Black Knight: Yes I have.
Arthur: [exasperated] Look!
Black Knight: [takes a look, and another look; beat] Just a flesh wound.
On television, as well as in movies, there seems to be this general idea that if someone is shot in the shoulder, or in the leg, then the worst that happens will be that the person will grimace and go on with what he was doing before he was shot. Getting shot in the leg may cause him to hobble around a bit, but no worse than a knee sprain. A "good guy" will sometimes shoot someone in the leg or shoulder, "just to stop him," and in television and movies, this is almost always nonlethal.
In reality, there's no "safe" place to shoot a person, not even in a seemingly non-vital extremity like a leg or arm. There are huge blood vessels in a human being's shoulder as well as lots of very delicate nerves and a very complex ball-and-socket joint that no surgeon on Earth can put back together once it's smashed by a bullet. The legs also contain large blood vessels; a shot that nicks the femoral artery will cause a fatal loss of blood in only a few minutes. And this is all assuming a "clean" through-and-through wound, disregarding the possibility of the bullet glancing off a bone or joint and deflecting or fragmenting into pieces, of which each can then hit something else more important inside. In short, there's no way for anyone, good or bad, to shoot someone and know that they will survive the wound. As they say, if you're shooting at all, you're shooting to kill.
But this trope is so widespread that it's caused people to assume that it's an accurate reflection of reality. In truth, since there isn't any safe place to shoot at, police and soldiers usually aim for the center of mass (i.e. the torso) simply to increase the odds of hitting the person in the first place. Trying to intentionally wing a target increases the odds that you'll miss entirely or end up hitting someone else. When dealing with dangerous criminals and where innocent lives are on the line, presumably, hitting the target, and only the target, should be top priority.
Insofar as this trope has any truth to it at all, it comes from the fact that the largest muscle pads on the human body about the only type of tissue which can take a wound of impressive visual nastiness that isn't necessarily incapacitating or life-threatening are in the thighs and the outside (not the center) of the shoulder. The gluteus maximus also suffice, but that particular target zone is often felt to lack dramatic gravitas. This is despite it being a relatively common wound among retired soldiers because of its size, and because getting hit there is (comparatively) less lethal. Hitting someone on the other side of their body, in the groin, on the other hand, pretty much guarantees they will bleed out very quickly.
When the character insists on this, regardless of evidence to the contrary, he is saying I Can Still Fight! (which he does not, in fact, have to survive).
Video Games are usually an exception. Draining a game target's HP is quasi-realistic enough to kill/destroy it even if all damage was to the legs or arms. In games with dismemberment, taking off a limb may lead to instant death. Very few video games actually feature bleeding and those that do tend to be Overdrawn at the Blood Bank. Surprisingly, a person suffering a traumatic amputation in Real Life is often less likely to bleed out due to an autonomic muscle clamping response that closes major blood vessels. In these cases, a clean cut or puncture is actually more dangerous.
Do note that many of the examples below are subversions or outright aversions. A small part of Reality Ensues.
See also Major Injury Underreaction, Hollywood Healing, Critical Existence Failure, Didn't Need Those Anyway!, Unexplained Recovery, and 'Tis Only a Bullet in the Brain. Contrast with Instant Death Bullet. Particularly egregious examples would fall under the category of No One Could Survive That!.
- During the Compare the Meerkat advert, "Battle of Fearlessness", Alexandr's grandfather is wounded and Sergei's grandfather holds him and screams to the sky. Alexandr's grandfather sits up and says:
"Quiet down! It's just a fur wound."
- Eddie Murphy deconstructs this trope in a bit from his club days captured on his eponymous debut album. He tells the audience about having seen a friend get shot, and contrasts how it happens in the movies with all the standard clichés, ("I'll be OK ... go on without me") including the name of this trope with how it happened in real life: his friend screaming endlessly and yelling "Motherfucker, I've been shot!"
- In one of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham's concert films, "Spark of Insanity", this comes up when one his puppets, Achmed the Dead Terrorist, explains that he has finished his job as a suicide bomber but insists that he feels fine and is not dead.
Jeff: But you're all bone!
Achmed: It's a flesh wound.
- Light and Dark The Adventures of Dark Yagami features a final battle in which Soichiro Yagami and Watari, having been irradiated, set on fire and taken unholy amounts of punishment beforehand, continue to fight each other after having hacked each other's arms off.
"YOU ARE THE WORTHIEST BLOODY BUGGER I HAVE EVER FIT" watari gasped booting soichiro in the gut.
"Well you are WORTHIER!" soichiro ground back doing a headbutt right into watari's face.
