A Stock Phrase
wherein a character acknowledges a past missed opportunity just as they are about to do what they were unable to (or chose not to) all those years ago. Often, the character spared a foe's life in the past and has since come to regret letting the Ungrateful Bastard
live, in which case the phrase usually comes during a Sword Over Head
moment and may be accompanied by Prepare to Die
. Bonus points if the character in question is a villain who foolishly killed one of his enemies
in the Back Story
but left their child, now The Hero
, alive out of scorn
, or a Mentor
who couldn't bring himself to kill his beloved pupil
, now the Big Bad
, even when their Omnicidal Maniac
tendencies became apparent.
Note that the phrase may be used in regards to plenty of things other than murder: a risk not taken, a path not followed, a highschool sweetheart not smooched - any of these may provoke the phrase years later, optionally accompanied by a wistful expression and/or a tear in the eye.
This trope can also appear in more disguised forms, without having to invoke the Stock Phrase
. "I have a certain phone call to make"/"there's a family waiting for me"/"I just realised I need to visit an old friend"/etc. are all stock sentences that stem directly from this concept.
Loosely related to I Always Wanted to Say That
- Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin's dad uses the "Should have thought of this years ago" variation in one bedtime story strip: the story is about a disembodied hand that goes around strangling people and was never found, so to this day it could be anywheOHMIGOD IT'S GOT ME!!!! With Calvin out cold, his dad says the above line.
- Dirty Sympathy Klavier jokingly apologizes to Apollo for not pushing his brother off the Swiss Alp when he was nine.
- Bridget Jones' Diary
Mark Darcy: I should have done this years ago.
Daniel Cleaver: Done what?
Mark Darcy: This. [Punches Cleaver, hard]
- A Cinderella Story
Sam: Austin? What are you doing?
Austin: Something I should have done a long time ago. [he kisses her]
General Mandible: Cutter, what are you doing?
Colonel Cutter: Something I should have done, a long time ago. [extends his hand to the worker ants] This is for the good of the colony, sir.
- Call of the Prairie (1936)
Johnny Nelson: I'm going to do what I should have done a long time ago...I'm going to round up those crooks!
- A History of Violence:
Tom: I should've killed you back in Philly.
Carl: Yeah Joey... you should have.
- Passport To Paris
Jeremy: I quit. [snip various protests] No, no. I need to thank you. For giving me the courage to do what I should have done a long time ago.
- Eoin Colfer's The Wish List is basically about an old guy fulfilling this trope.
- Early in Stephen King's The Stand, Frannie Goldsmith's father touches this trope when he finally puts his foot down about his wife living in, essentially, a shrine for their dead son.
- The Doctor Who episode "Father's Day"
- Star Trek: Enterprise episode "These Are the Voyages..."
Riker: I think I'm ready to talk to Captain Picard. Should have done it a long time ago.
- Greg the Bunny
Gil: Hey there son!
Jimmy: What're you doing here?
Gil: Something I should have done a long time ago! [wraps his arms around Jimmy and gives him a big hug].
Jimmy: What? Molest me?
- Power Rangers Time Force episode "The End of Time: Part 3"
Jen: I should have told you this a long time ago. I love you!
- Star Trek: The Next Generation, final episode: Picard joins the bridge officers' poker game at the end, and is offered to deal. He says this line, to which Troi says 'You were always welcome.'
- Battlestar Galactica: Colonel Tigh in "Revelations".
"I should have told you when I first found out, but I didn't have the guts."
- Napoleon Bonaparte said "I should have shot him" about Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, the Prime Minister of France. Given Talleyrand's record, he probably should have.
- As everything fell apart in 1945, Adolf Hitler said he should have purged the Wehrmacht high command like Stalin did with his 1937-38 purges.