Only a Dirty Coward would shoot someone in the back. Or knife him.
On the other hand, if they can't let you escape, and you are the Dirty Coward fleeing a fight, it may happen anyway, particularly up against a Combat Pragmatist. It also doesn't apply to Tap on the Head, which is non-lethal and not seriously dangerous fictionally. If the blow can seriously injure or kill, however, it is a different story.
When The Dog Bites Back, this often comes into play.
It does not necessarily apply to executions, or when the Big Bad decides to turn his back on The Hero in order to stab a hostage. If a Heroic Bystander shoots a villain in the back, it will most likely be considered, well, heroic, which may or may not be just justified by the villain threatening someone else's life.
Sometimes employed as an unceremonious end to what is otherwise a badass famous character a staple of westerns.
May go hand-in-hand with I Surrender, Suckers.
Compare Back Stab for a video game special move based on this trope. This trope is for narrative uses. If a gameplay mechanic is involved, please move to that trope. Can be used as Dynamic Entry, in which case a Surprisingly Sudden Death usually ensues. Beware Backstab Backfire.
- On The Galaxy Railways, Manabu's brother dies when a space pirate shoots him in the back. Later, Bruce is killed when a thug he pissed off earler in the episode shoots him in the back while he's buying a drink from a soda machine.
- Juubei attempts to kill Kazuki this way in Get Backers, but Kazuki dodges very slightly at the last second.
- In Hetalia: Axis Powers, Kiku Honda/Japan does this to his adoptive older brother Wang Yao/China. We don't see it because of a Gory Discretion Shot, but we can assume that poor Yao tried to run away when he saw Kiku pointing the sword at him. Later on we can see the scar.
- Rokudo Mukuro from Reborn! (2004), after pretending to have resigned his fight with Tsuna and given up, attacks Tsuna while his back is turned.
- Used all the time by the Numbers Cyborg Deed in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS. This led to her downfall in the end, as Teana predicted her doing this and countered accordingly.
- Mazinger Z: In the Gosaku Ota manga continuity, Dragon with an Agenda Archduke Gorgon murdered Big Bad Dr. Hell by stabbing him from behind with one sword when he was distracted. Afterwards he pulled his sword from the body, said "So long, old madman" and left him lying -and bleeding- on the ground, laughing all the way as he left the place.
- Fullmetal Alchemist has a literal example, when Lust stabs Havoc in the back after having pretended to be his sweet and loving girlfriend.
- The penultimate episode of the Revolutionary Girl Utena anime contains an extremely painful and jarring scene where Anthy stabs Utena with her own sword—the same one that Utena wielded throughout the series. And it's made even more tortuous for the audience by Utena's drawn-out struggle to remain on her feet and save Anthy despite her betrayal.
- A very brutal version of this happens to Beelzemon in Digimon Tamers; in one of their fights with the D-Reaper, he gets an opportunity to rescue its hostage, Jeri, and goes for it. He's so desperate and focused on saving her to make amends that he completely forgets to keep his guard up. The D-Reaper notices and shoots half a dozen razor-sharp flying discs into his spine. OUCH. He survives, but barely, and his injuries are so severe he's sidelined for the rest of the war.
- That's how Mercutio kills Laertes Montague in Romeo X Juliet.
- There's a scene in End of Evangelion where a JSSDF commando sneaks up on a NERV gate guard, grabs him by the face and pushes a knife into his back, quite horrifying as you see the guard arch his spine, groan and then go limp, and in another scene we see one gun down NERV staff whilst they're running away from the JSSDF with their backs turned.
- In One Piece, it was noted when Whitebeard died that he didn't have any wounds or scars on his back, suggesting he had never run from a fight.note
- Early on, when Roronoa Zoro lost his duel with Dracule Mihawk, he made a point of turning to face Mihawk for the final blow.
Mihawk: But why?
Zoro: Scars on the back are a swordsman's shame.
- Early on, when Roronoa Zoro lost his duel with Dracule Mihawk, he made a point of turning to face Mihawk for the final blow.
- From Bleach, it's actually recommended procedure for Shinigami to attack Hollows from behind. This a mixture of pragmatism and a desire to avoid feeling guilt on seeing the Hollow's human face.
- Soifon, Shunsui Kyoraku, Toshiro Hitsugaya and Shinji Hirako team up on Aizen, and Hitsugaya successfully stabs in the back. Sadly, that wasn't really Aizen, but Hinamori, his best friend, placed under an illusion. Luckily, she lives long enough to receive medical treatment.
- A slightly earlier and weird example is what happens with Starrk and Wonderweiss. Turning up behind the man, Wonderweiss puts his hand through Ukitake's chest, causing Kyoraku to go for him by flash-stepping behind the 'kid'. But before Wonderweiss gets hit, Starrk takes the opportunity of the distraction to shoot Kyoraku in the back. Kyoraku, being a fine Combat Pragmatist himself, later returns the favour.
- When the sixth squad come to arrest Rukia in season one, Ichigo tried to intervene and fights the sixth squad lieutenant Renji Abarai. Just as Ichigo is winning, captain Kuchiki Byakuya Flash Steps in from behind and breaks Ichigo's sword. As Ichigo turns to face him, Byakuya Flash Steps again, now behind Ichigo and stabbing him in the back right through his heart, ending the fight and leaving Ichigo to die! On a show where most fights last several episodes, this one is over in seconds. In fact, it all happened so fast that Ichigo was on the ground before he even knew he'd been attacked. (Renji reveals that this is Byakuya's favorite attack for minor opponents. In their Heroic Rematch it doesn't work so well.)
- From Dragon Ball Z:
- Krillin has attempted to do this with his Destructo Disk against Vegeta in his Oozaru form (it failed) and Frieza (after his first transformation), where he only managed to lob off some of the latter's tail. Though if the villains hadn't reacted RIGHT when they did, Krillin could've easily killed them both, despite them being vastly stronger than him.
- Frieza himself tries this. Goku beats him and now he's not not half the despot he used to be. So he tries to blast the Super Saiyan from behind. Not smart, Frieza. Just not smart at all.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Nice Guy Nicol Amalfi dies while trying to stab Kira Yamato In the Back; Kira turns around and proceeds to cut Nicol (not The Blitz but Nicol himself) nearly in half. Nicol's action is never portrayed as anything other than sympathetic, given that a) it's a war, b) The Blitz was too damaged to confront Kira and The Strike head on, and c) he was trying to save his best friend, Athrun, from Kira.
- in A Certain Magical Index, one teleport esper, Kill-Point, can only teleport directly behind people, and only people in his line of sight. As such, this is his preferred attack style. Accelerator quickly figures him out and puts several bullets through his limbs.
- Gino Weinberg of Code Geass certainly isn't above this: this is how he kills Senba of the Four Holy Swords, and how he destroys the otherwise highly guarded Shinkirou much later.
- Momose from Bloody Cross has been known to use her shadow manipulating abilities to sneak up behind opponents and stab them in the back.
- A rare hero-on-villain example occurs in Kill la Kill when Satsuki unexpectedly runs her sword through the back of her mother Ragyo. Even more unusually, the latter survives it with the utmost ease and proceeds to soundly trash Satsuki.
- In Strider, the Mega-Corp secretary Yuri sells out his boss to Hiryu, and as soon as Hiryu turns his back on Yuri to go after the man, he pulls up a gun ready to shoot him from behind. Noticing this, Hiryu simply swings his Cypher while not turning around, slicing the cowardly man across the face.
- In Astro City story "Pastoral", after the villains menace the carnival to get Roustabout to appear, the first one to attack him does it from behind; he's caught off-guard and overwhelmed until the Heroic Bystanders step in to let him regroup.
- Batman Black and White: In "Dead Boys Eyes", a criminal lures Batman into a trap and shoots him in the back.
- In Earth 2, Steppenwolf stabs Wonder Woman in the back with his sword.
- In Flashpoint, Batman does this to Eobard Thawne.
- While not done in the back, the titular character of Jonah Hex is shot and killed during a card game when he stops to clean his glasses.
- Supporting character J.D Hart was shot in the back when he turned away, refusing to draw on a woman he had no quarrel with.
- In the original GI Joe comic, the original Cobra Commander was shot in the back by Fred-7, a Crimson Guardsman who then briefly took over the role, wearing the Commander's new armor.
