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In movies and television, a locked door, or a padlock on a cage is never an impediment so long as the Hero has bullets to spare. One or two shots is generally enough to destroy the lock, allowing the door to open.

Unfortunately, in real life -- as shown by the Myth Busters -- this requires a high powered gun (such as a massive .357 Magnum pistol) at close range, which causes lots of very dangerous shrapnel. Only SWAT teams and soldiers ever do this in real life, and it involves a shotgun, Kevlar body armor, specialized ammunition (a powdered metal breaching round, often jokingly referred to as "Avon Calling"), and full face protection. Even then, the goal is not specifically to destroy the lock, but to destroy the surrounding door or the hinges. The old standby "entry tool" (a small battering ram) is a better choice in most situations. That or a good, hard kick on an especially flimsy door. (The Myth Busters have done that one, too.)

Attempts to shoot the lock mechanism itself tend to leave the distorted metal jammed in place while the bolt or latch remains closed. In effect, it is actually more locked than if you had left it alone.

The Speculative Fiction version is shooting the control panel for the automatic door or force field, or automatic force field door. While there are doors that "fail safe" or "fail open" when power is cut, in fiction this is always coincidentally whichever the shooter and/or plot requires. (Note to villains: The Evil Overlord List recommends rigging yours to reverse this.)

Tested on 'The Box O'Truth' http://www.theboxotruth.com/docs/bot5.htm

Not to be confused with getting shot out of an airlock.

Examples of Shoot Out the Lock include:


Anime and Manga

  • Gets played with in the first episode of Gosick. We see a maid shooting at a locked door, ostensibly to free her master, who is locked inside. Turns out that the maid is killing the master via a shot to the eye through the keyhole while the master was peeking through the hole.
  • Highschool of the Dead. Takashi tries to do this, but resident Gun Otaku Kohta quickly stops him, worried that one of the bullets will riccochet and hit one of them.
  • Done in Lupin III: Plot of the Fuma Clan, but for the opposite effect most people go for. The lock is an old-fashioned one whose purpose is to disable the booby traps guarding a treasure stash. The person shooting it does so to trash the mechanism after his enemies steal the vase with the key hidden inside.

Comic Books

  • Scrooge McDuck does this in the Carl Barks comic "The Old Castle's Secret".
  • In one of the War Picture Library comics, the heroes are freeing a captured British spy from prison, and one suggests shooting out the lock. The spy responds: "You've been watching too many cowboy movies; the ricochets would kill us all." (As the prison has stone walls and a steel door).
  • Bookhunter's opening scene shows a SWAT team using a shotgun with "shocklock rounds". In the preliminary briefing, Agent Bay points out that the hallway's layout prevents them from using a ram.

Commercials

  • Commercials for Weatherby ammunition would show a lock penetrated, but not completely destroyed, by a rifle cartridge.
  • For years, the Master Lock company ran TV commercials during the Super Bowl where they would shoot one of their own padlocks with a gun to demonstrate its durability. This is an interesting application of Reality Is Unrealistic, because its effectiveness is based on viewers' expectations that a lock will break when fired at. (This commercial is referenced in the Stephen King-as-Richard-Bachman novella "Rage", when the narrator/protagonist puts his locker padlock in his shirt pocket, where it later saves him from a sharpshooter bullet in the heart. The narrator mentions later viewing that commercial, with adverse emotional effects.)