- In a James Bond Fan Film Property of a Lady, one of the mooks is shot in the leg, interrogated (without the wound being bandaged or anything) and is then able to walk not 15 min. later.
- Warriors of the World: Soldiers of Fortune averts this trope when Valkron gets a blade in his left shoulder. His left arm is rendered completely useless for the remainder of the time, he can't fight, he's bleeding profusely and the only thing stopping him from falling unconscious from shock is adrenaline — and even that was only for a while since he eventually passes out.
- When Tails refuses to hand over Cosmo to him in Episode 73 of Sonic X: Dark Chaos, Tsali throws him to the floor and rips his heart and lungs out of his chest with his bare hands. Tails responds by turning into Shroud Tails, immediately regenerates his wounds, and retaliates in kind.
- Thoroughly averted in the Supernatural fic Down to Agincourt, in which a minor bite from a brownie (the fairy kind, not the chocolate kind) gives Dean a systemic infection that literally kills him twice and which he spends months recovering from.
- Averted in Fire Emblem Fates fic A Brighter Dark where even "light" hits are enough to effectively remove a character from play for long periods of time. Though less noticeable than other examples due to frequent timeskips.
- Naruto: The Abridged Series spoofs this in the first episode where Iruka-sensei gets stabbed by a gigantic shuriken:
- In Hero House, Vegeta isn't quite as concerned about losing his hand as he should be.
- A.A. Pessimal's Discworld fic Why And Were sees Assassin Johanna Smith-Rhodes having her left arm broken when a leopard goes for her. note . After being patched up by an Igor, she goes back into battle with a splinted and plastered left arm. and ends up in a position where she has one silver-plated crossbow bolt and a direct line of sight on a wereleopard. Knowing the impact of firing a crossbow on a newly broken arm will not do it any good at all, she fires anyway...
- In Cars, a totaled racecar insists that he can still race as he's being towed away.
- Happens to Lightning McQueen in Cars 3 when he crashes violently in the Los Angeles 500 as a result of pushing himself too hard. But after a 4 months recovery in Radiator Springs, he appears to not have any lasting injuries and is not paranoid about the crash itself but more about what that crash could mean for his racing career.
- In the first Shrek, Shrek is shot in the ass with an arrow. After Fiona pulls it out, without any other first aid, he's fine. He didn't know it was even there until Fiona pointed it out.
- Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children:
- Cloud getting stabbed in the shoulder by Sephiroth with no ill effects, and worse, a few minutes later, Yazoo shoots him in the back, with the bullet coming right out of his chest. He doesn't even get healed or anything...
- Advent Children Complete is even more guilty of this. After Cloud gets stabbed in the shoulder by Sephiroth, He gets thrown into the air, stabbed around 7 times (through the arms, shoulders, chest, one stab going THROUGH his knee and continuing into his shoulder). He then falls to the ground in a puddle of his own blood, pulls out Omnislash and is apparently fine except for being exhausted and having a few cuts ....Until Yazoo fires at him. He gets a HEADSHOT and doesn't really care about it. His glasses are gone though...
- Averted in The Transformers: The Movie, where Starscream shoots Brawl in the shoulder, killing him.
- "Rocky Raccoon" by The Beatles:
He said Rocky you met your match
And Rocky said, Doc it's only a scratch
And I'll be better
I'll be better Doc, as soon as I am able''
- Trapped in the Closet, Part 7
He says "Son, we gotta get you to a hospital and take a look at that wound."
Twan says "No, I'm okay. It's just my shoulder. All I need is a bathroom."
- "Trigger Happy" by "Weird Al" Yankovic:
Oh, I accidentally shot Daddy last night in the den
I mistook him in the dark for a drug-crazed Nazi again
Now why'd you have to get so mad?
It's just a lousy flesh wound, Dad
You know I'm trigger happy, trigger happy every day
- Bleak Expectations: Protagonist Pip Bin gets stabbed in a sword-fight and insists it's just a flesh wound. A deep flesh-wound. In fact, so deep a flesh-wound that it's gone straight to some of his vital organs, "but a flesh-wound nonetheless!" He's fine shortly afterwards.
- In the Magician episode of Another Case of Milton Jones, a rival magician shoots at our hero. Milton assures his girlfriend that he can catch the bullet... in his shoulder. "Ow", he adds.
- Averted in Aces And Eights. There are damage charts detailing four possible damage types: Gunshot, Slashing, Piercing, and Bludgeoning, and effects of different levels of damage inflicted depending on the body part. Typically anything around 7 and higher results either in a broken bone, severe bleeding, or a permanent injury regardless of location.
