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Playing Possum

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"Quando omni flunkus, moritati." note 
Motto of Possum Lodge, The Red Green Show

A small-scale exchange of fire has just taken place. The bad guys see one of the heroes lying on the ground, apparently dead, with a sword or whatever sticking out of them.

They approach the apparent corpse, or corpse is brought to them via The Body Bag Trick. As they stand over them, the "corpse" opens their eyes. And beats them up.

In Real Life, this is a war crime and has been since at least 1948. The Laws and Customs of War state that those soldiers that are hors de combat ("out of the fight") a category that includes prisoners, the severely wounded, sailors abandoning ship, the dead and ejecting aircrew — although not paratroopersare not to be attacked. Feigning that status is perfidy and highly illegal, since it would lead to the other side killing the genuinely wounded on the spot (which is a war crime too) to make sure.note  Of course, fictionally (and non-fictionally), you're often up against people who aren't signatories to the Geneva Conventions... That said, provided that you don't initiate attack, playing dead until your enemy goes away is not a war crime.

Playing dead in Real Life does have its perks in specific situations. When being confronted by certain animals, like bears, who are hardwired to mostly take interest in prey that look alive and kicking, if you can pull it off long enough the animal in question will most likely leave your body alone, giving you a chance to escapenote .

Note that Playing Possum is a phrase inspired by the Virginia opossum (colloquially, many American dialects drop the first "o" from the name when spoken, hence the term), which famously feigns death and produces a rotting smell. Australian possums (which are named after the Virginia opossum) are not noted for employing this strategy. Unfortunately for the opossum, this response to danger is involuntary and often leaves it incapacitated in a dangerous situation.

Subtrope of Faking the Dead. Buried in a Pile of Corpses is a specific sub-trope. See also I Surrender, Suckers. Compare Defensive Feint Trap and Sick Captive Scam, in which a captive pretends to be hurt or ill rather than dead to get the drop on his captor. Contrast Finger-Twitching Revival and Of Corpse He's Alive. Not to be confused with Dead Person Impersonation. May involve a Mistaken Death Confirmation depending on the circumstances.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Lubbock from Akame ga Kill! plays it after an attack so his opponent thinks he killed him. But when he realizes that his opponent wants to murder a young woman, he gives up the play and attacks him.
  • Several of the immortals in Baccano! do this when they realize the immediate threat they're facing won't leave right away. They have the ability to will their bodies not to reform back into a whole for an undisclosed amount of time, but it has been implied that a person can go for minutes in this apparently dead state.
  • Hei from Darker than Black does this in the second episode, at which point we and some hapless goons learn both that his Badass Longcoat is bulletproof and that he doesn't really go in for that whole "fighting fair" thing.
  • The Big Bad of EDENS ZERO uses this to get a surprise attack on Poseidon Nero. What really sells it is that the Big Bad, Ziggy, is a robot who just got decapitated, something not all robots are guaranteed to survive, and makes his move with his headless body right after Nero shows off his "lifeless" head.
  • In Future Diary the members of the temple of Tsubaki play this. But Yuno quickly realizes that it's just played.
  • In Goblin Slayer a goblin shaman in the first episode pretends to have been killed in order to surprisingly attack the titular hero. But he already has enough experience to see through it quickly.
  • Inu Baka: Lupin always tries to play dead whenever he's intimidated by something (usually by much larger dogs).
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • In Battle Tendency, Joseph does this to evade notice from the Pillar Man Wamuu to head for a nearby mine cart.
    • Stardust Crusaders: Jotaro plays dead in order to draw his opponent, DIO, within attacking range. As Jotaro currently has a bunch of knives in his body, he can't afford to take any more hits from DIO, so he waits until DIO is practically inches from him, having to stay silent while holding his breath and temporarily stopping his heart to make DIO come closer to deliver the blow to his head. During this, Jotaro points out the irony of the situation: his opponent can stop time, during which Jotaro has to put a lot of effort into moving, but now, he's putting all his effort into remaining as immobile as he can.
    • Golden Wind: In his battle with Cioccolata, Giorno lands a bullet straight into his head and Cioccolata drops dead. But Giorno immediately could tell he's faking it and takes the time to explain how he knows Cioccolata is pretending to be dead and how he'll approach to finish him off. Cioccolate quickly drops the act and tries to kill Mista, only for a stag beetle to burst out of him from the bullet that was shot by Gold Experience.
  • Deed attempts this during the finale of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS so she can perform one last sneak attack on Teana (it fails thanks to Vice), though since she was struck by stun rounds, it's more accurate to say that she was playing unconscious instead of playing dead.
  • In Monster Musume, an orc terrorist guns down a special forces operative trying to sneak up on him, leaving her riddled with bullet holes and lying dead on the ground. Then the operative later gets up and shoots other terrorists with rubber bullets, revealing that she's a zombie, so she was already dead to begin with.
  • One Piece: During the Arlong Park Arc, Usopp is chased by one of Arlong's men, but manages to escape him by covering himself in ketchup and pretending to have been hit by one of the fishman's water bullets. However, Usopp becomes ashamed of how cowardly he's being while everyone else is fighting for their lives and calls the fishman back for a real fight. He gets beaten up a bit, but perseveres and actually manages to win.
  • Jessie and Gourgeist when the latter was a Pumpkaboo do this to a Salamence in an episode of the Kalos arc of the Pokémon anime series, letting its guard down long enough for Jessie to put a device on it, which causes the Hoenn dragon to go on a rampage and blast Team Rocket off again, requiring the Nurse Joy of this episode’s Wigglytuff to fight it, due to the Kanto Pokémon now having an advantage because of its Fairy typing.
  • Rebuild World:
    • A Scary Scorpions type of monster does this to ambush hunters. Akira has to have his Virtual Sidekick Alpha highlight the living ones with his Augmented Reality vision to know which bodies are safe and which to attack.
    • Since Alpha is Invisible to Normals, one time when someone actually can see her, she makes a simulation of her body being killed and leaves it there (it is only an avatar after all), continuing to act as Mission Control. She uses this to distract Akira's opponent at just the right moment with what looks like an attack from behind, allowing Akira to strike.
    • Akira undertakes a Training the Peaceful Villagers task to turn Sheryl's slum gang into a hunter gang with AR training, where Alpha provides her Mission Control assistance to Akira's opponents in mock battle. She orders them to play possum, making Akira move up to them and head shot them with simulated rounds to counter this.
    • A certain villain trying to kill Akira, the Back from the Dead Zelmo, being terrified of Akira thinking he's doing this after he pulled a fantastical Blade Brake Wall Run stunt and fell unconscious. Backing Away Slowly, instead of trying to finish him, the villain goes to procure an attack aircraft instead.
  • Samurai Champloo: Mugen against a Shaolin-trained swordsman at the end of "Lethal Lunacy". After pretending to be weakened by his opponent's chi attack, he waits for the swordsman to come close to strike the Coup de Grâce, only for Mugen to kill him with a knife built into the opposite end of his sheath.
  • Sakura from Zombie Land Saga resorts to playing dead (even though she's already a zombie) when the parent of a baby boar shows up in front of her. Needless to say, the boar reacted by eating her and separating her head from her body.

