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Someone is pointing a gun at our hero. Our hero is rooted to the spot, either trying to talk to the gunman or frozen with fear. The gunman points without shooting for a while, then POW! there is a loud gunshot. The hero shudders violently—but wait—they aren't hurt at all.

One of two things happens then:

a) The gunman topples over dead, having just been shot by a good guy we didn't realise was there - often either because we thought they were dead or otherwise incapacitated.

b) The bad guy two feet to the left of the hero topples over dead, because the gunman was a good guy after all, or has just come to some kind of understanding with the hero and is now their ally. Or, of course, it was The Blofeld Ploy. Can be used a subversion where the gunman just misses.

Not to be confused with Staged Shooting. See also Framed for Heroism. If the person doing the shooting in instance (a) is actually the hero, then we have a case where the villain Thought They Won A Gunfight - Thought Wrong.

In a Metro article on 14 August 2007 providing a list of action movie cliches, this was called "Third Person Shooter". Roger Ebert's book of film cliches, meanwhile, calls it "In The Nick Of Heroism"

Compare Bullet Holes and Revelations. Sometimes related to Shoot Your Mate.

Also see Fake Kill Scare, where someone's death is faked to frighten a loved one.

Examples of Bait and Switch Gunshot include:

Anime and Manga

  • Used many times in Madlax.
  • Also twice in Noir "Intoccabile Acte II". The first time a mook is firing into three small waterfalls where Kirika may be hiding; as he turns to face the third waterfall we hear a shot which turns out to be Kirika firing first. And when the Intoccabile appears to have stabbed Mirielle, it turns out that Kirika has shot her blade in half.
  • Code Geass ended the first season finale on this trope and, infuriatingly, didn't show the answer until the second episode of R2. Both Lelouch and Suzaku fired near-misses, at which point Suzaku charged in and knocked the gun out of Lelouch's hand, ending the standoff.
    • Done again at the tail end of R2, wherein Diethard is aiming a gun at Lelouch, we hear a gunshot, and then Diethard falls over, having been shot in the shoulder by the now-Geassed Schneizel.
  • In the finale of Gundam SEED Destiny, ZAFT Chairman Gilbert Durandal is confronted by not one but two gunmen, Kira Yamato and his former lover Talia Gladys. A shot rings out, and it turns out he's been shot by neither of them. His killer is Rey Za Burrel, a clone who he'd been a father figure to. Everybody betrayed Gilbert, but because due to the way the series was handled, it usually shown with little or no explanation.
  • A version of this is done with a sword in Kyo Kara Maoh. During the period when Conrad is pretending to be a traitor, Yuri is captured, tied up, and presented to Conrad to kill. Conrad takes the sword, walks up to Yuri, and then there's a swish as the sword is swung... only to show that Yuri's bindings have been slashed through and Conrad is taking down the guards around them.
  • A rather complicated one at the end of the second episode of Darker Than Black, combined with subversions of Diving Save and Taking the Bullet. Jean points a gun at Chiaki, and Hei jumps in front of her as we hear a gunshot; however, she was the one who shot him, as she was actually a Doll implanted with the original's personality and Jean had just wiped it. Subverted in that, unfortunately for the bad guys who then proceed to empty a good five shots into his back while he's lying on the ground apparently incapacitated, Hei's Badass Longcoat is bulletproof no matter who's shooting at him.
  • In Angel Cop, Angel's first act on camera is to save Raiden in a Bait and Switch Gunshot scene.
  • Done in Gosick during one of the Queen Berry episodes.
  • Villainous variation in Cowboy Bebop episode "Jupiter Jazz, Part 1". Spike corners Vicious after chasing him the whole episode. He reaches for is gun, a shot is heard, and it cuts to the sky and back to reveal that Vicious outdrew Spike and shot him instead. The second part reveals Spike survived his wounds and gets help from Faye to find him again.

Comic Books

  • In Ultimate X-Men #12, right after Nightcrawler saves Colonel Wraith, the mutant-hating head of Weapon X, from an exploding helicopter, Wraith pulls out a gun to shoot him. The next panel shows a gun being fired, and in the next three, it becomes clear that Wraith was gunned down by Nick Fury, who had apparently been standing off camera with hundreds of SHIELD agents.
  • At the climax of the X-Men story God Loves, Man Kills, the villain is pointing a gun at Kitty Pride. There's a BLAM, then we see some random security guard shot the villain, because clearly anyone willing to point a gun at an unarmed teenage girl has got to be in the wrong.
  • In Joker, a cop points a gun at an out-of-ammo Joker, we see a BLAM and The Joker's shocked reaction, then Joker looks down and we see the corpse of the cop, now with a big hole in his head courtesy of Jonnny Zero, who'd come up behind Joker just in time.
    • Speaking of which, there's also the Joker's "BANG!" Flag Gun which at first plays this trope straight by (seemingly) being a prop, then subverts this trope by actually being a lethal spear gun, with the flag acting as the spear.


  • Variation in Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, where the shooter is the heroine herself, we just didn't realise she was holding a gun.
  • In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy gets cornered in Marion's bar by a Nepalese thug, and a gunshot is heard. Indy jumps and grabs for his stomach, only to find no bullet. The thug slowly lowers his gun, some blood trickles from his mouth, and he falls to reveal Marion behind him with a discarded gun.
  • Hitchcock did it in North by Northwest in 1959.
  • Happened three times in the Brazilian movie Lisbela e o Prisioneiro (Lisbela and the Prisoner). Actually, it happened only once, but they flashed back to it twice. Frederico was about to kill the title prisoner, a gunshot was heard, and the Frederico died. Then, there is a flashback, in which it appears Lisbela was the one who fired the shot. Later, it is revealed Lisbela's gun was empty, and the one who shot Frederico was actually his wife.
  • Done to the letter in The Thirteenth Floor. The good girl is running away from her mad husband from the future (don't ask), and finds herself in a wide open space with nowhere to go. Said husband lifts his gun and she closes her eyes, ready for the worst. The camera stays on her, there is a bang and she shudders - but a second later she opens her eyes, and we see the husband has been shot by another good guy instead.
  • Happens during the climax of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.
    • And again near the beginning of On Stranger Tides, a british soldier corners Jack after he escapes custody, only to be shot dead by Jack's father.
  • A suicide variation occurs in Minority Report.
  • Done in The Lookout when Lewis (who is blind) is being held at gunpoint by Bone; the gunshot is Chris killing Bone, and Lewis wonders out loud if he's dead.
  • A Type B example in Undercover Brother. The villainness White She Devil is pointing a gun at the two heroes, with one of her thugs standing on each side of them. WSD fires two shots - and the thugs fall dead. It turns out she fell in love with Undercover Brother while seducing him to her side.
  • In Force 10 From Navarone, Maritza Petrovich and her Nazi minions are guarding the two heroes. The heroes try to attack them and Maritza fires her submachine gun - killing the two guards. She explains that she's a plant in the Nazi organization.
  • Babylon A.D. has a particularly effective one. Vin Diesel's character is hit by fighter drones while escorting Aurora and Sister Rebecca across the Bering Strait. His 'friend' Finn decides to take Aurora for himself, believing she's a priceless viral weapon. When Sister Rebecca objects he says matter-of-factly: "You, I don't need." A shot then rings out...and Finn falls dead, revealing the Not Quite Dead Vin Diesel holding a pistol. The scene works because Rebecca is not a main character, and thus more likely to get shot — she does in fact get killed later on.
  • Shows up in The Mummy Returns. Granted, no savvy viewer should fall for that one, since not only is the false shooter a random mook aiming for a major character, but he's also going for a point-blank headshot (which tends to make its victim do something a bit less subtle than shudder violently).
  • Ronin plays the "thought he was dead" variation with Jean Reno's character rescuing Robert de Niro's.
  • Race for the Yankee Zephyr (1981). A mook is trying to shoot the protagonists from a helicopter with what appears to be a rifle. Finally a shot rings out, and we see a protagonist snared by one of the deer-catching nets used in the opening of the movie.
  • In Sixteen Blocks, whether the gunshot is false or real is the key difference between the two endings.
  • Escape to Athena (1979). After La Résistance seize the submarine refueling depot, a machine gun is seen swivelling menacingly towards the heroes, but when it fires it kills a German guard on the roof who was about to shoot David Niven, as one of the good guys has already taken over the bunker.
  • Thunderball. As Largo is about to shoot James Bond, Domino shoots him from behind with a speargun.
    • And in For Your Eyes Only, Bond is being chased by mooks when he's suddenly confronted by a veiled figure pointing a crossbow...who shoots the mook running up behind him. She removes the veil to reveal herself as the female protagonist.
  • My Fellow Americans, a film about two ex-presidents Kramer and Douglas trying to clear their names of a kickback taken by the incumbent, comes to a climax after the two make it to the White House and are racing to a press conference to expose the scandal. An NSA agent by the name of Colonel Tanner pulls his car onto the White House lawn, cutting the two off, all while screaming orders to shoot the presidents at two snipers on the roof, claiming they are imposters. He raises his gun after the snipers hesitate. A shot rings out. Cue Disturbed Doves. Tanner falls dead by one of the snipers, who reveals he knew they were the real presidents, as he had met them while dressed as Dorothy Gale during a gay pride parade. He had given them a bracelet which was sticking out of Kramer's pocket.
  • Judge Dredd. When a Capture Team member is about to shoot Dredd, Judge Fargo shoots the CT member from behind.


  • In Asimov's Foundation series, one of the prequels shows Hari Seldon getting a blaster aimed at him. He is surprised to hear the sound, since if you get vaporized by a blaster you never get a chance to hear it. Turned out the one aiming at him was thrown clear when the real villain (not the aimer but the man controlling him) was blasted instead, by a third party.
  • In William King's Warhammer 40000 novel Space Wolf, the Chaos Space Marine is facing Ragnor, who can not move under a spell. He hears a shot. Then he realizes he wasn't hit, and that Strybjorn must have regained consciousness and shot the Chaos Space Marine.
  • In Graham McNeill's Ultramarines novel Dead Sky Black Sun, when Uriel and Pasanius are facing the Iron Warriors and Uriel goes down, he hears shots and wonders why he is not dead. Then he realizes that the Unfleshed have reached them.
  • Played with in the Thursday Next books, where Thursday uses a literal plot device, labelled "A shot rang out", to this effect.
  • In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40000 Horus Heresy novel Galaxy In Flames, Tarvitz is flying a Thunderbird, trying to get word to the Astartes that they have been betrayed, pleading with his friend Garro to believe him, when his pursuers have in him range and open fire. He waits for his death, and then Garro hails him, saying his pursuers are dead and asking him to tell him that it was true.
  • Non-firearm example: The last chapter of Darkly Dreaming Dexter ends with the line "And the knife came down". The epilogue takes place at a funeral. At first it's made to seem as if Dexter's sister Deb was the victim, but in fact it's revealed to be Detective LaGuerta.
  • Done with a crossbow in Small Gods to Dervi Ichlos. (It isn't a spoiler because his name isn't revealed until after he dies anyway.)
  • In Book 3 of the Han Solo Trilogy (Rebel Dawn), Han and Bria were held at gunpoint by Teroenza, who's been waiting for this moment for a while. A gunshot is heard, and at first Han thinks Bria has been shot, only for Boba Fett to reveal himself, having shot Teroenza for a bounty he took on earlier in the book. Played With for a second here, as Han and the reader likely expect that Fett will simply take Bria and Han away as well, But Fett simply explains that they are fortunate that he doesn't mix business and pleasure.
    • In one instance in Rogue Squadron, Corran Horn has taken a blaster shot to the gut, and is now on the wrong end of an Imperial commando's gun. A shot rings out and he flinches, then goes, "Wait, dead people don't flinch." Cue Wedge and half the base's staff as The Cavalry.
  • In Skeleton Key, the third Alex Rider novel, the climax has the Big Bad General Alexei Sarov standing over Alex with a gun. He has him dead to rights, and the chapter simply concludes with Sarov saying "Good-bye, Alex", and the narration reading "He raised the gun and fired a single shot." In the next chapter, we learn that Sarov actually committed suicide. That single shot was fired straight into his own head.
  • In Tricky Business, Manny Arquero has the drop on Tark and is just about to squeeze the trigger on his AK-47, but he doesn't get it off since the first bullet in the shootout is fired right into his back by Bobby Kemp wearing a Conrad Conch costume.

Live Action TV

  • Another excellent variation is the climax of the "Living in Harmony" episode of The Prisoner. The Sheriff (our hero, Patrick McGoohan) and the Kid (the villain, Alexis Kanner) are having a quickdraw gunfight. There's a lightning draw, the sound of just a single shot, and we see the Kid nonchalantly spin his revolver on his finger and holster it. Then drop to his knees and keel over, dead. Bonus points because they allegedly filmed the quickdraw for real (with blanks, obviously), and there really was just the one gunshot sound - because, it transpired when they developed the film and watched it back, McGoohan beat Kanner to the draw by just two frames.
  • Done in Alias once.
  • Done repeatedly to death, flipped over and done again every two hours in 24. Usually with Jack Bauer doing the shooting.
  • Subverted, inverted and then averted in a sketch of a 1970s German slapstick comedy show. There, a thief threatens a passerby, claiming that he trains a gun at him in his trenchcoat pocket. The passerby, however, sneers that he knows that it's only his index finger. Suddenly then, a shot rips out of it, killing the passerby instantly. The thief, however, quite shocked himself, quickly pulls his hand out of the pocket (he had indeed mimed a gun the whole time) and blows madly at his churned, smoking index finger.
  • This can, in fact, be done without a gun (given the right circumstances and some creative camera work), as proved in this scene from Nip Tuck. (Very spoilery for the end of S2.)
  • Variant in the Torchwood episode "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" - Ianto has his gun trained on an alien holding a hostage. The alien says the team's useless without Jack, Ianto is an office boy in over his head, and he won't have the guts to shoot. Then a shot rings out and the alien collapses. Ianto stares at his gun in surprise, but behind him, Jack has just fired. "Hi, kids. Miss me?"
  • Done in The X Files when Agent Mulder is caught by terrorists after infiltrating a cell. He's taken out in the woods to be executed by two terrorists and is shocked when one of them shoots the other instead of him. Turns out the shooter was a government operative who had infiltrated the cell as well and, although in deep, couldn't shoot Mulder because they were on the same side.
  • CSI first season finale.
  • Lexie Grey on Greys Anatomy is saved by one of those.
  • Done in the Doctor Who serial The Mind of Evil.
    • Also in The War Games with the Second Doctor narrowly escaping execution by firing squad.
  • My Own Worst Enemy: Henry has just given information about Janus to a man he thinks is from the FBI. The man pulls a gun and is about to shoot Henry when he topples over dead, shot by Henry's therapist.
  • In the Lost episode "The Variable," Daniel has a gun on Richard and is counting down to firing, "3..2.." when we hear a shot. Daniel has been shot by Ellie.
    • In the following episode, when Sayid shoots the Hostile who was about to shoot Kate.
    • And in "What Kate Does", Aldo almost shoots Jin, but Claire gets him instead.
  • Done in Heroes in a scene with Sylar and Mohinder. Mohinder has bound Sylar and is giving him a drug through an IV that will make him unable to use his powers. After using Sylar for testing and such, Mohinder finally pulls out a gun and aims it at Sylar's head. He pulls the trigger and Sylar's head snaps back. But wait, the camera turns around to show the bullet floating in mid air before dropping to the ground. Turns out Sylar was able to stop the IV drip so that his powers were in his control again.
    • Another moment which fits the spirit of the trope, if not the letter, happens when Sylar's mother tries to kill him with a pair of scissors; they struggle, too closely to tell clearly what's going on, then there is a sound effect, Sylar looks horrified, and they stumble apart to reveal said scissors sticking out of Mommy's chest.
  • Babylon 5 had one of these when Garibaldi was taken as a hostage by a group of rogue telepaths. The gunshot was heard in a Flash Forward, but the rest of the scene took half a season to set up.
  • In the Syfy miniseries Alice, Walrus has just shot Carpenter and is about to shoot Alice. Several shots go off, Alice gasps, and the camera pans to show Hatter has moved from hiding to pop up behind Alice and kill Walrus.
  • In Chuck, the villain has a gun to Sarah's head, Chuck and Shaw are stunned, the gunman starts to move away, we hear a shot and Sarah drops to the floor. Casey muses that he's one of the five in the world that can make a shot from such a distance.
    • Four now, since the rifle was set up for the gunman.
  • White Collar: Neal is cornered by Adler, a shot rings out, and Adler drops as Peter shoots him from behind.
  • Castle : Castle and Beckett are facing each other pointing guns. After a few seconds, two shots are heard, and both of the murderers sneaking up behind both of them fall over backwards. Castle reaches down and feels his lower body for a Crowning Moment of Funny. Naturally, this is the first you see of the two sneaking up.
  • Happens at the end of the third episode of Wild Boys. Butler raises his gun to shoot the hostages, a shot rings out, and Butler topples forward, shot by Jack who has escaped and returned to the bank in the nick of time.
  • The end of one Covert Affairs episode, after Annie has been chased around Argentina by the local authorities, the cops catch up to her right as her CIA extraction team arrives, point a gun right at her, make it look like things are about to get way more complicated... then shoot the assassin on the ground that she'd just knocked out, and tell her to just leave already.
  • Criminal Minds has one of these for the final scence of the season four finale.
  • The Cliff Hanger to the first part of the Murdoch Mysteries two-parter "A Stroll on the Wild Side" is Anna being chased down by a Black Hand hitman, and the screen goes to black as we hear a gunshot. The following week's resolution, of course, is that Murdoch shot the hitman.


  • This trope was a staple of classic radio dramas like The Shadow, whose audio-only format made it especially easy to pull off convincingly. Even after the "thump" of a fallen body, you didn't know who'd been shot until the survivor(s) actually spoke aloud.

Video Games

  • In the original Ninja Gaiden and it's sequel on the NES, at the end of the first level, Ryu would invariably meet with a character holding a gun. In the first game, he gets shot (though it later turns out to be a tranquilizer bullet). In the second game, however, the shot strikes the monstrous boss he just defeated moments before, who was attempting a deadly final attack on the ninja's back.
  • A variation (involving a blank) is one of the possible outcomes of the duel near the end of Metal Gear Solid 3.
    • And in Metal Gear Solid 4 Mantis demonstrates her People Puppets power by forcing Meryl to put a gun to her head. The camera pans away, and you hear a gunshot. Then the camera change to reveal that Johnny just arrived and shot Mantis to save Meryl.
    • Used again in the end of the fourth game, where Solid Snake decides to eat his gun. He loads the pistol and puts it to his mouth before the camera pans upward to the sky. A gunshot is heard before fading away from the scene. The Stinger, however reveals that he chickened out and shot the ground instead
  • Though not a gunshot, a similar event happens in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. Zelgius, the general for the antagonistic army, disobeys the corrupt senate, and is later sentenced to a public execution. The executioner lifts up his sword, the screen goes black and the generic sound for taking damage is heard.... then the screen lights up again and the executioner falls over from an arrow shot by an ally of the hero.
  • In the ending of Dead Connection, the protagonists are held at gunpoint by the Mafia boss. A gunshot rings out, before the screen changes to reveal that he was shot dead, by a woman whose fiancee had been killed earlier in the game.
  • Played with in MadWorld. Noa orders several mooks to shoot down Jack, who just won the Varrigan City DeathWatch. While blood appears on Jack's forehead, it's not his but rather Noa's--he was shot from behind by Leo. However, Leo turns out to be not quite the good guy he claimed to be.

Web Comics

Web Original

  • I Love Bees: In the audio drama, Gene points a gun at Jan and yells "Die, bitch!", followed by a gunshot. It turns out Jan takes the gun and shoots Gene's foot.

Western Animation

  • King of the Hill - To Kill a Ladybird - Ladybird may be rabid. Bobby raises his gun and Hank tells Bobby not to shoot Ladybird. Bobby fires and it looks like he missed Ladybird. He tells his dad that he didn't miss, and it turns out that he shot the raccoon which was sneaking up behind Hank.
  • A variation occurs in Disney'sTarzan. Tarzan has an uncanny ability to imitate any sound he hears. He uses it to fake out Clayton by not actually shooting him, but instead making the sound of a gunshot.
  • Happens in more than one "Tom & Jerry" short - with an appropriately theatrical "death" before the "victim" realizes the truth!
  • 'Sid the Squid' in "The Man Who Killed Batman", while being held at gunpoint by Rupert Thorne, who refuses to believe that anyone could kill Batman and escape the Joker out of dumb luck and thinks Sid is trying to depose him. Then they hear violence in the next room, and in walks Batman.
  • Occurs at the climax of The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury.
  • Occurs in the Family Guy episode And Then There Were Fewer when Diane Simmons, the murder of James Woods and several others, is about to shoot Lois at the edge of a cliff. A gunshot is heard, but instead Diane was shot by Stewie from a distance.