Off with His Head
If you're dealing with any sword-oriented media, whether it be fantasy, medieval, kung fu, or something else, and it's more violent than a PG-13 rating, chances are, someone is going to get his head chopped off (and it may not even need the R rating if you're dealing with nonhuman enemies). One of the most common methods of execution back in the medieval era next to hanging, decapitation is usually one of the surest ways to ensure someone is Deader Than Dead barring some very potent magic or divine intervention.
Any Ridiculously Human Robot or other decidedly inhuman being will probably be capable of surviving decapitation, and will do so at some point either for a joke or as a plot point. In less serious series, the body will even continue to walk around bumping into things.
It is nearly always depicted as being surprisingly easy to do, even in one blow to a moving target. While Anne Boleyn did get beheaded with one stroke, most pre-guillotine beheadings took at least three strokes (plus, Boleyn's executioner was—by request—a professional swordsman who would know how to cleanly behead someone).
This trope is named after the line Off with his head; — so much for Buckingham from Colley Cibber's adaptation of Richard III. The trope was also famously used by the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. See also Your Head Asplode for a much gorier version of this trope and Boom! Headshot! when it comes to firearms.
Anime and Manga
- In the manga of Samurai Deeper Kyo, Kyo beheaded Nobunaga in their fight in the forest.
- In the Naruto manga, Zabuza kills Gato this way, but the anime Bowdlerised it down to kicking him off of a bridge.
- Killer Bee and the Raikage together blow a Zetsu clone disguised as Kisame's head right off, which compliments them on its way down.
- Princess Mononoke has two instances when Ashitaka decapitated people by shooting them in the head with arrows. His arm was possessed by a demon, so that could have something to do with it.
- Karura in Utawarerumono actually punches a mook's head off. That must have been messy.
- In Bleach, the Fraccion Avirama Redder asks Lieutenant Izuru Kira what his 'weird-looking' Zanpakutou, Wabisuke - which is shaped like a square hook - can cut through. Kira gives him a demonstration by placing the hooked bit under Redder's neck and - yoink! There goes Redder's head.
- This is how Daisuke Saiki dies in the manga version of X 1999. it was so gruesome that the TV series censored it.
- Earlier in the story, Kotori is first stabbed in the chest by her brother Fuuma, then her body is dismembered by cables turned into Razor Floss. Kamui is seen holding her head in his arms.
- While, barring a dream sequence involving Kotori, neither of these occur in the film, Fuuma suffers this courtesy of Kamui at the very end.
- It happens to Tolle Koenig in Gundam Seed, when the shield of Athrun's Gundam hits his cockpit. OUCH.
- Still better than getting it taken off by a giant spinning tire like Uso's mom Mueller in Victory Gundam.
- The Headhunter in Pandora Hearts, invoked by name.
The Queen of Hearts
- This is pretty much the only way to kill a sen-nin in The Twelve Kingdoms. Brutally proved by Governor Gekkei, who kills King Chuutatsu of Hou this way as punishment for his horrible reign and brings his head to his family. Then, he subjects Chuutatsu's wife Kekai and the kirin Hourin to the same fate, also as punishment for their own deeds (or inaction). "Royal Consort! Princess! Say goodbye to your King!", indeed.
- In Vinland Saga, this is how Askeladd kills King Sweyn.
- In chapter 51 of Mirai Nikki Yuno kills Akise this way.
- Teresa from Claymore is beheaded by Priscilla the instant she Awakens.
- A lot of deaths in Gantz involve decapitation. Kurono and Izumi beheaded the oni boss, as well as the former beheading the shapeshifting oni. Katou also beheaded the Buddha boss. Anything else I miss?
- Many deaths in Elfen Lied caused by Diclonius. Their vectors can pick off a person's head like picking a fruit off a tree or crush them like nothing.
- Berserk: Guts is powerful enough to shear off the head of a horse with one blow from his BFS, as evidenced during the rampage at the end of the first Black Swordsman story and against General Boscogn during the Golden Age arc, just before taking Boscogn's head as well.
- Also a standard method of execution in the series proper. In the beginning of the third arc (the one before the Golden Age arc), a woman gets executed this way for heresy. Her head gets used by Guts to send a declaration of war to the Count, an Apostle who uses such accusations of heresy to provide him with people to eat.
- Dragon Ball: Vegeta does this to Guldo after he tried to kill Gohan and Krillin, though it was only because he wanted to kill off the weakest member of the Ginyu Force (he didn't give a damn about them at that point). Guldo actually lives long enough to yell at Vegeta for what he did until he vaporized him.
- During the battle against the Cell Jrs. Gohan decapitates two of them.
- In the original series Goku kicked Drum's head off.
- Two of the movies had decapitations, in the fourth Piccolo blasts Doradabo's head off and in the seventh Vegeta punches Android 15's head off.
- In Amon, an alternative continuation to Devilman, Akira's love interest Miki and her little brother are both decapitated by an angry mob after it was revealed on TV that Akira is actually Devilman.
- It did happen in the original manga too. Miki is searching for her brother and sees him fall from the second floor. She approaches him and sees it's his headless body, and a member of the angry mob has his decapitated head. Later, when Akira arrives too late, he sees Miki not only has been killed, but dismembered by the mob, and her head is on a pike (alongside her other limbs, each one in its own pike). Later, Akira is seen cradling her head in his arms, having crossed the Despair Event Horizon for real. (In fact, it's said that this scene inspired the one in the X 1999 manga where Kamui does the same with Kotori's head.
- In Ideon a girl named Asura is decapitated by a gunshot in the final movie. She was the youngest member (around 4 to 5 years old) of the cast on top of that.
- In Detective Conan, the murder of the first episode. Who would have thought of using the momentum of the roller coaster and a wire with hooks to make a gruesome decapitation?
- Also happens to Chikako Ikeda in the Mountain Villa Bandaged Man Murder Case. And her killer not only beheads her, but dismembers her and carries her head around hidden in his clothes.
- In the School Days finale, Makoto's head is taken by Kotonoha soon after he gets knifed to death by Sekai, followed shortly by Sekai's own decapitation by Kotonoha.
