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Staged Shooting

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Nicolas Mason: "Corn syrup."
Ziva David: "Blanks."
— To a dumbfounded Big Bad, "Worst Nightmare", NCIS

It's a tense scene in the middle of The Caper. It looks like the characters are about to be rumbled.

Two start arguing with each other. One pulls out a gun and fires it. Blood comes out of the second person's chest and they fall to the floor, apparently dead.

The situation is resolved. It then turns out that the second person isn't dead after all, but the whole thing was a set up involving squibs and fake blood.


Multiple variations on this, but the gist of the matter is — the bullet impact isn't real.

Often used when the audience is supposed to learn that the hired killer actually has a conscience. Typically, the killer will take a job only to realize later on that he can't kill the target for "ethical reasons" (he's a good father, he donates to charities, doesn't kill women, etc), and agrees instead to fake the death.

Also used when the writers need the someone to "retire" from a job that would otherwise be impossible (professional killer, mafia enforcer, grocery bagger, etc.)

Not to be confused with Bait-and-Switch Gunshot. Also see Fake Kill Scare, where someone's death is faked to frighten a loved one.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Done with a knife in One Piece.
  • In an episode of Trigun, Vash (known for his very strict policy against killing anyone or anything) is hired to kill two stowaway children for a very high price. He shoots the children without batting an eye and takes the money. Then he gives it to the kids after they get up from being hit with rubber bullets.
    • He wasn't even hired to kill them, but to bring them back alive. Since he felt sympathetic to their desire to escape, he decided to play the part of the insane killer he's been saddled with and basically bluffed that he would kill the entire convoy if he didn't get his pay, even though he went completely contrary to the agreement.
    • Another instance was when Vash and Wolfwood entered a quick draw contest and they made it to the finals. When they would've been pitched against each other, Wolfwood attempted to withdraw his participation so that they get the money without having to actually fight. However, the sponsor of the contest blackmailed him into going up against Vash on the grounds that if he manages to kill him, he gets a share of the bounty. Wolfwood informs Vash about the situation and the two stage a fight where they appear to shoot each other and collapse into a puddle of blood. The bad guy's henchmen go to check the "corpses"... who quickly disarm them with well-placed shots and reveal that the blood was fake, stored in the booze bottles they emptied last night.
  • In Sora No Woto, the soldiers of the Clocktower Fortress stage one of these with Seize's local boozerunners in order to scare off a few members of the mafia who are sniffing around looking to expand their territory.

