Save the Villain

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"This is the bizarre thing about being a superhero -- you've even got to save the bad guys."

The hero and bad guy have had a big fight on the top of a building, which has resulted in the bad guy being knocked over the edge. He hangs there by his fingers, helplessly.

The hero is then motivated (or more cynically, contractually obliged) to attempt to save the villain's life, even putting himself in mortal danger in the attempt. This is presumably done so that the hero can be shown once again to be noble and just. A better Rounded Character may strongly wrestle with the notion; the temptation is not just to let him die, but consider himself blameless for not directly causing the death. If no one will realize that the hero could have saved him, What You Are in the Dark may come into play. And while some heroes take the philosophy of If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him very seriously, many take it even further, thinking that letting someone die via inaction on their part is almost as bad.

A notable part of this trope is that, often, the villain refuses the hero's help because he can't bear owing his life to the hero, or would rather cause his own death, presumably out of ego or "honor".

Often this happens when the villain is facing a cruel fate at the hands of a greater evil who disgusts the hero even more, leading him to shout "Even he doesn't deserve that!" or something of the type. If the villain does accept the hero's help -- even if they begged for it—more often than not, they will be complete ingrates and keep trying to kill the hero, sometimes even immediately. In fact, sometimes the villain will use the opportunity to try to kill the hero—leaving both the hero and villain in mortal danger. This generally results in Karmic Death.

On other occasions, the villain will continue pursuing their overall evil goal, but will now refuse to harm the hero out of grudging recognition of their debt. They may even return the life-saving favor at a later point, although this may wipe the slate clean in their eyes and make it okay for them to resume their attempts on the hero's life.

In between, the hero may say Think Nothing of It in the knowledge that the villain will indeed think nothing of it. On the villain part, a more upright antagonist (usually an Anti-Villain) may leave the hero be for the moment but warn him explicitly that "it doesn't change anything!" In the worst of cases, the villain turns out to be an Ungrateful Bastard which leaves the hero (and the viewers) wondering why he bothered. Some villains (mostly Card-Carrying Villains ) even use things like this as "proof" that Good Is Dumb.

In more serious situations, the hero may be unable to save the villain's life but will still not let them suffer Dying Alone.

Usually a moment of Genre Savvy (with just a touch of Lampshade Hanging); the heroes are fully aware that this is the ugliest part of their job. An Anti-Hero may specifically not do this, just to emphasize their difference from a "true" hero. On the other hand, if a character whose position was formally on the villain/AntiHero fence does this, it can establish them as less of a villain.

See also Sword Over Head, where the hero saves the villain by not doing anything. For inversions of this Trope (where the villain rescues the hero) see Villainous Rescue.

Examples of Save the Villain include:

