A "redshirt" is a stock character in fiction who dies soon after being introduced. The term originates from the original Star Trek (NBC, 1966–69) television series in which the red-shirted security personnel frequently die during episodes. Redshirt deaths are often used to dramatize the potential peril that the main characters face.
In Star Trek, red-uniformed security officers and engineers who accompany the main characters on landing parties often suffer quick deaths. The trope first appears in the episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" (1966). Of the 59 crew members killed in the series, 43 (73%) were wearing red shirts. The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine book Legends of the Ferengi says Starfleet security personnel "rarely survive beyond the second act break". An episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine titled "Valiant" (1998) also references red as a sort of bad luck omen, in which the plot centers around a group of cadets calling themselves "Red Squad" who all die later in the episode. The cinematic reboot of the franchise features a character named Olson (portrayed by Greg Ellis) who dies early on during a mission; he wears a red uniform in homage to the trope from the original series.
In other media, the term "redshirt" and images of characters wearing red shirts represent characters destined for suffering or death.
- The South Park episode "City on the Edge of Forever" (1998) appropriates its name from a Star Trek episode, and includes a direct Star Trek reference when one of the kids, wearing a red Star Trek T-shirt, defies Mrs. Crabtree's instructions to remain on the bus and is immediately torn apart by a big scary monster lurking in the shadows.
- Galaxy Quest (1999), a comedy about actors from a defunct science-fiction television series serving on a real starship, included an actor who is terrified that he's going to die on an away mission because his only appearance in the show was as an unnamed character who was killed early in the episode.
- The only character injured in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Older and Far Away" (2002) wears a red shirt; writer Drew Greenberg confirmed that this "redshirt" reference was intentional.
- Twenty-three minutes into the movie Spy Game (2001), the target of a sniper assassination is referred to as a "redshirt".
- In the 2006 video game Gears of War, a soldier named Gyules is terrified after a Berserker starts hunting him and the rest of Delta Squad in The Tomb of the Unknowns. He is shown running away around the corner into a hall, where the shadows depict him being ripped to literal shreds by the Berserker. If you go around the corner, you can pick up Gyules' COG Tags. He is credited as "Redshirt Gyules". Also, Gyules is a term in heraldry used to refer to the color Red.
- Early scripts for Lost (ABC, 2004–10) describe the character of Hurley as a "redshirt".
- The term is also used in the Warehouse 13 episode "Implosion" (2009).
- Slate's review of Prometheus (2012) describes characters who meet "grisly ends" in the film as "redshirts".
- The term was used by United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II in his May 2013 judgment against Prenda Law.
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- "That was totally on purpose. It wasn't just me - a group of us said, 'Hey, a red shirt would be cool!'". Buffy the Vampire Slayer Magazine (34). June 2002.
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- "Does Prenda Believe In No-Win Scenarios? Because Judge Wright Just Gave Them One.".