- Dark Heresy's (fairly absurd) Critical Damage tables avert this. It's about as easy to kill someone with a leg shot as one to the torso, and hitting anywhere can often cause blood loss (and resulting death...).
- Averted in FATAL. It's possible to damage the uterus on a male mook while avoiding everything else completely.
- GURPS has an optional "Only a Flesh Wound" rule to deliberately invoke this trope in less-gritty games.
- Damage charts in The Riddle of Steel are quite brutal; even glancing blows have the ability to knock out the target, and lower levels of damage still have the ability of tearing a muscle or breaking a bone. All damage dealt also causes the recipient to lose dice in their dice pools, effectively weakening their combat proficiency and further increasing the risk of injury or death.
- Witch Hunter: The Invisible World has the "It's Just a Scratch" talent, which allows the user to ignore the penalties from Light and Medium wounds.
- Averted in Cyberpunk. Much damage to an extremity will leave it useless, with the extra bonus of a saving throw to survive the shock. Besides this, damage is treated the same way as if you were hit on the torso (not in the head.)
- Invoked but ultimately deconstructed in Romeo and Juliet. Mercutio is wounded in his duel with Tybalt, who flies the scene, and fires off a string of darkly humorous puns, assuring his friends that it is "a scratch," yet "'Twill serve." He dies of the wound several lines later.
Mercutio: Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.
- Red vs. Blue:
- In the First season, Sarge receives a bullet wound to the head, and is resuscitated with standard CPR. Later in the early Second season, Caboose's toe is shot off and is rendered fine after being rubbed with some aloe-vera. In season 3, we come across a group of 'capture the flag' players, who get up after a trumpet is played, even after being shot point-blank with a sniper rifle. Even later, it is practice for the Red team to shoot Private Grif before enacting any plans. Regardless, it seems no injury is sufficient to render someone in the series dead indefinitely.
- In most cases, this is just Rule of Funny, although sometimes it's played a little more seriously. During Reconstruction, Caboose shoots Agent South Dakota. After a few minutes of battle, they approach her. She says she can't walk on her own but appears to be perfectly capable of standing (though that's partly due to the limitations of machinima).
- Forcibly played straight in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja. Doc is shot multiple times, passes out, and nearly(?) dies of blood loss. He refuses to die by arguing with the Grim Reaper that none of his wounds are fatal and missed all his vital organs (and then immediately drags himself back to the clinic for stitches and a quick blood transfusion). When Death mentions his arteries, the good Doctor responds by ripping off his head and batting it away with his body.
- Bob and George:
- Taken to extremes with Nate at one point - since he's a Yellow Devil who can shapeshift at will, even being splattered all over the walls is just a flesh wound to him.
- Averted here, where the Helmeted Author tries to claim that a huge chunk of physical energy through his gut is just a flesh wound, as he's already visibly pale from blood loss and immediately keels over afterwards. He gets better a few strips later when Nate removes his helmet and releases his true form.
- Concerned. Lampshaded near the ending when it was revealed that Gordon Frohman survived a ton of abuse and injury — up to and including zombification via a headcrab — because he was inadvertently using a cheat code that prevented his health from going below one. After he again-inadvertently turns the code off because "Buddha" is fun to say, he properly bleeds out and dies from all the wounds sustained from being thrown from the top of the exploding Citadel and then getting hit in the face with his also-falling shovel. Amusingly, an unofficial sequel set during Episode One then has him brought back by automatically reloading a checkpoint from just before he turned off Buddha mode.
- This was BLU Engineer's reaction when the new RED Spy cut his hand off in Cuanta Vida.
BLU Engineer: Relax, kid. I'm not gonna die.
BLU Scout: Jesus Christ, dude! Your hand!
BLU Engineer: I'll build a new one.
- Averted in Get Medieval: Asher suffers a shoulder wound and is reduced to talking status for a while.
- Girl Genius has a rather... extreme example.
Gil: Seven broken ribs. Severe fracture, right leg. Fractured clavicle. Some crush injuries, but the kidneys appear unharmed. First and second-degree burns on upper back and lower legs, third-degree on the lower back. Four broken fingers, three broken toes, sprained and bruised muscles throughout major and minor lacerations, and a concussion.
Klaus: I've had worse.
- It hasn't been explicitly stated in-comic, but Klaus was evidently stitched together from the remains of three brothers who were killed in a lab accident. So... he's not lying.
- Dimo the Jagermonster tries to shrug off his arm injury (referred to by the other Jägers as rhino-hiding, so they are obviously familiar with this sort of thing) and eventually loses the arm.
