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The Gunfighter Wannabe

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Most real gunfighters don't have corks in their guns.

Hilario: Very young, and very proud.
Chris: Well, the graveyards are full of boys who were very young, and very proud.

This character has the I Just Want to Be Special attitude, but the kind of "special" he wants to be is a gunfighter. What distinguishes the Wannabe from the Young Gun is that the latter usually just needs some training/experience/maturity to get up to speed, whereas the Wannabe lacks the talent or temperament to succeed as The Gunslinger.

He may have plinked cans in the backyard, and practiced his fancy draw in the mirror, but the Wannabe doesn't have the speed and accuracy he thinks he does. And he's going to challenge a real gunfighter just as soon as he gets up the nerve. This will not end well.

The Gunfighter Wannabe's storyline usually ends in one of three ways, with a couple of rarer variants:

  1. The protagonist manages to set up a situation that shows the Wannabe that he's not ready for the gunfighter lifestyle, and the Wannabe gives up the least for now. This is suited for lighter-hearted stories, or ones on the idealistic end of the Sliding Scale.
  2. The Wannabe challenges a gunfighter and winds up dead or severely injured. Most Gunslinger stories are littered with these unfortunates in the backstory.
  3. By some fluke or a cheat, the Wannabe actually outshoots a gunfighter...and only then realizes that now, every Wannabe in the territory packing heat and looking to make a name for himself will be gunning for him. Welcome to hell, kid...

A common variant of this is the Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond: sometimes the Wannabe is the fastest gun around, among the rather small group of people that he knows, and thinks he's really hot stuff, until a real gunfighter comes along.

In a rarer scenario, The Gunfighter Wannabe challenges someone who he thinks is The Gunslinger but isn't. So the Wannabe ends up killing some Cowboy or City Slicker, and is promptly branded an Outlaw — but discovers that he lacks the cojones for banditry. This version of the storyline usually ends with the other bandits killing or abandoning him. Occasionally this results in a Heel–Face Turn, but since Redemption Equals Death, it usually doesn't end well.

Other variations include the Wannabe being a hanger-on in an Outlaw band, only to learn that this isn't what he wants — usually when his supposed True Companions abandon him (with a broken leg or something), and then the hero rescues him.

For similar characters outside the Western genre, consult the general Heroic Wannabe page. Note that this character usually does not wanna bee.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Many a mook in Black Lagoon falls under this trope, with fatal consequences for them. Most notable is Chaka. He's obsessed with how awesome his revolver is and immediately tries talking tough to Revy as soon as he meets her. He doesn't get better, though she's not the one who ultimately ends him. It's Ginji, who relieves him of both his gun and his hands before sending him into a pool to drown.
  • Played with in Fist of the North Star, where a mook who thinks himself a master of the Hokuto Shinken tries to use his "Instant Kill" technique on Kenshiro, the principal badass and real master of the style in the series, and dies hilariously.

    Comic Books 
  • Lucky Luke: Luke ends up helping a young man with atrocious aim (as in, even standing directly behind him is no guarantee of safety) look like a tough gunfighter. He ends up in a fight with an infamous bandit and kills him with a completely random ricochet, leading to other bandits avoiding the town based solely on his reputation.
  • The Ultimate Nullifier in Vengeance, a rookie hero dressed in an all-white version of Captain America's costume (sans mask because he's just too damn pretty) and wielding two Power Nullifier pistols that he spins frequently. In his mind, he is the modern heroic ideal.

