Sadistic Choice

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Go for Lana; Lois doesn't even give a reason.


"Spider-Man! This is why only fools are heroes -- because you never know when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice. Let die the woman you love... or suffer the little children! Make your choice, Spider-Man, and see how a hero is rewarded!"
Green Goblin, from the Spider-Man movie

Often called a Sophie's Choice, after that novel and film.

The Big Bad has been engaging in kidnapping, and is willing to make a deal.

In exchange for a powerful device, a bribe, or an agreement, he'll set one of two hostages free.

See, he's got your (crewmate/girlfriend/loving son/mentor/buddy/Sidekick/a Bus Full of Innocents: pick any two), and he's so generous and fair that he'll release one. But he's only going to release one. So, who's more important, and whom are you going to let die?

This is guaranteed to set the Hero into Angst mode, and gives a villain optimum gloating time. Plus, it's fun to watch them squirm!

If the two kidnapped characters haven't been directly at loggerheads with each other earlier that episode (which may lead to a Locked in a Freezer moment for them), they'll represent facets of the hero's life that are in conflict (such as whether his family is more important than his work).

One or both of them will often encourage the hero to choose to save the other.

If the hero is a known expert in daring rescues, the villain will try to make sure he doesn't get any ideas by putting the two hostages in separate Death Traps, then informing the hero he only has time to save one. This is usually the hero's cue to prove how wrong the villain is.

A Sadistic Choice doesn't have to involve choosing between two kidnapped characters. Sometimes, it involves a villain forcing a character to choose between people he or she cares about and some defining cause or ideal that he or she has sworn to uphold, or some other situation in which choosing either option will lead to the loss of something or someone important to the character; for example, forcing a Technical Pacifist to violate Thou Shalt Not Kill or let the people he loves die horribly, or forcing someone to give the villain information that will doom a character or a cause (such as the location of a rebel base or the whereabouts of the character) in exchange for the life or safety of another character or group of characters, or engaging in Leave Behind a Pistol after threatening a horrific death—to a character who believes suicide a serious sin. Many villains in this variant scenario are not above pulling a You Said You Would Let Them Go on the character once the choice is made, just to be a complete bastard.

Given it's such a hard choice, it's no wonder most good guys tend to Take a Third Option. It's practically unheard of for a hero to actually make this choice, and have it carried through before either the villain breaks his promise or the cavalry manage a rescue. If the one offering the choice benefits regardless of what the chooser chooses, its a Xanatos Gambit. If the choices aren't necessarily forced, but something the character must eventually decide on, Morton's Fork has come into play.

Compare "Friend or Idol?" Decision, Hostage for McGuffin, Scylla and Charybdis, Take a Third Option, I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure. A classic Moral Dilemma.

Examples of Sadistic Choice include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Monster, it's gradually revealed that Johan and Anna's mother was forced to give up only one of the twins to the sadistic Bonaparta as part of a psychological experiment. In an attempt to hide from them, she had told her neighbors that she only had a daughter, and made Johan (who seemed sane back then) wear a wig and dress to impersonate Anna whenever he left the house. When Bonaparta and his men found Mrs. Liebert, little Johan was still wearing his disguise, so it was impossible to tell which child she let them take away (although it's already known that this was Anna).
    • What makes it even worse? The fact that Mrs. Liebert was able to make a decision between the two of them at all is part of what helped shape Johan's personality.
    • At the end of the series Johan presents Dr. Tenma a sadistic choice. Either Tenma sacrifices his main value of Thou Shalt Not Kill by shooting Johan or Johan kills a little boy. Thankfully a timely intervention from a Papa Wolf spares Tenma from having to make that choice.
  • In Digimon Adventure 02, the Digimon Kaiser forces Daisuke to choose which one of his four teammates won't be eaten by a three-headed digimon. When time runs out, Daisuke offers himself in place of them, but then all his teammates show up—the tied-up kids were only shapeshifting digimon.
  • Kannazuki no Miko - The priestess sacrifice ritual is essentially this without having a third person between the two, instead they have to decide amongst themselves.
  • Has happened many times in Mazinger Z: Often Baron Ashura held someone hostage and threatened to kill him or her if Kouji did not surrender, but there were different instances:
    • In episode 17, Big Bad Dr. Hell crafted a Mechanical Beast could set earthquakes off. After using it to bring down several Japanese cities, The Dragon Baron Ashura threatened with obliterating Tokyo unless Dr. Hell was appointed director of Photonic Research Institute. If the heroes gave in, Dr. Hell would have full and unopposed access and control to the lodes the Japanium was extracted from and plans to build his own Photon Atomic engines, and nobody would be able to stop him from taking over the world. If they did not agree, Tokyo would become a giant hole in the ground.
    • In episode 18, a Mechanical Monster cuts a passenger ship in half. A woman reaches a lifeboat but her mother has been caught in one of the whirlpools formed by the sinking ship. If she stays away, her mother will die. If she comes closer, maybe both of them will die. At the end her mother chose for her. She shoved the boat away her. She drowned, but she managed to save her daughter's life.
    • In episode 31, Dr. Hell kidnapped three men, hypnotized them in piloting three of his Mechanical Beasts and ordered them to attack Mazinger-Z. Thus, Kouji found himself severely limited, since if he attacked full-force, the prisoners could die.
    • In episode 61, Lorelei, a little girl his little brother was infatuated with, fused with a Robeast and challenged Mazinger-Z. She could not be split from the robot, and if Kouji fought, he would kill her and would break his brother's heart. Finally Kouji had to fight, and Lorelei died.
    • Of course, it also was a very common occurrence in the sequels. In one of the Great Mazinger manga chapters a Warrior Monster was holding Jun hostage. Tetsuya did not dare to attack the Monster, but Prof. Kabuto ordered him throwing his doubt out and attacking (in spite of Jun was his adoptive sister, Battle Couple and Love Interest). In another of the manga versions, Great Marshall of Hell -Big Bad's second The Dragon- blew up one city and threatened with destroying Tokyo as well, unless the Japanese Government destroyed the Fortress of Science and all Humongous Mecha stored there. The Government gave in and destroyed the Fortress. Great Marshall turned Tokyo into a wasteland nonetheless.
    • UFO Robo Grendizer: In one manga chapter, Duke gets attacked by one of his oldest friends, whom he believed dead but was being mind-controlled by the Vegans. His friend could not control his body but he still could warn Duke stay away from him... and beg kill him.
  • In Trigun, the villain Legato Bluesummers forces the main character Vash into making a choice between killing him and thus renouncing everything that he based his life on, or letting his companions die, as Legato is mentally controlling a group of people about to kill them. He kills Legato, saving his companions, and then sinks into a Heroic BSOD in the next episode.
  • A variation in Full Metal Panic!: Sousuke finds himself in what is obviously a crooked hostage situation, with the terrorists holding his classmate Chidori and his commander Tessa. When they ask him which of the women to release first, he mentally weighs the choices (Chidori gets priority as per SOP, but he was concerned that the clumsy Tessa would be unable to get to safety if things got rough) and ends up having them send Tessa. Of course, the whole thing went to pot regardless...
  • In the fourth arc of Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Kinzo Ushiromiya decides he's going to test which of his grandchildren is most worthy to become his successor as head of the family. The contents of the test, you ask? "In order to gain two, sacrifice one." A) Your Life B) Your lover's life C) everyone else's lives. George and Jessica actually do make somewhat shocking (albeit convincing) choices with their own brand of justification...only to take the bad guy by surprise by deciding to sacrifice none of the above and fighting back instead. But this being Umineko, of course, they die horribly anyway.
  • In the first Fullmetal Alchemist, anime series Ed is forced to make a Sadistic Choice by the homunculi between getting his brother Al back to the way he was before their human transmutation attempt, which would require killing several convicts (whom he could see and happened to be watching) to do it, and allowing Lust to kill Al by destroying his blood seal. But then Scar shows up in a Big Damn Heroes moment and destroys the cylinders of red water necessary to perform the transmutation.
    • In chapter 101 of the manga and the second series, Roy Mustang was forced to choose between letting his Lancer, Hawkeye, die in front of him (she had her throat slit open and was bleeding to death) or opening the Gate in order to complete the evil guys' plans. He doesn't cooperate, and not to menion Hawkeye herself disapproves of it. Luckily, she is saved anyway with a little bit of Xingese alchemy and chimera powers. Not so luckily, Pride then decides to dispense with the "Choice" part of the trope and forces Roy through the Gate anyway.
    • Also in the manga and Brotherhood, the Homunculi give Dr Marcoh the choice of agreeing to help out the homunculi and being complicit in whatever horrible plans they have in store for Amestris, or resisting and watching the village where he worked as the town doctor get wiped off the map. The homunculi even try to stop him from taking a third option though killing himself, as suicide will only result in the destruction of said village. Luckily, Scar shows up, which allows Marcoh to take a FOURTH option, where Scar stages the murder of Marcoh and helps him escape.
  • In Bleach, Orihime Inoue is forced to work for Aizen in order to save the lives of her friends, who don't even know they are being held hostage. To make things even worse, Aizen later reveals that the only reason he kidnapped her was to lure her friends and the The Cavalry into a trap.
    • In the current filler arc, Kuchiki Byakuya is told to kill his beloved sister Rukia's Zanpakutou in human form. Since he's in the enemy base and surrounded, it seems like a sadistic choice but it really isn't considering his personality. He kills her anyway..
    • Also in the backstory Soul Society has (twice, counting filler) been forced to make a difficult decision: wipe out a certain race/group of people, effectively committing genocide, or stand aside and allow the race/group in question inadvertently destroy reality with their unique powers. Both times, they were forced to choose the former.
  • Soichiro Yagami of Death Note is forced to decide between allowing his daughter Sayu to be killed and giving the responsible organization a weapon of effortless mass murder.
    • Later on, as Mello continues to blackmail him, he's forced to choose between the death of Sayu or revealing the identity of the second L, who happens to be his son Light. Matsuda gets him out of that one.
    • Also, Light indirectly forces Rem to choose between letting her protegee and partner Misa die or killing L to protect her, knowing that it would result in her own death. She chose the latter.
  • In D.C. II SS as part of the main plot, Otome Asakura turn into Heroic BSOD as she was forced to choose between saving everybody in the entire island by withering up the tree that would cause her love, the main protagonist Yoshiyuki Sakurai, to vanish from existence, or sit back doing nothing and stay with her love till the end, leaving the tree go rampant that could potentially cause the end of the world.
    • At the breaking point that after the creator of the tree Sakura Yoshino and Otomes' grandfather vanished in two ill-fated attempts to keep the tree under control, Yoshiyuki finally being told the tale of his origin. Totally aware of his fate if the tree withered, he convinced Otome that stopping the tree is the only option. There were no third option, Otome wither up the tree. Eventually Yoshiyuki vanishs in an extremely tragic way.
  • Mentioned in Naruto, when Kakashi is giving Team 7 their Secret Test of Character and he asks Sakura what she would do if he threatened to kill Sasuke unless she kills Naruto.
    • Much later we find out this actually happened to Nagato after Hanzo attacked his group out of paranoia: he had to kill Yahiko or else Hanzo would kill Konan. When Nagato freezes up at the thought of hurting either of his friends, Yahiko takes a third option: he grabs the arm the chooser was holding a kunai in and stabs himself with it. Nagato then became a Dark Messiah. Konan helped.
    • Also, Sasuke by his post-Itachi-killing activities (joining Akatsuki, attacking the Raikage's brother, and attacking all the other Kage at the summit) made himself an enemy of the whole ninja world. Even Naruto's friends have decided to kill him, leaving Naruto stuck between breaking his word or pissing off the whole ninja world.
    • And Itachi was faced with the most agonizing choice of them all. His Clan was planning a coup against Konoha, one that would potentially spark a new Great Ninja War. Thus he was faced with a terrible dilemma; stay loyal to his clan and ultimately be responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocents, including probably the whole clan in the end anyway, or massacre his entire family, down to the last child. He couldn't bring himself to kill Sasuke, though, so he did his best to make sure he hated him completely and would never suspect the truth, so he would be allowed to live.
      • It should be noted that both Itachi's and Nagato's choices were set up by Shimura Danzo, who utterly loves this kind of shit. He worked together with Hanzo to destroy the original Akatsuki, because oh boy, peace and understanding is a seriously pernicious philosophy when backed by ninjutsu. Then he took one of his ANBU commanders and used him to utterly neuter the threat of the Uchiha for all time, at the cost of destroying the boy and sacrificing a large number of civilians for the crime of being Uchiha. And creating the hate-monster known as Sasuke. Who killed him, so at least consequences eventually hit home.[1]
      • To cap it, Itachi was still reporting to Danzo the entire time he was in Akatsuki. (Which Danzo had turned into an evil league of evil to begin with.) He wasn't a nuke-nin, he was ANBU in super-deep cover that he only broke seconds before he died. Somebody was raised to be a very good tool indeed.
      • He's still protecting Konoha once he comes back as a confetti zombie, although admittedly he's only free to do so due to a time-delayed hypnosis he embedded in Naruto to compel Sasuke to go home and rejoin the village, which he had not anticipated having the posthumous opportunity t trigger himself. Still, he treats this accidental auto-hypnosis as an opportunity to follow his own will instead of zombie-master Kabuto's, so I think it's safe to categorize him as psychotically loyal.
  • In Inuyasha, Sango and her fiancé Miroku are caught in illusory traps set by Naraku during the Final Battle. Miroku's Wind Tunnel in his hand is growing ever more unstable and could consume him at any moment (as in This Is Gonna Suck... literally). He decides that if he's going to be consumed, he's going to take "Naraku" with him. Meanwhile, Sango is faced with another "Naraku" that tells her what the monk is planning to do. Her only chance to save the man she loves is to kill Naraku so the curse will be lifted and his life will be spared before it's too late. The thing is, it's impossible to make the killing shot without also killing an unconscious Rin in "Naraku's" arms. Tick-tock. (If she kills the girl, she'll be wracked with guilt and in all likelihood Rin’s guardian Sesshoumaru will kill her. If she doesn't kill the girl, her love will die. It's a win-win for Naraku.) The goal of this little exercise is to drive Sango and Miroku into hopeless despair so their negative emotions would further corrupt the Shikon no Tama. She decides to take the shot and sacrifice the little girl, but Kagome manages to unknowingly shatter the "Naraku" illusion with an arrow saving Rin Just in Time. Sesshoumaru arrives at that time and Sango takes full responsibility for her decision and says that he can kill her...after Miroku is safe. He doesn't... and actually seems to forgive her.
  • In One Piece, Pirate Empress Boa Hancock, believing all men to be bastards imposes such a choice on Luffy. Either she'd save the amazons she turned to stone or allow him to leave the island. Of course, for Luffy picking the life of someone he befriended just five minutes ago before his own isn't really a choice. His lack of hesitation even caused her to have a Heel Face Turn.
    • Nami's adopted mother Bellemere is a real Tear Jerker of a borderline case, given that Arlong couldn't have understood fully at the time he was forcing her into a Sadistic Choice between acknowledging that Nojiko and Nami were her children and being shot for not having enough money to pay the extortion fee for all three of them. However, it was made pretty clear in the manga that to Bellemere, this was a sadistic choice: she and Nami had fought earlier over the mother/daughter issue, and this being a manga where even the cuddly little reindeer is a Hot-Blooded Determinator, refusing to acknowledge Nami and Nojiko as her children was not an option in her mind. Possibly Honor Before Reason, but Bellemere is still a certified Badass.
      • It is also pointed out that Arlong would be demanding money again anyway, so her action is actually smarter than it appears... Plus, Arlong and his crew demolished all of the seaworthy vessels on the island before attacking, which would have left Nami and Nojiko with no way to escape the island, making it only a matter of time before they got caught and pretty much assuredly killed. It was heavily implied(if not outright stated) that Bellemere had already realized this was the case.
    • Another backstory of a Straw Hat, involved Franky's own adopted father Tom, given the choice of using his trial to pardon himself of the crime of building the Oro Jackson, the ship that would later come under the posession of the late Pirate King, Gold Roger and his pirate crew; or request that Cutty Flam (Franky) is pardoned for creating the ships that were used to attack Water 7, and frame him due to the scheming of Dirty Coward Spandam for the Pluton blueprints. Tom not only chose the latter to protect Cutty Flam, but earlier declared proudly that he, indeed, created the Oro Jackson, and is not the least bit ashamed of it. This doubled as a final lesson to teach Cutty Flam, as he previously denied having created the ships that attacked Water 7. Even the judge felt bad about sentencing Tom, and it was an incident that Franky could never forgive himself for allowing to happen, and nearly killed himself trying to stop the Puffing Tom ironically sending its creator, and Franky's father figure to the Judicial Island to be sentenced to death. Of course, this is what led him to become Franky in the first place...
  • Shows up as a Secret Test of Character in Hunter X Hunter: who would you save, your wife or your mother, if you could only save one of them? The correct answer is silence, as there is no right answer.
  • Hayate the Combat Butler's titutlar character was recently[when?] posed this ultimatum: If he destroys his Mineral MacGuffin he can free his childhood friend and crush Athena from her Demonic Possession. But if he does, his master, Nagi will lose her inheritance and everything under the Sanzen'in name.
    • It ends up being the third choice being taken: Nagi willingly smashes the stone in defiance of her grandfather, despite knowing nothing - only that he was horribly worried about something very important for him, and the stone smashing would solve it. In thanks, he's promised to protect her at her insistence.
  • A popular staple of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. For example, at the end of Stone Ocean, Pucci forces Jotaro to decide, in a split second, between killing Pucci to save the world and letting his daughter die, and saving his daughter but dooming the world. He tries to Take a Third Option and do both, but it doesn't work.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: When Yami Marik and the Pharaoh duel in the Battle City finals, the loser would lose their other half (Either Marik or Yugi, obviously.) Luckily, Pharaoh is able to swap the two Marik's souls and get Yami Marik banished, so both of them are safe.
    • Don't forget Regular Yugi's duel with the Brainwashed and Crazy Joey, which is set up in such a way that he can't take a third option or someone (either him, Joey, or a kidnapped Tea) will die. He chooses to set himself up for death and save Joey and Tea. Which is followed by Joey setting himself up to die to try saving him. Luckily, either Kaiba (manga) or Serenity (anime) finish the deal.
    • This started back at season one, with the Yami Yugi's duel against Kaiba. Lose your dual and star-chips or win and possibly kill Kaiba. After all, card games are Serious Business.
    • In the middle of the final battle between Dartz and Yami Yugi and Kaiba, the Orichalcos Knights are the souls of Yugi, Jonouchi, Mai, and Pegasus, and if our heroes attack any of them, then the soul would be dead forever.
  • In Fruits Basket, Akito finds out that Haru and Rin are in a relationship and asks Rin which of the two of them started it. The implication is that Akito will hurt whoever began it, so Rin can either tell the truth that it was Haru and escape punishment but live with the guilt of Haru being hurt, or lie, take the blame, and be hurt herself. She wastes no time in lying, and is pushed out a window. Of course, given that it's Akito, it's entirely possible that both would have been punished if Haru was blamed, since Akito hated Rin because not only she's defying the leader openly, she looks like Akito's Complete Monster mother, Ren.
  • in Rave Master when a super weapon is activated Musica has the choice of letting it fire and killing his companions or letting Reina, the evil general who only just became good, sacrifice herself to destroy it. The choice is no less obvious having read the build-up, but it's still treated like a very hard one for him.
  • Averted and Subverted at the same time in Naruto. Minato, after making the Big Bad run with his tails between his legs for the moment, is faced with two choices: 1. Let Kushina seal the Kyuubi inside herself again and kill it even though it will just revive itself in the near future, anyway. Thus, saving Konoha and Minato, along with their baby in the short term. 2. Seal the Kyuubi inside their son, essentially offering their son up as a sacrificial lamb for a Bijuu, effectively making him the next Jinchuuriki ,saving Konoha and the rest of the world in the long term. Minato chose the latter.
    • Subverted in that it's not such a bad decision since Minato also plans to seal the rest of their chakras inside Naruto so that they can meet him again in the future. Minato's choice eventually paid off.
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga, Judai is forced to duel Sho, as Judai has failed every test since getting in, and Sho got a 0 on his last test. If Judai wins, Sho will be expelled and if Sho wins, Judai's deck, which he got from his friend and mentor Koyo Hibiki, will be confiscated. When Sho gets the upper hand, Judai considers losing, but decides to go for his victory instead, and it turns out that Sho did not actually get a 0 as his final grade (as Midori reports to Chronos while chastizing him for arranging it), so he does not get expelled. Later on, Midori gets one during her duel with Reggie, who tells her that if she wins, Reggie will fall into a coma and be unable to give her information on awakening her brother Koyo from his Shadow Game induced coma (and the same will happen to her if she loses). Then Judai arrives and Midori has to choose between awakening Koyo and saving Jaden from having to face Reggie in a shadow game, and chooses the latter. She fails, and learns that Reggie does not, in fact, know how to awaken Koyo, before also going into a coma.

