In Hellboy (2019) the titular part-demon files down his horns nearly flat as part of his daily routine. He even places such a high priority on this that, after assuming his apocalyptic form near the end of the movie, he breaks his horns off immediately.

Why is this? Certainly it doesn't help him blend in, since he has red skin, a tail, and so forth. It can't be hard for him to lift his head given his strength. While it's true that Hellboy's horns grow in his apocalyptic form, it doesn't seem like his horns make him evil, rather the other way around.

  • 26
    The general answer has been that he does it because he feels it makes him a little more human, but I'm having a devil of a time finding a good quote saying as much from the comics or films.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 18:21
  • 12
    @FuzzyBoots I see what you did there. Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 20:06
  • 7
    Well this isn't really an answer so I'll make it a comment but... they're giant horns. Aside from probably being kinda heavy, not having them would make it easier to go through doors. I do wonder if, out-of-universe, it might just be easier for Mike Mignola to draw, not having to worry about Red's horns getting in the way. Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 22:05
  • 7
    Humans (and apparently demons) are complex beings and not always 100% rational. Filing down the horns is psychological/symbolic to him.
    – Moyli
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 6:48
  • 12
    Ever tied putting on a sweater with full horns?
    – SQB
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 7:28

3 Answers 3


I'll answer based on the Hellboy comics. I don't know if the first two Hellboy films are regarded as canon, but I have never viewed them as such as they seem to have little connection to the comics. The 2019 film is very close to the comics, though sadly that didn't work out too well.

Anyhow it is a recurring theme in the comics, and especially in the sequel Hellboy in Hell, that Hellboy is destined to rule Hell and deliver all sorts of vaguely defined mayhem. He rejects this destiny, and snapping off his horns is a symbol of that rejection.

The first time we encounter the horn snapping is in Wake the Devil part 5 when Hecate specifically invokes his destiny and sends him down to Hell:

Horns 1

We see the horns grow as he descends in Hell to take up his destiny:

Horns 2

And he explicitly rejects that destiny and snaps off the horns as a symbol of that rejection:

Horns 3

This theme recurs again and again in the comics. I'm not going to post scans of every occasion otherwise this would be a long answer, to say nothing of the copyright issue, but it's the overarching theme of the comics that Hellboy was born of a mortal woman and the archdemon, Azzael, and is destined to rule Hell. This comes to fruition in the final episode of Hellboy in Hell, though I won't say how for fear of spoilers :-)

In the 2019 film Hellboy snaps off his horns to reject Nimue's attempts to persuade him to take up his destiny. This doesn't happen in the comics because the battle with Nimue ends rather differently, but again I won't give spoilers.

So the bottom line is that Hellboy snaps his horns as a symbol of his desire to live a normal life as a mortal among humans. I don't think we ever see Hellboy filing his horns in the comic. Whenever he snaps the horns they leave a smooth surface, and I don't recall any suggestion in the comics that the horns grow naturally like hair or nails do.


This was lampshaded addressed in Hellboy (2004).

CLAY: Quit staring.

MYERS: What?

CLAY: His horns. He files them. To fit in.

  • 5
    How does filing down his horns help him fit in? He's so red...not to mention the hand and tail. Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 19:41
  • 13
    Hence my mention of lampshading. Clay's tone of voice there indicates (to me, anyway) that he doesn't believe it either. Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 20:05
  • 22
    Strikethroughs, when typed, are generally meant to be funny-- as if you wrote the word or phrase you were really thinking, then crossed it out and wrote a more polite one instead. Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 20:12
  • 9
    @Cascabel: It's not a matter of being incognito, but rather of minimizing differences between him and the people he interacts with. Horns are predominantly attached to evil; and it's very realistic that people would be even more intimidated by him if (on top of his red muscly physique) he was sporting two demonic horns. Who looks more evil here?
    – Flater
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 8:39
  • 9
    @Cascabel : How does filing down his horns help him fit in? By signaling that he doesn't embrace them. By signaling that he doesn't want them. By signaling that he's different from others who wear horns and do evil things.
    – vsz
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 14:06

John Rennie's answer does an excellent job explaining the symbolic meaning behind Hellboy breaking his horns off in dramatic moments. However, B.P.R.D. 1948 explains the origin of him mundanely filing them off.

Archie, one of young Hellboy's carers and friends, laughs when Hellboy tries on his hat. Hellboy is going through an emotionally difficult time as his adopted father is away on an extended mission. He locks himself away for over a day. Another of his carers/friends speculates that he's reacting to the difficult conditions of his childhood and discomfort with being "special." He took it extremely personally when, Archie, one of his only friends, laughed at his appearance, at least from his perspective. The story ends with a strong implication that this shame and a desire to be normal is what leads him to start filing his horns.

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

The question asks why he bothers when he still has other demonic features that he can't change. This origin answers those questions by explaining that

  1. He started the routine as child before developing full maturity and critical thinking.
  2. He started doing it in reaction to his horns specifically being laughed at.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.