Whenever someone speaks these four words, he or she is marked for death. No, not "I love you too" — but "I'll hold them off." Whoever volunteers to hold off the bad guys while everyone else gets away is doomed. Except not always. Here are people who held off the bad guys and lived.
Note: We could only find five examples of people who actually said "I'll hold them off" (or responded in the affirmative to "You hold them off") and lived to tell the tale. Because that phrase is lethal. But we also found several more examples of people who did hold off the hordes — without saying that exact phrase — and survived. We've divided this list into both categories.
Captain America to Hawkeye in the Avengers
In this case, Captain America tempts fate for Hawkeye by asking him if he can hold off the Chitauri who have landed nearby. Eager for revenge after being mind-controlled, Hawkeye easily holds back the enemy so Cap can help out some nearby police officers. You'd think this would be a case where the person making the stand dies, because there are massive aliens with advanced weaponry against a guy wielding a primitive weapon with finite ammo. But this movie has already sated Joss Whedon's bloodlust with Agent Coulson, and Hawkeye has an action figure.
Captain America in Captain America #54
Captain America has earned the right to ask Hawkeye to stay and hold off the Chitauri while he gets civilians to safety — because in this comic, he holds off an entire army while Sharon gets some imprisoned soldiers to the rendezvous. "It's all on the shoulders of one man," she says — and Cap pulls it off. (Thanks to rich1 and Mweyer for this one!)
Luke in The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
Luke and Jace get attacked by basically a billion demons, too many to count. Luke tells Jace that they're surrounded and adds, "Jump over the side. I'll hold them off." And then he does suffer a broken leg — but he makes it out of there okay. Of course, Jace winds up giving Luke a bit of an assist instead of making his escape, so it's not quite the classic trope.
Delgado in Halo: The Cole Protocol by Tobias Buckell
In this video game tie-in novel, Delgado and Melko are cornered by the Kig-Yar, aka the Jackals. And Delgado tells Melko, "Make the run, Melko. I'll hold them off." He tells her to blow the locks and get on board their ship and make a run for it, in case there's a Jackal ship incoming. Delgado even tells Melko, "See you on the other side" — which is usually the ultimate kiss of death. But no, he makes it out of there in one piece, making good his escape after he covers hers.
Lennox in Transformers
No human is as cool as a Transformer, but in the first Michael Bay film, Captain William Lennox has his moments. One in particular comes at the end where he gives the AllSpark to Sam, saying he'll hold off the Decepticons long enough for him to get the cube to Optimus Prime and the others. It doesn't exactly work — but Lennox survives, despite saying the exact phrase.
Castiel in Supernatural
And in the most badass case of actually saying the deadly words, Castiel holds off the archangels so that Dean can save Sam and stop him from initiating the apocalypse in the season 4 finale. He even says it twice. Of course, Castiel does die — but he comes back, good as new.
DIDN'T SAY IT, BUT DID IT
Gandalf in Lord of the Rings
In what may be the most memorable "I'll hold them off" moment of all time, Gandalf protects the rest of the Fellowship from the deadly Balrog. Technically he does die — but like Castiel, he comes back better than ever. So that counts, right? Image by Luke Lagonda on Deviant Art
River Tam in Serenity
All Firefly fans knew the disappointment of never seeing River Tam become the badass we knew she'd be — and then Serenity happened. Just when things look hopeless at the end of the film, River holds off a group of Reavers so the rest of the crew can survive. It looks as though she's doomed — but then, she kicks the shit out of every last reaver.
Shikamaru in Naruto
After Sasuke gets captured during the invasion of Konoha, Shikamaru goes with Naruto and Sakura to take him back. But when nine sound ninjas ambush the gang, Shikamaru volunteers to stay behind and handle things so the rest of Team 7 can get Sasuke back. He'd have died, too, if Asuma didn't show up at the last minute to save him.
Brent in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Until Flint cast an out of control food-storm over Swallow Falls, the best thing Brent ever did was be the adorable mascot of sardines. But then, when things got stickiest (or tastiest, rather), Brent protects Sam and Flint and buys them enough time to stop the FLDSMDFR
Luffy in One Piece
Rob Lucci is a deadly assassin who wanted nothing more than to kill the Straw Hat crew and stop them from saving Nico Robin. And though the crew is often split up and forced to fight their enemies one on one, this time everyone would have died if Luffy didn't hold Lucci on his own.
Morpheus in The Matrix
Morpheus' value always seemed tied to finding Neo, but he did manage to prove his worth by holding off the Agents so everyone else could escape. And for a while it looked like he'd be dead meat (deleted data?), the gang rescues him at the last minute.