Film

  • Big Trouble in Little China. Jack Burton shoots off a padlock to free the female captives from their cells in Lo Pan's warehouse.
  • The weasels use a machine gun to shoot a hole around the lock on Eddie's door to open it in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.
  • In No Country for Old Men, the villain (chillingly well-played by Javier Bardem) shoots off locks, but with an air gun that drives a metal spike through the lock and launches it into the next room. As cool as this is, it is sadly impossible.
  • Luke does this in the first Star Wars movie to keep a door shut, cutting off pursuing Storm Troopers. Unfortunately, it also stops the bridge controls from working, making a heroic swing across a chasm (and a kiss that later becomes awkward) necessary.
  • Subverted in the film adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's Paycheck. The hero and his girlfriend have sealed themselves inside a room, and she is about to smash the control panel for the door when he stops her and lets her know that will only keep them from opening the door from their side, not the bad guys.
  • Played straight at the end of The Mask of Zorro.
  • Charles Lee Ray in Child's Play did this to the lock on the toy store door.
  • James Bond:
    • He uses both variants in Tomorrow Never Dies. He first fries a code lock to open a door (toward the Mad Scientist's bureau), then shoots another lock on a ceiling hatch to seal it so the Big Bad's minions can't pursue him. Now Mr Carver certainly has state-of-the-art technology in his center, but doors which respond intelligently to being shot?
    • Also in The World Is Not Enough, Valentin Zukovsky did this to release Bond from Elektra's torture device, even as he suffers some mortal wounds, using a gun disguised as a walking stick. Later, Bond also do this to release M from her cell.
    • Diamonds Are Forever. The door to Willard Whyte's room was secured with a padlock. It was shot off the door with a pistol to free him.
  • Used in the movie Ghost, as the plot is nearing its climax. Molly and Oda Mae barricade themselves inside their apartment and refuse to let Carl inside. He shoots out the lock with his small handgun, with ridiculous ease. The lock simply falls right out of the door and he is able to open it without any further problems.
  • Terminator doesn't seem to bother with pistols. An M79 grenade launcher works better.
    • Still pretty unrealistic as grenade launchers have a preset safety distance before the grenade is armed to explode. At the range the Terminator was firing at the grenade would have harmlessly put a dent in the wall but not have blown it up.
    • The Terminator shoots a padlock and chain off a gate with a shotgun from an implausible distance during the truck/bike chase in Terminator 2. Oh, and he's on a speeding motorcycle at the time.
  • At the end of The Leech Woman a detective shoots out the lock on the titular character's bedroom door, which at least seems vaguely more plausible since a door handle's locking mechanism probably isn't anything near as sturdy as a combination lock. At any rate, it's more plausible than everything else in the film.
    • Then your pineal gland is safe. For now.
  • In Highlander the Source, the first non-Duncan Immortal in the movie breaks into a tower and rides the elevator to the top. To prevent the guards from calling the elevator, he stabs the control panel with his scimitar. Stupidly enough, he stabs the control panel outside of the elevator, only preventing him from calling the elevator. Even if he thought of destroying the panel inside the elevator, there was still a perfectly fresh elevator right next to that one!
  • Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow. The title character throws an object and hits the control box for a door, causing the door to close and prevent pursuing robots from capturing him.
  • Die Hard 2 has John McLane shooting a padlock on an access grate to get onto a runway at Dulles Airport.
  • Guns are used to do everything in Ultraviolet, unlocking doors included.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indy shoots out the lock on the plane's cockpit so Marion can escape.
  • Keanu Reeves did this to a door in Speed.
  • The first Resident Evil movie. After Spence leaves the laboratory he shoots out the locking mechanism on the door so the others can't get out.
  • Clue, of all places. When Col Mustard and Miss Scarlet are trapped in the lounge, Yvette recovers the revolver from the cupboard and shoots the lock twice from across the room. At least one of the bullets goes through the lock and Col. Mustard claims it hits him in the shoulder. (We never see any blood, nor anyone bandaging it, so I doubt he really got hit.)
  • Averted in, surprisingly enough, Skyline. A door lock is shot twice to no effect.
  • Averted in a scene from Michael Mann's Heat, where Wes Studi and Al Pacino's characters stage an entry with Wes Studi blowing out the hinges with a shotgun instead of going for the lock.
  • Averted in S.W.A.T. when the Big Bad locks a sewer exit the protagonists were chasing him through. The lock is obviously a high-end, very tough lock, and a couple of shots from an assault rifle barely dent it. They have to resort to blowing the entire grate off with a claymore.
  • Averted in Equilibrium, where the Sweepers use the technique of blowing out the hinges of the door to gain entry in the first major action scene.
  • D.E.B.S.. While the protagonists are secretly meeting with Lucy Diamond at Endgame, Bobby shoots a padlock that's securing a door leading to their location.

