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Disappearing Bullets

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When Hollywood decides to avert Pretty Little Headshots, they show blood and brain matter splattering in gruesome detail. Little bits of the victim's head spray out of the exit wound all over the wall or window behind them. But strangely, the exiting bullet that caused all that R-rated flavor misses it entirely. There is no bullet hole in the wall, the glass remains intact, just a rag and some Windex and you'll never know somebody was executed right there. Apparently Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't the only man with access to magic bullets, because these ones disappear from existence as soon as they've made a mess of one guy's skull.

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Obviously Guns Do Not Work That Way. If there's an exit wound, that means the bullet exited the target and kept on going until it either hit something else or ran out of energy and fell to the ground a long way downrange. This is known as "overpenetration" and is the reason why one of the rules of firearms safety is to be sure of your target and what's behind it. Bodies rarely stop most bullets unless they hit a substantial amount of bone, and even that won’t stop some rounds. This is a major problem for law enforcement, as there have been many incidents of police bullets punching right through a violent offender and striking an innocent bystander down the street. Ammunition manufacturers have put years of research and development into soft point, hollow point, and other types of expanding rounds to reduce the chance of overpenetration compared to FMJ in law enforcement and civilian home defense use, but it can still happen. There was a case of a stray shot fired at a British Army rifle range in Yorkshire, which missed the target, over-shot the butts behind, and by appalling bad luck killed a woman who was walking her dog - nearly a mile away.

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Note that it doesn't necessarily need to be a head shot, or even hit the intended target, to qualify as this trope. One of the many subtropes of Bullets Do Not Work That Way and Special Effects Failure.

One of the few times this is averted is for the sake of a Shoot the Hostage or Attacking Through Yourself gambit (contrast Bulletproof Human Shield).

Examples

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    Film 
  • Pineapple Express: Dale is parked outside of drug kingpin Ted Jones's house when he sees a member of Jones's Triad rivals run to the window of the living room. Jones appears and executes him with a pistol shot between the eyes. The exit wound splatters all over the window, but there's no damage to the glass.
  • Snatch.: After Tommy suggests that Turkish sign Madfist or John the Gun to replace the injured Gorgeous George, Turkish informs him that Madfist went mad (cut to Madfist in a padded room swatting imaginary flies) and The Gun shot himself (cut to John the Gun suck-starting a Glock in the shower, with everything except the bullet hole).
  • Pulp Fiction: When Vince Vega proves his incompetence with a firearm, young Marvin's head is very clearly right between dumbass Vince's pistol and the back window of Jules's car. The ensuing hilarity revolves around The Wolf walking them through cleaning the Ludicrous Gibs out of the car's interior, but strangely there's no need to replace the rear window.
  • Notably averted in Boondock Saints. Papa Joe Yakavetta's execution of Rocco is shown from behind Rocco. His .357 Magnum bullet blows a visible chunk out of the back of Rocco's chair.
  • In Bite The Bullet the Young Gun tosses a bottle of whiskey to the British racer and then shoots the bottle, shattering it. The horse right behind the bottle is just fine.
  • The Shawshank Redemption: Averted when Warden Norton kills himself; not only does it splatter blood on the window behind him, a good portion of the window is blown away.
  • The Matrix: In the rooftop scene, Neo empties two handguns at an agent, who dodges all of the bullets. However, none of the windows on the glass skyscraper behind the agent break, or even have bullet holes.

    Live-Action Television 
  • This is a staple in The Sopranos. Many mobsters who have talked to the Feds, pissed off the wrong capo, or just outlived their usefulness to the organization get clipped in a car. Apparently the side windows of their cars are bulletproof.
  • The Expanse has a few of these, most notably in Season 2's "Doors and Corners," where members of Miller's boarding party surround a group of Protogen scientists using a strange computer interface in a small room. When they react violently to being disconnected from it, the Belters panic and mow them down with full-automatic fire. As in, guys standing in a circle facing inward spray bullets at other guys in the middle, with their own guys just a few feet behind the targets. Miraculously, they manage to avoid friendly fire, though Miller cringes and tries to get them to hold fire. Played somewhat for dark humor, as Miller is clearly herding cats as he tries to lead the eager but inexperienced OPA fighters
  • This is discussed and averted on Golden Boy. In the series premiere, Walt is involved in a shootout with some robbers which makes him a police hero and earns him his promotion to detective. A reporter later accuses him of being a Cowboy Cop who was so focused on taking down the bad guys that he did not care that a stray bullet from his gun could have killed a civilian. Walt agrees that Jerkass Has a Point and explains that after the shooting he went back to the scene so he could account for every shot that he fired. He was horrified to discover that he could not account for one bullet so he spent hours searching until he finally found it embedded in a wooden sign.
  • Pointedly averted in the finale of Longmire, when Jacob Nighthorse's driver reveals himself to be working for Malachi. The driver stops Nighthorse's SUV, then suddenly shoots the other bodyguard in the passenger seat, blowing both his brains out of his head and the glass out of the window.
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