Leela in Doctor Who
This happens a lot to Leela in various episodes of the Tom Baker era, including "The Invisible Enemy" and "The Sunmakers." She's constantly holding off superior numbers of attackers so that the other heroes can escape or save the day, either by herself or with K9. This leads to her getting captured in "The Sunmakers," but mostly Leela can hold off a small army by herself with no ill effects. Also Orfe holds off the robots in "Underworld" and nothing bad happens. And Captain Jack buys the Doctor a bit more time in "The Parting of the Ways" when the Daleks attack — and does die, but comes back.
Team Rocket in A Poached Ego
Jessie and James occasionally prove to be decent human beings, and in this episode they protect their Arbok and Weezing — as well as a horde of Ekans and Koffings — by stalling a poacher and his Tyranitar before they could finish their job.
When Christopher Johnson manages to scrape together enough fuel for an escape, Wikus opts to stay behind and hold off the soldiers that come to shoot the mothership down. Despite the fact that he turns into an alien, he does survive.
Ichigo in Bleach
When Ichigo finally saves Rukia from her execution, in the episode "An Accomplished Oath! Get Back Rukia!", three lieutenants and a captain show up to try and take her back. To save her, Ichigo orders Renji to get Rukia out of there while he holds them off. And he makes it out in one piece.
Syrio Florel in A Game of Thrones
Actually, this one remains ambiguous. When the Lannisters come for Arya Stark, Syrio holds them off while she escapes. And we never actually see whether he survives — but many, many fan theories hold that we haven't seen the last of Syrio. After all, he's the guy who can look at death and say, "Not today."
Commander Shepard's origin, in Mass Effect
Depending on your choices, Shepard can be a hero for having singlehandedly held off a massive force of Batarian slavers. But when you realize he turns Reapers to scrap metal, it sems less impressive in perspective.
Corran Horn in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
Star Wars is full of people holding off hordes, including Han Solo and the stormtroopers a few times. But the most perfect example of this is Corran Horn in the expanded universe book series Rogue Squadron. Corran is forced to distract a capital ship alone so that everyone else can survive. Not only does he hold the enemy off long enough for everyone to escape, but he beats the odds and survives himself.
Rory in Doctor Who, "The Wedding of River Song"
Despite the fact that the device allowing him to remember seeing the Silence is causing him horrible pain, Rory still manages to hold the aliens off while Amy, River, and the Doctor make a run for it. He'd probably have died (again) if Amy didn't come back at the last moment, to gun down the leftovers.
Kimahri in Final Fantasy X
Near the end of Final Fantasy X, The Yuna and her guardians are faced with the threat of fighting an even more powerful Seymour (her ex-husband. It's complicated). To protect everyone, Kimahri tells the gang to run for it while he holds Seymour off. He'd have died for his noble deed too, if everyone didn't wind up coming back to fight with him.
Daniel in Stargate SG1
In the season two premiere, Daniel Jackson takes a nasty wound and assumes that's it for him. So to protect the rest of the crew, he offers to watch everyone's back while they escape. When his ship doesn't blow up after all, he crawls into a sarcophagus which heals him completely and escapes with his life.
Tracy in Heroes
At a certain point in the show (past the point where most people were still watching), Tracy gets herself and nephew Micah in too deep with the government. As they're being chased and threatened, Tracy tells Micah to run for it while she holds them off. He does so reluctantly as Tracy freezes the entire room including herself, only to be shattered by agent Danko. You'd think she'd die, but since Heroes always had a problem with killing people off for good, she later reforms from a puddle of water.
Gunn in Angel
When the Beast pays a visit to Wolfram & Hart, everyone dies and becomes a zombie — except the Angel gang, of course. But when things get hectic, Gunn tells everyone that he'll slow the zombies down while they make a run for it. Despite how poorly that goes for most people in that situation, he survives unscathed.
Jim Raynor & Fenix in Starcraft
After Tassadar kills the Overmind on the Protoss home world of Aiur, the Zerg rampage across the surface, killing relentlessly. The Protoss know they have to flee through the last warp gate — but they also know the Zerg would overrun the portal too if someone doesn't stay behind to hold them off. That's when Jim Raynor and Praetor Fenix offer to hold the Zerg off so everyone can escape. At first everyone thinks they're dead, but they show up a little later and surprise everyone.
Wolverine in the X-Men Comics
The X-Men have a bevy of powers, but the Sentinels force even the likes of Wolverine into an "I'll hold them off"-type situation. Granted, Gambit didn't ask to be protected, and he even comes back to help Wolverine out after a while.
Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender
In the season two finale, Iroh breaks out of his restraints and fights off the Dai Li, Zuko, and Azula single-handedly, so that Katara and Aang can escape.
Tyrande in Warcraft III
During Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, a massive wave of the undead is chasing the Night Elf host across the Silverpine forest. Since Tyrande knows they'll eventually be caught if all they do is run, she stays behind on a bridge to hold off the advancing Scourge forces. Causing the bridge to collapse with her magic, she plummets to her presumed death and gets abandoned by her fellows. It's only thanks to Illidan, the man she was hunting, that she survives.