Card Games[edit | hide]

  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! card "Painful Choice", as the name implies, is all about putting your opponent in such a bind: you choose five cards from your deck, and he has to choose the one you get to keep (all the others are discarded to the Graveyard). Ideally, the player who uses this card is supposed to pick their five most powerful cards, meaning that whatever happens one of them is going to end up in his hand, and even then this card can combo with other effects that can result in the player getting all five cards regardless of what the opponent chooses. as in general, it's much easier for a player to get cards from their graveyard than it is to fetch them from their deck. (Unsurprisingly, it's banned from tournament play.)
    • This was used in a duel in the anime by Kaiba's adopted father. The five cards in question were the five pieces of Exodia, which he then used to summon Exodia Necros, a particularly nasty card that is immune to various things depending on which part/s are in the graveyard. All five being in there, it was immune to damn-near everything.
    • Kaiba's Expy in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Manjyome also used this card in a duel with his brother. Since Manjyome needed a certain Spell card, and his brother was a total amateur who believed Attack Points were everything, he offered the Spell and 4 Monsters as a choice, knowing his brother would let him keep the one card that wasn't a monster.
  • In Magic, there's Choice of Damnations, which forces your opponent to pick a number. You then choose whether they lose life equal to that number or if they sacrifice cards they control until they're left with only that number of cards in play. Obviously, if they pick a number too low, you just force them to go on with only a few cards in play, but if they pick one too high their life can get dangerously low.
    • Another example is Gifts Ungiven. Gifts Ungiven lets you get any four cards from your deck (although they can't be duplicates). Then your opponent has to pick two to go into your hand, and two to go into your graveyard. Most decks that use Gifts Ungiven exploit this, by choosing four cards that ensure you get what you want no matter what the opponent picks.
    • And now the Archenemy rules contain a variation: some of the Schemes leave you with the choice of taking a big hit yourself or diluting the pain between your allies so nobody takes a big hit but the total damage is probably higher. (Admittedly, if you're playing a black deck, you'll probably always dilute it because that's how Black rolls.)
    • It's time to play: FACT. OR. FICTION!
      • Browbeat's flavor text reads: "even the threat of power has power".
    • Painful Quandary makes this happen whenever your opponent wants to cast a spell, but he gets three choices: 1) don't cast the spell, 2) lose five life, or a quarter of his starting life, or 3) discard a card.
    • Lore from the Avacyn Restored block has an example. Liliana Vess captures Thalia's companions and instructs her to destroy the Helvault (the magical prison housing a great many powerful demons, one of whom Liliana wants to have a word with) or let them die. Surprisingly, she chooses to release the demons. Ultimately it is a subversion of the trope since Avacyn, the angel protector of the plane, had also been trapped there, so things end up getting better.
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine expansion of the Star Trek CCG has a card, based off of the episode "Move Along Home", entitled "Pick One to Save Two". In the episode, Quark must choose one of his three pieces to "die" in order to allow the other two to continue. This card, a dilemma, presents much the same choice.
  • Early on in Upperdeck's Marvel/DC crossover card game using the "VS System", there was a card named Sadistic Choice, which was only usable by players using Spider-Man villains and had an illustration showing the Green Goblin and Gwen Stacy.
    • "Lesser of Two Evils" and "Legion of Losers" were similar to "Sadistic Choice."


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • This trope is the entire reason superheroes have secret identities.
  • During a flashback in Irredeemable, Qbit is shown asking The Plutonian, a Superman-type superhero, what it's like to have so much power and responsibility. Plutonian doesn't answer, but he's visibly irritated by the question. Years later, after the Plutonian becomes an Ax Crazy Omnicidal Maniac, he sets out to destroy the entire country of Singapore, and tells Qbit to choose ten people to save out of four million.

Plutonian: That's what it feels like!

