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Murphy's Bullet

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"What is it Wallace always says? It's not the bullet that has your name on it you have to worry's all those other ones marked 'To whom it may concern.'"
Greg Rucka, Queen and Country

Bullets are funny things. Sometimes a villain will shoot at the hero many, many times, but every time he aims, he misses. Yet, on the one time he doesn't aim, the bullet ricochets off the wall and hits the hero. Or one of the bullets that missed the hero hit someone close to him instead. With Murphy's Bullet, anything that can be hit, will be hit, even if it requires the bullet to go through walls and bounce off objects. As long as it causes the hero pain.


Related to Bizarre and Improbable Ballistics. Most often happens because the villain is trying for More Dakka. Compare Bullet Holes and Revelations. Contrast Exactly What I Aimed At, where they seemed to miss but didn't.


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     Comic Books  

  • Tara Chace from the excellent comic series Queen and Country managed to avoid all the bullets...except for one ricochet, which hit her in the leg.
  • Occurs in The Spirit, but with a knife — a poor-sighted savage constantly aims at her husband but misses, and when she aims at the Spirit, hits her husband instead.
  • Almost happens in the Yoko Tsuno story "Devil's Organ", where an old man goes ballistic trying to shoot a bat with a carbine and the bullet hits several corners before hitting Vic Video, Yoko's partner. Fortunately, Vic's head is merely grazed by the bullet (which missed him for merely millimeters), but Yoko almost goes into an Unstoppable Rage at that, grabbing the weapon and pointing at the maddened old man.
  • Bambi's death in Strangers in Paradise.


  • The John Wayne movie, El Dorado where he buys a "a gun for a man who can't shoot," which turns out to be a sawed-off shotgun. Later, John Wayne is the only man in their band hit by in the final fight... the doctor finds shotgun shrapnel in the wound and wants to know who would bring a gun like that to a fight like that.
  • The scene in Goldfinger where Tilly fires at Goldfinger but misses completely and hits the ground next to James Bond instead.
  • Sleepwalkers has a hilarious editing failure where a policeman is trying to shoot a woman but shoots the vase next to her and breaks it - and then he shoots and breaks the same vase again.
  • Caddyshack II has a Murphy's Golf Ball. One character has a slice so bad the ball goes the exact opposite direction he was aiming. So he turns around.



  • In the Discworld novel Pyramids, Pteppic decides to fail his Assassin's Guild final exam in style and deliberately aims his crossbow away from the target. The bolt ricochets off several objects before burying itself in the target. The examiner comments that he is not a fan of these new, flashy techniques but passes him as the end result was achieved.
  • In the Belisarius Series. Ashot dies from a musket shot, which richochets under his helmet and breaks his neck. The shot was fired by a Malwa soldier from beyond maximum effective range. The Malwa army was already fleeing, leaderless and panicking.
    • John of Rhodes and Wahsi suffered similar fates from a blind-fired siege gun and a knocked over rocket, respectively.
  • The Dresden Files have an example. In one book, a gun goes off in a struggle between Harry and a crazy porn star, hitting a random bystander in the hallway. Of course, this was the result of a very powerful and targeted bad luck curse as well.

