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On Three

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Chandler: Okay, on three. One... Two...
Joey: Why don't we just go on two?
Chandler: Why two?
Joey: Because it's faster.
Chandler: Yeah, I coulda counted to three like four times without all this "two" talk.
Friends, when the gang is lifting a heavy entertainment center into place

Any time precise timing is called for, you're likely to hear the phrase "On three: One, two, THREE!"

Since this has been heard countless times before, variations are common. A common parody is: "WAIT! Do we go on three, or do we say 'One, two, three' and then go?" This usually results in an awkward conversation about how best to count or the characters becoming even more confused and going at the wrong time or missing their opportunity entirely. (Genre Savvy characters may avoid this by counting down from three instead: "Three, two, one, GO!") Another common joke is to have someone simply go "Three" without counting to one or two first.

If the action which the count builds up to is a painful one (e.g. ripping duct tape off a bound captive's mouth), then the action may be taken before reaching the promised "three", to get it over and done with before the subject of said action realizes it's started.

The reason why "three" is the usual number is because it's the smallest number of points you can use to establish a regular time interval. If you only count to one, nobody can react fast enough to the person saying "one". If you only count to two, you don't know how long the time is supposed to be between numbers, so nobody knows when to listen for the "two" either. Counting to three establishes both the point in time and interval between numbers, so everyone can figure out when the "three" will happen.

Sub-Trope of Rule of Three. Not to be confused with Counting to Three, which is when you don't want the person counting to get to three, or with One, Two, Three, Four, Go! (in which the "go" is the Japanese word for "five").

Not to be confused with the film On the Count of Three, although this trope is mentioned and parodied in there.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The dub of Yu-Gi-Oh! has Joey and Tristan agree to try ramming a blocked door "on three", then proceed to shout "Three!" in unison immediately to ram right away. And then they shout and shove again and again until the door breaks. Well, their best friend is dying in a fire in there, what do you expect? This goes on to become their Running Gag.
  • Similarly, in the Rebuild of Evangelion English dub:
    Misato: "Push on three... THREE!"
  • Matsudaira Katakuriko from Gintama has a subversion for his own Running Gag, he has a tendency to threaten that he will shoot after counting to three seconds... but then shoots after the first count. What happened to two and three? Well, Matsudaira doesn't need'em, because a man only needs the number 'one' to get ahead in life.

    Fan Works 
  • Paper Mario X 2:
    Sonic: [to Link] Okay, you're going to count to three. When you say "Two", you open the door!
    Link: Why two?
    Sonic: You'll see…
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genocide: Asuka manages to dislocate one of Shinji's fingers when kicking him during an particularily intense argument. When they have made up afterwards, she offers to set it right again:
    Asuka: On three, okay?
    Shinji: (nods)
    Asuka: One... Two... *SNAP*
    Shinji: Owww! What happened to three?
    Asuka: It always hurts more on three.

    Film — Animated 
  • Happy Feet Two: On two occasions when Ramon is about to jump into something, he tells those near him, "I count to three… you push me on two. But don't tell me, okay?"
    • The first instance, he tells this to Erik, Atticus, and Bo so he can go for a swim and get some food for them. They actually do push him into the water on "two", much to his surprise.
      Ramon: What'd you do that for?
    • The second time, his Love Interest Carmen is now trapped within the blocked-off Emperorland, he tells this to the Amigos and Mumble. But in a surprising twist, he willingly jumps in after her on "two".
  • The Road to El Dorado:
    • Miguel and Tulio, hiding in barrels, plan to break out on three, but a heavy chest is placed on top before they reach three, trapping them in. They spend all night trying to get out, saying "Three! Thr-r-ree!" over and over. They eventually get out… in plain view of the crew.
    • Later, As Miguel and Tulio make their escape, their rowboat gets capsized.
      Tulio: On the count of three, pull back on the rope.
      Miguel: What? [They see one of the ships heading right toward them] Agh!
      Tulio: THREE!
  • The LEGO Movie: the robot cowboys trying to catch Emmet, Wyldstyle, and Vitruvius plant some dynamite outside their room, and they try this trope, but decide to ignite the bomb before they could even get to "two":
    "On three. One!" (Boom!)
  • In The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Rick prepares for the family to put their hands in and declare "Mitchell family!" on three. His family gets confused and throws their hands up early because he counts down from three.
  • Yellow Submarine, as The Beatles are about to sing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
    John: Okay, on the beat...A-one, a-two, a-three, a-four, a-five, a-six...
    Ringo: Hey! Can't you make it three?
    John: Oh, alright! On the beat...A-one, a-two, a-three...