  • Pictured above: In a Superman comic from the Silver Age, Lex Luthor does this to Supes, forcing him to pick between current girlfriend Lois Lane and Unlucky Childhood Friend Lana Lang. Luckily our hero wakes up from the dream he's having and comments on how he's lucky that it was a dream and that he didn't have to actually make a decision.
  • In Y: The Last Man, Alter puts a gun to the head of one of the Hartle twins and offers the other a choice—either reveal the location of the last man on Earth or "live the rest of your miserable life knowing you could have saved your sister."
  • In Garth Ennis's run, The Punisher puts Daredevil through the "choice between ideals" version. The Punisher is out to snipe a vicious mob figure; Daredevil attempts to stop him, insisting that the mob boss needs to be taken out legally, through the justice system. The Punisher manages to incapacitate Daredevil and bind him up with a gun with one bullet in his hands pointed at the Punisher's own head, such that the only way Daredevil could stop the Punisher's vigilante justice would be to violate his own ideals by fatally shooting Punisher himself. Daredevil chooses to pull the trigger, at which point it is revealed that the setup was also a false dilemma: the gun had no firing pin.
  • Jason Todd pulls one of these on Batman when he comes Back from the Dead years after his murder at the hands of The Joker, forcing him to choose between letting Jason kill the Joker or killing Jason himself, so Batman would break his one rule or fail to Save the Villain; to Jason, his own life meant less than knowing that Batman loves him.
  • In the Joker's Asylum mini-series, the issue focusing on Two-Face has him setting up somebody else with a disfigured face in one of these. He can either shoot Batman (who saved him from dying in a fire) and save his wife from having acid spilled on her face, or save Batman. He tries to Take a Third Option by shooting Two-Face, only to find out that the gun isn't loaded and the person who was supposedly Batman is just one of Two-Face's goons. Although the real Batman comes and rescues everybody, his marriage is ruined by the knowledge that he couldn't choose his wife over Batman. Damn.
    • That issue also features something of a meta-example: it asks the reader to take a coin and flip it. If the coin comes up heads, the man gets a happy ending where he reunites with his wife, who manages to forgive him, and they rebuild their lives. If it comes up tails, the man fails to do this, succumbs to despair and puts a bullet through his brain. The choice is, knowing you have a 50% chance of dooming this man if you flip the coin, do you flip the coin?
      • So the "right thing" to do is turn him into an uncertainty lich?
        • The "right thing" would be flip a two-headed coin. Preferably a silver-plated replica Harvey Dent dollar coin, unscarred version.
  • Done to Spider-Man by Harry Osborn, although slightly subverted. Harry had kidnapped Aunt May, Flash Thompson, and Mary Jane, and told Spider-Man that one of them was rigged to a bomb, and the other two were completely safe, urging Peter to save the one most dear to him. That was intended as a clue, as Peter would use the word "dear" to describe Aunt May, but never Flash.
  • Done in Spider-Man: India as a nod the movie. The Goblin drops Aunt Maya and Meera Jain off opposite sides of a refinery tower. Spider-Man grabs Maya but doesn't have time to reach MJ luckily, Doctor Octopus saves her.
  • A horrifying variation is done in Secret Six by Junior, a Complete Monster to the core. She forces victims to choose whether she kills them or their family and friends. If they choose themselves, she kills them. If they choose their family, she kills them anyway and leaves the body and a recording of them begging her to kill their family where the family will find it.
  • Another variation appeared in the Assault On New Olympus arc in The Incredible Hercules. Hephaestus traps Hercules and his teen partner Amadeus Cho in separate chambers, each with a Big Red Button. The only way for Herc to be free is if Cho pushes his button, which would remove the air from his chamber, killing him. Or Herc can push his button, saving Cho by sacrificing his life. Almost before Hephaestus explains the trap, Herc and Cho push both their buttons simultaneously, shorting out the system and releasing them both. This scene also counts as a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, showing that Herc and Cho would each sacrifice themselves for each other, no questions asked. And a Crowning Moment of Funny because Hephaestus neglected to consider this option and expresses his anger with a succinct "Frickin Hercules".
  • Ultimate Red Skull was once hired to kill a guy, but instead of just shooting him, he got the guy's wife and infant son, held a gun to the infant's head, and gave the wife a choice—either he kills the baby or she stabs her husband to death with an old pair of scissors. Then after she killed her husband, Red Skull threw the baby out the window anyway, his goons then raping her until well into the next day.
  • In Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers, Big Bad Overlord offers his prisoners the chance to compete in gladiatorial matches to the death. Anyone who wins twelve matches gets a choice - nobody has ever spoken to somebody who has made it, but knowing that Overlord is an Ax Crazy Complete Monster, the Sadistic part almost goes without saying. The choice? Commit suicide on the spot, or fight Overlord. The two options are pretty much one and the same.
  • One of the rare examples of the hero making the choice and taking the consequences happened in Infinite Crisis where Wonder Woman was faced with either murdering Maxwell Lord in cold blood or allowing a brainwashed Superman to remain under his control. She kills Lord and later hands herself in to the authorities (and is eventually found not guilty as she was acting in self-defense).
  • The wolf prince Hrimhari is given the chance to sacrifice his own life to save his love Rahne Sinclair of X-Factor. However, Rahne is pregnant with his child, and the one offering the deal will only save one person in exchange for Hrimhari. One life for one soul. Hrimhari subverts the choice by choosing to save the nearby mortally wounded Elixir instead, since Elixir has extremely powerful healing powers (no Healing Factor though, hence the "mortally wounded" issue) that could save Rahne and the child.
  • In Astro City, while Superman expy Samaritan is out on a date with feminist hero Winged Victory (herself an Expy of Wonder Woman,) he is trying to understand how her philosophy informs her superhero style. He asks her if, faced with a choice between a man and a woman who were in danger, she would always choose to save the woman. Her answer was "All other things being equal -- yes."
  • One Spider-Man annual features the Scorpion doing this to J. Jonah Jameson. Holding Jameson's son John and his wife Marla hostage, the Scorpion demands that Jameson decide which one he kills, saying he'll let the other one live. A broken Jameson subverts this trope when he pleads with the Scorpion to kill him instead, saying that he was the one who turned the Scorpion into a monster. The Scorpion likes the idea, but the trope is Double Subverted when he decides to just kill the entire Jameson family. Fortunately, that's the exact moment when Spider-Man pulls a Big Damn Heroes rescue and interrupts the Scorpion so the Jamesons have time to escape.
  • In Dark Empire, Luke finds himself before the reborn Emperor, who offers to make him his apprentice. Luke has his lightsaber. But the Emperor has 'survived' by Body Surfing, and he can do this to anyone not trained to resist - and if Luke kills him, there's one extremely powerful Jedi who can't resist right there. Luke kneels at the Emperor's feet, planning to try and sabotage him from within. And he does, to an extent - but this is the Emperor, and little by little Luke becomes the mask.
  • One Batman comic has Batman forced to make one of these by causality. He ended up in an alternate universe where there were no heroes at all, not even Greek myths. In this world, Bruce Wayne's parents had yet to be killed, and he had to make a choice: save young Bruce's parents, or let them die and ensure this world had at least one hero in the form of its own Batman. Batman chooses to save the alternate Bruce's parents... and then the trope is subverted: inspired by the memory of the vigilante who saved his family, the alternate Bruce Wayne studies, trains, and on reaching adulthood dons the cape and cowl himself.

Fanfic[edit | hide]