Anime and Manga

  • Goku from Dragon Ball Z does this, or at least tries to, constantly. The man doesn't have a vindictive bone in his body. Sometimes it works (like with Vegeta), other times it doesn't, as Frieza proved.
  • In the Sailor Moon anime, the titular heroine saves several enemies, including the greatest foe she ever fought, Galaxia. In the manga, not so much (though she does still save Galaxia, even though Galaxia dies anyway shortly afterward).
  • Played with in an early episode of Yu-Gi-Oh: Kaiba and Yami Yugi are dueling on a castle turret, when Kaiba threatens to jump if he doesn't win. Yami, a Knight Templar, has no intention of losing and is perfectly willing to let him jump, and Yugi has to fight for control to stop him. That makes Yugi go into quite the Heroic BSOD, as he had never realized Yami would go THAT far to win.
    • Hilariously played with in the abridged version, where the only thing stopping them is Tea's revelation that Kaiba might survive.
    • In the manga, Yami saves Mokuba Kaiba from a torturous fate via his older brother after Mokuba had nearly succeeded in murdering him and Jounouchi a few chapters earlier.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha does a traditional villain saving with Fate Testarossa, helping her fly out of a collapsing lair. To be fair, Fate was more The Dragon than the Big Bad. Other seasons are mostly saving via Defeat Means Friendship.
    • Earlier on, Nanoha intervenes to help Fate while she is performing a highly dangerous attempt to seal the Jewel Seeds that fell into the ocean, splitting the seeds with her and telling her that she wants to be friends with her.
    • In A's, Fate intervenes during a fight to save Signum from a desert monster, causing Amy to tell her that her job is to capture her. Signum notes that she won't thank Fate because she destroyed the monster and prevented her from getting its Linker Core, but Fate takes it in stride, noting that she has to interfere with the "bad guys".
  • During a sequence in Daughter of Twenty Faces, a villain attempts to kill Chiko with an axe while atop a speeding train. She overextends, stumbles, and is hanging on for dear life against the wind. Chiko attempts to save her, but...
  • Vash The Stampede, in Trigun, has done this on many occasions due to his Thou Shalt Not Kill mantra, often giving foes that he's injured first aid. This culminated in him saving his twin brother, Knives Millions, even after vowing revenge on him for his entire life after he killed thousands of people and, more importantly to Vash, his maternal figure Rem.
  • In Pokémon, Ash and friends once in a while end up saving the Team Rocket trio's lives. The reaction varies from Ungrateful Bastard (the lampshade is even hung sometimes) a Heel Face Turn for the remainder of the episode, or even a schism between James and Jesse on which option to take. Expect them to blast off again, anyway because Status Quo Is God.
    • Examples of this include the episodes "Pikachu Re-Volts", "Freeze Frame," "Throwing in the Noctowl", and "The Stun Spore Detour".
      • Though to be fair, Team Rocket have saved Ash's life several times in the movies, in part because they admit they wouldn't have much a life without chasing him.
  • Train from Black Cat does this after his final battle with Creed. After successfully knocking Creed out, Creed starts falling off the roof they were fighting on. Train manages to grab onto his hand, but starts slipping himself. His reason being that he can't let Creed die now, since Creed must live and repent for his sins - especially after Train has gone through the trouble not to kill him during the fight. Leon eventually saves them both by using manipulating the wind to allow them to stay afloat.
  • It's done once... no twice... no, pretty much in every other fight in Rave Master, starting with Haru trying to stop Shuda from falling which he has to do again later on after a Face Heel Turn from Shuda and leading up to opting not to save the world about 15 volumes early by not killing Lucia and going to great lengths to keep Hardner alive after Lucia comes up from behind and skewers him (Haru really should have finished him off the first time he got the chance)
  • In the Zanpaktou Bleach Filler, Muramasa enters Ichigo's soul and fights his inner Hollow. When he's about to win, Ichigo jumps in and saves his Hollow.
    • Ichigo didn't really have a choice in the matter. His Hollow is still part of his soul and makes up a large portion of his power. Not only that, but Zangetsu was working for Muramasa at that point and wouldn't allow Ichigo to use bankai and was using it himself against Ichigo. He'd've been screwed without his Hollow.
    • Shortly after defeating Grimmjow, Ichigo protects him from being finished off by Nnoitra, and Nnoitra notes that Grimmjow is quite pathetic for letting an enemy save him.
    • In the Soul Society Arc, Orihime saves Makizou Aramaki from being blown up by some Squad 12 members who have been turned into living bombs, prompting him to wonder why she did it and why she is crying over the detonated shinigami.
