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Weapon for Intimidation

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"A Mech as powerful as possible, as impenetrable as possible, and as ugly and foreboding as conceivable, so that fear itself will be our ally."
Aleksandr Kerensky, describing the design goals for the Atlas assault mech from BattleTech

Not everyone who carries a weapon actually uses it. Sometimes it's best to have something to make you look intimidating, be it a large staff or a gun. It might actually be completely useless (such as an unloaded gun or even a toy gun). Other times it's just not needed all that much, but when you need it, it'll get the job done.

May lead to an unfortunate demise through the Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet! trope, because the police and military aren't going to put their guns down and negotiate and are trained to blow you away as soon as possible. Also doesn't work on people very intent on taking your stuff, nor on people who are more well-armed than you are.

Subtrope of Useless Accessory. The Sword of Damocles is an upscaled version of this trope; a weapon so fearsome it brings nations or worlds to their knees in fear of it. If you don't even have a fake weapon but wish to achieve the same effect, that's a Brandishment Bluff. Compare It Works Better with Bullets, where the shooter has no idea the weapon is unloaded at the time they try to use it for intimidation, and Intimidation Demonstration, which is a more general, often weaponless version. See Only a Lighter for cases where a gun turns out to be a novelty lighter.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Akagi: The title character once "borrowed" a revolver as leverage against some thugs who were out to get him.
  • In Code Geass R2, the second season introduces a Fantastic Nuke which Suzaku attempts to use in this fashion. However, Suzaku had already blown any credibility he had with Lelouch thanks to an ambush plotted without his knowledge, so Lelouch thinks he's full of crap and ignores the threat. The weapon is eventually used, except on Tokyo instead of the Black Knights.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, Hol Horse tries to use his Stand, which is shaped like a handgun, to threaten some workers into removing a section of pipe, but this fails because he forgot that his Stand can only be seen by other Stand users.
  • Exploited by Shanks in One Piece. Early in the story, when a Mook pulls a gun on Shanks to threaten him, Shanks responds that "guns aren't for threats; they're for actions." This is immediately followed by one of Shanks' crew members shooting the mook in the head.
    • In the 3D2Y movie, this was the original purpose behind Byrndi World's island-destroying cannon that he mounted on his ship. He hoped that a strong weapon would help scare off potential foes, allowing his crew to sail the high seas in freedom. However, after he was captured, supposedly betrayed by his brother, and spent 30 years in Impel Down (which only felt like a few moments due to being a Human Popsicle, so the "betrayal" felt fresh on his mind after he got out), Motive Decay set in, and he decided to use it as a weapon of mass destruction to destroy Mariejoia.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin there was a guy who is impersonating his title as Hitokiri Battousai, he wields a sword that he threatens to use to scare off people. But he never uses it because it's really old and rusty.
  • Sailor Moon: In Chibi-usa's debut episode, she threatens Usagi with a toy gun that looks and sounds like a real one, but just shoots suction cup darts. Of course, the first English dub cut this scene out.
  • In Sandland, when Rao is asked why he didn't use his gun in a fight, he answers that bullets are expensive (especially in a Desert World) and pointing his gun is enough to scare most would-be bandits.
  • Meliodus from The Seven Deadly Sins has a sword that is basically just a hilt with a tiny piece of the blade. In the first episode, he mentions that it's just for intimidation of anyone who'd start trouble at his pub. We soon find out that he is a certifiable badass even with just that little nub of a sword. We find out at the end of Season 1 that the true purpose of his blade is that the hilt is the key for the Sealed Evil in a Can. He's there to protect the sword, not the other way around.
  • In Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, when Lag first meets Sylvette, she mistakes him for a debt collector and points her brother's old Shindanjuu at him to scare him off. The weapon is useless, however, since not only is Sylvette unable to use a Shindanjuu, but the Spirit Amber attached to it has been removed, leaving it just a gun without any bullets, so she admits that it's only good for bluffing. Despite this, Lag is able to use Gauche's old Shindanjuu effectively, since he has a Spirit Amber in his eye, and the gun serves as a conduit for him to fire Shindans.

    Asian Animation 
  • In later seasons of Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, Wolnie rarely hits anyone with her frying pan. She still carries it occasionally in later seasons, but only to intimidate Wolffy.

    Comic Books 
  • During the '80s, Batman sometimes encountered a Gotham-based Hard Boiled Detective named Joe Potato. While Joe usually carried a licensed gun, his preferred method of extracting information from perps was to threaten them with his "potato peeler", a knife with a hole in the blade making it resemble a vegetable peeler. Batman confronted him over threatening a suspect at one point, but Joe then revealed that his knife was made of rubber.
  • The Beano: One Bash Street Kids strip had a gunman take the school hostage. It ended when Fatty asked if he was planning on eating the black pudding he was pointing at people.
  • In the Disney Ducks Comic Universe, one of Paperinik's classic stratagems to intimidate his opponents is to carry around a water gun and pull it out claiming it's either a killer beam or a hypnotizing device. In the latter case, the opponents will usually believe that he hypnotized them.
  • In an early issue of DMZ, one character threatens another with a pistol with a broken slide. However, the person on the receiving end obviously wasn't aware of this.
  • In 2000 AD's D.R. & Quinch, Pulger once carved a (fake) phaser rifle out of a bar of soap as part of a prison escape attempt when traveling the tunnels burrowed out by a species known only as the "Snufflegruffs". When one of them shows up, Pulger makes his best attempt at this with a carved-out bar of soap. And then he does it yet again with what's left of the soap gun in the following installment.
  • Fantastic Four: The vast majority of times that Marvel's Ultimate Nullifier makes an appearance, it is used this way. Which makes sense, as actually firing it is prone to wipe out the entire multiverse, wielder included.
  • Quantum and Woody has Woody's pistol. Usually just a squirt gun.
  • In Queen and Country, Chace is being hunted by a Russian mob hit squad. The minders aren't permitted to use guns domestically, so they buy bb guns and paint them to look real in the hopes that this will frighten away the killers. When that doesn't work, they have to pistol-whip the guys to death with their toy guns.
  • In Tank Vixens, standard the standard PVC strategy is to make their soldiers literally drop-dead sexy so everyone's too scared to fight them. Their weapons, while fully functional, are considered to be more fashion accessories than tools of warfare (and bear a deliberate resemblance to weaponized sex toys).

