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Pretty Little Headshots

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Spider-Mannote  and his assistantnote  demonstrating the new and improved Uncle Lee's No Mess Bullets!

"And the men of the First Shikaris
Picked up their Subaltern dead,
With a big blue mark in his forehead
And the back blown out of his head."
Rudyard Kipling, The Grave of the Hundred Head

Whenever someone gets shot in the head on TV, what generally happens is that they end up with a little hole in their head - and that's generally it. There may be a little blood on the wall behind them, implying a fairly gory exit wound, but not one you're likely to see.

In Real Life, a headshot virtually never leaves a neat little exit wound (the entrance wound may, however, be very "neat" in appearance). There is either no exit wound at all (the result of a low-powered or small round, or a shot from long range), or a pretty serious chunk of the skull is blown away by the exiting bullet (high-powered or large caliber bullets or a close-in shotgun blast). If the round doesn't exit the skull, the blood will be mostly around the entry wound, with possibly a bit of spatter if the victim jerked or twitched. If there is an exit wound, there's going to be bits of bone, brains, and blood (and maybe teeth) all over. Often it's implied that the neat little hole we're seeing is the entry wound, and You Do NOT Want to Know what it looks like from the other side — sometimes this will be lampshaded in order to keep the gore down while at least paying lip service to the messy reality.


Generally subverted in video games, where bullet wounds will often be represented by a large and messy blood texture placed over the point of impact on the target's model (and a healthy splash of red on the nearest wall behind them), and anything bigger than a pistol will frequently have the capacity to cause more obvious damage. The head usually still remains intact, though.

Contrary to popular belief, a gunshot wound to the head is not actually always fatal in and of itself, nor is it an Instant Death Bullet. Probably the most famous example of this was the head wound of Phineas Gage, who managed to survive a three-foot-long steel rod through his brain (not without ill effects though). For more details, see the Analysis page.

This sort of head shot has a startling tendency to occur exactly in the center of the forehead, especially when it would be unlikely, or even impossible to hit there.


It's generally a holdover from the days when Bloodless Carnage was the rule and is still often used to avoid getting a more restrictive rating than the producers of the show want.

Has nothing to do with Pretty Little Liars (unless, of course, there's gunplay going on).

Boom, Headshot! is required for this trope to happen. See also Bloodless Carnage, Magic Bullets and Moe Greene Special. Contrast Pink Mist and Your Head A-Splode. This is very unlikely to happen if the victim Ate His Gun.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Averted in Assassination Classroom, as much as is possible for a manga aimed at this age group. When the "Reaper" recalls making a kill by firing between two Shinkansen lines going in opposite directions, we see his victim from the exit wound side of his head, with a very large spray of blood.
  • Happens often in Case Closed where the victim, if killed by a gun to the head, will usually have one tiny hole in the front with a trickle of blood coming down and a huge splatter of blood on the other side, despite no indication of structural damage to the skull itself.
  • Golgo 13's trademark is killing his targets with a single shot in the forehead, and all of the shots obey this trope. One particularly annoying example had him snipe a target who was in the window seat of an airliner; not only is there no spray of blood, but the other passengers on the small jet don't even notice he's dead — nobody even notices the hole in the plane beyond a comment about a draft.
  • Cowboy Bebop:
    • A bullet that went through a man's head in the first episode, instead of creating a gaping hole, made a perfectly neat and cylindrical hole that didn't bleed and could be seen all the way through from the entry to the exit point.
    • The villain in "Sympathy for the Devil" has a small bloody hole in his head after being shot despite the fact that he was shot in the head by a 7.62x39mm rifle bullet which should have obliterated his skull.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00 does this - When Lockon Stratos snipes three terrorist guards, later (very obviously, thanks to a loving close-up) when Alejandro Corner shoots Aeolia Schenberg (though to be fair it was through rather thick glass since Schenberg was inside a capsule), and later towards the end of the second part when Ribbons Almark gets shot to the forehead.
  • Black Lagoon: Gretel is shot in the head from the back, and though there's lots of blood you don't even see the hole (although the hair probably got in the way). Then again, Gretel was wearing a wig over her actually rather short hair...
  • In Code Geass, C.C. takes a shot right through the center of her forehead when she takes the bullet for Lelouch in the first episode. Quite an impressively perfect shot, in fact, considering she wasn't being aimed at and that it hit dead center of the tattoo on her forehead. Buuuut anyway, no gore on Lelouch behind her and a quick pool of blood after. Though there is a partial gory discretion shot about a minute later where this trope is averted.
  • Justified, but hard to believe, in the first story of City Hunter. Hired to kill a boxer who intimidates other boxers into throwing their matches with him (and hurts or kills those who aren't intimidated), Ryo Saeba shoots him in one ear with a golden bullet. Everything, from uncanny aim to speed and metal ductility is studied to splat the target's brain without leaving the slightest external sign. In fact, he just bled a little before dying. Just to raise the hand, the shot is synched with the target's opponent's punch, so that it seems to be a technical KO.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, when Accelerator gets shot in the head, he falls, blood pooling behind his head. Still not subverted when he gets up again, even though he is bleeding a lot. Justified in that he activated his powers at the last minute, preventing the bullet from going any further into his brain than it did, though he's still brain-damaged afterward.
  • This is how Takashi dies in the AKIRA manga. For worse he wasn't the target; his killed wanted to kill the titular character and missed the shot.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, one of Princess Snake's servants shoots herself in the head while playing a game of Russian Roulette.
  • Happened Once per Episode during the early days of Reborn! (2004). Reborn shoots Tsuna in the forehead, a small spurt of blood, and Tsuna goes all Dying Will on whatever is giving him trouble.
  • Monster does this surprisingly often, although it's heavily implied to be because most of the characters use small pistols because it's sometimes averted when bigger guns are used.
  • The Battle Royale manga strongly averts this.
  • Baccano! has Dallas Geonoard's immortality first (chronologically, on-screen) being demonstrated when he's shot through the head, leaving a clean bullet hole just in the middle of his forehead. Averted in all other examples. Everyone else who dies in this manner does so bloodily.
  • In the Fate/Zero anime, Ryuunosuke Uryuu takes a high-powered sniper rifle round to the face without any visible damage to his skull. This is a large step down from the original novel, where it's stated the bullet obliterated everything from the nose up.
  • A rather nasty subversion happens in the Space Runaway Ideon movie, where a little girl named Ashura dies by being shot in the head... but since she was shot with a bazooka, her head vaporizes.
  • Played straight in Blue Comet SPT Layzner, when Gresco shoots Karla to death in the third OAV.