    Comic Strips 
  • Parodied in one The Far Side cartoon, where the defeated reads out outcome #3 nearly word-for-word. Except that this was a Ping Pong match.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Downplayed in Back to the Future Part III. Marty turns out to be a very good shot and eagerly accepts "Mad Dog" Tannen's challenge to a showdown. He already knows he doesn't have the stomach for killing, but seeing the photograph of Doc's headstone change from "Emmett Brown" into "Clint Eastwood" (the psuedonym Marty has been using) gives him the reality check that he's as good as dead if he goes up against an experienced outlaw like Tannen in a duel. He ultimately decides to face Tannen on his own terms, with a bright idea he got from the real Clint Eastwood.
  • Jim AKA The Waco Kid, (a Retired Badass from Blazing Saddles) recalls encountering a lot of these types back when he was the Fastest Gun in the West and how "it got so that every pissant prairie punk who thought he could shoot a gun would ride into town to try out The Waco Kid", including the one that sent him into his Heroic BSoD: a six year old kid with a revolver. (Who promptly shot Jim in the ass when he threw down his guns and walked away).
  • In Curse of the Undead, Tim Carter is a young hothead who straps on his guns to take revenge on the man he believes murdered his father. Unfortunately his mouth is faster than his draw.
  • Brockie Drummond in Forty Guns likes to think he is good with a gun, but his only successes come from shooting from ambush. In his first attempt to face down Griff in a showdown, he balks and lets Griff get close enough to pistol whip him. In his second showdown with Griff, Griff shoots him dead.
  • Dealing with Wannabes is a major theme of The Gunfighter. It starts with scenario 2, then has scenario 1, and finishes with number 3.
  • I Shot Jesse James: A type 1 version appears here, taking shots at Robert Ford from a distance before giving up because he ran out of ammo. He admits that he only did it because he wants the reputation of killing the man who killed Jesse James, and Bob is understandably angry. He lets the boy go, however, but not before warning him to never do it again.
  • In The Island (1980), Justin obsessed with firearms and even emotionally blackmails his father into buying him one, despite the obvious discomfort that Maynard (who is a veteran of The Korean War) has with the idea of his son owning a gun. When forcibly recruited into the pirates, he sees this as opportunity to live out his gunslinger fantasies. He is actually an excellent shot, but starts to crack under pressure after he kills his first man.
  • Kid Blue from Looper is a small-time street thug who clearly watched too many westerns as a kid and now tries (very ineptly) to act the part of the cool, Clint Eastwood-esque gunslinger. He wields a fancy, old-fashioned revolver that he twirls around like a 5-year-old messing with their dad's gun and has apparently shot himself in the foot by accident at least once.
  • The Magnificent Seven (1960) has Chico, the young hotshot who realizes in the end he is cut out to be a farmer, not a gunfighter.
    Hilario: He is very young and very proud.
    Chris: The graveyards are full of boys who were very young and very proud.
  • The Magnificent Seven (2016): Earl, a.k.a. 'the Two Gun Kid', is a gunfighter wannabe who challenges Faraday to a gunfight early in the film. Faraday shoots off his ear to teach him a lesson.
  • Billy Valance in More Dead Than Alive. A trick shot artist in Ruffalo's traveling shooting show, Billy believes that he is great gunslinger, but has never been in a real gunfight. Cain keeps showing him up by demonstrating that things are different when the target can shoot back: such as slapping him in the face before he can draw his gun.
  • Marston in Quigley Down Under is a Big Fish in a Small Pond. He thinks he's a fast gun, on his cattle station in the Australian Outback, but at the time the movie starts he has never met an actual gunslinger. Sure enough, he's not as fast as Quigley.
  • Ron Howard's character in The Shootist is type 1.
  • Unforgiven has a dark example of Type 1 in the Schofield Kid. He's a jumped-up little hanger-on who brags about how he's killed five men with the gun he takes his namesake from (it's all but stated he gave himself the nickname). He can't see or shoot for shit, and he has never killed anyone before. When he kills the cowboy Quick Mike unarmed in the outhouse, the boy later skips town, tearfully swearing to never pick up a gun again. In a scene that never made the final film, it is eventually revealed the Kid couldn't live with the shame and killed himself.
  • R.L. Davis in Valdez is Coming. He fancies himself as a big-time hired gun, and seems fairly accurate when shooting at a distance, but goes to pieces when he gets in a real gunfight with Valdez, and loses his nerve completely after he is wounded.