  • In chapter 18 of the Teen Titans fanfic "Maiden Of Stone," the villain Sedaris captures Raven and Terra, then forces Beast Boy to choose which one of them he will spare, an act which, according to one reviewer, brought Sedaris "up to Slade level on the evil scale". He even mentions Sophie's Choice.
  • A Sailor Moon fanfic in which magic from the Silver Crystal allows Michiru to become pregnant with Haruka's child has this at the climax—the story eventually reveals that Sailor Senshi are supposed to be sterile to prevent them from being forced to choose between duty and child and having the baby will kill Michiru. In the end, Haruka has to choose between saving her lover or her child. She chooses Michiru, but in a twist, because the baby's life force was linked to Michiru's own, neither dies.
  • A fanfic for BBC's Sherlock here the horrific cliffhanger ending of the series was continued upon in such a way that Moriarty offered this sort of choice to Sherlock, only instead of having him choose between two people, he was forced to choose between himself and John (with the threat of the full extent of Moriarty's madness hanging over John's head if he takes the third option). Being Sherlock, he takes the third option.
  • As explained by her character article on the Avatar: The Last Airbender canon and fanon wiki, Azula in Avatar:The Last Airbender Revised was forced by Ozai to make a Sadistic Choice at age eleven, sending her down a path of sadism and cruelty. She had to choose which person (both being her own age) she would burn to death: an innocent noble-blood male suitor of hers, or her very close friend Ty Lee. He attempts to persuade her to kill Ty Lee by saying that she, as a commoner, is of less value than the noble boy. Nevertheless, she kills the boy, laughing while she does it.
  • In the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic fancomic "A Piece Of Pie", one of Pinkie Pie's other personalities, Golden Pie, tells Rarity to get Pinkie's balloon, and if Rarity tries to take Golden Pie by force, the seat she's sitting on will set off creamy explosives that will ruin all of Rarity's dresses, so it's either ruin the shop and dresses or take Pinkie's balloon. No third option is taken, because Rarity takes Golden Pie off the seat and says that she'll just make more fabulous dressses.
    • Two happened so far in Ace Combat the Equestrian War. In chapter 11, Rainbow Dash was forced to choose between betraying her friends and joining Gilda or try to save Medley's life. She chose the latter. Two chapters later, Lightning Bolt must choose between saving Cloud Kicker from being killed by griffins or stop another griffon from bombing the Eastern Sector of Stalliongrad. She (initially) chooses the latter, but thanks to Garuda team's Big Damn Heroes moment, she goes to help Cloud Kicker.
  • In the short Homestuck fanfiction Prize an evil John casually asks Karkat whether he should kill Jade of Kanaya. Karkat refuses to choose, but evil!John keeps insisting that his friend has to.
  • Walking in the Shadow of Dreams: In episode 7 of the first version, it gets revealed Ariel is half-angel. It looks like if they will be forced to kill her -something Asuka understandably is NOT in favor of-, when Gendo orders to subdue her and retrieve her without harm.
  • Inner Demons: The recently Face Heel Turned Twilight Sparkle crosses the Moral Event Horizon with one of these. She captures Pinkie Pie, and when Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy show up to save her, Twilight incapacitates Fluttershy as well. She then tells Rainbow Dash to either rape Pinkie, or else she'll kill Fluttershy. Applejack shows up to save them... but only after Rainbow decides she has no choice and forces herself on Pinkie.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Sophie's Choice, both film and novel. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, Sophie is told to choose which of her two children will go to the gas chamber immediately, and which will live for some time longer in the camp. Since the story is realistic, Take a Third Option doesn't come up. The movie was popular enough that the term "Sophie's Choice" is occasionally used to describe similar sadistic choices. This sort of thing did happen there, too, and even before it, as described in the nonfiction book Treblinka. On leaving the ghetto, parents had to choose which road to send their children down, the left or the right. One of them led to another ghetto and hard labor; the other to the titular death camp. They were not told which was which. To make this even more awful, the first female and first Jewish Mayor of Pittsburgh, Sophie Masloff, spent money on trash cans with the words: "Sophie's Choice -- A Clean City" on them. Seriously.
  • The 1993 film The Good Son, starring young Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood, ends in a scene with both boys dangling over the edge of a cliff. The mom must pick between saving her evil son (played by Culkin) or kindhearted nephew (played by Elijah Wood.) She saves Frodo.
  • In Batman Forever, The Riddler gives Batman a choice to save Robin or Chase Meridian. He not only figures out it's a false choice and Riddler will kill both, he rescues both. He's the goddamn Batman.
    • A similar scene happened in the comics. Robin was given the choice to save either Batman or a judge from Two-Face. It's subverted when Robin chooses the judge, but forgets about Dent's obsession with the number two; there was a second trap in place and the judge was killed. Poor Robin never really had a chance.
    • In Batman and Robin, Mr. Freeze sets Batman up with the choice to either thaw a frozen Robin or apprehend him. He seems to already know Batman is going go with the former though, being Batman and what not, and trots away merrily before Batman can even choose, sealing his exit behind him
    • Happens several times in The Dark Knight, since the Joker loves these: Reveal Batman's identity, or people will die. Kill the accountant or I blow up a hospital. Save Harvey or save Rachel. Blow up the other boat or be blown up by them (or me). And arguably the worst - Break your "one rule," or watch Gotham's finest kill a child. True to form, he seldom keeps his word; lying about which hostage is where, and not knowing or caring what they actually choose, and screwing them over anyway. Joker doesn't just do this out of raw sadism, though, but the added intention of showing people that underneath everyone is capable of being a monster like himself.
      • The boat scene is an example where the potential victims Take a Third Option, leading to a Crowning Moment of Awesome for the people of Gotham.
      • By the end of the film, Two-Face has also bought into this trope, asking Gordon to choose which member of his family he loves the most, because that's the one whose survival he'll flip a coin over.
  • In the first Spider-Man movie referenced in the above quote, Green Goblin offers Spidey this choice between perennial love interest Mary Jane and a cable car full of innocents. (He rescues both, but is forced to reject Mary Jane out of fear of his harsh superhero life. It all works out by the second one.)
    • A similar situation happened with Gwen Stacy in the comics, but Spidey's attempt to Take a Third Option didn't go as well as it did in the movie.
      • Spiderman loves this trope. The 90s animated series has Green Goblin do a similar trick with Felicia Hardy and her mother. Here though Spidey saves Felicia and lets Mrs. Hardy fall, assuming Goblin himself would save her instead because he needed her for his scheme. He's right and both live, although Goblin gets away with her..
  • The Proposition is based entirely around this principle. In order to convince The Sheriff to spare the life of his younger, mentally handicapped brother, the protagonist must seek out and kill his older, violently insane brother. He tries to Take a Third Option by getting his older brother to help rescue the younger one, but it doesn't work, and by the end, he's the only one left.
  • The Saw series is full with them, especially the sixth movie, where William is forced to make these twice. The first time, he has to choose between a diabetic, middle aged mother and a healthy loner. He chooses the mother. The second time, he has to choose which two of his six junior associates will get off a deadly carousel and live. He saves a single mother and, inexplicably, another woman.
  • Although no kidnapping was involved, the choice faced by Princess Leia in Star Wars of giving up the location of the Rebel base or watching her home planet of Alderaan be destroyed by the Death Star was a perfect example. Especially since, in a notorious Kick the Dog moment that kicked Grand Moff Tarkin across the Moral Event Horizon, he ordered the planet destroyed anyway after Leia gave a false location in hopes of keeping the Rebellion alive. Tarkin's reasoning? "Dantooine is too remote to give an effective demonstration." Alderaan, on the other hand, was a core world.
    • There's also Lando Calrissian's deal with Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. Things in the EU like the radio dramatization and an Infinities comic that involves him refusing make his line about "I had no choice. They arrived before you did." much clearer. He was Baron Administrator of an entire city of people, and to save it and get The Empire to leave, he had to betray a friend. Of course, Vader never mentioned the torture, or that Boba Fett would get Solo, and he lied about leaving Solo's friends on Cloud City. At some point during this Lando protested strongly enough that his city was explicitly threatened, and eventually he tried to Take a Third Option, which was... marginally successful. Things worked out well enough in the end.
  • In Punisher: War Zone, Jigsaw and his Ax Crazy brother Loony Bin Jim give the eponymous protagonist a literal Sadistic Choice in the form of a Shoot the Dog scenario: if Frank chooses between killing either the Donatellis or Micro, the brothers release the ones who were spared, otherwise they just kill all three hostages. Although Micro offers himself to Frank to spare the Donatellis, the latter instead elects to Take a Third Option. He kills Loony Bin Jim instead, and Jigsaw retaliates by killing Micro. Although given Frank's last words to Micro ("You won't feel a thing, Micro") coupled with Micro's nod to Frank, it seems as if they both understood that no matter who Frank choose, all of the hostages would have been killed anyway; by eliminating Jim, it gave Frank a brief window of time to save the Donatellis. Of course, once they are out of harms way, he then brutally makes sure that Jigsaw pays for Micro's death.
  • In the end of Mad Max, one of the people who killed Max's wife is trapped under a burning car. Max gives him a choice - sever his leg to escape, or die in the explosion. The choice is made off-camera.
  • The end of The Box. James Marsden's character can either shoot and kill his wife, or let their son live the rest of his life deaf and blind.
    • This tends towards Heroic Sacrifice as well. The husband is too distraught to make a decision, so the wife insists that she die so their son can have a better life
    • This also appears to happen over and over again and appears to serve to show that Humans Are the Real Monsters. When Cameron Diaz's character presses the button, another women is shot by her husband for the exact same reason as above. When she dies, yet another woman is shown pressing the button. Strangely, it always appears to be women who are willing to kill a random person to get money. Unfortunate Implications.
  • Funny Games is made of these, including making a wife decide if the antagonists kill her husband quickly by gunshot, or slowly by knife.
  • A rare example of a villain finding himself having to make a Sadistic Choice happens in Minority Report: Anderton confronts Burgess, the inventor of Pre-Crime, about his role in the movie's events (including several murders) the day before Pre-Crime is scheduled to go nationwide, prompting him to pull a gun on Anderton. Anderton points out that the Pre-Cogs must have predicted his murder by now (they did) and that Burgess is now faced with a choice: if he kills Anderton, he gets halo'd for life but Pre-Crime goes national as planned. If he doesn't kill Anderton, he remains free but Pre-Crime is revealed as a fraud and Burgess' life's work is thus destroyed. Burgess takes a third option and shoots himself.
  • In The Pink Panther 2, the real Big Bad tries to escape by threatening to destroy the Pink Panther Diamond unless Clousteau lets her escape. Unlike most examples, however, he didn't need to Take a Third Option, as the "Pink Panther diamond" she was threatening to destroy, and thus had stolen earlier, was actually a decoy, something she didn't know.
  • Herod, villain of The Quick and the Dead, enjoys giving people a choice between killing someone they love, or dying at his hand.
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, the HYDRA spy attempts to make Steve Rogers choose between going after him or saving a little boy he's held hostage. Before Steve can do anything, the spy tosses the kid into the water. As it turns out, the kid's a good swimmer, as he then encourages Steve to go get the spy.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Sophie's Choice by William Styron. (See film, above.)
  • In Stephen King's The Dark Tower, the Man in Black presents Roland with a series of sadistic choices, most importantly at the end of The Gunslinger, when he gives him a major "Friend or Idol?" Decision.[2]
  • Played with in the short story "The Lady, or the Tiger?" by Frank R. Stockton. A king has a "justice" system where he puts criminals in the arena and makes them choose between two doors, one of which has a beautiful woman behind it and the other a vicious tiger. Normally that would just be a sick game of chance, but the story is about a particular criminal whose offense was having an affair with the princess, who knows which door is which. She comes to watch him in the arena, he looks to her to save him, she gives him a tiny signal telling him which to choose... so the question is, is she giving him up to another woman, or killing him?
  • The New Heroes novel "Sakkara" plays this terrifyingly straight, to one of the teenage heroes, with no third choice. In a young adults novel of all things.
  • In the Discworld novel Carpe Jugulum, Granny Weatherwax faces a complicated birth that could either kill the mother or the child; she saves the mother because she is still young and will be able to have children in the future. There is some unrelated but great moral concerns given during her explanation.
    • Mrs. Patternoster, the Slice midwife, posits that the choice should have been up to the husband/father; Granny retorts that he's done nothing to deserve being hurt so badly (reasoning that she is better able to bear the burden of a Sadistic Choice than he is). Meanwhile Death quietly takes the soul of the baby and makes a discreet exit.
  • Dean Koontz's Velocity revolves around this concept. Throughout the novel, protagonist Billy Wiles is sent notes from an unknown serial killer offering him two choices, both of which will cause the killer to kill someone, the victim being determined by the choice Billy makes.
  • A perfect example is in Pawn in Frankincense, the fourth book in Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles. Lymond is forced in a game of Human Chess to choose between two small children, one of whom is his own son and one who is the villain's son, without knowing which is which. He tries every possible Take a Third Option (bribery, self-sacrifice, escape) but the writer doesn't cop out. Lymond chooses the one he believes to be his own son; fans still debate why and whether he was right.
  • In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Count Olaf, disguised as Detective Dupin, allows the children to choose which one of them makes a 'lucky' escape.
    • In the last book, he offers to answer all of their questions about VFD, but only if they let him out of prison. They refuse.
  • In Animorphs novel "The Ellimist Chronicles", Crayak presents the Ellimist with three inhabited planets. Each planet has an enormous asteroid hurtling towards it. One asteroid is laced with explosives such that it will self-destruct before reaching its planet. The Ellimist can only destroy one asteroid (and thus can only save one sentient species). Which does he save? Which world would Crayak have chosen to save in advance? If the Ellimist chooses the mined asteroid, he's wasted his shot and two worlds die. If he chooses correctly...one world dies.
  • In Under the Yoke, a character suffers flashbacks to a Draka brainwashing technique that was used on him: being given control of the switch that directed current into one of two electric chairs, he being sat in one and his father in the other, so that he could only save his own life by committing patricide.
  • In Stephen King's short story, Riding the Bullet, the protagonist has to make a decision: either him, or his mother will die soon. He saves himself and chooses his mother. She doesn't die, but he still knows that his choice was to let her die.
  • In one of the Legend of the Five Rings official stories, Dragon Clan champion Togashi Satsu was captured by the mad monk Kokujin and asked which of his two followers would be sacrificed. Satsu initially offers himself but Kokujin refuses saying he'd kill both of Satsu's followers if he didn't make a choice. Once the choice gets made, Kokujin starts preparing the other guy.
  • Kurt Vonnegut's short story "All the King's Horses" has U.S. Army Colonel, Bryan Kelly, whose plane has been shot down in the Asiatic mainland. With him are his two sons, his wife, the pilot and co-pilot, and ten enlisted men. The sixteen prisoners are held captive by the Chinese officer Pi Ying, who forces Kelly to play a game of chess — using his family and men as the pieces. If he can defeat Pi Ying in the battle of wits, then the sixteen captives are free to go, except there is one catch: every American piece who is captured will be executed immediately. This leads to a moral dilemma for Kelly as he is forced to make decisions with the lives of everyone hanging in balance.
  • The Devil's Alternative is a novel by Frederick Forsyth in which the president of the United States is forced to do this. This is the Devil's Alternative, sadistic choice.
  • In the young adult Dark Future novel Smart Rats, the teen protagonist must choose whether to silence his mentally-disturbed little sister, or leave her alive to prattle lies that could get his entire family tortured and executed by the secret police. He takes her swimming, and "fails to hear" her struggling in the water.
  • Hexwood: At the culmination of his Training from Hell, Mordion is given the choice between killing his final remaining classmate -- whom he loved like another self -- or allow her to be tortured for a year in a way worse than anything a trained assassin could imagine. He takes the first option. It wasn't a hard choice.
    • His master then explains to him that he will face this choice every time he is ordered to kill someone: either he kills them immediately, usually as painlessly as he likes, or the master will take this revenge. Thus completing the transformation of a fundamentally gentle man into a remorseless killer.
  • Chauvelin is notorious for his merciless "either...or" ultimatums in The Scarlet Pimpernel and its sequels. His first target is Marguerite Blakeney, who has to choose between helping Chauvelin arrest and execute the Scarlet Pimpernel (aka her husband) or letting him arrest and behead her brother. Thereafter, Chauvelin usually holds Marguerite as the hostage and gives the choice to Sir Percy Blakeney—for example, in The Elusive Pimpernel, he threatens to kill the breadwinner in every family in Bologne if Sir Percy tries to rescue his wife.
  • In Mikhail Akhmanov's The Gates of the Galaxy, the Mark Valdez is one of the twelve Arbiters of Justice, whose duties include mediating inter-species disputes. They are trusted as always making the moral and just choice, even if it's not in humanity's favor. Earth has been at war with the Dromi for over 50 years with millions dead on both sides. Humans get a chance to end the war in one fell swoop by taking out the Dromi homeworld. They use a Portal Network to get to the Dromi system without detection and proceed to depopulate one of their worlds before moving to the homeworld. However, the Dromi figure out what's going on and land all orbital hatcheries on the planet, hoping that the humans won't harm "children". While the fleet officers claim that the Dromi larvae are not children (they're non-sentient), Mark realizes he has no choice but to abort the mission, even if his own daughter has to join the fight. The epilogue states that the war goes on for another century.
  • In The Roman Mysteries Nubia has to choice between freeing her brother and her freeing her friend from slavery.
  • Time Scout: Here's your choice, assassin, you can stay here in downtime London where they'll lop your damaged hands off, or you can come home with us and receive the best of modern care and tell us all about your criminal bosses.
  • Would You Rather: Over 200 Absolutely Absurd Dilemmas to Ponder by Justin Heimburg capitalizes on this trope.
  • Sara Douglass' Wayfarer Redemption sextet subverts this trope, in-universe and out. Hero DragonStar has the choice to save Faraday, the woman he loves (who in a previous life died this way) or Katie, a little girl who supposedly holds the key to victory against ultimate evil. He chooses Katie to die (against Faraday's protestations), but Big Bad Qeteb - who'd been itching to slit Katie's throat for the whole novel - discovers almost immediately afterwards that he's played straight into the hands of destiny by doing so and is now thoroughly fucked.
    • The only people for whom it plays straight are Qeteb and Faraday. Katie has always known exactly what has to happen and why. DragonStar has long since realised that she's not a weapon; she's a sacrifice... and saving her is pointless. It doesn't play straight for the astute reader who realises just before Katie dies that her final emotion (aside from stoic acceptance) is relief.

Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The concept is spoofed in an episode of Friends. The topic of "if you had to give up either food or sex" comes up. Immediately Ross says he'd give up food. Phoebe counters with "sex or dinosaurs." Ross's face falls, and he says "it's like Sophie's Choice!"
    • Joey, realizing choosing sex or food was hard, replied: "I want girls on bread!" A similar dialogue comes later:

Chandler: Hey, Joe, I gotta ask. The girl from the Xerox place buck naked (holds up one hand), or, or a big tub of jam. (holds up the other hand)
Joey: Put your hands together.