- A controversial moment among fans in Judge Dredd was the death of the original Judge Giant. Attempting to arrest an agent of East Meg One, he is distracted by said agent's Robot Buddy. The agent rather calmly shoots Giant in the back.
- In issue #11 of Mega Man, Flash Man is killed in the back by Quick Man when he is distracted by Mega Man's hair. After the Robot Masters were revived by Ra Moon in issue #14, Flash Man stays sore at Quick Man for awhile.
- In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Shattered Grid, Lord Drakkon ambushes and runs Tommy through with Saba.
- In one issue of the Secret Six comics, Deadshot and Catman have a argument about this that ends with Catman insisting that Deadshot walk in front of him on all future missions. Given Deadshot's particular skillset, personal history and belief that a surprise headshot is the kindest way to kill someone, it's not a terribly unreasonable demand.
- Star Wars
- Kanan: Both Stance and Depa Billaba are killed when shot in the back, Stance by Coburn Sear when he ambushes the squad and Depa when she turns to use the force to save Caleb and leaves her back unprotected during Order 66.
- X-Wing Rogue Squadron: A man is assassinated from behind, and Isard orders the assassin to Make It Look Like Suicide...somehow.
- In Demon Spawn super-villain Nightflame attacks Supergirl from back, striking the heroine's temple with the flat of her magical blade.
- In The Supergirl from Krypton, Big Barda stabs Stompa from behind with her halberd.
- In Bizarrogirl, Supergirl hits Bizarrogirl from behind when the latter is distracted.
- Wonder Woman:
- Wonder Woman (1942): Nikos Aegeus steps out from behind a pillar and stabs an unprepared and unaware Steve Trevor in the back when Steve turns back towards Diana as he is heading into work.
- Wonder Woman (1987): Ares kills Hades by pretending to ally with the elder generation of gods and then stabbing Hades in the back while Hades is distracted trying to kill Wonder Woman.
- Zorro: Happens to Zorro of all people. How? In The Lone Ranger: The Death of Zorro #1, a sixty-something Diego is compelled to don the cape and mask one last time to help Indians brutalized by American soldiers. Only thing: "Tonight you forgot to watch your back, old bastard!", while fighting skillfully a sergeant.
- Kid Colt dies in the Blaze of Glory miniseries, shot in the back by the Bounty Hunter Gunhawk who was looking to claim the price on Colt's head.
- Star Wars: Doctor Aphra. Our introduction to the title character involves Aphra shooting another Adventure Archaeologist (whom the audience is made to believe is the protagonist until his Dramatic Unmask) in the back and leaving him to die. Although she then says this is in payback for him doing the same to her, but it firmly establishes her Anti-Hero credentials.
- Many fights in Christian Humber Reloaded involve one protagonist trying to get behind the other. In Vash's first fight with his corrupted self, he manages to get behind his corrupted self, only for his corrupted self to then get behind him.
- This trope is dealt with in the Hunger Games fanfic Some Semblance of Meaning. When Obsidian is leaving the pack, he ends up stabbing Ford, the guy from District Four, in the back. This comes back to haunt him, and later on, in his fight with Achilles, the latter mocks him for being a backstabber. Then, when Obsidian has him prostrate on the ground and is preparing to kill him, Achilles asks him to just let him turn over first, so he won't stab him in the back, and lets him stab him in the chest instead.
- In The Prayer Warriors, in the retconned version of the scene in which Zeus is killed, Thalia, who wasn't there in the original version, stabs Zeus in the back while Percy stabs him in the heart.
- In Perfection is Overrated, during the side chapter, "A Common Enemy Without A Common Cause", Meiko is killed by being stabbed in the back (figuratively and literally) by Sekai.
- Sailor Uranus does this to Ryouga in The Dark Lords Ascendant when he turns his back on her after seeing her naked during her transformation. To her surprise, it only made him mad.
- In one of the installments in the Black Crayons series: A Child's Innocence (which is a rewrite of Transformers: Dark of the Moon), Sentinel Prime attempts to do this Ironhide like he did in the movie, unlike in the movie, however Ironhide manages to react in time and faces Sentinel head-on instead.
- In The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, Lee Ayson shoots Paul in the back with his rifle. Given that Paul is Nigh-Invulnerable, the attack has no effect except to irk Paul. Since he and George are in a rush at the moment, his only response is to call out the bad behavior of the supposedly good Lee.
- In The Road Not Taken, an Alternate Timeline version of Eleya threatens to do this to a Klingon causing a scene on the Promenade at Deep Space 9, walking up behind him and sticking the barrel of her phaser in the back of his neck, then threatening him with a dishonorable death that would land him in Gre'thor.
- In Golden Threads Tie Us, Severa has mastered the art of the blindsiding and backstabbing the enemy. She has lost count of how many mindless zombies she has slain via driving her sword into their backs.
But she couldn't spend all her time gloating. Severa needed to meet up with the others, and Laurent was still injured and helpless. With that thought, she thrust her sword into the Risen's back, the motion smooth as she pressed in deeper. It had been years and hundreds of bodies since she had erred in this killing strike.
- In The Moon's Flash Princess, Kirito, being a Combat Pragmatist, kills Kunzite by running him through while he's fighting someone else, and later does the same to Jadeite. Differently from most uses he's praised for this, as he makes the fight (and the victory) that much quicker (plus, nobody doubts his bravery).
- The Rigel Black Chronicles:
- Played straight when Lee Jordan hexes Harry in the back while she's on a flight of stairs, causing her to fall and break her wrist.
- Downplayed when Leo wins a challenge match for his crown by throwing his knife and then wordlessly summoning it back toward himself, sticking it in his opponent's back. Since they were free-duelling, it was an entirely legitimate tactic (and it wasn't fatal, merely teaching a painful lesson).
- Near the end of Beauty and the Beast, the Beast lets Gaston live after he wins their fight. He goes over to Belle, who has just returned. At that point Gaston takes the sneaky road and climbs up to the Beast so he can stab him from behind. When the Beast lashes out after getting knifed, Gaston subsequently loses his footing and plummets to his death.
- In Frozen II, King Runeard kills the Northuldra king from behind, when he had no reason to have his guard up.
- Disney's Peter Pan. Hook is sneaking up on Peter with sword drawn, when Smee sees him and calls out, "Capt'n!" Peter then turn around and asks, "In the back, Captain?"
- In the climax, after Peter spares Hook's life in return for the latter vowing to leave and never return, Hook tries to do this to Peter as soon as he turn his back to crow in victory, using his hook since Peter threw away his sword. Wendy calls out to Peter to look out, and Peter manages to sidestep the attack just in time, leaving Hook to lose his footing on the topsail and fall into the waiting jaws of the crocodile in the water below.
- In The Hunchbackof Notre Dame, antagonist Judge Claude Frollo attempt to do the same to Quasimodo, who fights back.
- At the climax of The Secret of NIMH, Sullivan pays Jenner back for stabbing him by throwing a knife into his back, killing him.
- In Disney's Tangled, Mother Gothel does this to Flynn/Eugene when she fatally stabs him in the back with her dagger, unseen, while he's trying to save Rapunzel (though, Gothel may or may not be a Dirty Coward, yet she does fight dirty).
- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, obviously. I Shot Jesse James also demonstrates this.
- Doc Brown was supposed to be shot in the back by Buford Tannen over a matter of eighty dollars in Back to the Future Part III.
- Barbarella. Our introduction to the villainous Black Queen has her stabbing two men in the back simultaneously, as they leer at our hapless heroine with sinister intent.
Queen: Hello, pretty-pretty... (dual knife twirling)
- The Battle of Algiers. When Ali-La-Pointe first joins the Algerian resistance, he's ordered to sneak up behind a policeman and shoot him in the back. Instead, he angrily confronts the policeman and pulls the trigger of an empty gun. Turns out the gun wasn't loaded because they were testing Ali-La-Pointe to see if he was a spy; fortunately he's able to escape.
- In Black Patch, Holman shoots the escaping Danner twice in the back as part of the plan to frame Marshal Clay Morgan for murder.
- Blade Runner. Deckard shoots an unarmed female replicant in the back, repeatedly, as she's fleeing. Even for a setting drawn from Film Noir that's pretty dark, and is played for What Measure Is a Non-Human? that the 'hero' would do that and no-one question it.
- Blonde Savage: When Berger attempts to flee the native village, Meelah kills him by throwing a knife into his back.