    Comic Books 
  • Used in Y: The Last Man but to beautiful effect with the death of Agent 355. Seems fake though, as earlier headshots (such as Hero headshooting a teenage girl on the orders of cult leader Victoria) didn't stint on the gore.
  • Curiously played straight in Watchmen, given its realistic treatment of superheroic violence. Moloch has been shot in the head, but Rorschach believes he's alive and sitting quietly until he comes around and sees the bullet hole in front (and there was a small bullet hole in the back, meaning it had to have gone all the way through).
  • The Batman: Gotham Knight story "Deadshot" opens with Deadshot killing a politician with a well-aimed sniper shot. The result is a tiny hole in his head and a little blood.
  • There's a Comic-Book Adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities, where Madame Defarge's death by a pistol shot, point-blank, to the forehead, is an example, which somehow also results in Blood from the Mouth and the nose.
  • Averted in Kick-Ass when Big Daddy is executed by Johnny G's men. His face is drawn being blown out by the gunshot to the back of his head. An eyeball can be spotted, no longer part of his head.
  • Averted in The Punisher MAX:
    • Due to the absence of content restrictions, allows the artists to show exactly what happens when someone is shot in the head. It's not pretty.
    • The deaths of Frank's family, which are by necessity often alluded to, featured a huge exit wound on his son's head, as the bullet went through his open mouth.
  • Averted in Zero. Similar to The Punisher MAX, artists show a lot of gore whenever someone's shot in the head.

