This is a grim reminder that the events being watched are Not a Game. Sometimes, it serves as a Take That! to those getting off on watching violence; if this trope appears in a work known (and loved) for its violent content, it may well be a Take That, Audience!.
For cases of gladiatorial combat or similar, a particularly nasty bad guy would sometimes attempt to intentionally do this to any close spectator (or specific ones) so that the hero would be forced to protect them. Or they may use the spectator as Human Shield. Or they're just that sadistic and want to do some side-maiming.
Sometimes this may apply to other kinds of shows, such as animal taming performances or airshows. In case of fight scenes, this can happen to Innocent Bystanders as well. The point is that the spectator may potentially get harmed by the show's contents.
Arguably an In-Universe form of The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You. Sister Trope to Deadline News, where the commentator falls victim to the deadly event, and a subtrope to Fatal Method Acting, where it's the performer who dies while performing.
As a Death Trope, there may be unmarked spoilers ahead. Beware.
- In the Buu Saga of Dragon Ball Z, after making a Deal with the Devil with Babidi in order to gain more power to match Goku, Vegeta has them transported back to the World's Martial Arts Tournament stadium, where he proceeds to blow up sections of the still-packed grandstands in order to goad Goku to fight with him.
- In Mobile Fighter G Gundam, the space colonies determine the ruler through Combat by Champion, with each colony selecting a Gundam Fighter. Neo-France was having a duel between two fighters to determine their representative. One fighter, Jean-Pierre Mirabeau, was using the crowd as a Human Shield to prevent the best best attacks of his opponent, George de Sand. The King who was watching declared George the winner on the spot. In rage, Jean-Pierre tried to kill the king, but his missiles were deflected by George, accidentally killing hundreds of spectators. The incident is known as the "Marseilles Tragedy" in-universe, and George considers it as My Greatest Failure. Which poses a huge, HUGE problem when Jean-Pierre resurfaces in the Guyanas arc, having been empowered with DG Cells, right after George was going through one HELL of a trauma-induced slump caused by having been forcibly infused with the same Cells.
- The bad guys attempt to invoke this in a later episode, again involving George. After Princess Marie Louise witnesses Gentle Chapman kill a man, she's deliberately targeted during Chapman's rematch with George, since Chapman's ally Michelo Chariot has disabled the part of the force field that protects George's support team, including Marie Louise. This forces George to keep the Gundam Rose between Chapman's Gundam and the breach until Domon Kasshu forces Michelo out of the control booth and gets the shields restored.
- A Downplayed For Laughs in Gundam Build Fighters: Sei and Reiji are manipulated into a pitcher's duel against Luang Dallara, who happens to also be a Professional-grade baseball player. On their first pitch, Dallara's Abigorbine blasts the tiny ball into the stands, where it smacks a drink can out of Kirara's hand and into the wall, nearly hitting two spectators in the process. Belatedly, the announcer warns: "Please watch out for foul balls!".
- One Piece:
- In the Dressrosa arc (specifically the Corrida Colosseum tournament), one of the battle royale participants, Elizabello II, prepares to launch a strong attack that can potentially demolish fortresses. The spectators are naturally frightened by this. Bartolomeo manages to block it with his barrier powers, though.
- In a later fight, Burgess with his signature move Surge Elbow (a shock wave fired off an elbow strike) likes to charge recklessly, hitting the spectators in the process.
- Yu Yu Hakusho: This occurs quite frequently during the Dark Tournament arc. More specifically notable examples include Shishiwakumaru's "Chorus of a Thousand Skulls" attack, and many of the matches between Team Urameshi and Team Toguro; in both examples, unfocused attacks kill demonic audience members at random, while Toguro's ultimate form pulls the souls of the weak-willed out to fuel his power.
- In Hellsing, Alucard and Tubalcan Alhambra's battle kills a lot of the surrounding police and reporters with stray bullets and cards.
- In the final match of Dragon Half's Tournament Arc, Dug Fin throws huge energy blasts at his opponent Mink that barely singe her. Large chunks of the stadium and audience behind her are less durable.