- The Brass Legend
Sheriff Wade Addams: It's the worst kind of killer that would shoot a man in the back just as soon as look at him.
- Captain Marvel machine-guns a couple of fleeing, unarmed bandits in The Adventures of Captain Marvel, which is odd behaviour for a superhero of any time, let alone that time.
- In The Bold Caballero, the Commandante murders the Governor by throwing a knife into his back.
- Out of sheer spite, Mei Ling shoots Gus in the back as he is walking towards his girlfriend in Chai Lai Angels: Dangerous Flowers.
- In The Cowboys, Bruce Dern's character shot John Wayne in the back, and was typecast for life as a villain.
- In Real Life, poor Dern received death threats from fans upset that Wayne's character was killed like that.
- The Crow. During Eric and Top Dollar's battle on the church rooftops, Eric is momentarily distracted by a distressed Sarah. Top Dollar takes a cheap shot by sneaking up behind him and stabbing Eric through the back with his sword.
- Red very casually shoots the Sheriff of Edendale in the back in Dead in Tombstone.
- El Diablo (1990). Naive cowpoke Billy Ray (Anthony Edwards) has this exchange with grizzled gunslinger Van Leek (Louis Gossett, Jr.)
Billy Ray: You just shot that man in the back!
Van Leek: His back was to me.
- Very strangely applied in Dial M for Murder. Margot stops the hitman trying to strangle her by grabbing a pair of scissors and, instead of sticking them in one of the dozen or so really good places to stab somebody who's right in front of her, decides to laboriously reach all the way around and plunge them into his back instead. It's probably safe to blame this one on the Hays Code.
- Dirty Dingus Magee
Charles Stuart: Here he comes! Shall I shoot him in the back when he passes?
Herkimer 'Hoke' Birdsill: No! I want this to be a fair fight. I'll shoot him in the back. It's the Code of the West.
- The Elite Squad: How Baiano fatally wounds Neto.
- Subverted in Escape from L.A.. A Neo-Nazi skinhead attempts to throw a knife into Snake's back as he's walking away. Snake turns around and riddles him with bullets from his BFG before continuing on his path.
- The Field Guide to Evil: At the end of "A Nocturnal Breath", Xaver sucks the drude out of Anni before it can go out on its nightly rampage: trapping it in his own body. As he leaves, Anni shoots him in the back, killing him and destroying the drude.
- In a famous scene in The French Connection Popeye Doyle shoots a man in the back. The real Popeye objected to this portrayal at first but eventually learned to accept it under the Rule of Cool.
- In Gangs of New York, Bill the Butcher throws a meat cleaver into Monk's back after he is elected sheriff, before beating Monk to death with his own shillelagh.
- McBride in The Guard actually chooses to be shot in the back rather face the gangsters threatening him, to "show you up for the cowards you are".
- In Hangmen Also Die!, Schirmer releases Czaka after having him arrested for the murders of Reinhard Heydrich and Inspector Gruber and tells him to run, only to shoot him in the back.
- In High Noon, Amy shoots Pierce, one of Miller's men, in the back through a window while he's trying to reload.
- High Plains Drifter. A man walks up behind Clint Eastwood's character and starts to slip a knife out of its sheath. Without turning round, Clint informs him he'd look pretty stupid with that knife shoved up his ass. The man wisely backs off.
- Subverted in Ip Man, where Zealot Lin tries a sneak attack on General Miura after the latter had accepted the Chinese pugilists' loss and gets a fatal beating for his troubles.
- In the John Woo movie The Killer, when Inspector Li confronts the title character at the beach house, he demands that he turn around, as he won't shoot people in the back. The title character, a Hitman with a Heart, notes that this is another way that they're the same. One of the mooks during the final shootout gets in a bullet to Ah Jong's back. It doesn't kill him, of course, but it's one of the rare moments that gets the slow-mo treatment.
- In L.A. Confidential Captain Dudley Smith tells Ed Exley he's not ready for detective work because he's not willing to shoot a suspect in the back. By the end of the movie, Exley has done just that... to Smith.
- Hickey uses this in Last Man Standing, putting his tommy gun down and turning his back to his victim preparatory to drawing a pistol and blowing them away. And then in the final showdown:
Hickey: I don't suppose you're the kind of man who would shoot an unarmed man in the back?
John Smith: I've done worse than that.
- The Legend of Frenchie King: Big Bad Dr. Miller shoots the chemist who tells him about the oil while his back is turned, because up to that point he's pretending that they're partners and that he'll share the fortune with him.
- The Lord of the Rings:
- In The Man from Colorado, Owen shoots Del in the back when he, Caroline and Doc attempt to flee to Denver to tell the governor about Owen's insanity. Because he uses a holdout pistol, Del survives, but his wound does hinder him during the final confrontation.
- Katie, one of the other cult members, stabs a homeowner this way after he catches her compatriots in the act of burglarizing his house in Martha Marcy May Marlene.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- How Loki kills Coulson during The Avengers and wounds Kurse in Thor: The Dark World.
- In Avengers: Age of Ultron, a brainwashed Hulk attacks Hulkbuster-Iron Man from behind. Tony calls him on it.
Tony: In the back?! Dick move, Banner!
- Tony himself blasts Bucky in the back during the climax of Captain America: Civil War.
- Corvus Glaive makes his entrance by impaling the Vision from behind in Avengers: Infinity War. Vision returns the favor later on.
- My Name Is Nobody: Nobody realises ahead of time that someone intends to shoot him in the back and sets up a humiliation for them when they try.
- In None Shall Escape, Wilhelm shoots his nephew Willie in the back after the latter denounces Nazism.
- The Old Guard. Anya only discovers that Booker has betrayed them when he shoots her in the back. In fairness Booker only intended to temporarily put her down so she could be captured; Booker is horrified to find Anya's Healing Factor no longer works and so being shot puts her in serious danger.
- Pacific Rim: This is how the kaiju Leatherback destroys Cherno Alpha; by leaping onto Cherno's back, dragging it underwater and smashing it to pieces.
- Kit's father in The Phantom was killed by being stabbed in the back by Quill.
- In The Professional, Stansfield appears from behind to kill Leon when he reaches the entrance of the apartment complex.
- In Push, when Kira pushes Agent Mack to think his partner Agent Holden killed his brother (Mack doesn't have a brother), Mack walks out of the bathroom and shoots Holden in the back before realizing what he'd done.
- The Quick and the Dead: Having given Ratsy a Mercy Lead of twenty seconds to get out of town, Herod takes a rifle from one of his bodyguards and calmly shoots Ratsy in the back as he is still running.
- In Rambo, Major Tint's only contribution to the Final Battle is to shoot an unarmed, fleeing missionary in the back. He spends the rest of the battle in hiding, not even commanding his men at all.
- Rancho Notorious: Kinch murders his partner Whitey by shooting him in the back during a No Honor Among Thieves betrayal.
- Revenge of the Virgins: Connor shoots Potter in the back and attempt to flee with all the gold. However, Potter is saved by the back of coins he had stashed in the back of his vest, and guns Connor down.
- Scream: Given the films' subject matter, and Ghostface's uncanny ability to pop in and out, this happens a lot. How fatal this proves to the character on the receiving end depends on if they've already been injured in some other way, if they're an important character, or if their name happens to be Dewey. Jarring when you consider the cases of Dewey and Kate Roberts; they both get very similar injuries (albeit in different films) in the same place, yet Dewey survives hours without medical attention, and Kate dies mere seconds after the stabbing occurs.
- The Operative pulls this on Mal in Serenity when the latter is trying to get to Mr. Universe's backup broadcast equipment, causing Mal to ask if he's made him angry (referring to their conversation in the Companion training house). Luckily for Mal it appears to have been a stun gun.
- She: While Billali is struggling with Leo over who gets immortality, Ayesha stabs Billali in the back.
- An interesting inversion happened in John Wayne's final film, The Shootist. In the original script, Wayne's character was to shoot someone in the back during the final gunfight, but Wayne refused to do so, saying, "...I've made over 250 pictures and have never shot a guy in the back. Change it." Despite protests from Don Siegel, who insisted that good friend Clint Eastwood would've shot a guy in the back, the script was changed, and the final shootout played to Wayne's satisfaction.
