WikEd fancyquotesQuotesBug-silkHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extensionPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifierAnalysisPhoto linkImage LinksHaiku-wide-iconHaikuLaconic

Darwin Mayflower: I'll kill your friends, your family, and the bitch you took to the prom!
Hudson Hawk: Betty Jo Bialowski? I can get you an address on that if you want.


A character threatens another with something that not only fails to scare them, but in fact they would consider a favor. For example, saying "I'll Kill You!" to the Death Seeker, or describing the tortures you could use to the person who is Too Kinky to Torture, or telling someone "I Have Your Wife" to be met with the response that You Can Keep Her.

Compare Insult Backfire and Attack Backfire. Often a Sub-Trope of Tempting Fate and the related Be Careful What You Say, Threat Backfire is also a common effect of telling someone they have to Go Through Me, responding to someone else's threat with You and What Army?, or using virtually any Stock Phrase featuring the words "over my dead body" or "from my cold, dead fingers". Also a common response to challenges on the lines of "Oh yeah? And what are you gonna do about it?" when the threatened person treats this as if it were a real request for information, to be answered with a practical demonstration of more or less devastating force, accompanied by the answer "This".

This one has a few variations:

  1. The person being threatened is not being funny, just very Literal-Minded or socio-linguistically tone-deaf. The Comically Serious will often give this kind of response. May also be caused by or overlap with Blunt Metaphors Trauma. Depending on the size and menacingness of the threatened, this one can also be a case of Do Not Taunt Cthulhu.
  2. The person being threatened knows it's a threat, but decides to take it at the Exact Words face value for comic effect at the other's expense. Most common when the person threatened is a Trickster or Deadpan Snarker. Can still be fatal.
  3. The person making the threat is either grandstanding or bluffing, and now finds they have to follow through, possibly to their own defeat, if they're even given time to respond at all.
  4. The person making the threat means it literally, even if they might be hoping it doesn't have to come to that: not quite such a straight play, but still straight-ish. May lead to an Oh Crap moment on the threat-issuer's part.
  5. Not infrequently sighted subversion: the person on the receiving end of the threat is trying to exploit the fact that it will be taken in Exact Words terms, and is actually Briar Patching. And then, of course, it turns out this one can backfire, or at least misfire, too (see the Futurama example).
Examples of Threat Backfire include:

Anime and Manga


Ciel: *blushing* Your proposition is intriguing, but I'll pass.

  • In Black Cat, there's Train's first meeting with Creed. Train, being annoyed that he's assigned a partner, disdainfully tells Creed that he doesn't need him, and pretty much threatens him to shove off or he'll kill him. Unfortunately, Creed is a masochist. Cue Creed constantly stalking Train and bothering him.
  • In Fairy Tail, during the Luxus arc, Evergreen threatens to turn many of Fairy Tail's female mages into dust if Erza doesn't submit to her. Erza immediately responds by pointing dozens of swords at Evergreen, and praising Evergreen for valuing victory above her own life.
  • In chapter 516 of Naruto, after Kabuto brings Deidara and Sasori back as revenants this exchange occurs:

Sasori: (referring to Kabuto) The Akatsuki must have gone to hell in a hand basket to be taking orders from such a ragged fool...
Deidara: I wouldn't be so arrogant considering you died master "true art is beauty that endures eternally", especially when your weakness is a huge bulls-eye in the middle of your chest! Hm!
Sasori: (menacingly) You want to die too, Deidara?
Deidara: I am dead, both of us are!


Comic Books

  • In Secret Six #20, Catman's infant son gets held hostage, and the hostage-takers threaten to drop him off a building. For every one of his team he kills in the next five minutes, they will allow his son to live for one year. After long deliberation, Catman tells them to go ahead and drop his son, and that he is going to hunt them all down. He then goes on a pre-emptive Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • A sleazy little creep is cornered by Boba Fett and Fett's ex-wife Sintas and tries to use a hostage to save his life. It doesn't go quite as planned.

Pizztov: Drop your weapons, or I will be forced to kill this annoying female.
Fett: No, kill her.
Sintas: Yeah, I don't care.



  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery: Austin takes Scott Evil (Dr. Evil's son) hostage.

Austin: It seems the tables have turned again, Dr. Evil.
Dr. Evil: Not really. Kill the little bastard. See what I care.


Darwin Mayflower: I'll kill your friends, your family, and the bitch you took to the prom!
Hudson Hawk: Betty Jo Bialowski? I can get you an address on that if you want.


Bug: Place projectile weapon on the ground.
Edgar: You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.
Bug: Your proposal is acceptable.

    • Also:

Dr. Weaver: You don't want to eat me. I'm a very important person on my planet. Like a queen, a goddess even. There are those who worship me. I'm not saying this to impress you, I'm just warning you it could start a war!
"Edgar":[1] War? Good! That means more food for my family. All 78 million of them! That's a lot of mouths to feed, your highness!


Doc Ock: (entering the carriage) He's MINE!
Train Passenger: You want to get to him, you gotta go through me!
(All the other passengers take up his claim and surround Spider-Man)
Doc Ock: Very well...
(Doc Ock shoves the passengers aside with his tentacles)

  • In Ruthless People, two clueless kidnappers snatch Danny De Vito's wife and threaten to kill her. Since he was planning on doing that himself it isn't much of a threat.
  • And, of course...Star Wars:

Greedo: Jabba's through with you. He has no use for smugglers who drop their shipments at the first sign of an Imperial cruiser.
Han Solo: Even I get boarded sometimes. Do you think I had a choice?
Greedo: You can tell that to Jabba. He may only take your ship.
Han Solo: Over my dead body!
Greedo: That's the idea... I've been looking forward to this for a long time.

    • And then Han inverts it on Greedo:

Han: Yes, I bet you have. (shoots Greedo under the table)


Grievous: I've been trained in your Jedi arts by Count Dooku himself.
Obi-Wan: Good, because I trained the Jedi who killed Count Dooku.


Seraph: I need to speak with him.
Club Hel bouncer: The only way you're getting through that door is over my big, dead ass.
Seraph: So be it. *asskicking ensues*


"Cupcake": Maybe you can't count, farmboy, but there's four of us and only one of you.
Kirk: So get a few more guys, and then it'll be an even fight.

  • In The Dark Knight Saga, Lucius Fox to accounant Reese, who is threatening to expose Bruce Wayne as Batman: "Let me get this straight: You think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands. And your plan is to blackmail this person? Good luck." Somewhat subverted in that his failure to successfully blackmail the company didn't stop him from threatening to reveal the secret anyway; the Joker took care of that.
  • In Unstoppable, Galvin threatens to fire Frank if he tries to chase down the runaway train. Problem is, Frank was 13 days away from getting laid off, so he doesn't care if he loses his job a little earlier than he was planning.
  • Happy Gilmore: Shooter McGavin gets nailed this way multiple times.

McGavin: I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast.
Happy: You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?
McGavin: (Beat)

    • Then, later.

McGavin: Yea, and Grizzly Adams had a beard.
Lee Travino: Grizzly Adams DID have a beard.

  • In the horror film "Midnight Movie" the cop tells the killer that if he wants to get to the girl behind him, "You'll have to go through me." The villain obliges. Literally.
  • In the first Transformers movie, Sam Witwicky was arrested due to going to the junkyard and presumably for stealing a car (which the police were ironically responding to his call about someone stealing his car). While being interrogated at the police station, the Sheriff asks Sam if he was on drugs, but denies it, although the police man seems to find incriminating evidence of pills in him (although the pills were actually his dog's painkillers, which his parents backed him up). The Policeman then tries to threaten to bust him upon letting him go free, only for it to backfire when Sam Witwicky asks him if the policeman was on drugs.
  • Towards the end of The Rocketeer, as Cliff Secord fights movie star Neville Sinclair who's actually a Nazi spy, aboard a Nazi zeppelin:

Cliff: (after punching Sinclair) Where's your stuntman now, Sinclair?
(Sinclair punches Cliff back)
Sinclair: I do my own stunts.

  • In The Stinger of the The Avengers. Although it probably wasn't intended as a threat or warning, it sounds like it to the audience.

The Other: Humans... They are not the cowardly wretches we were promised. [...] To challenge them is to court death.
[Cut to Thanos, whose comic incarnation is a Death Seeker who is literally in love with the The Grim Reaper, with a Slasher Smile on his face.]

  • In Dreamworks' The Road to El Dorado, two Spanish con men (Tulio and Miguel) find the city of gold and are mistaken for gods. Immediately taking advantage of this, they warn that they are not to be trifled with, or else they will bring their wrath upon the city. "And you don't want that, do you?" Unfortunately, that's exactly what the High Priest wants - for the gods to cleanse the city of the wicked and visit their wrath upon the non-believers. Moments later, a series of coincidences makes it look like Miguel and Tulio cause and then avert a volcanic eruption, so their cover isn't blown yet. (It's implied that the chief knew the truth about them, but he figured that they could put an end to the human sacrifices that the high priest gets a kick out of.)
  • Mulan starts off with the Huns scaling the Wall of China. Immediately, one of the guards lights the signal to alert China of his presence. But when he tells Shan Yu about what he had done, Shan Yu is actually happy to hear that, as he wants China to feel afraid of him.


  • In the Discworld novel Interesting Times, Cohen the Barbarian does this quite often—killing people that have said in substance: "I'd rather die than..."—because the barbarians' concept of honor is rather devoid of subtlety. To the point that Cohen's companions start warning people beforehand to not say this kind of thing around their leader. As Cohen states in exasperation, "Why are they saying this if they don't mean it?"
  • Unknown spy story: the Soviets produce a movie with a look-alike of a south-east Asian leader having sex with women. After showing the leader the movie and threatening him, the leader asks for a copy of the movie, knowing that the spectacular sexual abilities of the actor would only increase his standing among his people.
  • O. Henry's 1910 story "The Ransom of Red Chief" is a perfect example. Two men kidnap a rich man's son, but when they send the ransom note, the father decides to let them keep the kid for a while. The kid, who calls himself 'Red Chief' is a terror, forcing the two kidnappers to play games and being a general nuisance. When they return the boy, the father has to actually distract his son from chasing after them as they flee out of town.
  • In Neverwhere, Richard tells Croup and Vandemar that if they want Door, they'll have to kill him first. Vandemar is (quite unironically) delighted: "Thanks!"
  • In the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, a shadowy group called the Rakshana kidnap the titular character's brother, and tell Gemma that if she gives the group her magic, they'll let him go. This is after a phenomenally bad day. So, Gemma snaps, and informs the Rakshana that their plan has backfired: up until then, she's been polite and played nice. And now, the only thing keeping her from kicking all of their asses is the fact that her brother is still alive. If they kill him, she'll kill them. They call her on this, and she kicks their asses without killing them.
  • In Proven Guilty of The Dresden Files, Harry confronts what turns out to be a White Court vampire during a horror convention. When Harry starts getting threatening, the vamp smugly says that Harry wouldn't dare risk The Masquerade by using magic in public. Harry responds that he's in the phone book, under "Wizards." The vampire becomes notably less smug.

Live Action TV

  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer ("Buffy versus Dracula"), Xander, who has been Renfielded, tells Riley that if he wants "The Master" "you will have to go through me first". Riley flatly responds "Okey-dokey" and punches him out of the way.
  • On Dan for Mayor Mike believes (rightfully) that Dan caused Mike's fiance to break off their engagement. To get revenge on Dan, he buys the bar where Dan is working just so he can fire him. Dan is quite happy about it since he was going to quit later that day, and this way he is owed severance pay which he would not get if he quit on his own.
  • On NCIS, Gibbs is threatened in the usual way by a gangster: "...I'll kill your brothers, your uncles, your father. And after their funerals, I'll kill you." Gibbs responds, "No brothers, no uncles, my father passed years ago. I do have three ex-wives, whose names and addresses I will gladly fax on to you..." "huh. He hung up."



Draco: Thinking about being my friend yet, Potter?
Harry: No way!
Harry: Yeah. You can torture my friends all you want!


Video Games

Western Animation

  • Briar Patching backfire: in the first episode of Futurama, Fry is upset at the fact he's been assigned the job of "delivery boy";

Fry: What if I refuse to do it?
Leela: Then you'll be fired...
Fry: Fine!
Leela: ...out of a cannon. Into the sun.

  • In The Venture Brothers, a villain threatens Dr. Venture with the death of his sons, shouting, "GIVE ME THE HAND OF OSIRIS!" Doc's response? "Give me head." This horrifies the villain.
  • The Justice League episode, "Divided We Fall" provides this example:

Brainthor: (to a restrained Flash) Looks like The Question was right all along... I kill you, and then Armageddon. Right on schedule. (points gun at Flash.)
Flash: No! (vibrates arms fast enough so as to escape from Brainiac's mechanical guards.)
Brainiac: Are you going to fight me, boy?
(Threat appears to take effect. Flash slumps forward and cautiously retreats, then turns around and speeds away.)
(Brainiac relaxes.)
(Brainiac takes a hit from the opposite direction. And then another hit. And another hit. And another and another and another... Flash ran all the way around the world in less than a fraction of a second, hitting Brainthor each time. Thereby extracting Brainiac from Luthor molecule by molecule!)

  • One of Family Guy's Cutaway Gag bits had a slave trader getting annoyed by the slaves constantly asking "Are we there yet?" Finally he yells "If you don't stop it I'm turning this ship around right now!"
  • The Penguins of Madagascar, when Skipper has stolen the batteries from Julien's boombox to shut him up:

Skipper: You can have this battery when you pry it from my cold dead flippers!
Julien: Ew, sounds gross. But do-able!


Cartman: You piece of crap! I'll kill you!
Grandpa: That's the spirit, tubby!

    • "Quintuplets 2000":

Officer: Freeze, asshole!
Grandpa: Aw, go ahead and shoot me! I dare ya!
Officer: Don't push me, man!
Grandpa: Pull the trigger, you little pussy!

  • Cheryl from Archer causes this in a few occasions: threaten to kill her and she'll probably rip her top off in anticipation of her world's gushiest orgasm.

Real Life

  • The KGB once tried to blackmail the French consul, by threatening to expose him with pictures of him having sex with other men. His response? "Go ahead, I don't care. Everybody knows I'm gay."
    • For reference, homosexuality (or, at least, gay sex) was illegal in the Soviet Union. They likely assumed that all other nations would have the same views (even though they saw them all as "imperialist pigs").
    • This was actually a valid blackmail tactic during the Cold War and western security agencies viewed homosexuals as a security risk because of that. It just didn't happen to work in this case.


  1. the bug who has taken Edgar's form
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.