- Motorball in Gunnm (AKA, Battle Angel Alita) frequently has injuries and fatalities among the spectators: heavily armed cyborg competitors or the 40 kg ball can easily crash through the flimsy courseside fencing. Second League champion Caligula Armblessed has a pre-victory ritual where he cuts off a fan's arms and sticks them on his horns.
- In the New 52 and Rebirth-era Harley Quinn series, Harley frequently takes part in an illegal Fight Club on roller skates, after being banned from a normal roller derby league for gratuitous violence. On several occasions, she has accidentally killed or maimed spectators during fights, to nobody's particular concern.
- In 47 Ronin, Oichi goes to a pirate town to find Kai and inform him of their lord's passing. Kai is engaging in a pit fight against an ogre, and over the course of the fight, a few spectators get stabbed by swords or smashed by the ogre's weighted chain.
- Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Blaster fetches a Blade on a Stick and charges at Max, who gets out of the way using the Wire Fu ropes, and a spectator hanging onto the outside of The Thunderdome gets impaled instead.
- In the first battle of Robot Jox Achilles' mech accidentally falls on an audience booth, crushing the occupants.
- Played for Laughs in a fight between Dark Helmet and Lone Starr in Space Balls. While dueling with their "light sabers", Dark Helmet makes a wild overhead swing and slices a sound guy off of his recording equipment.
- Early in Hot Shots! Part Deux, a spectator of Topper's duel with another brawler gets decapitated by a stray roundhouse kick. This is Played for Laughs.
- Entrants in Death Race 2000 earn points by killing spectators en route. That's right: they're aiming for these people as a racecourse requirement.
- The Death Race reboot trilogy has a couple of moments where road pit crew gets hit (or nearly hit) by errant gunfire. It is played for (dark) laughs on the first film and it is an important plot point because it allows one of the characters to fake his death and help the rest escape prison on the third movie, Inferno.
- The first time Daffy Duck gets the ball in Space Jam, he sees the Monstars converge upon him, and panics. Daffy passes the ball to Granny, a cheerleader on the sidelines. The five Monstars nonetheless gang tackle Granny.
- The original disaster in Final Destination 4 results in lots of spectators dying in a variety of ways as a result of a terrible NASCAR crash and the seating collapsing. One of the spectators who ends up escaping their original death due to the main character's vision ends up obliterated by one of the car tires being hurled right out of the arena by the explosion.
- The satirical comedy The Fortune Cookie is about a sports cameraman who is knocked down by an American football player during a match and exaggerates his injuries to get compensation.
- In The Empress Game, these are keenly expected at the arena in which Kayla fights. It's part of the entertainment and the crowd cheers.
- One of James Incandenza's pre-Samizdat films in Infinite Jest centers on a spectator duel between Medusa and a being called the "Odalisque" whose beauty was said to have a similar effect to gorgons' ugliness; the entire audience is Taken for Granite, at which point it's suggested that this was the monsters' plan all along.
- A Song of Ice and Fire. When the Red Viper is fighting the Mountain That Rides, a stableboy gets between them and gets his arm severed. Annoyed by his screaming, the Mountain finishes him off with a backslash purely to shut him up.
- Played for Laughs in a segment of James May's Man Lab on duelling. May challenges a colleague to a duel over a parking space and when it eventually goes ahead, the show's executive producer ends up being shot by a misfire (well not really, obviously).
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Code of Honor" two people are battling with poison spike gloves. One of the gloves gets knocked out into the audience. It hits a man, cutting and killing him. Ironically this is the first onscreen death we see in the series (and he's not even a Red Shirt).
- Used as a throwaway gag on an episode of House, M.D., where House tries to cheer up a despondent Wilson by saying he got extra-special VIP tickets for a Monster Truck rally — the 'extra-special' comes from the seats being so close to the track that ticket holders must sign a waiver in case the trucks go out of control and kill them by accident. Wilson, unfortunately, is too despondent, and so House never gets to go (not without Wilson).
- In one episode of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, a spectator gets some fingers cut off by a stray blow during a gladiator fight. This happened in the older arena where the spectators were much closer to the gladiators. The significantly larger arena was presumably built both to allow more spectators and to prevent accidents like this.