    Fan Works 
  • Subverted in A Minor Miscalculation with the death of Rei Hououmaru. She's shot through the eye and the bullet exits the back of her skull, blowing a large chunk of her head off. Ryuko, who sees this, even acknowledges the trope and its difference from reality.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Joe the Jockey in Racket Girls, it's so neat, it causes Crow to quip, "Oh! He's Hindu!"
  • Averted in '71 when Thommo is shot by Paul.
  • Layer Cake:
    • When the Villain Protagonist kills his treacherous boss, Jimmy Price. Oddly, the original book is a real aversion, and has the protagonist catch blood lust and go out of his way to splatter his victim's head.
    • Also, the Duke's girlfriend receives an audience-friendly small entrance wound to her headshot.
  • The corpse in the freezer from The Goonies was apparently shot in the head, although the bullet hole is so tiny and clean that it looks more like the Fratellis whacked him by putting a cigarette out on his forehead. No exit wound, either. It is supposed to be a kids' movie, after all.
  • In Baz Luhrmann's Setting Update of William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet Juliet's suicide by handgun looks like this.
  • Subverted twice in Fight Club:
    • When Bob is shot. We don't see it happen, but the end result is that he has a little hole in his forehead, and when they take the ski mask all the way off there's a really big mess, one of the Project Mayhem guys vomits on the spot. It looks like maybe the bullet went across the back of his head horizontally.
    • In the climax, when the narrator shoots himself in the mouth. Tyler, stunned by what just happened, exhales a little smoke but a later camera angle reveals a fairly nasty exit wound before he keels over. The narrator's own wound is pretty nasty too, though the bullet passed through his neck rather than skull.
  • Averted, at least partially, when Private Pyle shoots himself in the bathroom in Full Metal Jacket. While we don't see an exit wound (which could have been on the other side of his head from the camera), there is a lot of blood and some dark solid chunks on the wall behind and above him.
  • In Casino Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) bloodlessly executes a problematic investor by holding a .22 pistol to her head. Truth in television: The real-life victim on which this scene was based was shot in the head five times with a .22 pistol loaded with dumdums. Only one of the five shots exited, and that was through the victim’s ear.
  • In the live-action Death Note films, a character shoots herself in the head. No blood, no damage, just falls over.
  • Mostly played straight in In Bruges. The first death we see, a small boy accidentally shot by Ray, gets the standard pretty dime-sized headshot. Two other deaths avert this and then some but only because of the use of dum-dum bullets.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, with one of Sao Feng's girls. With a lead ball, no less, from a smooth-bore weapon.
  • Tango & Cash ends with the lead villain being shot by two bullets, fired simultaneously by Tango and Cash at the same time. Leading to two dime-sized holes in the forehead, when realistically half his entire head should've been blown off.
  • In Watchmen
    • The assassination of Moloch was clean enough that Rorschach could talk to him at length before realizing his audience was dead.
    • Lee Iacocca shot during the faked assassination attempt on Ozymandias.
  • In Baader Meinhof Complex, one of the female protagonists is shot right under her eye, causing only a small trickle of blood. The next shot shows that the back of her head is not even bloody.
  • Obvious in the film version of Angels & Demons, where at one point the viewer can see a head-shot policeman lying on the ground with a neat hole in his forehead.
  • The Illusionist has this happen with the Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince, although there is a little squirt of blood, but that's pretty much it.
  • In Seven Psychopaths, Charlie shoots Myra in the back of the head. When Hans finds her body, one wall of her hospital room is covered with blood, but she has only a little exit wound in her forehead.
  • In RoboCop, Alex Murphy is finally killed by one. However, this is subverted in the Director's Cut. In this version, for a brief moment, you can see a piece of his head flying out. Basically, destroying the only part of his body OCP needs.
  • James Bond:
    • Occurs in Octopussy when Bond shoots a Russian soldier dead, complete with surprised expression on the guard's face.
    • When Alec is shot by Ourumov in GoldenEye, there is no blood and not even a hole. Justified in that he faked his death.
    • The Big Bad of Casino Royale (2006) was offed when his higher-ups placed a clean bullet through his forehead.
  • Played with in The A-Team. When Lynch shoots "General Morrison" in the head, there's a lot of splatter on the wall behind him. Then it turns out to be ketchup as Murdock was wearing a bulletproof mask. One suspects that if there was no blood, Lynch would have smelt a rat, although he should probably have noticed the lack of bone and fabric bits.
  • House Of Fury has a justified example; the protagonist, Teddy Yue, gets shot in the temple from point-blank, resulting in a tiny squib going off, despite how in reality from the close range half of his head would've been blown away. But that was only part of his daughter having a nightmare.
  • Happens in Inception, when Cobb shoots Arthur in the head so the latter can escape from the dream. The result is a neat round wound with little blood. Justified in that they are in a dream world.
  • In the 1960's Japanese film Branded to Kill, the antihero realizes that the #1 assassin always kills his targets with these. During their final battle, he wears his late girlfriend's narrow hairband over the exact middle of his forehead, which deflects the bullet.
  • The Maiden Heist opens with a badass gunfight where Christopher Walken takes a bullet to defend his favorite painting and then puts a bullet in the bad guy's head (a small clean hole) before dying. it's just an imagined fantasy
  • In 22 Bullets this is Charly Matteï's "signature", followed by a shot to the body.
  • In Young Guns, Murphy is shot by Billy. This is followed by a 20-second slow-mo of him flailing then falling, with a tiny bullet hole precisely in the center of his forehead with just a trickle of blood coming from it.