- In Silver Lode, McCarty publicly accuses Ballard of shooting his brother in the back and stealing his money. Ballard points out in private that McCarty knows full well that Ballard won that money in a game of cards and that McCarty's brother drew first.
- Skyfall. James Bond throws a knife into the back of the cyber-terrorist Big Bad as he's about to kill M. This has Rule of Symbolism given the film's theme of whether Cloak & Dagger assassins like Bond are obsolete in the modern era, not to mention the general theme of betrayal.
- In Starkweather, Charlie prefers to shoot his victims in the back.
- Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith:
- As soon as Order 66 is brought up, the troops accompanying Aayla Secura shoot her in the back. Over and over. The other assassinations play out similarly (e.g. Plo Koon is shot down by his wingman, and Commander Cody tries to kill Obi-Wan from behind with an artillery cannon but fails), though Ki-Adi-Mundi turns around at the last second. Which was the entire point of not just Order 66, but the Clone Wars as a whole: to weaken the Jedi (and Jedi senses) far enough that when you shoot, their back is still towards you when the bolt hits.
- Subverted with Yoda, who was not having any of that backstabbing. Yoda was aware of what was going on as the Jedi were being slaughtered, far too many to simply be attributed to combat. When the clones approached him with weapons drawn, he knew what they were up to and struck first.
- Additionally, a deleted scene from early in the film shows General Grievous executing Jedi Master Shaak Ti by igniting her lightsaber through her back. This one is less for symbolism and more as a Kick the Dog moment for Grievous.
- Sunshine. Corazon is stabbed in the back with a power scalpel, and there's a horrifying scene of the scalpel vibrating away in her back as she makes a futile attempt to reach behind her and pull it out.
- From the western spoof Support Your Local Sheriff after Jake helps out the new Sheriff during a gunfight:
Jake: Well, I.. couldn't let him shoot you in the back..
McCullough: Oh, you could have.
- And then its non-sequel follow-up Support Your Local Gunfighter:
Jug: You hit him from behind!
Latigo: Just as hard as I could!
- And then its non-sequel follow-up Support Your Local Gunfighter:
- In The Terror of Tiny Town, Bat Haines shoots Tex Preston in the back, and then frames Buck for the crime.
- How Ironhide is killed in Transformers: Dark of the Moon: shot in the back by Sentinel Prime.
- Who, in an Ironic Echo, himself is shot in the back by Megatron. He doesn't die but is crippled enough for Optimus to finish him off with a headshot right after decapitating Megatron in the space of 5 seconds... while missing an arm.
- In White Heat, when Arthur Cody Jarret learns that his mother was dispatched through being shot in the back, it's strongly implied that his plans for vengeance against the backshooter in question became all the more imminent and brutal
- In White Sun of the Desert, Said reveals Off Stage Villain Djavded killed his father from behind. Said's current apparel has several bullet holes in the back—but whether he inherited it from his father or liberated it from someone else is unknown.
- Wild Horse Phantom: Daggett shoots Tom in the back when he decides to abandon the escape attempt and return to prison to serve out his sentence.
- In The Barbarian and the Sorceress, Kira stabs Barnabus in the back with a sacrificial knife. It doesn't kill him.
- Corelle Whistler shoots someone in the back in A Brother's Price. Aware of this trope and unwilling to look like a traitor or a coward, she justifies it, noting that the woman she shot was trying to kill Eldest.
- The Chronicles of Narnia: In Prince Caspian the usurper King Miraz, who's tripped and fallen (leading to the Telmarines charging in to attack the Narnians), is still laying on the ground when his own follower Glozelle, passing by as part of the charge, takes the time to stab him in the back in revenge for Miraz calling him a coward earlier. (The Disney film adaptation has Sopespian do it instead, but using one of Susan's fallen arrows to make it look like she shot him.)
- In Cold Mountain, a minor character is terrified of being shot in the back, which would prove he was fleeing the battle. He is eventually shot in the chest, whilst running backwards.
- In Robert E. Howard's "Red Nails", Conan the Barbarian repeatedly tells Olmec that he has to go before Conan. When he forgets and pushes ahead because he heard a scream, Olmec does indeed attack from behind.
- In the "Dragons in Our Midst Sequel Series Oracles of Fire, Billy is forced to Deconstruction the morality of this trope after he kills Palin from behind and finds himself unable to access Excaliburs powers afterwards.
- Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files:
- In Summer Knight, Harry slugs Aurora in the back with his staff, ungentlemanly though it is. On the other hand, she is trying to sacrifice a helpless prisoner.
- In Dead Beat, he shoots Captain Luccio in the back of the head. In his defense, her body was possessed by a psychotically evil Omnicidal Maniac necromancer who would have just possessed him if it had realized he'd figured it out, and Luccio herself had been Body Swapped into the necromancer's previous victim.
- In Small Favor, Harry threatens a thug with this if he tries to run, pointing out it could mean his spine got hurt.
- At the end of Changes, Harry himself is shot in the back by a sniper and dies. Which turns out in The Reveal of Ghost Story to be a Thanatos Gambit arranged by Harry himself to avoid giving himself over to Queen Mab as the Winter Knight.
- Lampshaded in The Golden Gate by Alistair MacLean, when the reporter is not happy to find out that the secret agent is armed with poison dart weapons: "to be shot into the back, I suppose." The hero calmly points out that a dead man doesn't care from what direction he gets shot.
- The Greyhawk novel White Plume Mountain has this as one of The Justicar's main points:
Justicar: If they can hit you back, you're doing something wrong.
- In Chris Roberson's novel Sons of Dorn, Jean-Robur learns to fight like a Combat Pragmatist in his first battle, stabbing a foe In the Back.
- In The Iron Teeth web serial the goblin protagonist loves loves stabbing people in the back, probably because he's fast, sneaky, and almost completely without morals.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars: In The Master Mind of Mars, Gor Hajus is a respected assassin, and part of the reason is that he will not attack from behind.
- Lensman: First Lensman opens with the visitor to a lab sneaking up on a scientist with a handgun and shooting him in the back seven times, including twice in the head—only for every bullet to pass through him harmlessly. Coupled with the scientist's blasé reaction and addressing the shooter as "Gharlane of Eddore", this is how we find out the shooter and the scientist are an Eddorian and an Arisian (respectively) in disguise. (No one notices any of this thanks to their zones of compulsion.)
- Malazan Book of the Fallen:
- In Midnight Tides, Scabandari Bloodeye stabs his closest ally and friend Silchas Ruin in the back. Since Silchas is too powerful to kill, the dagger has to be magically imbued in order to incapacitate him enough that Scabandari can bury him alive in a magical prison.
- Reaper's Gale has two examples:
- Sirryn Kanar, a minor character, kills Trull Sengar by stabbing him in the back with a knife while he is momentarily distracted, courtesy of the God of Fate being unable to keep himself from meddling. Sirryn thinks it's a "The Dog Bites Back"-moment against Trull Sengar's whole people, who conquered his country, except the latter is the only one not involved with the whole mess.
- Towards the end of the book, there's a Call-Back to Scabandari backstabbing Silchas Ruin in Midnight Tides. Fear Sengar tries to stab Silchas Ruin in the back, and Fear is a descendant of one of Scabandari's followers. He is then however in turn killed from behind with a garotte by Clip, who is a descendant of one of Silchas Ruin's followers from the time the first backstabbing happened.
- In Malevil Armand is stabbed in the back when attempting to rape a woman. The big thug is unaware that he was stabbed and walks around town with the knife sticking out.
- In Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy, Rachel the Dragon attempts to stab Pryrates in the back with a kitchen knife. It doesn't work.
- In the Nibelungenlied, Hagen spears Siegfried in the back while Siegfried is drinking water from a spring during a hunt. This also happens in most other versions of the Siegfried story. (Siegfried's one vulnerable spot happened to be on his back, by the way).
- Which, if you think about it, is not so much cowardly as it is reasonable, unless you think your enemies ought to be obligated to attack you only in ways that cannot possibly harm you.
- In the Paladin of Shadows book Unto the Breach, a Keldara says that he doesn't like slaughtering people from ambush, even if it is very effective.
- Philo Vance: The Casino Murder Case: The murderer is holding Philo Vance and district attorney John Markham at gunpoint. After shooting Vance, he tells Markham that since Markham is "only a cop at heart", he would shoot Markham in the back. Markham refuses to turn around. Vance was Playing Possum after switching the murderer's bullets for blanks, hoping The Cavalry, a.k.a. the NYPD, would kill the murderer and save everyone the hassle of a trial. It worked.