- Averted in It's Walky!: Jason is shot in the arm trying to help Sal escape prison. The wound becomes infected (since caring for a bullet wound isn't like caring for a shallow cut) and gets steadily worse until he can be convinced to see a doctor.
- In the Little Worlds comic named "Breaking In", Derby incredulously asks Eightball, "Aren't you supposed to be SHOT?" to which Eightball replies, "It didn't take." Apparently, a bullet wound ain't no thang. Earlier in the chapter, Eightball refers to the wound as a "rather inconvenient bullet."
- The Order of the Stick often has characters getting SNEAK ATTACK run through with swords and being okay to keep fighting. Or frozen into blocks of ice like the rogue guild's leader. Very dependent on having a name. The characters aren't supposed to represent real animal physiology; their health and wellbeing is based on the hitpoint system used in Dungeons & Dragons.
- Averted in River Passage, when a character bled to death from a single stab wound.
- This happens to Set in Sonic the Comic Online!. Tekno tries to murder him, by bashing his head in with a metal bar, and a few issues later he comes back and says that she didn't hit any major organs. He lacks any scars too.
- Soul Symphony: John fractures his arm in battle, preventing him from playing basketball for the rest of the season. He says the injury is "totally worth it."
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: Sigrun tries to pull this off after a troll bites her in the arm badly enough to require stitches. Unfortunately for her, Reality Ensues during a critical battle when the pain from the bite wounds leaves her unable to keep a grip on her dagger, and she's promptly slammed in the stomach by an attacking troll.
- And Shine Heaven Now subverts it; in spite of her bravado, the character is knocked down in the very next strip.
- In Yokoka's Quest, Mao's right wrist gets bitten by a snake-centipede, though it's not clear how deep it pierced his flesh. He continues using that hand to throw fireballs and Kalliv without difficulty later in that same fight.
- Discussed in this Straight Dope article.
- In Void Domain, many injuries that would be serious for humans in Real Life are rendered far more harmless thanks to the existence of potions. Demons don't need to bother with potions, their enhanced regeneration abilities render the loss of limbs as literal flesh wounds.
- Terrence of KateModern gets shot in the shoulder in "Answers". The pain causes him to pass out almost instantly, but he's up and about, and apparently unimpaired, a couple of days later. He is a former Shadow, though.
- Halfway through the Epic Rap Battles of History between Romeo & Juliet vs. Bonnie & Clyde, Bonnie shoots Juliet in the stomach. She got up a few seconds later, happily singing that "[her] flesh was merely grazed".
- Averted in the Batman: Gotham Knight segment Field Test. A bullet gets deflected off of Batman's new forcefield and into a gang member. What does he do? He rushes the guy at top speed to the ER and upon getting there says he has a gunshot victim with severe bleeding from the left shoulder.
- The Batman: In the episode "Traction", Bats tries to play off the wounds he suffered from the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown he got from Bane as this. Alfred doesn't buy it.
- In The Boondocks during a shootout with some Islamic convenience store owners, a police officer gets shot with a shotgun. Ed Wuncler III and the officer then begin quoting Holy Grail, with Ed grieving while the officer insists his bulletproof vest saved him. Then he gets riddled with more bullets. He survives that too.
- Family Guy:
- The episode "Believe it or Not, Joe's Walking on Air" features Joe being shot several times in various parts of his body while his wife attempts to re-cripple him. All he ever does is scream or yell "DAMN IT!!" before asking for the gun so he can properly shoot himself.
- Subverted in the later episode "Joe's Revenge", in which Joe shoots a criminal in the legs and then says he's going to arrest him. He looks away for a minute and when he turns back, the guy has bled out. "Must've shot a femoral artery." Oops.
- Spoofed in Futurama:
- The Robot Mafia guns down a fellow robot in cold blood. The robot then gets up, and the Donbot tells him that's a warning. (Robots can't bleed to death.)
- Also, one episode has Fry get infected with worms that increase his intelligence, among many other benefits — the first of which, much faster healing, is demonstrated when he comes into Zoidberg's office with a lead pipe shoved through his stomach:
Zoidberg: Well, if it isn't the hypochondriac. What is it this time?
Fry: Well, my lead pipe hurts a little.
Zoidberg: That's normal. Next patient!
- Zoidberg may be basing this on his own species' physiology, which, if "Roswell That Ends Well" is any indication, has several redundant organs. As he is being vivisected by scientists at Area 51, he chummily tells them (referring to his heart), "Take, I've got four of them."
