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How Would You Like to Die?

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"How do you like to be eaten? Baked? Boiled? Shish-kabobed?"
niSSh, Ella Enchanted

...and don't say old age!

...although if you do say old age, you may find yourself aging rapidly...

The hero has been captured by a villain, who intends to kill them. But before the hero dies, the sadistic villain offers the hero one final choice: to select the means of their own execution. A true hero will take the option the villain didn't offer.

Alternatively, some heroes will realize there are several resources they can use to escape and will ask the villain to bring the crucial ingredient closer. See also Glorious Death, where a character has an ideal way to die, and Honorable Warrior's Death, where a warrior or soldier wishes to die in battle.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Battle Angel Alita had suicide booths.
  • Played with in One Piece. Although he doesn't kill people with this technique (usually), Kuma always asks, "If you were to go on a trip, where would you want to go?" And then, in three days, you coming crashing to where you wanted. Or, depending on how he feels about you, where he wanted you to be - as was actually in most cases it did happen. Good thing that he wanted the Straw Hats to become stronger and so sent them to just the places for that.

    Comic Books 

  • The protagonist of Barbarella encounters a walk-in suicide booth.
  • Lolita (1962). Humbert asks Quilty if he wants to get shot standing up or sitting down. Quilty (who is drunk and mocking the entire business) puts on boxing gloves and says he wants to die like a champion.
  • Romancing the Stone uses the trope twice, first in an excerpt from one of Joan Wilder's novels and played for comedy:
    Grogan: You can die two ways: quick like the tongue of a snake, or slower than the molasses in January.
    Joan, narrating: But it was October.
    Grogan: I'll kill you, goddammit, if it's the Fourth of July!
    • Near the end of the movie proper, the villain Zolo echoes the previous scene, much less humorously: "How will you die, Joan Wilder? Slow, like... a snail? Or fast, like a shooting star?"
  • Monty Python's The Meaning of Life has a condemned criminal "allowed to choose his own method of execution". He chooses to be chased off a cliff by a horde of naked women.
  • In Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff, an evil hypnotist attempts to make Freddie commit suicide but fails repeatedly. Reasoning that Freddie is resisting him, he asks Freddie the trope question. Freddie's reply: "Old age."
  • The heroine uses this line in Kill Bill during her confrontation with Vernita Green.
  • The Three Stooges used this as a gag in several shorts.
    Executioner: You must choose how you will die. Will you be burned at the stake, or have your heads chopped off?
    Curly: We'll take burning at the stake!
    Moe: You lamebrain! Why'd you pick that one?
    Curly: Because a hot stake is better than a cold chop! Nyuk nyuk nyuk!
    • Earlier, Larry tried to pick old age.
  • Ghostbusters (1984): Whenever Gozer is released to destroy the world, she asks whoever happens to be nearby to "Choose the form of the Destructor!" Whatever that person is thinking about is the form that the Destructor takes. While the other Ghostbusters try to clear their thoughts, Ray tries to think of something harmless, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Gozer obliges by manifesting the Marshmallow Man... and making him 50-feet tall.
    • Which raises the question of whether the two other forms Gozer was reported to have assumed for previous rampages were originally just as goofy and inoffensive-seeming as a Marshmallow Man...
  • This is invoked in the James Bond film GoldenEye. When he is captured by Ouromov, Bond is immediately met by the Russian Defense Minister, who jumps right to mentioning execution, after which Bond asks why he doesn't want to interrogate him first.
    Dimitri Mishkin: So, by what means shall we execute you, Commander Bond?
    James Bond: What, no small-talk? No chit-chat? That's the trouble with the world today. No one takes the time to do a really sinister interrogation anymore. It's a lost art.
  • Although unaware of it at the time, the five vacationers from The Cabin in the Woods are confronted by this choice when they enter the cabin's cellar: every single piece of junk down here is intended to summon a different monster. Blowing a conch would have released the mermen into the lake; letting the ballerina music box play to the end would have unleashed the Sugarplum Fairy; solving the puzzle sphere would have summoned Cenobite expies, and so on. The item they settle on is Patience Buckner's diary, which they end up reading aloud- resurrecting the Buckner family as zombies.
  • Inverted in The Long Kiss Goodnight. A man being tortured by Timothy (the Big Bad) repeatedly begs to be killed with the gun, not the knife. Timothy does not oblige.
  • In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Smaug asks Bilbo how he chooses to die before attacking him.
  • Tenet. Arms Dealer Andrei Sator asks this of the Protagonist, accusing him of having an affair with his wife. After the below conversation Andrei proceeds to give a To the Pain description of exactly how he will die, until the Protagonist convinces him it's not in his interest to do so.
    Andrei: This is where our worlds collide. How would you like to die?
    Protagonist: Old.
    Andrei: You chose the wrong profession.