- Happens in one of the Redwall books, because the shrew in question is a Jerkass and a coward that throws his rapier at Log-a-log, killing him.
- Safehold: At the climax of book 9, At the Sign of Triumph, when Grand Inquisitor Zhaspahr Clyntahn and his second-in-command Archbishop Wyllym Rayno emerge from an escape tunnel out of the Temple to be confronted by seijins Merlin and Nimue, there to arrest them for the numerous atrocities they've been responsible for, Clyntahn backstabs Rayno when the latter tries to surrender.
- Star Wars Legends:
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan has three main characters: Revan (redeemed from the Dark Side), Meetra Surik (the Player Character from KotOR II), and Darth Scourge (who realizes that The Emperor is planning to start a war the Sith Empire can't win and wants to stop him). At the end of the novel, the three characters have joined forces and are facing down the Emperor. Scourge has a Force Vision that shows him a different Jedi killing the Emperor. Realizing they can't win, he stabs Meetra in the back, killing her instantly, while the Emperor disables Revan.
- Grand Admiral Thrawn is killed this way in The Thrawn Trilogy, sitting in his own command chair on the bridge of the Chimaera when he's stabbed through the back by his own Noghri bodyguard Rukh, who had learned of Thrawn's treachery against his people.
- In Star Wars: Kenobi, a customer of the local general store/restaurant appears in the doorway when everyone else is gathered outside, and something seems off then he falls forward with a knife in his back, revealing a Tusken Raider in the store behind him. Fortunately, he survives.
- In the X-Wing Series novel Solo Command, one of Wedge's pilots is brainwashed to assassinate him, and attempts to shoot him from behind. When the squad tries to talk him down before he tries again, appeals to his friendship fail to make a dent in his implanted compulsion, but what does get through is one of his friends pointing out that he's usually far too honorable to shoot someone in the back.
- The Takers by Jerry Ahern. When he's trapped on a yacht that's been hijacked by pirates, Josh Culhane has to do this. As he's a writer of action-adventure novels where The Hero isn't supposed to shoot people in the back it bothers him, but not enough to stop him from doing it, as he's outnumbered and needs every advantage.
- In The Tomorrow Series, this happens to Corrie.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- In William King's novel Space Wolf, a Chaos Space Marine tells Ragnar
Do turn around, please. I want to look at you, for I never like shooting anyone in the back.
- In Graham McNeill's Ultramarines novel Dead Sky Black Sun, during the final attack on the Chaos stronghold, Leonid sees a foe sneaking up behind the Lord of the Unfleshed and takes him out. The Lord hails him, "Now you Tribe!"
- In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel The Traitor's Hand, Cain's final Kill Me Now, or Forever Stay Your Hand was to tell Beije and the soldiers with him
If you're going to shoot us, you'll have to do it in the back.
- The primary point of any of Cain's altruistic acts, heroics, etc. are to stop Guard units he is leading from shooting him in the back (as happens to other Commissars). Or so he insists, anyway. Even Sandy Mitchell himself isn't sure if Cain just doesn't give himself enough credit.
- Inquisitor Eisenhorn has the courtesy to wait until the enemy is facing him. Though he still shoves his pistol in Eyeclone's mouth and fires while the renegade isn't expecting to spot him. Just imagine the Oh, Crap! look on Eyeclone's face!
- And during our introduction to Bequin she saves Eisenhorn by stabbing a thug through the back of the neck.
- In Nick Kyme's novel Salamander, the Salamander captain is shot in the back. At the climax, Dak'ir accuses the killer of having no honor because of it, and a renegade Space Marine such as he defends himself; he had to obey orders.
- Dawn of War: In C. S. Goto's Dawn of War: Ascension, at the Blood Rites, aspirants are stabbed In the Back by others whom they had trusted to guard their backs.
- In William King's novel Space Wolf, a Chaos Space Marine tells Ragnar
- When Jack Bauer has to shoot Nina Myers in the first season of 24, she insists strongly that he look at her when he does it. She's wearing a Bulletproof Vest.
- The Addams Family
Uncle Fester: I'll shoot 'em in the back! Turn around! [signature line]
- Altered Carbon. The warden reads in Kovacs' file that he shot his own partner in the back of the neck (destroying her stack and so killing her for real), and tries to goad Kovacs by saying this makes him a coward. Kovacs however knows she was shot while unconscious by one of the soldiers who captured him as an act of spite.
- The A-Team, "Curtain Call". In the opening, the team turns around and begins to walk away from the villain. Unfortunately, the villain takes the opportunity as a last chance to kill Hannibal and attempts to shoot him, kicking off the rest of the episode when Murdock takes the bullet instead.
- Blake's 7
- In "Death Watch", during a Combat by Champion Tarrant refuses to shoot his duel opponent in the back (despite his being an android), prompting cries of "Kill Him Already!". Instead Tarrant calls out his opponent's name, then shoots him when he turns to fire. He is smart enough to be lying down though, so any return shots would miss.
- This contradicts his introductory episode where Tarrant stabs several of his own men (he's disguised as a Federation captain) in the back. This is Early Installment Weirdness because Tarrant was originally intended to be a more treacherous character, a Fake Defector who joined the crew because he was planning to seize the Liberator.
- Anti-Hero Avon of course has no such scruples. In "The Keeper", he's using the Liberator to sneak up on a Federation pursuit ship.
Cally: No indication that he's seen us.
Avon: Good. I have no objection to shooting him in the back.
- In "Rumors of Death", Sula shoots her own husband (a high-ranking Federation politician) in the back after revealing that she's actually a rebel. Later she does the same to a Federation guard. This foreshadows The Reveal that she's an agent of the Secret Police.
- In the notorious Bolivian Army Ending of the series, half the cast get shot In the Back as they reap the consequences of mistrust and betrayal. Mind you the rest get shot in the front, and don't fare any better.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy finds herself facing the vampire prostitute she earlier caught feeding on her Love Interest Riley Finn. Initially Buffy lets her go, but her darker side takes over and she hurls a wooden spear into the vampire's back as she's running away.
- Charmed (1998): During the third season finale, "All Hell Breaks Loose", magic is exposed, and a madwoman bursts into the house before being (rightly) ejected by Prue. The same woman returns with a rifle and shoots Piper in the back when she and Prue are talking in the living room. And Leo is in the Underworld, where he can't hear them.
- In the Criminal Minds episode "Masterpiece," Rossi stays pretty composed while the unsub of the week tries and fails to kill his team and destroy him in various other ways. He loses it, however, when that same unsub attacks him from behind.
- Happens three times in CSI: NY:
- In the season 5 finale where the bar the CSIs are sitting in is shot to bits. It's mainly a result of the villain shooting anywhere and everywhere with some kind of automatic weapon and Danny, who was sitting closest to the window anyway, having thrown himself over Lindsay to protect his wife, leaving his back exposed.
- Happens to Mac in the season 8 finale, "Near Death."
- And much earlier to the mounted policeman in Season 1's "Officer Blue."
- Brad from Dans une galaxie près de chez vous once prided himself on how good he is at shooting someone in the back. The Captain however stops him before he makes good on his word.
- Wild Bill Hickock's ultimate fate in Deadwood.
- In the Decoy episode "An Eye for an Eye," a junkie Casey is trying to befriend is knifed in the back.
- This is where Jimmy is shot in Degrassi, causing him to be paralyzed from the waist down for the remainder of his time on the program. This is also where JT is fatally stabbed.
- Doctor Who:
- Defied, albeit narrowly, in "The Poison Sky". During UNIT's assault on the Sontaran facility, Colonel Mace comes up behind Commander Skorr and bellows, "You will face me, sir!", then puts three in his chest the second he turns around.
- "The Return of Doctor Mysterio": When being held at gunpoint by Dr. Sim, the Doctor challenges Sim to shoot him, Nardole and Lucy Fletcher in the back so he won't be able to claim self-defence. They then get rescued by the Ghost.
- "The Doctor Falls": John Simm's Master, having been stabbed by his own future self Missy, retaliates by shooting her in the back as she walks away. He notes how deeply appropriate an end this is for them, given the Master's Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
- Escape at Dannemora: Sweat is shot twice in the back by a police officer at long range while he is fleeing and unarmed. This is Truth in Television. The incident was apparently justified because Sweat was an escaped murderer.