  • Along The Scenic Route by Harlan Ellison plays with variant 3, adding the extra Ellison sweetness of the dueling taking place between armed cars on the highways; all entirely government sanctioned, and unavoidable if you want to use the highways.
  • The short story "The Conqueror" by Richard Matheson plays with this. It starts as Type 3, only the kid is just plain ambushed by the friends of the men he killed and shot to pieces. And then we find out that he may just have been a Psychopathic Manchild who was planning to kill his way across the plains as the baddest gunfighter ever.
  • Sackett by Louis L'Amour has one of the hanger-on type of gunfighter wannabe.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dead Man's Gun: "The Bounty Hunter" presents an example who is older than most. Middle-aged shopkeeper Raymond Jakes is gripped with ennui and harbours fantasies of becoming a Bounty Hunter. When the Dead Man's Gun finds its way into his possession, he decides to make his fantasy a reality, over the objections of his wife.
  • Played with on Justified. US Marshal Raylan Givens wears a cowboy hat and has a well deserved reputation as a gunslinger. A small time thug becomes fascinated with Raylan and starts imagining himself facing off against the marshal in duel. He practices his Quick Draw and even ropes in his partner into doing mock duels with him. The partner gets tired of this and decides that he would rather not split the money from their kidnapping scheme. As the wannabe is getting ready to face Raylan, the partner shoots him dead. The partner than gets involved in a gunfight with Raylan who kills him.
    • Raylan meets several more through the course of the show, but they all end up being Type 2.
    • Danny Crowe is actually a knife variant. He prides himself on his knife skills and is working up his courage to test the '21 foot rule' (supposedly if a gun fighter and a knife fighter are separated by less than 21 feet, the knife fighter can run in and kill the gun fighter before the later has time to draw and fire) against an experienced gunfighter. The first time he chickens out, the second time he is interrupted when a car hits him and the third time he trips and stabs himself to death.
  • The Mandalorian: In the fifth episode, the Mando is roped into helping a wannabe bounty hunter who's trying to establish a reputation for himself by taking on a deadly assassin that no other hunter will go near. They succeed... only for the wannabe to learn about Mando's recent falling out with the Guild, deciding that he can turn him in and get an even better reputation boost. Unsurprisingly, he ends up dead for his troubles.
  • An iconic example in Western television—the genre and the hemisphere—comes from The Twilight Zone (1959). In the episode "Mr. Denton on Doomsday", the washed-up drunkard Mr. Denton is challenged by a young gunslinger eager to make a name for himself. Thanks to a peddler of remedies and cures of all sorts, the showdown doesn't play out quite as expected.
  • Whiplash: In "Episode in Bathurst", the son of the town banker starts idolizing the three American gunslingers who have taken over the town and becomes their henchman and tries to emulate them, although he is not very good with a gun. Cobb is able to show him that men who rely on guns are not truly brave.

  • "Don't Take Your Guns To Town" by Johnny Cash.
  • "Brownsville Girl" by Bob Dylan uses The Gunfighter as a central theme, with the narrator trying to figure out if he's The Gunslinger or The Gunfighter Wannabe after all he's been through.
  • "The Devil's Right Hand" by Steve Earle.
  • The parody song The Ballad of Irving (the 142nd-fastest Gun in the West), by Frank Gallop (listen here). Popularized by repeated airings on the Dr. Demento show.

    Video Games 
  • In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, the training master for the Guns skill deliberately mutilated his hand after killing a Gunfighter Wannabe in a completely one-sided gunfight.
  • Major Ocelot in Metal Gear Solid 3 is a pretty solid Young Gun, being a 20-year-old MAJOR in charge of his own unit who can easily kill people with ricochet shots. Unfortunately when you put him up against Naked Snake it shoves him violently into this trope by comparison, leaving him to be tossed about and take a motorcycle wheel to the face as if he wasn't a threat at all. Snake's Stealth Mentoring Ocelot a thing or two (such as not using a semi-automatic like a revolver when it jams) is what turns him into the Magnificent Bastard he is in later games.
    • In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain a Diamond Dog is one of these, complete with a not-so-Quick Draw. Ocelot gives him a similar lecture about his stance as well as how the engravings of his guns offer no tactical advantage.
  • In Mass Effect 2, the player runs across a young hotshot wanting to sign up with the mercenaries assaulting Archangel. The player can choose to intervene and demonstrate that the kid is way out of his league, in which case you later receive an e-mail from him thanking you for saving his life. If the player ignores him, he winds up dead.
  • You fight a number 1 in Red Dead Redemption as part of a sidequest. It serves as a Take That! against 50s-style movie cowboys. The character in question is a runaway actor from a cowboy movie who has become convinced that he has what it takes to become a real gunslinger. He changes his mind and returns to the set after John Marston shoots the gun out of his hand.

    Western Animation