  • An old Irish toast: "May you die old and in bed, shot by a jealous husband."
  • There's a joke that involves a cannibal tribe invoking this trope on a mixed-ethnicity group of tourists. The normal punchline: one of the victims asks the cannibals to kick him in the ass before he dies. He is kicked, then pulls a gun and shoots all of the cannibals. One of the other tourists asks: "Why didn't you do that earlier?" Response: "(insert group here)s aren't aggressors."
  • Three people are captured by a cannibal tribe, whose chief tells them that they will use their skins to make their canoes, and graciously allows them to choose how they will be killed. The first two pick fairly conventional suicide methods. The third asks for a fork, and when the puzzled chief complies, he repeatedly stabs himself saying, "I hope your #$%&ing canoe sinks!"

  • The Robert Sheckley novel Time Killer has suicide booths.
  • One of the original subversions of the Genie in a Bottle story has the genie grow more and more bitter as the eons go by and nobody releases him, so that by the time a hapless fisherman does, he's decided not to grant any wishes but to give him his choice of death.
    • In the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, when presented with this choice, Princess Cimorene immediately chooses "old age". The genie admits that this is a clever response, but refuses to accept it until Cimorene figures out that he hasn't been trapped long enough to qualify, under the standard fairytale rules that operate in the Enchanted Forest, for the "death instead of wishes" option. Rather than get in trouble for trying to break the rules, the genie agrees to go back into his bottle until he has accumulated enough time — by which time, in all likelihood, Cimorene will be dead of old age.
    • In The Thief of Bagdad (1940), the genie asks Abu how he wishes to die, but Abu outsmarts him and gets the conventional three wishes instead.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire Tyrion replies; "Dead drunk, in bed, with a virgin's mouth around my cock, at the age of eighty".
  • In the James Bond novel You Only Live Twice, Blofeld runs a garden full of various ways in which visitors can commit suicide. Any visitor who attempts to leave without killing themselves (or staying past closing time) is tied to a geyser right before it goes off.
  • A variation occurs in Deltora Quest. Lief answers a bridge guard's question incorrectly, so the guard gives him a choice: tell a true statement and die of strangulation, or tell a false statement and be decapitated. Lief's response? Declare that he will die by decapitation. The resulting Logic Bomb destroys the curse forcing him to guard the bridge, because he was cursed to guard it until truth and lies are one.
  • In the Czech legend of Durynk and Neklan, Durynk murders the five-year-old son of an enemy duke whom duke Neklan had spared; Neklan sentences Durynk to die in a way of his own choosing: he would either stab himself with his own sword, or hang himself on any tree, or jump from a high cliff.
  • Possibly the original suicide booths come from The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, first published in 1895.
  • A Master of Djinn: A Jackass Genie offers the teens who release it one "wish" — to choose how they will die. On their behalf, Agent Fatma chooses old age, in bed, at the end of their natural lives, which even the djinn grudgingly respects. Fatma only hopes that it won't become a Cruel Mercy, since it will prevent them from dying of illness or injury, however debilitating.
  • In Arc of a Scythe, Scythe Anastasia is unique among her fellow scythes for giving those chosen for gleaning a month to live and their choice of death, as she believes they should have some agency in their fates. Some choose to quietly pass away from poison, but others ask for a Glorious Death. One of the key scenes of Thunderhead happens around a man who played the titular role in Julius Caesar deciding he wants to be killed onstage in Caesar's death scene, ensuring that his final performance would go down in history.