- In Classical Mythology Perseus killed his grandfather during a discus contest when he threw the discus so far that it went into the stands.
- Played with in Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Tybalt are duelling in the streets, and Mercutio initially tries to stop them as a bystander. However, he is eventually goaded into fighting by Tybalt's Jerkass nature and tries entering the fight himself, getting himself mortally wounded. So a bystander dies but only after being enraged into participating, because of Mediation Backfire.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it's very possible and very common for innocent bystanders to get caught in the crossfire between the Dragonborn and the opponent. Especially if said opponent is a dragon — one randomly invading a town has been the death of many a player's shops and questlines.
- The combat system in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is set on a stage, with an audience watching Mario fight. Many bosses actually target and kill members of the audience in order to use their stronger attacks. Some audience members will occasionally throw things at Mario as well; when this happens, the player is given a Quick Time Event to run into the crowd and hammer them before they can throw it.
- In Primal Rage each arena has human worshippers watching the fight. You can eat them to regain health (eating your opponent's worshippers also gives you a score bonus).
- In Mortal Kombat X you can throw bystanders at your opponent to injure him (killing them in the process).
- There's an implied example of this in Ratchet: Deadlocked. The Beta Ravager, which is an upgraded version of Merc and Green's Limit Break Alpha Ravager, says in the description that improvements to the weapon will keep it from firing into the Dreadzone grandstands during battle.
- Played for laughs in MechWarrior Living Legends' Solaris Arena, gladiatorial battles waged with 20+ ton Humongous Mecha packing autocannons, missiles, railguns, pulsed lasers, and a nuclear fusion reactor, all inside a stadium with densely packed fans. Duncan Fisher, the arena's announcer, has several quips to the spectators and the combatants.
In the event of a core breach in your section of the stands, we apologize.'
Save a spectator day! Pick a mech without splash damage weapons!
It's hot enough to fry an egg out there! But with all that radiation, it's probably not wise to eat it.''
- The Vargas in Dragon Ball Multiverse have powerful shields set up around the spectators in order to specifically avert this, but unfortunately, it doesn't stop Universe 19's God Blade attack or...any of Broly's attacks.
- During one arc of The Order of the Stick, Roy has to participate in Gladiator Games against his Evil Counterpart Thog, who has become the champion fighter. As seen in one panel of this strip, a berserk Thog kicks away Roy's sword, which beheads a spectator—ironically/appropriately one who was Thog's biggest fan.
- Played for laughs during "The G Factor", a video filmed in Garry's Mod by Sips and Hat Films. Trott at one point tries demonstrating a car that he's supposedly constructed, only to lose control and crash into the (imaginary) audience. We hear scream sound effects, but nobody's actually died.
- This is narrowly averted for the Yogscast during the Heroes & Generals live-action special. Behind the scenes, Smith of Hat Films is working on the explosives for the set and is standing in a supposed safe zone, so he detonates. Shortly after a landmine blows up, a quite large chunk of dirt hits his helmet, which protects him. Had it hit one of the others standing next to him, they wouldn't have been so lucky.
- Discussed during the SeaNanners episode "Cooking with SeaNanners", where Adam kills most of his audience.
Max: That was the worst show ever.
Chilled: I quit my job.
Mark: Your ratings are gonna tank if you just kill all of your fucking audience members, you piece of shit.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender
- During Zuko and Azula's Final Battle the former goads the latter to shoot lightning at him. Unfortunately, Katara is watching and Azula, being cunning and mean-spirited, attempts to kill her instead (in what was supposed to be an honourable one-on-one duel). Zuko realises this and quickly jumps into the way to redirect the lightning, but because he was distracted he's left temporarily paralyzed. Whereupon Katara kicks Azula's ass herself.
- In the episode The Blind Bandit, when the Gaang enters the earthbending arena, Sokka almost gets hit by a stray boulder during 2 random earthbenders' match.
- This is a frequent occurrence with Dethklok concerts in Metalocalypse, both intentionally and not, enough so that one episode establishes fans have to sign waivers that Dethklok is not responsible for any of them getting horribly injured or killed - just from trying to listen to music. The very first scene of the first episode has the stand airdropped into place while the fans are standing around where it's supposed to land - and several of them get crushed when it lands quite a ways away from the intended landing area. Then, since the song they open the concert with concerns coffee, they dump a giant pot of it hot enough to immediately scald human flesh off the bones onto more of the concert-goers.
