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"You had nothing, but you used it well."
Teurac, Farscape ("PK Tech Girl")

The act of threatening someone with a weapon you do not have, or telling others to back off or you will use a hidden weapon when no such weapon exists. A few variants of this trope include:

Please note that this trope is for instances when someone is pretending that they have a weapon, so if they are threatening to use something that is completely recognizable as a weapon (be it empty, an antique, or even a fake or toy that looks extremely realistic), then it's Weapon for Intimidation.

Super-Trope of Stick'Em Up, for when this trope is used in conjunction with the element of surprise and a sharp poke in the back.

See also Finger Gun, He's Got a Weapon! and Shoot Him! He Has a Wallet!.

Sometimes, it turns out that the bluff isn't that much of a bluff: see This Banana Is Armed, Improvised Weapon and Improbable Weapon User.

Examples of Brandishment Bluff include:


Anime and Manga

  • Vash the Stampede does this in an episode of Trigun. He'd didn't have his gun with him, and so he stuck his finger in his jacket pocket and extended it to make the bad guy of the week think he had a gun on him.


Comics

 Tintin: Hands up! (Two Mooks Tintin is standing behind put their hands up.) Put your guns down on the ground. And don't turn around, or I'll shoot... Come on, I said put your guns down!

(Mook 1 puts a gun on the ground.)

Mook 2: I... I...haven't got one.

(Snowy picks up the gun and walks toward Tintin.)

Tintin: Don't try turning round! Make just one move, either of you, and it'll be the last thing you do! (Tintin slips and falls.) Oh!

(The two Mooks turn around.)

Mook 1: Tintin! (The Mooks run toward him.) And he wasn't even armed!


Film

  • Field of Dreams: Ray, out of desperation, tries to kidnap Terence with a finger in his jacket. Terence isn't fooled for a second.
  • In the 1926 version of The Phantom of the Opera, when Erik is cornered by the mob, he appears to hold something in the air and brandishes it to hold them back, even turning to make those behind him retreat, then he laughs and shows an empty hand, prompting the mob to move in for the kill.
  • In Ratatouille, one of the stories Horst tells of why he was in prison is that he once "held up the second biggest bank in France using only a ball-point pen."
  • In See No Evil Hear No Evil, Dave breaks into the hotel room of the woman trying to kill him and rifles through her bag, only to find her showering, and blinded by the soap. When he accidentally makes a noise that makes her run out, he sticks his hand in his pocket and pretends that his erection is a gun in order to escape.
  • John Dillinger's prison escape was parodied in Woody Allen's film Take the Money and Run. Woody's character carves a bar of soap into the shape of a gun and paints it black with shoe polish in order to escape from prison. He gets caught out, though, when it starts to rain during his escape and his "gun" turns into a bunch of bubbles.
  • Used by The Three Stooges in the short "Dizzy Detectives", and revealed by Moe poking his finger through a hole in his pocket.
  • True Lies: Jamie Lee Curtis' character brandishes a lipstick holder to the head of a wannabee spy, making him pee all over himself.
  • In Batman Begins, Batman sneaks into Gordon's office to introduce himself for the first time. To keep Gordon from turning around and seeing him, he imitates a Dramatic Gun Cock using a stapler pressed to the back of Gordon's head.


Live-Action TV

  • Doctor Who:
    • In "Victory of the Daleks" the Doctor convinces the Daleks that a jammie Dodger (a type of cookie) is a TARDIS self-destruct button.
  • In one Star Trek: Voyager episode, the Doctor threatens the bad guys of the week with "The PHOTONIC CANNON!!!!" Naturally there is no such thing.
    • However, because he imagined that it existed earlier, and the bad guys' main method of collecting data on Voyager was by examining the Doctor's dreams (thinking them to be memories), it's a very effective one. In addition, the "memory" that they saw showed said cannon destroying a Borg Cube in one shot.
  • In Lie to Me, Torres scares the hell out of a man in the rough part of town by walking aggressively, wearing a hefty jacket, and then shoving her hand into her pocket to grab something. She talks to the man, mentions how he's scared that she has a gun (which is intentional on her part), and then stops the charade and pulls out her card.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series, "The Corbomite Maneuver:"

 Kirk: This is the Captain of the Enterprise. Our respect for other life forms requires that we give you this... warning. One critical item of information that has never been incorporated into the memory banks of any Earth ship. Since the early years of space exploration, Earth vessels have had incorporated into them a substance known as... corbomite. It is a material and a device which prevents attack on us. If any destructive energy touches our vessel, a reverse reaction of equal strength is created, destroying -

Balok [voice]: You now have two minutes.