Literature

  • Spoofed in the Discworld novel Guards! Guards!, where Captain Vimes orders Sergeant Colon to shoot the lock off a gate...while Colon is armed with a crossbow.
    • Detritus later gets a siege crossbow called the 'Piecemaker' which can shoot out the lock...and the door...and the surrounding wall...and just about anything else in a 270-degree arc.
  • There was a sci-fi book once where the variant seen in Star Wars - shooting it to keep it closed - was attempted, but it just jammed the door into "open". Don't remember the title, though.
  • Lampshaded and averted in Sharpe - someone suggests shooting open a lock, but Sharpe points out that all it does is mangle the levers and make it worse. He does play it straight once, but in a way that would work. He shoots the door in. With a cannon.
    • Played straight in the TV series.
  • A character in the Island series of childrens' books tries this to get out of a locked room after stealing a gun from the guard. It works, but the bullet goes through the door and injures the Big Bad standing on the other side. He's not too happy about this.
  • The first Doom novel had the hero, as in the game, looking for many keys. The important thing was, blasting open a locked door was entirely possible, given his sci-fi ammunition, it was just that he preferred to save the bullets for the horrible monsters intending to eat him.
  • Averted: When faced with a padlocked gate in The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne noted how useless shooting the lock would be, resulting in only shrapnel and wasted bullets. Instead, he cuts through the fence a discreet distance to the side.
    • On the other hand, when the Big Bad is in pursuit, said villain doesn't see how Bourne got past the fence and goes for the gate. He gets one of his minions to try this trope. It fails, and the Big Bad breaks in ceremonial sword in trying to hack at the lock.
  • The ultimate version of this trope is when Goldfinger plans to use a stolen tactical nuclear weapon to blast open the vault of Fort Knox. This was fortunately changed for the movie.
  • In Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, a bad guy tries to do this, rather unsuccessfully. He then shoot-cuts the lock off the door using a Uzi.
  • In another Clancy work, Clear and Present Danger, the character doesn't even bother aiming at the lock. Instead, he fires five rounds from his revolver to separate the lock from the door and then opens it, "just like in the movies"--an unusual way of invoking the trope, since most movies don't bother with shoot-cutting the lock.

Live Action TV

  • The above-mentioned Myth Busters episode, where they determined that the average handgun would not destroy a lock, and that doing so with higher-powered guns was not particularly safe.
  • Called out by MacGyver in "The Wish Child", where Mac, being a Technical Pacifist, explains that shooting a lock won't work. Instead, he empties powder from a cartridge into the lock, then clubs the shell casing with the gun to blow up the lock from the inside.
    • And the Mythbusters recently demonstrated that this won't work either. There isn't enough powder in one cartridge (or even six) to sufficiently damage the lock.
    • And they demostrated that the gun he used is powerful enough to shoot through the lock.
  • In the Deep Space Nine episode "Sacrifice of Angels," when Quark had to shoot the Jem'Hadar, leaving no one to let Kira and company out of their cell. Ziyal then shot the control panel, and down came the force fields.
  • Shooting the control crystals actually works to take down a futuristic door on Stargate SG-1/
    • And one in Stargate Atlantis by use of Ronon's many hidden throwing knives, but this is something of a subversion as their escape was engineered. It isn't an option in their other appearances.
    • In another episode, Ronon shoots a Wraith door panel with his energy revolver to open it. In the same episode, McKay tries the same thing with a P90 and is annoyed that it doesn't work like it did for Ronon.
      • Which doesn't make much sense unless the Wraith use special materials in their locks, as the 5.7x28mm round used in the P90 is specially designed to defeat high-quality armor.
    • An earlier SG-1 episode manages to avert this, when an NID agent uses a machine pistol on full auto to shoot around a lock, completely separating it from the rest of the door (and he actually reloads afterward, for bonus verisimilitude).
  • Both subverted and used (almost) correctly in the Firefly episode "Ariel." Jayne attempts to shoot out a lock with a futuristic stun gun, resulting in total indifference on the part of the door (stun rifles aren't really designed to blow out locks anyway). However, Mal's shotgun does a much better job at shooting out the lcok, doing substantial damage to the door itself.
  • In the Chuck episode "Chuck Versus the Marlin," Casey shoots open the lock to free Sarah who had been locked in a freezer by an enemy spy.
  • Kate successfully shoots a padlock in the Lost episode "Eggtown."
  • Averted, subverted, lampshaded, and played straight on one episode of In Plain Sight, all within about a minute. The lead, Mary, and another cop are trapped in a burning building. The second cops wants to shoot the lock, but Mary informs him that it won't work; the shrapnel would just bounce back. She tries to find the key for the door on the huge bunch of janitor's keys she used to get into the building, gets impatient, and shoots the lock. No shrapnel, but the dents damage the lock enough for them to get outside. She's surprised that it actually works.
  • Played straight in several episodes of the 60s spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E..
  • In an episode of The Green Green Grass, the Driscoll brothers use a pair of AK-47s and destroy every part of the door except the lock.
  • Averted in an episode of Monk - When the gang are trapped in a bank vault with a limited air supply, Stottlemeyer wraps his hand in his suit jacket and attempts to shoot the padlock off a utility box that might contain a phone line so that they can get help. Multiple shots don't faze the lock.
  • The Goodies. In "UF-Friend or UFO" Bill is being chased by what he thinks is an alien, but Tim won't let him in the door, so he orders Graham's robot to open it. The robot promptly disintegrates the door, so Bill can't lock it after him.
  • Jack Bauer does it in the premiere of the eighth season of 24.
  • Used in the FlashForward series - to be fair, it was a padlock, and it was shot from point blank range, so it was quite realistic.
  • Done somewhat ridiculously in the Doctor Who new series episode "Partners in Crime". A couple of guards try to chase Donna through a locked door. It should be noted she's well out of the way at this point, so it's definitely the door they're shooting. Armed with high-powered assault rifles, they just unload randomly on the door, perforating the entire middle section. They succeed in managing to shoot the handle off... then the door just falls off like they blasted the hinges.
  • Kojak used a shotgun to blow off the hinges.
  • An early episode of the classic run of Hawaii Five-O uses this trope. Danno shoots out the lock of a cheap apartment, only to accidentally kill a robbery suspect he was pursuing. The rest of the episode deals with the aftermath.
  • Averted in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Naked Time", where Scotty uses a phaser to open a locked door by slowly and precisely carving into a wall to access the control circuits.
  • Averted similarly in an episode of Sliders. A small security robot is chasing Maggie when a door separates the two. The robot proceeds to carve a hole in the door exactly its size.
  • In the first episode of Wild Boys, Jack shoots the lock off the strongbox they steal from the stagecoach.
  • Babylon 5 plays this straight and averts it, depending on the episode. When played straight, it is typically done by shooting all round the edge of the (standard sci-fi sliding) door to make it fall in. Averted and discussed at once in an episode where Sheridan warns a group of opponents trapped in an adjoining room that the doors are made from an alloy that will deflect PPG blasts.