- In Soul Eater Justin cuts off Tezca's head.
- In the Lupin III movie Dead or Alive, to show Ole he's serious about the situation, General Headhunter casually decapitates one of his own men with a sword.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Mami Tomoe is Killed Off for Real in the penultimate timeline in episode 3 after the witch Charlotte devours her head. This led to a funny/creepy Memetic Mutation where she is represented with her head off-panel, hidden or missing. Or carrying it. This also leads to the Japanese fans treating the word 'Mami' as this trope (as in "Mami'd/Mamiraretta" to be equivalent of having the head chopped off]]
- This is one of the few ways to kill immortals in Rumiko Takahashi's Mermaid Saga (complete cremation also works.)
- Also with the Immortals in Blade of the Immortal.
- In Sin City: The Big Fat Kill, Miho ultimately "makes a PEZ dispenser out of" Jackie Boy.
- Occurs regularly in Usagi Yojimbo, especially if a Zerg Rush is involved.
- The Headsman from Thunderbolts, as his name would imply, enjoys lopping heads off with his tremendous axe very, very much. This all traces back to his childhood, when his Aloof Big Brother Cody beheaded his beloved dog.
- This the way Shredder was Killed Off for Real in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mirage comics.
- The 1974 film Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla, in which Godzilla kills his robotic counterpart by twisting its head off and making it explode, is referenced in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 comic Wolves At The Gate, part four as this is how Dawn kills her mechanical double.
- In the Highlander movies and series, this is the only way to kill an Immortal.
- Thulsa Doom does this to Conan's mom in Conan the Barbarian after the raid on his home village that opens the movie. Conan himself returns the favor in the end, using two cuts in a "V" using the remains of his father's sword.
- Actually took three chops: the first two to the sides of Doom's neck and the last one to the back of his neck as he knelt facing his worshippers. Not quite a Lizzie Borden, but good enough.
- O-Ren Ishii does this to Boss Tanaka for insulting her heritage in Kill Bill Volume 1.
- The Bride also deals out several decapitations during the big battle with the Crazy 88.
- Variation in the end: The Bride doesn't cut O-Ren's whole head off... she scalps her by cutting off the top of it.
- Happens several times in the Lord of the Rings movies:
- Aragorn does this to Lurtz, the Uruk-Hai Badass who killed Boromir in Fellowship of the Ring.
- One of the Nazgûl does this to a Hobbit watchman, though the scene cuts away before the head is sheared off.
- Return of the King has three examples:
- Eowyn chops the head off the Witch King's fell-beast before facing him in person. It takes at least two strokes before the thing's head is severed.
- In the extended edition, the nasty-looking orc general who survived everything the Battle of the Pelennor Fields had to offer and was chasing Eowyn around gets his other arm sliced off, two axes in his chest, and his head chopped off by Gimli and Aragorn. Just to make sure he's Deader Than Dead.
- Also in the extended edition, Aragorn does this to the Mouth of Sauron.
- Aragorn does this to Lurtz, the Uruk-Hai Badass who killed Boromir in Fellowship of the Ring.
- Astinos, one of the 300, goes out this way during a lull in the battle, which causes his father to go berserk on the Persians until he has to be dragged away by his comrades. This is also how Leonidas finishes off the Uber-Immortal later on in the movie.
- The titular weapon of the Flying Guillotine kung fu movies, including Master of the Flying Guillotine, was a basket that was thrown and dropped upon someone's head. As the name would suggest, once the basket landed on someone's head, the chain was pulled, the blades would go to work, and it was Off with His Head!
- In the movie Johnny Mnemonic, the assassin was told to come back with Johnny's head, as it contained a cybernetic brain implant that had important information in it.
- The Matrix Revolutions has Neo decapitating an Agent Smith-possessed bad guy with a jack handle.
- Obviously, almost every single death in Sleepy Hollow.
- In the 1999 version of The Mummy, Rick O'Connell decapitates a mummy, and it falls "dead" after the head spins for a bit. Then he decapitates another, and it starts juggling with the head, only falling "dead" after Rick hits the head towards the camera.
- In The Mummy Returns, the only way to kill an Anubis Warrior is by taking off its head.
- In the So Bad It's Good Hudson Hawk, a villain with two blades hidden up his sleeves attacks the titular Hawk, who retaliates by making the man cut off his head.
- In the 1974 film Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla, Godzilla managed to defeat his robotic counterpart by twisting its head off and making it explode. Odd, considering that Mechagodzilla's head was able to spin with no problem.
- But in the 1975 sequel, The Terror Of Mechagodzilla, not only does this not work but the rays its exposed core begins firing at G actually get stronger!
- Anakin's decapitation of Count Dooku in Star Wars Episode III, Mace Windu's killing of Jango Fett in Episode II, and Luke's fight with the shadow form of Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.
- In The Ice Pirates, Maida takes a swipe at an attacker, then asks, in a solicitous tone, "Feeling better?" The bad guy appears to be about to nod...and then collapses in two unequal pieces.
- Hannibal Rising (2007). Hannibal is being raised by his aunt, the Lady Murasaki-Lecter, whose samurai ancestor was into collecting the heads of his enemies. When she's insulted by a local butcher, Hannibal cuts off his head and presents it to her. His aunt is not pleased, but when Hannibal is arrested for the crime she impales the head on the railings outside police headquarters while Hannibal is being interrogated inside. The police naturally assume they have the wrong man and let Hannibal go.
- Transformers: Optimus Prime dispatches Bonecrusher by stabbing him through the neck and wrenching his head from his body.
- Ramjet is killed this way in Reign of Starscream #5. Right after mocking the Autobot he was trying to kill for "not using his head", he's beheaded by Crosshairs. Can anyone say "irony"?
- "GIVE ME YOUR FACE"
- The above quote comes from Revenge of the Fallen, where Optimus doesn't just chop the Fallen's head off, he tears it off. And it's not a nice, clean-cut either. He rips his face-off, and you can see the Fallen vomiting up his equivalent of blood as he dies. Geez. Beware the Nice Ones, indeed.
- Optimus also rips Grindor's head in two. Ow.
- Jetfire finishes off Mixmaster this way. After bisecting him.
