Joker: (exasperated) I'm trying to!
So, the villain has taken a hostage, and to make sure the hero understands that this is serious, the villain is holding the hostage off a roof, or over some other height. Usually, in this case, the villain just has one simple, quick request: they want the code, or the MacGuffin, or the hero's surrender. The hero gives in to the demand. And then says something along the lines of "Now let him/her go!".
Poor choice of words, it turns out, because just this once, the villain is going to comply. Immediately and literally. They let go, and the hostage goes plummeting towards whatever they were being held over.
This happens so reliably that asking a villain to let a dangling hostage go, without being very specific, probably qualifies you as Genre Blind. Even so, this trope is almost always played completely straight. We can only conclude that the sight of a hostage held in the air is the hero's cue to grab the Idiot Ball. Typically, the hostage will survive, but it may require a very well timed Big Damn Heroes moment or just plain luck.
Variations can occur, as particularly cunning villains may find other, less obvious ways to turn a demand that a hostage is released into a request to kill them. Antiheroes have their own special variation, where they hold a bad guy over a ledge to get information, and then when the bad guy demands he be let go... well, you know the rest. Sometimes, someone's plea to let them go starts at a survivable drop and quickly turns negatory once they get higher up.
This can be a type of Literal Cliffhanger. For pretty much the exact opposite trope, see Take My Hand. The extremely literal version of a villain complying with You Said You Would Let Them Go. And the extremely literal version of this would be An Arm and a Leg. When the villain has no real reason to kill their hostage and seems to do it just for the sake of the gag, this is a case of a Villain Ball.
See also: High-Altitude Interrogation
- Done by Creed in the Black Cat manga. When Chronos came to destroy the Apostles of the Stars and rescue Rinslet, Creed took her hostage and told Naizer to face the Werewolf alone. Naizer requested that Creed let her go if he wins, to which Creed agrees. After Naizer defeats the Werewolf, he tells Creed to keep his promise. Creed keeps his promise, literally, and drops Rinslet off of the tower.
- On The Ocean Group's dub of Dragon Ball Z, after Dodoria pleads with Vegeta to let him go, he agrees to let him go... to another dimension! Basically Saiyan slang for killing him.
- Also done in the original series, in a much more straightforward way. When King Piccolo is confronting the king of Earth on his airplane, he grabs the king's first mate and holds him over the edge. The king demands that Piccolo let him go, and Piccolo does just that, letting the man fall to his death.
- In Attack on Titan, Hange performs a High-Altitude Interrogation on Pastor Nick while utilizing this trope.
Nick: "Now let me off this wall."Hange: "Alright." *dangles off ledge* "Would you like to be left off from right here?"
- Near the end of Batman: No Man's Land, The Commissioner Gordon's wife orders The Joker to drop the baby he's holding, with him at gunpoint. He does, so she has to drop her gun to catch the baby, giving him an opportunity to kill her with a Boom, Headshot!.
- Played with by Doctor Doom in the "Unthinkable" arc of Fantastic Four. Doom is holding Franklin hostage in hell, and holding the arm of Valeria. He promises to let Sue's child go if she'll do what he wants, and when she acquiesces, he releases Valeria's arm. She's in no immediate danger, though. The current author was deconstructing Doom's Noble Demon habits.
- Molly from Runaways shows an awareness of this trope. When a giant is holding one of her friends she follows the demand that the giant put the friend down with "And not, like, down your throat."
- In one issue of Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller sent Deadshot to stop the other villain Rick Flag from killing a Senator, with the orders that "Rick Flagg must never be allowed to kill the Senator, by any means". Deadshot made sure he'd never be able to kill the Senator - he killed him himself. I guess that teaches you not to give vital jobs to the Axe-Crazy Psycho for Hire...
- Wonder Woman:
- Wonder Woman (1942): When Eros has gone a bit mad and is standing as a giant holding Steve Trevor Diana makes the mistake of thinking Eros won't kill him due to his portfolio as a love god who is supposed to be allied with the Amazons and tells him to let Steve go. Unfortunately the reason Eros has gone unhinged is that Steve has died twice but is still running around and Eros considers him an imposter trying to steal Diana's love so Eros drops him to his third death.