  • Both played straight and averted in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. When Wood Hite is shot in the head, there is no blood spatter (likely due to continuity) but there is a massive bloody exit wound. During Jesse's death, there is no exit wound but a large bullet hole is present.
  • Subverted in The Departed. After Billy is shot in the head, there is a very large amount of blood spatter on the wall behind him. While we don't see the blood in other instances, a large amount can be seen upon impact
  • Subverted in Goodfellas. When Tommy is shot in the head, there is a massive amount of blood. Henry notes that they shot him there so that his mother couldn't give him an open casket funeral.
  • Taken to the extreme in Rōnin, where Gregor is shot in the head at close range by the Russian mobster with a Hollywood Silencer. The bullet not only punches a perfect, bloodless hole in the center of his forehead, it also appears to have stopped there, the base only millimeters below the skin. Presumably this was meant to imply a very low-powered round intended to be discreet although the bullet could not have penetrated the skull. Nonetheless, Gregor collapses and is shortly found dead on the floor, having bled a small pool from his wound.
  • Averted in The Sixth Sense, when a ghost says that he knows where his dad keeps his gun. Then he turns around, and the back of his head is in pieces.
  • Played straight in Prizzi's Honor. Irene Walker shoots a woman in the center of the forehead, leaving a neat round hole but no blood.
  • In the B-movie Guns, a character played by Allegra Curtis is shot in the forehead. No blood is visible as she topples over backward, but her body is seen a couple of minutes later with blood liberally streaking her face.
  • In Shooter, Mark Wahlberg's character is framed for attempting to kill the US President and for killing the Ethiopian Archbishop. The shot is taken from a long distance requiring a relatively large bullet, and the movie in fact shows more than just a neat hole, however, in the DVD extras, several comments are made regarding the shot by a weapons coordinator: that at that distance the target wouldn't have even been in the scope's line of sight due to bullet drop and that the actual shot would have been a lot gorier. As in the Archbishop's head being split in half gorier (due to the fact that because of bullet drop the shot wouldn't have been anything resembling a straight line, it would have been more like lobbying a bullet down into his skull).
  • Downfall:
    • Averted and played straight when the Hitler youth commander shoots himself and when the old soldier gets headshot there is barely any blood, but a Mook's suicide later in the film yields a large gory explosion on the wall behind him.
    • Discussed by Hitler, Eva, and the secretaries, when they discuss how to commit suicide. Hitler explains - correctly — that putting the barrel of a pistol in your mouth then pulling the trigger will entirely destroy your brain and head. Eva responds by going "eeeeek" and deciding she is going to take poison, so as to leave a pretty-looking corpse.
  • Initially averted, then played straight in Nurse Betty. When Chris Rock's assassin character is shot in the forehead, it's a Pretty Little Headshot. However, a deleted scene entitled "The Flap" shows that it really was graphic at first. This was probably changed on the account of it being really gross and not fitting the mood of the scene.
  • Used in Pan's Labyrinth. When Captain Vidal is killed by a shot to the head from a revolver at point-blank range. The only effects are a tiny bullet hole in his lower face and the blood slowly draining from an eye. His head does not even move as the bullet slams into his face, he just stands there and dies calmly.
  • Subverted in Super. When Frank and Bolty are being shot at, they both fall to the ground. When Frank looks over at Bolty all he can see initially is that she's limply lying there. Until he crawls over and sees a good chunk of her head is missing.
  • Averted in Drive (2011): When Blanche is shot in the back of the head with a shotgun, we're treated to a slow-motion shot of her head disintegrating in a shower of blood.
  • In The Heat one is seen on a corpse and later the albino guy is killed with one.
  • A variation happens in Dante's Peak, where Dr. Dalton's fiance gets nailed in the head by a Lava Bomb. The issue here is that the rock in question was able to punch a hole in the roof of the truck she was in that was about the size of Harry's fist. A rock that size, coming down that fast, and with that much force would've effectively turned the poor woman's head inside out, but since this is a PG-13 film, she only has a little blood to show she'd been hit.
  • In The Divergent Series: Allegiant more or less opens with the enforcers captured during a revolution being executed via bullet to the head. Despite the crowd standing mere feet away, not one speck of blood is seen. And considering the size of slug we later see these handguns shoot, the lack of over-penetration becomes jarring in hindsight.
  • In Poker Night, there is a small wound and a spray of blood when Calabrese is shot in the back of the head, but it's oddly delayed.
  • Possibly justified in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy when a .22 subsonic round fired from a silenced rifle is used to kill a man with the prettiest little tear of blood running down from the bullet hole just below his completely intact eye. Averted when the next shot shows the body laying face down on the ground, and you can see who knows what through the huge gaping hole on the back of the skull.
  • In Life Blood, the Sheriff is shot through the head and left with a single bullet wound in the centre of his forehead, and no exit wound. As he was shot with a 9MM, this should have realistically blown out a large chunk of the back of his skull.
  • In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Trask's headshot entry wound on his forehead is tiny with almost no blood showing.
  • At the end of Asian School Girls, Jack shoots his corrupt superior officer through the head. This leaves a neat little entry wound in the exact middle of his forehead, and a large amount of blood on the wall behind him.
  • Averted in Gone with the Wind. While the back of the head of the Union deserter Scarlett shoots is not shown, we do see the mess it's made of his face.
  • Averted, with a vengeance, in Dredd. The film takes full advantage of its R rating to show exactly what happens when a bullet meets human tissue. At one point, Anderson shoves an automatic weapon under someone's chin and pulls the trigger; what happens to the head might be best termed disassembly.

