A truly creative and beautifully delivered threat can sometimes be more effective than any kind of physical action when it comes to resolving a conflict. Of course, other times it can just be a precursor to a savage ass kicking. Regardless, in the real world, much like a great insult, really effective threats don’t readily spring to mind in tense situations and often only occur to us hours after the event. By which time it’s too late.
Fortunately, whether it’s a spittle-flecked screaming diatribe or an ominous warning on the end of a phone, we can always rely on the movies to show us how it should be done. Ranging from hilarious to genuinely terrifying, these iconic threats make us totally envious of their deliverers’ verbosity. We can’t help but watch and take notes for the next time someone cuts in front of us in the check-out line at the grocery store.
Here is our list of the 20 Best Movie Threats Of All Time.
20. Funny Guy – Commando
Commando, described by many critics as Schwarzenegger’s Citizen Kane (don’t look it up), is the quintessential ’80s action movie. Overflowing with everything the genre needed—guns and biceps, basically—it also broke the mould by introducing us to the subtle art of the pre-painful death one-liner.
The plot (because there is one) centres around Ah-nold’s retired Delta Force Colonel, John Matrix. Living peacefully in the mountains, he suddenly finds himself thrown back into action when his little girl is kidnapped by mercenaries in an attempt to coerce Matrix into carrying out a political assassination in South America. Forced to agree in order to save his daughter’s life, he’s escorted to the plane by a couple of bad ‘uns. Here, as always, it’s the slimy little guy who feels the need to seal his own grisly fate by mouthing off to the steroid-infused Special Forces soldier. Sully, the featherweight creep who comes up to almost Arnie’s shoulder, slips some money into the big man’s pocket and tells him to buy some beers when he lands, so it will give the others more time with his daughter. Drawing on all his emotional range, Arnie stares the weasel down and delivers this elegant retort:
19. The Three Count Threat – Die Hard
As important a part of Christmas as It’s a Wonderful Life, turkey, and family arguments, Die Hard is the action-thriller that introduced Alan Rickman to the movie-going world. Along with that balding guy from Moonlighting.
A classically trained thespian with The Royal Shakespeare Company, Rickman’s film debut saw him freed from the shackles of the theatre and just set loose to play. While Die Hard made an overnight star of Bruce Willis, it’s Hans Gruber, Rickman’s impeccably groomed “exceptional thief” who steals the show.
Gruber heads a group of terrorists who storm the Nakatomi Plaza building during the company Christmas party, taking everyone hostage in a plan to loot the $600 million in the hi-tech underground vault. Needing the vault’s access code from Nakatomi president Joseph Takagi, Gruber singles him out and sits him down in the boardroom for a discussion. With the deadest of deadpan expressions and in a voice that the actor once described himself as sounding like it was, “coming out the back end of a drainpipe,” Gruber spells out Takagi’s options for the very near future:
“I’m going to count to three. There will not be a four.”
18. Hello, my name is… – The Princess Bride
You could search for a very long time before you find anyone who doesn’t love The Princess Bride. One of the most universally adored movies with some of the most famous one-liners, you get the sense that everyone involved was having the time of their lives.
An old fairytale with a fresh twist, The Princess Bride serves up damsels in distress, evil villains, fearless heroes and dread pirates.
Beautiful farm girl Buttercup (Robin Wright) reluctantly agrees to marry the dastardly Prince Humperdinck, but is still heartbroken over the death of her true love Westley at the hands of the Dread Pirate Roberts. Out for a ride one morning, Buttercup is kidnapped by a trio of bandits led by Sicilian genius Vizzini, along with the giant Fezzik and finest swordsman in the land, Inigo Montoya. The group is shadowed by a mysterious man in black and, fleeing with the girl, Vizzini dispatches his swashbuckling henchman to deal with the pursuer. As the pair clash during a spectacular cliff-top duel, we learn that Montoya is searching for the six-fingered man who killed his father.
Skipping over Rodents of Unusual Size, Fire Swamps, and Pits of Despair, the six-fingered man turns out to be Count Rugen, the trusted but cowardly lieutenant of Prince Humperdinck, who finds himself finally cornered in the royal castle. Sensing revenge at last, Montoya is able to greet the murderer with the words he’s been practising for 20 years. All together now!
17. The Eyeballs Threat – Full Metal Jacket
R. Lee Ermey holds an accolade that very few actors can lay claim to—one of the most measured and meticulous directors ever, Stanley Kubrick, allowed him to improvise on the set of one of his movies. Playing the terrorizing Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, Ermey rips through his raw Marine recruits like a whirling vortex, screaming and haranguing them into submission. It’s a breathless, riveting performance with some of the most inventive abuse and profanity ever committed to film.