    Comic Books 
  • In an issue of Suicide Squad, the Squad uses this trick to fake the death of radical agitator William Hell.
  • One-shot Batman foe Michael Baffle enters the story by being executed by firing squad. It transpires that he has bribed the soldiers to load their rifles with blanks, and bribed the officer to forgo the usual inspection of the rifles before the execution.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Disney's Tarzan, Tarzan has Clayton at gunpoint with his own rifle. Clayton dares him to shoot and "be a man", then cringes as a shot is heard. It was actually Tarzan imitating the sound of a gunshot.
  • On Cars, McQueen thinks he's being shot at by the sheriff. It's actually the sheriff's tailpipe backfiring. How on earth he could have shot at him at all with no limbs is a good question.
  • Cars 2 answers that question, depicting cars with retractable guns built into their wheels.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the 1945 film adaptation of And Then There Were None and almost all other successive film adaptations, Vera's shooting of Lombard is revealed to have been a faked one staged to trick the murderer into revealing himself.
  • A classic one in Bandits. The movie opens on the frame story of Larry King presenting his evening program as a retrospective following the death of 'Sleepover Bandits' (termed for their habit of taking the bank manager hostage the previous night and using him to gain early entry to the bank,) in a more conventional bank robbery, having kidnapped 'Larry' and forced him to interview them that evening. The movie goes along being fairly conventional lines: the duo meet love interest quarrel over said love interest etc. It all comes to a head at the bank robbery, surrounded by the cops with a room full of hostages, their emotions get the better of them and they wind up shooting and killing each other. It's faked by their special effects buddies: but the real twist comes later The quarrel was real, but the ensuing breakup was faked, allowing the love interest to tip-off (and claim the substantial reward for) the police to the 'Bandits' next target. Oh and the bodybags were stuffed with cash. The final scene has them relaxing at a hotel in Mexico as the radio continues to broadcast news of their deaths.
  • Happens early on in The Brothers Bloom and subverted by Stephen in the end, leading both his brother and viewers to think it's this, when it's not.
  • Used in Lucky Number Slevin, although the killer wasn't the one who set it up - his partner warned the person scheduled to be killed beforehand.
  • Used in the Bond film The Living Daylights, although what is really happening is hinted at beforehand and it is likely that the audience is not supposed to be fooled.
    • Also used in GoldenEye, not hinted at but kind of obvious as the actor gets second billing.
  • Used at the beginning of the movie The Punisher (2004), to set up Frank's "retirement"
  • In Hot Fuzz, Danny does this to get Nicholas safely away from the murderous townsfolk.
  • Used in the 2004 Paul Haggis film Crash. A gun store owner tracks down the man he believes responsible for robbing his store. He confronts the supposed assailant in front of his house, and when he fires the gun at the man and his daughter (who's jumped into her father's arms), the gun fires blanks. The storeowner's daughter switched the ammunition in the gun, believing her father might hurt someone.
  • Used at the end of City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold, except the target is so startled that even he doesn't realize he wasn't shot.
  • Used in Hudson Hawk as Hawk apparently shoots and kills Tommy, but in the next scene Tommy gleefully explains that the blood was only ketchup.
  • Death on the Nile. Somewhat different though, because the fake-shootee later inflicts a real wound on himself. Apparently not caring that he might kill himself through the blood loss by this way.
  • Movie43: This is the climax of "The Pitch" framing device when film executive Griffin Schraeder is shot by his manager Bob Mone.
  • Played straight then revealed in North by Northwest when the heroine shoots Cary Grant. The gun is later discovered by the chief henchman to be loaded with blanks.
  • One of the main plot-device gizmos in xXx. Xander is given a special gun that simulates firing a real bullet but is actually just firing tranquilizer darts with built-in blood squibs that perfectly simulates a real shooting. He is, of course, almost immediately given a situation requiring precisely this kind of device in the course of his mission (pretending to kill a good guy to earn his way into the evil organization).
  • Subverted in Heathers, when J.D. tells Veronica that the bullets in the guns he's provided for a "prank" are fake-but-realistic-looking tranquilizer darts; but which turn out to be very real and very deadly. This is played strictly for laughs.
  • Double subversion in The Game when Nicholas thinks he has a hold of a real handgun that The Game missed. He shoots his brother, who we now think is dead. Nicholas then proceeds to jump off the roof only to crash through breakaway glass into a party held in his honor. Here he discovers that his brother is alive, and more importantly, that he has lived.
  • The Quick and the Dead has Russell Crowe's character shooting his Love Interest (played by Sharon Stone) in a Duel to the Death in a shooting contest arranged by her Arch-Enemy. Later, he turns out to be alive - they faked his death.
  • In the movie Salt Evelyn Salt shoots the Russian President Boris Matveyev. Later it is revealed the death was actually staged by Evelyn by using a spider venom filled projectile to cause a temporary paralysis resembling death.
  • Iron Man 3 features a scene in the end credits that reveal that the man Trevor Slattery decoy Mandarin "shot" is just fine.
  • Zeppelin (1971). During WW1 a Fake Defector is boarding a boat so he can be smuggled to Germany when a sniper gives him Only a Flesh Wound so his cover will be more convincing. Apparently he hadn't been informed of this aspect of the plan.
  • Velvet Goldmine begins with glam rock star Brian Slade being assassinated on stage. We later learn that this was just a publicity stunt staged by Slade (and not a well-received one either, the backlash sending him on a downward slide into drugs and obscurity).
  • Dan Brown's Inferno. After witnessing a doctor gunned down by an assassin at the hospital, Professor Langdon flees with the help of Dr Sienna Brooks. It turns out the whole thing was a set-up with blanks and bloodbags, designed to make him trust Sienna.
  • The final scene of Circus reveals that Lily's shooting and death had been staged (although anyone familiar with Con Man films was probably suspecting it by this point). The shooting of Bruno was real, however.

  • Mentioned as a possibility in Robert A. Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. A man is shots and collapses in front of the main character, and then the body is quickly removed. After first assuming the man had been shot, the protagonist realizes it could have easily been faked ( It wasn't), which would explain why the body was removed so quickly.
  • In Death on the Nile, Simon Linnet's alibi for the murder of his wife — an attack by an ex-lover in which he was shot in the foot, thus making him barely able to walk — was, in fact, staged.
  • Used in the Artemis Fowl series when Artemis rescues his father from the Russian Mafia, using a hollow bullet filled with Artemis' own blood.
  • In Renegades, Ingrid and Nova scheme to fake a Mutual Kill - with Ingrid blowing up Nova while Nova shoots her - to fake their deaths and throw the Renegades off their trail. Except Ingrid intended to kill Nova from the start, and Nova has to actually shoot her to save herself.

