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This character has the I Just Want to Be Special attitude, but the kind of "special" he wants to be is a gunfighter. What distinguishes the Wannabe from the Young Gun is that the latter usually just needs some training/experience/maturity to get up to speed, whereas the Wannabe lacks the talent or temperament to succeed as The Gunslinger.

He may have plinked cans in the backyard, and practiced his fancy draw in the mirror, but the Wannabe doesn't have the speed and accuracy he thinks he does. And he's going to challenge a real gunfighter just as soon as he gets up the nerve. This will not end well.

Actually, there are three common outcomes to the Gunfighter Wannabe plotline, with a couple of rarer variants.

  1. The protagonist manages to set up a situation that shows the Wannabe that he's not ready for the gunfighter lifestyle, and the Wannabe gives up the least for now. This is suited for lighter-hearted stories, or ones on the idealistic end of the Sliding Scale.
  2. The Wannabe challenges a gunfighter and winds up dead or severely injured. Most Gunslinger stories are littered with these unfortunates in the backstory.
  3. By some fluke or a cheat, the Wannabe actually outshoots a gunfighter...and only then realizes that now, every Wannabe in the territory packing heat and looking to make a name for himself will be gunning for him. Welcome to hell, kid...

A common variant of this is the Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond: sometimes the Wannabe is the fastest gun around, among the rather small group of people that he knows, and thinks he's really hot stuff, until a real gunfighter comes along.

In a rarer scenario, The Gunfighter Wannabe challenges someone who he thinks is The Gunslinger but isn't. So the Wannabe ends up killing some Cowboy or City Slicker, and is promptly branded an Outlaw -- but discovers he lacks the cojones for banditry -- usually ends with the other bandits killing or abandoning him. Occasionally this results in a Heel Face Turn, but since Redemption Equals Death, it usually doesn't end well.

Other variations include the Wannabe being a hanger-on in an Outlaw band, only to learn that this isn't what he wants -- usually when his supposed Nakama abandons him (with a broken leg or something), and then the hero rescues him.

For similar characters outside the Western genre, consult the general Heroic Wannabe page. Note that this character usually does not wanna bee.

Examples of The Gunfighter Wannabe include:

Anime and Manga

  • Played with in Fist of the North Star, where a mook who thinks himself a master of the Hokuto Shinken tries to use his "Instant Kill" technique on Kenshiro, the principal Badass and real master of the style in the series, and dies hilariously.

Comic Books

  • The Ultimate Nullifier in Vengeance, a rookie hero dressed in an all-white version of Captain America's costume (sans mask because he's just too damn pretty) and wielding two Power Nullifier pistols that he spins frequently. In his mind, he is the modern heroic ideal.


  • Ron Howard's character in The Shootist is type 1.
  • Dealing with Wannabes is a major theme of The Gunfighter. It starts with scenario 2, then has scenario 1, and finishes with number 3.
  • Unforgiven has a hanger-on called the Schofield Kid. In a dark version of variant 1 he realizes he doesn't really have it in him to be a killer only after he murders an unarmed man on the toilet.
    • The original script says he drowned himself out of guilt.
  • The Quick and the Dead had those, of course. The biggest example is the one appropiately known as The Kid, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • Jim AKA The Waco Kid, (a Retired Badass from Blazing Saddles) recalls encountering a lot of these types back when he was the Fastest Gun in the West and how "it got so that every piss-ass prairie punk who thought he could shoot a gun would ride into town to try out The Waco Kid", including the one that sent him into his Heroic BSOD: a six year old kid with a revolver. (Who promptly shot Jim in the ass when he threw down his guns and walked away).
  • Marston in Quigley Down Under is a Big Fish in a Small Pond. He thinks he's a fast gun, on his cattle station in the Australian Outback, but at the time the movie starts he has never met an actual gunslinger.


  • Sackett by Louis L'Amour has one of the hanger-on type of gunfighter wannabe.
  • The short story "The Conqueror" by Richard Matheson plays with this. It starts as Type 3, only the kid is just plain ambushed by the friends of the men he killed and shot to pieces. And then we find out that he may just have been a Psychopathic Manchild who was planning to kill his way across the plains as the baddest gunfighter ever.


Video Games

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