    Film — Live Action 
  • Done by the crows Brooks and Elwyn in Charlotte's Web whenever they are about to attack Templeton.
  • The Three Stooges has the titular trio counting to three, but this goes like this...
    "What comes after one?"
    "Two!" [accidentally spitting]
  • Lethal Weapon makes a running gag out of this joke.
  • Averted in Robin Hood: Men in Tights with "On the count of 'Kick'!"
    • Later it was "On the count of 'Jump'! Wait for it..."
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
    • It's a Running Gag that King Arthur can't say the word "three", substituting "five" for it until corrected by one of his subordinates. When it comes time to toss the Holy Hand Grenade, he miscounts again. Fortunately, the grenade didn't go off until it was thrown next to the desired target.
    • The instructions for the Holy Hand Grenade turn this into an Overly-Long Gag, making it even funnier when Arthur immediately flubs it:
      First shalt thou take out the holy pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three is the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, except that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out! Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, lobbest thou the Holy Hand Grenade toward thy foe, who, being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it.
  • In Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Max has to yank an arrow out of another character's leg, says they'll do it on the count of three, and of course does it on one.
    Pigkiller: ...what happened to two?
  • Shows up near the end of Sister Act, when Vince's goons are getting ready to off Deloris:
    Joey: Okay, we go one, two, three, shoot.
    Willy: Wait. We don't go one, two, and shoot on three?
    Joey: Get over there!
  • Snow White & the Huntsman. Although no counting to three is involved, there's an amusing scene when the dwarves are sneaking into the castle through the sewer system.
    "We move as one. (try to move, then realise there's not enough room) After you."
  • Spaceballs: The Spaceballs are closing on Lone Starr's ship
    Dark Helmet: Prepare to attack.
    Sandurz: Prepare to attack.
    Helmet: On the count of three. One, two...
    [Eagle 5 takes off into hyperactive]
    Helmet: Wait! What happened? Where are they?
  • X-Men: Apocalypse: Nightcrawler messes up the countdown for Cyclops to use his powers because the former gets distracted when he realizes that he only has two fingers (not counting his thumb).
  • Subverted (and very sensibly) in I Survived A Zombie Holocaust, when Wesley's hand is bitten and Susan needs to chop it off to stop the infection. He sets his wrist on the chopping block, but barely has time to start suggesting a count of three before she brings the ax down, not allowing him time to flinch or chicken out.
  • Scarface (1983). The gangland soldiers about to kick down Tony Montana's door can be seen doing a silent version, right before Tony's "little friend" blows open the door in their faces.
  • Comes up a few times in the Harry Potter films:
  • The Suicide Squad is about to charge in and rescue Harley Quinn, not knowing she's just rescued herself. She interrupts to ask what they're doing here, just as Rick Flag is counting down this trope.