  • Transformers Armada had a few of these. The most notable one being Optimus holding onto Galvatron's remaining tread to survive the pull of Unicron's gaping maw. Galvatron eventually cuts himself loose, letting himself die to destroy Unicron's only source of nourishment at the moment.
  • In Kämpfer, Natsuru saves Shizuku from Akane since he's not a sociopath. Of course, he demands that Shizuku leave Kaede alone.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: In the first anime, Ed desperately tries to prevent the younger Slicer brother from committing suicide, but fails. He later yells at Lust not to kill the older brother, stating that "he's still a human being", but his pleas fall on deaf ears.
    • Subverted chapter 95 of the manga. When Mustang is about to finally kill Envy, Hawkeye, Ed, and Scar intervene before he can land the final blow. However, this was not because they wanted to save Envy, but because they didn't want Roy to give in to his rage. They had every intention of taking out Envy themselves.
  • In Prétear, insterad of killing Takako/Fenrir, Himeno tries to redeem and save her in the Grand Finale. She succeeds.
  • Kenzo Tenma of Monster, given that he's perhaps the best example of Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help, does this a lot. There is more than one scene where he takes an antagonist to the hospital at gunpoint. This turns out better for him than it does for most of the people on this page, too. With one probable exception.
  • In Karakuridouji Ultimo, a corrupt politician named Iruma is killed by his own douji, Jealous the Envious, while the heroic Yamato can do nothing but watch in shock. Later in the series, Yamato hits the Reset Button, sending everything back to the first chapter. The second time around, Yamato knows Jealous's attack is coming and prevents Iruma's death.
  • One Piece,
    • Assuming Robin can be considered a villain during the Arabasta Saga (where she is introduced) Luffy carries her out of the collapsing tomb, despite her being resigned to death after her last lead on the Rio Poneglyph turned out to be useless. She reasons that as he forced her to live when she wanted to die, and she has no place to go or return, he should let her in his crew, and he does.
    • Earlier, Luffy had Zoro rescue Smoker before the lot of them drowned. Luffy says he doesn't think Smoker is a bad guy despite the fact that he is ruthlessly hunting down the entire Straw Hat crew across the Grand Line.
    • In the Whole Cake Island Arc, Sanji rescues Vinsmoke Judge - his lowlife scum of a father - from being executed at Big Mom's party. When Judge asks why, Sanji coldly replies that Zeff - his mentor and the man he regards as his true father - would be disappointed at him for leaving a blood relative to die. He then officially disowns Judge as a father - for the second time - and makes it clear he never wants to see him again.
  • Attempted and failed in Interstella 5555.
  • In Yu Yu Hakusho, Kuwabara fights one of the seven psychics, called "Sea Man". He fights the villain, barely escaping death, and manages to land a nice slash on him at the last minute. Instead of leaving him to die (like he said he wanted to), he saves Sea Man's life, and even brings him back to his allies to be patched up. Sea Man proceeds to become The Woobie and makes a Heel Face Turn.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog The Movie, the final fight scene culminates in Metal Sonic falling into lava after saving the Old Man and the President, upon which Sonic jumps down, much to everyone else's protests. With Knuckles trying to hold Sonic back (fearing Metal would drag Sonic down with him), Sonic offers his hand to Metal to try and pull him out. Metal reaches... then smacks Sonic's hand away, uttering one last sentence before sinking down under: "There is only one Sonic."
  • In Freezing, Satelizer saves Louis after he falls of a cliff into the ocean, ruining his death and turning him into a Karma Houdini.
  • In My-HiME, Natsuki stops Shizuru from finishing off a Child-less Nao, having come to realize that she and Nao are Not So Different.
  • This is usually how Kimba from Kimba the White Lion deals with villains once they're down or about to be killed; this even extends to saving the man who killed Kimba's father before he was born. Most of the time however, the character's rescue causes him or her to do a Heel Face Turn.
  • Haru likes to attempt this in Rave Master. It works once, but it usually fails. Reasons for this vary. Once the villain has already bled too much and there's just no way he could live. One time the man he's trying to save from a huge fall inverts the Life or Limb Decision and cuts his arm off so he'll fall anyway. It's a mystery whether Lucia chose not to be saved or was doomed anyway, or even if he really died, actually.
  • In one episode Magical Idol Pastel Yumi, Yumi is racing the leader of a hang gliding gang. He tries to cheat but only ends up damaging his own hang glider. Yumi summons a giant bird to save him.