Originally brought on to Full Metal Jacket as a technical advisor, having filled that role on both Apocalypse Now and An Officer and a Gentleman, Ermey filmed his own audition tape in which he ad-libbed a full 15 minutes of deafening insults without a single hesitation or repetition. Kubrick reportedly ate it up and recast the role for him.
Often described as a movie of two halves, the opening section shows the horrors of boot camp, as newly enlisted Marines are drilled into blind obedience by Gunny Sgt. Hartman. Storming through the barracks, his bellowed, obscenity-ridden tirades are both petrifying and hilarious, paralyzing all but one of the recruits—the slow-witted and ill-fated Private Pyle. Unable to keep a smirk off his lips during the ranting, he brings the full focus of Hartman’s rage down on himself:
“I will give you three seconds, exactly three f***ing seconds, to wipe that stupid grin off your face, or I will gouge out your eyeballs and skull-f**k you!”
16. The blood bank – Hard to Kill
They’re incredibly rare, but maybe once in a generation the movie world graces us with lines that transcend the term “dialogue” and can be described only as poetry. Alongside odes such as, “We’ll always have Paris”, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”, and “I coulda been a contender”, some words come to define the entire cinematic experience. Tragically, some are so far ahead of their time they must be left to mature before they can be fully appreciated, like a particularly pungent cheese.
In Hard To Kill, we find such an example. Criminally overlooked during Oscar season, this tale of one man and his ponytail out for revenge finds Seagal playing LA police detective Mason Storm. Stumbling upon an assassination plot by corrupt Senator Vernon Trent (William Sadler), Storm becomes the target of an attempted hit by crooked fellow cops, who kill his wife and leave him in a coma. Awakening 7 years later, he must expose the nefarious politician, hunt down the murderers, and have a shave.
Watching the recovered videotape he shot of Trent making his shady deal, in which the senator repeats his much-used catchphrase, “You can take that to the bank,” Storm’s thousand-yard stare chills to the bone as he utters the immortal:
15. The Taunting Threat – Monty Python and the holy grail
There can be nothing more insulting and demoralizing for any Englishman, and particularly an English king, than to be taunted by a Frenchman. Being taunted by a Frenchman from atop his castle battlements on English soil is just insufferable.
In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are charged by God with a sacred quest to find the Holy Grail. After surviving a lecture from a fifth century anarcho-syndicalist commune and learning the various load capacities of a variety of birds, they arrive on coconut shell-back at the fortress home of Guy de Loimbard. Requesting nothing more than a bed for the night, the group are taunted mercilessly by the French soldiers from high on the ramparts. After withstanding barbs as heinous as “empty-headed animal food trough wiper”, and “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries”, Sir Galahad, not unreasonably, asks if there’s anyone else available to talk to. The guard is having none of it:
“No! Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time.”
14. The Broken Fingers Threat – The Crying Game
One of the standout movies of the ’90s, with a twist that helped it to an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, The Crying Game is a tense psychological thriller set against the backdrop of the Irish Troubles.
Playing his part in the abduction of Jody, a British soldier in Northern Ireland, IRA volunteer Fergus (Stephen Rea) and his two accomplices hold the man hostage in a wood outside Belfast. During an escape attempt, Jody is killed and the group is discovered by the army, who attack the safe-house. Only Fergus manages to escape. Fleeing to London, he changes his name to Jimmy and finds work as a labourer on a building site. He also keeps his promise to Jody, with whom he’d formed an unlikely friendship, to look after his girlfriend.
As the glamorous young lady visits him at work one day, causing pandemonium amongst his fellow workers, a distracted Jimmy accidentally drops a window frame, smashing it. The irate site owner, yuppie property shark Deveroux, aims several unpleasant insults at the pair, eventually provoking the mild-mannered Jimmy too far. Standing up suddenly, he quietly asks the man:
“Did you ever pick your teeth up with broken fingers?”
13. Seafood Dinner – Anchorman
Some threats just cross the line. No, really. It’s all fun and games throwing your weight around and promising violent retribution, disfiguring injury, or even death. But what kind of animal would stoop so low as to bring our sainted mothers into it?
In Anchorman, that animal is Champ Kind. Part of the award-winning KVWN news team and ranked number one in San Diego (from the German word for “whale’s vagina”), Champ and his close band of journalistic heavyweights run into their fierce rivals, the perennial ratings runners-up from Channel 9. Led by the smirking Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughan), the bad tempered encounter quickly descends into an orgy of insults and name-calling before the stetson-wearing Champ drops the whammy of all threats:
“I will smash your face into a car windshield, then take your mother, Dorothy Mantooth, out for a nice seafood dinner and then never call her again!”