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow and Anya has made a powerful troll angry, and he tries to kill them both, and Xander jumps to their defense, but isn't not much of a match for the troll. The troll is however impressed with his bravery, and offers him to spare one of the girls, if Xander chooses which one of them he shall kill. Xander's response: "I'm not gonna choose between my best friend and my girlfriend! That's Insane Troll Logic!"
  • Angel: In Season 5 Angel and Spike were given the choice to either save Fred or let many others die.
  • Charmed: Piper and Phoebe dealt with this when they had to either choose to save their sister Prue, or stop the bad guys. However, saving Prue would trigger the apocalypse, but Piper was adamant about saving Prue, then somehow saving the world after that. Only after seeing a vision of the future did Phoebe realize Prue had to be sacrificed to save everything else. Luckily, they Took a Third Option in the end.
  • Firefly:
    • Niska captures Mal and Wash, and has Zoe choose between them. It's subverted when she chooses her husband without stopping to think, before he even finishes asking her to choose. Niska is so irritated at being interrupted in mid-taunt that he decides to be extra generous and throw in Mal's ear.
    • Bounty hunter Jubal Early pulls the variant of the Sadistic Choice on Simon in "Objects in Space"—if Simon doesn't help him find River so that he can take her in for the bounty on her head, Early will go back to the engine room where he has Kaylee tied up and rape her. Sadistic element is taken down a notch by Early reminding him that if he goes along with helping to find River, there might be an opportunity down the line where Early slips up enough for Simon to take control.
      • This is because Early's goal is to control Simon, not to make him suffer. He is indifferent to suffering. He just wants this to go smoothly, and jam tomorrow works best for that kind of thing.
  • In an episode of 24, a man is given a choice by a terrorist to either allow his son or wife to leave (he's holding them at gunpoint to force him to pick something up for him). After agonizing about it, he picks his son to be released. The terrorist then releases his wife instead, explaining that he only did that to learn who was more important as a hostage.
    • Nearly the entire first season is a series of Sadistic Choices for Jack.
  • In an episode of Spooks, Fiona and Danny have been taken hostage and Fiona has to choose between her husband Adam (a fellow spy) and her son, she has no choice but to lure Adam into the abductors' trap. Adam then has to choose which one will die. But before Adam gets to choose, Danny sacrifices himself.
  • In The X-Files, it's at least very strongly implied that Mulder's father had to choose if his son or his daughter would be taken for experimentation.
    • In Season 8, Krycek gives Skinner a choice. He will give Skinner the antidote against the virus that is killing Mulder (recently returned from being abducted), but Skinner has to kill Scully's unborn child. In the end, he chooses to kill Mulder by unplugging his life support, which leads to the realization that the life support was only incubating the virus. A strong course of antivirals later, and both Mulder and baby are very much alive.
  • In the series finale of Blood Ties, a demon makes Vicki choose between the life of one of her friends, or the power to save the world, which includes reversal of her near-blindness. She chooses her friend.
  • In the much darker Season 8 of Smallville, Lex, who wants to pay back Clark and Lana for his condition reveals that the suit Lana stole in an earlier episode (which was meant to heal Lex) absorbs Kryptonite radiation. He then offers the sadistic choice- let Lana absorb the fuel in a kryptonite bomb on the top of the Daily Planet building and never be able to come near Clark again, or walk away and let the bomb go off, taking half of Metropolis with it.
    • In Season 9, Amanda Waller shows Clark a TV screen depicting an agent holding a gun to Chloe's head and demands that he serve Checkmate or watch her die. The gunman makes the fatal mistake of talking, allowing Clark to hear him and figure out his location. Then, he simply speeds over to him and takes him out.
    • Lx-3 does this in the Season 10 opening. Tying Lois Lane up in a field, he sets fire to the crops around her; he's already left a firebomb in the Daily Planet' building. He then confronts Clark, asking him whether he'll let his girlfriend die, or sacrifice thousands of people in the streets of Metropolis. Clark saves them both.
  • In Torchwood: Children of Earth The alien 456 demands 10% of the earth's children or they'll kill everyone. Captain Jack Harkness does eventually figure out how to stop them, but has only moments to choose between sacrificing his own grandson (whilst his daughter, the child's mother, watches) or letting the 456 take 10% of Earth's children
  • In Babylon 5 Sheridan and Delenn (and, by extension, all the lesser species) are compelled to chose between following one of the two uber-races: the (near-)fascist Vorlons and chaotic murderous Shadows, each of which chooses would eventually result in an endless war. They choose not to choose at all.
    • In a less obvious way Sheridan himself inadvertently gives this to Kosh: either he helps the Alliance to fight Shadows (and face an inevitable and lethal retribution for breaking the no-direct-confrontation agreement the two races had) or he would have to kill Sheridan, who firmly refused to take "No" for an answer (and was crucial to any victory over the Shadows). He chose the former.
    • Babylon 5 loved this trope. It's revealed that the Minbari (or at least, some of them) knew of the Shadow invasion, and deliberately did not help the Narns when they were invaded by the Centauri with the help of the Shadows. But they held back because if they had moved to stop the Shadows, the Shadows would have started attacking openly sooner than they eventually did. As Delenn states in the episode "Ship of Tears", it was a choice between the lives of millions (on the Narn homeworld) and the lives of billions (on entire planets that could be destroyed by the Shadows, as they later proved capable of doing). The Minbari choice bought enough time for the Alliance to find a weakness of the Shadows...but only just enough.
      • And earlier, Sheridan (in the episode "In the Shadow of Z'Ha'Dum"), who was facing the decision of whether or not to release the dangerous Mr. Morden from the station's holding cells, made a reference to the attack on Coventry in World War II, repeating a rumor of the time that Churchill had deliberately allowed the attack to go through simply to keep their knowledge of the Enigma cipher secret (in actuality, action was likely taken, but went wrong; Straczynski admitted that the Coventry example wasn't a certain one, but it made for a good story and illustrated his point well). As one character comments in that same episode: "How many lives is a secret worth?" Sheridan lets him go, as to keep him would have revealed the "secret" and cost billions of lives, as the Minbari decision showed above.
  • A variant occurs in one episode of The Dead Zone, in which the villain is fate. After some visions, Johnny is forced to choose which of his old friends die. Does he let one friend get a heart transplant at the cost of the other friend's life? Of course, he keeps trying to try the third option, but it never works out. Leads to some very Tear Jerker moments.
  • Frasier episode Out With Dad.

Frasier: Dad, would you please come with me?
Martin: To the opera? What do you need me for?
Frasier: Dad, I can't go with a woman because then she'll think I'm on a date, and if I go alone she'll think I couldn't get a date.
Roz: He would look pretty pathetic.
Martin: Oh, geez!
Daphne: Or you could stay home with us and watch sad movies.
Frasier: (reads a title) "Sophie's Choice."
Martin: I'll say it is!

  • In the Doctor Who episode "Family of Blood", the titular family capture both the Doctor's companion, Martha, and his love (or at least John Smith's love), Joan, and then giving him the option of which one to kill first.

Son of Mine: Which one of them do you want us to kill? Maid or matron? Your friend, or your lover? Your choice.

    • And then Martha goes and rescues herself and Joan. Give her a medal!
    • The Fires of Pompeii counts as one of the hardest choices the Doctor was forced to take, as he had to choose between sacrificing Pompeii or let the villains ruin the world. Worse, it was a fixed point in time.
    • Later on in "Victory of the Daleks", the Doctor has to choose between destroying the last five Daleks or preventing Earth from being blown up by a Dalek bomb. There is no third option - the Doctor saves Earth and the Daleks escape after gloating about his weakness being his compassion.

Supreme Dalek: Then choose, Doctor. Destroy the Daleks or save the Earth.

    • Well, YMMV on that. He could've teleported the bomb onto their ship, but he wanted to give them a chance to redeem themselves. He could've done that and THEN brought the bomb on board, of course.
    • In the Series 5 episode "Amy's Choice", the Dream Lord forces Amy to choose between her nice, reliable, dull boyfriend Rory and the dashing, unreliable, charismatic Doctor.
  • Nash Bridges was given one of these in the first episode of the sixth (and final) season. The Villain of the Week managed to get the drop on Joe and Cassidy and take them hostage. He then has Nash chose between them while showing them chained up on internet camera. (The implication is that the one he doesn't choose will be left to die.) Nash choses Cassidy. But after the villain hangs up, Nash reveals it was because Joe would be easier to find because the graffiti behind him belongs to a particular street gang.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Empath", Kirk was given the choice to choose either Spock or McCoy to go through torture. His captors informed him that McCoy would likely die if he went through with it and Spock would likely go insane if he went through with it. And interestingly enough, Kirk probably would have chosen himself to go through the torture again if McCoy hadn't knocked him out first.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Wesley is due to be executed for a trivial crime. The orbiting "God" wants to hold Picard to his own rule about obeying the Prime Directive, which would apparently forbid rescuing Wesley. Picard chooses to "bend" the rules and the entity buys it.
  • Another early TNG episode, "Skin of Evil," (the one where an evil oil slick kills Tasha Yar) features this. The evil oil slick, Armus, takes control of Data's arm (which is holding a phaser) and tells Dr. Crusher that she gets to choose who gets shot. Dr. Crusher chooses herself, and the entity quickly becomes bored with this game because none of the Enterprise's crew are giving in to the creature's desire to be tormented for its entertainment.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • Latent Image: This trope turned Logic Bomb (though not literally) when The Doctor is forced to choose between saving Kim's life or Jetal's life after an accident. They have the same chance of survival, but he doesn't have time to treat them both. He instinctively picks the one he knows best, something not covered by his programming, and suffers a nervous collapse.
  • Law and Order: Criminal Intent: A psychiatrist forces couples to choose to save themselves and kill their spouse or be killed and let their spouse live. He did this nine times and only an elderly couple choose the "altruistic" choice. Ironically the killer was inspired by the sadistic choice put to his father and grandparents during the Holocaust. Yes, he was called out on it, and no, he didn't get it ("I'm doing real science! It's documented and everything!").
  • In an episode of Lois and Clark, a mysterious couple kidnaps Jimmy and Clark's adoptive parents. They then tie Jimmy to a bomb in an undisclosed location, while doing the same with Clark's parents in another location. The bombs are set to go off at the same time. They give Superman a choice of saving his friend or his parents, as he only has enough time to find and disarm one bomb. Sipes decides to Take a Third Option and uses a beam splitter to fry both bombs with his laser vision from the sky. The kidnappers are not happy, as they are actually Kryptonians sent to test Kal-El's qualifications for leadership of their Lost Colony. Their goal was to force him to make a tough choice.
  • In the opener of the NCIS episode "Requiem," Tony is presented with a difficult decision (although it wasn't forced on him by an enemy). Gibbs and the childhood best friend of his deceased daughter are in a car that goes off a dock. Tony dives in and pulls both of them out, but neither is breathing. He begins CPR on Gibbs, and then looks over at the young woman lying on the dock. He goes over to her, glances back to Gibbs, who still isn't breathing. Tony makes the agonizing decision to begin CPR on the girl, instead of continuing with Gibbs. It's a subtle moment, but an important one: it shows that Tony knows Gibbs well enough to know that Gibbs would not want to be saved at the cost of the young woman's life, and that the womanizing, goofy, often annoying NCIS agent is mature enough to make the hard choice. Fortunately for everyone involved, both Gibbs and the girl are saved.
  • Several of the tasks on The Amazing Race have been picking the lesser of two evils. Perhaps the best example came during the China leg of Season 17, Both challenges were "Needle in a Haystack" challenges, and both of the particularly nasty variety. Teams had to pick either finding a boat with specific markings in the Marina or riding a tram and identifying the right signs, if you didn't get the right signs then you had to ride the Tram again and again. Note that at the time the racers got to the leg it was nighttime; with the former challenge, they had to hold their flashlights over the signs one by one and with the latter, they had to search for specific signs in a sea of neon.
  • Prison Break: In season four, Michael is offered the choice of keeping Scylla out of the General's hands or rescuing Sara. The choice gets worse when Christina Rose then calls and offers Michael the choice of keeping Scylla out of her hands or rescuing Linc. The Sadistic Choice has a three way.
  • Not surprisingly, some Unsubs like to use this in Criminal Minds. An episode had the Unsub lock three friends in an underground chamber to deprive them of food and water. They are told that one of them has to die for them to survive. Even worse, they had to kill the unlucky third friend themselves. With a hammer.
    • Notably, Reid is forced into this twice in Revelations. In one instance, he is shown four computer screens of complete strangers and is told to pick one to live and one to die (logically, he's picking one to live and three to die - Reid brings this up almost immediately, though not in so many words). If he doesn't choose, they all die. Reid eventually gives in and arbitrarily picks a victim to live and is left to watch the others be murdered. Later, Rafael tells Reid to choose one of his colleagues to die. If he doesn't choose, Rafael will shoot Reid. He uses this to his advantage in one of the cleverest maneuvers Reid has ever made, which is saying something.
  • On an episode of MASH, B.J. is forced to choose between cutting a rope that a wounded soldier is using to climb up into the helicopter he's riding in, or let the helicopter be shot down. He chooses to cut the rope. This drives him into a deep funk, especially after he tries and fails to find out whether or not the guy made it out alive. Then the Army awards him the Bronze Star.
  • In the second part of the second season of Twin Peaks, Agent Cooper is forced to play a game of chess with Windom Earle. Whenever Cooper loses a piece, Earle commits another murder.
  • In the "Return of an Old Friend" two-parter of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Goldar says that he'll free the teens' parents (who had been captured by Rita Repulsa prior...) if they give up their Power Coins to him. They comply, but naturally, Goldar doesn't hold up his end of the bargain.
  • Near the end of Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, the insanely massive Zangyack invasion fleet, something that the previous 34 Super Sentai teams could only delay for a few years by sacrificing their powers, returns to Earth. The Gokaiger can either face the fleet by themselves, a task which is the next thing to suicide, or use the Greatest Treasure in the Universe to retroactively wipe Zangyack from the face of existence -- at the cost of doing the same to every Super Sentai. They end up destroying the Treasure and resolving to face the impossible odds, because that's what Super Sentai members do.
  • In the pilot episode of Awake, it is suggested to Michael that once he comes to realize which reality is true he will stop dreaming the other. Or, as he put it, once he decides who has died (his wife or his son), he'll never see him/her again.
  • Use in the Psych fourth season finale. Shawn is given a choice between saving Abigail or Juliet. He originally chooses to save Juliet, as he doesn't know Abigail's whereabouts. When he solves the clue about Abigail, the team splits up to save them both.

Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • Parodied in Dilbert: In one strip, Phil the Prince of Insufficient Light comes up to Dilbert and sentences him to choose between the following two options: a highly paid yet utterly meaningless job whose results vanish before his eyes or a very low paid yet rewarding job that grants him the respect of his coworkers. Dilbert gleefully states that both options are better than what he has right now and even calls Wally over to "get in on this".

