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Designated Bullet

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"When a pirate's marooned, he's a given a pistol with a single shot. One shot. Well, that won't do much good hunting or to be rescued. But after three weeks of a starving belly and thirst, that pistol will start to look real friendly. But Jack escaped the island, and he still has that single shot. Oh, he won't use it, though, save on one man: His mutinous first mate."

You ever heard of having a bullet with your name on it? That's what this trope is about.

Bob has just betrayed Alice and left her for dead, or maybe he's murdered Alice's whole family, or maybe Alice just really wants Bob to die, so much so that she'll throw in a bit of poetic justice and set aside a specific and special bullet to be used, just for Bob.

This trope is about getting revenge, but it's not enough to simply get revenge. This is a special case. So special that not just any old bullet will do. No, the bullet Alice uses (or even the gun she uses) must be related to the reason that Bob must die. Bonus points if the bullet has Bob's name inscribed on it. It's not uncommon for Alice to craft the bullet from special materials as well.

Subtrope of It's Personal.


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    Comic Books 
  • In the first issue of the Secret Six miniseries, Deadshot promises Lady Vic that he will save a bullet so that when he does shoot her "it will be like no time has passed at all." Four years later, in the penultimate arc of the ongoing series, Deadshot shoots Lady Vic despite running out of ammo earlier in the issue, indicating that he had been saving the bullet the whole time and didn't use it to save his own life.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In the 2009 short film .303, a British paratrooper carves his name on a .303 rifle round, presumably so he'll have the "bullet with my name on it" but the round gets dropped and picked up by a fellow paratrooper. Later that paratrooper is down to One Bullet Left, so uses it to kill a German sniper who has him pinned down. Then he discovers he's actually shot the paratrooper who originally carved the round, after he came up behind the German sniper and shot him. So it was a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
  • Lethal Weapon: Riggs tells his new partner Murtaugh that he has a special bullet picked out in case he ever decides to kill himself (which he thinks about every day). At the end of the film, he gives Murtaugh the bullet as a symbol that he's come to terms with his inner demons and is no longer suicidal. The bullet is stated to be a hollow-point, to minimize the odds of botching the jobnote .
  • The Patriot (2000): Benjamin Martin melts down some lead soldiers that belonged to his dead son Thomas in order to make bullets when he starts fighting against the British. The final one of these is dedicated to Colonel Tavington, the Evil Brit who murdered said son. It doesn't do the job.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Jack Sparrow, left marooned with a pistol and single shot to be used for suicide, somehow escaped that island and saved the bullet for Barbossa, whom he didn't see again for over ten years. It ends up killing the desired target... though he gets better in a sequel, long story.
  • In Run for the Sun a writer (Richard Widmark) keeps a rifle cartridge as a lucky piece. During WW II an enemy soldier had him at gunpoint but the gun misfired. He took out the soldier and kept the bullet because it "... had his name on it." He finds another use for it In a much copied scene he pushes the cartridge though a bullet hole in a door and then fires it by hitting the primer with a nail and a rock. It goes off and kills his enemy on the other side of the door.
  • X-Men: First Class has Magneto killing Sebastian Shaw by telekinetically moving a Nazi coin through his head. The coin in this case was the first thing Shaw demanded that Magneto move with his powers when he was a young boy; because he couldn't, Shaw killed his mother.
  • Iron Man opens with Tony Stark caught in an ambush by well-armed terrorists. A delayed-action shell lands in front of him and Stark has just enough time to see the Stark Industries logo on it before the shell explodes. Turns out his name was on the shell in more ways than one, as The Starscream in Tony's corporation paid the terrorists with Stark Industries weaponry to kill Tony Stark.
  • The Silencers (the first of the the Matt Helm Bond-spoof spy comedies starring Dean Martin) begins with the villain sitting behind a desk handing a bullet with "Matt Helm" engraved on it to each of a group of men holding revolvers. This turns out to have nothing to do with the rest of the film.