- The Simpsons:
- The Simpsons and many other Springfield residents are attending a NASCAR race. They're all bored because nobody crashes. At one point a car's wheel comes off, plowing into Lenny. Lenny stands up saying "I'm OK!" much to everyone's disappointment. Then finally Maude Flanders gets killed by an errant shot by a t-shirt cannon knocking her off the grandstand onto the parking lot far below.
- One episode closes with Homer taking Lisa to a demolition derby. Homer leans over to hug her just as a car's fender goes flying past and hits the guy sitting behind him.
- Done in Spongebob Squarepants when a splash of deep-fry grease hit a stand of bleachers with the audience of the Fry Cook Olympics, turning them into fish sticks. The concession guy then nonchalantly flips a sign to signify they're for sale.
- Star Wars Resistance: In "The Platform Classic", it's revealed that Yeager's wife and daughter were killed in a racing accident when Marcus used hyperfuel to boost his racer and lost control, crashing into Yeager's ship and sending both racers into the spectators.
- At the execution by beheading of the Scottish Lord and traitor Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, spectator stands collapsed killing several people. Supposedly, Fraser was very amused at this, leading to the saying "laughing your head off".
- This happened a lot in motor racing, especially in early eras when there weren't barriers present to protect onlookers from being harmed when vehicles crashed and/or spun out. This still happens on occasion, though much less often than it used to.
- The 1903 Paris-Madrid road race was a notorious disaster, with five racers and three spectators killed in multiple separate accidents, and many non-fatal injuries. The entire race was called off before anybody had reached the Spanish border, and the hostile public reaction put an end to the early era of long-distance motor racing on public roads still open to other traffic, with little control over the positions and behaviour of spectators.
- The 1928 Italian Grand Prix - Emilio Materassi lost control of his car and crashed into the grandstand, killing him and twenty-two spectators. It's still the worst accident (in terms of number of lives lost) to occur at a Grand Prix event and is still the second deadliest motorsport crash of all time after the 1955 Le Mans disaster.
- The worst such accident in motorsports occurred at the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hours, where Pierre Levegh and eighty-three spectators were killed when Levegh's Mercedes 300 SLR was catapulted into a stand after a collision. The disaster led to Mercedes-Benz withdrawing from motor racing for decades.
- The 1961 Italian Grand Prix - the Ferrari of Wolfgang von Trips crashed into a spectator stand, killing von Trips and fifteen spectators.
- During the first stage of the 1986 Portuguese rally, three spectators were struck by a car and killed. This, coupled with Henri Toivonen's death during the Tour de Corse, resulted in the Group B rally cars getting banned.
- In 1999 there was a serious accident at a Indycar race called the Visionaire 500K in Charlotte where a collision led to debris flying into the stand, killing three spectators.
- It's for this reason that photographers at these events are told never to face away from the oncoming vehicles when taking their shots. If a vehicle goes out of control, it's moving so fast that they only have a brief moment to get out of the way.
- NASCAR hasn't seen any spectator fatalities, although catch-fence crashes have happened that injured spectators.
- The inaugural Truck Series race at Daytona will forever be marred by the terrifying crash of Geoff Bodine on lap 57. Contact between Kurt Busch and Rob Morgan caused Morgan to make contact with Bodine's truck in such a way that Bodine was catapulted into the catch-fence at a speed of nearly 190 miles per hour. Bodine's fuel tank exploded and the truck flipped over nine times extremely hard across the track before coming to rest on its roof in turn 1. The now crushed and mangled rollcage that was left of the truck was then struck by Ryan McGlynn on the driver's side. Bodine suffered a broken jaw, wrist, shoulder, and a concussion, while five fans in the stands were also injured by debris.
- The reason why restrictor plates are used at Daytona and Talladega is because of Bobby Allison's crash at Talladega in 1987. Allison's Buick blew a tire going into the tri-oval at 200 mph (320 km/h), spun around and became airborne, flying tail-first into the catch fencing. While the car did not enter the grandstands it tore down nearly 100 feet of fencing and flying debris injured several spectators.