Phil: I hate the 90's.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • As mentioned in the Captured Super Entity example, there's a Sadistic Choice that's become famous in Deadlands Fandom. The Unity is an adventure set primarily in Deadlands: Hell on Earth. The story goes a little like this. Mad Scientist par excellence Darius Hellstromme has finally succeeded in putting the Big Bads back in a can and has tasked the Player Party with conveying them from Earth to a colonized planet named Banshee, where he believes the evil can finally be defeated. However, the only starship with a functioning faster-than-light drive is powered by a demon who demands a gruesome task. The price is murder. Only the posse is present. If they don't get to Banshee, all is lost. Do the math.
    • And then when you arrive at Banshee, your ship crashes. The can breaks, the evil is unsealed, and the Sadistic Choice (or Heroic Sacrifice) is for naught.
      • Of course this losing a lot of impact if your group also plays Paranoia and frequently kill each other at the drop of a commie's hat.
  • Chess is full of Sadistic Choices. Moves known as "forks" are when a piece threatens two (or more) enemy pieces at the same time. Sometimes the player can Take a Third Option by using one to defend the other, or use a third piece to defend them both. Most of the time though, they have to sacrifice the less valuable one.
    • And then there's a zugzwang, a sadistic choice where every option will get you screwed. You can benefit from breaking a fork (if your opponent was expecting you to waffle, you can score a tempo advantage). You never benefit from a zugzwang.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Marvel Ultimate Alliance, the player is offered by Mephisto the choice between freeing Jean Grey or Nightcrawler from his realm. The one chosen is saved while the other is dropped into an energy vortex, and later his/her soul becomes brainwashed by Mephisto and aids him in the boss battle following the choice. S/he pulls a Heroic Sacrifice when you defeat the devil afterwards. Bonus points if you have the 360 DLC which includes, yes, Nightcrawler as a playable character.
    • There's even an easter egg in the epilogue scene, if the player saves Jean over Nightcrawler. Mystique becomes overcome with grief over her son's death and lashes out by assassinating Professor Xavier. There's a scene where the X-Men are attending Xavier's funeral, and one of them is f*** ing NIGHTCRAWLER!
    • If you save Nightcrawler over Jean Grey, then in the epilogue Jean Grey comes back as The Phoenix and destroys the world. You can't win! The only difference is that Nightcrawler hates you for choosing him over Jean. Jean Grey instantly forgives you, assuring you that You Did the Right Thing. The bitch.
    • And heaven forbid a player thinks intelligently and try to open both of the cages at once using UA's co-op mode. I did that, and I got both bad endings. Both characters "Survived", in that they whined in the safe house. But I also managed to get both of their epilogues together. It was probably the most frustrating part of that game for me.
    • It's even worse if you thought this choice was a trick, because you actually knew Nightcrawler can TELEPORT, and thought the game would give you a Game Over if you saved him over Jean.. I saved Jean, thinking Nightcrawler would teleport back up.. Having to fight him was hard, because he's my second favorite X-Men!
    • If one has Magneto in their party when they have to make a choice, good ol' Maggy Takes a Third Option and uses his powers to break the locks on both cages. Choice averted. Players rejoice.
  • In Kingdom Hearts II, the villain Xaldin makes Beast (from Disney's Beauty and the Beast) decide whether he wants to save Belle or the Magic Rose that can change him back. Beast chooses Belle, but then Belle sucker elbows Xaldin, saving both herself and the rose.
    • In 358/2 Days, Saix tells Axel he must choose which of his friends will survive - Roxas, or Xion. As one might expect, he does everything he can to Take a Third Option. It backfires, and he ends up losing both instead. Ouch.
  • A minor variant in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, where Petey Piranha kidnaps both Princesses Peach and Zelda. Kirby (or rather, the player) can only save one princess; the other gets nabbed by Wario. This subverts heroic attempts to break them both out in that, while it is theoretically possible to deplete both cages' life bars by attacking Petey Piranha's head, the game picks a princess for you if this is the case. Nice try, hero. Both end up fine near the end anyways.
  • In The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, before the events of the game, Zant gives Zelda the choice of surrendering to him or killing her along with all of Hyrule. Zelda decides to surrender.
  • In the PS2 game, Radiata Stories the major branching off point is whether or not the human hero joins the girl and the forces of non-humanity, or stays with humans. This results in two Multiple Endings, one where humanity survives but the girl dies; or humanity is replaced by elves and other creatures but the guy gets to be with the girl.
  • In the final episode of Desperate Housewives: The Game, your mobster ex-boyfriend gives you a gun and orders you to shoot either your husband or your other ex-boyfriend (long story). Whether you shoot your husband, ex-boyfriend or just take the very obvious third option and shoot the gangster, the end result is the same - the gun wasn't loaded, he was just testing you. That's almost as sadistic as the bad writing enforced on you the entire game.
  • In Mass Effect 1, during the attack on Virmire, you are given the choice between going to reinforce positions held by two of your officers: Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko and Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams. As the player is on a strict time limit to the detonation of a massive nuke, there is no time to Take a Third Option, and the one you do not choose to help will die. The choice is especially effective as due to the lead-up, you're given numerous occasions to reconsider. Massive indecision follows.
    • Then, shortly before the endgame, you are asked to chose whether to call the Systems Alliance ships into the battle in time to save the Destiny Ascension, the asari flagship which the Citadel Council is currently on board, or have the Alliance ships hold back and wait for the best opportunity to attack Sovereign. This one isn't quite as sadistic to the player, since Sovereign gets defeated either way, making it mostly come down to how much the player likes or dislikes the Council. If you become a complete Renegade, you can decide to sacrifice the Council, then explicitly state you wanted them dead specifically to get rid of them so humans could become the new Council. Even Captain Anderson expresses utter shock, though Ambassador Udina just fine and dandy with it. Utterly chilling.
      • Then again, saving the Council results in many Alliance soldiers being lost, as well as delaying reinforcements for the attack on Sovereign, so its arguably a "standard" Sadistic Choice.
        • Mass Effect 2 reveals that in addition to the Council, there were about 10'000 civilians aboard the Destiny Ascension, far more than the Alliance's casualties should you choose to save them. So, going by numbers alone, saving the Council is still the optimal choice, though that is still assuming that Sovereign gets defeated either way.
    • In the Bring Down the Sky DLC, at the end the player must choose between letting the terrorist mastermind behind the attempted Colony Drop go free to save the hostages, knowing that he will probably kill more innocents later, or letting the hostages get killed in order to stop him permanently. Once again, there's no third option.
    • Letting Kasumi keep the Greybox seems like an easy decision. After all, you and her went through hell to get it back, and its all she has left of her murdered boyfriend. Then you learn that the data the box contains would literally make the entire galaxy turn against humanity in less than a heartbeat if it ever got out.
    • In a sidequest in Mass Effect 2, you have two missiles being launched at a city and the spaceport next to the city. You only have the codes to stop one. Do you destroy the spaceport, cutting off the city from the outside world, or do you destroy the city, killing thousands of people in order to keep a valuable asset intact?
    • BioWare has stated that Mass Effect 3 is going to be full of ones that will make Virmire look like a cakewalk including potentially sacrificing entire species in the war against the Reapers. Along with the fact that every decision made in the first two will make an impact in Mass Effect 3 makes for even more possibilities.
      • Boy howdy does it. There are at least two Sadistic Choices in the main mission string alone. Both have third options, but they each require you to have made very specific choices in the past two games. For players without an import, the third option is not available and the other two options are indeed sadistic.
  • In Mass Effect 2 If you don't have the required paragon/renegade perecentage points, you will then have to choose one fighter or the other And risk seeing your squad mate get sacrificed during the Suicide Mission. This happens with the Jack/Miranda & Legion/Tali arguments.
  • In Lost Magic, Diva of the Twilight holds her own sister Trista hostage for Issac's wand, which is one of the MacGuffins. And no, you don't get a third option. Due to the game's morals, Issac will turn evil and become Diva's subordinate if you decide to hold onto the wand.
      • Further spoilers ahoy: You still have the wand yourself. But on the evil path, you have to kill off the other sages. When you defeat the last one, if you choose to finish off said sage, you get the Bad Ending where Diva kills Issac. Even if you don't, you still will get a Downer Ending.
  • In the final case of Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice For All, after you learn that your client Matt Engarde was the one who ordered assassin Shelly de Killer to kill Juan Corrida, you are, towards the end of the final day of the case, forced to decide the verdict of the trial. Oh, and your sidekick Maya is being held hostage by de Killer, and the only way he will release her is if you get a Not Guilty verdict for Engarde. But if you do that, an innocent woman will almost assuredly be convicted in his place. The way to win is to Take a Third Option and convince de Killer to abandon his contract with Engarde, freeing Maya and letting you give Engarde his justly-deserved Guilty verdict. In the process, Engarde gets his own unpleasant choice- go free and get killed by de Killer, or plead guilty to murder.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV gives you a choice of two paths at the end of the game: You can either choose to participate in a mission with Dimitri, the Russian crook who screwed you over earlier in the game and who you've been trying to kill up to this point, or not participate in the mission and instead, to go and kill Dimitri. If you choose to kill Dimitri, the mob boss who set up the mission for the both of you will show up at Roman's wedding and kill Niko's love interest, Kate. If you choose to do the mission, Dimitri will show up at the wedding and kill Niko's cousin and best friend, Roman. Ironically, it was Kate who advised you to go kill Dimitri, while it was Roman who advised you to participate on the mission with him.
  • Fable II ends with you having to make one of three choices: use the power of the Spire to resurrect everyone in your family Lucien killed -- your husband/wife, your kids, your dog, even your long-dead sister comes back for a while -- or use it to resurrect the thousands that Lucien killed to power up the Spire. Or you can choose to take 1,000,000 gold, but that's both a major dick move and outside the bounds of this trope. It's not quite a Sadistic Choice, as under normal circumstances all of these people would stay dead, but still a good source of angst if you're looking for one.
    • The money one is useless, except for the achievement and seeing all the endings (at this point, one should have an amble supply of money). The best choice is "Love", as that is the middle one and more importantly, allows one to retain the dog which is useful for finishing the Archaeologist quest (which, if one is doing, should mean something as even if you know exactly where everything is, it is still time consuming). The sadistic choice is the one with the Shadow Court, where you have to choose to curse yourself or an innocent girl. While it has little effect on the game, it would be a rather difficult choice in real life (although, in real life, rapidly aging oneself when one is the only one who can save the world would be foolish).
    • Don't forget when you must sacrifice either yourself or a young woman you've never met to a fate of losing all of your youth and gaining glowing red eyes.
    • Fable III gives you one in the first scene: After asking your older brother, King Logan, to spare the protesting peasants, he punishes you by letting you choose whether he executes your childhood sweetheart or the leaders of the peasants. What's that? You want a third option? Sure. You can choose to do nothing, and Logan kills all of them.
  • In the Heaven's Feel arc of Fate/stay night, you have to choose between stopping Tohsaka to save the one you love, Sakura, who will inevitably go on a killing rampage, or killing said love and upholding your borrowed ideal.
    • Regrettably, choosing to kill her only leads to a bad end - right after getting told that what would happen next was probably enough for it's own route.
  • In Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon for the DS (Marth's game) in one of the early chapters the player has to choose one character to stay behind as decoy, thereby losing the character
    • The effect is completely lost on the players that sacrifice Jeigan or Gordin (both are considered completely worthless)
    • Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn has a rather gripping one in near the end of Part 3. Just as Micaiah is about to give the order to fire on the Apostle, Tibarn swoops in and hangs her Bodyguard Crush Sothe over a cliff and gives her an ultimatum: cease fire and retreat or Sothe dies. Micaiah can't retreat however, since it would effectively mean everybody in Daein would die due to the bloodpact. Unable to find a third option, Michiah is helpless as she watches Sothe get thrown over the cliff. Micaiah promptly has a My God, What Have I Done?, until it is revealed to have been a bluff and she calls for a retreat.
  • A slightly different spin on this occurs in Call of Duty: World at War during the Soviet campaign level Eviction. After being ordered to kill wounded Germans crawling on the ground in the streets of Berlin, you and your squadmates stumble upon three unarmed German soldiers cornered in a subway entrance. Your Sergeant gives you the choice of gunning them down yourself or letting your vengeful Red Army comrades throw Molotovs at them.
    • Later in that same game, a more traditional Sadistic Choice occurs when Sergeant Roebuck and Private Polonsky are attacked by a trio of Japanese soldiers pretending to surrender. It's impossible to save both as shooting one set of soldiers attacking one member of the duo causes the other group to succeed in their suicidal attack on the other. This causes the surviving NPC to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge when the time comes to Hold the Line.
  • Rare example not offered to the story's hero: Torn in Jak II has to make basically a Love Interest or Underground Movement Decision. He chooses Ashelin over the Underground, and as a result Praxis gets his hands on the Precursor Stone.
    • To put this choice into perspective, Ashelin is Praxis's own daughter. So Yeah.
  • The Granstream Saga makes the player suffer through a particularly sadistic version of the classic Sadistic Choice. In order to power up your MacGuffin enough to kill the final Big Bad, you have to kill one of your two love interests and let it consume her soul. And, sadly, the game doesn't let you Take a Third Option and try to fight without sacrificing either one.
    • Not to mention, it's supposed to be the one Eon feels the most for, since the weapon's power is equal to the feelings invested in it.
  • Near the end of Breath of Fire II, you're asked to sacrifice one of your party members in order to get the ultimate dragon power. It's a Secret Test of Character - you pass by refusing to sacrifice any of them.
  • In Famous: Kessler pulls this on Cole. Cole is given the choice to save six doctors, or save Trish, his girlfriend. The doctors are more relevant in context, because the setting is a city under quarantine due to disease, and the quarantine has been causing basic social services to fail while gang violence escalates to the point of insanity. If Cole goes for the doctors, Trish dies. But there is a twist if you go for Trish instead; the choice is rigged and Trish will be a decoy, with the real Trish hidden with the doctors Cole has chosen not to save. Notable for two reasons: First, the hero doesn't get to Take a Third Option, and second, it's actually a subversion. Kessler isn't doing it because he's a sadist, he's doing it because his ultimate goal is to harden Cole against emotional trauma earlier in his life than he would be otherwise.
    • It comes up again in the sequel: In the end, you have the choice to either defeat the Beast and in the process kill all Conduits, including Cole, Nix, and Kuo... or side with the Beast to save the Conduits at the expense of Humanity, including your friend Zeke. And no, there's still no Third Option -- you either wipe out humanity to save yourself and those like you while turning your back on your human friends, or sacrifice yourself and some of your closest companions to save humanity. And yes, they are Killed Off for Real, with the possible exception of Cole in the Good Ending.