  • In The Anubis Gates, Jacky is out to avenge Dog-Face Joe's murder of Colin Lepovre by shooting Joe with the same gun that killed Colin.
  • In The Hobbit, Bard hadn't been planning on avenging his people, but when the dragon re-awakes, he has his go-to weapon:
    Bard: Arrow! Black arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me and always I have recovered you. I had you from my father and he from of old. If ever you came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain, go now and speed well!
  • In Mysterious Island, the heroes are attacked by pirates, and Herbert is non-fatally shot. His companions remove the bullet and, when planning a counter-attack, promise to fire it back at the pirates.
  • In the Septimus Heap series, there is a magical significance to a named bullet, and sooner or later it will always find its target. The catch, as one assassin finds out, is that this doesn't necessarily mean the target will be shot with it.
    • The way the bullet is named is important too. If the bullet was named "I.P.", nothing stops it from killing Iona Potts (aka Alice Nettles) instead of the Infant Princess.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Life, Charlie is shot, and when he recovers he asks for the remains of the bullet taken out of him. He then melts it down and molds it into another bullet, and shoots the man who shot him.
  • Parodied in Blackadder Goes Forth: Baldrick carves his name into a bullet, because he insists that in every war there's a bullet with your name on it, and if he owns the bullet with his name on it, he won't get shot. Blackadder then points out that the one Baldrick should worry about is the ones marked "To whom it may concern:".
  • To the Peaky Blinders, their Roma bullet designating tradition is Serious Business. Normally, it's only reserved for the execution part of revenge schemes, and the one who carves the target's name on the bullet has to be the one to pull the trigger. It has been subverted, however; Tommy carves Hughes's name on a bullet for threatening his son but ends up handing the bullet to someone who has a more personal vendetta against the priest. Also, Arthur carves Luca's name immediately after first blood has been drawn because it's his responsibility as the eldest brother, but Tommy and Polly are fine with outsourcing the job to a Gypsy Murder, Inc.. Polly even argues that the whole "setting aside this particular bullet so that only this one person can do the killing at point blank range" thing is an outdated impractical tradition that shouldn't get in the way of efficiency, especially against an enemy so dangerous they are best dealt with by sniper rifle fire.

    Tabletop Games 

  • In Eugene O'Neill's play The Emperor Jones, the tyrant Brutus Jones flees into the forest but is convinced that he is Nigh-Invulnerable and can only be killed by a special silver bullet that he possesses. He would rather kill himself with it than be captured, but La RĂ©sistance ultimately kills him — yes, with a silver bullet.
  • Hamilton has a meta-example. The Bullet is a character (played by Ariana DeBose) who hangs around Hamilton until it's finally time for her to hit him, but it's not a character that designates her for this role (Aaron Burr, who fires The Bullet, is something of The Ditherer and doesn't really want to kill Hamilton), but history itself; history records that Alexander Hamilton will die by a bullet during a duel with Burr, and well, she's the bullet.

    Video Games 
  • A lesser example, bandits in Borderlands sometimes shout "I've bin saving one for ya!" in a firefight.
  • In one of Fallen London's Exceptional Stories, the Severe Bluejacket has a bullet saved for his traitorous First Mate. But he's too busy being the Almost Dead Guy to use it anymore, so he sends you to deal with him, and gives you the bullet as a memento when you report back.
  • The Fallout: New Vegas Gun Runner's Arsenal Add-on adds an achievement called 'Talk about owned', which requires you to kill Benny with Maria, the customized pistol he shoots you with at the beginning of the game. There's also a mod which gives you the opportunity to craft a bullet to use on him, created from the bullet dug from your own head.
  • Half-Life 2: Episode One has an achievement named "One Free Bullet" where Gordon must fire only one bullet for the entire campaign, which occurs immediately after getting his first guns when he must shoot off a padlock to proceed.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, near the beginning of the game, Ocelot's gun jams when he tries to shoot Snake, giving Snake the opportunity to dispatch his entire squad. Ocelot keeps the bullet that jammed his gun, though if he gets the chance to use it at the end of the game, it turns out to have been a blank all along.
  • StarCraft II: Jim kept a single round in his revolver for Mengsk. In a subversion, when he really needs it to save Kerrigan he doesn't even hesitate in using it on Tychus, showing that he has abandoned his pursuit of self-destructive revenge.
  • In Mortal Kombat X, Erron Black's X-Ray move has him fire a bullet with the opponent character's name (or Ugly Mofo for Predator) carved into it that ravages the opponent's insides.

  • Sluggy Freelance: Bun-bun once remarks that "it would be wrong to plug Santa with bullets that didn't have the name 'Lard-Butt' inscribed on 'em!" Yes, he tries to kill Santa Claus, every year for the first several years of the comic. He's a bad bunny.

    Web Video 
  • Percy from Critical Role has a designated gun - the List, which is marked with the names of the five people he blames for the deaths of his family.

     Western Animation 
  • An early Huckleberry Hound cartoon with him as a sheriff in the old west climaxes with a duel against the outlaw Dinky Dalton. Dinky says he only needs one bullet and it (literally) has Huck's name on it. Huck counters by placing a sign that says "Huckleberry Hound" on Dinky's holster from the rear. Dinky fires, and the bullet immediately U-turns and strikes Dinky.

    Real Life 


Video Example(s):


Edmund Blackadder

Captain Edmund Blackadder, like his identically named ancestors before him, is very much prone to delivering snarky comments and sarcastic remarks in almost any conversation.

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