- On the last lap of the 2009 Aaron's 499 at Talladega, Brad Keselowski turned Carl Edwards in the tri-oval. Edwards got airborne, was struck by Ryan Newman, and then was catapulted into the catch fence. Eight fans were injured by flying debris; the most serious one being a woman whose jaw was broken and was airlifted to a nearby hospital. In a tribute to Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Edwards got out of his car and jogged to the finish line.
- A notorious Big One happened on the last lap of the 2013 DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona, the Xfinity lead-in to the Daytona 500. Regan Smith was turned into the outside wall by second-place Brad Keselowski coming to the checkers, and Kyle Larson's car was thrown into the catchfence. The front tires and the engine of Larson's car were torn out and landed on the spectator side of the fence as part the fence was torn down. 28 spectators were injured, 14 of whom were treated at the infield care center and 14 of whom were taken to nearby hospitals.
- On the last lap of the 2015 Coke Zero 400, as the field raced to the checkered flag, Kevin Harvick tapped Denny Hamlin from behind, instigating a massive wreck involving at least 24 cars (every car in the lead pack except for race winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., second place Jimmie Johnson, and fifth place Kurt Busch). In the resulting collisions, Austin Dillon struck Hamlin at such an angle that he flipped over and flew into the catch fence in nearly the same place as Kyle Larson had in the 2013 Xfinity crash, ripping out the engine. Dillon's car landed back on the track upside down, coming to a rest at the exit to pit road, and was then hit again by Brad Keselowski, who spun in oil while trying to avoid the crash. Five fans were injured by debris, with one taken to Halifax Medical Center and later released, while the other four were treated and released from the infield care center.
- Similarly, crashes at air shows have sometimes killed spectators as well as pilots.
- In 1938, over fifty people were killed in Bogota when a fighter plane doing aerobatics crashed into the crowd.
- At the 1952 Farnborough air show, an experimental De Havilland DH110 jet fighter crashed, killing its two-man crew and 29 spectators.
- In 1988, a collision between planes of the Italian air force's official aerobatics team at Ramstein US Air Force base in Germany killed three pilots and 67 spectators. The incident inspired the name of the German industrial-rock band.
- In 2002, in the worst such accident so far, 77 people were killed at an air show near Lviv in Ukraine, when a jet from the national display team crashed into the crowd.
- In 2015, eleven people were killed when a preserved Hawker Hunter jet fighter crashed onto a road during a display in Shoreham, England.
- Most baseball stadiums have prominent signs warning spectators to be careful about baseballs being hit into the stands hard enough to cause serious injury.
- Similar to baseball stadiums, hockey arenas have similar warnings regarding errant pucks flying into the stands. Additionally, since 2002 all NHL arenas have large nets installed above the glass behind each goal specifically to prevent missed or deflected shots from hitting spectators. Tragically, this was instituted following the death of a young fan who was struck in the head at a 2002 Blue Jackets game.
- Downplayed version with sea parks: the seats closest to the pool are marked as splash zones, where spectators will get hit by huge waves. They sit there anyway.
- Downplayed version with the comedian Gallagher: during his heyday in the 1990s, Gallagher played concerts in indoor arenas. The first several rows were equipped with plastic sheeting they could pull over their heads when he began smashing watermelons with a sledgehammer on stage.
- The 2004 PacersPistons brawl started as an on-court altercation, but after a drunk spectator threw a drink at Ron Artest (then playing for the Indiana Pacers) the fight escalated with the players and crowds fighting against each other. Though nine spectators were injured (with two needing to be hospitalized) and at least one player was also injured, thankfully no one died.
- Perhaps one of the most bizarre examples, at a game between the New York Jets and New England Patriots in 1979, two fans were struck by a remote control plane shaped like a lawnmower. One of them died.
- During a Lamb of God gig in Prague, a local fan was pushed off the stage, landed on his head, and died. Lead singer Randy Blythe was prosecuted for manslaughter but acquitted, the judge declaring that the moral responsibility lay with the venue for disorganisation.