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A specific variant of the Heroic BSOD (or its villainous counterpart) in which the victim sees the danger coming right at them, but is in so much shock that (s)he cannot move. (S)He just sort of stands there, like...

Well, a deer in headlights.

The causes for this vary. Maybe the victim has just seen a big monster charging right at him, ready to gore him with its giant horns . Maybe his best friend has a gun pointed at their head and he has just realizing that a Heel Face Turn has just occured. Or maybe the crafter of a Xanatos Gambit just realized that a Spanner in the Works has just ruined everything.

May overlap with Oh Crap. If the victim survives said incoming danger, it may lead to a Heroic RROD. Didn't See That Coming may lead to this in a villain.

Examples of Deer in the Headlights include:


  • In the opening of Princess Mononoke, Yakul does this as the demon that curses Ashitaka rushes at him. Despite Ashitake shouting at him to run, he just stands there, staring and trembling slightly--finally running away when Ashitaka shoots an arrow in his direction.
  • Happens in Puella Magi Madoka Magica when Mami thinks she's gotten Charlotte (who takes the form of a tiny plushie) beat, when suddenly Charlotte pukes out a giant carnivorous worm towards Mami. Mami freezes, and promptly gets eaten alive.


  • Happens in the the Batgirl (2011) comic book series. Since in the new continuity the paraplegic Barbara Gordon had a complete recovery over a three years period, when she gets a gun pointed at, at the exact spot where she had been shot by the Joker, in the first issue Batgirl froze in terror and could not prevent the bad guy from killing the man he was there to kill. Actually, the sheer risk of accumulating new, unhealable spinal damage seems to lock Barbara into an instant Heroic BSOD.
  • One Calvin and Hobbes arc had Calvin making a safety poster for a contest at school. When asking Hobbes for advice on a sologan, Hobbes suggest, "Don't look into car headlights and freeze, because you'll either get run over or shot!" Calvin points out that doesn't happen to most people, to which responds that there's more to this world than people.
  • Lampshaded in The Far Side.


  • Parodied in Austin Powers with the guard who gets run over by a steamroller, too terrified to get out the way even though the steamroller is coming at him veeeery slowly from a looong ways away.
    • What makes it even worse is a cut scene that can be played later on the DVD, where the Mook is shown to have friends who hear about the accident and mourn his death. They probably never realize that the guard's demise was, in a way, largely his fault!
  • Occurs in the film Gojira. A crowd of humans can only watch as Godzilla first shows up and looms over the hills before he starts to make his way towards Tokyo.
  • In the infamous 1977 PIF Apaches, Danny, the posthumous narrator, just stands there with a dumb look on his face each time one of his friends falls victim to another completely avoidable farm-equipment-related accident. Mocked mercilessly here and here.
  • In Spider Man, Green Goblin knocks over a giant globe and the crowd scatters out of the way except for a boy who stares at it blankly. Spidey goes, "Come on kid, move!" but is forced to dive in and carry the boy out of the way.


  • In Watership Down, the rabbits have a term in their Fictionary for this: tharn.
    • And in The Stand by Stephen King, a character was in a quarantine with one particular guard who, he somehow sensed, would be the one to kill him if things went bad. The character had read Watership Down and was so scared of this guard he compared it to the "tharn" concept.
  • Naturally played with in Terry Pratchett's Guards Guards. While Vimes is being shot at, his mind goes into this state. His legs act of their own volition and throw him out of danger.
  • The Animorphs can only stare in horror when Visser Three devours Elfangor alive in the first book.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's Brightly Burning, Lavan Firestorm's mentor has to be physically dragged away when Lavan gives full rein to his powers (killing himself and an entire army in the process) after his Companion dies.
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: This trope pops up a few times. Sweet Revenge has Isabelle Flanders freeze up when reporter Ted Robinson asks her questions about Rosemary Hershey and apparently is getting too close to finding out Isabelle's intentions towards Rosemary. Razor Sharp has lawyer Cosmo Cricket meet a client who has this sort of reaction upon seeing him, but that could be because she is afraid for her life.
  • In Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix, after chasing Bellatrix through the Ministry of Magic because she killed Sirius and having Voldemort appear, Harry goes into a state of shock.

 'I have nothing more to say to you, Potter,' he [Voldemort] said quietly. 'You have irked me too often, for too long. AVADA KEDAVRA!'

Harry had not even opened his mouth to resist. His mind was blank, his wand pointing uselessly at the floor.

Live Action TV

  • Happens to Roy in an episode of The IT Crowd, when he figures out the robot Moss is fangirling is actually a bomb-disposal robot. He's stuck there for hours, until it's finally confirms to be a balloon. It gives him "a small fright".
  • Smallville:
    • In "Commencement", the town is bombarded by a kryptonite meteor shower. As everything is being destroyed, a boy stares at a meteor coming right at him. Clark Kent runs up and carries him to safety.
    • In "Bizarro", a boy stares at a Giant Wall of Watery Doom coming at him. Clark Kent runs up and vaporizes it with his heat vision.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Played with during an Invader Zim episode where a cute Godzilla-sized hamster is terrorizing the city; rather than stare in terror, the townspeople stare in awe at the monster's cuteness until they're crushed.
  • Parodied in an issue of Radioactive Man with the innocent bystander saying, "That wall is falling towards me! No time to get out of the way, only to talk about it!"
  • Happens regularly to Wile E. Coyote, who is often too flabbergasted or exhausted to move out of the way when his plans backfire on him badly. That little umbrella he often pulls out as a shield doesn't help things at all.
  • In the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Feeling Pinkie Keen", when Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, and Spike run away from the Hydra in the Froggy Bottom Bog, Pinkie is almost paralyzed in fear. Twilight pulls her tail to get her out of it.
  • Regular Show has a half-deer half-human do this just before he gets run over by a truck in "Camping Can Be Cool".
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