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You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.
Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India

Knuckle-Cracking happens when a character cracks his or her knuckles to show that he or she is ready to deal out a whuppin' or tackle a challenge. Frequently used as an intimidation tactic in fights, this is a particularly effective way of showing that The Stoic is bothered enough by someone to actually get serious. Cracking knuckles may also be sign that a character is ready to get to work on a particularly arduous task, especially one that requires a lot of muscle.

Sometimes the knuckle cracking sound is removed, maybe for the sake of realism, maybe because some people find it too squicky and then it will be replaced by the hero actually crushing something in his hand. Bonus points if its made out of metal, points removed if its only a paper note.

It might be useful to know that the sound released has nothing to do with the bones themselves, but rather with the joints between the bones[1], and that you're not actually damaging the joints or bones significantly by doing this, and does not increase the chance of having arthritis - contrary to an old piece of "advice". What it does is provide increased looseness and flexibility of a joint temporarily following a crack, at the cost of a slight cumulative reduction in the joint's strength - crack your knuckles and you get a weaker grip.

Subtrope of Kinetic Clicking.

Examples of Knuckle-Cracking include:


Anime & Manga

  • The protagonists from Dragonball Z do this all the time before and during a fight.
    • Super Buu did a LOT of neck-cracking. Which is funny when you think about it, as he didn't have bones.
  • Ranma ½
    • In his introduction story in the anime, Ryôga crushes several walnuts to dust with his fist, vowing to make Ranma pay for something or other. In the manga, he crushes a single walnut... between index and thumb. Effortlessly. Since Ryoga constantly does things like lifting immense boulders and smashing walls by banging his head against them in frustration, this isn't surprising
    • Ranma is pretty fond of the "cracking knuckles and popping joints to show he's getting serious" version, and much like Inu-Yasha he favors the "cracking fingerjoints with an open fist" method. Also, in at least the anime version of Hinako's arrival, he effortlessly bends a yen coin completely in half after taking it from her. Between thumb and forefinger.
  • The first sign that someone is going to die already dead in Fist of the North Star is a cracking noise coming from Kenshiro. Which is only to be expected as he's a Bruce Lee Clone.
  • In Real Bout High School, Midori gets cracking when she gets cracking.
  • Naruto does it all the time. Repeatedly on the same hand, making the same cracking noise as he does it five times in succession.
  • Luffy of One Piece always cracks his knuckles menacingly during Let's Get Dangerous moments.
  • Lina Inverse of Slayers does it too, on occasion. ("Did you say flatchested?")
  • Inu-Yasha does it with his hand open while showing off his claws.
  • Scar of Fullmetal Alchemist cracks the joints in his right hand dramatically when he's about to use the Power Tattoo located on his right arm.
  • While there's not that much obvious noise, when Blue or Toboe from Wolf's Rain start clenching shaking fists, somebody's in for an asskicking.
  • Dr. Stein from Soul Eater cracks the joints in his neck at one point. This is tension leaving his body as he stops holding back his insanity.
  • Keroro Gunso. This is practically Natsumi Hinata's go to move. When you hear cracking knuckles, a certain green house guest is fixing to get a beating.
  • Izumi Curtis of Fullmetal Alchemist normally cracks her knuckles when she is angry.
  • Jun Kubota of Variable Geo does it in the second episode.
  • Akane Tendo of Ranma 1/2 does it in ova episode 4 and 6.
  • Melissa Mao of Full Metal Panic does it in episode 19.
  • Taiga Aisaka of Toradora cracks her knuckles in episode 4.
  • Launch of Dragon Ball cracks her knuckles in episode 92.
  • Blanc of Hyperdimension Neptunia cracks her knuckles once in episode 13.
  • Shampoo also does it once in ova episode 1 of Ranma 1/2.
  • Kyoko Esumi of Re-Kan is seen doing it in episode 2 and episode 11.
  • Ryuunosuke of Urusei Yatsura is seen cracking her knuckles in a few episodes (ex: Ova 5, episode 160).