Kirk: - destroying the attacker. It may interest you to know that since the initial use of corbomite more than two of our centuries ago, no attacking vessel has survived the attempt. Death has... little meaning to us. If it has none to you then attack us now. We grow annoyed at your foolishness.

  • In TNG, Riker and Geordi pull a version with the "Crimson Forcefield", which supposedly depowers the Pakled ship's weapons. It's actually blowing hydrogen back through the Bussard Collectors. Helps that the Pakleds are, as a species, dumber than a sack of hammers.
  • Subverted in The Muppet Show: in a cowboy sketch, Fozzie has "a loaded pickle". It goes off.
    • A similar example occurs in Looney Tunes, where Bugs Bunny threatens two gangsters with a carrot held like a pistol. The gangsters start laughing, until Bugs shoots them with it. Double Subverted when Bugs reveals that carrots only have one shot.
  • Ziggy is introduced attempting this on Dillon in Power Rangers RPM. Thanks to his cybernetic enhancements and knowledge of cars, Dillon recognizes that it's a car part merely being held as a gun without even looking at it.
  • Firefly: In the beginning of "The Train Job", the crew is being held at gunpoint, when Wash appears in the completely unarmed Serenity: "Every man there go back inside, or we'll blow a new crater in this little moon!" Quoth Jayne, after they all follow orders, "Damn yokels can't even tell a transport ship ain't got no guns on it."


Web Comics


Western Animation

  • Happens during The Simpsons episode "The Seemingly Never-Ending Story", as Moe, Mr. Burns and Rich Texan are facing off:

 Rich Texan: (taking the gold from Marge) I'll take that gold...

Mr. Burns: No so fast, Shady Bird Johnson!

(Burns steps out from behind a stalagtite)

Burns: I'll take that gold...

Moe Szyslak: (enters from the shadows, holding a baseball bat) Yeah, you'll take it, and then you'll give it to me if you know what's good for ya.

(Burns and Rich Texan aim their guns at Moe)

Moe: You guys have guns?! Well, so do I! (steps back into shadows, making gun-cocking noises) Heh? Heh?

  • ThunderCats (2011) has the Drifter, a Badass Pacifist, pulling this on an attacker who's an experienced swordsman. The Drifter first parries an attempted In the Back, then continues to mock-attack while relying on his opponent's own startlement and reflexive movements to trip him up. The "weapon" the Drifter uses is a harmless willow reed he usually keeps in his mouth.
  • Jonny Quest pulls this off in an episode of Jonny Quest the Real Adventures, convincing a Mook that he had him covered with a gun, allowing Jessie Bannon to disarm him. When Jonny reveals that he was wielding a fire extinguisher, the Mook turns to attack him, only to find that Jessie is now holding his own gun on him, and that she "doesn't have a problem with them."


Real Life

  • John Dillinger escaped from Crown Point in March 1934 after carving a fake pistol from a piece of wood. He used it to trick a guard into opening his cell, then locked all of the guards into his cell, and escaped. Also seen in Public Enemies, the movie that loosely depicts Dillinger's bank robbery spree.
    • After Dillinger's death, two of the colleagues on his first bank robbery spree (October 1933-January 1934), Pete Pierpont and Charles Makley, attempted to escape death row by carving fake pistols from bars of soap and painted them black with shoe polish. The attempt failed: Makley ended up being gunned down by the guards, and Pierpont survived, and was later executed.
  • The Ghost Army during World War 2 (not to be confused with Germany's Ghost Division under Rommel). Composed of artists and armed with inflatable tanks and prop weapons, they have been known to scare the enemy to surrender.
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