  • The main plot of Wild ARMs 1 is kicked off by one of these. The heroes have to either give the demons the Tear Drop, or allow the demons to destroy Adelhyde. They're forced to do the former.
  • In Quest for Glory 5, the hero will venture into Hades at one point. At the end of the level, he'll be given the choice to resurrect someone implied to be closest to his heart: Katrina, the vampire who died for him, or Erana, whom he forged a spiritual bond with. Both women are in love with him and he can only bring one of them back to life.
    • You can choose to save neither, but that doesn't really count, does it?
  • Sith in Knights of the Old Republic are fond of this. One of them would torture your Love Interest Bastila (if you play male) or Carth (if you play female) to extract vital information from you. Another one subjects you and one other guy to a sick game: if you answer some questions wrong, he Force-electrocutes you, but if you answer right, he Force-electrocutes the other guy! One of the ways out is to Take a Third Option and team up with the other guy to kill your tormentor.
  • Far Cry 2 contains such a scenario, the player character receives word that one of the factions in the civil war plans to wipe out a bunch of uncooperative civilians and his fellow foreign mercenary friends, and only has enough time to get to one to assist in defending. Ultimately though it doesn't matter which option one chooses, the outcome is the same either way.
  • Silent Hill 3 has a sadistic choice that the Word of God has admitted to have been purposely worded that way to make the player uncomfortable. (See the works page for details.)
    • Silent Hill: Homecoming offers a different variation of the sadistic choice; at one point in time, you are given the option of watching your mother die by being torn apart on a torture device, or shooting her yourself so she won't have to suffer. Neither choice is particularly pleasant.
  • Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception offers you something of this in the endgame. You can either take down Alect Squadron first, which leads to the Fenrirs having annoying High Powered Microwave cannons, or you can attack the transport fleet first and deny the Fenrirs their HPMs, but gain Alect Squadron's piloting expertise. And you may also need to go through an Airstrike Impossible segment now or later. No third option here, folks.
  • Dragon Age Origins has its share of sadistic choices. An especially notable one comes in Redcliffe: the arl's young son is possessed by a demon, and the only immediate options available to the party are to fight the demon in the physical world, killing the boy in the process, or perform a blood magic ritual to allow one of your mages to confront the demon in the spirit world, which will require a human sacrifice. A third option is also available, but only with a lot of work.
    • Oh, and if you do Take a Third Option, it's heavily implied in the epilogue that the boy isn't exactly back to normal. Yeah, its that kind of game.
      • Well, Wynne does mention in dialogue with Shale that a mage cured this way will be forever changed by the experience.
    • In the City Elf origin, you can either kill the noble who's about to rape four elven women, but that would bring down the wrath of his father, who would purge the Alienage - so it's either let him get away with raping (and possibly killing) four women to save your town, or killing him and forfeiting your township down the line.
    • Another, somewhat more surprising one is deciding the fate of one of the central villains, who was really a Well-Intentioned Extremist and ultimately seems to recognize and regret his errors. If you choose to spare him and give him a chance at redemption, one of your party members abandons you and becomes a hopeless drunk for the rest of his life - assuming the guy you just spared doesn't have him executed, which is also a possibility. If somehow took a third option and hardened him through seeing his only living connection being unhappy to see him, he will stay as a king but still bitter and despondant over how either Loghain is still very much alive and almost walks away scott free or how Loghain gets to play hero.
      • Interestingly, the default option for the first game's ending in Dragon Age II is actually the third option. You get to meet King Alistair who grimly mentions that Loghain is still alive.
    • And then there's the end game. You have three choices on how to kill the Archdemon: perform a Heroic Sacrifice which not only kills you but destroys your soul, have one of your friends/comrades perform the soul-destroying Heroic Sacrifice, or help your Sour Supporter give birth to what may be the equivalent of the Big Bad.
      • If you choose to go the baby Satan route, one of the male party members obviously has to help Morrigan conceive the baby. This isn't that big of a deal, unless your player character is in a relatioship with Alistar. If you take that route, he will end up being the only guy in the party capable of playing baby daddy. Not as bad as other choices on the list, but it still kinda sucks
    • And then the expansion, Awakening ups the ante by forcing you to choose between saving the city of Amaranthine from getting sacked by Darkspawn, or saving Vigil's Keep, where your soldiers and half your party are stationed, from an impending attack.
      • Or do a good enough job reinforcing your fortress and troops and have Vigil's Keep survive without your help, while you save the city. It's more about being well prepared than taking getting a third option.
        • For the above, several of your party members at the keep will die, and apparently Vigil's Keep does eventually fall, although not as disastrously as if you had not reinforced the walls and equipped your troops well, indicating the deaths of a large number of soldiers and staff of the Keep. So, still not an emotionally cost-free option, since for the player it boils down to the whole city of Amaranthine versus some of the characters he is most emotionally invested in.
      • Dragon Age 2 however shows no mercy in the sadistic choice, when Anders destroys the keep Hawke was forced to choose between the Templars and Mages and with it, potentially half of the party who have their own reservations about the freedom of mages. Despite taking a side, Hawke ultimates fight the leaders of both the Mages and Templars. For Hawke who sided with the Mages, Orsino was partially responsible for his mother's death while if Hawke sided with the Templars, Meredith has clearly gone insane.
  • In the 2005 version of The Bard's Tale, you get a choice between saving the princess you've been trying to save, and killing her at her kidnapper's request (who insists she's a demon). If you choose to kill her, she turns into a demon. If you choose to kill the wizard, you beat him and THEN she transforms into a demon, who keeps you as her right-hand man.
    • You also have a third option, to ignore both of them, go back to the bar you started at, and just get used to the undead horde that's been rising to conquer the world. They're not that bad.
  • Yume Miru Kusuri presents you with three girls, you can only save one from their painful problems. Once selected, your character watches the other two their slow inevitable and painful descent to despair from their problems while you are merely buying extra time for your selected girl. She too can join the others in a bad ending if you made the wrong choices
  • At one point in Advent Rising, you are forced to choose to save either your brother or your fiancee. The one you choose to save ends up dead later in the story, and the villains guilt trip you for failing to save the other one.
  • Legend of Mana: Near the end of the Heaven's Gate arc, Escad and Daena come to blows. You get to decide who to side with, causing the other person to initiate a battle to the death. You can't even Take a Third Option, as saying that they're both wrong causes the one you've been nicer to to flip out and try to kill you.
  • Many, many instances in The Witcher. An early example has Geralt having to decide whether or not he should give a crate of supplies he just defended to a desperate band of travelers. If he gives them the supplies, he later discovers that the "travelers" were actually terrorists, and the "supplies" were weapons they used to murder an innocent man. If, on the other hand, Geralt sees through the terrorists' lie and kills them, he later finds out that his actions caused the arrest of an innocent man. Either way, someone gets screwed over.
  • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky, the hero has to choose between joining their partner on the dark side or leaving them at the mercy of the Big Bad, who wouldn't want just one of them... or not. It's all just a nightmare.
  • Fallout 3 DLC The Pitt. You can either defeat the slavers and kidnap the leader's child. This means that the Pitt loses its standing army, the child is subjected to rough treatment and the freed slaves may not even able to discover the cure to the massively degenerative disease them as none of them seem to have scientific knowledge. On the other hand you can crush the slave rebellion, allowing an army of slavers and raiders to terrorize the region and slavery continues in the Pitt, probably even after a cure is found. Don't rely on the Karma meter to tell you which is right, those popups won't give you any comfort now. Worst of all, even after you make yourself believe you did the right thing you then remember that those subhuman creatures the disease turns them into were the only large scale food source available in the Pitt.
  • In Super Robot Wars Original Generation (and possibly the Alpha series as well?), Elzam's backstory centers around one of these. He can either let an entire space colony be exposed to nerve gas while he chases the villain, or blast open a hole and launch both the canister and his wife into space. His wife was already exposed to the gas anyway, he just couldn't pull the trigger himself until she begged him to.
  • In the Fan Remake of King's Quest II, there is a flash-forward to the era of King's Quest III. Daventry in ruins from the ravages of a three headed dragon. Graham's son was kidnapped as an infant, and Graham's daughter has given herself up to sacrifice to try and appease the dragon, knowing it's only temporary. And then the The Father, the Chessmaster who set all this crap up in the first place, shows up to gloat. He then presents the choice: if Graham give up the crown, the Father will remove the curse he's put on the family, dismiss the dragon, and restore Daventry. He will even give Graham his children back. The full points option (it's playable) is telling him to rot in hell.
  • The first Another Century's Episode game features one of these: Either blow up civilian space shuttles at random trying to locate a bomb, or let that bomb get to Earth and completely wreck the environment. Thanks a bunch,, Char.
  • The Prince of Persia reboot ends with a pretty hefty one for the Prince: Elika, the Prince's Love Interest, has just died to re-seal Ahriman, so the Prince has the choice of either letting her stay dead, or using the power of Ahriman's prison temple to resurrect her, thereby releasing Ahriman and resetting everything he's done. It really tells you something about his character when he brings Elika back. She's not happy about it.
    • A (possible) justification in the Epilogue: The Prince (rightly) states that all that had been accomplished was putting the Sealed Evil in a Can back in its can rather than actually destroying it, meaning that at some point in the future, this whole process would start all over again... except this time without the one thing that could stop it from winning: Elika. So reviving Elika (although an emotionally-driven decision) actually does have some logic to it. Let the world live on for another few hundred years before almost certainly being taken over by darkness and evil and people who kick puppies, or take this one freak chance that has arisen due to circumstances that will likely never happen again to destroy the Sealed Evil in a Can forever? In the long run, the Prince's decision is the smarter one. You know, if what you're going for is keeping the world safe from this particular evil for the rest of time.
  • Final Fantasy VI has Kefka, of all people, invoking this on Edgar Figaro. He basically has his soldiers torch Figaro Castle and state that they'll stop torching his kingdom if he hands over Terra Branford. Of course, this backfires on Kefka when not only does Figaro escape with Locke and Terra, but he also orders his guards to have Figaro Castle tunnel underground.
  • World of Warcraft has Sylvanas, known for doing a lot of monsterous things (and yet never seeming to get cited for it ), takes Darius Crowley's daughter hostage and offers him the following options: Surrender and retreat, giving up his homeland and abandoning the battle, or have his daughter killed and then reanimated as one of the forsaken.
  • In RuneScape, in the last quest in a series of quests, you (as the hero) must choose between two of your allies who the Big Bad has captured - the one you choose will live,and the other one will die. Naturally, both encourage you to save the other. Although, you don't see the one you choose to save after the quest.
  • In Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, Hot Coldman, in a manner similar to The Joker's "Social Experiment" from The Dark Knight, managed to leak Peace Walker's false data to NORAD with the intention of forcing the military to choose between launching nukes, namely with the belief that humans don't possess the will to launch nukes, although he also hints that he truly doesn't care if they did launch in either case.
  • There may be a trend here: like Far Cry 2 and In Famous, Alpha Protocol forces you to choose between the life of someone you care about, and the lives of many people you don't know. And just like them, the character you care about exits the story either way (though for once, she has a chance of not exiting in a body bag.)
  • In Team Fortress 2 you can invoke this on any inexperienced Engineer. When you sap his sentry you have to force him to either fix it, resulting in you being able to get away and possibly sapping again, or try and kill you and risk loosing his sentry. Most inexperienced Engies do not realise that the spy can instantaneously place a second Sapper as soon as the first one is removed, and those that do are often not nimble enough to catch experienced spies, who often lure them away long enough so that the sapper destroys the sentry.
    • In this, the third option for the Engineer would be to alert their teammates that a "SPAH'S SAPPIN' MAH SENTRY!" and let them do the gunning down while the Engy fixes his sentry.
    • Similarly, any person who plays Medic will at some point come across a situation where two or more people run up to them while burning or bleeding to death with neither dispenser nor health kit in sight. Your healing beam can only focus on one patient at a time. Occasionally the victims will have enough health that a particularly fast and skilled Medic will be able to bounce just enough healing to each patient for all of them to survive, but this is rarely the case.
  • None of the endings in Deus Ex are exactly happy but a better example occurs when JC is holed up with his injured brother. Government agents arrive and you can either go out through the door to fight them or slip out the window and leave Paul to his fate. The choice is more difficult if you have specialised your character for stealth.
    • You end up getting captured either way, so if you're aware of this, it's more a question of ability.
  • The ending of Killer7 presents players with one: kill Matsuoka, and the US will wipe Japan off the face of the earth; spare him, and Japan will attack the US, starting World War III.
  • In the last level of De Blob 2, the Big Bad has placed bombs around his enslaved workers and only Blob can save them. He taunts you to either waste time saving a few and let him get away with brainwashing the rest of the planet, or go after him and leave those few to die. But there's enough time in the level that if you're any good at the game, you'll be able to do both.
  • Although this is put in a rather subtle way, in BlazBlue this occurs to Litchi Faye-Ling. Hazama invites her to join the NOL because he has the cure for herself and Arakune. Her condition is worsening and if left be, she'll be at best a burden to Orient Town, at worst turn into the next Arakune and eat her former friends. Not to mention that if she just refused, there will be a big chance that Hazama will dispose the cure and her only lead for salvation lost. Basically it boils down to either "Go betray those who expect you to be a good person and join The Dark Side" or "Slowly wither and die, or if lucky, turn into a monster that eats everyone who looks up to you." There's just no third option for her.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Made fun of in this Nedroid comic.
  • Set up by Daimyo Kubota in Order of the Stick #590, with much Lampshade Hanging on both sides And when that fails, he has another one prepared.
    • Redcloak presents O-Chul, his paladin prisoner, with a Sadistic Choice in strip 545: tell him how Girard's Gate is protected, or Redcloak will throw a large group of hostages into an interdimensional rift to be devoured by the Snarl. Subverted in that since O-Chul genuinely doesn't know the gate's protections, all O-Chul can do is make peace with what's about to happen...
  • David Hopkins' Jack, in the Suffer arc: Artie Sullivan discovers his boss, Doctor Thalmus, is molesting the children in his care. Artie threatens to turn him in ... then Thalmus points out that he is in fact currently working on the cure for the cancer which is killing Artie's wife. Worse, Thalmus threatens to turn himself in if Artie threatens him again, on the grounds that he'd get a lighter sentence;