- Optimus sure likes this, as evidenced by Megatron's head, lying some distance from his body with an axe lodged in it.
- Honestly just about every death is this in the 2nd and 3rd films. After having two characters that were "killed" by battle damage but later restored to life, destroying heads seems to be Transformers movieverse shorthand for "dead for real." (Mind you, in other versions, Losing Your Head is something that's easily remedied.)
- Near the end of Akira Kurosawa's Ran, Kurogane decapitates Lady Kaede. Much blood spatter ensues.
- Trevor Nunn bookends his film Lady Jane with decapitations.
- The Made of Plasticine factor is subverted in 30 Days of Night where the shortest decapitation is two strokes. Normally three and quite messy.
- The death of the reporter Keith Jennings from The Omen, one of Hollywood's very first onscreen decapitations, when a sheet of glass is launched from a truck in front of him and shears the guy's head off in horrific fashion. It's still considered by horror buffs to be one of the best deaths ever filmed.
- Owen Wilson's character in The Haunting (1999) is stunningly decapitated by the giant flue in the fireplace.
- The death of Simon Phoenix, the Big Bad of Demolition Man, combines this trope with Kill It with Ice.
John Spartan: Heads up!
- In The Midnight Meat Train, the killer takes out one victim by hitting him so hard with a meat tenderizer that his head goes flying across the train car. For added Narm, the camera cuts to the point of view of the victim's head.
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine; the title character talks about wanting to decapitate his big brother, but only end up beheading "Weapon XI" (Deadpool/Dudepeel, in this version an experimented up Wade Wilson).
- Severance: Two characters discuss decapitation as a possible death and how long the head can remain aware even after it's severed. Guess how one of them dies. No, go on, guess...
- Pinhead from the Hellraiser series would usually tear people apart with chained hooks (hooked chains?) but in the fourth movie he shot a bladed chain at a guy's neck. After the blade punctured the neck, it unfolded and on the reverse move decapitated the poor s.o.b. Have a nice day.
- In the first Final Destination film, one of the characters was killed this way by an incoming sharp object caused by the train.
- In Jeepers Creepers, the creeper beheaded a police officer with an ax while he was driving a car. In the second film, he trapped a student with his wings and beheaded him, leaving his body still twitching for a few seconds before collapsing. The creeper consumed the head in order to grow himself a new one.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The knight Bors has his head bitten off by the Rabbit of Caerbannog.
- In Heavy Metal, Taarna's only genuine act of Badassery is to decapitate three Mooks in a bar.
- In one stroke. It's like a gory Three Stooges gag.
- Happens surgically in the film adaptation of The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy, when Humma Kavula takes one of Zaphod Beeblebrox's heads as collateral before their trip to Magrathea.
- Happens several times in the Underworld series.
- The most well-known example is somewhat of a variation, as Selene doesn't quite locate Viktor's neck with her sword and instead cuts his head in half to kill him.
- In the Halloween films, this happens off-screen in the fourth to an officer in a police station, is pulled off with one swing of a kitchen knife in Halloween: Resurrection, and the most gruesome example the series has to offer is in Halloween II (2009), where Michael saws a man's head off with a piece of broken glass. It's also how Laurie takes out Michael in H20, but it got undone in the next movie so the franchise could continue.
- The Hong Kong film Heroic Trio has a villain who has a chain weapon that cuts people's heads off in an almost identical manner Master of the Flying Guillotine to the point where it is probably a Shout-Out.
- The movie Street Trash has an exceptionally bizarre decapitation during the climax.
- 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag
- Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th series has decapitated 10 or more of his victims in the series. One notable instance is the triple decapitation in Part VI.
- Most notably in Part VII where he punches off Julius's head.
- His mother was also killed this way in the original.
- Most notably in Part VII where he punches off Julius's head.
- In the climax of Speed Jack Traven pushes Howard Payne against a stop light while ontop of a speeding subway train causing the fixture to knock his head off his body.
- In Starship Troopers, at least two soldiers are decapitated by the Hopper bugs.
- In the Apocalypse film series, those who refuse to take the Mark of the Beast when inside the Day of Wonders virtual reality program are subject to a virtual beheading, or in some cases another form of death like a lethal snake bite, which causes the victim to die in reality.
- In Killer Klowns From Outer Space, one of the klowns punches a man's head clean off, leading it in a nearby trash can. Done in front of a group of people, leading one screaming while another just looks on, saying "damn".
- The 2010 Alice in Wonderland gets rid of the Jabberwock this way, bloodlessly to stay within a PG rating.
- The 2017 My Little Pony: The Movie, as is tradition for it as a series to treat villains darkly, has the Storm King end up as a petrified obsidian head staring at the camera among the shattered pieces of his body. As if that weren't enough, the credits have a gag where he's still alive moving his eyes around as his guards rebuild him incorrectly for fun.
- Neville's Crowning Moment of Awesome in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: He chops off Nagini's head with the sword of Gryffindor. After pulling it out of the flaming Sorting Hat.
- Let's not forget Nearly Headless Nick. He's decapitated, but his head stays attached to his body by a narrow strip of remaining flesh and remains that way in his ghostly form. There are also properly decapitated ghosts that can throw their heads around at will.
- In Lois McMaster Bujold's Barrayar, the heroine not only orders the decapitation of the enemy leader, she brings the head back to her base as evidence. In a shopping bag. The woman has style.
Good God, woman, where have you been?
- Somewhat subverted in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. While Hiro does actually manage to decapitate someone with his katana, he muses to himself how difficult it is to actually kill someone in this manner, and considers himself lucky that he managed it rather than getting his sword lodged in his victim's vertebrae.
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Green Knight dares anyone to chop his head off with his own battle axe. Sir Gawain chops off the Green Knight's head, only to have the Green Knight pick his own head up, and place it back upon his shoulders. One of the best-known stories of King Arthur.
- In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel First & Only, this is how the Inquisitor Heldane deals with the doctor who objects to his coming into the infirmary; it is told from the POV of the doctor, who sees his own boots and only then realizes that he lost his head.
- Charles de Lint's novel Svaha has at least two scenes where characters (one of them the Big Bad) get decapitated in fairly gory detail.