  • Averted in Animorphs. In Megamorphs 3: Elfangor's Secret, the team travel back in time to chase after Visser Four. They eventually end up in the American Revolutionary War, where Jake is shot in the head and killed. It isn't pretty.
    I saw the hole. It was centered in Jake's forehead. The back of his head was gone. There was no possible question. He was dead.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000: Gaunt's Ghosts short story In Remembrance, one of the troopers takes a headshot that was not powerful enough to go out the back of the head. The POV character, a sheltered artist, notes "the little black hole .... made in his forehead" and would be traumatized by the sight, which he calls "quite simply the most awful thing I have ever seen", claiming that "if there had been more blood, more obvious physical damage, I could have coped better". Justified because of the cauterizing effect of las weaponry. You might think that surely a laser weapon would cause his head to explode as his brain turned to steam, and indeed lasweapons, the "flashlights" of 40k, are able to blow apart people's heads, as told in the official fluff; however, it is explained in the books - Lasguns can be dialed to any power level, either powerful enough to remove limbs or set lower to save ammo (while still able to deal lethal blows) or at its lowest setting, used for laser-tag (for training exercises) At one point, a character is shot in the head point-blank and survives with a minor burn where he was hit, due to the weapons power cell being almost completely drained.
    • There's also the fact that it's stated continually everywhere in the fluff that a las-weapon automatically cauterizes anything it hits. When it leaves a fist-sized hole in someone's chest, that's all it leaves.
  • Addressed and subverted in Simon Spurrier's Contract: Michael Point, the assassin and main character, observes and performs several headshots and sees no examples of "neat little skull vaginas," as he contemptuously calls them.
  • Justified in Spider Robinson's "Lady Slings the Booze," the sequel to "Lady Callahan's Place." In it, the villain, having failed to hurt a bound Arethusa with his gun (the characters are all wearing a durable, bullet-proof lotion on their skin), shoots her in the mouth. The lotion prevents an exit wound but, the narration explains, causes the bullet to ricochet around in her skull.
  • Agatha Christie:
    • In And Then There Were None Judge Wargrave fakes his own murder by dabbing some red on his forehead and putting a wig on. Nobody investigates further. When he actually does shoot himself in the head later, the police who investigate cannot figure out that he did it in his bed, rather than the parlor. Made even worse by the fact that the gun was explicitly described as being a "heavy revolver", possibly a .357.
    • Shows up in Curtain: Poirot's Last Case, which sees Poirot race against time to stop a serial killer. A man called Norton is murdered where he and Hastings are staying, but Poirot dies before the identity of the serial killer is revealed, forcing Hastings to continue the case with only the clues Poirot left behind for him. The headshot turns out to be the clue to the identity of Norton's killer: Poirot himself whose legendary fastidiousness caused him to make an unnecessarily symmetrical headshot. Norton was the serial killer who had been trying to brainwash Hastings into committing murder on his behalf. The only way to save Hastings, given that Poirot didn't have enough hard evidence, was for Poirot to kill Norton before Hastings could be completely brainwashed, and then take his own life to avoid the temptation of becoming a serial killer himself.
  • Tom Clancy sometimes drops into this territory, depending on the weapon used. When John Kelly is going after targets with a suppressed .22, the relatively small bullet doesn't have the power to punch back out through the skull, thus leaving a small entry wound and many bits of the now-fragmented bullet in the target's cranium. Contrast that to what happens when people get shot in the head with a .45 or a rifle bullet, now.
  • Famously averted in Hemingway's description of a man who had been shot in the head: "... a hole in front you couldn't put your little finger in and a hole in back you could put your fist in, if it were a small fist and you wanted to put it there."
  • David Weber's Hell's Gate series includes this when the Arcanians first see a man killed by a firearm. A few characters express surprise that anything leaving such a small, neat hole could kill someone that quickly. Then they turn him over and see the exit wound...
  • The Night Mayor is set inside a virtual reality realm that runs on the logic of old movies. One of the ways it varies from reality, noted by the characters, is that whenever someone gets shot the result is a tidy wound that follows this trope.
  • The Expanse plays with this, combining it with Pink Mist. When a character is shot by a railgun round passing through a ship, it leaves nothing save a hole where the round entered the room, a hole where the round exited the room, and a gap where his head was. There's not even a trace of blood, right until it starts gushing from his neck.