"You, on the other hand ... I'll tell them you were in on it. It won't stick, but it will keep you from your work and your wife for a good long time. She'll die wondering whether you were a part of it."

    • Also in the short arc Deeper and Worse. "You or me?
  • Parodied in this Bob the Angry Flower strip featuring supervillain Hamsterfall
  • Kore definitely reaches new levels of low in this strip of Goblins.
  • In Khaos Komix, a gang of students will cut Charlie's hair so she can "wear a wig like a real tranny," or they'll vaginally rape Tom. Of course, it's no choice at all; by the time the first four meet her, Charlie's made the most of short hair.
  • There's a complicated example in The Fancy Adventures of Jack Cannon. Craig has kidnapped Angel. If Jack interferes with the hackers again, Gavin will kill Jack's parents. There are two villains at work here, both a part of the same organization. Neither has spoken to Jack personally to suggest the sadistic choice. However, the first guy may have broken some rules, which may mean that there is no need to Take a Third Option or make a choice. Not that Jack knows any of that.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Subverted in How Superman Should Have Ended
  • Independent YouTube film Caitlyn (Part 1 Part 2) forces a sadistic choice on a girl about 9 years old. She wakes up chained to a pole with some rather tight looking bonds, and finds a handwritten note right in front of her informing her that she is holding the key to the bonds in her hand. If she frees herself, her parents will die. If she drops the key, she will be a prisoner forever. She drops the key. She wakes up in bed, but her parents are gone anyway. Talk about a Downer Ending.
  • SCP Foundation-516 is a sentient tank that refuses to fire on unarmed sapient humans. So, naturally, one of the researchers orders someone strapped with explosives approach SCP-516 and blow it up, whilst handcuffed to an unarmed sapient human. The tank proceeds to {{[[[Roaring Rampage of Revenge]] DATA}} EXPUNGED].
  • Cracked.com's 3 Reasons It's So Hard to Make Superman Interesting spends a page deconstructing the boring Invincible Hero and then another reconstructing a hero faced with such a choice of whom to save at any given moment.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

Peter: Okay Brian, here's a riddle. A woman has two children and a homicidal maniac makes her choose which one he will kill. Which one does she choose?
Brian: That's not a riddle. That's just terrible!
Peter: Wrong! The ugly one!

    • Another scene has Peter asked whether he would save Chris or Meg from a homicidal maniac. He says to ask Lois since he isn't good with tough decisions. The cutaway shows him at a video store, unable to choose between renting "Ernest Goes to the Beach" and "Ernest Doesn't Go To The Beach".
  • In the Transformers Animated Pilot Movie, Starscream pulls one of these to show that the Decepticons in this series are no laughing matter: after giving the Autobots a sound beating, he shoots Bumblebee, critically wounding him (and he was actually aiming for Sari; Bumblebee took the hit), tosses him into a train car that holds the Mayor of Detroit, the human sidekick's father, and various other civilians, then flies it to the top of a building, giving the Autobots one megacycle (about an hour) to surrender the All Spark to him before he kills the hostages and, to raise the stakes even more, attempts to take the All Spark the hard way, cutting a swath of destruction across the Earth until he finds it himself. And to complicate things further, none of these Autobots can fly... So the third option involves using the All Spark as bait while they attempt a rescue mission.
    • In the three-part "The Ultimate Doom" episode of Transformers Generation 1, Megatron plans to bring Cybertron into Earth's orbit in order to destroy Earth and harvest the energy. If the plan fails, however, Cybertron will be destroyed. Megatron forces Optimus Prime to choose which planet will be lost and, notably, he doesn't Take a Third Option.
      • Well he sort of does. His plan is to bring Cybertron close for now to save it, and then safely put it back before the Earth is destroyed. Although it's not really a third option as much as thinking on the fly.
    • Lampshaded ("Great. The old 'save your partner or lose the weapon gag'") and served with extra sadism in Armada. The "partner" turned out to be The Mole.
    • Transformers Cybertron Starscream has gone on a Foe-Tossing Charge, being a Determinator in the extreme in the process, and beaten all of the Autobot army to seize the Omega Lock and Cyber Planet Keys. Optimus Prime manages to knock them from his grasp (and knock out Screamer in the process). Starscream recovers to see the artifacts nearly back in Prime's hands... so he fires a missile at the human companions and the Recon Mini-Con team. Optimus has to change course to both shoot down the missile and block the blast, enabling Starscream to purloin the MacGuffins. One might briefly wonder why Jolt didn't warp them out of harm's way, but then one remembers that A. Jolt is panic-prone, and B. Creating dimension gates is a strain on him, and he'd already done it twice just a couple minutes before, the second time moving a rather large Autobot to safety.
  • Hilariously subverted in an old old episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic turns up and impresses all the locals (who are sheep, literally) with his speed, and Robotnik builds a massive race-course and challenges Sonic to a race, then convinces all the sheep (all of them) to bet all their money and then some on Sonic... and then kidnaps Tails, forcing this kind of choice (Sonic either throws the race, or Tails gets it). He then turns the completely-broke sheep into his slaves, the scene shifts to an Egyptian style environment where the sheep are as slaves building pyramids... and then Sonic and Tails turn up and completely wreck Robotnik.
  • Hilariously done in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Almost Got 'Im", where Harley Quinn attempts to engineer one of these for Batman, smugly telling him that he can either rescue Catwoman from the Conveyor Belt O' Doom she is strapped to and let Harley escape, or can let her die whilst subduing and arresting Harley. Unfortunately for her, she's neglected to consider the fact that she's telling Batman this whilst they're standing next to the conveyor belt's circuit breaker.
  • At the end of the first 5-part episode of Gargoyles, after Demona turns against them, a misfired rocket launcher sends both her and the gargoyles' new friend Elisa over the edge. Goliath can either save his mate (his former mate who, at the time, he still cared for) who had betrayed him, or the human they just met who nevertheless had been honorably on their side. He chooses Elisa; though howls afterwards at Demona's "death." (Later we find that it's a lot harder to kill Demona than that.)
  • Ben 10's enemies love putting him through this—Ghostfreak telling him to put down the gun or he'll kill Gwen, Vilgax demanding the Omnitrix or he'll kill her... In the Alien Force episode "Primus," Vilgax steals the Omnitrix, dangles the trio over the Codon Stream, and tells Ben that he'll have to show him how to work the Omnitrix to save his friends... and still die afterwards regardless.[3]
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Library", even fighting 'blind' Toph could have probably made it more trouble that it was worth for the sandbending bandits to make off with Appa... but she was the only thing keeping the library containing her True Companions from being dragged beneath the dunes.

Evil-Lyn: It looks like those gorgeous muscles are completely useless!

  • Black Adam offers Captain Marvel one of these in DC Showcase: Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam. It turns out that, ultimate superhero boyscout or not, doing this to Captain Marvel is a BAD IDEA that did not end well for Adam.
  • Teen Titans: "If you join me, if you swear to serve me, if you never speak to your friends again, I will allow them to live."
  • Parodied in South Park when Towelie has the choice of keeping the boys from falling into an acid tank or getting high. He chooses both by stretching over to get the joint.
  • Fat Cat pulls this in an episode of Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, simply by threatening to drop two squirrel children as a way to coax the Rescue Rangers into handing over a statue.
  • Discord of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic gives one to Rainbow Dash when she encounters him in the labyrinth where the Elements of Harmony are hidden. Discord shows RD that her home Cloudsdale is on the verge of collapse due to her prolonged absence in the labyrinth and thus presents her with the wings that he took from her to prevent her from finding the Elements of Harmony the easy way. Discord gives her the choice of either continuing to wander the labyrinth aimlessly and allowing Cloudsdale to collapse due to her negligence or throwing the search for the Elements and recovering her stolen wings to prevent Cloudsdale's destruction. Rainbow Dash chooses to abandon the Elements and her friends in favor of saving Cloudsdale, thus allowing Discord to rule Equestria with an iron and chaotic fist.
    • This is also played in an interesting twist; it doesn't matter what she chooses, any of the options will make her go against her Element of Loyalty, which is exactly what Discord wants. He wins either way.
    • And he brainwashes her just to make sure she does what he wants, so there was never really any choice in the matter. He just presented the situation to her out of sheer sadism.
    • If you watch closly Dash never even get's the chance to choose, he does the Finger of Death like with Fluttershy, while the other 3 fell by their own the 2 ex-pegasi were directly touched, directly brainwashed, in Dash's case before she could even make the choice and was still torn.
  • On the Phineas and Ferb episode The Beak, they have to choose between rescuing Isabella or a crowd of random spectators. Fortunately, each brother can split up and go save them both.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Alan Turing: After his work in Great Britain breaking the Nazi military codes, not to mention devising the thought experiments that underlie any computer operation more involved than a pocket calculator, he had an affair that turned sour. In a time when homophobia was rampant, he was convicted of "gross indecency" for having "led his partner astray with his university education." He was given the choice by the judge to either go to prison or begin an antiandrogen regimen. At the time, he chose the latter. He committed suicide not long after.
  • So, what will it be? A virtual strip search, or a grope?
  • The apportioning of available human organs to transplant patients in need of them comes down to this all the time, unfortunately. Likewise, whenever dialysis machines or other life-prolonging equipment are in short supply, life-and-death triage decisions may be necessary.
    • The 'winner' is usually the person who shows the most commitment to using their new organs wisely, meaning they quit drinking or smoking permanently, improve their diet or start making other healthy life-choices like regular excercise.
  • Actual BDSM can involve this. It's called "predicament bondage" - forced to choose between two or more painful/humiliating options.
  • Triage during a mass casualty incident can get like this: Do you treat people first-come first-serve, or focus limited resources on possibly-fatal-but-easily-treatable injuries to maximize lives saved, but possibly condemning more seriously-injured patients to an untreated death? In fact triage training comes down to focusing the most effort on the life threatened casualities who are the most likely to live.
  • During the WWII, Stalin received an ultimatum from the Nazis: either he trades captive Field Marshall Paulus for his captured son Jakov, or Jakov will be painfully executed on camera, and the record will be send to the father. After a while, Stalin's response was: "I do not trade Lieutenants for Field Marshalls". He, however, did whatever he could to save his son via other methods, but all it failed. At least, Jakov's execution was not as horrible as planned - just before it started he assaulted the guards and was shot dead.
  • During "introduction" in a prison cell, new inmates might be asked some kind of trick question with sadistic streak, just to see what they're made of. Usually it will involve a hurtful option and a debasing one, the stock variant being "What'll it be? A fork in the eye or a pork in the ass?" You aren't even supposed to hesitate when chosing the right option, and whether you know that forks aren't allowed in prison cells is secondary.
  1. Nagato crushed Konoha to the ground, but Danzo personally profiteered from that attack and got himself appointed Hokage for all of a couple of days.
  2. He has the choice between letting his adopted companion Jake fall to his death or losing pursuit of his quarry forever.
  3. Ben only gets out of the latter by Tricking the Shapeshifter, which a terrified Gwen didn't realize until the last minute.