Stripped to the Bone

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"I feel so alone, gonna end up a big ole pile of them bones."
Alice in Chains, "Them Bones"

The human skeleton is pretty tough. If you drink a lot of milk and get plenty of sunshine, your bones can grow to be stronger than concrete; shattering a bone requires a really, really strong hit, as in "crashing your car at 60 km/h"-strong. Did you know that crematoria actually grind bones because otherwise the fragments could be too big to fit in the urns?

But a lot of science fiction writers seem to think that the skeleton is absolutely impervious to any weapon. Hit 'em with Energy Weapons (especially Disintegrator Rays), fry 'em with electricity, dunk 'em in acid, all that will be left is a skeleton. If it's technology that does it, the resulting skeleton is usually bleach white like a medical grade demonstration. If magic, the resulting skeleton is normally old and dusty. The skeleton will also typically still be joined together perfectly, even if all the sinews and tissues that hold it together have been destroyed. Almost like it's some kind of prop or something.

Arguably, of course, the bones are the hardest and densest structures in the human body (the jaw and teeth especially) so it would make sense that the skeleton would be the last body part to be destroyed. Of course, when whatever substance that has disintegrated the rest of the body has also been known to destroy much tougher substances, it goes from being understandable to an expected Sci Fi trope.

Also occurs in fantasy settings.

The purpose of this trope, of course, is shock-effect rather than realism: i.e. to visibly communicate the fact that the person is really dead, since their simply disappearing wouldn't have nearly the same impact as seeing them instantly turned into The Grim Reaper's twin brother. Meanwhile, at the same time it's "cleaner" and less gruesome to show a person turned into a Halloween-type skeleton than the blood-and-gore of nastier deaths, while likewise being more devastating since it would obviously take more of an impact to strip someone to the bones than simply gouge the flesh. A variant of this trope is to have a person be reduced to a skeleton, let them stay like that for a few seconds, and then have the skeleton disintegrate or collapse.

This might be part of why people are Made of Iron. Also, compare Made of Plasticine; here, everything but the skeleton appears to be. See also Robotic Reveal.

Examples of Stripped to the Bone include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Kimba the White Lion: In the 2009 movie, there's a swarm of mechanical bugs that reduces some birds to bones in seconds; an unpleasant surprise to anybody who's watched the 1960's show. Justified, since the carnivorous bugs have no interest in eating bones, just the flesh.
  • Bleach: Barragan has an ability in his released form that will rot away all of the flesh, muscle, and organs of a person until all that is left are the bones.
    • It's implied that it keeps aging until the point where the bones would be gone as well, but it takes a LONG time for bones to decay.
    • In the anime, it's not just implied. When Soifon is hit in the arm, and summarily cuts it off to stop the decay from spreading, the bones turn to dust and vanish. This makes sense, since Barragan can age rocks and concrete into nothingness.
  • Inuyasha is fond of this trope. Many demons turn to bones when killed, and this is the fate of all of the Band of Seven.
    • Justified for the Band of Seven. They were resurrected by the power of the Shikon Jewel, and when they died their bodies simply reverted to what they were before; bones.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Wolverine of the X-Men, when he's in the middle of an explosion, is completely destroyed, with the exception of his adamantium bones. He regenerates from a few braincells that survive. This is, of course, justified due to the fact that Wolverine's skeleton really IS indestructible.
    • But the regeneration power depends on the writer, so in Days of the Future Past, Wolverine is stripped to the bone, but here it means Killed Off for Real.
    • The unstoppable, Nigh Invulnerable Juggernaut has also survived being Stripped to the Bone, and magically regenerated. When they say "nothing can stop The Juggernaut", they apparently mean it.
      • Subverted in that D'Sparye could have actually destroyed the bones too, he was just too shocked stupid by the fact that Juggernaut was a skeleton and was still coming at him. Ultimately, Juggs would have still lost if not for being helped by someone I can't remember.
    • The Hulk has done it on occasion.
  • Subverted by DC's post-Zero Hour Legion of Super-Heroes: Toward the end of a particular arc, several characters are apparently killed and one of them is Stripped to the Bone. Following the climax of the arc, it's revealed that none of them were killed; it was all part of a Batman Gambit, and the Stripped character was actually Invisible Kid exploiting his ability to turn parts of his body invisible while leaving other parts (in this case, his bones) visible.
    • Happens again by DC in 52. Booster Gold appears to have been Stripped to the Bone (well, and his costume) by a nuclear explosion, but it turn out that this was also a Xanatos Gambit. Booster is alive and well, and faked the body by using his own dead body from the future.
  • Though it's yet to be shown happening to anyone, the voracious female faeries in Proof are said to be able to strip a person to the bone in seconds.
  • In No Hero, one of the heroes is killed with a chemical weapon specifically designed to dissolve flesh, leaving bone intact.
  • Dr. Jon Osterman's disintegration in Watchmen, where the skeleton's visibly the last part to go.
    • Slight variation in the film version as you see him stripped away layer by layer like an anatomy textbook...
      • And then reconstituted the same way, which looked pretty sweet.
    • Dan's Nuclear Nightmare is a variation of this, very similar to the Terminator II version.
  • A short arc in DC's Adventure Comics has The Spectre going around punishing criminals with Transformation Trauma. He invokes this trope for one guy.
  • A whole field of super-human bones is left in the wake of a nuclear explosion at the climax of Kingdom Come.
  • Practically everyone the Plutonian kills with his heat vision in Irredeemable leaves behind a charred, smoking skeleton. Also, one of the penultimate events that results in the Plutonian's Face Heel Turn is when dozens of children are killed by an alien virus that liquefies soft tissue, animates their skeletal remains, and spreads through their screams.
  • Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #241. Several Russian scientists end up this way, mystifying Reed Richards. Explained later; the Big Bad has vast cosmic powers and just simply likes disposing of malcontents this way.
  • G.I.Joe Vs Transformers 2. A Kill Sat, invented by the good guys, blasts nukes into harmless puffs of machinery. However, when it hits Mercer, a good guy (oops), the flesh goes but the skeleton does not.
  • Happens a lot in the Hellboy comics, especially to evil supernatural creatures who are killed by sunlight, touching holy ground, etc.
  • In the Marvel mini-series Mys-Tech Wars, Nick Fury is captured by the villians and strapped to a device that is supposed to flay "skin from bone and soul from body." The end result is not pretty. Hard to believe, but he does get better.
  • Happens to Johnny Alpha at the end of The Final Solution, though the bones are not exactly bleached white and do collapse into a pile once the monster releases its grasp. However, the recent Death And Life Of Johnny Alpha has retconned this into something that Feral just said happened.
  • In Bill Willingham's Ironwood comic, a four-armed Amazonian woman has her skin, flesh and fabulous pair of chesty bulbs disintergrated, turning her into a four-armed skeleton wielding a sword and shield with her lower pair of arms and a huge frail with her upper pair.

Film[edit | hide]