- Mal's when male confronts Simon in the pilot, he tells him: "You don't know me, son, so let me put this to you plainly. If I ever kill you, you will be awake, you will be facing me, and you will be armed." Given Mal's later nature as a Combat Pragmatist, this seems more an acceptance of Simon and his sister into Mal's True Companions than anything else. Joss Whedon suggests sardonically that Mal just has a very particular code of honor that will let him shoot an unarmed, surrendering enemy...but only in the front.
- After Jayne betrays Simon and River for money, Mal calls him out on it:
Mal: The next time you stab me in the back, have the guts to do it to my face.
- Game of Thrones:
- Jaime Lannister offed The Mad King in this fashion, seventeen years before the beginning of the show. And There Was Much Rejoicing. Though even though the Mad King was obviously completely unfit to rule and a danger to the entire kingdom, Jaime was called "Kingslayer" from then on and was met with disdain from Lawful Good (or Lawful Stupid, if you prefer) characters like Ned Stark, who believed that what he did was dishonorable. This despite the fact that he did it to prevent the Mad King burning down and killing everyone in King's Landing. Lampshaded in the TV series. "Tell me; if I'd stabbed the Mad King in the belly instead of the back, would you admire me more?"
- Inverted when Fiery Redhead Ygritte puts three arrows into Jon Snow (two in the back and one in the thigh) as he rides off to warn the Night's Watch of the impending wildling attack. It's actually Jon who betrayed her, but he thinks she won't shoot because they love each other. As Ygritte is fond of pointing out, he knows nothing.
- To the shock of Bran Stark, who's been raised on the heroic legend of his father killing Master Swordsman Ser Arthur Dayne in single combat, the Three-Eyed Raven shows him what really happened. Ser Dayne had defeated all of his opponents and was about to kill Ned Stark, when Howland Reed (who'd been Playing Possum after getting stabbed earlier) saves young Ned by stabbing Ser Dayne through the back of his throat.
- Lord Commander Mormont is mortally wounded this way by one of his own disgruntled men.
- Ralf Kenning gets an axe to the head for refusing to surrender.
- Rickon Stark dies after getting an arrow in the back, courtesy of Ramsay.
- How Ser Stafford Lannister was killed. Rickard Karstark was the one who ended Stafford's life when he personally drove a spear through him.
- In "The Bells", a vengeful Grey Worm kills several Lannister soldiers by spearing them from behind, even if they're running or have already thrown down their arms.
- Have Gun Will Travel episode "The Colonel and the Lady"
Clay Sommers: Head-on, from the side, in the back; nobody's gonna make a fair fight out of it. We see you, we shoot.
- Horatio Hornblower is nearly stabbed in the back in the mini-series, by a furious and humiliated Simpson, but is saved by a truly excellent shot by Captain Pellew.
- The only way you could actually get zapped by the Interceptor.
- Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger - Damaras forces Basco into an alliance against the heroes to avenge Warz. Basco betrays Damaras the very next episode, and appears out of nowhere to literally backstab him the second he realizes.
- In the season 4 finale, Keamy criticizes Richard for shooting him in the back (which also wasn't effective because Keamy was heavily armored.) Richard hadn't had a choice, though, as Keamy was grappling with Sayid at the time.
- In "The Variable", Eloise shoots Daniel, her own son, in the back.
- Lost in Space episode "Invaders from the Fifth Dimension"
[Smith tries to shoot one of the aliens in the back. The aliens make the laser pistol disappear]
Alien: You showed treachery and cunning, noble qualities on your native planet no doubt, but indicating defective relays in your reasoning circuits.
- The Magnificent Seven pilot:
Chris Larabee: You don't shoot nobody in the back!
- Merlin: In the second part of the series 5 premiere 2-parter, Mordred stabs Morgana in the back to prevent her from killing Arthur.
- Person of Interest.
- Done as a Running Gag in "Matsya Nyaya" due to that episode's theme of betrayal.
- In "RAM" the Establishing Character Moment of Mr. Dillinger is him shooting a criminal in the back — the man was about to murder a Damsel in Distress, but it foreshadows that Dillinger is a more treacherous and amoral character than John Reese (who prefers Knee-capping in line with Team Machine's Thou Shalt Not Kill policy).
- The Persuaders
Angie: Aww, what you gonna do? Shoot me in the back? That was always the difference between you and me. See, in your place, I could pull that trigger.
- From the Red Dwarf Episode "Justice":
Rimmer: What are you waiting for? Gloop him!
Lister: ...I can't. He's not armed.
Rimmer: Lister, this isn't a Scout meeting. We're not trying to win the Best-Behaved Troop flag. Gloop him!
Lister: ...W-what? In the back?
Rimmer: Of course in the back! It's only a pity he's awake.
Lister: You mean you could happily kill him if he was asleep?!
Rimmer: I could happily kill him if he was on the job. Gloop him.
- SCTV - an ad for the tv Western "Yellowbelly" shows just what a yellowbelly the title character (John Candy) is as he shoots a child in the back, and then does the same to the child's mother.
- In the Alternate Timeline of Stargate Continuum, Ba'al has become the Supreme System Lord and has taken Qetesh (in Vala's body) as his bride. However, when Qetesh sees that Ba'al is not being as "Goa'uldey" as he should (he doesn't want to destroy Earth out of pragmatism), she stabs him in the back with a monomolecular blade. She tries to get Teal'c's cooperation, but he retorts that she'll kill Ba'al anyway. She does.
- There are other cases in Stargate SG-1 itself, including the good guys. For example, Teal'c's android copy shoots Cronus in the back with a staff weapon in revenge for killing Teal'c's father.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- Garak on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had no qualms about this. Being pragmatic is the Cardassian way, especially if you've received Training from Hell meant to prepare you for the life of an operative. In "Call to Arms" he notes to Odo that when he and Gul Dukat were fighting to keep the Klingons away from the Detapa Council in "The Way of the Warrior" he had an opportunity to shoot Dukat in the back for just a moment.
Odo: You'd shoot a man in the back?
Garak: It's the safest way, isn't it? But then I thought, "oh, no, I can't fight all these Klingons by myself." So I let him live.
Odo: And now you regret it.
Garak: Ah, my dear Constable, before this day is over everyone on this station is going to regret it.
- In "The Changing Face of Evil", Gul Dukat disguised as a Bajoran convinces Kai Winn to align towards the Pa-Wraiths. Winn's assistant finds this out and a conflicted Winn stabs the assistant in the back.
- Garak on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had no qualms about this. Being pragmatic is the Cardassian way, especially if you've received Training from Hell meant to prepare you for the life of an operative. In "Call to Arms" he notes to Odo that when he and Gul Dukat were fighting to keep the Klingons away from the Detapa Council in "The Way of the Warrior" he had an opportunity to shoot Dukat in the back for just a moment.
- Sam is killed the first time by a stab in the back. Subsequent deaths are much less dramatic, until three seasons later he jumps into Hell to save the world, and technically doesn't die.
- In the Season 6 finale, Sam attempts to kill Castiel, who has just declared himself God with a stab to the back. It doesn't work.
- Also in the Season 6 finale, Castiel kills Balthazar with a back stab. Symbolic in that he's punishing him for what he saw as a betrayal.
- Lucifer killed his brother Gabriel this way.
- The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Mr. Garrity and the Graves", Sheriff Gilchrist shot the notorious outlaw "Lightning" Peterson in the back in the presence of six deputies. As such, he does not want him to come back from the dead and pays Jed Garrity $1,200 to prevent this from happening. It turns out that Garrity's ceremony was successful in resurrecting Peterson and the other 127 people buried in Boot Hill Cemetery and Peterson plans to have his revenge on Gilchrist.
- Wanted: Dead or Alive: In "The Martin Poster", Andy Martin shoots the doctor who has just saved his brother's life in the back as he walks away, so as to leave no witnesses.
- Watchmen (2019): Laurie shoots The Revenger this way as he's trying to escape. He survives thanks to his body armor, and a younger FBI agent asks how she knew it would save him. It's made clear from her attitude however that she simply didn't care, and this was just a happy accident.
- The O'Jays song "Back Stabbers" involves a number of shady individuals who fall into the With Friends Like These... category, and appear to be lurking in the dark to possibly get the protagonist's lady while lurking in dark alleys, ready to stab him in the back; lampshaded by the refrain:
(What they do?) They'll smile in your face,
All the time, they want to take your place, the back stabbers (Back stabbers)...