- The episode "Deadly Force" is famous (infamous) for treating gunshot wounds in a mature and reasonable manner. The bullet wound that nearly kills a major character is very graphically described to have been to the collar bone, ricocheting off the bone, spiraling through her right lung and nicking the heart muscle. She's furthermore shown undergoing extensive surgery at hospital for the wound and is later seen on crutches as she recovers.
- Other episodes of Gargoyles avert this trope while playing it straight. Though the heroes only have to put up with wounds until the sun rises, anything more serious than a graze tends to leave them incapacitated for the rest of the night. It's also implied in the comics, and in "Hunter's Moon," that really nasty wounds will leave them weaker than usual for a time even though they're technically healed.
- In G.I. Joe: Renegades, Major Bludd has his right arm bitten off by an alligator in a swamp, only to calmly walk out of the river holding his stump, pausing only long enough to look back and say, "Hope ya choke on it!"
- The outcome of the Looney Tunes cartoon, "He Was Her Man". Based on the murder ballad, Frankie and Johnny, about a girl named Frankie, who is abused by her husband, Johnny, who then leaves her for another woman. When she runs into him later, she pulls out a gun and shoots him. Unlike the murder ballad, as she mourns over him when he collapses, he gets back up and says, "Aw, you just grazed me." She then hits him over the head, knocking him out.
- Played straight in Moonbeam City, with the four main characters, a mobster, and the piano player, all being shot in the left shoulder. The piano player's shoulder shot results in Dazzle losing his grip on a window ledge and falling from the Space Needle-like revolving restaurant, but he is saved from falling to his death by the piano player's flock of trained doves. The four main characters receive medals for their shoulder wounds.
- Averted in the Season Two finale of Moral Orel. While drunk, Clay accidentally shoots his son Orel in the leg. He is able to stop the bleeding by taking off a piece of Orel's shirt and tying it to his leg. Afterwards, he has to wear a cast over his leg. In the series finale, the cast is finally removed, but Orel walks with a limp for the rest of his life.
- On The Penguins of Madagascar, Skipper's wing is badly broken after a fall but insists that he's fine and that his flipper is bent like that because he's double-jointed. And he keeps insisting it even as he's in obvious pain while playing volleyball. And arm wrestling. And practicing hi-fiving.
- Averted in Rick and Morty. Mr. Poopy Butthole still has trouble walking even months after getting shot in the chest/abdomen by Beth.
- Pointed out and averted in Robot Chicken, when the Nerd dreams that he is in various The CW shows, starting with Arrow:
Arrow: We need to take out those guards if we're going to rescue Felicity!
Nerd: Cool, so, is this Season 1 where you kill every mother***er with a pulse, or Season 2 and 3 where you just give people crippling injuries that will make every day of the rest of their lives a hell on earth?
Arrow: I'm not a killer. I know that now.
Nerd: Got it, injuries, hell on earth, et cetera.
[Nerd proceeds to accidentally shoot the first two in the eye; cue third guard finally taking the "non-lethal" arrow to the leg]
Nerd: Yes! Consider him incapacitated!
Guard: [starts bleeding profusely] Oh my God! My femoral artery! (falls down and immediately dies)
- The Simpsons:
- Spoofed when Homer gets a job at the Kwik-E-Mart and Apu tells him that "in this job, you WILL get shot. Here's a tip: try to take it in the shoulder."
- Apu himself is a walking parody/example of this trope. He's been shot seemingly dozens of times over the course of his convenience store career yet has suffered no permanent effects. In one ep, he is shot yet again, and poetically muses, "Ah, the searing kiss of hot lead! How I've missed you! Wait... I think I'm dying." However, he does survive since the bullet ricocheted on another bullet that was lodged there in a previous robbery.
- Apu has numerous scars from his bullet wounds. He actually pulls up his shirt to show them off in one episode, complaining that the Springfield police need more funding so he won't get shot so much on the job.
- Homer spoofs it again when he gets himself into a duel with a Southern gentleman. When he's shot in the arm he starts screaming like a stuck pig but promptly forgets all about it when pie enters the conversation.
- Subverted in an episode of Static Shock where a single bullet to The Smart Guy's thigh sends him to the hospital in agony to teach the audience a lesson.
(Arcee has just been shot)
- Transformers: Prime: When Bumblebee is damaged by a Scraplet, Ratchet says it's Only a Mesh Wound.
- Also in the episode Dark Awakening of Generation 1:
Arcee: I'm fine, Daniel. It's only an exostructure wound.
- Oh, runnin' away eh? COME BACK 'ERE YOU YELLOW BASTARDS! I'LL BITE YOUR LEGS OFF!