- In The Executioner series by Don Pendleton, when The Mafia boss says "bring me his head" he often means it literally. Bolan has to decapitate a man while posing as a Black Ace, whilst in another novel to stop the notorious One-Man Army from killing them all a head mook hands over his Mafia bosses to Bolan by floating them across a lake to him in a boat. But not all of them. Just the heads.
- In C. J. Cherryh's The Paladin, Shoka and Taizu are good enough with a sword to decapitate with seeming ease.
- Another favorite kind of death in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series, especially as the Steel Ministry loves to dual-wield obsidian axes. There are the mass executions in The Final Empire, the first Steel Minister seen killed, and most brutally to the reader Elend Venture, possibly intentionally on his part at the climax of Hero of Ages.
- Another memorable example is Elend killing his former best friend Jastes this way, the first person he ever kills.
- In the Warhammer 40,000 novel Grey Knights, Justicar Tancred finishes off the fallen Saint Evisser reanimated by lopping his head off.
- Robert Olen Butler's book Severence consists entirely of vignettes presenting the imagined last thoughts of decapitation victims throughout history (including a few non-humans and the occasional fictional character). Very weird, quite fascinating.
- C'mon... You know what this trope is named after...
- In the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire, the rather shocking end of the road for Ned Stark, firmly planting the Anyone Can Die aspect of the series. Also the fate of several lesser characters declared traitors by the crown, including some poor, innocent dwarfs.
- Also in the first book, Gregor Clegane decapitates his own horse during the tourney scene.
- The entire series grew from a GRRM's vision of a man being beheaded whilst a young boy watched. He wrote the scene and found it expanding into a second chapter and then a third. Thus, the first book was born.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Beyond the Black River", Zogar Sag has his enemies decapitated so their heads can be offered on an altar.
- In Isabel Allende's The House Of Spirits, Clara's mother Nívea has her head cut off when she and her husband Severo perish in a crash car and a metal shard beheads her. Her head goes flying and isn't found until much, much later, when Clara is about to give birth to Blanca. She gets a vision of said head and goes searching for it with Esteban and some servants.
- In Stationery Voyagers: Final Hope, Laura Herrante's Crimson Owl protection means she has infinite lives, and will regenerate a new body from mud whenever she gets killed. Naturally, she is being captured and decapitated by Astrabolo's forces time and again. Because they can't seem to figure out that the key to defeating her is that she Can't Have Sex Ever. Vaneesa also meets a grisly end, between a blade and a rock. The other girls meet arguably worse fates. (Poor Philidrio feels so alone!)
- By the time Astrabolo takes over the Inktacto System, he has made decapitation the standard punishment for all females that defy his will. As such, women are expected to be at all times trained in the art of kneeling on the block, just in case Astrabolo ever decides for literally any reason whatsoever that he wants any particular one to die that day. Men are usually shot or blown to bits.
- Anita Blake often requests this (if she can't do it herself) for crazy old/powerful vampires/shapeshifters to ensure they're Deader Than Dead.
- Done through guillotines (referred to as "loyalty enforcement facilitators") on the general populace to enforce the law of taking the "mark of loyalty" during the Tribulation in the Left Behind book series.
- The Headless Horseman in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was a Hessian trooper who was decapitated by a cannonball, and they were unable to find his head.
Live Action TV
- Occurs gorily in Bonekickers.
- So many heads rolled in the miniseries Henry VIII (2003) that it practically became a Running Gag. The King plays a particularly nasty joke on Cromwell: the executioner has never taken off anyone's head before. The results are not pretty.
- Unsurprisingly as it's the same story, The Tudors has this frequently as well, the scene of many a moving last speech beforehand. Though in this one the nasty joke against Cromwell is not by the king but several councillors. Eventually a nearby guard rushes in to take off his head, after over half a dozen less than accurate attempts by the inebriated headsman.
- Here's what makes this really nasty - not sure whether it actually was Henry or councilors with the twisted sense of humor, but Cromwell really did have a botched beheading. The Truth in Television of this (and my fondness for Frain's portrayal) is why Cromwell's execution is officially the most disturbing thing I've seen on TV, and I watch Fringe. At least there you can tell yourself it never really happened...
- Beheading would appear to be the standard method of execution in Merlin (though Burn the Witch is also pretty common). As of yet, they have not shown it on screen.
- On the edu-tainment show, Deadliest Warrior, one of the hosts gives this as the signal when testing the makrakka, a sickle-like weapon used by the Zande tribe of Central Africa on a ballistic gel torso dummy. It does it's job.
- Blackadder: "Oooh dear, Richard the Third."
- And the Blackadder II episode "Head", in which Edmund gets made Lord Executioner, Baldrick becomes the man with the axe and Hilarity Ensues. We don't see the actual beheadings, although we do see one of the heads.
- The 1980 miniseries Shogun was noted as being the first American network production to actually show a head being cut off on screen. The VHS version of the mini-series is gorier and shows the blood spurting from the neck.
- The Highlander TV series, like the films, is also predicated on the fact that a beheading is the only way for Macleod to survive battles with other immortals. Therefore this happens in virtually every episode (although usually off-screen).
- The title character of Buffy the Vampire Slayer occasionally decapitated her enemies, mostly vampires or demons.
- And in the final episode of season five, Glory tears the head off the Buffybot, thinking it's Buffy.
- The Collector: One woman made a Deal with the Devil the moment she was beheaded. Also happened to Morgan once. He got better.
- In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring Manos: The Hands of Fate, Dr. Forrestor invents the Chocolate Bunny Guillotine. It's Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- Happens many, many times in 1000 Ways to Die:
- "D. U. Die": A drunken motorist suffering from a bought of car-sickness sticks his head out the window to puke...and is decapitated by a mailbox, to the horror of his equally drunken passenger.
- "Road Killed": A hippie chick going to a hemp convention runs over a raccoon, and tries to use CPR on it. Tilting her head up to cough, she has her head ripped off by the bumper of an incoming vehicle.