12. I’m not gonna hurt ya… – The Shining
The Shining‘s baseball bat scene has passed into Hollywood folklore, not so much for the eye-swivelling lunacy of an increasingly demented Jack Nicholson, but for the brutal torture of Shelley Duvall at the hands of director Stanley Kubrick. The notoriously fragile Duvall, playing Wendy Torrance, was forced to perform 127 takes, entering The Guinness Book of Records as the most ever for a scene with spoken dialogue. Pushed to the very edge by Kubrick, she would cry for up to 12 hours a day while on set and occasionally present her director with clumps of her own hair which had fallen out while filming.
Wendy’s husband Jack (Nicholson), driven to madness by the malevolent influence of the cursed hotel, slowly advances on her as she backs her way up the hotel’s main staircase. Trying to fend him off with feeble swats of a baseball bat and becoming more hysterical with every step, Wendy’s attempts to reason with him only succeed in ungluing his mind even further. Letting his eyebrows do a lot of the acting for him, Nicholson makes taunting grabs at his whimpering wife, before finally makes his intentions clear:
11. The price you pay… – Kill Bill: Volume 1
It’s not the best advertisement for Kill Bill‘s Deadly Viper Assassination Squad that, when working together to kill one of their own, none of them thinks to double check that she’s actually dead. Now, after 4 years in a coma, the victim of their slapdash efforts is up and out for revenge. Serves them right.
The first name on The Bride’s hit list is O-Ren Ishii. In the interim, O-Ren has risen to the top of Tokyo’s Yakuza, guarded by her personal army The Crazy 88. While the majority of the yakuza council wisely choose not to question O-Ren’s roots, the promotion of a Japanese-Chinese American to the top rank proves too much of an outrage for Boss Tanaka to bear.
Tanaka lets fly his feelings during celebrations on the night O-Ren assumes power. His hurled insults about perversion and ancestors weeping in the afterlife are only silenced after O-Ren sprints down the dinner table and slices his head off his shoulders with one sword stroke. Once the wellspring of blood has stopped spouting from his torso, she picks the head up from amongst the sashimi and holds it out for the others to see. In case they’d missed it. Ensuring that the subject of her nationality wouldn’t be raised again, she informs the terrified onlookers:
“The price you pay for bringing up either my Chinese or American heritage as a negative is… I collect your f***ing head. JUST LIKE THIS F***ER HERE! NOW, IF ANY OF YOU SONS OF BITCHES GOT ANYTHING ELSE TO SAY, NOW’S THE F***ING TIME!”
10. Taxi Driver, Walken Style – Joe Dirt
As guilty pleasures go, watching a true cinematic icon pay his mortgage by just goofing around is high on the list. When Christopher Walken decides to visit from whichever planet he usually lives on, he can steal an entire movie without breaking a sweat.
In Joe Dirt, he dials up the intense eccentricity with his much-imitated vocal spasms and endless pauses, playing an ex-mob boss in the witness protection program. Working as a high school janitor, he befriends Joe (David Spade), who’s searching for his estranged parents.
Kind-hearted redneck Joe has had a hard life. Fitted with a mullet wig as a baby due to the top of his skull not forming, he was just 8 when he was abandoned at the Grand Canyon. Raised in a series of foster homes, he’s spent his life looking for his family. He winds up in Louisiana and gets a job in the school where he meets janitor Clem Doore (Walken).
Always looking as if he’s moments away from a psychotic outburst, we watch Clem tap dance in the hallway with his mop before spotting his reflection in a fire extinguisher case on the wall. Channelling his inner De Niro, Clem stares himself down:
“What’d you say? Ho! You’re talking to me all wrong… It’s the wrong tone. You do it again and I’ll stab you in the face with a soldering iron. Hey, tell me, does your mother sew? BOOM. Get her to sew that!”
9. The Popsicle Threat – The Warriors
The most realistic depiction of street gang brutality since Westside Story, the ultra hip, stylized world of Walter Hill’s The Warriors was so controversial on its release for inciting violence, that Paramount temporarily pulled it from theatres.
At a summit meeting of every street gang in New York, Cyrus, leader of The Gramercy Riffs, calls for a permanent truce among the clans and lays out his plan to take over the city together once and for all. While the idea goes down well with the various delegates, Cyrus is shot dead by anarchic gang member Luther (David Patrick Kelly, who played Sully in Commando. What is that guy’s problem?) In the resulting confusion, The Warriors, led by war chief Swan, are falsely accused of the murder and are forced to go on the run back to their home turf on Coney Island.
With every gang in New York seeking revenge, and their position being broadcast by a mysterious radio DJ, The Warriors must fight their way to safety. Spotted by The Baseball Furies, they’re chased through Riverside Park until they can run no more and are forced to stand and fight. Surrounded and outnumbered by the clown-faced, bat-wielding Furies, hotheaded Ajax from The Warriors paints a vivid word picture for a rival gang member, proving that the threat as metaphor can be a beautiful thing:
8. I’ll only tell you one time… – Scarface
As well as being one of the best threats of all time, this threat from Scarface also possibly one of the most redundant. There isn’t much you can add to a conversation that will increase the impact of seeing your business colleague hanged from a helicopter.
Cuban immigrant Tony Montana (Al Pacino), after surviving refugee camps and trial by chainsaw, is despatched to Bolivia by suave drug dealer Frank. Accompanied by Frank’s second-in-command Omar Suarez, the two attempt to negotiate a deal with cocaine kingpin Alejandro Sosa (Paul Shenar). As the negotiations stall over lunch, Sosa is discreetly informed by a henchman that Omar was once a police informer. Deciding that may be bad for business, all things considered, he suggests the man returns to Florida to discuss the finer points of the deal with his boss, while Tony stays behind.
While the two take a pleasant stroll around the grounds, the helicopter taking Suarez to the airport takes off and Sosa hands Tony a pair of binoculars. As he watches Omar complete one of the shortest chopper flights in history with an even shorter drop, Sosa sets about pouring tea for two and for some reason finds it necessary to reinforce his point:
7. The ‘Learn About Loss’ Threat – Cape Fear
It’s a testament to both Scorsese and Robert De Niro that their seventh collaboration still has the power to chill, despite what The Simpsons and Sideshow Bob did to it. What Cape Fear lacks in rakes to the face, it makes up for in terrifying suspense and brilliant performances.
On his release from prison after serving 14 years for a brutal rape, Max Cady (De Niro) sets out to track down his defence attorney. Having had plenty of time on his hands, Cady has chosen to study law and realized his legal counsel buried evidence that could’ve shortened his sentence or even had him acquitted entirely. Not at all impressed with the lawyer, he feels entitled to some retribution and sets about terrorizing him and his family. Starting with ruining a night out at the movies with obnoxious laughter and a giant cigar, Cady eventually confronts Counsellor Bowden (Nick Nolte) as he’s leaving his office. Reaching into his car, Cady snatches away the keys and reintroduces himself, before hinting at the indignities and horrors he’s been through and exactly who he blames for them.
After finally getting his keys back, Bowden starts to drive away, with an awkward, “Take care, Mr. Cady.” The barely audible threat as Cady turns and walks off is filled with promise:
6. The Scorched Earth Threat
In 2008, after all the couch-jumping, Scientology-spewing, psychiatry-bashing weirdness that made up the lowest point in his career, along with being dropped by long term studio Paramount, Tom Cruise was in dire need of a hit. His days of not being able to put a foot wrong seemed to be over and his Midas touch gone. So it was an impressive leap into the abyss to don fat suit and bald cap and cameo as Les Grossman, the strutting, posturing, megalomaniacal Hollywood executive in Tropic Thunder.
When filming on the latest Vietnam war Oscar-bait epic falls a month behind schedule after only five days in production, the director is forced to take drastic action. Dropping his prima donna actors into the jungle, he sets cameras up in the trees to film them “guerilla” style in order to capture their most realistic performances. After a series of unlikely mishaps, the group are kidnapped by the heroin-producing paramilitary group Flaming Dragon. When their leader calls the studio exec’s office to issue ransom demands, Grossman mistakes them for a rival talent agency trying to horn in on his territory. Instructing them to do the anatomically impossible to their own faces, he then spells out the rest:
“I will rain down an un-Godly f***ing firestorm upon you! You’re gonna have to call the f***ing United Nations and get a f***ing binding resolution to keep me from f***ing destroying you. I’m talking scorched earth, motherf***er! I will massacre you! I WILL F**K YOU UP!”
5. ’til it goes click – The Big Lebowski
Probably one of the most quotable movies ever (but that’s just, like, our opinion, man) The Big Lebowski also introduced us to the force of nature that is Jesus Quintana. Oozing machismo from every oily pore, the purple jumpsuit clad and hair-netted sex offender (“8-year olds, dude”) doesn’t take up a whole lot of screen time, but he makes every second count.
John Turturro plays the deviant bowling rival to Jeff Bridges’ The Dude. Hearing about the gun-brandishing exploits of The Dude’s unhinged bowling partner Walter, who’s threatened to shoot a fellow competitor for putting his foot over the line on his throw, Jesus makes sure to explain he won’t be intimidated with a threat of his own:
“Let me tell you something pendejo. You pull any of your crazy s**t with us—you flash your piece out on the lanes—I’ll take it away from you and stick up your ass and pull the f***ing trigger ’til it goes click.”
4. The Brain Tumour Threat – Withnail & I
An undeniable cult classic and the originator of a lethal drinking game, Withnail & I brings us into the damp and miserable lives of two “resting” actors at the tail end of the sixties. Surviving on a diet of hard booze and harder drugs, broken only by the occasional bottle of lighter fluid and bowl of coffee, we follow the two as they go on holiday by mistake and attempt to fend off the advances of a lecherous uncle.
We meet Danny, the local “purveyor of rare herbs and prescribed chemicals“, who shamelessly feeds the pair’s addictions as well as offering the benefits of his rare philosophies on life. After a detailed explanation of why getting a haircut is a bad idea, “Hair are your aerials. They pick up signals from the cosmos and transmit them directly into the brain,” he trades insults with an indignant Withnail, who’s just been turned down to star in a cigar commercial.
The argument descends into a “who can take the most drugs” contest, with Withnail unwisely claiming he could take double anything Danny could. Danny drones out his sneering response:
3. The Ugly Threat – Gran torino
Narrowing down one of the Clint’s best threats is not easy. With a voice that’s grown impossibly harsh over the years until it now sounds like it’s been filtered through gravel, he could read out a recipe for cupcakes and fill it with menacing portent. From the, “I don’t think it’s nice you laughing” drawl in A Fistful of Dollars to Harry Callaghan inviting n’er do wells to, “Go ahead, make my day” in Sudden Impact, no one delivers a bone-chilling snarl quite like Eastwood.
In Gran Torino, Clint plays Walt Kowalski, a war veteran whose lawn is best admired from a safe distance. Taking his bullied teenage neighbour under his wing, he pays a visit to the local gang who’ve been making the boy’s life a misery. The only hapless reprobate at home is invited outside to have a chat with Walt’s boot, before having a gun thrust into his face. Walt’s at pains to get his point across, and asks the young man to pass along his message to his fellow hoodlums. Not receiving much in the way of a semi-conscious response, Walt growls the words right out of the poor lad’s mouth:
2. A very particular set of skills – Taken
A good threat can be shouted, screamed, or growled, and it can be littered with the kind of potty mouth words we’d never utter in front of our mothers. But sometimes, the most effective ones just have to be spelled out calmly and rationally with the promise of a very clear end result. It helps, of course, if the person doing the threatening has a British accent– just makes it more believable somehow.
In Taken, a gang of sex traffickers are about to have a very bad day when they abduct Liam Neeson’s vacationing daughter. Not realizing quite who they’re dealing with, she’s dragged from her Paris apartment while on the phone to dad back home. Dad, a retired CIA agent but fully active bad-ass, suddenly finds himself talking with one of the kidnappers, to whom he delivers a generous and levelheaded offer that’s become part of modern movie history:
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that will be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you.”
1. Say What Again – Pulp Fiction
The masterpiece that is Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction throws up some intriguing questions during its meandering series of interconnecting and non-linear storylines. What’s the significance of the bandaid on Marcellus Wallace’s neck? What exactly is in the briefcase? But chief amongst these unanswered questions has to be: what the hell was Brett thinking? Why would the scrawny, gutless preppy kid choose to try and rip off the biggest, baddest guy in town and hope to get away with it?
But whether we’re ever supposed to find out or whether Brett and his friends are just babbling little McGuffins, the fact remains: Jules and Vincent turn up at his door.
That this scene is preceded by the cheeseburger conversation on the ride to Brett’s hideout, where our hitmen show an all-too-normal side of themselves, makes the confrontation even more disconcerting. As they change into “work” mode outside the door, Jules (Samuel L Jackson) transforms into a study of pent-up rage. Or, of furious anger, you could say.
An already frantic Brett is reduced to gibbering, hysterical ruin as his cohort is shot and Jules’ temper explodes. His string of bellowed questions are met with jabbering confusion as all Brett can blather out is, “What?!” until finally Jules has had enough:
“Say ‘what’ again! I dare you! I double dare you motherf***ker! Say ‘what’ one more goddamn time!”
Which movie threats do you quote whenever the bus is late or your router’s not working? Let us know in the comments!
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