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"You know, Angel, coming from you, idle threats are so... well, idle."
Lilah Morgan, Angel "Supersymmetry"

Characters make death threats that they never seem to carry out. It's not uncommon to have people say "I'll Kill You!" all the time, only to have fights that never quite go that far, only stopping at wounding and/or maiming. Granted, "I'll seriously wound you!" doesn't sound quite as badass (though even that can be pulled off effectively), but at least it's more threatening than a Strongly Worded Letter.

See Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon for other kinds of ineffectual threats (which may or may not be death threats). Arguably Truth in Television more often than not.

Compare We Will Meet Again.

When the threat is realistic but not immediate, see You Have No Chance to Survive. Subsequently and more immediately, Prepare to Die.

Examples of Ineffectual Death Threats include:


Anime & Manga

  • Bleach seriously loves this -- there is hardly any show/anime with a lower ratio of death threats (tons, all the time) to actual deaths.
    • If you ignore the filler arcs, no-one dies until Hueco Mundo, when the arrancar start getting knocked off. Although they're really just glorified mooks, and are Dead to Begin With, so they don't really count. Granted, it is really hard to die when you're technically already dead, which accounts for 95% of the cast. One wonders why anyone bothers with death threats.
    • For especially ineffective, note Lilynette. She awkwardly asks Ukitake if he wants to fight him, and attacks him even when he's insisting that he wants to have nothing to do with fighting a little girl. After getting her attacks dodged and deflected, Lilynette ends up dirty and crying whilst screaming that she's going to kill the 'old fart'. He just thinks her attempts/threats show spirit.
  • At the end of the "Thriller Bark" arc of One Piece, Bartholomew Kuma is ordered to kill the wounded, helpless hero, and makes sure everyone knows it, ramping the drama up to breaking point- but then seems entirely satisfied with seriously wounding a supporting character, and then leaving. A bit more Justified than most; it has been implied (and recently confirmed) that the villain in question is an ally of the hero's father who, despite being missing for most of his life, would not want his son killed.
  • Dragon Ball. Goku is prone to making dire death threats when angered, but almost always seems to go back on it later because of his merciful nature, regardless of what set him off in the first place. Apparently, you can shoot all the Nameks you like, kill Krillin, and/or significantly reduce earth's population, and he'll still do his best to spare you if you give him the puppy eyes and promise you'll be good from now on. (The villains have taken advantage of this more than once.) At one point, Vegeta actually follows along behind him, killing the Ginyu Force after they're defeated because he knows Goku won't. And yes, Goku does get mad at him for it. These guys came within five minutes of killing his 5-year-old son!
  • Shaman King to an extent. While Hao has a very good reason to keep Yoh alive, he doesn't seem to kill quite as many people as he threatens to.
  • Throughout the course of Samurai Champloo, Mugen and Jin spend the entire series threatening to kill each other, only to develop a mutual respect and part ways at the end.
  • Heero Yuy of Gundam Wing could be the king of this trope. Over the course of the series he threatens to kill several characters -- Relena most famously, but also Zechs, and Quatre (when crazy due to the ZERO System). It's a running gag among the fandom, but the show implies that Heero, as a former assassin who's growing a conscience, is trying to convince himself to be able to kill people he's grown to care for.

 --Heero Yuy: Omae o korosu.

  • Ranma ½ followed this entirely, probably to keep things from being too serious. There are characters who are duty-bound to attempt to kill one another, and yet no one actually died in any way for a seven-season and thirty-eight volume span.

 Ryoga: Ranma, prepare to die!

  • To Love Ru has Golden Darkness doing a constant The Only One Allowed to Defeat You directed at Rito, always reminding him that he's her target, and she's the one who's going to kill him. Despite the fact that she's had ample opportunities to do, the worst he's gotten from her is a Megaton Punch.
  • Sanzo from Saiyuki is constantly making death threats against his servants (Gojyo, Goku, and Hakkai) to the point where no-one bats an eyelash. It's like saying, "Good morning" for him or something. Particularly funny when other characters call him out on it and when he turns around the next second to offer encouragement.

 Hakkai: May I ask a question?

Sanzo: It'd better not be a stupid one or I'll kill you.

Hakkai: Oh, I guess I won't ask then!

Sanzo: Are you trying to pick a fight??

The ensuing scene has Sanzo reassuring Hakkai that he's allowed to stay with the group, despite his previous sins. Death threats don't get more ineffectual than that.


Comedy


Comics -- Books

  • Occasionally, a Genre Savvy criminal will pull this on Batman or Robin. In one recent Robin comic, a Corrupt Corporate Executive asks, "What, are you going to dangle me out a window?" Robin says maybe, and the Exec waves it off, noting "Batman never dropped anyone, and you won't either." Batman occasionally has an answer for it, either, "Nobody's ever found out about me killing anyone," or pointing out that he may not kill you, but he can make you hurt for a very long time.
  • Batman
    • The story of Batman's first Post-Crisis meeting with Superman has a scene like this. He corners one of Magpie's goons in an alley and tries to scare him into revealing his boss' hideout. The thug refuses, knowing that Magpie will kill him if he spills the beans whereas Batman won't. Batman threatens to do worse, by hurting him in a manner such that he "stays hurt". He pulls off a desperate escape, and Batman notes with some surprise that he's more afraid of his boss than Batman.
    • An issue of Legends of the Dark Knight features a criminal Batman couldn't threaten to testify, because Deadshot was threatening him not to testify. The criminal pointed out that he didn't know what Batman would do if he didn't talk... but he knew exactly what Deadshot would do if he did.
  • Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire: Give me Winslow or I floss his teeth!!


Films -- Live-Action

  • Parodied in A Knight's Tale, in which Watt (Alan Tudyk) approaches a downcast Geoff and grimly informs him that if he betrays them, "your entrails will become your extrails..." and then, totally stumped for a suitably threatening phrase to continue his rant, settles for a flustered cry of "... Pain! *Lots* of pain!"
  • From The Dark Knight:

 Maroni: If you're trying to scare somebody, pick a better spot. From this height, the fall wouldn't kill me.

Batman: I'm counting on it. (drops him) [1]

  • While that Batman was still called out on it, he at least is scary enough to intimidate criminals. In the 60s Batman movie starring Adam West, he at one point (as Bruce Wayne) threatens to murder the members of his rogue's gallery when he hears they've kidnapped Miss KITKA. The effect is less-than-imposing.
  • The Room has a scene where Johnny threatens to kill his friend Mark, even claiming he'll "Break ev'ry bone in yor body!" Tommy Wiseau's delivery doesn't exactly loan itself to being threatening.


Literature

  • Quenthel to Pharaun in War of the Spider Queen. She makes good on them eventually.
  • In The Princess Bride, after capturing Westley, the Dread Pirate Roberts says to him: "Good night, good work, I'll most likely kill you in the morning." This happens every day, until Westley eventually becomes the pirate's successor.
  • Subverted sharply in the Secret Wars novels of Simon Green. At different points, the hero Eddie Drood and the semi-anti-hero Walker are both faced with situations where someone believes they won't kill an innocent to prevent something worse...only to discover that both men are quite capable of it and pragmatic enough to do it. Walker is 'easier' about it than Eddie Drood...but either one can ahd has done it, contrary to the beliefs of their victims. If Eddie Drood says to refrain from interfering or he will kill you, he means it.


Live-Action TV

  • There's a Xena: Warrior Princess episode in which a Dangerously Genre Savvy warlord wannabe calls her out on this. Basically, he calls her bluff on the whole pressure point "cut off the flow of blood to the brain" bit, since he has noticed that she never makes good on the threat anymore.
  • Slings and Arrows
    • Geoffrey has a tendency to make gratuitous and self-consciously theatrical death threats against both Darren and Richard.

 Geoffrey: Richard, I don't want to kill you. But I will, if you don't get to the point.

    • There's also the time he went after Darren with a sword. A prop sword, of course, and no one is hurt. Still, given his history of going insane and how seriously he seems to take it ("I need you to be my second"), Darren can be forgiven for being a little nervous.
  • Jekyll: "Now, You know what I call this, children? I call it the perfect start to an evening. The night is young, there's a beautiful girl, and someone's going to die. That's you, by the way." The threat isn't carried out because Hyde's still avoiding killing people, per his agreement with his Jekyll. So he just breaks the guy's neck (nonlethally) and toys around with his girlfriend for a bit.
  • Done beautifully in the Firefly episode "The Train Job".

 Mal: Now, this is all the money Niska gave us in advance. You bring it back to him. Tell him the job didn't work out. We're not thieves. But we are thieves. Point is, we're not takin' what's his. Now we'll stay out of his way as best we can from here on in. You explain that's best for everyone, okay?

Crow: Keep the money. Use it to buy a funeral. It doesn't matter where you go or how far you fly. I will hunt you down, and the last thing you see will be my blade.

Mal: Darn.

(kicks Crow through running engines; one of Niska's soldiers is brought forward)

Mal: Now, this is all the money Niska gave us in advance...

Soldier: Oh, I get it! I'm good. Best thing for everyone. I'm right there with ya.

  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Unification II", the Romulans threaten to kill Spock if he does not cooperate. When he points out that they would probably kill him anyway regardless, the Romulans get angry and... leave. Giving Spock and friends enough time to formulate an escape plan.
  • Throughout Supernatural's third season, Dean threatens to kill Bela on several occasions. She never takes these threat seriously, knowing that despite her being a major source of their problems and a generally terrible person, he's too noble to just murder her outright.


Pro Wrestling


Theater

  • Subverted in Susannah. After Olin Blitch pressures Susannah to have sex with him and has a Villainous Breakdown, her brother Sam comes home. Susannah tells him about what happened, and he says he's going to kill Blitch. Susannah doesn't take him seriously and remarks sarcastically. Then Sam kills Blitch.
  • Invoked in 12 Angry Men. Juror #3 fixates on the evidence that a neighbor heard the defendant yell "I'll kill you!" during a fight, and when its pointed out that people say that sort of thing all the time and don't mean it, Juror #3 says, "Oh no... if you say that, you mean it." Juror #8 baits him with insults until Juror #3 attacks him and must be held back by the others.

 Juror #3: I'll kill you! I'll kill you!

Juror #8: You don't really mean, you'll kill me, do you?


Video Games

  • Memorably averted in Final Fantasy. "I, Garland, will knock you all down!" In the original Japanese, it's, "I, Garland, will kick you around!" The Japanese really do have a verb for "to kick around". Still ineffectual, though. It's not that he wouldn't have followed up on it, the threat just got inverted.
  • A fan-made Text Adventure for Paranoia lets you make one to shadowy guy that gives the location of the traitor's hideout. The problem is that he's a cardboard cutout, making your threat look silly.
  • In Shadow Complex, at the end of the game the Commander will threaten Jason, saying that his evil organization will kill him, his loved ones, and everyone he holds dear just before getting shot in the head.
  • Niftu Cal's (you may remember him better as "the biotic god") ill-advised assault upon Wasea in Mass Effect 2 is preceded by a few boasts about how he will wipe the floor with her. It doesn't go well.
    • In the third installment, Kai Leng has the balls to taunt and threaten Commander Shepard of all people via email...after running away from his/her squad under close air support. Naturally, he doesn't last long, despite him calling in about half a platoon of Cerberus troops for backup during the fight. Part of the email was about Shepard not being able to take him on alone, too.


Web Comics

  • Belkar from Order of the Stick tends to consider any threat to his life as this (and to be snarky about it, too), since he has a high opinion of his fighting skills. To tell the truth, he's been right thus far. Especially with Crystal - he's a badass optimized for melee combat and she's a clueless assassin facing him head-on and now alone:

 
Crystal: You little twit, I'm gonna kill you!

Belkar: Yeah, and I'm gonna drop a house on you and sing about how I represent the Lollipop Guild. C'mon, let's keep our threats realistic, shall we? I mean, if you said, "You little twit, I'm going to temporarily inconvenience you!" I'd think, hey, she might really mean it!

Western Animation

  • The Decepticons were constantly threatening the Autobots with death in The Transformers Generation 1. Even in Rebirth, Cyclonus tells the Autobot Head Masters "Prepare to Di-ee." Starscream has a silly moment or two with this, screaming die while being blasted onto his backside! Megatron only uses alternative phrases to be colorful. That made it a bigger shock when the same line he had been using for two seasons finally was made good on when he killed Brawn with one shot in The Movie.
  • Futurama
    • Happens a few times, from example during an alien death-match where an adrenaline-crazed Zoidberg cut off Fry's arm.

 Fry: Dr. Zoidberg is my friend, and though a woman has come between us, I say we'll always remain friends. And you know why? One reason.

(Zoidberg cuts his arm off as he speaks)

Fry: (beating Zoidberg with his own severed arm) You bastard! I'll kill you, you bastard!

    • Or when Fry drank Bender's last beer, or the time...
  • In Re Boot Bob once threatened to dismantle Mike the TV. He even has Glitch turn into a screwdriver as part of the threat.
  • In The Venture Brothers the Monarch makes all sorts of bombastic (but unfulfilled and non-intimidating) death threats to Rusty Venture throughout the entire series. He does, however, manage to kill or defeat his other enemies every so often.

Notes

  1. In point of fact, a fall from the fourth story of a building is more than capable of killing somebody
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