    Fan Works 
  • In the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, when the oldest daughter of an Assassin leaves home to start a new life as a trainee Witch, her mother, a well-known and instantly recognisable big-name Assassin, deliberately dresses Rebecka up as a younger edition of herself, right down to a large sword on one hip and a coiled whip on the other. The reasoning is that a red-haired girl in Howondalandian veldt khaki with obvious weapons to hand is not likely to be molested. People who know what Johanna Smith-Rhodes looks like, but who have never seen her in the flesh, will be warned off. The reasoning falls through when Rebecka encounters a Zulu warrior in a most unlikely place - one who does mistake her for her mother, and who is aware of exactly what Johanna did to earn the title of The Red Death from his people. Trouble ensues.
  • Harry Potter in The Havoc Side of the Force eventually starts carrying a blaster to ward off the "casually suicidal" since his wand doesn't look like a threat and he hasn't yet established a reputation as The Dreaded.
  • The Headhunt: Dul'krah uses the mere presence of a combat knife as part of his "interrogation by glaring and looking scary" technique. It works.
  • In Where Talent Goes to Die, the third culprit attempts to threaten the rest of the class with an unloaded gun as a last resort to avoid being found guilty for the two murders in Chapter III. Not only do they realize that he's all but admitted that he's guilty if he's stooped to trying to intimidate others into voting for the wrong person, but Miura realizes that the gun's only bullet was used to shoot the second victim.
  • Wild Effect: Ranma is advised to carry a gun, despite very much not needing one because it makes him look like a more credible threat.