    Live-Action TV 
  • I Dream of Jeannie: Tony accidentally releases the Blue Djinn, who had decided to kill whomever finally freed him from his bottle. When the Djinn asks him how he wishes to die, Tony nervously says "Of old age." The Djinn isn't falling for it.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In the episode "The Obsolete Man", the titular character is given this option of execution by any method for the crime of being "Obsolete" (read: having a profession or belief that is no longer required or held by the fascist government). He chooses death by televised detonation of a bomb in his apartment. Why? Turns out it was a plan to get his executioner to accidentally lock himself in the room and ask, on national state-run television, "For the love of God, let me out." The convicted does so, for the love of God, with just enough time for only the executioner to get out. It's okay, because the executioner is sentenced to die by a method of his choice... for the crime of being obsolete.
  • Frasier: Roz once claimed her ideal way to go is on her hundredth birthday, at her place in Hawaii, and her husband is so distraught he drops out of college.
  • Game of Thrones: Tyrion Lannister and his sellsword Bronn are surrounded by the Stone Crows whose leader Shagga asks Tyrion how he wants to die. His reply is, "At the age of 80, in bed, with a belly full of wine and a girl's mouth around my cock." Shagga find this Actually Pretty Funny...then tells the clansman to kill Bronn and take Tyrion prisoner.
    • Several years later, Bronn gives a similar response.
    "In my own keep, drinking my own wine, watching my sons grovel over my fortune."
  • Rome: A teenage Octavian asks this of a man suspected of adultery, then makes it clear he's offering a choice of confessing and dying quickly, or dying after hours of agonizing torture.
  • Doctor Who: At the start of "The Doctor Falls", the Doctor wakes up strapped to a wheelchair with his enemies musing how they should kill him this time.
    Saxon-Master: How many times have you died?
    Missy: How many different ways?
    Saxon-Master: Have you burned?
    Missy: I know you've fallen.
    Saxon-Master: Have you ever drowned?
    Missy: Have you felt the blade?
    Saxon-Master: I suppose what we're really asking, my dear, is, well...
    Missy: Any requests?
  • Westworld: Armistice, lying in the dirt coughing Blood from the Mouth after being gunned down by a posse, is given a choice of dying on her back or up on her feet. She chooses to die shooting.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "I, Mudd", Harry Mudd begins his explanation of how he ended up on the android planet:
      Mudd: Worse than that. Do know what the penalty for fraud is on Deneb Five?
      Spock: The guilty party has his choice: death by electrocution, death by gas, death by phaser, death by hanging....
      Mudd: The key word in your entire peroration, Mister Spock, was, death. Barbarians. Well, of course, I left.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In "Body Parts", Quark learns he has a terminal illness and decides to auction his remains off following his death. However, after learning he was misdiagnosed and already locked into an agreement to Brunt, Quark turns to Garak to have himself killed.
      Quark: I am going to die, don't you worry about that. I just want to find the right way.
      Garak: Right way?
      Quark: I don't want to see it coming, or hear it, or feel it, or smell it. I just want to go on with my life and then, (snaps fingers) I'm dead.
      Garak: Ah. You want to be surprised.
      Quark: Exactly. I want to wake up in the Divine Treasury and have no idea how I got there.
      Garak: I see. Perhaps that can be arranged.
      Quark: Really?
      Garak: You have my word. You'll never know what hit you.

  • Along the same line is the Zeromancer song "Doctor Online." The bridge of the song is a voicemail maze with various options to off oneself.

  • From a radio spoof re last words.
    Assassin: "So comrade, we have caught up with you at last! How do you wish to die?"
    Leon Trotsky: "I do not know. Take your pick."

  • There's a nice little riddle where you are trapped by the Big Bad and he offers you three options: to be locked in a room full of blazing fire; to be locked in a room with ten assassins with loaded guns; or to be locked in a room with twelve lions who haven't eaten in three years. the last one is the option you should take, as lions who haven't eaten in three years would be dead. (Though one has to wonder, if there were twelve of them, what prevented them from resorting to cannibalism?)

  • In The Rake's Progress, Nick Shadow, claiming Tom's soul as repayment, gives him the choice of ending his life with a rope, a knife, a gun or a bottle of poison. Fortunately for Tom, Nick decides to give him one last chance.

    Video Games 
  • One of the generic pirates' taunts in the insult swordfighting minigame in The Curse of Monkey Island is "Would you rather be buried or cremated?"
    "With you around, I'd prefer to be fumigated."
  • In Fallout 4, you can visit the General Atomics Galleria, filled with Mr. Handy units that have been trying to follow their dodgy programming for the two centuries since a nuclear apocalypse. Go to the place's diner, and the Mr. Handy waiter will assure you that "It'd be my pleasure to serve you."
    Waitron: Now, how can we serve you today? Char-broiled? Diced? Mashed?
    The Sole Survivor: Wait, what?
    Waitron: At Handy Eats, serving you is our code!
  • In FTL: Faster Than Light one of the Random Encounters is a pirate who hacks your ship, disabling either your weapons, shields, or life support. You get to choose which. Alternatively, if you have a hacking system, you can Take a Third Option and have your device cancel out theirs, disabling it instead.
  • In Heroes of Might and Magic V, the Demon Lord Agrael captures a rival demon, Erasial, then offers him a choice: Co-operate with an interrogation and Agrael will make sure Erasial's death is quick and relatively painless, resist and he'll be handed over to Agrael's succubus comrade, Biara.
  • In Lost Horizon, a triad boss tries to dispose of Fenton in a way that gives Fenton a choice between two alternatives. He is thrown in the harbour sealed in a box that has a small, coverable hole in it, and he can choose between waiting to suffocate or letting the water in to drown him. Tong gloats for quite a while about it, expecting Fenton to be anguished as he decides whether to die slowly or die quickly. Of course, Fenton doesn't end up dying at all.

  • In The Order of the Stick, a Death Knight offers Vaarsuvius a choice of how they wish to die, between "Original Recipe" (being hacked apart with a sword) or "Extra Crispy" (incinerated by a fireball spell).

    Web Original 
  • On the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.drwho, an author offered posters the chance to be cast as murder victims in his next novel, and even offered them this option. Favorite suggestion: "I'd like to be licked to death by blondes, please."
  • At the end of Dragon Ball Z Abridged episode 24, Vegeta is furious that he doesn't have immortality.
    Vegeta: If it didn't grant my wish, then I'm not immortal, and Freeza's going to...g-going to...
    (Team Three Star and Dende look up to see Freeza glaring down at them. Cue the Mass "Oh, Crap!".)
    Freeza: No, don't mind me. By all means...give me some ideas.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama features a walk-in suicide booth, which offers world-weary beings a choice of ways to terminate their unendurable existence. "I'd like to make a collect call" is heard by the booth as "slow and horrible".
  • Used in Toy Story 2 when Andy is playing. "How shall she die? Shark, or death by monkeys?"
  • Doug: "How would you like to die, stoolpigeon? Quick or slow?"

    Real Life 
  • Real life example: Walter Cronkite was asked how he saw himself dying.
    Walter Cronkite: "My dream is to die on a sixty foot yacht with an eighteen-year-old mistress."
    Mrs. Cronkite: "He'll be lucky to have a eighteen foot yacht and a sixty-year-old mistress."
  • Triboulet, a jester to the French royal court, managed to offend King Francis I and was sentenced to death, but in light of his years of loyal service, Francis allowed him to choose how he would die. Triboulet replied, "I choose to die from old age". Francis burst out laughing and commuted Triboulet's sentence to exile, effectively granting him his wish.
  • Several US states allow the condemned to choose their method of execution.
  • James Otis, one of the early advocates for American independence from Britain, reportedly stated that when his time came he would prefer to be struck dead by lightning. On May 23, 1783, he was.
  • King Edward IV of England finally got fed up with his treasonous younger brother George, The Duke of Clarence and sentenced him to death. Legend has it that Edward gave George a choice as to his execution method, and he chose to be drowned in a vat of malmsey wine.