Films -- Animation


Films -- Live-Action

  • Bruce Lee likes this one:
    • An old standard of Kung Fu movies is to have a group from a rival school (often Japanese) come in and start disrespecting the Hero's school and his recently deceased master, maybe making a pass at his girlfriend. Fist of Fury, which uses the Chin Woo school as a basis, has a scene where this occurs and we get Lee standing there, taking the insults but with a knuckle crack to show how angry he is getting and to step up the tension.
    • On the flip side, an example of the "cool" variety, before his fight with Chuck Norris at the Colosseum in Way of the Dragon, both fighters step up to each other take off their shirts and then turn around to warm up. Norris only does some Knuckle-Cracking before starting on some karate moves but Lee goes on to crack his entire upper body and show off his muscular definition.[1]
  • Kung Fu Hustle uses it as a parody of/homage to (it's hard to tell which with Stephen Chow) Bruce Lee, when the Landlady menaces Brother Sum with knuckle-cracking to warn him away from Pig Sty Alley.
  • My Demon Lover, a film where Nick from Family Ties turns into The Devil whenever he gets an erection, has the, er... "hero" going nuts over a misplaced pack of Fritos followed by some gut-wrenching knuckle cracking.
  • In the X-Men film series, it appears a side effect of mutant healing factors is mutant joint-cracking, with Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike really going at this trope for all it's worth. Of course, they don't have to worry about arthritis.... Justified in Deathstrike's case, since her claws are inside her fingers. They need to be kept loose, and are probably sore quite often. Bonus points for adding a metal clanking noise when they crack their knuckles, hinting at their adamntium skeletons.
  • In Snatch, Brad Pitt's character stretches and cracks his knuckles after being sucker punched at the start of a fight early in the movie. Unsurprisingly, he wins. It's worth noting that as he stretches and cracks up his opponent continues to pound him seven ways 'til Sunday. And then Pitt checks his clock with one punch.
  • Random Task in the first Austin Powers movie does this. Largely as a parody of Odd Job from Goldfinger, the ultimate Stoic.
  • Agent Smith cracks his neck a lot in The Matrix films.
    • He cracks his knuckles and his neck during the subway fight in the first movie.
    • As they start to wander off at the end of the Burly Brawl in the second movie, several of the Smiths do it as an ensemble.
  • Mortal Kombat
    • Subverted with some random mook in the first movie, right before he promptly got owned by Sub-Zero.
    • And played straight in the sequel. Perhaps a little too straight. Shao Kahn must have a really bad neck, because he barely moves his head and it still cracks.
  • In The Sandlot, Benny cracks his knuckles (one handed) when he faces off with The Beast.


Literature

  • Variation in Titus Groan, in which Flay is constantly followed around by a Leitmotif of joint-cracking, and his Let's Get Dangerous scene involves him wrapping his knees in bandages to allow him to sneak up on his enemy without his skeleton betraying him.


Live-Action TV

  • Spoofed on an NCIS episode. McGee tries to act tough by doing this, while Tony (falsely) points out that doing so is an warning sign for the early stages of arthritis.
  • Spoofed on Family Matters. When Urkel uses a machine to turn himself into Bruce Lee, he starts out an fight with an extended series of cracking, the noises of which barely even match up with the motions that are supposed to be making them. Then it goes Up to Eleven and Overly Long Gag when Urkel, Richie and 3J all become literal Bruce Lee Clone and begin cracking and whining noises.
  • Whenever Kotaro Minami transforms in Kamen Rider Black, his fists make cracking noises.
  • The henshin devices in Jyuken Sentai Gekiranger require the users to perform knuckle-cracking movements to activate.


