"You know, Angel, coming from you, idle threats are so, well, idle."Characters make death threats that they never seem to carry out. It's not uncommon to have people say "I'll Kill You!" all the time, only to have fights that never quite go that far, only stopping at wounding and/or maiming. Granted, "I'll seriously wound you!" doesn't sound quite as badass (though even that can be pulled off effectively), but at least it's more threatening than a Strongly Worded Letter. See Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon for other kinds of ineffectual threats (which may or may not be death threats). Arguably Truth in Television more often than not. Compare We Will Meet Again. When the threat is realistic but not immediate, see You Have No Chance to Survive. Subsequently and more immediately, Prepare to Die.
— Lilah Morgan, Angel "Supersymmetry"
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Anime & Manga
- Bleach seriously loves this — there is hardly any show/anime with a higher ratio of death threats (tons, all the time) to actual deaths.
- If you ignore the filler arcs, no-one dies until Hueco Mundo, when the arrancar start getting knocked off. Although they're really just glorified mooks, and are Dead to Begin With, so they don't really count. Granted, it is really hard to die when you're technically already dead, which accounts for 95% of the cast. One wonders why anyone bothers with death threats.
- For especially ineffective, note Lilynette. She awkwardly asks Ukitake if he wants to fight him, and attacks him even when he's insisting that he wants to have nothing to do with fighting a little girl. After getting her attacks dodged and deflected, Lilynette ends up dirty and crying whilst screaming that she's going to kill the 'old fart'. He just thinks her attempts/threats show spirit.
- Dragon Ball.
- Goku is prone to making dire death threats when angered, but almost always seems to go back on it later because of his merciful nature, regardless of what set him off in the first place. Apparently, you can shoot all the Nameks you like, kill Krillin, and/or significantly reduce earth's population, and he'll still do his best to spare you if you give him the puppy eyes and promise you'll be good from now on. (The villains have taken advantage of this more than once.) At one point, Vegeta actually follows along behind him, killing the Ginyu Force after they're defeated because he knows Goku won't. And yes, Goku does get mad at him for it. These guys came within five minutes of killing his 5-year-old son!
- The above only holds true when he is an adult. When he was a kid, he was far less merciful to the point when he claims he's going to kill you, chances are he will unless the person escapes, repents, or beat him. The Red Ribbon Army, King Piccolo, and his children are testaments of this. It isn't until his training with Kami that Goku becomes more merciful. Even then, Goku goes back to killing his enemies after the Frieza Saga and stops offering second chances. Even in Frieza's case, it was more Cruel Mercy than him forgiven Frieza for pissing him off.
- Over the course of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Heero Yuy threatens to kill several characters — Relena most famously, but also Zechs, and Quatre (when crazy due to the ZERO System). It's a running gag among the fandom, but the show implies that Heero, as a former assassin who's growing a conscience, is trying to convince himself to be able to kill people he's grown to care for.
Heero Yuy: Omae o korosu. ("I will kill you.")
- At the end of the "Thriller Bark" arc of One Piece, Bartholomew Kuma is ordered to kill the wounded, helpless hero, and makes sure everyone knows it, ramping the drama up to breaking point- but then seems entirely satisfied with seriously wounding a supporting character, and then leaving. A bit more justified than most; it has been implied (and recently confirmed) that the villain in question is an ally of the hero's father who, despite being missing for most of his life, would not want his son killed.
- Ranma ˝ followed this entirely, probably to keep things from being too serious. There are characters who are duty-bound to attempt to kill one another, and yet no one actually died in any way for a seven-season and thirty-eight volume span.
Ryoga: Ranma, prepare to die!
- Sanzo from Saiyuki is constantly making death threats against his servants (Gojyo, Goku, and Hakkai) to the point where no-one bats an eyelash. It's like saying, "Good morning" for him or something. Particularly funny when other characters call him out on it and when he turns around the next second to offer encouragement.
Hakkai: May I ask a question?
Sanzo: It'd better not be a stupid one or I'll kill you.
Hakkai: Oh, I guess I won't ask then!
Sanzo: Are you trying to pick a fight??
:: The ensuing scene has Sanzo reassuring Hakkai that he's allowed to stay with the group, despite his previous sins. Death threats don't get more ineffectual than that.
- Throughout the course of Samurai Champloo, Mugen and Jin spend the entire series threatening to kill each other, only to develop a mutual respect and part ways at the end.
- Shaman King to an extent. While Hao has a very good reason to keep Yoh alive, he doesn't seem to kill quite as many people as he threatens to.