     Live Action TV  

  • Another Tara, Tara McClay from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was killed by a random bullet that was fired in the air by Warren. And this was immediately after Willow had managed to make things right with Tara, making this a very clear-cut case of Diabolus in action. Although Warren does manage to hit Buffy, his target, as well.
    • This one pushes the envelope even for Diabolus ex Machina as the bullet is shown to have shattered the window, and there's no way, given Warren's height, Tara's height, and the height of the window from the ground, that a bullet could have traveled that path unless it was a Roger Rabbit bullet that took a sharp turn in midair.
    • Additionally, this magic bullet would have also had to have made another sharp turn after killing Tara in order to avoid also killing Willow who was standing directly in line (but on the opposite side) of Tara
  • A nonlethal version appears in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when Bashir and O'Brien are playing a game of futuristic racquetball. O'Brien is established early in the episode as a spectacularly unlucky player (due to the unrevealed Phlebotinum of the Week messing with probability), but when the weird probability-altering device begins evening things out (reversing all the bad luck into good and vice versa), no matter where he or anyone else throws the ball it will always come back to his hand.
  • Appears in The West Wing; a gang of white supremacists attempt to shoot Charlie because they dislike his dating the President's daughter. They miss him entirely, but succeed in shooting the President and Josh. As you might expect, the Secret Service take a dim view of this. Justified, however; the shooters were firing at the presidential motorcade from a high-rise building using handguns, which are notoriously unreliable at a distance if you're trying to hit a specific target.
  • In one episode of Supernatural, there's a MacGuffin that gives you incredible luck as long as you hold it, but if you lose it, your luck gets progressively worse until it kills you. Sam has already lost it, and it is now in Dean's possession. Being Genre Savvy, the rival takes advantage of this trope, assured that any bullet she aims at Dean will instead hit Sam. It works.
  • Happens in 1000 Ways to Die. In one case, a drunken redneck shoots into the air and kills an Innocent Bystander who was a mile away. In another two hitmen try to kill a mafioso who has betrayed the group, but the reinforced glass from the car deflects all of the shots... and one of these shots kills the hitman who shot it.


  • Heavily implied in "Mexican Blood" by Thin Lizzy. (All we know is a) a cowboys son is looking for trouble, b) the Mexican boy tries to gun him down c) when the smoke clears, the Mexican's girlfriend lies dead on the ground.)

     Real Life  

  • President Ronald Reagan was a real-life version of this trope. When John Hinckley shot at him, he missed with every shot - the bullet that actually hit Reagan ricocheted off the security glass of his presidential limo and struck him in the side. Until Reagan started coughing up blood while being rushed away in the limo, no one even knew he'd been shot.note 
  • This is the reason Napoleonic warfare was developed. If the soldiers didn't stand together to mass their fire (and bayonets), they'd have been sitting ducks for cavalry charges, since early muskets were so inaccurate they often missed at near point-blank range. Same thing for early rocket artillery.
    • "The soldier's musket, if it is not too badly calibrated, which is very often the case, can strike a man at a distance of 80 yards and even up to 100 yards. But a soldier has to be very unlucky even to be wounded at a distance of 150 yards, this on condition that his adversary aims well. As for firing on a man at a distance of 200 yards, you might as well aim at the moon hoping to strike it."
    • Gunsmiths of the time actually could make more precise weapons, but they were agonizingly slow to reload, as the tight fit of bullet to bore would require a time-consuming inch-by-inch ramming of the bullet into place, along with precision workmanship being costly. Given the widespread use of poorly-trained mooks as soldiers, and the persistence of a standard battle formation originally developed in ancient Greece, it was more practical to use a cheap weapon whose bullet could be more quickly loaded, and to heck with accuracy.
  • In modern warfare, it's usually caused by soldiers using automatic weapons and being scared for their own lives, (1) they don't worry as much about aiming, and (2) the recoil from the previous round throws off their aim anyway.
    • This is also the reason why staying calm is paramount in videogames with realistic recoil, such as Counter-Strike or Battlefield 1942.
    • The actual strategic purpose of full-auto is basically to make a scary noise so the enemy will be too busy hiding to shoot back. Works well if you have an ammo truck following you, but for a small fireteam it's a good way to get stuck in enemy territory with empty guns.
  • To pilots, this is known as the "Golden BB", a shot that should not have done anything somehow managing to hit something vital. Pilots of the P-51 Mustang in World War II joked that their plane could be shot down by any sharp-eyed boy with a plinking gun, due to the liquid cooling system the engines used.
  • Some really stupid people like to fire guns into the air during celebrations. When the bullets come down, they're still pretty dangerous if they happen to hit someone. Straight up, they hit terminal velocity and slow down as they fall. Any kind of an angle, and the rifling spin is still in play.


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