Comic Books

  • Exception: Jason Todd, Batman's second, short-lived Robin, was implied (but not shown) to have pushed a rapist to his death. At any rate, he had the skills to save the man and chose not to.
    • When he returns as the Red Hood, he puts Batman in a situation that fits this trope intentionally: he takes the Joker hostage and uses him as a human shield, leaving Batman with only a kill-shot on Todd himself, then demands that Batman either kill Joker right then and there or save the villain by killing his former sidekick. Batman, of course, takes a third option and uses a ricochet to disarm Todd with a batarang, saving both villains.
  • Subversion: Marshal Law, seeing the thoroughly horrible Batman parody Private Eye dangling over a meat grinder, deliberately walks too slowly to save him and calls out from several meters away, "Here, take my hand." Then he pretends (very briefly) to be sorry when the villain gets ground. Of course Marshall Law is the very model (or, depending on your interpretation, The Parody) of a Nineties Anti-Hero.
    • Although note that he does this after realizing that his hero worship of Private Eye got his partner and only real friend killed and that Private Eye was much worse than any real criminal.
  • Batman, himself, has taken this trope to ridiculous extremes - to the point of once performing CPR on The Joker.
    • 'Course, considering how CPR actually is, it's kind of a win-win situation: Joker lives to keep Batsy all heroic and stuff, and Batman gets to ensure this by more or less beating the shit out of him again. And in that case, it was less saving the Joker than saving Nightwing from the knowledge that he killed a man in cold blood.
    • In Batman: Devil's Advocate, Batman saved the Joker from the death penalty. He went out of his way and against the advice of pretty much everybody to prove Joker innocent of the crime he was scheduled to be executed for. It ended with Batman saying something like "And from now on, whatever you do, you'll know that you only live because of me. What's the matter? Don't you appreciate the joke?" Of course, seeing as this also means that the Joker is free to carry on murdering people due to Batman's intervention, the joke may be on him.
      • That's the cynical interpretation of it. The entire point of the story was to show Batman's dedication to justice. In all likelihood, the Caped Crusader was aware of the cynical implications as well, but did it anyway.
        • There's also that allowing the Joker to be executed for a murder he didn't commit means the actual murderer is getting away with it.
    • In Batman: Cacophany, the Serial Killer Onomatopoeia (who targets superheroes, though he doesn't mind killing other people for fun either) stabbed The Joker in the heart after their villain team-up failed and prepared to flee—but waited a few seconds because he wanted to see whether Batman would save the Joker or let him die to pursue Onomatopoeia. Batman chooses the first option despite strong protests from Jim Gordon whose wife and daughter were murdered and crippled by The Joker respectively. When The Joker asks him why he did it, Batman explains that due to One Bad Day he can't bear to see anyone die in front of him if he has the power to stop it.
    • Played with multiple times in the Batman: The Animated Series tie-in comics. In "With a Price on His Head," a grieving father puts a fifty-million-dollar bounty on the Joker's head. Suddenly, everyone in Gotham wants to kill Joker. Batman ends up taking him to the Batcave for protection... and horrific hilarity ensues. Similarly, the "No Asylum" storyline deals with Ra's al Ghul's attempts to murder his entire Rogues Gallery as a gesture of good-will towards Batman, his daughter's 'beloved' and Batman's attempts to literally save the villains.
    • In a Detective issue called "The Executioner Wore Stiletto Heels," Batman risked his life to save an escaped prisoner who was condemned to death. He almost died in the process, but the criminal saved him.
  • Captain America to Baron Zemo, Lord knows how many times: "Your hand, man! Give me your hand!" Astonishingly, this eventually pays off, when Zemo surprisingly returns the favor at the cost of his face becoming scarred in a battle with Moonstone.
  • Played straight in Daredevil when Daredevil dragged the sociopathic Bullseye out of the path of a subway train, and then subverted in a later story when (under severe provocation) he let go of Bullseye's hand when he was dangling over a long drop. Joker Immunity preserved Bullseye's life, but he wound up in a hospital bed, completely paralyzed. (...for a while.)
    • Daredevil also desperately tried to save maniacal Super Soldier Nuke after he realized that he wasn't even aware of his surroundings and needed all the help he could get.
  • Played straight in Huntress/Spoiler: Blunt Trauma when the Spoiler helps her father, the Cluemaster, escape when he tells that her temporary partner, the Huntress, is "not like that overgrown ferret and his brat. She's gonna kill your old man if she gets the chance."
    • In another story with the Spoiler, she and Robin are put in a building about to be demolished by the Baffler. Except he knocks himself out, so he ends up there as well. The two manage to save themselves but Robin points out they need to save the villain as well, much to Steph's dismay. Yet when the Baffler says they could become a team, the duo beat him up and leave him for the police.
  • Scrooge has saved a fair share of villains throughout his life:
    • In Carl Barks's Uncle Scrooge comic "The Horseradish Story," the villain who has attempted to swindle Scrooge out of all of his billions and then kill all of the ducks is about to drown in the ocean after his unsuccessful attempt of drowning his helper. Scrooge at first acts as if he is not going to help, but gives in at the last minute and rescues the guy.
    • Another notable case, in the comic "The Great Wig Mystery", was of a villain who tried to use a Frivolous Lawsuit to get Scrooge's fortune. In that story, Scrooge explained to his family he never expects any kind of gratitude from the villains he saves. He simply doesn't want their deaths to make a weight on his conscience.
  • Not a physical fight that led to it, but in the first Elf Quest graphic novel there's a dramatic moment when Rayek falls off a stone bridge and is dangling by his fingertips... Cutter thinks what will soon become a Catch Phrase of his ("No elf must die!") and crawls out to help him. Rayek isn't grateful, but blasts Cutter with the full fury of his hate before backing off the bridge, leaving the acrophobic Cutter there to figure his own way off. (It gives Cutter the resolve to pass the test he'd been unable to do before, winning the final battle between him and Rayek. Way to go, Rayek.)
  • There have been several stories about Superman saving Bizarro World from destruction, even though that planet is dangerously insane. He just can't stand seeing anyone lose their homeworld, no matter how bad it is.
    • He's also saved Lex Luthor's life on several occasions, even though Luthor's ultimate goal in life is to kill Superman. In fact, Superman and a lot of the Justice League will beat the crap out of villains and then immediately check to make sure they're okay.
  • Averted in at least the early arcs of Judge Dredd. Dredd has no problem with killing when the situation calls for it, and deliberately lets members of the Angel Gang die when he could have saved them.
  • A discussion of this concept is held between Chuck and the freedom fighters in Archie Sonic issue #74:

Chuck: Of all the actions I regret most, it's saving Robotnik from his own kind that haunts me above all the others! And yet even if I knew then what I know now, I'd still save his miserable neck!
Tails and Amy: You would?
Chuck: Of course! I consider all life to be sacred! Just because my enemies lack character is not excuse enough for me to stoop to their level!

  • Empowered once saved a Punch Clock Villain who was guarding her. She saw with her X-ray vision that he had an aneurysm and was in mortal danger.
  • Subverted and dissected ruthlessly by Mister A, as seen here.
  • According to The Invaders, this is how Hitler died. The Golden Age Human Torch broke into Hitler's bunker during the Seige of Berlin, offering to let Hitler surrender to the Americans rather then the Russians (who apparently would have been more merciful.) Hitler refused and attacked the Torch, prompting the Torch to kill Hitler in self-defense.
  • Subverted in Bookhunter. Agent Bay is pursuing a book thief (in possession of a priceless antique Bible) across rooftops. The thief misses a jump, and Bay shoots a power line in order to swing down on the cable... but he catches the book and lets the thief fall.
  • Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four saved the life of Galactus, even after the latter had almost killed him and tried to drain the lifeforce of the earth. This prompted Galactus to (temporarily) declare that he would not attack Earth again, out of gratitude. However, Reed later wound up on trial before an interstellar court and nearly executed for his actions after Galactus consumed the Skrulls' planet, killing billions.
  • Spider-Man does this a lot; notable examples:
    • In Untold Tales of Spider Man #15, Spidey saves his long-time antagonist J. Jonah Jameson from being framed by the mob.
    • Shortly before the Gathering of Five arc in the mainstream Spider-Man comics, Spidey actually had to rescue Norman Osborn, and this Trope can be combined with What You Are in the Dark for that occasion. The Kingpin sent Nitro the Living Bomb to assassinate Osborn, which resulted in him, Spidey (in his civilian identity as Peter Parker) and Norman's little grandson Normie trapped in an elevator that was about to collapse, both of them pinned. Norman, being the Magnificent Bastard he is, actually took this time to gloat a little, telling Peter that he had no idea whether or not the security cameras were still working, and telling him that any displays of Super Strength by Peter could possibly give him away to anyone who was watching. Of course, Norman was just as strong but claimed he was unwilling for that very reason. (Or maybe he was waiting until the last second, or was actually unable to free himself, just too proud to ask for help. We may never know.) Eventually, Peter had to take the chance to save Normie (and found out quickly that the security cameras had been quite broken by the explosion) and might have considered leaving his enemy to fall. But when Normie begged him to save his grandfather, he relented and helped get Norman out. Even then, Norman couldn't help but goad him a little, telling him that if he had done nothing he would have been victorious in their feud. And this would be a very large turning point in it; Norman would perform the Gathering of Five to gain more power to prevent things like this again, would be driven far more insane, his identity of the Goblin would be revealed, and his enmity with Spider-Man would become much deadlier than before.
  • Discussed with Marvel villain The Hood, whose hood and shoes give him superpowers through increasing amounts of Demonic Possession. He was sent to murder Doctor Strange, who realized at once what was going on and tried to talk him down. Later, when it was obvious that the demon was more than Hood could handle, his associate tried to send him to Strange for help due to this trope. "I bet he'll help you. Even after everything. He has to, right?"
  • In the Archie Comics Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, the titular foursome are forced to save Shredder from being possessed by Krang. Shredder is pissed that he now owes his life to the Turtles. He disappears for a long time (both in-universe and in real life), and when he re-appears to kidnap Splinter, Leonardo passionately reminds Shredder that he owes the Turtles his life. Shredder relents and releases Splinter, warning that they're now even...

