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Hollywood Blanks

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Guns are deadly. It's kind of their entire 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.

Shows up almost all the time in fiction, making this an Omnipresent Trope. As such, no need for examples played straight; just aversions and inversions.

A Sub-Trope of Guns Do Not Work That Way. See also Artistic License – Gun Safety, Reckless Gun Usage and Television Is Trying to Kill Us.


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    Films — Live-Action 
  • Double subverted in Animal House. Flounder is forced to bring Neidermeyer'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.
  • Averted in Das Experiment. Two characters get severely wounded by a gun loaded with blanks that was fired in close proximity to them.
  • In Die Hard 2, a key element of the terrorist plot is to make the authorities think that Major Grant's antiterrorist team is a legitimate US Army outfit, instead of in league with the terrorists (who are rogue US soldiers). They exchange a volley of fire against each other, and McClane manages to get ahold of one of the submachine guns used and some clips, but becomes puzzled when his rounds later don't kill any of the terrorists. Not only did an experienced cop not notice the lack of recoil, but simply switching between live and blank clips (denoted by colored red and blue tape) wouldn't work because the said recoil of the blanks would be inadequate to cycle the actions.
  • In Dog Soldiers, the heroes' squad 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 fitted 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 a SAS team that has been totally slaughtered, they ditch the blank guns and scavenge proper equipment.
  • Averted in In Bruges. A petty crook tries to rob one of the main characters, Ray, who he doesn't realize is a much more dangerous gangster. Ray takes the crook's gun away from him, and the crook just laughs and says the gun is loaded with blanks. So Ray shoots him in the eye.
  • Averted in McLintock!. When Becky demands G.W. to shoot Devlin, G.W. swiftly pulls a pistol from the gun case and shoots him. Devlin falls to the floor, and Becky panics until G.W. reveals that the gun was used to start horse races and was filled with blanks. It still doesn't do Devlin good; while he was not close enough for the blank to harm him, it set fire to his shirt.

  • Averted in the solution of the Locked Room Mystery in the Sir Henry Merrivale novel The Ten Teacups aka The Peacock-Feather Murders. The victim is found shot dead in a locked room, and is believed to have been shot at very close range due to the powder burn on the back of his head. It is eventually revealed that the killer "accidentally" shot him with a blank cartridge the previous day (which the victim covered up believing that the killer was his friend and it was a genuine accident), and then sniped him exactly in the middle of the pre-existing powder burn through the window of the room.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of CSI: NY, 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.
  • Deconstructed in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, when 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.
  • In the CSI episode "Malice in Wonderland", one of a group of Wedding Smashers robbers makes the mistake of firing a blank-loaded gun point blank into the groom's chest, propelling a button from the man's suit into his body and killing him.

    Tabletop Games 
  • A supplement for Vampire: The Masquerade, including ridiculously more weapons than most Chronicles would probably use, also included rules for blanks. They were harmless beyond a fairly short range... but just as deadly as a real gunshot inside that range.

  • At the climax of Warren Manzi's Perfect Crime, the protagonist, having been Driven to Suicide, grabs a cop's gun and shoots herself in the head at point-blank range... only for the cop to reveal that he'd expected her to try something and had swapped the bullets for blanks, and she ends up with nothing more than a muzzle burn on her temple for her trouble. In reality, shooting herself in the head at that range even with a blank would have almost certainly been lethal. (Ironically, the fallacy of this trope would be something the crew of this show would have to be very aware of, as blank-firing guns are used at other points in the show, so they would need to keep extremely tight safety measures to ensure that the gun used in that scene is completely unloaded and can't be mixed up with a loaded one.)

    Video Games 
  • In Until Dawn, Chris is at one point forced into a Sadistic Choice of shooting either himself or his crush Ashley after they're both abducted by a Stock Slasher. Regardless of what he does, the gun is later revealed to be loaded with blanks, leaving himself and Ashley unscathed. The "shoot yourself" choice is especially egregious since Chris is shown putting the gun to his neck.

    Web Comics 
  • In the "Glamour Assault" arc of Schlock Mercenary Elf shoots two cops in the face with stage blanks, with a footnote that she fired from far enough back to avoid causing permanent harm.

    Western Animation 
  • 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!"

    Real Life 
  • 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 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.