 Sheridan: Ricochet's a killer.

  • Averted in Bones. Bones tries to shoot a lock with a revolver, and the bullet ricochets off the lock hitting Booth in the leg. He even knew it was coming.
  • Averted in a Season 4 episode of Top Shot. For one elimination challenge, the players had to breach three locked doors using a specially modified pump shotgun. Their trainer, a former Navy SEAL, took great care to show them how to do the job right: by tilting the barrel down at a 45-degree angle and putting the muzzle between the lock and the doorframe.

Video Games

  • Done realistically in SWAT 4, you need to use a special breaching shotgun to do this, normal guns won't do the trick.
  • Resident Evil 4 actually has several variations on shooting the lock. Blasting the padlock with a gun works. As does kicking the door itself, although that will generally take several attempts (Leon's strong, but he's not that strong). It's also possible to knife the lock open. In each case, shooting the lock is not strictly necessary; you can shoot the chain instead, if it's visible. And for doors that aren't locked at all, but that you don't want to open, you can blow large holes in them. Even with 9mm handgun rounds.
    • RE 4 is all over the place with this trope. Some locks can easily be broken while some require considerable firepower, such as the cage fight with the second Garrador and numerous zealots.
  • Though not quite the same, several Star Wars games allow you to pop open a door simply by using your lightsaber to slice open an electronic lock. Seriously, just one swing and the doors open on their own. Of course, the movies subvert this, showing not only can you not do this, but it actually takes a while to cut through your standard ship door.
  • Hitman Blood Money finally introduced this feature to the series as an alternative to opening locked (or even unlocked) doors quickly, noisily, and with a gun aimed into the room beyond.
  • In Golden Eye 1997 for the N64, you must shoot off a lock to open a gate. You can even do this with your hands.
  • Considering your signature weapon is a crowbar, this is almost Justified in Half-Life. Though a bullet will still work, and regardless you just hit it with the crowbar once rather than actually using it.
    • The gamemod They Hunger has a padlock in an early level. Since the weapons are re-skinns of the ones of Half-Life, you can conserve ammunition by breaking it open with a umbrella.
    • Don't bother shooting the Combine door locks though. Those can only be opened by people other than you. Or the Combine, who like to make them explode.
    • The achievement "The One Free Bullet" is unlocked if you complete the entirety of Half Life 2: Episode 1, firing exactly one bullet. Take a guess at what you have to use that one bullet for.
    • The first game does this a bit differently for a few locked doors, though. If it's locked, you either aren't supposed to go that way, or you are, and you just need to either get someone to unlock it/cut it down, or unlock it yourself on the other side after getting past it through an air vent or something.
  • Similarly, padlocks in Bioshock can be broken by bullets, or even the wrench.
  • The Metroid series has an interesting variation. This is the only way to open a door, as your energy blasts somehow open doors. Architects must've been insane to build doors like this.
    • Prime 2 explains this if you scan a door: It's a low powered force field, meant to keep the native (and not-so-native) critters out/in.
  • Lampshaded in Perfect Dark Zero: "The keyhole looks about bullet sized".
  • In Deadly Premonition, York does this in a cutscene to free Forrest Kaysen, who is locked in the basement of the art gallery. You can also do it to padlocks in regular gameplay, though hitting them with any other weapon will work just as well.
  • In the First Encounter Assault Recon series, padlocks can be shot off or bashed off with a melee attack. Unlocked doors can opened with a rifle butt or grenade in the first game's expansions and later; mysteriously they close themselves automatically after a while.
  • Dead Space: Despite Isaac's engineering skills several doors are opened by shooting out the exposed high visible fuses next to them.
  • Mind Jack uses both versions of this in cutscenes. The protagonists find that shooting panels works for either opening or closing doors.
  • The only way to open a padlocked door in Uncharted is to shoot the lock.
  • Jack Walters does it occasionally.
  • In the first act in Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror, You have to open a lock to a gate by shooting it.
  • Postal 2 allows you to kick open doors if you're in a hurry, though like FEAR above they mysteriously close on their own after a while. The "Apocalypse Weekend" expansion adds a sledgehammer that can just break them down entirely.
  • In Star Ocean the Second Story, Claude uses his Phase Gun to bust open the door to Allen's mansion in Salva in order to rescue Rena from him.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Played with in an episode of Family Guy, when Peter rescues Lois from Mel Gibson. Mel proceeds to brandish a gun, which he uses to blast open the lock of a safe, inside which a slightly bigger gun lay.
  • G.I. Joe: Resolute: Duke shoots the electronic lock on Cobra Commander's emergency bunker. Cobra taunts him for thinking that would get him in. Duke replies that he didn't think it would get him in, just prevent Cobra from getting out, as it's revealed he activated the Self-Destruct Mechanism.
  • Used often in Archer... and subverted just as much, as Archer tries shooting out steel locks on bulletproof doors, often resulting in painful ricochets.

Real Life

  • There was an interview with an Israeli sniper instructor in Soldier of Fortune magazine, where he mentioned a building entry technique where three snipers shoot at a lock at once, completely destroying it. Sniper rifles have to be orders of magnitude more powerful than the average squad weapon, however, and the fact that it took three simultaneous shots demonstrates how improbable this trope is with modern lock design.
  • Breaching, or Hatton shotgun rounds are designed specifically to do this relatively safely to the firer and anyone in the room behind the door. Though they're fired at the hinges equally, if not more often.
  • Real life example of the SF version: In a video shown on Tru TV, an armed robber herded the employees of a store into the back room and attempted to cut telephone lines to prevent the victims from calling for help. Instead, he cut a wire controlling the door to the back room, preventing it from opening and trapping him until police arrived.
  • Like the Kojak example above, the Special Air Service found it was more effective to use a shotgun to destroy the door's hinges, rather than the lock. Though these tactics may have been superceded by the invention of Hatton rounds.
  • Truth in Television, as far as control panels are concerned: At least in Germany, safety regulations require doors to open when their controls are damaged.
    • Makes sense if you think about it, you don't want to be locked in with whatever is destroying those control panels.
      • Like, uh... humidity? Hardware failure? Battery corrosion?
  • Works very nicely on a padlock holding a gate shut - the term in my hometown is "local's key"
  • There's also the Knight's Armament Company's door breaching shotgun based off the Remington 870, the Masterkey. Though it's also a (very-short barreled, three round) regular shotgun.
  • This trope is apparently Older Than Television, with the result that one careless commando in a raid on St Nazaire in WW 2 tried to shoot out a lock without thinking about ricochets and shrapnel and ended up wounding himself rather badly.
  • In a "Kids, don't try this at home" example, we did this as teenagers on an old lock and a buddy's .38 revolver. The resulting shrapnel from the splattered bullet left wounds that looked like blackheads on the shooter's arm. Only it was lead fragments. Yeah, that led to an interesting discussion with the parental units. We laughed about it later, but it was clear we were lucky nobody was seriously wounded or killed from the ricochet.
  • In dealing with older buildings, especially buildings in a state of disrepair, law enforcement personnel will sometimes opt to breach a wall, rather than a door, especially if they have solid information that places a criminal near said wall. This can be very effective, and much safer than breaching at a standard entry point, especially in older, poorly maintained buildings.
  • Of course, modern, more effective means are sometimes used.
  • During the liberation of the Cabanatuan POW Camp in WW 2, S/Sgt Theodore Robinson shot the lock off the main gate using a .45. He actually did this after the .45 was shot out of his hand without injuring him, making this an example of both Shoot Out the Lock and Blasting It Out of Their Hands.
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