Contrary to popular belief, very few fatal injuries result in instant death. As long as you haven't been decapitated, shot in the head, or blown up, your body will take at least two minutes to fully shut down. So long as your throat is relatively intact and you can get breath enough to make sound, this gives you a chance to belt out a few parting words to your comrades or the enemy that felled you. Of course, this doesn't really work in real life, since few people (except for those expecting to die) have good last words prepared, or the energy or wherewithal to say anything as they go into shock. Ah, but this is fiction...
Fictional characters who aren't killed instantly will usually have something to say. Some can pull off the Final Speech, able to utter page after profound page in their dying moments. These are usually delivered with the calm gravitas of someone who knows the end is near. In contrast, Famous Last Words are brief and often poignant: the statement said by a character who hasn't quite accepted that he's dying. These can actually be very character-defining, to the point that they represent the very climax of that character's development leaving a lasting impression on the other characters and the fans.
This is difficult to write despite being just a few words. Misuse it and it can come off as cheesy. Done perfectly and it can even garner the respect of a fan that hated the character. An affectionate subversion is that a character utters what he expects will be his Famous Last Words — but survives after all.
Compare Sedgwick Speech, where a character gets killed directly after his speech or one-liner, usually in an ironic fashion. See also "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner where a character says a one-liner before knowingly facing death, Pre-Mortem Catchphrase when a character's Catchphrase ends up being their last words and Dying Curse when these words are a curse. See also Dying Declaration of Love and Dying Declaration of Hate. Often a Tear Jerker.
Contrast Lame Last Words, which are last words that are completely innocuous or pathetic—after all, not everybody has the right to famous last words. However, such last words can become famous last words if they are memetic enough.
Some supposed Real Life final last words are fictional and were possibly concocted for ulterior motives. At the time of his death, it was widely reported in newspapers that Lou Costello's last words were "I think I'll be more comfortable", said to the nurse who was preparing to help him turn over in bed. Within months the legend arose that he died in the presence of a group of beloved friends and that his last words were "that was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted". Whether his friends were embarrassed that he died virtually alone or whether someone meant to imply that Costello died because he was fat (he had a chronic heart valve infection) nobody knows, but the legend can be found in almost every book of famous last words.
Please note: this trope is not simply for the last words a character says before their death. If Bob says "Hmm that's interesting" because he sees an eye-catching billboard while walking home, then two minutes later he gets hit by a car while crossing the street and instantly killed without saying another word, that is not sufficient to count as this trope. The trope is called Famous Last Words, not just "The Last Thing Someone Says Before Death".
Massive Spoilers Within, so don't go further if you don't want them.
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Web Animation
- Web Original
- Western Animation
- Real Life
- "Oh... great." Dracula, killed while trying to stop the Energizer Bunny
- "AAAAAAAHHH! I'm melting! Melting! AAAAAAHHHHH!!!" The Wicked Witch of the West, in a case of Karmic Death
- "Long life." The treasure hunter, before being turned into the non-speaking Energizer Bunny
- "Save yourself... some money." — The Negotiator. He survived.
- "Sega Saturn shiro...! Sega Saturn shiro...! Sega Saturn SHIROOOOOO!!!" — Segata Sanshiro. He survived.
- "No, no, wait, before you do that could you explain to me how that-" Jerry, from a Ratchet & Clank commercial, before being turned into a chicken.
- "I'm workin' overtime 'cause I want to take my family on a nice vacation. Soon they'll get a call telling them I was killed in an 'accident.' But, hey, I'm wearin' a busted harness here. And the company should've checked those tanks t—" Construction Worker, prevent-it.ca Work Safety PSA
- Nickelodeon Magazine
- "Wow... you guys must be STUFFED! How about we head over to the Goober Lagoon for some volleyball or swimming... Hey! Why are you looking at us like that? C-come on, now... Aren't we all best friends? CreamBob ConePants
- In the Vocaloid song Evil Food Eater Conchita by mothy (part of Evillious Chronicles), we've got this: "There's still something I haven't eaten!"
- In Daughter of Evil/Servant of Evil, there's Riliane's/Allen's line, "Oh, it's tea time".
- "I run these muthafuckin' streets, y'all ain't lookin fo' me. I wish a muthafucka would..." Michael Young History (he gets better though... sorta).
- "Don't take your guns to town, son, leave your guns at home, Bill. Don't take your guns to town..."Billy Joe
- My Chemical Romance has a song called "Famous Last Words". Aptly, it's the last track of an album about a dying cancer patient and his journey into the afterlife.
- As the protagonist of King Diamond's Conspiracy is being cremated alive, he gives a dying promise: "Whenever the dark is near, I will return to haunt you... Godforsaken whore!"
- Streetlight Manifesto's "They Broke Him Down", contains the lines "Right before his final breath, he said... He said 'I'll never be your saint you see, 'cause I won't be hanging around'"
- "Oh shit, I forgot, how am I supposed to send this shit out?" Stan
- "Now say you hate homos again!" Stan's little brother, Matthew
- The line from Saga's song Perfectionist; "Never in my life will I taste but a bite, of a more perfectly planned out supper..." Billingford Bluffer
- "And if I die before yo' album drop, I hope-" Kendrick Lamar's brother
- The band Captain Tractor has an album (and a song) called this.
- "Fellas, it's been good to know ya" were the words attributed to the cook of the Edmund Fitzgerald just before her sinking in the famous song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." While it's likely those words were said on the fateful night by someone, see the "Real Life" page for more information.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic, "Mr. Frump In the Iron Lung":
Well, unfortunately, soon it came to be
Mr. Frump's dying day.
So now, I bring to you the very last thing
that Mr. Frump had to say:
(Thump! Thump! Rattle.)
- "No...NO! I knew better for SiIvaGunner, you fool!" The Voice Inside Your Head
- "So this is the power of the MF Like Button... Not bad... Not bad at all... PS Vita... I'm coming to see you." Chad Warden
- Hold me darling, just a little while. Wayne Cochrans or Eddie Vedders girlfriend, Last Kiss
- Adventures in Odyssey
- "FATHER!!" Jeremy Cartwood, in the "Young Guns Bonanza" sketch
- "No! NOOOOOOOO!" Mustapha, after Blackgaard tells him "You Have Outlived Your Usefulness"
- "Oh, you fool, why wouldn't I? Goodbye, Jack Allen!" Dr. Regis Blackgaard, rejecting Jack Allen's offer of a HeelFace Turn
- "Wait... Something... is wrong. This isn't supposed to happen. What's... going... on??" Virus!Regis Blackgaard
- "It's... over... Blackgaard!" Anti-Virus Program!John Avery Whittaker
- "I'm sorry... I'm sorry I got you the job at the college." Armitage Shanks
- "Oh no, they're trying to run me off the road! I've lost control! I've lost-" Justine Baker
- "There's no other way Dad! I'm sorry." Jason Whittaker (though he turned out to be Faking the Dead)
- "Connie, I-" June Kendall
- "NOOOOOOOO!" Dr. Relative
- The Last Chance Detectives radio dramas
- "Yeah, but this is no joke." Andy, a member of Buddy Lewis and the Cats
- "Do you guys smell that? It's something... electrical..." Nick, a member of Buddy Lewis and the Cats
- "I can't pull it up! C'mon Buddy!" The pilot for Buddy Lewis and the Cats
- "No! You mustn't interrupt the experiment!" Dr. Victor Belmont
- "I don't care!" Thug's Brother
- "What is that?" Thug
- "It's beautiful. AAAAAHHHHH!" The Fake Agent Garfield
- The Bible has Jesus's eponymous Seven Last Words before He died on the cross for mankind's sins, before He rose from the dead three days later:
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.
Woman, behold thy son, behold thy mother.
My God, my God. Why has thou forsaken me?
It is finished.
Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.
- Magic: The Gathering
- "Ach! Hans, run! It's the lhurgoyf!" Saffi Eriksdotter
- "I'm Phyrexian. I can't trust myself. I'm always wrong." Xantcha
- "I'm the mad one!" Radiant, Archangel
- "I'm sorry. Our destinies are completed. We are both doomed." Selenia, Dark Angel
- "The old sage's magic cannot last much longer. Goodbye, Gerrard." Hanna, Ship's Navigator
- "The last time I saw you, you were heading into Rath. We fought, I remember. I'm sorry. We also said good-bye. I didn't think that good-bye would be our last. I was wrong about everything. Everything. Good-bye, my angel." Barrin, Master Wizard
- "It's going to be all right—" Seton, Krosan Protector
- "Good-bye, beloved child." Cabal Patriarch
- "The oath is gone, right? I saved you. I did good. Didn't I?" Marrow-Gnawer
- "It's beautiful. I can see her. She's come back. It's her." Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran
- "Here sits one who maybe more than any other, can stop their spread. And he is my friend. I will not let him fall like a dog to this sickness. You cannot ask me to let that happen." Venser, the Sojourner
- "Death to the God-Pharaoh, foul trespasser and destroyer!" Rhonas the Indomitable, God of Strength
- "I have done as you asked, my God-Pharaoh. I exist to serve." Bontu the Glorified, God of Ambition
- "Come back, cowards! Everyone knows Merfolk can't wield magic!" Pashadar Dirf, Goblin Flotilla Commander
- Warhammer 40,000:
- "Your presence does not surprise me, Assassin. I have known of you ever since your craft entered the Eastern Fringes. Why did I not have you killed? Because your mission and the act you are about to commit proves the truth of all I have ever said and done. I merely punished those who had wronged, just as your False Emperor now seeks to punish me. Death is nothing compared to vindication." — Presumed final words of Konrad Curze.
- "I don't have time to die, I'm too busy!" — Goge Vandire, Ecclesiarch and Master of the Administratum ca. M36, architect of the Age of Apostasy, to the captain of his Praetorian Guard immediately before she decapitated him
- Vampire: The Masquerade — Gehenna:
- "The Dragon rises. You must stop it! Find Vykos. It knows..." Cyscek
- "You wretched fools! I only used you to get me this far. Now, my true powers are restored, and you shall be the first of my victims! I only brought you along as a bit of repast! No one can stop me now, not even..." Tremere, in Goratrix's body
- "Yes, magnificent one." Neferu
- "So, you have returned. Do you claim a place among us?" Absimiliard
- "You have failed." Typhon
- "No! A thousand years!" Lasombra
- "Father's home." Malkav, as spoken by his twelve hosts
- "Y... yes. Yes, I do." Saulot, willingly sacrificing himself to end the Curse of Caine
- "The Crucible Of God":
- "That silly girl? I haven't heard about her in five thousand years. What'll she do, throw pots at me? Threaten to redecorate my haven?" Absimiliard, referring to the Shaper — who promptly curbstomps him
- "I've done it! I've won the Jyhad — and found a way out. I don't have to be what my sire made me. I can be a god — and this city, my temple! I can change you, too, my loyal servants! I can change you all! No more vampires! No more curse!" The Shaper, right before she gets eaten by Ennoia. She gets better.
- "It is done. Hear me, Children of Adam. I command-" Tremere — again in Goratrix's body — right before he's assimilated by the Tzimisce Antediluvian.
- "Be of me." Tzimisce, through Tremere.
- "THE CURSE! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! — Imhotep (again), on the Universal Studios Hollywood version of The Mummy ride, before it was changed (now he just chuckles quietly while you return to the load/unload sector).
- "Hey welcome back. I hope you enjoyed yourself. I would've enjoyed this interview a lot more if I HAD GOTTEN MY CUP OF COFFEE!!! Thank you. AAARRGH!!" — Brendan Fraser, in the Orlando version of the ride.
- A long series of jokes:
- Tarzan's last words: "Who greased the liana!?"
- The electrician's last words: "Yes, I'm sure I switched the main breaker."
- The cardinal's last words: "Matches? I thought you had them."
- The Harold Godwinson's last words: "Watch where you're pointing that bow and arrow, you'll have someone's eye out in a minute."
- The biologist's last words: "Only experts can tell the difference between the harmless legless lizard that I'm holding in my hands and the similar-looking horned viper..."
- The classic redneck's last words: "Hey y'all, watch this!"
- Another version is, "Hold muh beer n' watch this!"
- "Watch this!" is Truth in Television. There exists a book of all the deaths that have occurred at the Grand Canyon, and nearly an entire section of it is stories that start, "X had been drinking," and move on to, "X said, 'Hey, watch this!' and tumbled into the canyon."