- Wonder Woman (1987): Provides an example of the hero getting yelled at to let someone go, while she's grappling with Poison Ivy after tackling her out of a fourth story window. Ivy freezes up momentarily when she realizes she's just asked Diana to drop her from such a height, and Diana does as Ivy's meta-human abilities mean that Di doesn't have to worry about the fall killing her.
- In A Family of My Own Ron grabs Harry's kitten familiar (which happens to be his adopted sister's Animagus form) during first year flying lessons and takes off on his broom. When Harry follows and says to let go of her, Ron throws her toward the Forbidden Forest.
- The Bridge: When Destroyah grabs Mothra, Rodan says, "Hands off the bug!" She says, "Okay" and throws her into him.
- Fate/Long Night: When the Mother's Champion beats up Shinji and then starts strangling him, Sakura asks him to let him go, but it doesn't work until she uses a Command Spell, at which point he complies by hurling Shinji into a wall hard enough to crack it. Sakura notes she should have worded that more specifically.
- Heroic example in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines: During the Big P Pokémon Race, Iris is riding on Ash's Charizard, and after spotting two snipers in wait at the entrance of the canyon as the competitors approach, they dive in to attack them, with Charizard grabbing one of them and flying away. When the thug begins to yell to be let go, Iris looks down below and seeing a river, quickly says: "You heard him, let him go!", and Charizard nonchalantly drops him.
- Referenced and defied in Where I Reign. Hakuei, who is currently possessed by Arba, is able to break through the possession enough to see what is happening outside her mind and is horrified to see Arba holding her younger brother Hakuryuu over the ocean by his throat. She starts to invoke this trope but then stops herself.
Hakuei: You hurt him, you're choking him, let — !The words let him go almost spilled from her mouth but she pulled them back just in time; if she'd said that, then Arba would just let him fall to the waves below and make her watch him drown, wouldn't she?
- The protagonist drops the antagonist on demand in Harry Potter: Master of Malicious Compliance'' — Draco Malfoy doesn't pay attention to the moving staircase he's trying to bully Harry Potter on, so Draco falls and ends up dangling from it with Harry catching him. Draco screams "Let go of me, you filthy Mudblood!" ...So Harry does.
Harry: Poor choice of words, but okay.
- A less-fatal version of the "let me go" variation is used in The Prince of Egypt, in which Moses does this to Tzipporah, releasing the rope with which she's tied and allowing her to fall into a pool of water. She later returns the favor.
- Self-inflicted version: In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Ghoul captures Dana on a ledge in a several-story nightclub. While struggling with him, she tells him to let her go. He does, and she falls two stories onto a strobe light.
- Men in Black: The Big Bad crashes his ship into the fields of a stereotypical, shot-gun wielding redneck farmer. When the giant roach tells him to lower his weapon because he's not a threat, the redneck responds that the giant roach "can take the gun from [his] cold, dead hands." The roach complies.
- The Dark Knight: The Joker does this with Rachel. Luckily it wasn't a sheer drop he was holding her over, so Batman has time to save her.
- The Anti Heroic variety showed up in Commando, after the fact:
Cindy: What happened to Sully [the mook]?
- Made a brief appearance in The Crow movie, where Eric shouted "Let her go" and Top Dollar responded by shrugging and saying "All right".
- There's a heroic example in Hancock:
"You want down? I'm good at down! I'm really good at down!!!"Hancock, right before slamming some criminals' car into the Capitol Records Building.
- In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Will demands of Barbossa that he release Elizabeth. However, he "failed to specify when or where" to quote Barbossa, resulting in her being forced to walk the plank. They were near a deserted island though, so she didn't drown.
- In Analyze That, Paul Viti and his bodyguard, Jelly, are interrogating a snitch, which leads to this exchange after they get their information.