    Live Action TV 
  • Episode 405 of 1000 Ways to Die ("Death Certificates"), detailed a head-tap assassination with a silenced pistol that had the power to penetrate the skull once but not twice, ricocheting around the inside to scramble the brains of a very unhappily married couple.
  • When Anna Espinosa (who has turned into a copy of Sydney Bristow) is shot in the back of the head in Alias by Sydney Bristow (yes, you read that right), there is just a little hole at the front.
  • The death of Ryan Chapelle in 24, again shot in the back of the head.
    • Likewise, in Season 7, when Agent Walker is seemingly executed, the bad guy (Emerson) seems satisfied by Jack's only slightly messy deliberately-grazing neck shot. As a hardened paramilitary type, Emerson should have been sufficiently unconvinced to check the body himself, but he doesn't.
  • Supernatural
    • It was slightly odd considering their usual aversion of the Gory Discretion Shot but there was the time when Dean gets shot in Sam's vision; his eyes are open, the blood spray is on the wall but the creepiness is let down somewhat by the tiny hole in his forehead. Creator Eric Kripke was amazed that they even got away with that. The full scene, which can be found on the DVDs, actually shows Dean getting shot, instead of just the gun firing then cutting to Dean, dead on the floor.
    • A fifth season episode manages to avert this trope, as a noticeable chunk of the back of the head can be seen flying off the victim. Probably helps that the victim was a reanimated corpse to begin with...
  • In Criminal Minds episode "Omnivore", a woman gets shot in the forehead with a .44 Magnum and only has a tiny bullet hole with a little blood trickling from it. Pretty much the norm, even in the episode with the sniper.
  • In Breaking Bad, this is both prevalent and averted in two separate instances. In "Grilled", when Tuco is shot in the head by Hank, there's barely a noticeable wound, just some blood and a small hole. Reversely, in "One Minute", when Hank shoots Marco in the head (who, interestingly enough, was trying to exact revenge on Hank for doing the same to Tuco), the potency of a hollow point bullet is shown, blasting the back of his skull "clean" out.
    • Averted again in "Half Measures": the fatal headshot the drug dealers that killed Tomas received makes a large exit wound with quite visible splatter.
  • In one episode of Quantum Leap, Sam leaps into a coroner who has to investigate the death of a girl who, at first glance, seems to have been shot in the head. One of the things that make Sam disbelieve this cause of death is the lack of blood and the lack of damage to the other side of the victim's head. Turns out she was stabbed through the temple with the heel of a high-heel shoe, making a wound that visibly resembled the classic version.
  • This is how Paul Ballard is killed during the series finale of Dollhouse. This contrasts rather sharply with Bennett Halverson's messy death, especially given that Paul was a main character on the show while Bennett only appeared briefly.
  • Averted throughout Boardwalk Empire.The fact that it is on HBO undoubtedly helps.
  • Somewhat averted in Carnivàle. After Samson shoots a man in the face,the wound is relatively small but we do see some blood spatter on the fall
  • Averted in Dexter in which the title character works in Blood Spatter analysis. A Gunshot Suicide is shown to blow out the head and skull and cause massive bleeding.
  • NCIS is bad for this.
    • It's actually played with and lampshaded with Kate's death. Tony explains to McGee that while the hole in the forehead can be easily covered up, the back of the head would be a nasty gaping wound. The actual shot did show a decent-sized splash from the back of the head, although only the entry wound is shown to viewers. Tony, who is standing next to her, gets blood splattered over his face. A number of seasons later, Gibbs's ex-wife Diane is deliberately shot in the same manner as Kate, although it looks far less messy.
  • Averted in Bones with the assassination of the Gravedigger, whose head is OBLITERATED, splattering gore all over Sweets, giving him a mild Heroic BSoD
  • The death of Reed on Grey's Anatomy is a perfect example. The effect is much heightened because the viewer had no idea until that moment that the killer even had a gun; the shooting effectively starts a temporary Genre Shift for the entire two-parter.
  • In the pilot of The Shield, after Vic shoots Terry Crowley in the face, there is only a small wound with little blood
  • In The Wire, Jelly is shot, point-blank, in the side of the head facing away from the camera and nothing is visible but a small blood spurt from the other side.
    • Happens with both Bodie, and Cheese, as their headshots have no exit wound. Omar however had a clear exit wound when he was shot in the back of the head. Though in reality, it should have taken a chunk of his face along with it.
  • Averted in one particular episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where a businesswoman tells everybody off in a press conference, and then bloodily offs herself, a la Bud Dwyer. Suffice it to say that it wasn't a neat little hole that bullet left.
  • Happens in Fringe when one of the characters gets shot in the head, though this may have to do with it being point blank with a silencer.
  • Several times in The X-Files, most notably with Krycek's death; he's shot in the forehead point-blank, and has only a neat little hole in his forehead when he drops.
  • Castle averts this with one of their victims-of-the-week, who was shot in the face. Said face was obliterated (not shown on screen, thankfully).
  • Strike Back has an affinity for averting this. The most obvious instances include Porter's death and a sniper mook who gets the left side of his skull blown away THROUGH A BRICK WALL! Besides that, point-blank executions tend to be performed from one side, thus guaranteeing that the bullet passes through both lobes (reducing the chances of survival), and distance shots often hit in places other than the usual "center of forehead" (for example, the terrorist leader from episode two, who got shot through the eye.)
  • Played straight in Burn Notice when Michael shoots Tom Card.
  • True Blood's deceased vampires aside, the show plays the trope straight in the deaths of Benedict "Eggs" Talley, Sam's shapeshifter friends and Marnie Stonebrook but averts it painfully in the death of Debbie Pelt, who is shot with a shotgun (Sookie is seen picking up bits of Debbie's head, including her jaw).
  • Arthur Petrelli on Heroes meets his end this way. Sylar stops the bullet from Peter's gun and then flicks it into Arthur's head, leaving behind a hole with a trail of blood.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel: When Lord Tony Dewhurst is shot in the head, it results in nothing more than a smear of blood on the wall. The scene was gorier on the DVD, though.
  • Majorly averted on Banished. A convict is shot in the head by a soldier for refusing to turn back to face a hanging... and spends minutes twitching on the ground with a big hole in his head. before the soldier is ordered to put him out of his misery.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent where the victim of the week is shot in the head, and it's pointed out that the caliber of the bullet should have left more splatter. Goren and Eames later deduce that the bullet had been carefully altered for a cleaner kill.
  • One episode of JAG had a female terrorist killed by a headshot and falling (in slow motion) into a flower vendor's stall, with a neat little hole in her forehead. From a rifle shot at a range of only a few dozen meters.
  • In Emerald City the Wicked Witch of the East is tricked into landing a pretty little headshot on herself. Later, Queen Languinere receives one. Arguably this adds to the mystique of this terribly new "magic" to the denizens of Oz.
  • Averted in Sherlock combined with Gory Discretion Shot. We don't get to see Moriarty or Magnussen in close-up after the former eats his gun and the latter is dispatched by Sherlock via Boom, Headshot! but particularly in the latter case, the pool of blood suggests the exit wounds weren't clean or pretty.
  • The Little Drummer Girl: Khalil and most of his associates are killed by headshots that leave relatively little blood behind, and no brain matter.
  • Chuck: "Chuck Vs The Suitcase" starts with the Villain of the Week being chased by an agent, until she turns around and shoots the agent that with a Smart Gun, killing him with a bloodless headshot, to show how efficient and dangerous the gun is.
  • Big Sky: Legarski gets killed by a headshot, which leaves a tiny hole and mere trickle of blood. Justified, since it doesn't kill him.