    Live Action TV 
  • Happens in several occasions in Hustle, in order to scare the mark into taking off and not coming back for his money (it's an old con trick, but something of a Fridge Logic moment these days, as even if the mark left the country they would undoubtedly look up on the internet to find out what the police were saying about the non-existent shooting). Subverted on one occasion when the mark gets caught up in the emotions of the moment, draws his own firearm and fires a couple of real bullets into the 'victim' as well! Fortunately, he survives.
  • Both the TV incarnations of Mission: Impossible featured Fake Gunshots, as well as fake stabbings and any other means of getting an agent to "die" in front of the IM-Force's latest mark.
  • Variant: In the fourth season of 24, Tony Almeida "shoots" Jack Bauer, and Jack is then examined and found to be dead. Thirty seconds later, Tony jabs a syringe full of adrenalin into Jack's heart to revive him from artificially-induced death.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series
    • Bones fakes Kirk's death in "Amok Time" (fooling Spock and the other Vulcans), while Spock uses a phony 'Vulcan Death Grip' on Kirk in "The Enterprise Incident" (fooling Bones and the Romulans).
    • "Patterns of Force". A female Nazi fires a gun at a Resistance member and kills him. After Kirk and Spock grab the Nazi the Resistance member gets up, revealing that her gun was filled with blanks.
  • Rare sword example: In Heroes it looks like Hiro has stabbed his friend Ando, but we later find out he stopped time, got a prop sword and fake blood, and set the whole thing up so that the bad guys would think he was one of them. and left a real sword in a Japanese joke store.
  • In The X-Files episode "The Amazing Maleeni" this is used to set up an armored car robbery. The guard's guns have had their bullets changed to blanks to make the robber seem invincible.
  • In an episode of Burn Notice Michael is trying to scare a timid corrupt executive into leaving the state/country, and does so by making him think someone wants to kill him. The executive isn't as easily scared as he thought, so Michael works with him to "hire" his friends Sam and Fiona to take out the assassin. Then, through some clothing-embedded blood splatters, all three are shot down by unseen gunmen, successfully sending the executive running for the hills. Then they get up, and Sam and Fi start critiquing each others' performances.
  • Stargate SG-1: In a training scenario the cadets didn't realize was a training scenario, they were given guns loaded with blanks and "brainwashed" Stargate Command personnel equipped with squibs.
  • In The Rockford Files episode "Joey Blue-Eyes", the heroes stage a scene where Joey shoots Jim in order to convince that episode's villains that Jim really had kidnapped Joey's daughter.
  • On Parks and Recreation, a meeting is disrupted by a gunshot... that turns out to be the ringtone of Ron Swanson's cell phone.
  • On The Event, when Damsel in Distress Leyla gets the drop on Dark Action Girl Vicki, Leyla manages to take her gun and fires, seeing Vicki tumble down the stairs from the impact. Later in the episode it is revealed that Vicki had previously loaded the gun with blanks, as part of a gambit to make her think she escaped so that she would call her boyfriend, who Vicki's superiors are trying desperately to locate.
  • Leverage:
    • Done twice in the same episode: first, "gunshots" were fired at a Corrupt Corporate Executive to convince him that he had hitmen after him, and he should go to the cops. Then, when that plan backfired spectacularly, a protagonist got "shot", and played dead, as the villains of the episode were actually going to shoot him.
    • The show's final episode starts with Ford being interrogated about a failed heist, in which the interrogator (and the audience) is led to believe until near the end that the rest of the cast, other than Ford, was killed. (The heist was actually successful: the team needed to pretend to be dead so they could sneak in as part of the investigation of the first, fake, heist.) One part of selling the deaths: a security camera caught Eliot being shot several times. The scene really happened, but the gunshots were of course acted.
  • In the Tales from the Crypt episode "Yellow", the general's son is scheduled to be executed via firing squad for being a Dirty Coward on the battlefield. The general tells his son on the night before the execution that he put blanks in the rifles to fake his son's death and that he'll be able to start a new life somewhere else. All he asks is that his son face his "death" with dignity. The son agrees, and faces the firing squad with a convincing act of courage, knowing he'll live to see another day. Until he sees his father looking away at the last second.
  • Jane does this at least twice in The Mentalist.
    • In Cackle-Bladder Blood, Jane has his former brother-in-law pretend to shoot and kill him in order to frighten a murderer into confessing.
    • In The Crimson Hat, Jane "shoots" Lisbon of all people and takes the body to present to Red John as a gift of friendship.
  • The NCIS episode "Worst Nightmare" provides the page quote.spoiler explanation 
  • On The Blacklist Reddington gets a Russian hacker to cooperate by rescuing him from an FBI task force and shooting an FBI agent dead. As soon as Reddington and the hacker run off, the 'dead' FBI agent gets up since Reddington is working with the FBI and the entire thing was staged.
  • On Wiseguy, undercover agent Vinny is ordered to establish his gangster's credentials with Sonny Steelgrave by assassinating a federal court judge. He alerts his bureau contacts about the hit on the sly, and the judge secretly wears a bulletproof vest when Vinny shoots him.
  • Columbo: The murderer in "Candidate for Crime" fires a shot to put a hole in the window and the wall. He later uses a firecracker to fake a gunshot to make it look like someone had just tried to shoot him. Too bad for him Columbo had inspected the room in the interim, found the bullet and removed it from the wall.
  • Father Brown: In "The Flower of the Fairway", someone attempts to set up an alibi for the murderer by establishing a fake gunshot. They do this by tying a firework to golf ball and driving it over the clubhouse. This not only makes it appear the murder happened later than it did, but obfuscates the method because the victim was not shot but stabbed through the throat by a broken golf club.