    Comic Books 
  • Commando. One story features an American soldier who specialises in disarming the Booby Traps left behind by the retreating Germans. He starts discovering taunting messages inside the traps, left for him personally by the German soldier who planted them. Eventually he comes across the 'corpse' of a German soldier that suddenly leaps up and attacks him. As the American had defused all his bombs, the German had decided to use himself as the ultimate booby trap.
  • Hellboy: Daryl the Wendigo kills the jaguar-demon-possessed Agent Daimio by pretending to have died from the injuries the latter inflicted on him (when he actually has a Healing Factor that makes him near-indestructible), then springing back to life and attacking right as the werejaguar is reverting back into Daimio's vulnerable human form.
  • Kid Colt (2009): Sherman Wilks' first attack on Colt and his sidekick Hawk starts with a rifle shot that takes Colt off his horse, and Hawk worries that he's dead. He's actually playing possum, as the bullet only hit his gun arm - which doesn't surprise Cold Sniper Wilks at all, as he wasn't shooting to kill in the first place.
  • Preacher: Cassidy does this when investigating a Serial Killer's apartment. Just as he finds the corpses (and the guy whose face was cut off and nailed back upside down) he hears the police coming in and realizes he's been set up. So he grabs the first scalpel he finds, jabs it in his throat and plays dead.
  • In Red Daughter of Krypton, Lobo fights Supergirl. At the beginning, he tries to drive her mad so she can't fight effectively. When his tactic doesn't work he plays dead until she stops pummelling him and leaves.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man: Spider-Man used this trick when he had to fight to Enforcers and Electro all at the same time, and Ox managed to grab and attack him.

    Comic Strips 
  • In one Garfield strip, while travelling through the countryside, Jon has a car game where he, Garfield, and Odie imitate animals they see. After seeing cows and pigs in a field, he cries "A possum!" as there's the "Thump!" of the car hitting something in the road, with the next panel having Garfield and Odie on their backs with their limbs sticking up.
    Jon: (annoyed) Very funny.

    Fan Works 
  • A Growing Affection has Kakashi pretend to be caught by a foe's mind control technique, so he can learn more about their combat and tactics.
  • Better Bones AU: This is Firestar's signature move as it is in canon, but unlike in canon it doesn't stop being a Chekhov's Skill after the first series - in the Great Battle, Firestar's spirit is seemingly killed and dissolves into nothing in his fight with Tigerstar, but he is just faking and quickly reconstitutes and kills Tigerstar.
  • Boldores And Boomsticks: Some of the Grimm captured by Devon Corp for study do this trying to trick the scientists into letting them out. Luckily Team RWBY are wise to their tricks.
  • Piccolo in Dragon Ball Z Abridged tries this only for Vegeta to show up and ruin his plan.
  • In Hellsister Trilogy, Supergirl makes her heart stop while Satan Girl is pounding on her, so tricking her counterpart into lowering her guard.
  • In Pony POV Series, Princess Celestia beats Queen Chrysalis in a Beam-O-War, unlike in canon. Chrysalis still wins their fight by pretending to be knocked out and then attacking Celestia when she drops her guard.
  • In The Second Try, Kaji pretended to be dead after getting shot by a henchman to throw him off.
  • Snow Blind: After being kidnapped by the Nightwatcher, Donatello tries to escape by pulling this (pretending that he'd passed out from his stab wound, then kicking the vigilante in the face when he got close enough). It doesn't work, seeing as how he's chained up and the severity of his injury means he can't move too much without hurting himself worse.
  • What About Witch Queen? has it happen twice:
    • Soren Nexø crawls into a pile of dead bodies so that charging Weselton cavalry won't notice him. He later strikes them from behind.
    • George Gardner fakes his death to throw off Arendelle's pursuit. When Arendellans come to check if he's truly dead, he briefly contemplates attacking them but decides that even if he'd manage to take one down, the other would most certainly kill him.

    Films — Animated 
  • Ice Age: The Meltdown: The opossum brothers Crash and Eddie, as well as their adopted mammoth sister Ellie, do this every time they notice a predator. Unfortunately for them, they're rarely wise about it; the first time they demonstrate it, it's against a vulture who is neither fooled nor picky about eating dead things. Another time, Ellie tries playing dead while Cretaceous and Maelstrom are destroying the ice float she's standing on, to which Crash and Eddie have to get her to move because she'll drown if the two sea monsters don't decide to eat her anyway.
  • This is Ozzie the opossum's schtick in Over the Hedge and he tries to get his daughter Heather to do the same. She does so in the climax when she's confronted by Gladys.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Army of Darkness a Deadite tries this tactic, but...
    Ash: It's a trick. Get an axe.
  • Back to the Future:
  • In Big Game, it's implied that Oskari only plays dead/unconscious when Hazar enters the Air Force One, as he later uses it to attack him from behind.
  • The Big Red One. German infantry lay doggo around a knocked-out panzer and its dead crew, planning to ambush the main troops once The Squad of Americans have finished their recon. Fortunately Lee Marvin's character notices the mixed uniforms (panzer troops have red piping on their shoulder tabs, but infantry have white).
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Prospector in "All Gold Canyon" spends half the episode searching for the elusive vein of gold only to be suddenly shot In the Back when he finds it. The claim jumper calmly rolls a cigarette as he watches the prospector, unmoving and bleeding out from his wound, but once he jumps into the hole to steal the gold, the prospector then begins to attack the man, dazing him with dirt, then steals his gun and kills him.
  • Coming Home in the Dark: After Mandrake thinks he's killed Hoaggie, he approaches Hoaggie's unmoving body, whereupon Hoaggie strikes him in the face with a rock, and proceeds to beat him with it.
  • In The Dark Knight The Joker uses this to gain control of a gang.
  • Karl does this in Die Hard. It goes rather poorly for him.
  • In Dragonheart:
    • Bowen does this in the Novelization after falling off a wall during the training scene at the start.
    • In the film, Einon does this briefly after falling down a flight of stairs. Einon can't actually die unless Draco does, because he shares Draco's heart.
    • In the sequel, Dragonheart: A New Beginning, Osric and his men do this. Osric pretends he's dying in order to try and get half of Drake's heart, but when Geoff realizes that he's not hurt, Osric and his "dead" men jump to their feet and attack.
  • Played straight in Enemy at the Gates, with two characters both pretending to be dead in order to eliminate a German officer. On the other hand, the German soldiers were bayoneting corpses just in case.
  • In Fatal Attraction, Glenn Close appears to be dead — but wakes up and attacks Michael Douglas again.
  • Force 10 from Navarone: When they notice that they're being followed by two Chetnik soldiers, Mallory shoots his gun in the air and plays dead so they will get close enough that Barnsby can shoot them.
  • Fury (2014) depicts this as a tactic common to both the Germans and Americans in the last days of World War II.
    • The film begins in the aftermath of a battle where the Fury, the tank crewed by the main characters, has been damaged. They pretend to be just another destroyed tank on the battlefield until it is fixed again to make sure the Germans don't finish them off. "Wardaddy" ambushes and brutally kills a German officer in the opening seconds by using this tactic.
    • In the first major battle, Norman, the resident New Meat, is instructed to use one of the tank's machine guns on a pile of German bodies. When Norman protests shooting the bodies, the tank's driver Gordo points out that any one of those "bodies" could be somebody pretending to be dead while concealing an anti-tank weapon, then shoot their tank In the Back as they roll by.
    • During the final battle, "Bible" has to leave the (relative) safety of the Fury to grab a weapon. He goes over to a pile of dead bodies and tries to grab a gun... only to find that the German holding the gun is very much alive and now has a near perfect chance to kill a surprised Bible.
  • The bad guys sometimes pull this trick as well. See Hot Shots! Part Deux for a spoof of this.
  • Fredrick Zoller in Inglourious Basterds gets shot In the Back by Shosanna and sinks to the floor lifelessly but when she comes closer to check up on him, he turns around and shoots her as well before dying.
  • James Bond:
    • On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Tracy gets rid of a SPECTRE guard by throwing him down the staircase, apparently knocking him out, but when she tries to run down the staircase he jumps to his feet and attacks her again.
    • Octopussy: Bond escapes Kamal Khan's palace by hiding himself in one of the body bags of mooks Kamal had killed earlier.
    • GoldenEye: During their escape from the Cuban satellite facility, Natalya plays dead in an elevator to lure in a guard, allowing Bond to ambush him from the ceiling and take his weapons.
    • In Casino Royale (2006), Bond's first kill stops struggling a bit too quickly while being drowned in a toilet. He also waits a bit too long to leap back up and makes a bit too much noise doing it, allowing Bond to retrieve his gun and kill him for real, leading to the Bond Gun Barrel, which segues into the opening titles and theme.
  • Jeepers Creepers 3: Some of the Creeper's victims that he stored in the back of his truck manage to survive for a while by playing dead.
  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The Indoraptor seems to know what tranquilizer darts are and fakes being tranqed when Wheatley puts two in his neck. Then when Wheatley enters its cage to take one of its teeth, it waits till he's in the perfect position for the last and most terrifying surprise of his life. The Indoraptor can be visibly seen smirking during this.
  • BB uses this trick against her mommy near the end of Kill Bill Volume 2.
  • King Cobra: Seth lures in and kills one of the hunters tracking him by playing dead.
  • At the end of The Odds (2019), Enforcers enter the room shooting, and the player feigns having been shot to get the drop on one of them.
  • In P2, Angela performs one of these after a game of chicken, allowing her to stab her kidnapper in the eye, grab his keys to uncuff herself, and then cuff him to the car door.
  • Nearly ten years into the war against the Kaiju in Pacific Rim, Kaiju have taken to doing this so that Jaegers will drop their guard. After Knifehead does this to Gipsy Danger in the prologue, resulting in Raleigh's brother being killed, Raleigh decides to Double Tap the next Kaiju he fights.
    Raleigh: I think this guy's dead. But just in case, let's check for a pulse.
    Raleigh: No pulse.
  • Patient Zero (2018): When some soldiers are identifying dead bodies in the crematorium, one of them is revealed to have been doing this when he gets up and attacks.
  • In The Patriot (2000), Col. Tavington does this at least once.
  • The Pianist: During the razing of Warsaw, Szpilman finds himself with nowhere to hide when he hears a squad of Germans approaching. He lies down on the pavement and doesn't move so they will assume he is one of the many civilian corpses littering the streets, with success.
  • In Plunkett & Macleane Plunkett uses this to lethal effect during the finale.
  • Prey (2022): Raphael tries to do this when the Predator returns to the trappers' camp and it almost works thanks to the herbs he took earlier lowering his body temperature and making him invisible to the Predator's thermal vision. Unfortunately, the Predator not knowing he's there backfires on him when the creature inadvertantly steps on his injured leg, causing Raphael to scream out and be promptly killed.
  • The Professionals. After Dolworth shoots Chiquita, who used to be his former lover, he goes over to the dying woman to give her some water. While he's cradling her in his arms, she puts her revolver under his chin and pulls the trigger, but the gun is empty. Neither of them take this personally, with Chiquita just saying it's not her lucky day.
  • Purgatory: Billy the Kid falls down with a dead bandit, closes his eyes, and slooooowly reloads his gun.
  • In Rambo III, Rambo shoots down a huge Russian gunship with a small bazooka, by playing dead until it approaches within point-blank range.
  • In the movie Runaway Jury, Marlee plays possum to stab a hitman's leg.
  • The Running Man: After being knocked off his motorcycle, stalker Buzzsaw lays face down on the ground for quite a while while Ben Richards tries to help Laughlin, before Richards slowly walks over to him, leans down to check the body, only for Buzzsaw to rear up with chainsaw in hand and continue the fight, that would ultimately end up with the chainsaw between Buzzsaw's legs.
  • In the climax of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Trevor Slattery is roped into participating in the final battle, but given he has zero combat training, he instead opts to play dead. Especially once the threat goes from normal human mooks to horrifying soul-sucking monsters, it seems to be the best move he could've made.
  • In Shooter, Bob Lee Swagger is badly wounded after being shot twice, but as a highly trained Marine Scout Sniper, he is far from disabled. He plays up his injuries so FBI Agent Memphis will get close to him, then quickly disarms him and steals his car.
  • Liam Neeson's character Bryan Mills in the movie Taken does this in one scene. After Mills massacres all the bad guys in the kitchen, the men standing guard outside run in to find the cause of the commotion. They see a room filled with dead bodies. Suddenly Mills begins firing from underneath a corpse.
  • The Thing:
    • Most notably with Norris-Thing. It doesn't quite work out as planned, though. Instead of being treated like a dead body, Norris-Thing is shocked with a defibrillator and retaliates by biting off Doc's Arms when he goes in for a second shock.
    • It was more successful with the attack on Bennigs by what was assumed to be a completely dead and burned body.
  • Tigre uses this tactic in an attempt to get the drop on Jim at the start of Tumbleweed. Later, Jim, Murch, and the remains of the posse do this to lure the Yaqui into ambush range.
  • In Today We Kill... Tomorrow We Die!, O'Bannion pretends to be dead to lure the remaining Comancheros out to investigate, then grabs one of them to use as a Bulletproof Human Shield as Milton and Fox unload on them.
  • In the finale of Vengeance! (1970), the hero pretends of have Died Standing Up after killing hordes and hordes of mooks, before remaining montionless as the Big Bad comes over to check if the hero's dead. The villain looks upon his supposedly deceased enemy, starts gloating, and is promptly ambushed and killed via Slashed Throat.
  • Zombieland and its golden rule, the doubletap, is key to avoiding this kind of situation with zombies.


By Author:

  • This tactic is used so often in the WW2 novels by Sven Hassel that veteran soldiers never pass an enemy corpse without putting a bullet in it.

By Title:

  • In the German book series Chronik Der Unsterblichen the hero gets ambushed. Together with some soldiers, he has to resist an attack by robbers. One of the soldiers pretends to have been killed in combat, but the hero says it will not do help him much because the robbers will later probably make sure that all who attacked them are really dead.
  • Conqueror: Tsubodai comes up with such a plan in Wolf of the Plains when the Mongols move to attack the Shizuan fort. Those with the hammers feign death and, when the Xi Xia soldiers come to loot their corpses, they jump up and attack the now-open fort with the rest of the Mongol army waiting just around the mountain.
  • Harry in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He is apparently killed by Voldemort. It doesn't quite work. He ends up playing possum until he can slip away unnoticed, only to confront Voldemort again and come out on top.
  • Honor Harrington : In On Basilisk Station, Honor convinces the Havenite spaceship Sirius that Fearless (Honor's spaceship) is dead in the water, so it will come close to finish her with a barrage... only for her to avoid the barrage and bring out her grav lance, which leaves Sirius wide open for a devastating attack that destroys it.
  • Invoked in The Inheritance Cycle's third installment, Brisingr, when King Galbatorix starts enchanting soldiers so they feel virtually no pain. They can thus play possum when they really are sorely wounded.
  • This is used in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, during the siege of Helm's Deep. After Aragorn and Éomer have run off a group of Uruk-hai, a dozen of them pretend to be dead and leap up on them when their backs are turned — only to have Gimli pop up and cleave off two of their heads.
  • In Sky Jumpers, Hope, Aaren, Brock, and Brenna do this in the bomb's breath to get the bandits who are after them to stop chasing them.
  • In Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Triumph, Sharpe survives Dodd's massacre, as the Sole Survivor, in the opening by this method.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love, Lazarus Long, having lived for 2,000 years and fought in numerous wars, mentions that he knows to "waste" a bullet in any "corpses" he runs across during battle.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact, when Maggs attacks Kolding, he goes down. Gaunt tries to stop Maggs, and Kolding reappears to clock Maggs from behind; he explains to Gaunt that he thought it wiser to stay down — and that Maggs had clearly been hallucinating.
  • This is the favorite move of Firestar from Warrior Cats. When in an enemy's grasp, he goes limp, making the enemy think he or she has won. Then when they're least suspecting it, he strikes!
  • The Witch of Knightcharm: An evil Wizarding School considers this to be a valid tactic for winning duels. The protagonist Emily winds up fighting her roommate and loses when the roommate, Megumi, collapses and fakes being defeated until Emily lets her guard down, at which point she unleashes a powerful attack which knocks Emily out of the dueling ring.
  • In The Witchlands, when a group of pirates is searching the shore for any survivors of a battle, Iseult covers her face and pretends to be one of the dead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 100. The captured Ark kids pretend to be unconscious when the Mountain Men toss knock-out gas canisters into their dorm. Once all the Mountain Men are inside the dorm, one of them just barely has time to realize the gas canisters have been put in buckets of water, neutralizing them, before the kids rise up and start killing the Mountain Men with Improvised Weapons.
  • Downplayed slightly on Babylon 5: During the Earth-Minbari War, Sheridan destroyed the Minbari warship Black Star by luring it into a Space Mines trap with a distress signal. The distress signal was legitimate, as Sheridan's ship had been crippled by the Black Star and assumed to be dead (and they went along with pretending to be dead at first until they could set the trap), but as per Word of God, Sheridan knew that the Minbari response to a distress call would be to find and destroy the surviving ship, not to rescue the crew, and that they'd get there before any EarthForce assistance could arrive.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Helpless" the Monster of the Week gets round the Must Be Invited problem by wrapping himself in Buffy's red cloak (which he took from Buffy earlier) and lying on the verandah. When Buffy's mother runs out to check on her apparently injured daughter, he takes her hostage.
  • Michael and Sam get into a fight by a pier in Burn Notice. Unable to beat Michael in a straight up fight, former Navy Seal Sam tackles him into the water and tries to choke him into unconsciousness. Michael goes limp as if he has passed out, waits for Sam to drop his guard and then wallops him hard enough to knock him out for real.
  • Call of the Wildman once demonstrated why this idiom exists when a literal possum pretended to be injured while Turtleman was trying to remove it from a house. It wound up being removed anyway but the ploy briefly worked.
  • Carnival Row: Vignette pretends she hanged herself in the holding cell to escape when the police open it. She then tries to flee but is caught.
  • Community: this seems to be Troy's go-to move when caught in an awkward situation or confronted by someone angry with him, typically with him saying something along the lines of "pretend like you're asleep", such as when he and Abed caught mocking other students during the end tag of "Social Psychology".
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Invasion of Time", one of the savage Gallifreyans, after telling Leela I Will Only Slow You Down.
      • Gallifreyans in general are quite good at this. Romana once escaped a Dalek slave-labor camp this way, after realizing they were just dumping dead slaves outside.
    • One of the pirates in "Meglos".
    • In "The Curse of Fenric", one of the last surviving Soviet soldiers plays dead after being shot by Millington. He is later able to deliver a fatal shot to Millington and save the Royal Marine captain, leading to the two sides joining forces.
    • "The Shakespeare Code": Alien witch Lilith uses a Voodoo Doll to stop the Doctor's heart... but she doesn't know that he has two. He stays down in order to get her to leave thinking that she's actually killed him.
  • The Flash (2014): In "Flashpoint", The Rival pretends to be knocked out, then stabs Wally in the back as soon as he looks away.
  • Horatio Hornblower: In "The Frogs and the Lobsters", Master Bowles plays dead and kills a French soldier whose uniform he needs for another rather dirty trick — Dressing as the Enemy. He's a British guy in the Royal Navy, so we still love him. He was sent to accompany General Charette to brief Captain Pellew about their progress, but nearly everybody in the troop gets killed except him, and the General advises him to disguise himself and return back to his ship, as it is not right to die in a foreign war. In addition, the French soldier was stealing valuable things from the dead and had it coming.
  • Kyūkyū Sentai GoGoV and Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue had the Rangers pulling this once to beat the Monster of the Week. They took a powerful attack head on and dropped on the ground laying motionless, waiting for the monster to approach before blasting him at point-blank range with their V-Lancers.
  • One Life to Live. Blair leaves her husband Asa to die of a heart attack. When she returns home and prepares to play the grieving widow, she's terrified when he leaps up and grabs her arm (it was merely chest pain and he recovered after getting the pills she denied him).
  • Primeval presents it with humour. Connor is supposed to watch out for an anaesthetized Raptor, but he asks if the Raptor is really stunned or if he just does not play it. Nick jokingly says that raptors are intelligent animals and that he should just be careful.
  • The fake hanging trick is also used in The Professionals by a South African hitman in "Slush Fund". In this case he succeeds, killing the guard and leaving his body in the cell.
  • The Silent Sea. The Mole is ordered to steal the MacGuffin samples from the medical bay and Leave No Witnesses. There's a patient on a gurney but he appears to be unconscious, so he's left alone. After The Mole leaves the room however, the patient gets to his feet and hobbles for the door...only to find The Mole waiting for him outside with a gun ready.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • In episode "Journey to Babel", Kirk defeats an untouchably fast enemy ship by shutting down the Enterprise ship's power and pretending to be dead, causing the enemy ship to close in for the kill; this allows the Enterprise to disable the ship with one well-placed phaser shot.
    • In "Balance of Terror", the Romulan commander orders debris ejected into space (along with the body of his friend the Centurion) to make it look like his ship has been destroyed so that the Enterprise will drop its pursuit. The trick doesn't work.
    • In "The Ultimate Computer", the M5, convinced that "murdering" men and women on the starships in the war games deserves death, deliberately drops the Enterprise's shields to induce the other ships to destroy it. Kirk keeps the shields down in order to restore communications and the commander of the opposing force breaks off attack. Spock comments that this is just the type of trick that the M5 would have played, but Kirk trusted the other captain.
  • Supernatural. In "Nightshifter", Sam and Dean are hunting a shapeshifter who likes to Kill and Replace their victims. They find a corpse of a woman who is apparently alive in their custody, so they seize her and drag her off to confront her with the evidence. On seeing her own corpse she faints, whereupon the corpse comes to life as it's the shapeshifter playing dead.
  • A random, unnamed soldier does this in an episode of Torchwood, Faking the Dead in order to attempt to kill an alien. Most of the guards stationed at the entrance to a stockpile of United Kingdom nuclear weapons have all been slaughtered by the attacking alien, who has now crossed the entrance and is approaching the facility itself, when suddenly one of the soldiers lying on the ground bounds up, grabs his assault rifle and starts gunning right into the alien's back. It fails (damn forcefields), but still, badass.
  • Treadstone. A Treadstone agent shoots The Handler, clipping his ear with a bullet, so the handler falls to the ground and plays dead until the agent rides off on his motorcycle, then gets in his car and does the same. We then see the agent hiding by the road until the handler drives past so he can follow his handler back to his superiors.
  • Ultra Series: Kaiju can do it too!
    • Return of Ultraman has Jack battling King Maimai and utterly obliterating the monster in a Curb-Stomp Battle. Jack was about to execute the monster with his Specium Beam, but then King Maimai falls over, motionless and seemingly dead, so Jack decides to leave only for the monster to suddenly get up and ambush Jack via Projectile Webbing. Jack does managed to unwrap himself in time and finally kill Maimai for good by turning his Ultra Bracelet into an IED and shoving it down Maimai's throat.
    • Ultraman Ace has the monster Daidarahoshi, who seem to instantly get up once he's knocked down, until Ultraman Ace lands a devastating attack on Daidarahoshi's midsection. The monster seems to be down for real this time... nope, when Ace moves in closer for a better look, it got back up on his feet and tries to choke the life out of Ace.
  • Wednesday: When she's nearly caught sneaking into the morgue, Wednesday hides in one of the cabinet freezers. The coroner sees her, but assumes she's a recent delivery that he missed, even poking her face a few times to be sure (Wednesday keeps her deadpan expression the whole time). When Thing releases her, she asks for five more minutes.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • This is a trademark trope of Bret Hart. He would often fake being injured far more severely than really was (usually with the leg) in order to sucker his opponents into pinning predicament. During his feud with Vince McMahon in 2010, he executes a Batman Gambit revolving around this trope to screw his Arch-Enemy.
  • Used brilliantly by A.J. Lee in order to win the 2013 Diva's Battle Royale: early in the match, she gets kicked in the face and is apparently knocked out cold. She remains lying on the floor, 'unconscious', until there's only one competitor left, Layla, who thinks she's won. Layla is quickly told that she has to get AJ out of the ring to win; AJ keeps up the pretence until Layla's trying to haul her over the ropes, and then she pulls away and kicks Layla out of the ring.

  • A college football defensive coordinator was suspended for a game after it surfaced that he ordered his players to feign injuries to slow down another team's hurry-up offense, designed to keep the defense winded and unable to substitute players. However, feigning injuries in and of themselves carries no penalty, unless they're blatant. The only "penalty" for going down with an injury is to leave the field for at least one play ... an outcome the player faking the injury likely wanted to do in the first place. Now, to prevent such stunts, on the college and pro level, injuries cost the injured player's team (legit injury or not) a time out. If the team is out of time outs, ten seconds is run off the clock.
  • Similarly, during the 1988 NFL playoffs the Cincinnati Bengals faced the Seattle Seahawks in an AFC Divisional playoff game. During the game, as an attempt to stifle the Bengals' "attack huddle"; nose tackles Joe Nash and Ken Clarke feigned injuries a total of six times (all before 3rd down). The Seahawks tried the gambit again when the teams met two years later as well.
  • Feigning injuries also happens in other sports as well; see also "flopping".

  • In Henry IV, Part 1, Falstaff collapses in the middle of a fight to make his assailant leave him alone, while Hal gets on with fighting against Hotspur and kills him. After Hal has lamented for his dead enemy (the son his father would have preferred to have) and his dead friend (the man who regards Hal as the son he never had) and left the stage, Falstaff looks around cautiously in case Hotspur too is Playing Possum, stabs his corpse just to make sure, and then picks up corpse as evidence of his victory over Hotspur. When Hal points out that, actually, he was the one who killed him, Falstaff exclaims indignantly: "How this world is given to lying!"

    Video Games 
  • Army of Two: Rios and Salem can "Feign Death" after taking a certain amount of damage. They will collapse to the ground as if they had been killed, allowing them to recuperate while the enemies fire at the player's partner. This only works once per battle, since the enemies will see through the ruse and continue shooting them on subsequent attempts.
  • Splicers start doing this regularly by the end of BioShock, but it's certainly a scare the first time. "We tricked you, monster!"
    • This may trick your eyes, but not your interface: your targeting reticle will turn red when it aims at a seemingly dead corpse that is really a live splicer in ambush. Regular corpses have it keep its standard white color. Also, they'll still be holding their guns.
  • Call of Duty:
    • Some enemy soldiers, when wounded, will lay on the ground dying, but pull out a grenade or pistol and wait for the player to get close. It's also possible to do this in multiplayer, where if critically wounded your character can either pull out a pistol and try to take the enemy down with them (Last Stand), or drop a live grenade and blow themselves up (Martyrdom).
    • Call of Duty: World at War: The Japanese sometimes do this without being wounded first; at one point in the first mission, the player and his squad happen upon what appears to be a group of corpses. Within seconds, a flare shoots up, blinding everyone while the soldiers get up and surprise attack the unprepared Marines.
  • Dead Space has necromorphs do it, but it falls flat in part because after the first time people are never ever trusting of a dead body.
    • On the harder difficulty, however, the necromorphs will do it after you've shot them. Remember kids: In this game, just because you shoot its head off and it falls down doesn't mean it's dead.
    • In the second and third games, any attempt by the necromorphs to do this falls flat, since when a necromorph dies, it drops an item. Did it just "die" without dropping anything? It's still alive, stomp it to death.
  • In Detroit: Become Human, this is one possible way for Kara and Alice to escape being killed by the U.S. military during the chapter "Crossroads".
  • Divinity: Original Sin II: Undead player characters have the unique "Play Dead" skill, which pauses the Cooldown counters on their other skills but causes enemies to ignore them — the ruse is easier to maintain when one has no vital signs at the best of times.
  • Dragon Age: The rogues have an ability called "feign death", which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Dual Cat: Exaggerated and Played for Laughs. The main character, Erwin, is so good at playing dead that enemies ignore him, bullets don't hurt him and rooms temporarily change their structure when he's in this state. He puts this skill to use to navigate a dangerous lab where his friend Max is kept captive.
  • Expert have a mook enemy wearing green uniforms, who needs two shots to kill. When shot the first time they'll fall over like every other mook, only to suddenly sit up and shoot you In the Back with their sidearm. Though you could tell they're not dead since they don't drop an item.
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening: Basilio takes advantage of Lucina's warning that Walhart killed him in her timeline to allow Walhart to nearly kill him and play dead, which proves to be crucial in Out-Gambitting Validar whose spies were no longer following "a dead man".
  • Five Nights at Freddy's: You get a phone call from your predecessor mentioning that if push comes to shove, playing dead can fool the animatronics into thinking you're an empty costume, saving you from getting stuffed into a metal-laden costume, though he doesn't think it the best idea. Some players think Phone Guy’s suggestion can buy them enough time in the event that they run out of power, but the game is not actually coded to check for your movement in the dark as a factor when determining how soon the jumpscare comes.
  • In Half-Life 2, there are several times that zombies fake being dead to then try to jump you when you approach them. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to test it by shooting things at them with the Gravity Gun.
  • Hollow Knight: Soul Master goes down with a long and flashy death sequence, before collapsing and dropping your reward like most other bosses. You get as far as walking up to your new spell and watching half of the absorption animation before he pops out of it and breaks the arena floor for another round.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: There are numerous old battlefields where the decayed husks of Guardians can be found and looted. Some of these Decayed Guardians are still alive and can still shoot at Link with their laser turrets. Even worse, sometimes fully intact Guardian Stalkers (distinguished by still having their legs) will be sitting among the Decayed Guardians waiting for Link to pass by before chasing him.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater: Snake is equipped with a fake death pill in case he gets outnumbered, which drops his vital functions down to almost nothing. When the coast is clear, he can bite down on the Revival Pill embedded in his tooth to get back into action.
  • Monster Hunter (2004): The monster Gypceros will feign death once he receives enough damage. If you fall for it and start carving him, he will flail around wildly, dealing huge damage if you're too close. You can tell if he's just pretending by checking your quest info or by throwing a paintball at it: if the dot in the map is pink, he's still alive, if it's grey he is really dead. You can also tell if he's the only monster to fight and the "quest complete" notice hasn't shown up yet. Players on capture quests can use this time to set up a trap for when he wakes back up, as he's low on health enough to be captured when he does this trick.
  • No More Heroes: Bad Girl will drop at random and start crying, though there are times her hands are completely off her bat, which means she's open to a Travis Touchdown spanking. If she's got one hand on her bat, approaching her is a bad idea.
  • Assassins in Nuclear Throne will pull this trick to try and sneak up on the player, but have a subtle tell that sets them apart from actual corpses.
  • [PROTOTYPE]: Near the end, Alex pulls this off to get close to Gentek director McMullen.
  • In Radia Senki Reimeihen, this takes the place of the escape command, where the entire party plays dead to trick enemies into leaving. Curiously, this can be used (and works best) before the battle has even begun, with the result that monsters leave your party untouched after the sight of them apparently gives everyone fatal heart attacks.
  • In Ragnarok Online, Novices can learn Trick Dead to play dead and drop all enemy aggro while doing so. This skill is forgotten when the character changes class, even to a Super Novice.
  • In Red Dead Redemption 2, opossums will try this, appropriately enough. Get too close to one and it will slump to the ground, complete with prompts to skin it or pick it up. If you try to do so, it will suddenly hiss, causing Arthur to step back, before it flees.
  • Resident Evil:
    • The zombies in several of the games have a tendency to do this, falling to the ground after you've damaged them enough, but getting back up a short while later (or gnawing on your legs if you get too close). The key is that they're not really dead until you see the spreading pool of blood beneath them. You can also encounter some zombie bodies lying on the ground that fools many first-time players into thinking they're already dead, only to immediately get bitten at the ankles and find out that the body was a zombie lying in wait.
    • Resident Evil: Outbreak: Jim Chapman can do it right back to them, plummeting to the ground to make zombies ignore him for a while. It's balanced by the virus gauge climbing at a much faster rate, so you can't just lay there forever.
  • The enemies in Rise of the Triad will attempt this, both in playing dead and faking surrender to get you to lower your weapon.
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice plays with this trope. When your health bar is depleted, you really are dead, but thanks to your Resurrective Immortality, you can revive back on the spot. Once an enemy sees that you've died, most non-bosses will turn back and return to their posts, giving you a chance to sneak up and land a Back Stab on them. However, if you wait too long to revive yourself, you will stay dead and get booted back to the last checkpoint.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei IV, one boss, King Kenji, will exclaim that you beat him and fall down, and an option to grab the item you were fighting for appears. It's a trap and you're supposed to ignore the item, as the boss will get back up and continue fighting afterwards.
  • Splinter Cell: Conviction's co-op crosses this with last stand. After being shot Kestrel or Archer can go down, then lean up and start shooting. They've still been shot however and will bleed out without the other agent giving them some first aid.
  • In Syndicate (2012), Agents Ramon and Merit do this. When you approach them to do a CHIP-rip, they get back up and attack.
  • Tales Series:
    • Karol from Tales of Vesperia can do this with one of his skills in order to regain HP/TP and escape enemy notice after he's been knocked down. He's a bit cowardly, so it fits.
    • Returns as a skill usable by multiple party members in Tales of Xillia, cowardly or not.
  • Team Fortress:
    • Team Fortress Classic: This is one of the powers of the Spy, either dropping silently pretending to be a corpse that's been there for a while or with a loud death cry. Beating A Dead Player ensues. Due to an oversight by the developers (the feigning Spy is "solid" while a dead body isn't), anyone can instantly recognize feigning Spy just by walking over him. What happens then is known as "Crowbar".
    • Team Fortress 2: The Dead Ringer drops a fake corpse when the Spy is damaged, and makes the Spy invisible. Can be very useful to get behind and backstab an enemy, if they don't hear the Dead Ringer's very loud decloaking noise.
  • In the Future level of Time Commando, there are space-suited monkey things that will try to do this. Remember, it ain't dead if it don't fade!
  • Tomb Raider: Anniversary: The final boss goes down and Lara slowly approaches with her guns drawn. The boss turns her head and then quickly leaps to Lara, grabbing her by the neck, and tossing her aside while taunting her with "I cannot die, you fool. Sooner or later, you'll run out of bullets!" This may be a lampshading of the fact that Lara never runs out of bullets (at least for her basic guns).
  • Unreal and Unreal Tournament: In the earlier editions of the game, it caused the player to rather obviously fall over very slowly without bending any joints, leading to a "hinges in the feet" type of effect. Later games corrected this with the use of a ragdoll engine, though it returns in Unreal Tournament III.
  • World of Warcraft: Hunters' Feign Death move. Like similar moves in other MMOs, it causes monsters to stop attacking the Hunter, thinking him dead, although it can fail.
    • It also has its uses against other players, but since you're still attackable while you're "dead" and your pet will continue attacking them instead of disappearing like it does when you're really dead, it's unlikely to fool them for long. But even though smart players can see through it easily, the fact that it forces them to stop targeting you can nonetheless save your skin, as it'll interrupt any abilities that have a cast time and possibly get them to focus on somebody else in the vicinity instead.
    • Truth in Television, as it turns out, World of Warcraft saved the life of one kid.
  • Riki from Xenoblade Chronicles 1 can do this to make enemies leave him alone and become invincible for the duration. However, he's so durable that his HP will rarely get low enough to warrant its usage, and the minor heal and brief damage buff it provides upon its expiration aren't worth the amount of time he needs to be out of commission. It's not so much bad as it is simply outclassed by the other potential abilities he could be using instead, though.

    Web Comics 
  • Girl Genius: Evidently Violetta has seen her aunt the Lady Margarella Selnikov play dead before and initially thinks she's doing so again when she is killed by the Beast, removing the cloth respectfully placed to cover her mangled face convinces Violetta that she's not faking this time.
  • In Godslave, Edith pretends to have fallen unconscious so that Turner would stop punching the walls with her and turn his attention to Anpu, whereupon she goes for the final blow.
  • In Housepets!, Jessica pulls this when confronted with a live gargoyle statue. Bonus points since she's actually an opossum.
  • In Kaspall, the Captain successfully resorts to this as a way of gaining information from people talking near his body.
  • In No Rest For The Wicked, November's technique when facing a bear. Her sister had recommended it in the past.
  • In True Magic, Kiku pretends to be dead after Joe “kills him” with a tickling technique in their match. The nobleman overseeing the pit matches knows that Kiku isn’t dead when he investigates more closely, but declares him dead anyway.

    Web Original 
  • Natural Habitat Shorts: "RI Possum" not only shows a young possum playing dead (a skill he uses for pranks, but also shows the same possum assuming his dad is just playing dead when he actually IS dead.
  • In Worm, Foil pretends to be caught in one of Gray Boy's time loops so that she can shoot him in the back.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: Argit's species as the ability to drop their pulse to a near death-like state to fool attackers, to which Ben snarks "How else could a species that annoying survive that long". It helps that Argit actually looks kinda like a humanoid opposum with porcupine quills.
  • On Big City Greens, Tilly pretends to die of boredom so she doesn't have to listen to her dad giving a self-reliance speech to Remy. Cricket joins her afterwards, claiming it's contagious.
  • The Duck Dodgers episode "Duck Deception" at one point has Dodgers being beat up by an alien gorilla which he plays dead to avoid. The gorilla, looking concerned, puts him down gently... then beats him up some more.
  • In Justice League Unlimited:
    • In "A Better World", the Justice Lords have captured most of the Justice League and have them locked up and heavily monitored, including vital signs, to ensure no chance of escape. The Flash ends up pulling a fast one by accelerating his heart rate so fast, it looks like he's flatlined on the monitor. When the Justice Lord version of Batman rushes to help him, the Flash gets the drop on him and frees everyone.
    • During "For the Man Who Has Everything", Wonder Woman plays possum when she's first attacked by Mongul in order to surprise attack him. She even tells him in a Badass Boast "We inferior species call it 'playing possum'."
  • Kulipari: An Army of Frogs: A village of possums have a Running Gag of playing dead whenever they get spooked which prompts someone to say "We know you're not dead". note 
    • In Kulipari: Dream Walker, when Stinger and Darel's siblings barge in on a council meeting, the possum representative gets spooked and falls right down.
  • Kung Fu Panda: In Secrets of the Furious Five, Po relates how Mantis had to learn Patience after getting captured and being unable to escape until he played dead and tricked his captors into opening his cage to remove his body. Po of course treats this like an awesome kung fu technique instead of an obvious ploy.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Elmer Fudd does this in the cartoon "Wabbit Twouble" to avoid being attacked by a bear and it works, then Bugs Bunny decides to have some fun by pretending to be the bear himself. A very similar scene also happened at the end of the cartoon "Hare Remover".
    • The Bugs Bunny cartoon "The Fair-Haired Hare" and the Sylvester and Tweety cartoon "Muzzle Tough" both share a joke where a character "wears" a bearskin rug and another character shoots it repeatedly thinking that it was playing possum for twenty years straight.
    • Again presented in "Hare Brush" when Bugs-as-Elmer plays dead, the bear sniffs him, averts, then buries him in a hole (which is actually a cliff ledge, through which Bugs-as-Elmer plummets into a river).
  • In The Penguins of Madagascar episode "Smotherly Love", there is a possum, who, well, plays the possum to beat Hans and free the penguins.
  • The Pixie and Dixie cartoon "Ghost With The Most" has Dixie playing possum when Jinks clobbers him with a fireplace shovel, making a very paranoid Jinks think he's killed Dixie.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998) play possum in "Aliver," a reality show where they've been competing against Princess Morbucks who cheats her way through the contests. Princess is so heartbrokenly contrite that her last trick had killed the girls that she confesses she cheated. Then the girls wake up.
  • In episode 4 of Primal, after Fang is unable to climb up the rock spire where the Bats Out of Hell took Spear, she pretends to be dead so that the bats would carry her up onto the spire as well.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: In the last few minutes of the Grand Finale, Marco is in a stretcher and needs a distraction so he can get out of the stretcher and race to a portal on the edge of town, his supposed last chance of seeing Star ever again. Janna provides the distraction, stopping her own heart for 60 seconds, taking the attention of the paramedics away from Marco, allowing him to escape.
  • The Transformers: Nightbird, the female ninja robot, uses this tactic on Optimus Prime and the other Autobots after Prime hits her with what he says is a simple stun blast.
  • Transformers: Animated: Ratchet does this to Lockdown in "Thrill of the Hunt". Lockdown later responds in kind, saying he'll have to remember that one. Funnily enough, while Ratchet knows the name of the trope, he has no idea what it refers to.
    Ratchet: The humans call it "playing possum". Don't ask me what a possum is.
  • Yogi Bear:
    • In "Yogi Bear's Big Break", one of Yogi's attempts to escape Jellystone Park involves lying motionless on an exiting car's fender to make it look like he'd been shot by a hunter. The plan backfires when the Ranger, knowing that hunting isn't allowed in the park, decides to make sure he's really dead by prodding him with a pin.
    • In "Baffled Bear" , Yogi plays possum in an effort to avoid getting hit by oncoming traffic (a new superhighway was built around the tree in which he was hibernating). It appears to work, up until he gets flattened by a steamroller.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television just recently: at least one "dead" Islamic terrorist turned out Not Quite Dead and killed at least one U.S. soldier. Despite the perfidy and the laws of war mentioned above, the squad was savagely smeared by the media when the same soldiers, days later, shot a "corpse" for making a sudden move. Fortunately, it ended up into nothing.
  • Another example of Truth in Television — during World War II, Japanese and German soldiers often played dead and ambushed US troops when they passed, or took advantage of corpsman willing to treat them by letting off grenades — a cruel move. One Marine veteran wrote of possum squads — Marines who, after a battle, were tasked with bayoneting "dead" enemy corpses.
  • Happened in 1918 in the Finnish Civil War during the battle of Varkaus. The Reds had feigned surrender, and the Whites advanced over a lake of ice to the Reds' positions. Once they were at point-blank distance, the Reds opened machine-gun fire. The Whites retaliated by an all-out attack and having overrun the Reds, then shot every fifth of the captured and wounded Reds on the spot. This incident is known as "Huruslahti Lottery" in Finnish history.
  • In 1984, "Subway Vigilante" Bernard Goetz reportedly told one of his vanquished muggers "You don't look so bad, you could use another" before firing another bullet at him. As the mugger was only shot once, it is unclear if Goetz hit with the first then missed the second, or missed the first and hit the second, and if the mugger was down at the time or if he was still legitimately defending himself against a threatening target.
  • When the State of Qi during China's Spring and Autumn period was entangled in a Succession Crisis in 685 BC, the two pretenders, with their retainers, were racing back to the capital to be enthroned. When a retainer of Pretender Jiu saw Pretender Xiaobai, he promptly shot Xiaobai — but only hit his belt buckle. Xiaobai quickly played possum to fool Jiu's faction and won the crisis.
  • Anthony Sadowski is regarded by historians as the greatest Polish frontiersman of the American Colonial period, being a renowned trader and Native American interpreter. But before he ever immigrated to North America, he went to help defend his native Poland from the Swedish invasion in 1701; his brother was killed in an ambush and Anthony was taken captive. After resisting torture on the rack for two days, he was thrown on a prison ship. He invoked this trope, pretending to be dead so the guards would stop paying attention to him; then, after night fell, he tied a bag of coins around his neck and dove into the water, swimming nine miles back to shore. He escaped recapture and execution by boarding a ship to the United Kingdom.
  • Injured Barn Owls will sometimes go limp and pretend to be dead when being rescued, examined, or treated. The unwary rescuer, animal health professional or rehabilitator can either (a) end up with a handful of talons; (b) wind up chasing an injured but terrified predator around the clinic; or (c) both, if they fall for it.
  • The Trope Namer, the Virginia opossum, mentioned above.
  • This is actually recommended practice when encountering grizzly bears. Wild brown bears aren't generally interested in humans as a source of food, but they do tend to see us as a threat when we wander into their territory especially if they have cubs, so lying down and staying motionless and quiet can get them to leave you alone, if you have no other options. American black bears will just kill you if you try this, so the recommendation is always to retreat (preferably without turning your back on the animal), make noise, and fight as hard as you can, and always be sure of what kind of bear you are dealing with before playing dead. Either way, it's better to be prepared with something like bear spray when going into the woods than trying to rely on Playing Possum working, because the bear you run into might just be the bear who it doesn't work on. Note that it's really less about "playing dead" and more about trying to lay as flat against the ground as you can get while protecting your vital organs in order to minimize the amount of damage the bear inflicts before it loses interest. Also, something like 20% of all grizzly bear attacks are now believed to be unprovoked acts of predation.
  • 19th century Ohio anatomist Joseph Nashe McDowell claimed to have done this to avoid being lynched. As was a common practice at the time, he'd acquired a body for dissection via Grave Robbing, only to be tracked down by infuriated relatives of the deceased. Having hidden the body, he lay down on his own dissection table with a sheet drawn over himself and played dead. Checking under the sheet, the vengeful mob didn't recognize him and left him there, assuming he was just another cadaver.
  • The Hognose Snake will often respond to a threat by rolling onto its back with its tongue sticking out and might even poop to simulate a corpse voiding its bowels. As soon as the enemy looks away, it will retreat. Hilariously, if the snake is rolled onto its stomach, it will immediately roll back onto its back, which would defeat the purpose of it pretending to be dead.
  • Foxes sometimes play dead. And when a crow approaches to eat the supposed carcass, the fox attacks them. Hyenas use a similar tactic to catch vultures.
  • In this viral video, an African painted wolf named Notch that was in the jaws of a lioness holds perfectly still pretending to be already dead so it can escape as soon as the lioness lets go.
  • A species of goat called the Tennessee Fainting Goat will do this when it is spooked (typically by a loud noise). The goat with fall over on it's side (or sometimes flat on it's back) with all four legs sticking out straight. Many videos of fainting goats can be found online.
  • One of the survivors of the Jonestown Massacre was a 79-year-old man named Grover Davis. He realized that he had missed the announcement to assemble on the loudspeaker, instead laid down in a ditch and pretended to be dead.


Video Example(s):


Blu and Jewel Play Dead

Blu and Jewel play dead in order to try and escape the poachers. The plan fails however due to Blu not being able to fly and Jewel getting caught by Nigel the main antagonist of the film.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / PlayingPossum

Media sources: