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The hero's been led to the gallows and is about to do the metaphorical 'hemp fandango'. He looks pretty much boned, right? Nope, the Big Damn Heroes are on the way! They'll save him by splitting the rope on the noose with a well-timed arrow (or a blade, or a bullet, if the time period's a bit later), just as he's about to take a long drop on a short rope.
Well, you know what they say. No noose is good noose.
A comedic subversion of this has the arrow not quite split the rope all the way, leaving the victim dangling (and strangling) until his rescuers can finish the job. If the victim struggles to breathe in the process, you have a case of either not doing the research, an incompetent or an exceptionally cruel hangman.
You see, people may have only figured out how to do hanging consistently correctly in the nineteenth century, but then they started to do it the scientific way. Normal, "long drop" hanging kills by breaking the neck when done correctly — that is, in a Robin Hood story the slowly strangling victim is not so implausible, because they haven't yet figured how much rope to use, and this often resulted in "short drop" hanging, where the body's energy is not enough to break the neck, and the rope just slowly strangle the victim.
But this is unlikely to be the case when bullets are used, because at this point executioners have already learned the proper method. Though in a few cases hangmen have deliberately "botched" the hanging to make the victim's death more painful (for example, after Nazi war criminal Julius Streicher yelled "Heil Hitler" just before his execution, it is widely believed that the hangman repositioned the noose so that he would be strangled). Another possibility was to pay out so much rope that when the drop finally ends, the body energy gets so high that the head tears off.
Arguably, using bullets at all is fueled by Reality Is Unrealistic: People are used to thinking of bullets as having immense destructive power, which they do when shot into a fluid-filled object like a human body. But otherwise, their destructive capabilities are limited to the direct path of a projectile that's much more narrow than an arrow head.
Oh, and bonus points if this dramatically super accurate shot comes directly after a firefight in which both sides clearly graduated from the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy.
- Done in an Australian TV ad for fencing wire from the early 80s (the ad being a homage to the 'Man With No Name' movies).
- Dr. Black Jack manages to pull this off by throwing a scalpel.
- In Trinity Blood, Father Tres once frees Abel this way when the latter is tied to a chair.
- In the 3rd volume of the comic book series De Cape et de Crocs, a villain shoots the rope the good guy is hanging from, effectively sending him into the shark infested ocean. When congratulated on his skills, he answers "Well, I was aiming for his head..."
- Red Arrow does this (from horseback) to save Green Lantern's life when they are trapped in the Old West and Green Lantern is about to be lynched in Justice League of America 80 Page Giant.
- Arrowette does this in the Young Justice 80 Page Giant.
- Malcolm Lightbourne shots himself free of a snare in Ruse #4.
- After the Zero Hour storyline, this was revealed as Dick Grayson's Greatest Failure. In his early days, Dick as Robin had to save Batman and the DA who replaced Harvey Dent after his transformation into Two-Face from a deathtrap the aforementioned villain had made. Dick thought it was easy - cut the rope when the trap was sprung. He didn't realize that Two-Face's deathtraps followed his modus operandi - he saved the DA from hanging, only to drop him into the ocean below.
- ~The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly~ had this as part of a scam with the hero turning in his partner for the bounty and repeatedly saving him from the gallows before the sentence could be carried out in this fashion. The comedic variation also occurred at one point.
- The Outlaw Josey Wales sends a posse for a "Missouri Boat Ride" by severing a ferry cable with a rifle shot.
- Robin Hood: Men in Tights also had this (when someone comments on the improbable shot, the shooter admits he was really aiming for the hangman).
- A variant was used toward the end of the first Pirates of the Caribbean: Will Turner throws his sword, not to cut the rope, but to give Jack a foothold so he doesn't drop far enough to die.
- In The Quick and the Dead, "The Lady" Ellen pulls this to save the Preacher from being hanged by his ex-colleagues. Then it's subverted in her flashback to when she was 8 years old: the Big Bad is about to hang her father, but tells her to shoot the rope, promising to release him if she manages to hit it. She hits her father instead.
- Doc saves Marty like this in Back to The Future III using a gun of his own construction, with a big scope. He claims it can shoot the fleas off a dog's back at 500 yards.
- Not exactly a hangman's noose, but Mal does shoot the rope that connects a harpoon in Jayne's leg to a Reaver vehicle in Serenity. It was only on the third try, though.
- In Return of the Jedi, Han does shoot the tentacle trying to drag Lando into the Sarlacc's mouth on the first try while nearly blind.
- Heather from Tremors saves Burt from being dragged into a Graboid's mouth by shooting its tentacle repeatedly until it's severed.
- In Plunkett and Macleane, Plunkett does this to save Macleane from hanging in an awesome Big Damn Heroes moment.
- Done in Shanghai Noon by Chon's new wife.
- In Terminator Salvation, a T-600 is strung up by a rope trap. After firing unsuccessfully at its targets, it points its gun up as if to shoot the rope... only to blast its own foot off instead.
- In the original The Blob, a policeman shoots a power cable to drop its charged ends onto the titular monster in hope of electrocuting it.
- In Quigley Down Under, Quigley sets off a dead fall trap on one of his pursuers by shooting a rope.
- Realistically averted in the 2010 True Grit, where the heroes opt to climb a tree and cut the rope on a man hanged high.
- Hannibal Smith goes against the norm by cutting through Face's noose in the film with three or four bullets in rapid succession.
- Inverted in House, in which a flying skeletal monster steals Roger's shotgun as he's dangling from a rope, then fires it (after a Gun Twirl, no less!) to break the rope and send him plummeting into danger. Unlike most examples here, it's plausible that the line would break, as a shotgun can damage a whole section of the rope rather than just one small spot.
- Cat Ballou gets rescued in this manner in the the eponymous movie.
- Busted on Myth Busters. In order to shoot the rope you either need a really really big gun, or multiple shots. Either way, it's more effective to just take out the executioner.
- The History Channel show Extreme Marksmen noted that there were no documented examples of this trope actually being done (or even attempted) with a gun. But they had expert shooter attempt to do it anyway, just to see if it was possible. On his first attempt he eventually broke the rope, but it took about 5 or 6 shots. Naturally, that wouldn't have been fast enough to save the victim. He tried again, this time using wadcutter bullets (normally used only for shooting paper targets) which hit a slightly wider area than pointed or rounded bullets, and this time took only 2 shots to break the rope. Since he fired the first shot at the exact moment the "victim" (a sack of potatoes) was dropped, this left at least a slight chance that he could've survived, as the follow-up shot came very quickly due to the shooter's great skill. So with the right ammo and an exceptional shooter, it was possible (though extremely unlikely) that it could be done. It was mentioned that hangman's rope is roughly a half inch wide, which is wider than most bullets. And aside from some machine guns, sniper rifles and super-magnum hunting rifles (that almost all came onto the scene after hanging had begun to fall out of favor and was certainly no longer used in in places public enough to be disrupted), most guns with bullets larger than a half-inch in diameter have poor accuracy. So there's no realistic way to take out the rope in a single shot.
- In one episode of Lost, Jack and Kate shoot themselves out of a net by shooting the rope holding it up. It takes several shots to manage the trick, though.
- A 'Slash the Rope' variant happens in the pilot episode of Queen of Swords, with the masked heroine charging the gallows on a galloping horse to cut the rope with her sword as the executioner is kicking the stool out from under the victim.
- In an episode of Stargate SG-1, Carter demonstrates the capabilities of the P-90 by first cutting a hanging tree trunk in half and then shooting the rope.
- An episode of Smallville has a variation, not with a bullet but with Clark's heat-vision in an attempt to save his girlfriend Alicia. It didn't work.
- This occurs to Murdock in The A-Team. Some mooks are trying to get information out of B.A., though he has said all that he knows already, so they try to hang Murdock to get him to talk more. As soon as the car Murdock was stood on reverses away to leave him dangling, Hannibal and Face drive in and Hannibal shoots the rope.
- Done fantastically in the Jonathan Creek episode "Black Canary". A very decrepit old man manages to snipe the rope of someone who attempted to hang herself from at least 300 feet, and finishes off by nonchalantly saying "Well, my eyes still work."
- More correctly Unwind The Rope, in episode three of the Channel 4 miniseries The Devil's Whore Sexby unties Angelica from the gallows after she is hanged by Joliffe.
- Wild Boys: Captain Gunpowder does it to save Jack from being lynched in the miners camp.
- Happens in Muse's "Knights of Cydonia" music video. The rope is shot by someone wielding an energy weapon, though, so it makes sense.
- While this is normally a very hard shot in GURPS (most ropes are at -13 to hit at take reduced damage from bullets) a special perk makes it so that any shot that hits a rope automatically succeeds in breaking it.
- The Legend of the Five Rings manual's weapons section depicts some arrows made specifically for this.
- Dungeons and Dragons boasts "Serpent's Tongue Arrows", special arrows with a wide, forked head that do slashing as well as piercing damage. They are mentioned as being effective for cutting ropes, but cost twice as much. Then again, since arrows are pretty much Vendor Trash, that's not such a big deal.
- Happens in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, when the Greil Mercenaries are hired to rescue a captured and about to be hanged Lucia. Rolf is supposed to "fire" the shot, but he's too worried over possibly hitting her by accident so Shinon does it instead.
- Colette of Tales of Symphonia does this with a chakram, which makes a little more sense.
- The Western Wide Open Sandbox game Gun uses this in one mission, where you have to save a safe cracker you met earlier in the game.
- Proper use of this trope is the only way to win You Have to Burn The Rope. When you confront the Big Bad you have to burn the rope to win.
- Silent Scope 2 has a variant as its final shot - the Big Bad has handcuffed himself to the hero's girlfriend and climbed to the top of Big Ben. After shooting him a few times, he falls out of the tower while the girlfriend tries to drag him (and herself) back - to win the game, you must shoot the handcuffs.
- This is done at the starting of Brave Fencer Musashi, although they were magic machine gun bullets coming straight from your hand.
- In the Interactive Fiction game Gun Mute, the PC has to do this to save his boyfriend.
- In Anaksha Female Assassin, this is how you beat the last stage. Your target is fully armored and can't be killed by your bullets, but there's a steel girder tied to a rope that's hanging over the street...
- Turned Up to Eleven and then quadruple-subverted in Order of the Stick. Roy throws his sword--which is broken--at his assembled, about-to-be-hanged teammates, and ends up freeing all of them...except Belkar, whose rope he misses. However, it does hit the hangman...who falls over and pulls the switch as he dies. Fortunately, Belkar is too light for the fall to break his neck or even strangle him (the non-human Belkar notes the absurdity of assuming the same execution methods will work on all species), so he just ends up hanging upside down for a while.
- Dominic Deegan features a variant where Dominic is about to be hanged by a group of evil wizards - one of whom is holding him up with one hand. After he drops Dominic, a stray magic bolt ricocheted off a wizard's hand in the melee cuts the rope - right next to Dominic's neck, no less.
- Done by the villain of The Rescuers Down Under. It takes him a couple of shots.
- Done by Elisa in Gargoyles when Broadway turns to stone in mid-glide, and Elisa shoots down a crate full of carpets hanging from a crane in order to cushion Broadway's fall. To the series' credit, the reawakened gargoyles are astounded by this feat the next night and call Elisa a miracle for pulling it off. Also, it took about six shots to break the rope.
- Done by Calamity Jane as her very first act in the series in The Legend of Calamity Jane. It helps that it was an impromptu over-the-branch hanging, at a height that required a barrel to be kicked out from under the (innocent) victim's feet.
- Mater actually does this near the end of Cars 2 to escape from Big Bentley, where the villains actually wanted to kill him, Finn Mc Missile, and Holly Shiftwell by crushing them with the clock's gears.
- Supposedly during Operation Enduring Freedom, Spanish Navy Marine snipers shot cables hanging from the mast to the bridge of the North Korean freighter So San. The shots were made at a range of 400 yards (370 m), with rough sea, from the deck of SPS Navarra (F85), and the Marines were armed with Barrett M95 rifles.
- The Japanese frog crotch arrow head was designed specifically for cutting ropes and poles.