- "Tongue-Tied": Two teens driving separate cars lean out the window to kiss, only to get decapitated by a forklift in the road
- "Golden Die-Angle": A Laotian drug lord chasing after thieves ends up decapitated by the very barbed wire fence he used as a security measure
- "Kung Pao Pow!!!": A greedy Chinese cremator steals from a corpse said to be of a man who died from a lightning strike. He wasn't hit by lightning, but by the undetonated warhead of a weather rocket, which the cremator didn't check on. When the body was put in the cremation chamber, the warhead heated up and blew the door off of the oven, taking the cremator's head with it.
- "Odds Are You're Dead": A loan shark cuts the hydraulic line on a scissor lift, which collapses onto his neck and decapitates him
- "Miss-Ur Head": A criminal in early 20th century France is executed by the guillotine, with a doctor in attendance to his execution to study the effects of a freshly lopped-off head to prove that consciousness is maintained briefly after beheading, thus making the guillotine an inhumane form of captial punishment. (See Real Life below)
- "Withdrawn": A bank robber (obviously based on Brian Wells) wears a C4 bomb collar around his neck to convince the tellers and cops that he was being forced to commit the heist. When one freaked-out teller deactivates her car alarm to get away from the madness, she unknowingly activates the collar's remote blast cap (which was on the same frequency as her alarm remote), causing it to explode and take the robber's head clean off. Well, not exactly clean, but you get the picture...
- The Immortals from Heroes can only be killed by decapitation.
Mythology, Religion And Folklore
- Severed heads were a pretty common trope in Celtic Mythology, since they identified it as the location of the soul. The most famous is probably Bran the Blessed, whose still-living head is buried somewhere in the South-East of England to guard the British Isles against invaders.
- Older Than Feudalism: Perseus killed Medusa this way, using a magic sword to hack through the bronze scales on her neck, with the added bonus that her powers still worked on anyone he showed it to.
- There's an entire category of Christian Saints like Denis (or in some places, Denys) - the cephalophores - who are usually depicted as holding their severed heads.
- Saint Denis, patron saint of France, was decapitated by the Romans only to pick up his head and walk off with it, cheerfully singing praises to the Lord until he reached the nearest village and dropped dead there. Predictably, he's depicted in art and media as a headless man who carries his own mitred head in his hand.
- The most intriguing figure though is probably Saint Cuthbert, who, while never decapitated himself, is frequently depicted holding the severed head of Saint Oswald. Mystifying when you consider that Oswald had been dead for decades before Cuthbert arrived on the scene.
- The concept of cephalophore (Greek kephalos = head, phorein = to bear), a headless statue with the head on its arms, comes from the image of a beheaded saint.
- Biblical examples:
- David beheaded Goliath with the giant's own sword.
- John the Baptist was beheaded while in prison at the request of Herod's wife.
- Sheba son of Bicri had his head thrown over a town wall in 2 Samuel 20.
- Saul and Ishbosheth were both beheaded after they were killed (2 Samuel).
- Judith decapitated the Assyrian warlord Holofernes in the apocryphal Book of Judith.
- There is a truly creepy Chinese story of a beheaded general whose body did not die. His family took it home and it communicated with them via writing. It even begot a son on the "widow". Squick!!
- Vorpal weapons from Dungeons & Dragons have this as their primary power, activating upon rolling a natural 20 on a D20 and then confirming the crit.
- In New World of Darkness, both vampires and werewolves are capable of regenerating lost body parts... except the head. Lobbing off the head ends their hunt for good.
- Warhammer 40,000 has the primarchs Konrad Curze and (possibly) Ferrus Manus meet their ends this way.
- Subverted in Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta The Mikado, wherein the Lord High Executioner only accepted the post to keep his own head and cannot bring himself to kill anyone else. He claims to have beheaded Nanki-Poo, but produces him alive when it transpires that Nanki-Poo was the heir apparent, and Ko-Ko now faces the Mikado's wrath.
- One of the ghosts inhabiting The Haunted Mansion is a decapitated knight. He has a small role in the video game, giving Zeke a Soul Gem.
- One of the original ghost designs which didn't work out (but has since been recreated with improved technology) was the "hatbox" ghost, whose head would move between his shoulders and a box he held in one hand.
- While Your Head Asplode is common from killing headshots with ranged weaponry in Fallout 3, Off with His Head is possible with them or melee weapons. Yes, you can shoot people's heads off. Really.
- Happens frequently when using the knife on card guards in American McGee's Alice
- Solom Jhee ends up suffering an anticlimactic death because of this trope in Suikoden II.
- Mortal Kombat features a fair number of these in the Fatalities of certain characters.
- The backstory of Dieu Mort, the Arcana of Death in Arcana Heart, was that he was an executioner so obsessed with chopping off heads that he eventually chopped off his own head out of madness and curiosity.
- Alex Mercer from Prototype only consumes the head of Hunters and Leader Hunters, as opposed to eating the whole body for human(-sized target)s. He also decapitates the Supreme Hunter with the Blade.
- Brutal Legend: "DECAPITATIOOOOOOOOONNNNN!"
- Dead Head Fred's eponymous anti-hero Fred Neuman does this to pretty much anyone that angers him. Hell, it's even a major plot and gameplay point!
- Wet features two major decapitations in story. The first decapitation happens to Trevor Ackers upon Rubi's arrival with him in the hospital after taking him out of Hong Kong, beheaded by Tarantula on orders from who Rubi (and he) initially believes is the man's own father, William Ackers, but who turns out to be an Asian-based drug lord by the name of Rupert Pelham with aspirations of operating globally. The second decapitation is delivered by Rubi herself upon Pelham as her final vengeance at the very end of the game.
- In the Japanese Playstation versions of Breath of Fire IV, Fou-lu decapitates the acting emperor Soniel with the very sword Soniel had just tried to run him through with. It's not graphically depicted, though, but shown in silhouette.
- Unfortunately, this scene was a victim of Bowdlerisation in the non-Japanese Playstation versions as well as the Windows port.
- In the manga adaptation of Breath of Fire IV, this is actually a particular Crowning Moment of Awesome for Fou-lu: instead of using the sword he was stabbed with, he generates an energy sword and lops Soniel's head clean off while still having a sword that eats souls sticking out of his midsection.
- In the "WAR Update" in Team Fortress 2, the Demoman receives a new weapon called the Eyelander, which decapitates the enemy upon killing them, granting him a boost in Speed and health. It's also haunted continually chants "heads."
- Updates after that have included a large number of swords as melee weapons for the Demoman, which do not "collect" heads like the Eyelander but all still decapitate with kills. There's also a golf club which functions exactly the same as the Eyelander, including cutting people's heads off.
- In the No More Heroes games Travis Touchdown finishes off Mooks with either a vertical or a horizontal Finishing Move; the horizontal one decapitates them. Some of the bosses get their heads cut off in post-battle cutscenes, as well. Particularly impressive is Skelter Helter's death - his head is chopped off, flies straight up into the air, and lands right back where it had been removed from.
- And then in the next cutscene, he talks to you, then rips his own head off. .... What?!
- Doing a Perfect Shot in 50 Cent: Bulletproof will result in this. Even with submachine guns.
- God Hand has the God Reel move Head Slicer.
- Invoked in many of the later Samurai Shodown games. One fatality involves the opponent being dragged down to hell in a portal, flayed, and their head thrown back to the battlefield with a satisfying thud.
- Some creatures in Resident Evil could kill you this way. Eg. Hunters, Ivys, Dr. Salvador, and some of the Plagas in Resident Evil 4.
- In Dead Space, Issac can get killed this way by a necromorph head and gets his body taken over by it.
- One of the death executions in Manhunt involves chopping the victim's head off with the axe. Another involves garroting with barbed wire, and another, decapitation with hedge clippers.
- Blood Omen features Vorador, the most powerful character in the game, dying via decapitation. His head is later seen as a trophy in Soul Reaver 2. In Blood Omen 2, Kain will preform several decapitating stealth kills.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: This is possible with the appropriate perks in the One-handed and Two-handed skill trees.
- Kratos is fond of ripping people's heads off in the God of War series. Among his kills in this fashion are Medusa from I and Helios from III.
- Time Killers lets you cut off an opponent's head at any point. A round can end in decapitation literally a half-second after it begins, and the loser's potrait shows them without their heads. It's Spiritual Successor, Blood Storm, required a character-specific move, and each had a smaller hit radius, but the heads could still roll at any time.
- Nethack has the vorpal blade, which has a 5% chance per hit of doing a One-Hit Kill via decapitation against any monster with a head.
- A staple side effect of hitting zombies with a cutting or bludgeoning melee weapon (except for the Frying Pan of Doom) in Left 4 Dead 2.
- Silent Hill Homecoming is big on those, especially with the axe.
- Eltshan is executed this way in Fire Emblem : Genealogy of the Holy War. In the Oosawa manga adaptation, King Chagall then sends his severed head to Elto's friends Sigurd and Cuan to taunt them.
- Postal 2, the sequel to Postal, allows the player to do this using either thrown knives or a certain silenced pistol.
- In the expansion? Vanilla Postal 2 has decapitation by shovel with some interesting options of what to do with the head afterwards. You can also use a shotgun for Your Head Asplode.
- One of the more common ways to kill a zombie in the Dead Rising series.
- In Target: Terror, enemies' heads pop off and bounce towards you (as opposed to Your Head Asplode) when shot repeatedly.
- The Aliens vs. Predator games of course feature plenty of decapitations as trophies and/or delicious snacks. Special mention to the Predator Speargun in Aliens vs. Predator 2 that removes human heads and pins them to the wall. You can then collect the heads to recover the spear and trophy.
- Katanas in the Grand Theft Auto games that have them are capable of decapitating, even if the swing animation seems to be a one-handed swat. Hilarity Ensues in San Andreas where there's an Asian gangster on a boat that challenges you to a duel if you then immediately manage to slice his head off with one swing.
- Good aim and proper use of the game's physics mechanics and controls allows the player to decapitate enemies in the third-person adventure game Die By The Sword.
- This is how Seiko dies in Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. Ayumi's sister Hinoe also dies this way after pulling a Big Damn Heroes to save Ayumi and Naomi.
- Umineko no Naku Koro ni: Screw you, Furudo Erika. He's the rationale:
- In version 3, the Ao Oni kills Takuro by biting off their head. This also effectively demonstrates to Hiroshi and the others that contrary to their suspicions, the monster is very real.
- Miko in The Order of the Stick punched off a goblin's head. It struck the next goblin with enough force to kill it. So that's how unarmed people use the Cleave ability.
- Roy decapitating the zombie dragon on which Xykon rides. You could say that he has great cleave-age.
- Belkar killing the leader of the "beetle men".
- In Goblins, when Big Ears kills Saral Caine, he stabs (!) him in the chest with an axe, then cuts off his head.
- Dominic Deegan. Luna's mother, Croona Travoria just after saying "...YOU'LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE!"
- Amazing how a quick sword swing can change that.
- In the "Oracle Hunter" storyline, Quilt winds up losing his head to the villainess of the chapter.
- In the "March on Maltak" arc: After calling out the Doma clan orc leader for the deaths of her father and mother, and for forcing Stonewater to either claim her as a mate or kill her, Melsheena Dernaks faces down him down, and calls him a pathetic weakling. As Melsheena walks away, the Doma chief tries to stab her in the back. He never gets the chance, and Melsheena literally knocks the chief's block off. With Stonewater's hammer.
- In the "War In Hell" storyline, a demon responsible for turning Stonewater's friends against him has his head torn off by Lord Karnak... and Lord Karnak tends to make it a habit with other demons, and a few demon lords, and more notably, Tox'xel.
- In a humorous manner, Runcible Spoon is known to take his own head off willingly and non-fatally.
- Happens to Candi Levens in Ciem, twice, both times on a block, and with a single ax stroke. (Though the first time was an illusion.) Also happens to all three of her sisters, although Erin was already dead beforehand. Marina meets an identical fate to Candi. Miriam, however, gets the guillotine. Thankfully, all three die only in the epilogue.
- She actually loses her head four times in the book, with an attempted fifth by her enemies that goes nowhere. At age 12, she is captured and placed on the block, but rescued before the blade drops. The first time she actually lost her head at the age of 20, she was testing out the Denny pills and volunteered to see if they worked. It weirded Denny out that his new love interest was so eager to have her head chopped off. She tests the experiment a second time with him the following day, this time using a guillotine. That too being a success, she begins adding Denny pills to her regular arsenal. They become handy later on, when she administers one to herself and another to Dolly aboard Arfaas' ship at the age of 21. Alas, she didn't have enough for the several dozen other women who were arrested and executed on the block that same day. But uses the piling up of bodies as a good way to hide herself and Dolly as they pull themselves together. They pull off their revolution successfully. Her third time, at the age of 26, she is stripped of the Denny pills. But an escaped Phexo with powers that work on a similar principle keeps Candi from dying. The fourth time, at age 53, her enemies finally succeed and she is Killed Off for Real.
- In the Draconia Chronicles web comic, this is how Gaia is killed.
- Axe Cop will chop your head off!
- Demonstrated here and here in The KAMics
- In Homestuck, this was how the Black King, the White King, the Draconian Dignitary (by Dave), the Aimless Renegade, and the Hegemonic Brute (twice) were killed.
- In Erstwhile, the bride orders this for Maid Maleen. And gets it herself.
- It's how Sonic dies by the hands of the Troll King in Tails Gets Trolled.
- In Sinfest, Lil' Evil threatens the angels with it.
- Out of all things, in My Little Pony - the Evil Overlord Tirac keeps threatening his henchman Scorpan that if he won't get all four ponies he needs, Spike's head will roll.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic prefers instead to use this for humor. In May the Best Pet Win, an eagle appears to get its head bitten off by a Quarray Eel, but was merely hiding it. Many episodes later in Just For Sidekicks, this is done with the winning pet, as Spike hears Scootaloo frantically asking where Tank's head is (it's just hiding in his shell), complete with a bit of red paint near the neck hole in the shell. More seriously, Applejack is freaked out when she thinks she's found Granny Smith in a Nightmare Night hedge maze, only for a fake skull to roll off. In Frenemies, a dummy of Starlight Glimmer also loses its head as Chrysalis, Tirek, and Cozy Glow sing a villain song.
- In either homage to the comic book example, the Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gets this treatment after the turtles storm his headquarters he lives, because it's a robot suit.
- This is also apparently one of the only ways (if not the way) to kill a vampire in The Venture Brothers.
- This is a common way to kill vampires in general in many media, right next to staking them in the heart.
- Some Western folklore sources recommend staking, beheading and putting garlic in the head's mouth, carving out the heart and burying it at a crossroads, then burning the body.
- The Boondocks: How Bushido Brown meets his end.
- Happens to Tom at the end of the Tom and Jerry short "The Two Mouseketeers."
Nibbles/Tuffy: Pauvre, pauvre pussycat...
- Justice does this to Afro's father just five minutes into Afro Samurai.
- Heavily implied to have happened off screen to Chef Puree in Dan Vs. "The Fancy Restaurant."
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars sees this occasionally, such as with Darth Maul executing Pre Vizsla after winning a duel.
- Star Wars Rebels continues the tradition with an Inquisitor, using a double-bladed lightsaber to take care of two incompetent imperial officers (Aresko and Grint) at once.
- Klay World's characters usually die this way. In the movie, Dr. Brown is killed this way.
- Troy McCann, Daniel Brent and Guy Rapide in Survival of the Fittest V3 die by being decapitated. A close range gunshot to the back of the head beheads Uriel Hunter in V1. Hayley Kelly in V4 also seems to love this method, dispatching Steve Barnes and James Mulzet this way.
- In Darwin's Soldiers, Alfred beheads a Dragonstorm war machine with a sledgehammer.
- In the final episode of There Will Be Brawl, Ganondorf infamously meets his end this way thanks to Kirby, who used Meta-Knight's sword to lop his head off after the big reveal on who the murderous butchers (Ness and Lucas) were.
- In the "Red" trailer, Ruby Rose utterly demolishes what appears to be about a hundred beowolves, many of which she decapitates with her scythe/gun.
- Later, in the series proper, she defeats the Nevermore (a monstrous bird) by similarly lopping off its head.
- Jaune takes the head of an ursa with a single blow of his sword in S1E14.
- Medieval martyrologies cite decapitation as a standard method of execution carried out by the Romans towards captured Christians. Examples: Saint John the Evangelist (who was actually beheaded in orders of Herod rather than the Romans themselves), Saint Paul of Tarsus, Saint Agnes of Rome, Saint Philomena, etc.) Supposedly, since Paul actually held Roman citizenship, he couldn't be crucified by the Roman authorities. Beheading was seen as a quick mercy for condemned Romans compared to a slow, painful, degrading death by crucifixion.
- Two cases are Saint Denis and Saint Solange. Both died by beheading (Denis, for being the Christian bishop of Paris in Roman times; Mysterious Waif Solange, for fighting back against a would-be rapist who was trying to kidnap her and make her his mistress)... but according to their legends, their "lifeless" bodies calmly took their own heads in their hands and walked towards the nearest towns, only dropping truly dead in front of the local villagers.
- Decapitation was the standard method of execution for murder and other capital crimes in Germanic and Scandinavian countries from the Middle Ages to 20th century. Commoners were traditionally beheaded with an axe, noblemen with a sword. Later, a guillotine was preferred.
- The last beheading in West Germany occurred 1949, when a convicted robber-murderer Berthold Wehmeyer was executed with guillotine. He was also the last person to be executed in West Germany. The last time a guillotine was used in these countries was in 1961 in East Germany.
- Thieves were instead hanged in Scandinavia. It was considered that theft was such a vile crime that the convict not only deserved death, but didn't even deserve a swift end.
- The last beheading in Scandinavia happened 1910 when Swedish murderer Johan Ander was guillotined in Långholmen prison, Stockholm.
- During the Middle Ages in France and England, decapitation was generally reserved for nobles and royalty who committed major crimes such as treason. The weapon of choice for headsmen varied between nations. While axes were often used in Britain, swords were preferred by their French contemporaries.
- Although decapitation was the preferred means of departure for condemned members of the nobility, it could get pretty messy at times. In 1405 the Archbishop of York was executed for rebelling against King Henry IV; the headsman deliberately used five blows to sever the churchman's head to mimic the five wounds of Christ. In 1685 the Duke of Monmouth suffered an even more Nightmare Fuellish fate; the terrified executioner took seven unsuccessful blows to try and remove the head; he had to finish the job with a knife. One account states that at one point the executioner threw down his axe and offered a large sum of money to anyone in the crowd willing to take over the job.
- France standardized 1791 beheading as the mandatory means of execution. The execution was to be carried out with a special device, which got the name of guillotine.
- Obviously, Henry VIII of England, who had two of his six wives executed in this fashion. His kids did their fair share as well—Edward VI actually had two of his uncles beheaded; Mary I and Elizabeth I both had one of their cousins beheaded for claiming the throne—Lady Jane Grey and Mary, Queen of Scots, respectively. Given it was a major spectacle for the nobility, the fact that it took two or three strikes to get the job done was likely rather embarrassing to the headsman.
- A particularly horrific case was that of the 67-year-old Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury; condemned by Henry VIII, who refused to admit any guilt and would not kneel at the headsman's block—one account says that she leaped from the block after the first clumsy blow and ran, pursued by the executioner, being struck eleven times before she died.
- The guillotine was proposed for the sole purpose of beheading people as humanely (quickly) as possible. (It was so efficient that spectators were said to be disappointed at the brevity of the show.) Contrary to popular belief, Joseph Guillotin did not invent it (he merely proposed for it to become standard), nor was he a victim of it.
- One contributing factor was that executioners who were skilled in decapitating people in a single stroke were generally of the upper class in France at that time. In other words, precisely the kind of people the revolution had been against and who were on the receiving end of executions.
- The first guillotined convict was bandit Nicholas-Jean Pelletier in 1792.
- Nazi Germany guillotined more people than were beheaded during the French Revolution. Beheading was the usual sentence for felonies rather than political crimes, though certain members of resistance groups, such as Hans and Sophie Scholl of the nonviolent White Rose resistance group, were executed this way. For extra cruelty points, the victims were often executed face-up, such that one was forced to watch the blade descend upon them.
- Before 1787 Scotland also used a similar beheading device, called Scottish Maiden, for carrying out executions. Likewise, the town of Halifax had its own head-chopper called Halifax Gibbet or The Gin (short from "engine").
- The last guillotining in France happened in 1977 when a Tunisian rapist-murderer Hamida Djandoubi was beheaded. Death penalty was abolished in France in 1981.
- One contributing factor was that executioners who were skilled in decapitating people in a single stroke were generally of the upper class in France at that time. In other words, precisely the kind of people the revolution had been against and who were on the receiving end of executions.
- Vic Morrow (Jennifer Jason Leigh's dad) and two child actors named My-Ca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, were killed when a stunt helicopter crashed near them during the filming of the Twilight Zone movie. Morrow tried to save the children who were trapped there, then he and one of the kids were decapitated by the blades while the other was crushed under the weight... and their deaths were caught on film. AAAAAAARGH!
- For the morbidly curious, the footage found its way into one those atrocious Faces of Death videos and is now available on the internet. It happens so suddenly that nothing can be seen; Vic and the two children are there one moment, the chopper comes down, and in the next moment they've disappeared beneath the wreckage.
- When the German medieval pirate Klaus Störtebeker was to be beheaded, he was granted the wish that those of his men would be pardoned, if he managed to walk past them after being decapitated. And according to the legend, he managed to walk past eleven of them (and may have continued, but the executioner tripped him).
- The ritual suicide of the samurai known as Seppuku was traditionally concluded by the samurai's second, or kaishakunin, chopping off the samurai's head to finish him off after the initial self-disembowelment. This was so their suffering would be brief, and such prevent the shame of showing pain.
- In the 1974 US Grand Prix, Austrian Helmuth Koinigg crashed into an armco barrier. The lower beam wasn't properly secured and buckled as the vehicle struck it. The car passed underneath the top portion... which was very firmly bolted on. Yikes.
- Another Formula One death happened this way. Tom Pryce struck a track marshal who had foolishly run onto the race course to extinguish a minor fire on the other side of the track. Pryce hit the man at full racing speed, the impact ripping him in two. The fire extinguisher the marshal had been carrying entered the cockpit of Pryce's car and struck his helmet, ripping it up and out of the car. The helmet's strap partially decapitated Pryce and his now driverless car careened down the track before hitting another car and coming to a stop. There is footage of the incident on YouTube and various other video sites, but in the interest of good taste this troper decided not to provide any links.
- Although the stories about decapitated bodies walking on their own may be the stuff of legend, during the guillotine era it was scientifically confirmed that the heads can retain consciousness for several minutes after being removed, as a doctor reportedly was able to communicate with a removed head for several minutes, with the soon-to-be-dead man's eyes actually focusing on him. This was featured in 1000 Ways to Die's case "Miss-ur Head" (its alternative title being exactly the same as this trope).
- Man in Virgina uses cable to decapitate himself.
- The brutal social/political scandal known in Chile as "caso degollados" ("case of the slit throats"). In 1985, three well-known professionals affiliated with the opposition to Pinochet's dictatorship (artist Santiago Nattino, teacher's union leader Manuel Guerrero and sociologist/activist Jose Parada—also the son of a famous stage actor and father of a then very well-known child actress) were kidnapped by a national police agency, and the day after that their lifeless, torture-marked bodies were found semi-decapitated.
- Similarly to Vic Morrow, film director Boris Sagal (father of actress Katey Sagal died via being decapitated by the tail rotor blades of a stunt helicopter.
- Subverted by Real Life cases of "internal decapitation", in which the neck is yanked or struck with sufficient force to detach the vertebrae from the skull. So long as the blood vessels and trachea remain intact, survival is still possible, and if the spinal cord isn't broken the victim might eventually achieve a complete recovery.
- Ayman Al-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, was fond of this.
- This article has 10 cases where someone gets decapitation, and act like nothing happened and had enough finish one more thing before death. Cue the the reactions of those watching.