Pro Wrestling


Video Games

  • One of the finest examples of the "crushing" variant comes in Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations. As cool, collected, magnificently sardonic Diego Armando comforts Mia over the disastrous end of her first trial, his hand tightens on his omnipresent coffee mug. He doesn't even flinch as it shatters, holding up his bleeding fist as he delivers one of the most profound lines in the series.
    • Before him, on being driven to the wall, Dee Vasquez tightens her grip on her pipette so much that it snaps.
  • In Breath of Fire 3, Bunyan cracks his knuckles after catching your team robbing his house red-handed.
    • Marshall and Forest Law, also, had some knuckle and wrist cracking and are complete Bruce Lee Clones.
  • In one skit of Tales of Destiny 2, Loni Dunamis starts mentioning on how no guy will be attracted with Nanaly Fletch, because... she's a tomboy. Then cue to Nanaly cracking her knuckles (with sound effects), which scared Loni shitless and the rest, she starts cracking his bones.
  • Jill and Wesker do this in Resident Evil 5 at the beginning of your fight with them assuming you don't shoot them first.
    • Not Jill. She stands like some soldier at the ready while Wesker cracks up, then hisses in some wildbeast pose in the second fight.
  • Guilty Gear's Sol Badguy does this in one of his fight intros.
  • Shepard invokes this trope in Mass Effect a lot, usually as warm up in order to extract information from a hesitant informant. Unsurprisingly, if you understand anything about Shepard, it works. One volus was savvy enough that all s\he had to do was crack knuckles to comply.
  • A deleted scene from Spider-Man: The Movie: The Game has Shocker doing this. With no sound, oddly.
  • The character select screen in Warhammer Online has the Chaos Chosen flex his fingers and clench his fist in a soundless example of the trope, but the Orc Choppa simply grabs his own head and noisily cracks his neck.
  • Tokugawa Ieyasu from Sengoku Basara dramatically cracks his knuckles before his Basara attack, appropriate since he's a fist fighter. Kuroda Kanbe also cracks his neck during his taunt, complaining that he "needs a break".
  • At the start of the Ostagar battle in Dragon Age Origins, an advancing Hurlock Alpha is depicted cracking his neck.
  • Duke Nukem cracks his knuckles at the beginning of every level in Duke Nukem 3D.


Web Comics

  • Van Von Hunter sort of plays with this trope; the signature move of the Flaming Prince is saying "I will CRUSH you like this [noun]!" while acting this out. Often said object is something he really does not want to crush, due to it being valuable or very painful.
  • In Goblins, the "lesser finger horror" makes this sound every time it moves. (It's been explained that its form of movement involves breaking its own bones and healing them again.)


Web Original


Western Animation

  • Mongul in the Justice League Unlimited episode "For the Man Who Has Everything".
  • Of all people, Richie Rich's mother had this as a habit.
  • Occasionally played for comedy, with a piano player about to attempt a difficult piece. For example, Bugs Bunny in Rhapsody Rabbit.
  • In one Batman: The Animated Series episode there's a crook who is loudly declaring "I'm no squealer" that Batman needs to get information out of. Batman just cracks his knuckles and narrows his eyes threateningly. The guy talks.
  • And as for neck cracking, Starfire on Teen Titans does one badass neck cracking in "Go", where you really see what an upbringing by a warrior race will do for you when you're scared and in a strange place having just escaped being a war prize, and implied sex slave. Scary.
  • In one episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Xin Fu does this before facing off with Toph.
  • Would you believe that Optimus mimes the knuckle-cracking move in episode 41 of Transformers Cybertron (or 42, if you follow Galaxy Force)?
  • Another example of "character who has no bones and is therefore invincible but shows being invincible by cracking his neck despite having no bones after being beaten up" is in Ultimate Avengers 2, when the alien Nazi shapeshifter (who is kind of a colony of slugs) does this after falling from a great height.
  • When SpongeBob SquarePants tries cracking his knuckles, he ends up breaking them instead.
  • Same thing happened to Bart Simpson of The Simpsons.

 Bart: Ow, my bones are so brittle! But I always drink plenty of--... (looks at carton) Malk?

  • Rock Callahan, Kick Buttowski's favorite action hero, has a habit of cracking his neck while delivering his One Liners.

Notes

  1. The popping sound is thought to be trapped bubbles of gas being released, amongst other theories
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