  • Used in The Lives of Harry Lime episode "Horse Play". This episode uses almost exactly the same plot as The Sting but predates it by twenty years. Both are based on the scenario described in the non-fiction book The Big Con.

  • Subverted in the opera Tosca: the villain makes a deal with the heroine to let the hero go after a "fake" execution by firing squad... which turns out to not be fake.
  • The Ira Levin play Deathtrap has several versions of this trope.

    Video Games 
  • Done in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, with the twist that the knife stab you deliver to the victim is very real, but the dagger had been soaked in a poison that put the "victim" into suspended animation, from which you later awaken him.
    • Reused in Skyrim, but this time the so-called Big Bad of the Thieves' Guild questline shoots you with a paralyzing arrow to avoid having to kill you. Your companion, the actual Big Bad who let you take the lead throughout the entire dungeon, believes you dead.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has a reverse case like this where Edgeworth is framed for murder due to him having a meeting with Hammond, who was in fact murdered. Yogi, disguised as Hammond planned the meeting in a boat at a lake, where he fires into the air and then falls into the lake..
    • In Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, this happens twice. In case 3, the fake gunshot is intended to frame the shooter - the killer gave his girlfriend a gun that fired blanks and masqueraded as the victim, provoking her into "shooting" him and convincing her that she was the killer. Then, in case 4, the killer uses the sound of a gunshot on security footage of a shooting to fake the sound of the murder thirty minutes after it actually happened in order to establish an alibi.
  • A surprisingly elaborate one in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, a freeside bodyguard for hire makes a killing with repeat business by staging attacks on his clients, where 4 thugs attack and drop "dead" as he fire blanks. With a high enough intelligence, you can point out he fired 3 times, and with a high enough medicine skill, you can find out the thugs are Playing Possum.

  • Girl Genius: While possessing Agatha, The Other steals one of the Wulfenbach troops' guns and uses it to shoot Tarvek Sturmvoraus in the back. Later she learns that the troops were equipped with stun guns, meaning Tarvek survived. Although, in later strips, we find that he's suffering some severe medical consequences now, in part because he left the hospital before he finishes healing.

    Web Original 
  • Wash does this on a Recovery mission, bringing Agent South off the Freelancer roster. Subverted; she had planned it with Freelancer Command.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer and Bart try to pull off a "Fawlty Towers" Plot. Played with, in that the guy who fired the gun wasn't in on the plan.
  • Done in the Young Justice episode "Summit". Miss Martian (disguised as Deathstroke) 'shoots' Aqualad and Artemis as part of a plan to extract an Engineered Public Confession out of the Reach and the Light. The 'deaths' are then revealed as special effects.
  • In American Dad!, Stan makes Roger, who to this point has been impersonating a foreign dictator, undergo a fake assassination as the treaty he signed makes said dictator no longer useful to the US (and, thanks to Stan, the real dictator was already dead). However, tired of being used by Stan, Roger immediately subverts it by getting right back up after his "assassination" in full view of everyone, after which he takes over the country proper.

Alternative Title(s): Fake Gunshot


Example of: