Showdown At High Noon

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

The Year: The Wild West.

The Place: In the middle of an empty, dusty road outside a saloon.

The Time: The instant the clock strikes high noon.

One of two things happens.

Version A

The Hero (or Badass Longcoat Anti-Hero with No Name Given) and the Big Bad stand back to back in the street. They step forward ten paces, the spurs on their heels clinking with every step. At the tenth step, they turn. The shoot out begins.

Version B

The Hero (or B. A. L. C. A. H. w/N. N. G.) and the Big Bad stand at opposite ends of the street, hands hovering over their holsters. The camera cuts between their faces, their twitching fingers, the faces of the frightened crowd, and of the combatants framed by the opponent's legs. Long seconds pass. On a cue known only to the gunfighters, hands slap leather and shots ring out.

The outcome is never certain, and any number of Westerns, even in the pre-Post Modern days of the Fifties, played with this trope without subverting it. In Version A, will someone cheat? Will the combatants draw at ten paces, or turn it into Version B? In either version, will one get the drop on the other, but not fire? Will both draw, and reach a Mexican Standoff? Will one intentionally miss, shoot the gun out of the other's hand, or simply gun him down? Or will some third party change the dynamic completely?

A Dead Horse Trope (no pun intended) right up there with Chained to a Railway, but many works that featured it before it became cliche are still around. Its familiarity, of course, makes it a favorite parody. In said parody, one character is required to say, "This town ain't big enough for the two of us." Quite rarely will it occur to them that some urban expansion could solve all their problems.

Examples of Showdown At High Noon include:

Anime and Manga

  • Vash the Stampede found himself pulled into a couple of these in Trigun. They never ended as planned.
  • Gun Blaze West had a few as well. Some with some interesting variations.
  • Played for laughs in Prince of Tennis with chibi versions of the characters.


  • High Noon, despite what one would think, actively subverts this, as the hero sneaks up behind the gang of villains, gun already drawn, and yells for them to drop their guns before shooting one in the neck and leading to a tense chase. Furthermore, noon only marks the arrival of Frank Miller and co., not the showdown itself.
  • Outland (a sci-fi remake of High Noon) has the hired killers arriving on the 12:00 shuttle.
  • Back to The Future Part III. Marty asks Buford if he wants their showdown to happen at high noon, but Buford insists that he "does [his] killing before breakfast." Ultimately, the film provides a Double Subversion of the trope when Marty refuses to take his place in the duel, but is forced to anyway. However, he still refuses to actually shoot Buford, relying instead on a Bulletproof Vest ploy. (Maybe that makes it a Triple Subversion.)
  • The Quick and the Dead, Sam Raimi's overlooked masterpiece.
  • Common in Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns:
    • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has a three-way showdown. In a cemetery. With incredible music. It also provides a Standard Snippet for these sorts of scenes.
    • Once Upon a Time in the West has variety B between the hero, supporting his noose-hanging brother with his shoulders. The eerie harmonica music accompanied by this scene overlapping with the showdown is the harmonica being pushed into the hero's mouth at the time of the execution. It comes together perfectly as the hero guns the bad guy down.
    • In the unauthorized Spaghetti Western remake of Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), the man with no name faces down the baddest tough-guy in town. As in the original, the bad guy has the most sophisticated weapon in town, this time a repeating rifle.
  • Most films about the gunfight at the OK Corral usually turn this bloody ambush into a Showdown At High Noon.
  • Howard the Duck had one of those, complete with cuts between the faces and bad guy throwing the side of his Badass Longcoat back to reach for his gun more easily... Except that there was no gun - the bad guy was an interdimensional demon inhabiting the body of an innocent scientist, versus an anthropomorphic duck armed with a BFG strapped to a golf-cart.
  • The Matrix, in the subway station. It even had newspaper tumbleweed. Of course, given the fact that both combatants could dodge bullets like crazy, it quickly turned into a kung fu showdown rather than a gunfight.
  • Yojimbo (1961), the ronin with no name prepares for a Jidai Geki version of the showdown—problem is, his opponent has the only revolver in town.
  • Hot Fuzz spoofed this with Angel and most of the villains at once in an idyllic English village. It quickly turned into a action move shoot-out.
  • Tombstone: The duel between Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo. They stand an arm's length from one another, circle slowly, and draw.
  • Played with in Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid. Billy, finding one of his friends had been badged by Garrett, ends up doing the Ten Paces and Turn version. Once his opponent starts counting off steps, Billy simply turns and waits, gun drawn for his opponent to turn. Of course, Elam's character didn't exactly wait until ten to turn around.
  • Kevin Kline and Brian Dennehy in Silverado, although the time of day is never mentioned.
  • The endings of the western spoofs Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter are both extended parodies of this trope.
  • The Guns of Navarone. While in a firefight in some ruins, Spyros Pappadimos and a German officer find themselves facing off, each armed with a machine gun. They advance slowly toward each other and eventually start firing. Both are killed in the gun battle.
  • The film Posse had a scene where the two combatants advanced slowly, attacking with Throw-Away Guns.
  • Three O'Clock High transports the trope into a high school, replacing the gunfight with a fistfight scheduled for after school at 3:00. The name of the film is a riff on "high noon" and "high school."
  • Inverted in Bloodrayne 2: Deliverance. The vampires controlling the town tell Rayne, "You've got until High Midnight to get out of town."
  • Once Upon a Texas Train climaxes with a showdown between Cotton's gang of Young Guns and the combined team of retired outlaws and retired Rangers in a ghost town.


  • In the Han Solo novel Han Solo and the Lost Legacy, Han faces down legendary Gunslinger Gallandro. The two of them had been working together until Gallandro decides it's time for a showdown. Gallandro wins the quick draw and wounds Han, but the shooting activates a no-weapons system and Gallandro gets vaporized by lasers.
  • The final duel between Harry Potter and Voldemort ends up one of these (a Type B), except both wizards fire at the exact moment the sun rises. Additionally, Voldemort lost long before the duel ever actually began.

Live Action TV

  • Used in a time traveling episode of Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
  • Subverted in Wayne and Shuster's Fist Full of Dollars sketch where, after the climactic gunfight in which dozens of bullets are fired at Schuster with no effect, he reveals that he was using the old "brick wall under the poncho" trick.
  • Happens in Psych, between a policeman and... a cowboy (not a real cowboy - this is the one at those little re-enactment tourist traps), after it's uncovered he's been whacking people to try and keep a gold cache under the town secret. The cowboy's SAA, however, was real. Cop wins.
  • In the episode of The Prisoner where Number 6 is an old-west sheriff, he has a Single-Stroke Battle shoot-out with the henchman of the latest Number 2.
  • Parodied in The Goodies "Bun Fight at the OK Tearooms".
  • For a bizarre non-Western example, the final showdown between John Sheppard and Acastus Kolya on Stargate Atlantis goes just like this.
  • The final confrontation between Jack Keenan and Frank Butler in Wild Boys is a Type 2.
  • When Sam and Dean in Supernatural go back in time to find something to help them beat the Mother, Dean and a phoenix have a type 2. Dean wins because his gun is the Colt.


  • The Megaman remix-band The Megas make the battle between Megaman and Quickman sound like an embodiment of this trope. It's all built up with Quickman as the "sheriff"; with lines such as "Quick on the draw, in this town I am the law. Is what they say true? Does death wear blue? Can he fall?" The conclusion comes with "My circuits slow. I'm not scared anymore. Reach for my weapon and in turn you're reaching for yours. My circuits slow. What they said is a lie. The shots are heard and the bullets scream death as they fly", essentially also making this an example of a Single-Stroke Battle. In the end, the winner is Megaman. But what did you expect? He's the hero.
  • Panther of The Protomen made such a song to promote the member Turbo Lover's band Cheer Up Charlie Daniels, about the band competing with a similarly-named group for rights to the band name. The song was called The Duel. The song's also getting a sequel, The Duel: Part 2, about the band's showdown at The Road to Bonnaroo.
  • Big Iron is this trope in spirit, when the Arizona Ranger and Texas Red have their showdown.

The morning passed so quickly it was time for them to meet,
It was twenty past eleven when they walked out in the street.


Newspaper Comics

  • When Calvin and Hobbes parody this, the urban expansion solution actually does occur to them.

Hobbes: I get to be the zoning board!

    • His mom didn't let them play with guns.

Video Games

  • You get to participate in a few of these in Call of Juarez.
  • There was a Nintendo Light Gun game called Wild Gunman, and a version of it appeared in Back to The Future Part II.
    • Wild Gunman was recreated as a microgame for the first Wario Ware game. Smooth Moves also features an original western quick-draw microgame.
  • Used as a Mini Game in Kirby's Adventure for the NES. Amusingly, the same Mini Game was recycled using this trope's Far Eastern counterpart in Kirby Superstar
  • The PC game Gun has you pull this off a few times as well.
  • The ancient ZX Spectrum western-themed adventure The Wild Bunch used version B if you decided you wanted to kill the bad guys, rather than just bring them in to the sheriff (killing them was more rewarding). The trick was that you had to let the bad guy move first, so that's it's self-defence to shoot him rather than just plain old murder.
  • Billy Frontier has an unusual spin on this where rather than simply being the first to draw after a signal, you also have to play a LITERAL Simon Says Mini Game during the “glare at each other sullenly” stage.
  • Red Dead Revolver, being a love letter to the Spaghetti Western, has this as a frequent occurrence. Not only is there a Whole-Plot Reference to The Quick and the Dead, but a showdown is how you defeat the final boss.
  • Live a Live has one of the A variety in its Wild West chapter. The protagonist and his nemesis each take five steps (on account of the small viewing area), draw and shoot... at two different outlaws hiding on the sidelines.
  • Parodied in Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal: After Guybrush has rearranged the mysterious wind idol near the Vaycaylian Wind Control Device, De Singe arrives with a rifle and demands that Guybrush surrender his Poxed hand. A brief period of staring silence follows, complete with close-ups of both Guybrush's and De Singe's faces in a style parody of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly before the former breaks the silence with "Make me!" and the latter pulls out the rifle and shoots him sky-high. Of course, Guybrush is still alive when he lands on the ground and gets up.
  • Tin Star is full of this, they're Always comical too, if you miss one of the shots you may kill a passing bird or even shoot down the belts from your opponent, causing his pants to fall down.

Western Animation

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: A portion of Prince Zuko's A Day in the Limelight is a blatant pastiche of the Western showdown—in a world resembling ancient China, as far from the Wild West as one could get. The very next episode goes as far to feature a ghost town, a Mexican Standoff, and a three-way showdown that once more takes place at high noon.
  • Spoofed in the Looney Tunes cartoon Drip-Along Daffy: Daffy and Nasty Canasta do version A, but before a single shot is fired, Porky defeats Canasta with a wind-up toy soldier... with a ridiculously powerful musket. The crowd already has Porky up on their shoulders when Daffy, still walking towards the showdown, realizes what happened.
  • Bugs Bunny literally expands the town for Yosemite Sam in the cartoon Bugs Bunny Rides Again. Sam doesn't care.
  • Featured in a SpongeBob SquarePants Western-themed episode, where SpongeBob's look-alike ancestor SpongeBuck has a showdown with outlaw Dead Eye Plankon. It ends before it even begins, when SpongeBuck accidentally steps on Dead Eye.
  • An American Tail: Fievel Goes West had one, though it was at sunset and not at noon.
  • One episode of The Simpsons featured Homer slapping people everywhere he went challenging them to duels to avoid having to pay for things. Unfortunately when he challenges an old fashioned Texas cowboy to a duel, the man naturally accepted. At the end of the episode they finally duel with the customary ten steps when the Texan is distracted by a pie Marge cooked. Homer, in a move that was idiotic even for him, reminded the man that the duel was not over. The Texan apologized for his rudeness and promptly shot Homer in the shoulder.
  • Teen Titans: The year: Present Day. The place: a forest in TV-land. The time: right now. A water ski and life jacket-wearing Robin squares off with the Off-World Outlaw. On the sidelines a grizzly and a Steve Irwin Expy hold their breath in rapt attention. The trope collapses like a starcruiser from Reverse Polarity-induced temporal feedback when Robin socks his opponent in the face while he's distracted by the cheering bear.
  • Played nasty and played straight in the Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers episode "Galaxy Stranger" where Shane and Singray “settle things” on the main street of Frontier. The show was a Space Western, and the writers played it for all it was worth.
  • The Backyardigans, being the kid-friendly show it is, played this relatively straight, replacing the shootout with a ping-pong match.
  • In the ReBoot episode 'The Episode With No Name' Andraia and a nameless female Guardian have a showdown in the streets. Slightly modified since Andraia uses projectile spikes, instead of a gun. She still wins.
  • An episode of Rugrats plays with this with 'Showdown at Teeter-Totter Gulch' in which Tommy and Chuckie deal with a bully named "The Junk Food Kid", who always comes to the park at noon, or "No Shadow Time." Their first encounter ends badly, but Tommy prevails the second time.
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: The Teaser to "Night of the Batmen!" involves one.

Real Life

  • Ironically, in matter of historical fact gun duels have been more common among upper-class "gentlemen" who put great value on personal honor, rather than the lower-class characters who dominate Westerns. Perhaps the most famous example of such a duel is the 1804 duel in which American Vice President Aaron Burr killed Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. The difference here is that dueling pistols were not at all accurate nor meant to be accurate—the point of the duel was to prove you cared enough about the grievance to risk your life. That Aaron Burr actually hit and killed Hamilton was a freak occurrence.
    • According to the book Founding Brothers, the two witnesses they had brought along agreed in writing that Hamilton fired first and missed, then Burr fired two or three seconds later, fatally wounding Hamilton. Whether Hamilton missed deliberately or Burr intended to miss but hit by accident is a matter for speculation.
    • Also, the showdowns happened at high noon (yes, they really did) so that neither participant would have more of the sun in their eyes than the other, and it'd be a fair draw.
    • In an episode covering duelling, the documentary series "Tales of the Gun" indicated that high quality duelling pistols were in fact made to be extremely accurate (or at least as accurate as unrifled flintlocks and percussion cap pistols could be).
  • James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok gunned down a man by the name of Davis Tutt in 1865 in Springfield, Missouri, in a rare example of a bona fide Wild West "quickdraw" showdown. After winning about $200 in a poker game against Tutt's compatriots—who were playing with Tutt's money—Tutt alleged that Hickok owed him $35 from a previous game; Hickok claimed the debt was only $25. Tutt seized Hickok's prized golden pocket watch as collateral. Humiliated but outnumbered, Hickok warned Tutt not to wear the watch in public. Tutt brazenly assured Hickok that he would be wearing it first thing in the morning. Hickok then calmly told Tutt that he would shoot him if he saw him wearing the watch, then pocketed his winnings and left. True to his promise, Tutt openly wore the watch in the town square the following day. Word quickly reached Hickok's ears and, after a final round of negotiations failed to settle the debt, Hickok walked into the square just before 6 p.m., pistol drawn, sending everyone except Tutt running for cover. Wild Bill cocked his pistol, holstered it and called out to Tutt, "Don't you come across here with that watch." Tutt said nothing, but stood with his hand on his pistol. At a distance of about 75 yards, both men "stared down" the other for a brief moment. Tutt drew first, Hickok raising his Colt Navy in response. Each man fired one shot at almost exactly the same moment. Tutt missed. Hickok was luckier: his shot struck Tutt in his left side between his fifth and seventh ribs. Hickok was charged with manslaughter. However, in his trial, the judge informed the jury that, while Wild Bill was technically guilty of the crime he was charged with, they may decide to apply the "unwritten" law of a "fair fight." The jury took no more than a couple of hours to bring back a not guilty verdict.
  • More often averted then played straight. Dueling tended to follow the same rules as the East while random mayhem could be any way to do a man to death. Obviously criminals would not fight like gentlemen and lawmen would not waste their lives fighting mere criminals without backup so occasions for this trope were uncommon. In point of fact the favorite tool of gunslingers was the shotgun.
    • The Bowie was closer to being the regional innovation in dueling for the West then the "Highnoon quick draw". Westerners were in general less formal about how they killed each other then Easterners. However the Eastern methods never really lost favor until dueling itself had lost favor. They had a tradition behind them after all. In any case it would be absurd for a lawman to want to give an outlaw a fair chance as if he was a gentleman; for one thing it would be imprudent; more to the point it would imply that the outlaw stands equal in respectability.
    • What did often happen was that an angry person would spontaneously reach for his gun forcing would-be target to do so. This does not really qualify as dueling as it is not prearranged according to tradition. It is better called mayhem. The movie version is basically a merging of this kind of street fight, and the real life traditional Western duel which is just the Eastern duel with some of the ceremony streamlined out.
      • A rough and ready version was for two people who were really mad at each other to leave the saloon to avoid causing collateral damage and then shoot at each other until one was hit or they ran out of bullets. Note that there was no question of keeping the gun in the holster until the fight began and the contestants started with gun in hand. Making it really a less refined version of Ten Paces and Turn.