Guns are dangerous. It's kind of their purpose. Sometimes, though, our heroes need a way to make it look like they're shooting someone when they aren't. Enter the Hollywood Blank.
In Real Life, blanks are not so harmless, and mishandling them can (and has) resulted in the deaths of actors. A bullet is propelled by igniting pressurized gunpowder, creating a small, controlled explosion that forces it out through the barrel. Blank cartridges don't contain a bullet, but take a guess which part of the process is still intact. At close range, the high-pressure and extremely hot gases generated from the explosion can fracture bones, severely burn soft tissue and drive parts of brass casings and paper/plastic wadding into the flesh.
In fiction, however, blanks are completely harmless, producing nothing more than a loud noise and a flash of light. Also commonly seen are characters using unmodified weapons with blanks. Manually-operated firearms like revolvers and bolt-action rifles indeed can be used without modification. But automatic and semi-automatic guns must be extensively modified in order to cycle blanks properly, such as partially blocking off the barrel, and cannot be used with live ammo afterwards.
- In Dog Soldiers, the heroes' SAS team is in the werewolf-plagued woods because they are in a field exercise and all of their long guns are showcased to be loaded with blanks because they are fit with blank-firing adaptations (specialized muzzle brakes to help disperse the flash and redirect gas to help with cycling). The moment they figure out that they are in a real threat situation by finding another SAS team that has been totally slaughtered, they ditch the blank guns and scavenge proper equipment.
- In In Bruges, a petty crook tries to rob one of the main characters, who he doesn't realize is a much more dangerous gangster. The main character takes the crook's gun away from him and shoots him in the face. The gun turns out to be loaded with blanks, but the blast of flame and hot gas destroys one of the petty crook's eyes. The main character then upbraids him for being stupid enough to try to rob somebody without real bullets in the gun.
- Averted in McLintock!. When badgered by Becky, G.W. pulls a gun from a case and shoots Devlin, who falls backwards. G.W. then reveals that the gun had a blank round (they use it to start races), but Devlin is still on the floor trying to beat out the fire on the front of his shirt.
- Double subverted in Animal House. Flounder is forced to bring Neidemrmyer's beloved colt into the dean's office and shoot it as part of a hazing ritual. Once he's out of earshot, D-Day reassures Bluto that the gun is full of blanks and the horse is in no danger. Flounder can't bring himself to do it and simply fires the blank at the ceiling... which scares the horse so much that he has a heart attack and dies anyway.
- In the solution of the Sir Henry Merrivale novel The Ten Teacups, the victim is wrongly assumed to have been shot at close range because he had a powder burn from when the killer "accidentally" shot him with a blank cartridge the previous day.
- In one of The Continental Op's stories, a minor crook steals the Op's gun and shoots him in the gut before fleeing. As it turns out, the Op actually anticipated this and loaded his own gun with blanks. He still gets a painful burn from the shot (and it ruins his shirt), but doesn't suffer any long-term harm.
- In an episode of CSI: NY, in which one Victim of the Week was accidentally killed by a blank-firing gun going off point-blank in his chest. The murderer — a down-on-his-luck actor that was humiliated by the victim — makes clear as he confesses that he didn't think a blank could do that.
- In an episode of Law & Order, a murder scene from a web series within the show results in the actor dying for real, on camera. The detectives spend a while fruitlessly investigating who could have swapped out the blanks for real bullets. Then they find out from the coroner that there was no bullet; the victim was killed by a blank fired too close.
- Averted in one segment on 1000 Ways to Die. An abusive father tries to scare off his daughter's boyfriend by "shooting" him when he catches them together in her room. After traumatizing his daughter and her boyfriend, he mocks them by admitting that the bullets were blanks, and attempts to demonstrate by putting the gun to his own head and pulling the trigger. The explosive force from the blank cracks his skull, sending fragments into his brain and killing him on the spot.
- In an episode of F/X: The Series, the Villain of the Week puts a gun to Rollie's head, prompting this exchange in Mission Control:
Cop: You did swap out this gun's ammo for blanks, didn't you?
Tech: Yes, but at this distance it could still kill him.
- In one episode of Bron|Broen, a gangster forces a debtor to play Russian Roulette with a revolver that turns out to be loaded with a blank cartridge. When it explodes, the victim is terrified but unharmed, whereas he should have had severe burns at best and likely a fractured skull.
- In South Park, after a Civil War reenactment goes awry thanks to Cartman, the men in South Park get drunk and start taking over the United States in the name of the Confederacy. As their weapons are props, all they can do is shoot blanks. This is still enough to subjugate cities, as one man says "Those blanks hurt like hell!"
- This is how Brandon Lee was killed while filming The Crow. A prop tech not certified as an armorer had to come up with inert "dummy" rounds on short notice and simply removed the gunpowder (but not the primers) from six cartridges and reseated the bullets. The primer from one went off and propelled the bullet slightly down the barrel, creating what's known as a "squib load". The weapon was also not inspected between takes, and when a later scene (the scene where Funboy shot Eric Draven) required a blank to be fired, the blank propelled the bullet the rest of the way down the barrel with near the force of a live round, which struck and killed Brandon.
- This was how the model and actor Jon-Erik Hexum accidentally killed himself while messing around with a prop gun on a TV show set — he fired a blank into the side of his head at point-blank range and the blast from the explosion fractured his skull and drove a piece of it into his brain.