    Video Games 
  • Despite their reputation for ridiculous violence, this is actually fairly common in video games. Only a handful actually have headshots realistically result in part or all of the skull being missing. At least until recently, this was probably due to engine limitations.
  • One of the weirder aversions is Unreal, where headshots with the appropriate weapon cause the enemy's head to shrink (watch it in slow-mo!). It'd make some sort of sense if you were using a weird tech gun, but no, bullets cause head shrinkage. This is a visual artifact of the rather hacked method used to animate decapitations; since the head is part of the player model, it can't be deleted from the rest of the model on the fly, so it's animated to shrink away to nothing in a single frame as the game spawns the actual head gib (which suddenly has blood all over it) in the same space, but if a modern machine is rendering fast enough, it's visible.
  • Deus Ex, based on the Unreal Engine, was fairly realistic for the time as far as gameplay was concerned. For example, you could shoot someone in their gun arm to make them drop their weapon, and headshots greatly increased the inflicted damage - although some of the tougher enemies could actually survive a headshot if inflicted with a low enough skill level and with a weak gun (and certain important characters, like Alex Jacobson, were immortal). However, graphically, the game was the description of this trope. Point-blank hit to the forehead with an autoshotgun blast? Target falls on the ground in one piece, with the only indication that he's dead being (aside from the obvious stillness) a little pool of blood under his corpse. The game did feature gibbing, but as with most games that do, there was no middle ground between "slight bleeding" and "meat chunks all over the place".
    • The sequel was downright stupid as far as headshots were concerned. The only way for headshots to be an instant kill was with the sniper rifle, and even then it had to be zoomed in. You could honestly take a pistol and shoot the guy in the head, and they'd only lose a little health. And these weren't badass bosses either, these were the civilians! Sometimes even a shotgun took two blasts to the head to kill somebody. There wasn't even blood on the ground anymore. Given that the game was released in 2003, when headshots had been an established mechanic in shooters for some time, this can't be explained as anything other than lazy programming.
      • Deus Ex: Human Revolution subverts this. When Adam Jensen goes to the morgue to obtain the interface from the augmented terrorist, part of his skull and brain have been cleanly blown off. In gameplay, however, killing an enemy with a headshot will leave no visible damage, regardless of whether you're using a pistol or a shotgun.
    • Unreal Tournament, though, had the tendency to take off the enemy's head completely with a single, well-placed round. And quite often with clearly ill-placed rounds.
  • Mass Effect
    • In Mass Effect, you can convince a certain enemy near the end to shoot himself with his ultra-high powered energy pistol. The result? His head doesn't show any signs of damage, and when his skeleton is laid bare by another enemy there is a hole... but in an entirely wrong place. Said shot produces a lot of alien blood, but given the lack of hole, it is pretty hard to see from where it is coming from.
    • Mass Effect 2, during Thane's recruitment mission, an Ecplise mercenary is found shot in the head. Garrus will remark "A perfect headshot, with no collateral damage". As expected, the guy's head is intact, with only some blood smear on the ground.
    • Justified by the fact that guns in the Mass Effect series shoot very small and very fast bullets, which would likely be able to penetrate the skull from the inside without blowing a large chunk off; the bullet likely just goes straight through the target's head and trusts to hydrostatic shock to destroy the brain on its way.
    • However, using the Sniper Rifle or high-powered pistols can result in rather nasty headshots. While the corpse does not leave exit wounds, getting headshots with the likes of the Widow Anti Material Rifle shows massive amounts of blood and bone flying off.
    • Mass Effect 3 goes to the other extreme on human victims. Any headshot kill pretty much causes the entire head to explode.
  • In the Soldier of Fortune games, the results of a headshot are actually handled comparatively realistically — even your 9mm pistol leaves very large and ugly entry and exit wounds, and if you use your shotgun, .44 Magnum or sniper rifle, you blast their head clean off, leaving only a ragged bit of lower skull.
  • Another Unreal-powered franchise, Gears of War, plays this trope straight and messily averts it, depending on the weapon. Smaller caliber guns (like the Gorgon Pistol) and automatic weapons (like the Lancer) deal more damage from headshots but don't noticeably damage the body. Powerful weapons (like the Boltok Pistol and Longshot sniper rifle) will cause the target's head to burst like a melon.
  • The near-ending cinematic in Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy has a straight example, when Sarah shoots her twin sister from behind. Similarly, scoring headshots on enemies will not leave a visible wound unless you're using a shotgun, in which case the head will be blown apart.
  • In Urban Chaos: Riot Response, normally when you score a headshot nothing happens but if you score a headshot with a shotgun, magnum, or some other powerful weapon their head will be obliterated.
    • Some enemies will actually notice this with comments such as "Oh shit, he blew his fucking head off!" or "Hey! Where'd his head go?"
  • In Devil May Cry, Dante is shot in the head repeatedly throughout the series, but it only ever results in a small trickle of blood down his face which quickly heals later. Possibly justified by his tremendous healing ability. Considering that after one such headshot he pulls the bullet out of the entry wound, it's possible that the bullets don't get very far.
  • In Conker's Bad Fur Day, characters on multiplayer could have their heads blown apart in quarters, either losing 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, or the whole thing, as long as they were Squirrels, Undead or Tediz (Tediz and Undead could have this happen during "It's War" and "Spooky" single-player as well, respectively). Multiplayer characters with smaller heads (weasels or uggas) would always lose their entire head. Squirrels/Undead, in particular, were rather nasty, as the grey matter could be seen from any remnant of the head. All characters would stumble for a few seconds before falling when victims of the headshot. Played straight in Live & Reloaded, however, as part of the game's extensive Bowdlerization.
  • Perfect Dark. A good headshot close to a wall will leave a huge splash of blood, though engine limitations only show redness on the skull. Oddly, one can let the blood fly even on corpses already, say, sprawled in a chair.
  • Games made by Rockstar Games zig-zag this trope.
    • The Grand Theft Auto series is, for the most part, a perfect embodiment of this trope - headshots cause a blood splatter and the enemy falls down, disconcertingly intact. In the 3D era, sniper rifles would avert this trope by causing the victim's head to burst like a watermelon, but this was removed in IV. One rather classy exception is during a cutscene in IV, when Niko shoots Vlad in the face. Not only does the wound spew an impressive fountain of blood, but Niko knows it is coming and shields his face before firing. Grand Theft Auto V goes for the middle ground. While headshots do leave wounds on the victim, they're rather small and hard to notice, even if you use the Heavy Sniper. Averted with shotguns, which leave multiple small holes that add up to nasty-looking wounds. Also averted with Sanchez when Haines shoots him in the face. The resulting exit wound is large and very gruesomely detailed, with exposed brain tissue and a virtual fountain of blood spraying from the hole.
    • Red Dead Redemption, on the other hand, subverts this trope by making any headshot actually create an in-game "model" of an exit and entry wound that appears on the head with very grotesque results. This applies to all NPCs, even women.
    • L.A. Noire goes back to playing it straight, with headshots leaving no mark on the heads of enemies. Rather jarring, considering that the game doesn't shy away from showing graphically wounded bodies in the Murder Investigations.