  • Played with in Feed. George and Shaun agree to activate their mandatory zombie-infection blood tests on three, as loss of speech function is an additional warning sign of infection. But they have a prior standing agreement to actually go on two, as loss of memory is also a warning sign.
  • Animorphs: While giving first aid to a Yeerk-controlled little girl named Karen, Cassie warns her that she's going to pull on three, but goes on two, explaining that Karen would have tensed up on three.
  • Thrawn: Officers in the Chiss military count down from three, but seem to go on one, not zero.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look in a sketch about a hostage negotiator.
  • Friends: The cast attempts to move a heavy piece of furniture and Joey asks why it has to be a count of three instead of two.
  • In All in the Family, Gloria and Mike are fighting; Mike locks himself in the bathroom. Gloria says she's going to break the door open "on three". Mike opens the door as she says three (because he assumed it was "one, two, three, then hit")—and Gloria slams into him (she started running at "two" to hit on "three").
  • Played with in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Herc and Iolas agree to jump on three......then say three and jump.
  • Iron Fist (2017) shows us that even mystical kung fu masters from another dimension know the "On One" trick. In "Eight Diagram Dragon Palm", Danny Rand has to reduce a dislocated finger on Colleen Wing.
    Danny: Back in K'un-Lun my shifu would make me count to three in Mandarin before he would fix it.
    Colleen: Yee— (Danny snaps joint back into place) Shhhit!
  • Played with in the Supernatural episode "I Know What You Did Last Summer", when Sam is resetting Dean's dislocated shoulder:
    Sam: Okay, on three. One,
    Dean: AUGH!
  • M*A*S*H: In "There Is Nothing Like A Nurse," the nurses are vacated due to an impending enemy attack. Frank manages to telephone Hot Lips, and like schoolkids, they say to count to three before hanging up. Only Hawkeye and Trapper, who have been eavesdropping, finish it.
  • In one episode of NUMB3RS, Reeves gives a three-count for a team to ram the suspect's door (as is quite common in police procedural shows). Unfortunately, she realizes the door is wired just after finishing the countdown, and her warning comes too late to avert catastrophe.
    • In another episode, David and Colby are cornered by an armed suspect. Using hand signals to indicate to Colby what he's doing, David manages to work the count into his dialogue with the suspect.
    David: Give us one good reason why you're doing this. Okay? Give us two reasons. (Beat) Three!
    (David and Colby spin around and start firing.)
  • The Big Bang Theory: When Howard, Raj, and Sheldon have a "last one touching the ring wins" contest and nature calls:
    Raj: On the count of three. One, two...
    Sheldon: Wait! Just to clarify, when you get to three, do we stand up, or do we pee?
  • The "counting down from three" variant is combined with Hand Signals on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when Captain Sisko and Major Kira prepare to burst into a room where a changeling may be hiding.
  • Harry Kim introduces newly de-assimilated Seven Of Nine to this in Star Trek: Voyager. Her response: "Crude, but effective."
  • In Life (2007), Detectives Crews and Reese want to arrest a coke-dealer in an ice-cream truck (who has an armed partner hiding behind the counter):
    Crews: ... but I'm going to count to three and then *I* plan on shooting [the partner]. One... two... [fade to commercial and BANG]
    [after break]
    2nd Perp [on gurney]: You didn't say "three"! You didn't even get to three! You shot me on two! You didn't get to three....
    Reese: He's right, you know — you didn't get to three.
    Crews: I rounded up.
  • Combined with Two Scenes, One Dialogue in Person of Interest. In "If-Then-Else", Martine and a squad of Samaritan agents are getting ready to burst into a room to kill Team Machine, who are about to escape through another door to the elevator room.
    Martine: Shots to the head and center mass. On my mark, one—
    Reese: (peering through door window) —two, three!
  • Agent Carter: Edwin Jarvis and Peggy Carter are cuffed to the desk in an interrogation room, so decide to use it to break the glass. Jarvis keeps interrupting to ask questions, but as per the Rule of Three they succeed on the third try.
  • Dark Matter (2015):
    • In the second episode several of the protagonists are pinned down by corporate soldiers while Six is being held hostage for their surrender. Figuring they going to get shot even if they do surrender, they decide to come up shooting on the count of three, only to find the soldiers have vanished and left Six behind still alive, as they've been ordered to withdraw.
    • In episode 4, One and Three have been captured and tied to a chair, and realise they have to stop squabbling and work together to move in unison over to the door. On the count of three they move...and topple sideways onto the floor. It works better the next time because they work out which movement they want to make On Three.
  • The Goodies discover this trope is not a good idea when you want to open a parachute. They hit the ground on three, whereupon the parachute belatedly opens.

  • The studio version of Electric Light Orchestra's Four Little Diamonds starts with "After four. FOUR!", then the music immediately begins.

    Video Games 
  • Portal 2 has Wheatley disengaging himself from his management rail "on three", only to chicken out thinking Chell won't grab him (he thinks she's brain damaged, after all) and back up. Then he decides to let go on "one" so as not to psyche himself out.
    Wheatley: Get ready to catch me, alright? On the off-chance that I'm not dead the moment I pop off this thing. On three. Ready? One. Two. THREE — that's high, it's too high, isn't it, really. Okay, going on three just gives you way too much time to think about it. Let's... go on one this time, okay ready?
  • In Dragon Quest VI, the Hero and Carver agree to surround and try to catch a wild mare "on count of three"
    Carver: Alright, Hero, ya ready? Count of three, we'll grab her.

    Web Comics 

    Web Video 
  • On Red vs. Blue, once Grif and Simmons note a tank is targeting them, they decide to run back to the Warthog on three. If only Grif didn't start running as soon as Simmons says "One". Although right as he approaches the jeep, he narrowly misses being blasted by cannon fire.
  • During Soviet Womble's "Random Portal 2 Bullshittery", he and his co-op partner Cyanide end up spending an inordinate amount of time trying and failing to coordinate pulling two levers in sync by counting down from 3 to 1, due to them not being on the same terms of what "on 1" means. It somehow devolves into utter chaos, especially when Cyanide then suggests they instead start from 4 then count down to 1, and when that doesn't work, from 5 to 2.

    Western Animation 
  • Danger Mouse: In The Good, The Bad And The Motionless, DM realizes that whatever he says controls what happens (as he's at Stonehenge and his evil alter ego is manipulating things). As he's confronted by three blue demons and flanked by his evil self:
    DM: Demons, you're just a figment of his imagination, so after three, vanish. Three. (the demons vanish)
  • The Extreme Ghostbusters came up with a solution to the "Should we go on two or three?" dilemaa; their Battle Cry was "On Three! THREE!"
  • Used by 625 in Lilo & Stitch: The Series to avoid work.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Done by the chimera in "Somepony to Watch Over Me" prior to attacking Apple Bloom in the woods.
  • Applied with the heroes' Literal-Minded baby logic on Rugrats:
    Tommy: (to Chuckie) When I say "three," run at the cooler, okay? (they get into position) THREE!
  • Code Lyoko: In "Sabotage", Ulrich, Aelita and Odd are in Lyoko and need to get out. Ulrich comes up with a plan: they'll stand in a circle and each will simultaneously hit one of the others with an attack, so that they'll all devirtualize. But first, Odd asks if they're going on three or after three.
    • Similarly in "Replika", Ulrich is about to devirtualize Aelita and counts to three so she can prepare. She closes her eyes and Ulrich strikes on two.
  • In BoJack Horseman, Diane proposes that she counts to three and then she and Mr. Peanutbutter will simultaneously say what they want to do about her unexpected pregnancy.
    Diane: One, two...
    Mr. Peanutbutter: On three or after three?
    Diane: How can it be on three? I'm going to be saying three.
  • Fish Hooks: Subverted in "Unresolved Fishues". Milo prepares to drop Oscar from a plane.
    Oscar: On the count of three! Three...[Milo drops Oscar] I was counting backwards!


Video Example(s):


A Spy is Born Part II

Clover, please, there's a time and place for everything!

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Main / OnThree

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