  • In the Silent Hill film, Red Pyramid (Pyramid Head) grabs a woman and tears off her clothes followed by the skin and flesh in one fluid motion
  • In the 1980's made-for-TV movie The Day After, a nuclear war results people everywhere being incinerated into skeletons.
  • The opening scenes of Terminator 2: Judgment Day established that human skeletons can survive nuclear Armageddon, but not being stepped on by a T-800 chassis. Later in the movie, Sarah Connor's dream in the Mexican desert repeats the trope.
    • Sarah Connor's skeleton hangs on to that fence for dear life!
      • According to some scientists, that dream sequence was one of the most realistic depictions of what happens in a nuclear explosion. The main inaccuracy is that the skeleton vaporizes too, but after the softer material does.
      • That, or the bones, being the densest part of the body, are the first to be irradiated to incandescence.
  • In the original Godzilla (or Gojira), the device that ultimately defeated Godzilla skeletonized him, and pretty much every living thing in the general area.
    • Don't forget Hedorah's acidic sludge in Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster.
  • Done quite a lot in the Tim Burton film Mars Attacks!!. In the film, the alien ray guns can blast through steel walls and evaporate machine guns as if they were ice cubes, but damn it all if they can't destroy the human skeleton (which, in the film, turns a festive red or green color, depending on what color ray hit them).
  • In the campy 1980s flick Killer Klowns from Outer Space, a security guard is pummeled with pies by the clowns, reducing him to a steaming pile of ice cream (with a cherry on top!). Upon further inspection by the heroes, the pies were acidic: The guard's bony arm is found sticking out of the pile.
  • In the first Spider-Man film, the Green Goblin's Pumpkin Bombs can rip a concrete banister off a building, but when humans are subjected to it, they are blasted into bones. This might simply be that they are different types of bombs. (And said bones crumble shortly after appearing.)
  • One of the many versions of War of the Worlds had a heat ray that left just the skeletons.
  • Averted in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: After drinking from the wrong Holy Grail, Walter Donovan decays completely, including his bones, which are smashed against the wall when Indy pushes him back.
    • At the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazis open the Ark and have their skin and flesh blasted away, leaving the bones behind.
  • In Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow (2004), a man gets skeletonised by getting hit by a bolt of electricity from a Tesla coil. (It was one of the few bits of CG in the film that looked plain bad, probably due to Stylistic Suck).
  • In the second Hellboy film, there are tooth fairies that do this. Although, in this case, it's done specifically so they can devour the bones themselves.
  • Star Trek: First Contact has the Borg queen's flesh dissolved by a reactor coolant that can corrode organic compounds, leaving only the hollow shell of her metal parts.
  • In The Chronicles of Riddick, the Purifier walks off into the super-heated atmosphere of Crematoria and doesn't stop until his flesh has completely melted from his skeleton, which then disintegrates into ash.
  • Teenagers from Outer Space, which has been spoofed by Mystery Science Theater 3000, features a laser weapon that apparently destroys the body and leaves only the skeleton, although it's more like the body just disappears and is replaced by a prop skeleton, due to the lack of special effects.
  • In the films Batman and Batman Returns, the total of two people who get electrocuted more or less leave behind their skeletons in whatever suits they were wearing at the time.
    • In the first film, the mobster gets incinerated into a charred black skeleton by the Joker's buzzer, but in the second film, a clean white skeleton is left behind that still has eyes and hair. Electricity just sort of does what it wants to in these flicks.
  • In the live action Super Mario Bros movie, King Koopa's former lover Lena has her flesh instantly disintegrated and her skeleton blasted into the wall by dimensional radiation after she attempts to reunite a meteorite shard into the whole.
  • Billy Cole, The Renfield from Fright Night, collapses into goo-covered bones when killed.
  • In Critters 2, two of the victims of the critters are striped down to their skeletons.
  • In Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Mr. Chairman sics Taz on his assistant Mr. Never Learning, reducing him to a skeleton.
  • Replicator!Merrick in Stargate The Ark Of Truth is stripped down to his replicator skeleton by a bunch of C4.
  • In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Matthew Patel's Fireballs hit Crash and the Boys, killing all three in an instant, turning them into flaming skeletons for a second, before the bones turn to ash. "Mystical powers" indeed.
  • In Transformers: Dark of the Moon, it's shown that Cybertronian weaponry does this to humans. Which makes sense, really, given that they're designed to damage giant, metallic beings; it's no surprise that they'd rip through soft tissue like nothing. Notably, the blast force also blows the skeletons apart, leading to a brief but gruesome shot of a NEST trooper's bones flying through the air as a Decepticon blasts him with his laser rifle.
  • The Chevy Chase Cult Classic Nothing but Trouble has Mister Bonestripper, which does Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Critters 2 near the climax a man falls and is run over by a Crite Ball. His twitching skeleton is a rare example where it's not picked clean, to dramatic effect (See description and before/after images ... or don't.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Larry Niven's Known Space features a weapon called a strakakker, which fires a blizzard of glass needles that can turn its target into an instant skeleton.
  • Sometimes this is used to add an unsettling factor during a hero's attempt to salvage a vessel, or wandering through a Temple of Doom.
    • One of Clive Cussler's novels, Serpent, subverts the use of bones/their apparent indestructibility to add a creepiness to the scenery with Dirk Pitt remarking that "Despite the human tendency to want to picture the pilot strapped to their seats, nothing but their clothes and bone, that really by (roughly 50 years) time, the fish made sure there is nothing left".
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne's Ethan Brand, making this Older Than Radio.
  • In Neal Asher's The Skinner, the native alien life forms do not seem to like eating or otherwise decomposing bones, resulting in plenty of beautifully preserved and cleaned human skeletons around a pirate base abandoned for centuries.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero In Hell, Miranda recounts how her brother had used the Staff of Decay on soldiers, who were reduced first to their skeletons, then to nothing.
  • In Stephen King's Firestarter, when the heroine turns her immense pyrokinetic power on Big Bads, their flesh melts off their bones in a split-second, and their bones are probably blown to smithereens.
  • In Robert Westall's Urn Burial, the Attock created harka, an engineered mould that infects and grows on living creatures, usually infecting females and young in the womb. It slowly eats away at the flesh and eventually even eats away the bones. It takes long enough on the skeleton that there a couple of collections of bones still held together with sinew and tendon in the People Jars on the Wawaka ship.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Doctor Who: The Vashta Nerada can do this to you in a fraction of a second. Red Shirts take note: When the Doctor says "Don't move," he means it.
    • Probably justified considering the Vashta Nerada are living, and probably leave the bone deliberately.
  • A new episode of Heroes has this happen to Adam Monroe when Arthur Petrelli takes his ability, which doesn't make much sense since all of his cells would presumably still be fairly new from the constant rejuvenation.
    • Since the same thing doesn't happen to Peter when his powers are taken means either Claire's version of Healing Factor has more Ontological Inertia than Adam's, or the writers just didn't think the visual through.
    • In Volume 5, Samuel gets the drop on Sylar by enveloping him in a concentrated sandstorm which flays him alive. This being Sylar, he's healed by the next scene.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when vampires are slain, their skeletons are often briefly visible before they entirely crumble into dust. This trope is played much straighter with the Master, an old and powerful vampire, whose flesh and clothes spectacularly evaporate as he dies, leaving behind a perfect, intact skeleton, suitable for resurrection. Buffy and gang fix that with a sledgehammer a few months later. One wonders why similarly old and powerful vampires (like Kakistos and the Turok-Han) don't leave behind similar keepsakes.
  • Some of the Kromagg weapons in Sliders leave behind a crumbling skeleton. Shame, considering their preference for human eyes.
  • In the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Maledictus", a murder victim is dissolved down to her bones in her own bathtub using a large amount of lye. The killer is later shown tossing the bones out of a cardboard box and into the river.
  • The Collector: Happens to Morgan's hand when dipped into some chemicals during interrogation. He got better.


Music Videos[edit | hide]


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • The Necrons of Warhammer 40000 make extensive use of gauss weapons, firing green lightning that strip away the target, layer by molecular layer, often to the bone. The basic version employed by Necron grunts is even called the Gauss Flayer. A subversion, technically, as there is so much power even in the infantry versions to instantly vaporise enemy infantry.
    • Plus the Necrons themselves, who take the worst of a fleshless Romero zombie and a Terminator and blend it into some of the most potent horror 40k has to offer.
    • Dark Eldar beastmasters have flocks of Razorwings, alien birds with extremely sharp beaks and wingtips, that can strip a man to the bone in seconds. Much like the Hellboy tooth fairies, they eat bones and tear off the flehs to get to them. Dark Eldar also have a piece of arcane wargear called the Casket of Flensing, which releases a swarm of invisible creatures that strip the flesh off their target's bones (they leave the brain intact tho, so the unfortunate victim can be aware of his final moments for as long as possible).
  • In GURPS, the advantage Unbreakable Bones will cause this if the character's body is completely destroyed.
  • The Magic: The Gathering card Skeletonize connects this trope with Dem Bones.
    • The page picture comes from the card Disintegrate, and the trend continues with Carbonize, older versions of Incinerate, and the list goes on. You tend to see this more in Black and Red cards, they being the colors of death and destruction, respectively. However, White gets in on the action as well, being the color of "God will look after his own" and all. Behold, the infamous Wrath of God.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Diablo 3, powerful attacks can do this to a target, especially if they have a "wind" or "force" motif like the Wizard's Wave of Force spell or the Monk's Deadly Reach technique. The "Opressor" demon also has this as its normal death animation.
  • New Super Mario Bros. features the series' Big Bad Bowser falling into lava and being skeletonized (which is depicted in a surprisingly Nightmare Fuel-ish level of detail for this series). Later on, you get to fight Bowser's animated skeletal remains. Though he eventually recovers later on with a little help from Bowser Jr.
  • So did the Lost Vikings from Blizzard's SNES puzzle classic, ...well, Lost Vikings.
  • Crocomire in Super Metroid suffers this upon being knocked into a pit of acid. His remains then knock open a spiked wall, allowing you to proceed further into Norfair.
  • Unreal Tournament 2004 sported the Link Gun, a plasma rifle that has a long stream of plasma for an alternative fire. Death by this plasma stream resulted in its victim being reduced to a skeleton. Another skeletonizing weapon in the same game was the Ion Cannon, an orbital Satellite that fired a gigantic purple beam of death, unsurprisingly, reducing victims of it to skeletons, the downside of it was that it had to be "painted" onto an enemy with the Ion Painter, which took quite a lot of time to do so.
    • Additionally, certain hazards in maps (such as lava and acid) can and will skeletonize you if you accidentally take a dip.
  • The Ray Gun weapons in Another World reduce anyone hit by them(which can be either the player or enemies) into a skeleton that explodes after a few seconds
  • Several characters in the Mortal Kombat series have fatalities that can do this, such as Scorpion (who breathes fire) or Reptile (who vomits acid). This also happens in the Dead Pool stage fatality from Mortal Kombat 2, in which the opponent is knocked into a pool of acid.
    • Sheeva's has to be the cruelest: she tears your flesh off.
    • Sindel in Mortal Kombat 3 and Fujin in Mortal Kombat 4 blow the opponent's flesh off.
    • In one of his DC crossover fatalities, Raiden uses his electric powers to burn off all the opponent's flesh, leaving behind their smoking skeleton.
  • Metal Slug 3 combines this with Beauty Is Never Tarnished: if Marco or Tarma get hit with the giant snails' acidic vomit in level 4, they will be reduced to skeletons and melt, but if Eri or Fio get hit, we only see their clothes melt off before they turn into a puddle of slime...
  • Don't forget F.E.A.R., with the Evaporating Particle Beam. And Alma likes to psionically skeletonize her victims.
  • In Resident Evil 4, if Leon is finished off by a Novistador (or hit at all by a flying one), they will use acid to strip the flesh off of his face. In some countries' versions of the game, this will also happen when Dr. Salvador or the sisters manage to hit with their chainsaws, rather than the alternative.
  • You may see one or more charred skeletons floating in space when investigating the wreckage of the transport destroyed in the intro of Wing Commander IV
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, one of the peculiar status effects that might be inflicted upon you involves getting (temporarily!) reduced to a skeleton by a particularly fierce sandstorm.
  • Arthur is always reduced to a skeleton if he's killed in Ghosts N Goblins. In the spinoff Demon's Crest, this will happen to Firebrand.
  • In Rise of the Triad, using the flamewall weapon on a mook causes them to be reduced to a bare skeleton, which them crumples to ash with a humorous falling xylophone glissando.
  • Spontaneous Skeletonification tends to happen to a lot of mooks in First Encounter Assault Recon, usually by beam weapons or psychic powers.
  • Tales of Monkey Island: Parodied in Chapter 5, when, after Guybrush fails to take the Cursed Cutlass of Kaflu, LeChuck shows him what it feels to be a ghost with a vulnerability to root beer; and Elaine, under the villain's influence as his demon bride, sprays root beer on Guybrush, making him scream and dissolving his transparent form, revealing a skeleton underneath that crumbles into nothingness. Thankfully, he rematerializes back at the Crossroads Center.
    • If Guybrush tries returning to LeChuck's ship as a ghost, Elaine will repeatedly spray root beer at our hero and force him back into the Crossroads, making it pure Nightmare Fuel.
  • In the NES version of Dragon's Lair, many enemies and obstacles (and DOORS!) do this to Dirk regardless of the HP meter.
  • The carbine can do this in Bulletstorm if you amp it up.


Webcomics[edit | hide]


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • A rather disturbing episode of Ren and Stimpy features an insane Ren dropping Stimpy's precious already-dead mouse toy into a vat of acid. It skeletonizes, and then the skeleton dissolves, as Stimpy looks on in horror.
    • In another episode, Stimpy buys a super powerful vacuum cleaner; as he turns it on, Ren happens to be standing in front of it. He tries to escape and clings to the rug, it ends up ripping off his skin and sucking out his organs; now a skeleton, he attempts to save his brain before being sucked inside.
  • In the direct-to-video animated film Doctor Strange: Sorceror Supreme, the final creature that appears before Dormammu's return is the Wing Mouth, a massive flock of small creatures with huge fangs and tiny wings. Individually, they're easy to destroy, but together, they can skeletonize a full-grown human within seconds. They devour several civilians and sorcerers before being defeated.
  • The Simpsons' Show Within a Show, Itchy & Scratchy uses this trope quite often.
    • In one Treehouse of Horror episode, Bart and Lisa are being chased by Itchy and Scratchy. Bart gets hit with a blast of piranhas from a firehose, stripping everything from the neck down to the bone. Afterwards, he muses "Ooh, that's gonna hurt in the morning." He gets better, BTW.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this happens to Agent Bishop's old body once his consciousness is transferred to a new one, with his skin and muscles melting into purple goo.
  • The Futurama revival on Comedy Central began with the Planet Express crew, after a hard crash, reduced to their heads and skeletons - even Bender.
  • Superjail has Jailbot do this to a farmer pursuing Jacknife in one intro.
  • Happens to Doctor Frankenollie in Runaway Brain after he switches Mickey Mouse's brain with that of a monster's.
  • The alien death rays in the Young Justice episode "Failsafe" reduce those shot (y'know, like Batman, Green Lantern, the teenage heroes of the show...) into skeletons for a brief but memorable second before disintegrating the skeletons, too.


Truth In Television[edit | hide]

  • Piranhas have the potential to do this to meat carcasses in mere moments. However, they have to be isolated and starved first to get this kind of reaction; they do not naturally, as depicted in fiction, behave like a ravenous swarm.
  • A caustic base will break down living tissue at least as quickly as an equivalent acid, but will do little or nothing to the bones.
    • Hydrofluoric Acid, meanwhile, has the opposite effect- it'll seep through human skin without doing much damage, but it'll quickly dissolve the bones underneath.
  • These ants manage to strip away an entire gecko into a skeleton in a few hours http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R 3 Mt 2 E 1 M 6 d U
  • Any carrion eating animals (vultures, ants, maggots) will do this.