    • Max Payne 3 averts it by showing grisly entry and exit wounds if enemies are shot in the head. The only wrinkle is that the wounds are identical for all weapons, so a headshot from a 9MM pistol will leave the same-sized hole as that from a .50 BMG sniper rifle.
    • Red Dead Redemption II, like its predecessor, averts it. Not only do headshots leave very gruesome wounds, using a shotgun or explosive ammunition will literally cause the target's head to explode in a shower of blood.
  • In Team Fortress 2 headshots will leave the target's head bloody but otherwise intact. However, in the "Meet the Spy" promotional video, when the BLU Spy is killed, his head explodes in a particularly over-the-top manner.
  • Magnifi Gramarye in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney.
  • Played straight and subverted in The Conduit. In the single-player campaign, getting a headshot on a human with one of the sniper weapons results in a brief, Teen-friendly red spurt and a collapsing body. Do the same with one of the alien Drudge, however, and their heads pop off with a fountain of yellow fluid.
  • A controversial ad for Hitman: Blood Money features a beautiful woman in lingerie lying in bed. The only clues that she's dead are the slightly pale skin tone and a small bloodless bullet wound in the center of her forehead.
  • Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon shows a nice little hole in Roger's head on the Have a Nice Death screen if he gets shot by the Killer Robot guarding the grabber.
  • Halo games play it straight most of the time: headshots with any weapon might get blood, but because enemy corpses remain intact, their heads appear mostly undamaged. Halo 3 and subsequent games, however, include a "Skull" (part easter egg, part optional game modifier) called "Grunt Birthday Party" that makes the heads of the weakest enemies, Grunts, explode on headshots... into confetti, accompanied by the sound of cheering children (examining the corpse reveals that the head remains unharmed, except for their mouthpieces).
    • Skulls were actually added in Halo 2, but functioned a bit differently. One had to be playing on Legendary for them to even spawn and once picked up, the effects were active for as long as the profile of the player that picked them up was being used. The Birthday Party skull itself was in fact present in 2, but rather than a burst of confetti, a plasma grenade detonation would accompany headshots for any enemy. When Halo 2 was remastered and re-released as part of the Master Chief Collection, all of Halo 2’s skulls could be activated via a menu, and the Birthday Party skull retains its original plasma grenade effect. The head is still intact after detonation, however.
  • Call of Duty games play this straight, with headshots resulting in a splat of blood behind the victim, although one level in the Bloodier and Gorier World At War has a Marine taking a round to the head in a landing craft and having his head split open. Can also be found in Call of Duty: Black Ops.
  • Metal Gear
    • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty has a rather strange occurrence when Olga is killed by Solidus via headshot - a huge display of blood and gore shoots out of her head when the bullet goes through it, but the exit wound itself is as tiny as you'd expect from this trope. Especially odd in that, not thirty seconds later, the weapon in question is shown firing exploding bullets that really should have blown Olga's head off entirely.
    • Metal Gear Solid V averts this trope like hell. Unless you're using tranquilizer darts or rubber bullets, getting a headshot will result in a nasty "SPLAT" and a gruesome wound.
  • Sniper Elite pretty much averts this - rifle headshots often leave a big hole, with obvious bits coming out when seen in slow motion.
  • The same Fatality in Mortal Kombat games both plays this straight and averts this. Explaining: in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (which had a T rating), the uncut version of the Joker's headshot Fatality had the opponent getting shot and falling with his head intact, with only a spatter of blood coming from it. In Mortal Kombat 9 (with the more familiar M rating), when Shang Tsung appropriated this Fatality for himself (though turning into a different Monster Clown), the opponent's head gets blown to bits when it's shot.
  • Extreme in Section 8: Prejudice. When Thorne is shot in the head, there's no visible damage. To make things worse, this is from a Sniper Rifle used to fight Powered Armor that laughs off suborbital insertion.
  • In Brain Dead 13, Lance can die from a shot to the forehead, followed by multiple bullet holes that reduce his entire body to eyeballs, if you're not quick enough during the final confrontation.
  • Strongly averted in Space Marine. Shooting Orks or Chaos soldiers in the head results in serious carnage.
  • Spec Ops: The Line - Even the smallest pistol, the Beretta, causes a huge spray of blood on headshots. The strongest weapons, such as sniper rifles or the .44 revolver, cause half their head to explode in a shower of blood. When Lugo shoots the Radioman repeatedly in the head with his Beretta, the player's camera is covered in blood.
  • The Last of Us goes to great lengths to avert this trope to hell and back. It doesn't matter what gun you use, there will always be blood and brains all over the floor or wall. The bigger the caliber, the greater the damage until all you have is a bloody stump when firing with a shotgun or rifle.
  • PAYDAY 2 plays it almost completely straight, with only one exception: Headshotting a Taser with the Platypus 70 sniper rifle turns his face into a gaping hole. Everything else, even a .50 cal sniper rifle, leaves nothing but some blood splatter.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Usually averted in Survival of the Fittest, which tries to be as realistic as possible, there are only two cases where this is played straight, in the case of Andrew Klock and Alan Shinwrath in v1. When they were shot in the face at relatively close ranges (more or less point-blank, for Alan), this happened. There was a neat hole in their forehead/between their eyes, some blood, and they fell over. After this though, it was extremely uncommon, since most people on the board learned about the reality of this trope.
  • Elizabeth Avery in lonelygirl15.
    • And also Claire.
  • Don in Rick Point Blank.
  • When The Nostalgia Critic gets shot in the forehead, there'll be just a small hole with some ketchup surrounding it. Justified, as it's for comedy and seeing a massive gap in his head would make people have nightmares.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in an Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode where Frylock shows Meatwad a video on "Standards of Decency". One clip shows a nun getting a shot to the head by a shotgun, exploding in a bloody mess. The "decent" way is the same exact thing, only instead a rainbow comes out of the nun's body.
  • Whenever someone is shot in the head on Archer, the trope is averted. Thankfully, they tend to use discretion shots, but there's still a lot of blood and Pink Mist visible.
  • In Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, the Thomas Wayne!Batman shoots Professor Zoom in the back of the head in the middle of his Evil Gloating. It's large, you can see inside and right through his skull.

    Real Life 
  • There is the story of news anchorwoman Christine Chubbuck, who committed suicide by shooting herself on air in The '70s. The damage wasn't nearly as severe as head explosions or Pink Mist as those in the studio thought it was a tasteless prank... until they realized it wasn't. Christine still died some hours later.
  • The shot that finished off John Dillinger entered the back of his neck and exited just under his eye. These photos from the morgue show a very small wound. Public Enemies also portrays the shot this way.
  • Yook Young-soo, the wife of South Korean President Park Chung-hee (and mother of the most recent [circa 2016] ROK president Park Geun-hye), was shot (fatally; she died later in the day after surgery) in the side of the head during an assassination attempt on her husband on August 15, 1974. Accounts of the incident describe her as having bled profusely from the wound (and at least one picture of the chair she was seated in when she was shot shows it and the surroundings spattered with blood), but the pictures and TV footage - admittedly rather blurry ones, considering 1970s photography and video tech - of her being carried away by aides show her head and face as seemingly being undamaged. There's also video footage showing her physical reaction to being shot, jerking sharply to the left side and then starting to slump over to the right.