Paul: "Alright, pull him up."Jelly drops him.Paul: "What're you doin'? I said pull him up."Jelly: "No, you said drop him."Paul: "No... I said pull him up!"Jelly: "I specifically heard you say drop him!"Paul: "No, you heard what you wanted to hear."Jelly: "... you got me there."
- This happens near the end of Enchanted, while Robert attempts to protect Giselle from dragon-form Queen Narissa:
Robert: Over my dead body!Narissa: ...All right, I'm flexible.
- Freddy pulls this one in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. When the heroes show up to save Joey, who's tied up over a fiery pit, Nancy (who, having fought Freddy before, should really know better) shouts "let him go, Krueger!" Of course, Freddy replies, with a sarcastic bow, "your wish is my command": Joey's sent plummeting into the pit, and is only narrowly saved by the rest of the group.
- This happens in the Disney/Walden Media movie version of Prince Caspian. When some Telmarines are about to dump Trumpkin, Bound and Gagged, into the river, Susan shoots an arrow and orders them to "drop him". They do so - unsurprisingly, into the river, and the boys jump in to save the dwarf while Susan dispatches the soldiers. Trumpkin is suitably unimpressed and treats Susan to a bit of snark once they're all back on dry land.
- In a movie about the Dutch occupation of Indonesia, some soldiers have a prisoner tied upside down and are torturing him. An officer orders them to let the man go, so they cut the rope so he falls on his head and breaks his neck.
- Semi-heroic example in Max Keeble's Big Move: when Max tells the nerds to "let the bullies go" after threatening to throw them in a dumpster, they comply... by dropping them in the dumpster.
- In The Toxic Avenger, when Toxie confronts the hit-and-run driver Bozo in Bozo's car, the youngster tells Toxie to "give him the wheel" so he can drive straight. Well, Toxie dislocates the steering wheel and hands it over. Cue Oh, Crap! look on the driver's face - and a collision-induced explosion.
- In Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Viktor seizes a dissenting (Human) silver mine owner by the throat. The man croaks "Let me go." Viktor complies, hurling him headfirst into a massive stone pillar and splattering his brains.
- Underworld: Awakening has a heroic (put loosely) version of this. Selene is using a High-Altitude Interrogation on a mook that let her escape from the facility so they could use her to find Subject 2. After the mook explains this and tries to get some mercy by saying he "let her go", Selene quips "now we're even" and drops him.
- A variation in the film of A Series of Unfortunate Events occurs when Count Olaf has Sunny hanging in a cage. Violet tells him to let her go... that's the exact order he relays to his underling. Needless to say, the children had him hold that order in a hurry.
- In Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, the Djinn traps Father Gregory in his hellish home, suffering at the cross like Jesus. When Morgana wishes for the Djinn to release him, the Djinn drops Gregory's tortured body to the floor. Morgana protests that he didn't fulfill the wish and the Djinn responds by releasing Gregory from his life.
- In The Lone Ranger, Butch Cavendish grabs Rebecca as a hostage during the final battle. When the Ranger orders him to let her go, Cavendish threatens to drop her off the side of the moving train. Subverted when the Ranger tells him to do it as she always seems to land on her feet. And then the trope turns out to be invoked: when Cavendish tosses her off, she lands right on Silver.
- Matinee. In the B-Movie Show Within a Show MANT!, A woman's husband is mutated via radiation into a giant killer ant rampaging across Chicago. He picks up a car in his mandibles. Cue close-up of a terrified driver as the car is shaken from side to side. The wife shouts, "Bill, put him down!" Car smashes to the ground. Everyone winces.
- The end of Blofeld in the opening of For Your Eyes Only:
Blofeld: Put me down! Put me down!
Bond: Oh, do you want to get off? [pushes Blofeld to his death]
- The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has Peter making this mistake when Green Goblin takes Gwen and holds her over the roof of the clock tower. This starts the chain of events that ultimately leads to Peter's I Let Gwen Stacy Die moment.
- Spider-Man 2: Peter tries this when Doc Ock takes Aunt May hostage. He seems ready to hand her over, then drops her, forcing Spidey to use his webbing to grab her.
- The Hot Rock: When Dortmunder is conducting a High-Altitude Interrogation on Greeberg by having Chicken hold him over an elevator shaft, Abe says that Dortmunder doesn't have the guts to go through with it. Dortmunder tells Chicken to put him down, and Chicken promptly drops Greenburg down the shaft.
- In Black Scorpion, Breathtaker is holding Russo aloft on a catwalk in the chemical plant. Black Scorpion arrives and yells "Let him go!", to which Breathtaker replies "With pleasure" and immediately tosses him over the railing.
- A variation in The Arctic Incident. When Briar Cudgeon has Artemis as a hostage and is told to put Artemis down, he responds by cocking his gun and sneering 'I'll put him down all right.'
- In the Relativity story "August Moon," this trope at first appears to be played straight... but it turns out to be a mental projection created by the villain.
- Chuck: Played for laughs in "Chuck Versus The First Date":
Casey: Let the geek go!Sarah: Wait! Not out the window!Casey: Aren't we picky?
- In one episode of Babylon 5, Delenn demands that the Streibs release their prisoners, and they do: into outer space.
- Played for humor on an episode of Get Smart. The Chief yells, "Drop that Control agent!" to some henchgirls holding Max out a window; Max later points out that his words could have multiple interpretations.
- Happens in an episode of Psych.
- Whenever Stephanie is kidnapped by Robbie Rotten in LazyTown, this command is used, one of which had Sportacus forcing Robbie to let her go.
- Motive: A variant. In "Purgatory", the killer is holding a lit lighter standing over a man who is tied to a chair and soaked in petrol. Vega tells her to "put the lighter down". She complies by dropping the lighter into the pool of fuel at the victim's feet.
- Played very straight in the pilot episode of Night Man. A member of the group hiding weapons prototypes from corrupt government officials planning to sell them to America's enemies is kidnapped and dangled off the side of the Golden Gate Bridge.
McDermott: (after having given up the info they want) Will you let me go now?Krueger: Certainly. (to henchman) Let him go.McDermott: AAAAAAAUUUGGGGHHH!!!!
- A variation occurs in the third episode of Scream. The killer sends Emma a text message with a Sadistic Choice: should he kill the good girl or the bad girl, a reference to her friends Brooke and Riley. With Brooke not answering her phone and Riley safe at the police station, Emma writes "Do NOT hurt Brooke" to which the killer responds "As you wish". Sure enough, the killer manages to trick Riley into leaving the building with another text and kills her, while Brooke is unharmed.
- In The BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play Camberwell Green, Marilyn's husband is a security guard attempting to escape from robbers via the roof, but she gets a call from his phone which turns out to be the ringleader explaining that her friends found him dangerously close to the edge.
Marilyn: Let go of him.
Bianca: If we do that, Marilyn, he won't thank you.
- In Seneca's Latin adaptation of Medea, Medea has dragged her and Jason's remaining child up onto the roof of their house after assassinating the royal family. Jason, at the head of a mob, begs her to hand him over. Medea stabs the boy, and throws the body off the roof, saying (roughly translated) "take your son!" Then she departs via dragon chariot.
- In Sam and Max: Culture Shock, Sam and Max get information out of Jimmy Two Teeth by holding him out the window. When Jimmy demands that Max put him down, Max, as befits his status as a Heroic Comedic Sociopath, drops him.
- In Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, Jango Fett is holding a senator over the edge of the balcony of his penthouse apartment. A police ship appears and orders Jango to release the senator. Jango complies.
- In Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman confronts the Joker; they are separated by a pool of water. Joker's holding a guard hostage, and Batman orders Mistah J to let the guard go, which the Joker does. After he kicks a generator in the water and moves the guard over the water. If you sequence break by cutting power to the pool before heading to it, the guard's already dead.
- In World of Warcraft, there is a quest where you are sent to take a cultist prisoner. He surrenders, then grabs you and tries to throw you off the flying ship. Luckily, your backup arrives, and dangles him over the edge, prompting him to yell
You! Let me go now! Wait...no! Don't let me go!
- In Forever's End, the Black Demon is holding Hyuuga over a cliff edge, and Epoch tells it to let him go. Splat.
- Sonic Lost World: In the opening cutscene, Sonic and Tails are chasing Eggman as he's making off with a capsule filled with innocent animals, and Sonic orders him to "Drop the critters!" Eggman replies, "If you insist," and proceeds to do just that.
Tails: "Whoa! That's harsh!"
- In God of War III, when Zeus grabs Pandora, Kratos tells him to put her down. He complies by pressing her over his head and throwing her down. She isn't seriously hurt though.
- In Devil May Cry 3, Dante catches Lady's ankle when she's falling off the tower. She orders him to let her go, and he asks if she even thought that through. She makes him let go by shooting him, then stops her fall with a Blade Brake.
- Taken to literal extremes in this Super Stupor strip: "Nothing unhands you like a garbage disposal."
- Buck Godot makes this mistake here.
- Riff from Sluggy Freelance demands this of the demon K'Z'K when it dangles Riff's mom off the edge of the Empire State Building. He immediately realizes "Drop my mom now!" probably wasn't the best choice of words.
- Sidekick Girl knows not to say this, but Illumina doesn't, as seen here.
- The Dreamland Chronicles: The pirate laughs and observes Alex doesn't really want it.
- Sam Starfall, from Freefall, does it to himself and as a result gets dropped into a garbage bin by the people who caught him cheating at cards, here, complete with a Lampshade Hanging.
- The pilot of Darkwing Duck, with Gosalyn being held high in the air by the villain's vulture (or condor or something) to force Darkwing to give up the code for a weapon. She was saved by Launchpad, who was following the events and reacted appropriately.
- In Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, "Adventures In Squirrelsitting", Fat Cat holds Tammy and Bink by their tails, and demands the Maltese Mouse in exchange. Said artifact is given up, followed by the demand, and the literal fulfillment. Monty catches Bink (with an assist from Dale), and Chip catches Tammy, setting her up to be the Clingy Jealous Girl for an episode.
- The Powerpuff Girls: In one of the Time Travel episodes, the girls grab Mojo Jojo as he's falling into the town volcano. Mojo can be heard off-screen screaming, "Put me down! ... No, don't put me down!"
- In the Pinky and the Brain episode "Brain Noir," Brain is climbing out of the water and grabs the hand of someone reaching out to help him. Then he realizes that the person in question is his archnemesis Snowball and yells, "Get your hand off of me!" Snowball, not unexpectedly, complies.
- The Tick: Done in "The Tick vs. Pineapple Pokopo" when Arthur is captured by some mooks. Of course, Arthur can fly, but he isn't particularly happy about The Tick's choice of words either way.
- Heroic (of a sort) version in Robot Chicken. Ted Turner, having dressed himself as Captain Planet, forces someone to sign a pledge not to dump any more sludge by holding them out of a skyscraper window, after which he will let them go. The guy complies, and Turner releases him.
- This happens at the end of the VeggieTales episode "Sweetpea Beauty" when the mirror drops Sweetpea from the top of the castle. Prince Larry saves her, though.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold:
- In "Legends of the Dark Mite!", Catman is auctioning off a wild Sumatran tiger. Batman demands that Catman "Release him!". Catman obliges by opening the cage and letting the tiger loose on Batman.
- In "The Long Arm of the Law!", Kite-Man has Plastic Man's family tied to a kite that he is flying into a thunderstorm. Batman tells him to "Release the hostages!" and Kite-Man releases the tether line, sending the kite soaring into the storm.
- Implied, but not actually followed through, in Big Hero 6: The Series Episode 2, "Big Roommates", when Globby is holding Alistair Krei hostage. He ends up tripping off the building by himself.
Hiro: Let Krei go.
Krei: Wording, people!
- In SWAT Kats, Madkat takes a hostage on the roof of a skyscraper. The Enforcers order him to "put him down" and Madkat drops him over the side. Razor and T-Bone save the hostage in time.
- In The Transformers episode "The Search For Alpha Trion", as the Decepticons dangle Optimus Prime over a vat of acid. Elita One saves him by freezing time and pulling him to safety.
Elita One: Please, let him go.Starscream: Very well, my dear...let him go...into the acid!
- The Secret Saturdays: In "The Vengeance of Hibagon", Professor Mizuki is holding a crime lord over the edge of a building when Drew orders "Let him go, Mizuki!". Mizuki comments on the poor choice of words before dropping him.
- Penelope Pitstop for example: "Let her go, Zorro!"
- Happens twice in the Grand Finale of Action Man (2000). The first time this trope is played completely straight; Action Man demands Professor Gangrene lets Rikkie go while the former threatens to throw the latter out of the airship. Gangrene is more than happy to comply with this request. The second time, when Quake threatens to throw Fidget into a lava pit, Action Man is more careful with his choice of words and specifically demands he puts her down safely on the ground. Not that it stops Quake from throwing her into the pit anyway.
- The Batman: Happens in "The Apprentice" when the Joker is attempting to drop his sidekick Prank into a vat of the same toxic waste that transformed him into the Joker:
Batgirl: Let him go, Joker!
Joker: (exasperated) I'm trying to!
- Parodied in the classic Chuck Jones cartoon The Dover Boys:
Tom Dover: [To a stuffed moose head] Unhand her Dan Backslide! [To his two fellow heroes] Unhand her Dan Backslide! [Finally, to the already thoroughly-pummeled villain] Unhand her Dan Backslide!! Hey, we're getting in a rut!
- In Phineas and Ferb, this happens to Doofenshmirtz, Perry, and Newton the Gnu at the hands of Dr. Diminutive.
Dr. Diminutive: Due to your request, Heinz, I've decided to let you all go... From 40 stories up!
Dr. Doofenshmirtz: Just for the record, that's not exactly what I meant.
- Ruby-Spears Superman: In "The Hunter", the Hunter kidnaps Lois Lane and takes her to the Daily Planet's roof. When Superman tells him to let her go, he replies, "Your wish is my command." and throws her over the side. Superman saves her, of course.
- "Danger Mouse On The Orient Express" starts off with DM and Penfold on holiday in Venice where the Grand Canal is disrupted with a highway construction in progress. Penfold is plucked from the ground by a crane hook operated by Baron Greenback's henchman Stiletto. As DM intervenes, he and Stiletto fight for control of the crane hook, which catapults Penfold out of the frying pan and into the fire—Baron Greenback's hideout.
Penfold: Put me down!
Stiletto: Sure I put-a you down!
Penfold: Oh, thanks ever so— (aerial shot; he is held over a support beam with concrete filling in the opening)
Stiletto: Right in-a de cement! Da Baroni knew he could-a count on your support!
- Happens in Aladdin: The Series, when a Monster of the Week grabs Genie:
Genie: Unhand me, foul demon! [the monster pulls his arm back to throw Genie] That's not what I meant and you know it!
- In 2010, Russian naval forces arrested a group of pirates that had taken over an oil tanker. However, due to what they saw as irregularities in international law, they had to release them. So they did - they were "released" into an inflatable boat, hundreds of miles from land and with no navigational equipment.
- In 1952, police officers moved to arrest burglars Derek Bentley (age 19) and Christopher Craig (age 16) at a time when Craig had a revolver. Supposedly, after getting away from Detective Sergeant Frederick Fairfax, Bentley told Craig, "let him have it, Chris," which can be interpreted as an instruction to turn over the gun or an instruction to shoot. Fairfax was shot in the shoulder. Shortly thereafter, Police Constable Sidney Miles was sent onto the roof and fatally shot. Craig and Bentley were found guilty of murder, Bentley was executed, and the execution was so controversial that it arguably led to the abolition of capital punishment in the U.K. In 1998, Bentley's murder conviction was posthumously quashed.