion, where all of them will dodge the Star Punch should they not be in a stun or the middle of an attack.
  • In a somewhat unusual example resulting from Artificial Stupidity, we have XCOM: Enemy Unknown, in which enemies will typically end their turns without taking any actions when Suppressed, which is a near guaranteed death sentence if said enemy is flanked or out of cover, compared to the possibility of taking damage from the reaction shot attempting to move under suppression triggers. This is particularly bad with enemies who have abilities that can be used without penalty under suppression–such as Mutons' grenades or blood call, thin men's poison spit, or any of a sectoid commander's psionic abilities–but don't bother to use them. However, the expansion quickly corrected this behavior, as they'll now always relocate if flanked.
  • In Yoshi's Island and Yoshi's New Island, the stork, tasked with delivering Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, stops in midair when Kamek finds and ambushes him.
  • Zombie Madness: All the family members in the game besides the Player Character all just stand around waving their arms up and down over the fact their house is infested with zombies. Thus, you have to carry them out of the house.

    Web Animation 
  • Murder Drones: J(one of the titular Murder Drones) has gotten the protagonist Uzi on the ground and knocked her weapon away, but decides to take the time to say a pre-rehearsed monologue, which gives Uzi the opportunity to trip her up, retrieve her railgun and point it straight at her. Despite J still having her hands free and being given several seconds to react, she’s so utterly bewildered that a Worker Drone got the better of her that she’s only able to stare up at the gun in panic before uttering one more corporate buzzword and being completely decimated.

  • Alien Dice: Vic has just been informed that he might get Promoted to Parent here. At least she's cute.
  • In Kevin & Kell, deer being frozen by headlights happens on occasion. In one comic, Kell shines a projector in a deer's eyes to illicit this reaction.
  • In the first comic of Nebula, Earth freezes in place while a meteor hurtles straight towards her instead of trying to duck out of the way. Fortunately for her, Jupiter was there and Took The Bullet for her (non-fatally).
  • Played for Laughs in the Paradox Space "The Inaugural Death of Mister Seven;" Die is terrified into silence when Number Seven, Crowbar, walks in on his chickens. Crowbar remarks that Die does this constantly, and that he's "like a deer in the head-lights of a parked ass car."

    Web Original 
  • The Tim Tebow CFL Chronicles: When an Ottawa REDBLACK leaps from a sixth-story window, attempting a tackle, Tim Tebow just stares at him, stunned and unable to process the thought of a football player leaping from a window like that.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • House of Mouse: In "Mickey vs. Shelby", Baby Shelby is stricken with stage fright when out on stage, and he just stares blankly into the audience.
    Bambi: Gosh, he looks like a deer in the headlights.
    Benny the Cab: (shines his lights on him) You said it!
  • Played with during an Invader Zim episode where a cute Godzilla-sized hamster is terrorizing the city; rather than stare in terror, the townspeople stare in awe at the monster's cuteness until they're crushed.
  • Kaeloo: Bad Kaeloo gets mad at Mr. Cat and tries to jump onto him to beat him up. Mr. Cat sees her, but is too frozen in shock to move out of her way.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Feeling Pinkie Keen", when Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, and Spike run away from the Hydra in the Froggy Bottom Bog, Pinkie is almost paralyzed in fear. Twilight pulls her tail to get her out of it.
  • Hunter from The Owl House occasionally does this when one of his Trauma Buttons is pressed.
    • In "Labyrinth Runners", Hunter is caught by two coven scouts, and fights back heavily as they try to restrain him. One of the scouts yells to the other to "Put him-", which the other scout interprets as "Put him out of his misery". When said scout starts reading a killing spell, Hunter completely freezes, staring dead ahead with a wide-eyed look of shock on his face, even when the first scout clarifies to his buddy that he wanted him to put Hunter to sleep. The sigh he lets out when the sleep spell takes effect implies that he wasn't breathing that entire time either.
    • In "King's Tide", Hunter makes no moves to get out of the way when Belos charges him, instead just clings to his staff and stares up at him in terror. Fortunately for him, Belos doesn't actually attack him, instead stops right in front of him to pull a Shapeshifter Guilt Trip.
      • Later, Belos himself undergoes this when the Collector appears before him, trying to cautiously back away from them and weakly claim that he upheld his end of the bargain since the Collector's now free anyway. The fact he doesn't even bother attacking to defend himself serves to illustrate the Collector's power, as it's made clear it would be a fruitless attempt regardless, and his own hope for survival is to weakly beg for mercy.
  • Regular Show has a half-deer half-human do this just before he gets run over by a truck in "Camping Can Be Cool".
  • Parodied in an issue of Radioactive Man with the innocent bystander saying, "That wall is falling towards me! No time to get out of the way, only to talk about it!"
  • Happens regularly to Wile E. Coyote, who is often too flabbergasted or exhausted to move out of the way when his plans backfire on him badly. That little umbrella he often pulls out as a shield doesn't help things at all.

    Real Life 
  • The basic reason for this trope stems from the response commonly called "fight or flight", which has an oft-unmentioned Third Option — freeze. Freezing is meant for a scenario where you're confronted by something dangerous that will harm you if it notices you, but isn't aware of or interested in you specifically. What's dangerous is ending up in a scenario where that's not true, but freezing anyway because your instincts have misjudged the situation — if you're consciously aware that you need to override this response, but not actually able to, it becomes terrifying. In fact, many animals (including humans) have the option of freezing in their panic responses. As with Deer vs. Cars, many humans have died from being completely paralysed by fear or awe in the face of natural disasters like Tsunamis or Volcanoes; in the case of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, hundreds of people on beaches were killed because they were staring straight at the wave as it bore down on them.
  • Many Curb-Stomp Battle defeats in sports happen because once the team suffers the first blow, they get so lost the adversary takes full advantage to raise the score.
  • In this Planetside 2 video a player is so surprised by a grenade suddenly landing next to him (thrown by his own team) that he just stands there staring at it until it explodes.


Video Example(s):


Rio 2

Roberto has this reaction when a bulldozer is about to run him over forcing Blu to pull him out of the way to prevent him from being killed.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / DeerInTheHeadlights

Media sources: