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Prove I Am Not Bluffing

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When a character deliberately Kicks the Dog or crosses the Moral Event Horizon just to prove a point. Maybe you want to prove that you are willing to make good on a threat, maybe you just want to show that you're not the kind of person they want to mess with. Either way the message is the same: "I'm willing to do this just to make a point, so imagine what I'd do if you gave me a reason." Particularly effective when the character harms something they like (like one of their favorite henchmen), as it shows they will be far less merciful to anything that they don't like.

This can backfire if taken too far though; it might simply convince your opponent that you are beyond all reason or that you cannot be trusted, and decide that a more decisive and ruthless approach is needed, or maybe you end up looking so Obviously Evil that your otherwise reasonable demands are no longer taken seriously, which often happens when there is a clash between moderates and extremists. On the other hand, maybe that's what you are counting on, and you want the other side to escalate things to make them look bad, extreme and unreasonable. And so on it goes, so this trope can lead to, or be the result of, some complex Gambit Pileups and Serial Escalations.

See If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten! for when a character is challenged to do this. The inverse of Ineffectual Death Threat.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the "Unknown Tales" filler of Bleach, Byakuya destroys the Zanpakuto of his own sister in an effort to convince all the other Zanpakuto that he's actually on their side.
  • When Wild Hunt took over an idol production studio in Triage X, their leader executes an innocent idol on live television to show he's dead serious.

    Fan Works 
  • In Silly Hat Productions' Umineko: When They Cry parody episode "Epitaph", Lambadadelta declares she's going to raise the stakes to motivate Battler. If he doesn't offer at least one theory by the end of each episode, she will permanently erase one of the 'game pieces' who'd died — and since he failed to do so in that episode, she starts by erasing Doctor Nanjo.

  • In Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Dr Evil blows up the White House to demonstrate his giant moon-based laser... except it was actually just footage from Independence Day. (Which is to say, he played a clip from the movie to his audience in The '60s rather than actually blow up the White House.)
  • Battle Beyond the Stars. After delivering his ultimatum to the people of Akir, Sador orders his snipers to gun down random citizens simply to show he means business.
  • Similar to the example above, the Big Bad in Battlefield Earth fits the protagonist's Love Interest with an explosive collar. As a demonstration, he puts another one on a friend of his and is about to push the button, when the protagonist begs him not to, promising to never ask him for anything again. The Big Bad agrees not to kill him... before passing the trigger to his Number Two. At the end, the Big Bad is preparing to fulfill his threat to kill the Love Interest, not realizing that the protagonist has taken her collar and clamped it around the Big Bad's arm.
  • In Broken Arrow (1996), the villain detonates one of the two stolen nuclear warheads in an abandoned copper mine. "Otherwise, some DC civilian would say I haven't got the guts."
  • In Freerunner, the collar of one of the freerunners is detonated just to demonstrate that yes, the collars will kill them and yes, they have no compunction over pushing the button.
  • A classic staple of James Bond-style supervillains; appearing on a huge video screen before the U.N. to commit an act of wanton destruction just to demonstrate that they have the means and the will to do worse if their ransom is not met. The closest an actual Bond movie came to this was Thunderball: used the giant screen to make threats, but didn't actually set off any of the nukes, just proved they had them.
  • Danny Roman in The Negotiator invokes this trope when he fakes shooting one of the hostages.
  • A New Hope: Tarkin destroys Alderaan with the Death Star to demonstrate the destructive power of the station. In Expanded Universe accounts, this proves to be a colossal political blunder; many planets in the Empire realize that its leadership is made up of Ax-Crazy Stupid Evil psychopaths who have to be stopped at all costs, and the Rebel Alliance gets an upsurge in support. It helps that the Empire's means of destroying planets got destroyed, otherwise fear of the Death Star might actually have kept the local systems in line.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Blackbeard tries to coerce Jack into helping him by threatening to shoot his love interest, who happens to be Blackbeard's daughter. When Jack calls him out on it, Blackbeard orders the Quartermaster to bring him six pistols, four unloaded. Jack gets the message fairly quickly. After he leaves, Angelica asks Blackbeard if he knew which guns were loaded. His answer is a not-very-reassuring "Of course, my love."
  • In The Professional, Matilda takes a gun and fires several wild shots out the window at the passerby below to show Leon that she has enough disregard to human life to become an assassin.
  • In The Purge, when the Sandin family insist they don't know where the homeless man the purgers are hunting is, one of them starts screaming at the family to hand him over. The Polite Leader shoots him in the face. This is partly because he genuinely dislikes that kind of rudeness, but also for the purpose of this trope.
    "Just keep in mind, Mr Sandin. He was my friend, and you are not."
  • In Ronin (1998), Gregor is not only prepared to, but actually does shoot at a random child in a playground simply to make the point that he is a conscienceless killer who should not be double crossed. The man he is dealing with frantically assures him that the demonstration will not be necessary and pushes away his hand so the bullet misses.
  • Discussed in the prologue sequence of Swordfish, in which Gabriel Shear argues with two FBI agents (while calmly drinking coffee while his men hold a lot of people hostage in a bank across the street) about Dog Day Afternoon and how the only proper way Sonny would get the happy ending he deserves would be for him to start killing hostages and scare the cops into compliance. Shear is Dramatically Missing the Point: the film is Based on a True Story and Sonny never did that in the film because the real Sonny never did that, and if Sonny had started an indiscriminate slaughter, there was no way the audience was going to accept him winning.
  • In Taken, Bryan demonstrates that he is willing to do anything to get his daughter back by shooting the wife of his French police contact and threatening to kill her if he won't co-operate.
  • The Crimson Jihad in True Lies set off one of their nukes in the Florida Keys as a demonstration.

  • Victor Cachat does this in Honor Harrington novel Crown of the Slaves. he firmly believes that Torture Is Ineffective so when he was trying to get information out of four bad guys he tied them to chairs in a circle so they could see each other, told them that information he wants is usefull, but not critical and that if they won't talk he'll kill them all and to prove his point shot one of them. The rest was quick to cooperate.
  • When John Rain first meets rookie CIA agent Kanezaki, he breaks the neck of Kanezaki's bodyguard (after the bodyguard had already been immobilized) just to make it clear he really is a cold-blooded killer. Although their relationship improves a lot over the years, Kanezaki doesn't forget this incident and is wary of antagonizing Rain too much.
  • In The Otherworld, the Pack's enforcer Clay doesn't need to fight all that often in order to keep non-Pack werewolves in line, because everyone knows what he did to that one guy...
  • In The Vampire Files by PN Elrod, Jack Fleming's friend shoots him with a crossbow in front of several of their enemies, partly to invoke this. However, they didn't realize Jack was a vampire, and since he'd deliberately missed Jack's heart, Jack recovered fairly quickly.
  • In The Night Angel Trilogy, the king attempts to intimidate the city's best killer, Durzo Blint, into working for him. Durzo explains how his apprentice, Azoth, is a prodigy, a valuable student, and a worthy successor... and then rams a knife through his heart, casually explaining that if he's willing to kill someone so useful to him to make a point, there's absolutely nothing they can hold over him that he wouldn't be equally willing to let go. He's bluffing: the blade is illusory, and Azoth is knocked out by a carefully dosed poison to sell the bit. Seems he's learned his lesson; the last time he was in such a scenario, he left his loved one to die, and in response to this apathy his magical artifact (which runs on The Power of Love) abandoned him permanently.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Boardwalk Empire ruthless gambling tycoon Arnold Rothstein intimidates Frankie Yale by recounting a story about a man whose party trick was to swallow and then regurgitate pool balls. Rothstein, unlike the man in question, knew that the cue ball was just slightly larger than the other balls, so one night he bet the man $10,000 that he couldn't do his swallowing trick with the cue ball. The ball became lodged in the man's throat and he choked to death then and there. Rothstein ends the story by saying, "Do you know what the moral of this tale is, Mr Yale? The moral of this story is that if I'd cause a stranger to choke to death for my own amusement, what do you think I'll do to you if you don't tell me who ordered you to kill Colosimo?"
  • Breaking Bad: in "Box Cutter", Gustavo, the main villain and drug lord, brutally slits the throat of his employee just to prove a point to the main characters, Walter and Jesse. Curiously, none of the characters are exactly sure just what the point is supposed to be. Walter initially thinks it is a warning against crossing Gustavo, since if he is willing to kill his own man then he will not hesitate to kill them, but later thinks it was actually punishment for the employee trying to take on more responsibility than Gus had given him and a warning to understand your role in an organization.
  • In a rare heroic example, in one episode of Burn Notice, Sam Axe pretended to be an unstable and sadistic hitman sent to interrogate and kill a particular criminal. During the course of his interrogation, Sam went into a "crazed state" during which he sliced the tip of his thumb open so that it bled quite a bit, then smeared his blood all over the other guy's face. It freaked the hell out of the crook and served to convey the point that if Sam was willing to do that to himself, you do not even want to think about what he will do to you. The crook was so unnerved that he told Sam everything he needed to know without making Sam have to resort to actually torturing the man.
  • In The Otherworld TV adaptation, Jeremy easily defeats a Mutt who challenges him for Alpha and then has Clay rip the guy's teeth out. He is sending a message to the other Mutts to warn them of the consequences of challenging the Pack. If he is willing to do this to some idiot who wasn't really a threat, then the consequences to anyone who actually hurts a Pack member will be catastrophic.
  • The Star Trek: The Original Series episode, "Errand of Mercy", Kor, governor of the occupied planet of Organia, demands that Kirk and Spock, who were obviously sprung by the natives, be surrendered and has 200 hostages shot to show he is serious in his demands. Unfortunately for him, the Organians are Sufficiently Advanced Aliens and have no reason to fear, let alone bow to, such threats.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "A Small Talent for War", the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations expresses doubt that the aliens have the power to destroy all life on Earth. The alien ambassador tells him to keep watching the skies. Several minutes later, the British ambassador receives a report from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich that Halley's Comet has disappeared, having been destroyed by the aliens.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Heroes Unlimited adventure "Mall of Terror", the Crime Masters are threatening to blow up a mall unless the police pay them a ransom of three million dollars. They plan to detonate the bomb and kill all the hostages even if their ransom demands are met, just to prove that they weren't bluffing.

    Video Games 
  • In Skies of Arcadia, Galcian unleashes the Rains of Destruction on Valua to prove his own invincibility. All the more crushing because Valua has (under his command) previously devastated every other world power, thereby leaving all of Arcadia in economic and social ruin.


    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Batman: Assault on Arkham, KGBeast thinks Amanda Waller is bluffing about the squad's explosive implants. Waller dares him to test it by trying to leave the prison. He does, and gets his head blown off for his trouble.
  • In G.I. Joe: Resolute, Cobra Commander vaporizes Moscow and its ten million people to prove what his weapon can do and what he's willing to do with it. In a meta-sense, this also proves beyond a shadow of doubt that this isn't the cartoonish Commander viewers were used to and this Commander is as dangerous as he claims.
  • A heroic example is lampshaded in Harley Quinn (2019) when Alfred explains to a still-recovering Bruce Wayne why he cannot fight crime until he is better.
    Bruce: Enlighten me. Why can't Batman be back?
    Alfred: (reaches for some socks) Still unable to reach your feet?
    Bruce: I've been rocking slip-ons, my feet run hot. But if you think I'm too weak to get back out there and I'll fail, just say it!
    Alfred: You're too weak and will fail.
    Bruce: I am STRONG! And will SUCCEED!
    Alfred: Fine, prove it, put these on.
    (Bruce Wayne, BATMAN, proceeds to embarrass himself in front of Alfred by trying to reach for his socks with a toy claw, proving that he is still too weak to fight crime at the moment).
    Alfred: Oh that's right, you can't! Seems to me the city's protector should be able to put his sockie-poos on his feetsies. But what do I know? I just took you in after your parents were murdered, loved you like I would my own son, cared for you unconditionally, changed your diapers when you were in a coma.
    Bruce: You don't know what it's like to be a warrior!
    Alfred: I'll have you know, I was in her majesty's royal navy.
    Bruce: What did you guys fight over? Who gets the last scone?
    Alfred: On occasion, we did. Your ego is writing checks your broken body cannot cash, sir.
  • Spoofed on The Simpsons in the episode "You Only Move Twice":
    Scorpio: Good afternoon, gentlemen. This is Scorpio. I have the Doomsday Device. You have 72 hours to deliver the gold or you'll face the consequences. And to prove I'm not bluffing, watch this.
    UN Man 1: [all the men look at the explosion] Oh My God, the Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge!
    UN Man 2: Maybe it just collapsed on its own.
    UN Man 1: We can't take that chance.
    UN Man 2: You always say that. I want to take a chance!
    Scorpio: [scoffs] "Collapsed on its own"... You have seventy-two hours.
    • Also parodied by Fat Tony in one of the mafia-centric episodes. "You have 24 hours to get us the money. And to show we are serious... you now have 12 hours."
  • In the Australian satire Go to Hell!! (1997) by Ray Nowland, Ancient Astronauts led by G.D. are interfering in the evolution of Mankind so G.D. can set himself up in a god. Unfortunately, humanity has stopped being frightened by the holograms he's sending down from his spaceship and started worshipping other gods. So G.D. sends a gift-wrapped nuclear weapon to King Ramses II.
    G.D. hologram: You think I'm just a bluff, right?
    Pharaoh: You are just an illusion!
    G.D.: That box isn't an illusion. Open it!
    Pharaoh: Why? What is in it?
    G.D.: Powerful magic! But use it...and die! Unless you obey the will of God. Well, chickenshit? Call my bluff! OPEN IT! (vanishes)
    (King Ramses II has his slaves carry the box off into the desert. Cue thermonuclear explosion.)