- In the earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons, the thief did his best damage from behind — he got an attack bonus for attacking an unaware opponent from behind, and if he hit, he did double damage (or even more depending on his level). It was later reworked into the "Sneak Attack" rules of third and higher editions, as facing was eliminated from the game.
- Non-Skirmisher units in Warhammer Fantasy get massive bonuses to combat resolution (the check to see if the enemy breaks and runs) if they charge from the side or rear.
- While creating the Alara shard of Bant in Magic: The Gathering, a world where the orderly, honorable and noble white mana ruled without any influence of the selfish corruption of black or chaotic brutality of red, one member of the team simply thought of the idea "They don't wear armour on their backs". Yes, in this world, the thought of someone being such a dirty coward that they would attack an enemy from behind is so alien to them that they don't even consider it.
- In The Fantasy Trip, attacking an opponent from behind gives you a significant DX bonus, which means you're much more likely to hit. There is no direct damage bonus, but the DX bonus might make it feasible to take an aimed shot, which stands a significant chance of disabling or killing the target, depending on what you're aiming at and how much damage you do.
- The BattleTech CCG had the card Fortunes of War which had the flavor text "Whoever said 'never shoot a man in the back' never saw the front of a Hunchback." note
- One ending route of Aviary Attorney has a random commoner shot in the back in order to destroy the peaceful aspects of the revolution.
- The Good Counterpart to Susie Campbell's Alice Angel stabs her in the back in Bendy and the Ink Machine Chapter 4. However, considering that the evil Alice was in the act of trying to kill Henry, who was busy mourning the death of his pal, Boris, at the time, she's not just some Dirty Coward.
- In Borderlands 2, after the death of Angel, Handsome Jack unexpectedly shows up to shoot Roland from behind, killing him almost instantly.
- You can do this in Bushido Blade to get an almost certain One-Hit Kill, but remember that it is considered dishonorable in Story mode, and will lead to a Non Standard Game Over.
- Call of Duty: World at War
Private Chernov: Are we to shoot them in the back?
Sgt. Reznov: The back, the front, the head! Whatever you wish! Just so long as they are dead!
- At the end of Conquests of Camelot, the thief that stole the grail tries to stab King Arthur in the back, which fails since he's wearing armor (He is not a moron). The guy is then promptly reduced to a skeleton by the grail's power for his bad manners.
- The Darkness
Mobster 1: [back turned to the player] Always figured someone would sneak up behind me in the middle of the night and shoot me in the back.
- In Fallout 3, one of the first quests is to decide if you want to set off or defuse an atomic bomb in the middle of a town. If you tell the town's sheriff about the individual who offers to pay you to set it off he will go to confront him and be shot in the back for his trouble (unless you save him, but this doesn't affect the game much).
- Final Fantasy X-2: In an optional sidequest, you can view a sphere that shows Nooj shooting Gippal and Baralai in the back before turning his gun on Paine, who was recording. It all makes sense later, though.
- In Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, on Terra's route, after the boss fight with Master Eraqus, both have a My God, What Have I Done? moment, until Master Xenanort stabs Eraqus in the back (while Terra watches), killing him (although in Blank Points, it's shown that Eraqus' heart went into Terra's).
- The first mission in Mass Effect starts with Nihlus, a turian Spectre, getting shot in the back by his old colleague Saren.
- Grunt in Mass Effect 2 feels the need to let you know that he won't stab you in the back.
- In Mass Effect 3, after being soundly beaten by Shepard, Kai Leng limps up to them as they're perusing through the Illusive Man's files and attempts to stab them in the back. It doesn't work.
- Shepard can do this with more success earlier in the game, but the event is widely considered a Moral Event Horizon by players. If choosing to sabotage the Genophage Cure while Wrex and/or Eve are still alive, the player shoots Mordin in the back to try and stop him from curing the krogan. You're then forced to watch Mordin struggle on and almost make it to the cure console in a scene custom-made to make you feel like a monster for doing it. If Wrex is alive when you choose this option, you're going to have a much more face-to-face confrontation later.
- In Mortal Kombat 9, Shao Kahn breaks Kung Lao's neck from behind him after Kung Lao defeated Kintaro. This upset Liu Kang and the two fought.
- A rare good guy version occurs in Quest for Glory III; when the five heroes enter the Demon Wizard's inner sanctum, they're confronted by super-strong, demonic versions of themselves created via magic mirror. The player's fight seems unwinnable until the thief from the bazaar appears and backstabs the evil version, telling the hero to go on and face the wizard while he holds off the copy.
- One quest in RuneScape has you distracting members of Humans Against Monsters so that your cave goblin ally Zanik can shoot them in the back with her bow. In the middle of all this, you can try to pull a What the Hell, Hero? on her by asking if shooting them in the back is too mean; she responds that it's no more so than shooting them in the front.
- Later on in Super Robot Wars Z3: Jigoku-Hen, when Char does decide to go to the frontlines, he confronts Amuro face-to-face. But Full Frontal is such a jerk that while Char and Amuro are talking, he attacks Amuro from behind which makes Char pretty angry.
- In Super Smash Bros. Brawl: The Subspace Emissary, Ganondorf shoots Bowser with the Dark Cannon from behind.
- Tales of Monkey Island: Inverted near the end of Chapter 4: Not only does LeChuck (figuratively) stab Guybrush in the back in a clever ambush attack, but he (literally) stabs Guybrush in the chest... with the Cursed Cutlass of Kaflu that is powerful enough to kill him, if not instantly!
- World of Warcraft
- The Back Story of Alexandros Mograine features this. His son Renault was persuaded to lead him into a trap — a hopeless fight against wave upon wave of undead. Because he was such a badass, he killed them all — but when he took a breather afterward, and let go of his sword, Renault came out of hiding and stabbed him with it.
- Orgrim Doomhammer died when he was stabbed in the back with a polearm. Those who look up to him consider this a cowardly act.
- One quest in the Twilight Highlands involves fighting some enemies long enough for your ally to sneak up on them and finish them off.
- The Kor'Kron Assassins in Siege of Orgrimmar can backstab people who turn their backs to them.
- Interestingly enough, in the Fallen Protectors encounter, He Softfoot uses a Gouge attack on tanks; if the tank is facing him when it hits, the tank will be stunned and Rook will fixate on a random member for a few seconds. If the player is facing away, however, the attack will merely knock them back.
- It's generally advantageous to attack an enemy from behind when you can, since they can't parry attacks from behind or hit you with frontal cone abilities, and some enemies are completely immune to frontal attacks. Dragons and other similar creatures are the exception, since they can tail lash people who attack from behind, so the only solution is to attack from the side.
- The original Strider for Arcades has an interesting version for a platform game: soldiers at the beginning of the game have a chance of falling back in fear when Hiryu looks at them. If Hiryu/the player walks toward them they will start crawling back, but if the player turns Hiryu's back to them they will suddenly stand up and rush at him with their weapons held high over their heads, trying to hit him. If one is quick enough to face them again before they hit, they will go back to being scared.
- Yakuza 0: After Kiryu's third fight with Kuze, the former does a Punch Catch against the latter, but before he can capitalise on this, Yoneda runs up with a bat and hits him on the back of the head, knocking him down. It would have ended in Kiryu's subsequent death were it not for The Cavalry. One of the signs that Kiryu Took a Level in Badass in Yakuza 2 is that another enemy also hits him on the back of the head, this time with a bottle, and all that results is Kiryu giving an annoyed Death Glare.
- In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors: The "Knife" and "Submarine" endings turn themselves into a Shoot the Shaggy Dog ending.
- This is how the Nanaya clan in Tsukihime operates. As they're almost entirely normal humans going up against demons and vampires, the only way to win is to get close to them before they notice you and cut them to bits. Kiri, Shiki's father, actually used a mace to crush skulls, throats and internal organs. Shiki can mostly avoid this one because his eyes cheat, though he does take out at least one DAA like this in supplementary material.
- In 8-Bit Theater, this is how Black Mage hopped up on an impossible amount of evil gets around Fighter's ability to block literally anything.
Black Mage: Funny story: I noticed you use swords to block.
- Angel warriors in Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth try this quite often (Different indeed...). If only they'd stop shouting as they did so.
- Sarine in Errant Story has the dubious honour of being the first to backstab someone from the front with a sword.
- The Fox Sister: The Kumiho's fighting style of blindsiding an opponent and attacking from behind sure isn't pretty, but effective.
- In Homestuck, it's something of a recurring theme. Vriska, John, Bro, Dave,and possibly others are all killed by being either stabbed or shot in the back. Some of them get better.
- The final fate of the Head Alien in the main continuity of It's Walky!.
- In The Noordegraaf Files, Violet does this to Kat in their sparring match. Or at least TRIES.
- In The Order of the Stick, Elan gets stabbed in the back by his Evil Twin brother Nale, serving as Nale's reveal to the rest of the characters as...well, evil.
- In River Passage, this is how the "jungle girl" was fatally wounded.
- In Sluggy Freelance Advisor Magon does this within three panels of his introduction, just to make it clear that he's "morally challenged." And in case there's any lingering doubt, he does it four more times in the next strip.
- Thistil Mistil Kistil: Loki in action. Good thing that Coal's already dead.
- Zebra Girl: Bloo takes Sandra by surprise and drugs her by behind while her attention is focused on Mike.
- In The Gamer's Alliance, many villains and antiheroes keep stabbing their targets in the back. This is particularly common among the various thieves guilds.
- In episode nine of There Will Be Brawl, Zelda stabbed Link in the back with his own sword.
- During the 'Recovery One' miniseries of Red vs. Blue, Agent South shot Agent Washington in the Back. He really likes to bitch about that.
- At the end of an episode of Atop the Fourth Wall, a villain appears behind Linkara, shoots him in the back, and calmly removes the magic gun from Linkara's unconscious body and walks away.
- Archer: At the end of "Diversity Hire", Conway Stern stabs Archer in the back immediately after saving Archer from two Cuban hit squads.
Archer: Conway, buddy, are there more Cuban hitmen behind me?
Archer: You dick.
- In the Season 2 finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang's attempt to enter the Avatar State is promptly shut down by Azula putting a lightning bolt into his back.
- Commander Zhao attempts to hit Zuko in the back when they fight a duel early in Season 1 (Zuko having just won). Unfortunately for Zhao, Iroh is right there and knocks him on his back, berating Zhao for his lack of honor.
- In the wartime Disney cartoon Commando Duck, Donald Duck is floating downriver when a slew of Japanese snipers aim their guns at him.
Sniper 1: All right, here he coming! Time to shooting now, please, I hope.
Sniper 2: No, no, wait, please. Japanese customs say only shooting a man in the back, please.
Sniper 1: Oh, thank you. (giggles)
- In G.I. Joe: Renegades, The Baroness isn't having much luck against Snake Eyes, so when he turns to face Storm Shadow, she takes the opportunity to get in a free hit (and earns a very threatening reproach from Storm Shadow).
- Il était une fois...: Two of Le Teigneux's characters do this to their respective enemies, but never get away with it:
- In "The Age of Vikings", Viking!Teigneux, a chief-turned-outlaw, stabs Viking!Pierre in the back with his sword, only to get killed by Viking!Pierrot.
- In "The Quattrocento", Renaissance!Teigneux, caught up in a vendetta with Renaissance!Nabot, uses a stiletto to kill Nabot in similar fashion. He dies because Nabot has poisoned his wine.
- This is how Brainiac 5 kills Imperiex in the Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon.
- Looney Tunes: In The Unruly Hare, Elmer Fudd has Bugs Bunny at gunpoint.
Bugs Bunny: Only a rat would shoot a guy... (turns around) ...in the back.
Elmer: (starts to pull on the trigger)
Bugs Bunny: I reiterate: only a big, fat rat would shoot a guy in the back.
(Elmer shoots — a smoke cloud appears where Bugs was)
Elmer: (facing the audience) So I'm a big, fat wat!
(Bugs appears out of smoke)
Bugs Bunny: (in Jerry Colonna voice) Ah! Have some cheese, rat! (shoves cheese wedge in Elmer's mouth)
- Played with in Rocky and Bullwinkle, during "The Last Angry Moose", when Boris Badenov impersonated a Hollywood agent to bilk Bullwinkle out of his money:
Narrator: Now why should Boris stand there patting Bullwinkle on the back?
Boris: Heh heh heh, just looking for soft spot for de knife!
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
- Star Wars Rebels: In "Legacy of Mandalore", Gar Saxon attempts this twice. First, he tries to sneak up on Ursa Wren with the Darksaber, but Sabine and Ezra see him, and Ezra loans Sabine his lightsaber so she can stop him. Second, after Sabine defeats him, he tries to shoot her in the back while she's walking away, but Ursa sees him drawing his blaster and shoots him first.
- Steven Universe: In "Same Old World", it's revealed that the poofing that began Lapis Lazuli's Trauma Conga Line came via her getting punched in the back. This is a key factor in why she and the attacker responsible, Bismuth, don't recognize each other when they meet each other properly later.
- Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!: In the Season 2 finale, Mandarin doesn't just stab Antauri in the back, he does so in the back of his skull for added effectiveness.
- In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), Shredder kills Splinter with a stab through the back in the Season 3 finale.
- Despite the legends, The Gunslinger in the real Wild West was quite likely to meet his fate like this:
- The real-life assassination of the real-life Jesse James by the real-life coward Robert Ford happened in exactly this fashion. Ford himself was killed years later by one Edward O'Kelley, who walked up behind Ford and at least said "Hello Bob" before unloading both barrels of his shotgun. O'Kelley, in turn, was later justifiably (though not related to the murder) shot by police.
- Gunslinger and outlaw (and later subject of a Bob Dylan album and song) John Wesley Hardin was shot in the back. His killer, John Selman Sr., got off by claiming self-defense on the grounds that Hardin could see him reflected in the barroom mirror Hardin was looking at. Like O'Kelley, Selman was later justifiably shot by a lawman in an unrelated incident.
- Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back by Jack McCall. It happened to him the only time he ever sat with his back to the door. (McCall shot Hickok in the back of the head, whereupon Bill stood up and began to draw his pistol and turn toward his attacker before falling across the table dead. Reflexes like that qualify Hickok for Epic Badass status.) Like the previous two back-shooters, McCall got away with it — at first. However, problems with the first trial, the legal status of Deadwood itself, and the fact that Jack started bragging about it led to a second trial, after which he was quickly and efficiently not shot, but hanged.
- Pat Garrett, the man who gunned down Billy the Kid, was shot in the back of the head. Unlike the previous examples, the killer's identity is still a matter of dispute; one man confessed, but was acquitted and a few years later vanished from history completely.
- Famed Lakota warrior chief Crazy Horse was reputedly bayoneted in the back.
- While in the Wild East... One 19th Century Chechnyan warlord surrendered to Russians (yes, Chechen Wars aren't exactly new stuff), and the other kept fighting. On one occasion they met, and when the first one was leaving, the second shouted at him to turn around, because he wanted to at least shoot him (for mentioning surrendering to Russians, what he saw as treason), but wouldn't shoot him in the back.
- Truth in Television. It has actually been proven that it is significantly easier for soldiers to kill their opponents when their backs are turned, especially if they are retreating. An opponent facing a shooter or attacker is a human being and a face that conveys a variety of emotions, immediately triggering a fundamental human aversionnote to killing one's own kind. On the other hand, a person fleeing triggers predatory "pursue and kill" instincts, and the killer doesn't see their face, thus dehumanizing their target, making shooting or stabbing them much easier. A person from behind also resembles the standard "person silhouette" target used on many target ranges, making it easier to revert back to training mentality and shoot.
- This is true in melee as well. Approach an experienced fighter from the front with violent intent and whipping out a weapon might not save you, but catch one by surprise and things look quite different...
- For all their 'gallant knights of the air' image, the fighter aces with the most kills were ruthless Combat Pragmatists who preferred to attack from above and behind to get the advantages of speed and surprise, ideally from out of the sun with the opponent a novice flyer without the skills to avoid the attack.
- In the British news magazine Private Eye, the section where all the really scandalous stories about incompetence and/or malfeasance in public office can be found, is located, and appropriately titled, In The Back.
- In some forms of execution by firing squad, a soldier condemned for dishonorable crimes will be tied to a chair and shot in the back as he's considered to not deserve the "honor" of being shot in the chest.