    Film — Animation 
  • The Adventures of Tintin (2011): After the One Bullet Left scene where Tintin shoots down a strafing seaplane, our intrepid hero swims underwater to where it's floating on the ocean and bluffs the pilots into surrendering with his empty pistol.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The trio of protagonists in Airheads hold a radio station hostage by brandishing some Uzis. Unfortunately, about 2/3 of the way through the movie, one gun gets caught in a door, shatters, and starts leaking in front of the surrounding police and throngs of onlookers; turns out the whole time they were realistic motorized squirt-guns. Fortunately for them, an inept side-character that thought he was being a hero also chose that moment to burst through a ceiling vent, drop the ACTUAL automatic pistol he had been directed to inside the building, and the predictable hail of bullets convinced the cops that only one of the guns was fake.
  • In Andhadhun, Simi uses a fake gun to intimidate Akash. In an interesting variation, the main reason she wanted to intimidate him was to force him to reveal that he wasn't actually blind.
  • In Angels with Dirty Faces, our gangster protagonist runs out of ammo in a shoot-out with the police, so resorts to taking an old friend hostage with the empty gun. He still gets caught, but he seems quite amused when the cops realize the gun didn't have any bullets in it.
  • In The Batman (2022), the Batmobile verges on this. It's ludicrously fast and tough, and its aggressive profile looks downright predatory in the dark even without the orange glow from the hood intake or the ungodly shriek from the rear-mounted jet engine, but it really isn't all that practical. It handles terribly, its bulk puts it at a disadvantage in tight quarters and in congestion, it has no offensive capabilities save for a heavily reinforced bumper, and while it can definitely take a beating, it is still noticeably worse for wear after the highway chase. Bruce clearly designed it more to terrify lone targets than he did for it to actually be of consistent use, and his main showing with it emphasizes that: he spends almost a minute priming the rear engine with the car parked in a back corner, illuminated only by the hood intake and the glow from the exhaust of the rear engine while everyone stands transfixed by the rear engine's screeching, and then deliberately stalls the engine as a threat to Cobblepot once he starts running to his car to book it.
  • In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent does a variation of this. The gun he has is very real (and he fires one round off to the side to prove it), but Harvey is still pre-Face–Heel Turn and doesn't have any real intention of shooting anyone yet. He needs to get information from a mook, though, and he keeps flipping a coin to decide the mook's fate, with tails meaning that he shoots him. Of course, the coin is still a double-headed one at this point, so only Harvey knows that he'll never have to actually shoot the mook.
  • Fight Club has a scene where Tyler Durden takes a store clerk out the back of the store and holds a gun to the back of his head, scaring the wits out of him and forcing him to go and follow his old dreams of being a veterinarian. At the end of the scene, the protagonist (who was with them) opens the chamber of the gun and sees there are no bullets inside.
  • In The Gumball Rally, hot-blooded Franco pulls a gun from a paper bag and threatens another driver with it. It turns out it's a squirt gun, and the whole thing was a gag.
  • In Gunless, Sean asks Jane why she carries a broken revolver with her (broken to the point that when Sean tries to open the cylinder, the entire gun falls apart). Jane says that it is to discourage unwanted attention from menfolk.
  • Inside Man has the bank robbers armed with AK-47s that they never fire and Clive Owen has a Hand Cannon that he uses for intimidation. The guns are just very realistic-looking toys.
  • Invoked in Jackie Brown. Ordell convinces Beaumont Livingston to hide in the trunk of his car with an unloaded shotgun for the stated purpose of surprising the buying party at one of Ordell's weapon deals. However, Ordell's true intentions are to drive over to a nearby vacant lot and shoot the defenseless Beaumont dead himself.
  • In Kick-Ass 2, Colonel Stars-and-Stripes carries an unloaded handgun solely to intimidate criminals. When he is defeated by the villains, they end up finding this out when they try to execute him with it.
  • Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels: The main characters plan to mug some gangsters and need to back their demands up with a threat, so they buy two old muskets purely for intimidation. However, the gangsters will know that the muggers won't likely fire the guns for fear of drawing police, so Soap brings a bunch of big, scary knives that "look like they could skin a crocodile." The gangsters will realize that silent weapons are more likely to actually be used on them and thus be more intimidating than just the guns.
  • In Lone Hero, John captures Bart and Dog by bailing them up with a Colt Peacemaker loaded with blanks.
  • Mad Max:
    • The Road Warrior: Mad Max has a double barreled boot shotgun. Whether he has ammo for it is another matter.
      Gyro Captain: [watching Max salvage a shotshell, and pop open the empty chamber to load it] Empty! All this time...! That's dishonest, LOW! Hey, hey, how do I know THAT one's not a dud?
      Max: [shoves the barrel in his face] Find out.note 
    • The same thing happens in Fury Road with Max using the shotgun with its dud shells to make the Five Wives give him water and free him from his chains. In that case, Furiosa takes the weapon off him, getting very frustrated when she goes to shoot Max and nothing happens.
  • Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet carries a revolver but states that he rarely needs it.
    "That's just part of my clothes. I hardly ever shoot anybody with it."
  • In Nobody, Hutch decides not to attack the burglars robbing his house after noticing that the revolver they're using looks like it hasn't been fired in a while as well as being unloaded. However, since he's the only one who noticed that everyone else just thought he chickened out at the last moment.
  • In Ocean's 13, the Night Fox reappears to relieve Linus of the diamonds he'd just stolen. Linus hands them over and chides the Night Fox for being so uncouth as to simply threaten him with a gun. Just before departing, the Night Fox tosses him the gun to show that it's unloaded. He does have some standards.
  • Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment plays this near the end. Zed has taken Mahoney hostage and is trying to escape with him, only to run into Pete Lassard who holds him at gunpoint. After some debate, Zed gets knocked down the stairs and arrested. Pete then reveals his gun is empty.
    Pete Lassard: I haven't carried live ammo since '73.
  • In Raising Arizona, HI always robs stores with an unloaded gun, which is what helps him get out of prison so quickly to stick up another joint.
  • Snatch. has a few of these:
    • Vince buys a gigantic shotgun to "raise pulses" when he robs a bookie joint. He actually uses it to blow a hole in a wall, then gets it turned against him.
    • Later, Sol gets two starter pistols loaded with blanks as intimidation weapons against Bullet-Tooth Tony, who notices that they've got "Replica" written right on them. Then he draws his own Hand Cannon...
    • Tommy's gigantic revolver is bought for self-defense, but it actually doesn't work. He still keeps it around and uses it as an intimidation weapon against Brick Top's dragon and a bunch of Mooks. Tommy is absolutely convincing while threatening the mooks.
  • Snowpiercer: The basic guards that police the tail section of the train are Mooks in security guard uniforms or riot gear armed with rifles. They secretly ran out of bullets four years ago putting down the last rebellion, and can only use their guns for intimidation or as clubs. When Curtis realises this, he grabs a guard's gun, holds it to his head, and pulls the trigger to demonstrate that it's harmless, and the guards are quickly overpowered. It turns out they have boatloads of bullets; they were just giving the rebels an easy first win to lead them into a trap.
  • Invoked in Star Wars: A New Hope when Grand Moff Tarkin says that fear of the Death Star will keep the star systems in line but averted when he uses it to try and extort information out of princess Leia and then destroys Alderaan anyway. The Empire at large uses this, high visibility weapons like Star Destroyers, AT-AT walkers, and Imperial Stormtroopers are often used to defuse situations before they can start.
  • Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run. Virgil tries to escape from prison by threatening the guards with a fake gun carved out of soap. Then it starts to rain...
  • Charley, in True Confession, has a gun that turns out to be a cigarette holder.
  • In Varsity Blood, Hannah and Jeff find a shotgun when they search the old cabin, but there are no shells in it. Jeff decides they should take it with them anyway, hoping that he can use the gun to scare away the killer. This does not work out the way he hoped.

  • Beware of Chicken: Guan Bo wears a sword at his belt while traveling, even though he's not trained to use it because it's just not sensible to appear unarmed on even relatively safe roads.
  • In The Caves of Steel, R. Daneel Olivaw carries a blaster that is utterly incapable of being fired and uses it for precisely this purpose. Being a fully Three Laws-Compliant robot, he wouldn't have it any other way; if he had a weapon that could be used, it would be possible for him to harm or even kill a human being by accident, which he finds a disturbing idea. He also points out that being equipped with a dummy weapon is perfectly logical on other grounds: to fail to carry a weapon would reveal that he is not the human police officer he is masquerading as, and since humans from the Cities are extremely conditioned towards accepting orders from authority, it is inconceivable that his bluff could be called.
  • At the climax of The Dawns Here Are Quiet, Vaskov is left outnumbered six to one and has a knife, One Bullet Left, a grenade without a primer, and a gangrenous left arm when he makes a final desperate attack on Nazi sabuteurs' camp. He sneaks on a lone sentry, stabs him with a knife, and breaks into their shack, only to find them asleep and kill the one who wakes up and leaps for weapons with his last bullet. Vaskov then forces the remaining Germans to surrender and tie each other up under the empty gun and the useless grenade held in useless hand, since they are too scared to realize he's alone.
  • Discworld:
    • Invoked in The Fifth Elephant: Vimes is particularly distrustful of Skimmer's spring crossbow (described as similar to a derringer), which he says is not a weapon, but a tool for killing people. To Skimmer's puzzled "Uh, yeah, it's a weapon," Vimes responds that weapons are for displaying, so attackers know what they're heading into (like dwarves and their ubiquitous battle-axe). The spring crossbow, on the other hand, is for killing people who aren't expecting it.
    • Invoked in Monstrous Regiment where vampire Maladict carries a sword to keep people from attacking him. He doesn't know how to use it, of course, as his vampiric abilities ensure he doesn't need to, but "sword" proves a better shorthand for "not someone you should attack." When questioned about what he'd do if someone called his bluff, since he doesn't know how to use the sword, he remarks that he'd probably just rip their throat out.
    • The Patrician may or may not have a Sword Cane. He lets people spread rumors about it as a tactic of intimidation although in Jingo Colon reflects that it's just as scary that nobody can remember seeing him wield any weapon. Whenever the audience sees him fight he favors a stiletto. In Making Money, Cosmo has his assistant bring him Vetinari's Sword Cane. The assistant, who would very much prefer staying alive, instead "spent a few hours with a brass brush and some chemicals to create a weapon that looked as if it would jump for your throat of its own accord." Vetinari is unimpressed on seeing it.
    • And then, of course, there's the troll Detritus's "Piecemaker", a converted siege crossbow. It's designed to fire bundles of arrows held together by string that are meant to separate in flight; in practice, it fires an expanding cloud of burning splinters. It's generally used as a threat, as opposed to actually being fired: if it were used, no pieces of the target would likely be recoverable, and Vimes likes to have something for the judicial system to process. It has, however, been used to demolish more reasonable targets, like buildings.
    • Subverted very forcefully by Vimes in Night Watch. Citizens are rioting and attacking Watch houses, the Watchmen at the Treacle Mine Road house are nervous, and Vimes tells them to put their swords away so as not to provoke the mob any further:
      Colon: No swords? But what if a bloody great mob comes round the corner and I'm not armed?
      Vimes: And what will you do with a sword against a bloody great mob? Any man who draws against my orders had better hope the mob gets to him before I do, because everything up until then will look like a bloody day at the sodding seaside, understand? Don't let my sugary-sweet tones lead you to believe I'm not damn well giving you orders!
  • In Farmer Giles of Ham by J. R. R. Tolkien, Farmer Giles's blunderbuss is this...until he happens to fall over when meeting a giant.
  • Justified in Girl Waits With Gun - the sheriff is happy to arm the three sisters being harassed by criminals because being armed makes attacking their home less attractive. He insists they not shoot directly at anybody, because he intends to have his own people check out their house from time to time as well and doesn't want any accidents.
  • Glerk of The Girl Who Drank the Moon has six limbs and a prehensile tail. In the past, he preferred to stand on his hind legs and wave five swords to scare off combatants without actually engaging them.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe has this to say about the Kill-O-Zap gun;
    The designer of the gun had clearly not been instructed to beat about the bush. "Make it evil," he'd been told. "Make it totally clear that this gun has a right end and a wrong end. Make it totally clear to anyone standing at the wrong end that things are going badly for them. If that means sticking all sort of spikes and prongs and blackened bits all over it then so be it. This is not a gun for hanging over the fireplace or sticking in the umbrella stand, it is a gun for going out and making people miserable with."
    • Ford and Arthur are thus Very Unhappy when they see the wrong end of said gun pointed at them.
  • The Laundry Files. In a lecture on BLUE HADES, it's mentioned that you Do Not Taunt Cthulhu because the ancient species that lives in the deep oceans can trigger undersea landslides resulting in a super-tsunami that would wipe out most of humanity. And that's just for starters, as it's speculated that this is just a threat the Deep Ones use like the bayonet on a rifle pointed at a savage tribesman; something we can comprehend in an Outside-Context Problem.
  • Dally's revolver in The Outsiders. It's not actually loaded, and he states that he uses it to scare people and that's all. This comes back to bite him when he raises the unloaded gun at the police after Johnny dies to get a Suicide by Cop.
  • The protagonist of The Road carries around a pistol with only two usable bullets in it, and uses it mainly for this purpose because he's saving the bullets for himself and his son should everything go wrong. Early on he's forced to expend one bullet to save his son from a bandit, and thereafter has to conserve the last bullet in case he needs to Mercy Kill the boy should they be captured by cannibals or suffer an even worse fate.
  • In Shards of Honor, Aral Vorkosigan says that this is the reason he prefers nerve disruptors or plasma arcs to stunners—he's seen people carrying stunners get ganged up on and killed, but nobody would have tried that if there was a risk of getting killed (or worse; remember Ensign Dubauer). Aral's son Miles encounters it from the wrong side at the start (and very nearly end) of his Military career, in The Vor Game, thanks to a commanding officer with an unbending dedication to his orders and a borderline-psychotic inability to distinguish between discipline and brutality. And, years later, in Diplomatic Immunity, Miles gets told that this was the rationale behind arming a party of ratings with plasma-arcs when sending them to retrieve members of a Barrayaran warship's complement - who had failed to return from shore leave in a foreign port and turned out to have been detained by the local police for being drunk and disorderly, a charge that the Barrayarans disputed... rather forcefully, sparking a major diplomatic incident. He says that he recognizes the argument, but points out that the problem is, what if you actually have to fire the stronger weapons?
    Miles: So, after we shot up the police station and set the habitat on fire, what did we do for an encore?
  • Near the beginning of Snow Crash, the protagonist decides to rely on his swords, rather than the toy-looking (but deadly) pistol he's been issued by his employer, to defend himself from muggers — because he's much less likely to have to use the swords.
  • Inverted in Terry Pratchett's Strata, in which Marco the kung equips himself with an improvised sword made of sharpened metal from the cargo. A member of a notoriously-paranoid alien race, he admits it's intended to take the fear out of him, not put it into others.
  • Played nearly straight in Tyrannosaur Canyon: after Broadbent burns his One Bullet Left he threatens Maddox with the empty gun while Maddox holds a gun against Sally. Maddox shoots him, but taking the gun off Sally gives her an opportunity to strike and claim his weapon.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Used in Burn Notice when Sam is interrogating a medical fraudster. He takes out a big combat knife and starts playing with it, escalating up to cutting his own thumb open and then dripping blood on the poor bastard's head. As Michael's narration explains:
    Michael: There's a saying in interrogation: Violence perceived is violence achieved.
  • Daredevil (2015): James Wesley learns that Karen Page has spoken to Wilson Fisk's mother, so he kidnaps her and takes her to a warehouse. As he threatens to have Matt and Foggy killed if Karen doesn't back off, he pulls out a gun he borrowed from Fisk's head of security and puts it down on the table between them for additional intimidation. Unfortunately, this proves to be his undoing, as Karen is adept at using firearms (having shot her drug-dealing boyfriend years ago when he was beating up her brother with a tire iron). When Wesley is distracted by the sound of his phone ringing as Fisk tries to call him from the hospital, Karen lunges forward, grabs the gun off the table, and trains it on him.
    Karen Page: I don't know. [pulls back the hammer] Do you really think this is the first time I've shot someone?
    James Wesley: Miss Page- [Karen shoots him in the right shoulder. As he stares at her in shock, she empties six more rounds into his chest, killing him instantly]
  • In Day Break (2006), it turns out that Hopper's gun that he used to keep Chad hostage with was not loaded.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Visitation", highwayman Richard Mace attempts to threaten the villagers with a pair of unloaded flintlock pistols. The Doctor points out that the villagers are being mind-controlled and are therefore immune to intimidation.
  • On one episode of Frasier, Niles needs to get Maris a gun for protection. After not being able to procure one, he buys a starter's pistol since having any kind of gun would make her feel safe.
  • In Have Gun – Will Travel, Paladin will often use his gun as a deterrent, either simply pulling it out or shooting an object to scare his enemy into backing down.
  • In Lost, Danielle Russeau kept a rifle that had had its firing pin removed.
  • In NCIS when Gibbs needs to return to his hometown to investigate an assault that has connections to the place, Gibb's father helps him out after a fashion. One moment includes picking up his old Winchester rifle and taking it with him as he sits on the porch of the wealthy lead suspect and the local sheriff, a close friend to the wealthy man, and both were enemies to Gibbs back in their teenage years, comes to stop Gibbs from going further with the interrogation. Gibb's father later notes he is lucky as he didn't know where the shells for the Winchester are.
  • The Professionals. In "Hunter/Hunter" much is made of how dangerous is the experimental laser-sighted rifle that's been stolen by the Villain of the Week. He uses the laser to conduct a war of nerves on our heroes, only to give up peacefully when they get hold of a similar rifle and put the red dot on his chest.
  • The Punisher (2017): Micro keeps a gun under his desk. Frank is not impressed when Micro tells him the gun is for show and that he's never actually fired it.
    Frank Castle: Y'know, where I'm from, that weapon is the difference between life or death. You pull it out, you better be ready to use it. It's not for show.
  • In an episode of Red Dwarf, the crew are creeping aboard a badly-damaged simulant ship, heavily armed with bazookoids, and feeling somewhat confident. Then Lister admits that the superstructure of the ship is so unstable that even a loud noise could cause a shipquake, so the bazookoids are for psychological use only. Cue Death Glare from the Cat. Before it's over, one shot is fired while aboard the ship (actually, by the bad guys in a Taking You with Me moment.) This results in the ship going kaboom not long after the Boys from the Dwarf get clear.
  • In the "A Study in Pink" episode of Sherlock, the culprit threatens the eponymous detective with a gun. Before long, Sherlock has reason to call his bluff. It's a novelty lighter.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The Jaffa staff weapon is explicitly described as this: their primary purpose is to intimidate the low-tech slave populations and fight equally armed warriors of rival Goa'uld. In the hands of a trained Jaffa warrior, as Teal'c repeatedly demonstrates, staffs are lethal weapons both ranged and melee. However, it doesn't even have sights, so aiming has to be purely instinctual; it takes a lifetime of training to shoot a staff weapon with the accuracy that an Earth soldier right out of boot camp can achieve with his rifle. Colonel O'Neill calls them out as weapons of terror and intimidation when demonstrating the efficiency of the team's P-90 to a group of rebel Jaffa.
      O'Neill: This... [lifts a staff weapon] is a weapon of terror. It's made to... intimidate the enemy. [throws staff weapon away] This [lifts the P-90] is a weapon of war. It is made to kill your enemy.
    • Like the atomic bomb in Real Life, the Kelownans developed the naquadriah bomb in an attempt to scare the other nations on their planet into avoiding war. O'Neill naturally points out that, just like on Earth, it only makes a good threat if you're willing to prove it works as advertised. When they finally do use it, all three nations go to the peace table real fast. It also nearly blows the entire planet to smithereens — both the initial blast and the aftereffects.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Resurrection", the Mirror Universe counterpart of Bareil Antos takes Kira hostage with a disruptor and forces her to climb from Ops to a runabout so he can escape. Once they reach there, Kira tells him that she knew all along his disruptor doesn't work because the power cell is cracked. When mirror-Bareil asks why she waited until now to say that, Kira smirks and says that she needed the exercise.
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Before meeting with the Czech general, Jim Prideaux buys a toy gun. He uses the gun to threaten his driver, who surrenders the real gun he had on his person to Jim.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech:
    • The Atlas is designed specifically to be "as powerful as possible, as impenetrable as possible, and as ugly and foreboding as conceivable, so that fear itself will be our ally". The machine isn't actually unbeatable in the game, being primarily a slow short-range fighter with somewhat limited ammunition stores; but it's still one of the heaviest 'Mechs ever built and a tough nut to crack, and you definitely don't want to be caught in front of it if it ever does manage to close the distance...and whenever one shows up on the field in the associated fiction, even other MechWarriors generally take notice, as its armor and short-range damage potential are one of the highest possible with 3025-era technology. Its Dark Age successor, the Atlas III, can use the optional "Design Quirks" rules to have the "Distracting" trait which has negative morale effects on enemies due to its intimidating appearance.
      • The effect is given a shout-out in the long-defunct trading card game with the card "Intimidating Paint Job", which grants a 'Mech of 80 tons or heavier that's equipped with it the ability to reduce the attack value of every opposing unit it encounters in battle by 1.
  • GURPS Goblins actually provides game mechanics for this by giving every weapon a Menace attribute. A weapon's Menace is not necessarily tied to its effectiveness; a schoolmaster's cane may not be a very strong weapon, but it has a high Menace due to the painful memories that seeing one can call up.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Titans are said in the fluff to be designed so their mere presence can rout armies. The largest ones, the Imperator class, are so big that someone jokingly "fielded" one in a tabletop game by making a cardboard costume and standing on the table over the roughly 1-inch models and kicking them all over. That said, Imperators have enough firepower to level cities as collateral damage, and even the smaller Warhounds and their ilk will trash a decently sized force. It doesn't always work, though: in the Taros Campaign supplement, the Tau saw them as a ludicrous waste of resources and killed the first ones deployed against them so easily with aircraft that the rest retreated.
    • If one could consider Imperium Assassins to be Human Weapons, then Eversor Assassins are this. While the others are usually deployed for subtle work, Eversors are the complete opposite of subtle: Their expertise is Conspicuously Public Assassinations where the target and everyone even vaguely close to it are all smeared across the ground in the most brutal and visible way possible, and where any and all witnesses will become targets until the Eversor's handlers arrive. When the Inquisitors want to make a really public example of someone, they send an Eversor.

    Video Games 
  • In Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island, Kilbert's giant sword Fragarach is used as a special skill to scare away weak enemies. He never fully removes it from its sheath (he literally can't, because the sword is too large and heavy for him to use as a general-purpose weapon); all he needs to do is pull it out slightly to send enemies running.
  • Mahatma Gandhi of all people encourages this in the Civilization series in one of his agenda quotes. Pointing out that having a weapon is very different from actually using it and that there is no shame in deterrence.
  • The above Mad Max example is parodied in Fallout 3, with a random encounter where a nervous, stuttering man named Mel attempts to mug you with a double-barreled shotgun. If your Perception stat is high enough, you can call his bluff by noting his shotgun is unloaded.
  • Final Fantasy X has the Threaten skill, in which the user intimidates the target with their weapon to freeze them.
  • You can fire the gun in Gunpoint, but you're heavily encouraged not to — there are only six bullets in the entire game, with no way to get more, and firing it just once puts you on a very rigid time limit for the current mission. As the name of the game suggests, it's far more effective for just holding mooks at gunpoint.
  • I Am Alive has your gun be used in this way as you start with no bullets and what bullets you do find are few and far between.
  • Kyle Katarn in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy: "Remember, your lightsaber is an invaluable tool. Even when inactive, it can defuse a potentially hostile situation. Trust me on that." It does come into its own in this manner at least once when a crimelord on Coruscant gives up without a fight once his guards are disposed of, and Kyle would know how well it works from when he convinced a bartender to give him the time of day just by showing his lightsaber in Jedi Outcast. Of course, in actual gameplay, everyone suffers from Suicidal Overconfidence - it takes outright stealing someone's weapon from them with Force Pull and then taking away any nearby replacements to get anyone to just surrender.
  • In The Last of Us, Joel pulling out a gun is able to make most human enemies stop in their tracks, which would give you a few precious seconds to duck behind a corner and plan your next move (you can also grab a human enemy hostage even when your gun is empty). If you point your gun at a group of enemies for too long without firing it, some of them will being to suspect that your gun is actually empty and try to bum-rush you, a similar thing will happen if you accidentally press the trigger and the gun makes the empty "click".
  • Liberal Crime Squad: You can try to intimidate or kidnap people, and it works better with a weapon. Even if you don't have the skill.
  • It's a central mechanic of the indie Top-Down View heist game The Masterplan: the playable team can give orders to any Innocent Bystander as long as they're held at gunpoint, but if you don't constantly aim at them, they will attempt to do everything from escaping, calling the cops or trying to hold on their own. Tougher bystanders, such as security guards, need at least two people aiming at them or they'll change their minds after a while. This mechanic can be done even with a fake gun, as long as you don't accidentally pull the trigger. It's also possible to perform the heists with guns blazing, but the Cleanup Crew rates will be much higher, and the cops will not hesitate to come after the thieves.
  • The MechWarrior series, set in the BattleTech universe, likewise features the 'Atlas' Humongous Mecha, a mech designed specifically to strike fear into the heart of the enemy. Crowned with a white skull-shaped cockpit riding on top of one of the tallest and heaviest platforms available, the Atlas carries a presence on the battlefield no other mech can. In Mechwarrior Living Legends and Mechwarrior Online, it is flat-out the most durable mech available, capable of shrugging off damage that would cripple another mech.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty there are three weapons (the RGB-6, Nikita, and Stinger) which aren't particularly useful for general combat, but will scare otherwise-defiant Mooks into giving up their items during a hold up. Even an empty weapon will still work for shaking down a guard, so long as you don't pull the trigger.
  • In the video game for the first Mission: Impossible film, you're forced to use a gun to threaten a man in order to secure his cooperation in your escape from the CIA headquarters. Since the mission ends in failure if you shoot him, the weapon is strictly for intimidation.
  • Subverted Trope in an unusual manner in Persona 5. During a trip to a Mental World, the local delinquent hands the protagonist an airsoft handgun to use it to scare the enemies. But this is a Mental World, and the gun ends up shooting real bullets because Your Mind Makes It Real.
    • In Mishima's Confidant, he mentions that he purchased an uncannily realistic model gun to ward off any possible threats.
    • During Hold-Ups, the Phantom Thieves surround the enemies with their guns drawn, although they can go in for the kill in an All-Out Attack. By progressing far enough with a party member's Confidant, that individual can intervene if negotiations break down, by reminding a Shadow that they're still at gunpoint. In the Tower Confidant, you can unlock the ability to use a warning shot to make negotiations go more smoothly.
  • In Planet Alcatraz, most weapons increase your "Attitude" stat, making it easier to threaten people to give you what you want. The bigger Machine guns give the most Attitude bonus.
  • Resident Evil 2: In Leon's A route, Ada pulls her gun on Leon to threaten him into handing over the G-virus sample, although this fails and she lowers the weapon. After she is shot and falls, Leon can investigate the dropped weapon and discover that the gun is completely unloaded.
  • In survival/FPS hybrids like Rust or DayZ, this can happen as emergent player behavior. Ammo is nastily scarce (and in DayZ, firing a gun attracts zombies to such an extent that one notable rifle is nicknamed the "Dinner Bell"), but guns are an enormous combat advantage over the nothing a starting character may have, so player killers often won't take the chance. Unless you let somebody see your gun when they can get the drop on you, that is... Then it's a giant "KILL ME AND LOOT MY BODY" sign.
  • Sam in Sam & Max: Freelance Police: The Devil's Playhouse, when you try to use the gun on anything you are not supposed to, Sam states that "I don't need to shoot anybody, it's enough they know I have a gun."
  • World of Warcraft: The backstory of Pandaria mentions that when the Mogu ruled it and enslaved the Pandaren, their weapons were designed for fear rather than practicality. They fell from power when the Monks taught the Pandaren to overcome their fear, and their fast, dexterous combat outmatched the cumbersome attacks of the Mogu.


    Web Videos 
  • Early in the "4 Hunters Finale Rematch" of Minecraft Manhunt, Dream scares all the Hunters off by threatening them with a stone axe, an iron chestplate, and a shield, which isn't a full loadout but still more than any of the Hunters have. Of course, if they could see his stats, they'd know that his threats are a bluff because he has one heart of health and barely any hunger, so they could just kill him in one hit despite his equipment.

    Western Animation 
  • The Fantastic Four (1978): One of Magneto's most embarrassing defeats is when Mr. Fantastic holds him at gun-point with a gun specifically designed to be immune to Magneto's magnetic powers. The gun is made of wood; useless as a weapon, perfect for bluffing Magneto.

    Real Life 
  • This was one of the purposes of swords for eighteenth and nineteenth-century officers; it helped herd fugitives back into the battle line. As with skilled hands, a sword can be as lethal or non-lethal as the bearer wishes it to be, which makes it useful. If you go through a museum with an armory exhibit, you will likely find a selection of swords and knives that were clearly designed to terrify the person the owner is pointing them at.
  • By and large, this is arguably what bayonets are for in modern warfare (a term that can be stretched to encompass the US Civil War). In the face of accurate, long-range and repeating rifle fire, bayonets are effectively obsolete..... but they are just so friggen' SCARY, that they can rout an enemy when properly used. Even back during the US Revolutionary War, a bayonet charge was done not so much to actually kill the enemy (although the bayonet in the days of the smoothbore musket was NOT obsolete) but to make an enemy formation retreat from the assault.
  • Most American policemen carry a gun as a matter of course but are never supposed to use it unless there's an explicit threat to someone's life. However, if the cops are in a situation where they might need to intimidate someone, they're more likely to simply break out a taser or pepper spray. These are much more reliable than using a gun to intimidate someone since these less-lethal devices are more likely to actually be used than shooting someone.
  • Military "escalation of force" procedures for interacting with civilians typically specify that a unit carry their weapons unloaded and safed. Partially this makes it harder for someone to shoot a random person at the wrong time... but the other reason is that the clatter of an entire squad chambering a round or turning off their safeties in unison serves as a useful intimidation tool.
  • Averted with extreme prejudice in the case of concealed weapons permit holders. No one's ever supposed to know you're packing until you need to actually use it on an assailant, and pointing a weapon at someone to threaten them can get you in serious trouble, with or without a permit.note  One of the cardinal rules of gun safety, in fact, is never to point a firearm at anyone you do not intend to kill. In the US, "may-issue" jurisdictions leave the issuance of permits up to the discretion of local authorities, and if they suspect that you just want something to threaten people with, they will refuse to grant your request.
  • Obviously played straight for open-carriers in jurisdictions that allow it. The argument that openly-displayed firearms are an effective deterrent against criminals is notably controversial even in pro-gun circles.
  • Atomic and nuclear bombs count. After Little Boy and Fat Man got used in World War II, neither the USA nor anyone else ever got desperate enough to use one - let alone the hydrogen-thermonuclear weapons which superseded them. The industrial-civilization-ending potential of just a handful of weapons, and the ability of their bearers to mount a submarine-based retaliation/'second' strike upon anyone who would use them first, means that their only effective use is as a deterrent. If both sides have at least one hydrogen-thermonuclear weapon which can survive an enemy 'first strike', possession incurs this trope as Mutually Assured Destruction ("We will mostly/all die") or The Moscow Criterion ("Nothing you can get from me could be worth it").
  • The Gatling gun was designed to reduce casualties by decreasing the size of armies and intimidating armies into preemptive surrender. The gun and its progeny certainly decreased the size of armies, but only until the enemy called up more recruits. As you might expect, Dr. Gatling's hopes were not realized.
  • Because guns are banned in the UK with a few exceptions, gun crime is pretty darned low. What (gun) crimes there are are committed with either an air gun (which is rarely lethal) or a gun with little-to-no ammunition. While guns are smuggled in, there just isn't enough ammunition to go around - any gun user needs regular practice to be assured of accuracy with their weapon - as the usage thereof regularly outstrips the supply. All the same, most victims err on the side of caution when encountering armed criminals.
  • All around the world, some criminals unable to procure guns will use toys to intimidate their victims, which sounds reasonable as some toy, cap, and light guns are realistic looking enough with little or any modification. It works, as long as you do it right. Then there was a Stupid Crook who tried to hold up a bank with a banana toy camouflaged as a gun. Needless to say, do NOT try this in Real Life. Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet! is Truth in Television for a reason, and anyone who tries this is the living embodiment of Too Dumb to Live and Suicide by Cop; thus, this trope is harshly deconstructed for [would-be] criminals in Real Life. For the record, the one with the banana toy suffered a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown from the bank customers and was charged with attempted robbery.
  • Due to the rather obstructive red tape involved in obtaining a gun license in South Africa, many homeowners opt for high-powered paintball guns loaded with hard plastic balls. These weapons have the distinct advantages of requiring no permits, usually being non-lethal (but still bloody painful), and sidestepping a good chunk of most legislation involving actual firearms.
  • In modern air combat, tagging someone with your radar is a very good way to get their attention and to tell them that they're in a place where they aren't welcome. Aircraft designed for long-range aerial warfare such as the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, F-22 Raptor, Mig-31 Foxhound, and Su-27 Flanker are particularly good at this tactic as their long-range radars and missiles will pretty much ensure that anyone not welcome will get the message loud and clear when the lock-on tone blares in their headsets. After all, absolutely no one wants to have a missile get rammed down their cockpits or tailpipes. Something all of the mentioned aircraft are VERY good at doing.
  • Police everywhere carry weapons, be it a pistol, taser, baton, or nightstick; however, some countries take it to a new level by giving their police far more deadly weapons, such as the FAMAS seen here in the hands of French Gendarmerie in central Paris. Instances have been recorded in which police forces have been armed with hand grenades, RPGs and bayonets. China is even reported to be arming its police with 7.62 mm Gatling machine guns.
  • As a variant, many animals will prominently display their dangerous body parts in order to scare off enemies, baring the teeth being the most common, although lowering horns and extending claws is pretty common as well. Some cases are actually subversions as the body part in question only looks dangerous (e.g. bearded dragons will puff up their "beard" which is covered in spikes but isn't dangerous and is just for show.)
  • Coupled with the bayonet example above, if the enemy doesn't know you're out of ammo, taking them by surprise with an empty rifle can be just as effective.


Video Example(s):


Staff weapon vs. p90

Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter demonstrate the advantages of an Earth-made p90 over a Goa'uld staff weapon. The latter may be flashier, but it's not nearly as effective.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / WeaponForIntimidation

Media sources: