In the movie Contagion, Jennifer Ehle's character is shown giving herself an injection.

This got me wondering - are the injections they perform on-screen real? Do needles actually penetrate the skin and flesh of the actors?

If not (and it does seem unlikely), what techniques are commonly used to fake it? Do they have trick syringes, fake skin, CG?

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    Hard to answer this in a general sense. Some actors absolutely won't do it, others (Jackass) absolutely won't pass the chance. Dec 16, 2011 at 16:09
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    Jackass is a really exceptional case , its not really a mainstream movie.
    – Gautam
    Dec 16, 2011 at 16:55
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    @GautamK "Not really a mainstream movie"? In the US, it absolutely is. There were three Jackass movies, grossing $11.2 million, $72 mil, $118 mil respectively in box office revenue. And it was a long-running popular TV show before that. I don't care for any of the Jackass movies, but they're definitely mainstream.
    – Laura
    Dec 16, 2011 at 19:58
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    @Laura : The stats are all fine , I have seen all 3 Jackass movies, and a few episodes , But still it is not your usual everyday movie, it is one of those rare exceptional cases, That is what I meant when I said not mainstream.
    – Gautam
    Dec 16, 2011 at 23:51
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    I still think that your question is incredibly broad; no one can speak to how injections are done in all movies. People can just speculate that they are probably not real injections. They are almost certainly not injecting the actors with anything. They're just spring-loaded syringes. And if you want to know how spring-loaded syringes work, that doesn't seem on-topic for a movies site.
    – Laura
    Dec 21, 2011 at 18:59

6 Answers 6


I remember talking at some stage to a makeup artist from a film set. They had spring-loaded syringes where the actual needle would retract into the body of the syringe. This way they get a realistic pucker effect where the needle presses against the skin.

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    Ok the syringe is spring loaded , may be like this [smartsyringe.com/gen3.htm] But if the syringe retracts how is it possible to inject(Press the plunger)
    – Gautam
    Dec 19, 2011 at 1:09
  • I would have thought once the needle eventually pierces the skin the puckering would disappear.
    – jontyc
    Dec 19, 2011 at 14:03
  • @GautamK Maybe the plunger has a tiny hole for the needle?
    – Dragos
    Jan 27, 2012 at 11:37
  • Many of the really cheap ones (I really doubt they would use them in big budget films) just have some of paper or material that is the same colour as the fluid that is to be injected inside. When the plunger is pressed down, this material folds up under a cover at the "business end" of the syringe. I've only ever explicitly spotted this once, during a performance of one of the Bottom live shows. Of course, the fluid can be added to the syringe during post-production using CGI. Jul 9, 2012 at 8:39
  • @Gautam If we're already talking about a rigged syringe, why would you then not assume that the plunger would also be rigged (i.e. to allow for the needle inside the syringe body)?
    – Flater
    Mar 23, 2020 at 1:47

I am late to this discussion, but the Weapons Specialist Ltd company makes retractable syringes and all sorts of other cool props. The website includes a video of the syringe in action.


While I do not have any official sources, I do not see them getting any actual syringes for a movie. It is fake as with most whether they do it with CGI (which seems a bit over the top when you have) trick syringes, or I've seen before where they just imply the shot with a cut-away.


All three types of techniques are used.

  1. Fake appendages. You can use a real needle in these. Common when the appendage in question will be changed or explode or anything. All practical effects.

  2. CGI. In bigger productions, this can be a viable alternative to a prop. Most often though, it will be a combination of a prop and CGI.

  3. But the most common is special effects props. Nothing beats a solid prop in your hand.

You can see the needle retracted into the syringe here:

enter image description here

A DIY one:

enter image description here


I own In The Shadows props www.intheshadows.ca. In all unionized productions, an actor will never be punctured with a syringe. Movie prop syringes range from $80-$100 for low end products where the needle will retract, to $400 - $800 where the needle will retract, is spring loaded, and will come back out as the needle is pulled from the arm. Also, the High end have a second system, where liquid can be filled into the needle (blood drawn, or what ever color liquid is coming out of your alien), or liquid injected (clear, Heroin, floating particles, etc). This is done via a 4 foot hose connected to the side of the syringe. At the other end is a vile with a bladder. That is where fluid goes to when injected, or fluid comes from when liquid is drawn from the needle. We make custom props. However, the high end syringes take very specialized materials and craftsmanship to make. So we purchase from trusted suppliers. One of the best effects is having a clear liquid (i.e. heroin) in the syringe. The bladder then has red liquid (blood), and the tube is also full of blood. The syringe is injected (pushed against skin, and spring loaded needle goes into shaft), and a little blood is drawn into the syringe to confirm you hit a vein. This close up is a deal seller on film. Then the syringe is depressed shooting the heroin (into the bladder at the end of the hose). The shot usually changes here, as the specialty syringe is replaced with a real (dulled) syringe (another prop too long to talk about). And with a little movie adhesive, left in the arm/ leg / wherever, as the actor removes the rubber band to get stoned.

Hope this helps. P.S. as a pro in the industry, I would never recommend trying to make your own spring loaded needle. You never want to put an actor at risk.

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    A picture or video of said prop would help this answer.
    – cde
    Nov 25, 2016 at 19:20

Blunt ends are readily available for syringes. A normal syringe has a diagonal cut on the hollow needle, milled to be very sharp. A blunt is square cut and milled to round out sharp edges. It will not penetrate skin unless you use such extreme force as to probably bend the needle. You can then fill the interior of the needle with epoxy.

That syringe can be easily modified by turning down the plunger to fit a white sleeve, sealing that at the bottom with epoxy, and then drilling a hole through the plunger gasket so the liquid goes up into the white sleeve (or vice versa). If you did it simply, giving the white sleeve an open top, it would be easy to fill/drain, but an actor would have to be careful to hold the syringe not too horizontally.

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