- "I kill you" and "I love you" are the only things Hellwolf from Tentai Senshi Sunred can say. He's an adorable, foot-tall wolf plushie◊ who speaks in cutesy Baby Talk, and his death threats tend not to be taken very seriously by, well, anyone.
- To Love-Ru has Golden Darkness doing a constant The Only One Allowed to Defeat You directed at Rito, always reminding him that he's her target, and she's the one who's going to kill him. Despite the fact that she's had ample opportunities to do, the worst he's gotten from her is a Megaton Punch.
- Thorfinn's repeated death treats towards Askeladd in Vinland Saga is certainly treated like this by the latter. Askeladd knows Thorfinn will only settle for a clean kill in an honourable duel, thus he's safe from being stabbed to death in his sleep, and also how to push Thorfinn's buttons to make sure he loses all the duels.
Comics — Books
- The story of Batman's first Post-Crisis meeting with Superman has a scene like this. He corners one of Magpie's goons in an alley and tries to scare him into revealing his boss' hideout. The thug refuses, knowing that Magpie will kill him if he spills the beans whereas Batman won't. Batman threatens to do worse, by hurting him in a manner such that he "stays hurt". He pulls off a desperate escape, and Batman notes with some surprise that he's more afraid of his boss than Batman.
- An issue of Legends of the Dark Knight features a criminal Batman couldn't threaten to testify, because Deadshot was threatening him not to testify. The criminal pointed out that he didn't know what Batman would do if he didn't talk... but he knew exactly what Deadshot would do if he did.
- Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire: Give me Winslow or I floss his teeth!!
- Occasionally, a criminal will pull this on Batman or Robin. In one Robin comic, a Corrupt Corporate Executive asks, "What, are you going to dangle me out a window?" Robin says maybe, and the Exec waves it off, noting "Batman never dropped anyone, and you won't either." Batman occasionally has an answer for it, either, "Nobody's ever found out about me killing anyone," or pointing out that he may not kill you, but he can make you hurt for a very long time.
- Lampshaded and utilized as the first part to a Brick Joke during the Ratchet & Clank Comic series:
Ratchet: That's it. I'm gonna kill Qwark.Clank: You say that at least once a year.
- In the Death Note fanfic Haunted Light figures out that Rem can't carry out her threat to kill him if he kills Misa because Ryuk has to be the one to write his name when he dies; so Light kills Misa anyway and there's nothing Rem can do about it. This loophole is actually canon-it's Rule 34 of the Death Note: "1. The owner of the Death Note cannot be killed by a god of death who is living in the world of the gods of death. 2. Also, a god of death who comes to the human world, in the objective to kill the owner of the Death Note, will not be able to do so. 3. Only a god of death that has passed on their Death Note to a human is able to kill the owner of the Death Note."
- In Hellsing Ultimate Abridged, as in canon, Alucard is unimpressed with most of his opponents.
Vampire Priest: I'm going to kill YOU!"Alucard: "Oh? See, that would be intimidating if you were... well, intimidating."
Films — Live-Action
- Parodied in A Knight's Tale, in which Watt (Alan Tudyk) approaches a downcast Geoff and grimly informs him that if he betrays them, "your entrails will become your extrails..." and then, totally stumped for a suitably threatening phrase to continue his rant, settles for a flustered cry of "... Pain! *Lots* of pain!"
- From The Dark Knight:
Maroni: If you're trying to scare somebody, pick a better spot. From this height, the fall wouldn't kill me.
Batman: I'm counting on it. (drops him) note
- In the 60s Batman: The Movie starring Adam West, Batman at one point (as Bruce Wayne) threatens to kill the members of his rogue's gallery when he hears they've kidnapped Miss KITKA. The effect is less-than-imposing.
- Police Academy 6: City Under Siege begins with Captain Harris and Proctor staking out a store in an unmarked car; Proctor is singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and Harris is visibly annoyed. When he finishes, and is about to start over, Harris loses his patience:
Harris: Proctor! You have done nothing but sing Christmas songs for the entire eight hours of this stakeout. And Christmas is a good four months away. If you sing so much as one more note... I... will shoot you."
- And the reason it fits this Trope is because Proctor doesn't get the hint right away. A minute later he starts to hum "Jingle Bells", causing Harris to grab hold of him while holding his holster with the other hand, threatening, "Go ahead... Make my Christmas..." (Then Proctor clams up. Of course, Harris is very much a Miles Gloriosus.)
- The Room has a scene where Johnny threatens to kill his friend Mark, even claiming he'll "Break ev'ry phone in yor body!" Tommy Wiseau's delivery doesn't exactly loan itself to being threatening.
- The old rebel in The Crimson Pirate who while being tortured keeps saying: "Gruda, one day I'll kill you." Eventually he is released from prison and tries to make good on his word, but is killed in the attempt.
- In Dreamgirls, after learning the depths of how much he betrayed Effie, even as far as having her hit single pulled from the airwaves, C.C. proclaims to Curtis "I could kill you for what you did to Effie!", to which Curtis immediately calls him on his bluff and returns with, "You couldn't kill shit.''
- Inverted in Casino when Nicky Santoro demands his banker return all the money he invested. He then says that he will come down to the bank and if the money is not there he will crack open the bankers skull and go to prison. Based on his actions in the movie (including planning to kill and bury his oldest friend) he might kill the banker but not go to prison. He'd kill the entire city of Las Vegas before taking a prison stretch.
- In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the last Klingon remaining from Kruge's crew, Maltz, submits himself to be killed, and Kirk says he'll kill him later. He then has Maltz taken to the brig.
Maltz: I thought you said you'd kill me!
Kirk: I Lied.
- The extended book universe is mixed on Maltz's fate. Some say he committed suicide, while some books feature him much later living in disgrace.
- In In Order of Disappearance, Nils Dickman works his way up the chain of the drug gang that murdered his son. Three consecutive mooks, having had the identity of the next guy up the chain beaten out of them, try to salvage their egos by threatening Nils' life, whereupon he kills each one and dumps the body in a remote mountain river, never to be found.
- Quenthel to Pharaun in War of the Spider Queen. She makes good on them eventually.
- In The Princess Bride, after capturing Westley, the Dread Pirate Roberts says to him: "Good night, good work, I'll most likely kill you in the morning." This happens every day, until Westley eventually becomes the pirate's successor.
- Subverted sharply in the Secret Wars novels of Simon Green. At different points, the hero Eddie Drood and the semi-anti-hero Walker are both faced with situations where someone believes they won't kill an innocent to prevent something worse...only to discover that both men are quite capable of it and pragmatic enough to do it. Walker is 'easier' about it than Eddie Drood...but either one can ahd has done it, contrary to the beliefs of their victims. If Eddie Drood says to refrain from interfering or he will kill you, he means it.
- In Rumpole and the Golden Thread, Rumpole tries to make a joke of the "death threat" a witness is testifying to by hissing to his assistant "If you interrupt my cross-examination, I'll kill you!"… a move the judge sniffs at as "a jury trick", and Neranga has abolished jury trial for murder.
- In Pyramids, Pteppic realizes he isn't very good at threatening people because the Assassins' Guild doesn't work like that. He ends up saying "I could give you this knife. I could give it to you point first." Even more ineffectual because Pteppic is opposed to killing people. Despite being an assassin. It makes sense in context.
- In The Thrawn Trilogy, Mara Jade's threats toward Luke Skywalker end up being this, either due to external circumstances either forbidding it outright (generally because her boss has given an explicit command not to), or because she's stuck in a Can't Kill You, Still Need You situation. Eventually she finds out that it's not really her who wants Luke dead, but the Emperor, who had given her one last command to do so, as a final act of revenge against Darth Vader. Some time after this discovery, she frees herself from the command via Loophole Abuse.
- Done beautifully in the Firefly episode "The Train Job".
Mal: Now, this is all the money Niska gave us in advance. You bring it back to him. Tell him the job didn't work out. We're not thieves. But we are thieves. Point is, we're not takin' what's his. Now we'll stay out of his way as best we can from here on in. You explain that's best for everyone, okay?
Crow: Keep the money. Use it to buy a funeral. It doesn't matter where you go or how far you fly. I will hunt you down, and the last thing you see will be my blade.
(kicks Crow through running engines; one of Niska's soldiers is brought forward)
Mal: Now, this is all the money Niska gave us in advance...
Soldier: Oh, I get it! I'm good. Best thing for everyone. I'm right there with ya.
- Jekyll: "Now, You know what I call this, children? I call it the perfect start to an evening. The night is young, there's a beautiful girl, and someone's going to die. That's you, by the way." The threat isn't carried out because Hyde's still avoiding killing people, per his agreement with his Jekyll. So he just breaks the guy's neck (nonlethally) and toys around with his girlfriend for a bit.
- In Teen Wolf, Derek is constantly making these...towards certain people. He's always threatening to rip out Stiles' throat or cut off his head, but he never comes close to following through on any of his threats and even protects Stiles on numerous occasions. His enemies, however, are a different story...
Scott: " If you... hurt her, if you even touch her—"Peter: "Scott, if I may interrupt your listing of the top five most impotent-sounding threats for a moment..."
- Lampshaded by Peter in the only way he knows how, re: snarkily.
- Slings and Arrows
Geoffrey: Richard, I don't want to kill you. But I will, if you don't get to the point.
- Geoffrey has a tendency to make gratuitous and self-consciously theatrical death threats against both Darren and Richard.
- There's also the time he went after Darren with a sword. A prop sword, of course, and no one is hurt. Still, given his history of going insane and how seriously he seems to take it ("I need you to be my second"), Darren can be forgiven for being a little nervous.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Unification II", the Romulans threaten to kill Spock if he does not cooperate. When he points out that they would probably kill him anyway regardless, the Romulans get angry and... leave. Giving Spock and friends enough time to formulate an escape plan.
- In G.B.H. Michael Murray wants to threaten Jim Nelson, but his fear of headteachers and a flashback to his childhood makes him mess it up. Nelson has to help him out:
Michael Murray: This is one sudden death that ends! One fucking sudden - one death game!Jim Nelson: This is one fucking game that ends in sudden death?Michael Murray: That's it, yeah.
- Throughout Supernatural's third season, Dean threatens to kill Bela on several occasions. She never takes these threat seriously, knowing that despite her being a major source of their problems and a generally terrible person, he's too noble to just murder her outright.
- There's a Xena: Warrior Princess episode in which a warlord wannabe calls her out on this. Basically, he calls her bluff on the whole pressure point "cut off the flow of blood to the brain" bit, since he has noticed that she never makes good on the threat anymore.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. As Klingons are about to attack the station, Quark announces his intention to defend his bar with a disruptor he's got in the box he's carrying. Odo opens the box and finds only a note from Rom saying he stripped the disruptor for spare parts to fix a faulty replicator.
Quark: I'll kill him!Odo: (smirks) With what?
- Farscape. In "Coup by Clam", a doctor has poisoned our heroes so he can hold them for ransom by Withholding the Cure.
D'Argo: [after taking the cure] If this doesn't work, you're dead.Dr Tumii: With all due respect, so are you.
- Doctor Who. In the famous Cliffhanger in Part 3 of "The Caves of Androzani", mercenary commander Stotz shouts I'll Kill You! when the Doctor hijacks their spacecraft. The Doctor points out that it's not much of a threat to someone who's dying anyway (the Doctor having been poisoned earlier).
- In Lightin' Hopkins' song "Bring Me My Shotgun," the speaker calls for his shotgun and proclaims that he's going to shoot his woman for sleeping around. She dares him to try it. Relenting, the man insists that the only reason he's not shooting her is because his shotgun is broken.
- Professional Wrestling. It's amazing how many wrestlers will threaten to kill, maim, torture, etc. each other, and then, when match time comes, they'll content themselves with a simple pinfall or submission.
- Subverted in Susannah. After Olin Blitch pressures Susannah to have sex with him and has a Villainous Breakdown, her brother Sam comes home. Susannah tells him about what happened, and he says he's going to kill Blitch. Susannah doesn't take him seriously and remarks sarcastically. Then Sam kills Blitch.
- Invoked in 12 Angry Men. Juror #3 fixates on the evidence that a neighbor heard the defendant yell "I'll kill you!" during a fight, and when its pointed out that people say that sort of thing all the time and don't mean it, Juror #3 says, "Oh no... if you say that, you mean it." Juror #8 baits him with insults until Juror #3 attacks him and must be held back by the others.
Juror #3: I'll kill you! I'll kill you!
Juror #8: You don't really mean, you'll kill me, do you?
- In Les Misérables, Javert and the unnamed and unseen French soldier both make promises that the revolutionaries will not survive their revolution. The first time the soldier threatens them, Enjolras responds with a rousing reprise of "Red and Black" with the words "Damn their warnings, damn their lies/We will see the people rise!" that the other students join in. When Javert says "death to each and every traitor/I renounce your people's court!", the students respond by either knocking him out, tying him up, or both, depending on the production. However, by the French soldier's final warning, the revolutionaries have realized their impending doom and decide that the only course of action is to take down as many soldiers as they can, turning it from this trope into You Will Not Survive.
- Memorably averted in Final Fantasy. "I, Garland, will knock you all down!" In the original Japanese, it's, "I, Garland, will kick you around!" The Japanese really do have a verb for "to kick around". Still ineffectual, though. It's not that he wouldn't have followed up on it, the threat just got inverted.
- In Hakuouki, Okita Souji promises to kill Chizuru for all manner of transgressions, such as getting in his way in combat or telling anyone about his illness. By the end of his route, he manages to turn it almost into an endearment.
- Niftu Cal's (you may remember him better as "the biotic god") ill-advised assault upon Wasea in Mass Effect 2 is preceded by a few boasts about how he will wipe the floor with her. While high. And level 1. And unarmed. It doesn't go well for him. Inverted in the third game's multiplayer, if you choose to give him a cameo. Reaper forces will be swept aside by a great wind in the hands of a good player.
- In the third installment's single player, Kai Leng is full of these in gameplay, (though not in story, taking out fan-favourite Thane while not using his biotic-proof shields, cloak, gun, or anything except his sword) - being a Phantom without an instant-kill move, and with a heavily nerfed palm gun, and no cloak outside cutscenes. So despite his playing bait for a cunning gunship trap on Thessia, leading to Cerberus' victory against Commander Shepard, of all people, his mocking e-mail was horribly ill-advised, as he's a pushover in Cerberus' final battle on Chronos Station.
- A fan-made Text Adventure for Paranoia lets you make one to shadowy guy that gives the location of the traitor's hideout. The problem is that he's a cardboard cutout, making your threat look silly.
- In Shadow Complex, at the end of the game the Commander will threaten Jason, saying that his evil organisation will kill him, his loved ones, and everyone he holds dear just before getting shot in the head.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Dragonborn can become both the Listener for the Dark Brotherhood and the Guild Master of the Thieves' Guild. Once the Dragonborn holds both of these positions, Maven Black-Briar's threats to sick either or both organizations on the Dragonborn become absolutely hilarious considering she's essentially threatening you with yourself. Also very quick and easy to single-handedly exterminate the Dark Brotherhood, which won't stop her threatening you with the cave full of corpses.
- Belkar from The Order of the Stick tends to consider any threat to his life as this (and to be snarky about it, too), since he has a high opinion of his fighting skills. To tell the truth, he's been right thus far.
Crystal: You little twit, I'm gonna kill you!
Belkar: Yeah, and I'm gonna drop a house on you and sing about how I represent the Lollipop Guild. C'mon, let's keep our threats realistic, shall we? I mean, if you said, "You little twit, I'm going to temporarily inconvenience you!" I'd think, hey, she might really mean it!
- Homestuck has Caliborn, who makes many such threats toward his sister. Until he actually gets her killed.
Demon: I'm going to rip you apart.
Dies Horribly's Superpowered Evil Side: You've already done that. It didn't work.
Fry: Dr. Zoidberg is my friend, and though a woman has come between us, I say we'll always remain friends. And you know why? One reason.
- Happens a few times, from example during an alien death-match where an adrenaline-crazed Zoidberg cut off Fry's arm.
(Zoidberg cuts his arm off as he speaks)
Fry: (beating Zoidberg with his own severed arm) You bastard! I'll kill you, you bastard!
- Or when Fry drank Bender's last beer.
- King of the Hill: In one episode, the Sex Ed teacher at Arlen Middle School quits after receiving death threats by telephone, forcing Peggy to substitute teach it. Later in the episode, she receives a phone call from Dale saying in a very poorly disguised voice, "You don't know me, but I know what you're up to! And if you know what's good for you you'd better not teach that Sex Ed class!" And then before hanging up, he leaves her with a message for Hank. Very much Played for Laughs.
- In ReBoot Bob once threatened to dismantle Mike the TV. He even has Glitch turn into a screwdriver as part of the threat.
- The Simpsons: Homer Simpson, being the rageaholic that he is, is about as familiar with this trope as he is Angrish. You know it's bad when he once threatened to kill both Bart and the rest of Bart's family.
Bart: If Dad killed everyone he talked about killing, would any of us be here?Homer: You'd be dead a million times.
- In The Venture Bros. the Monarch makes all sorts of bombastic (but unfulfilled and non-intimidating) death threats to Rusty Venture throughout the entire series. He does, however, manage to kill or defeat his other enemies every so often.
- The Decepticons were constantly threatening the Autobots with death in The Transformers: Generation 1. Even in Rebirth, Cyclonus tells the Autobot Head Masters "Prepare to Di-ee." Starscream has a silly moment or two with this, screaming die while being blasted onto his backside! Megatron only uses alternative phrases to be colorful. That made it a bigger shock when the same line he had been using for two seasons finally was made good on when he killed Brawn with one shot in The Movie. Somewhat subverted at least once in the third season where Galvatron made good on his threat to 'gut this entire planet.'
- Subverted in Aladdin: The Return of Jafar. Jafar is a genie now and as multiple people point out, genies are incapable of killing anyone. He remains a serious threat since these reminders are always followed by "But you'd be surprised what you can live through."