Fan Works

  • Parodied in this piece from DeviantArt. Starfire finds Blackfire tied up and helpless, and spends an hour trying to make up her mind on whether she should rescue her or leave her to her fate. This is, of course, the scatterbrained animated version of Starfire, so it fits.
  • Outright averted by metahuman Doug "Looney Toons" Sangnoir and the Warriors (the superteam to which he belongs in his home timeline) from Drunkard's Walk. The Warriors are a (para)military organization and approach their battles with ruthless military sensibilities:

One reason the Warriors are as successful as we are is that in any given opportunity, we will field far more force that is far nastier than the enemy is prepared to deal with. We don't fight just to win. We fight to crush the enemy utterly. We fight to overwhelm and destroy.

  • Doug himself routinely advises those he trains and mentors "never leave an enemy alive to attack you again".


  • Batman Begins: Bruce Wayne is training with an order of ninjas, and upon being asked to kill, he refuses. Consequently, Bruce blows up the palace and escapes with his unconscious mentor in tow. The reason behind this is ostensibly Turning the Other Cheek. The multiple ninjas who died in the explosion aren't mentioned again.
    • Later in the movie, this trope is subverted as the train Batman and Ra's are on heads swiftly to a very deadly crash, Batman declares, "I won't kill you... but I don't have to save you," and escapes the train alone. Fans are sharply divided over this, with some thinking it's way out of character for him, while others seeing it as simple, pragmatic, and heroic (that Batman is responsible for the train being about to crash also complicates matters of responsibility for the death).

Bruce: I saved your life.
Ducard: I warned you about compassion, Bruce.

    • It's slightly more complicated than that. One, Ra's shares equal responsibility with Batman for the train crash - while Bruce had his ally shoot out the tracks, Ra's is the person who'd deliberately disabled the train's emergency brakes and so rendered himself unable to safely stop in time. (Furthermore, since Bruce shot out the tracks not to murder Ra's but to try and stop a WMD from being taken to its detonation point and wipe out the city center, his intent is ethical, while Ra's intent was to ensure the delivery of the weapon and thus entirely unethical). Lastly, Ra's has physical skills equal to Batman and is presumably capable of saving himself if he wishes - instead, his final scene shows him as choosing to passively accept his fate.
  • In The Dark Knight Saga, it's played straight with the Joker. Not so much with Two Face, but that was accidental; Batman was trying to save a child's life more than trying to kill Two Face.
  • Yet another Batman example: Batman Forever, with Robin saving Two-Face. It turns out it was a bad idea, as he gets captured and used in a Sadistic Choice by The Riddler to determine Batman's identity. When Two-Face falls to his death later, he doesn't get saved.
  • 1989's Batman subverted this trope, with Batman of all people killing the villain as he tried to get away. The Joker was escaping by climbing up the ladder to a waiting helicopter. Batman fires a set of bolas at him, causing the Joker's leg to be tied to a very heavy statue. As the helicopter pulls away, the statue drags the Joker down to his doom.
    • Technically, he didn't kill him, rather than stop him from getting away. It was the fault of the helicopter pilots and their Plot Induced Stupidity. The irony is that Batman did have the full intent of killing the Joker earlier during their fight. So he fails to kill him when he's trying, but does kill him when he's not trying to.
      • Precisely. Batman tied the Joker to the statue. Had the statue remained intact, he would have been pulled off the ladder and been left dangling for the police. Even if you take into account that Joker demonstrated the upper levels of the clock tower were less than stable ("They don't make 'em like they used to!"), even Batman could have hardly known the statue he'd tied Joker to would BREAK OFF AND TURN INTO A WEIGHT...
      • In Batman Forever, Bruce feels remorse for killing the Joker, suggesting he did it on purpose.
        • You can feel remorse for causing an accident ...
    • Earlier in the film, Batman grabs Napier's hand as he's dangling above a for-all-we-know fatal chemical bath; it's left ambiguous whether Batman drops him or he merely slips to his "death". The Joker's later claim (you MADE me) notwithstanding.
  • This also happens in the film adaptation of Thunderbirds.
    • Which is interesting considering the willingness of the Tracys to use lethal force when necessary in the original TV series...
  • In Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Kirk attempts to save the Klingon commander, Kruge from falling into a crevasse after the same officer ordered the death of Kirk's son David. Kruge tries to drag Kirk down with him.

Spock: Captain, what are you doing?
Kirk: Showing them compassion. It may be the only way to earn peace with Romulus. It's logic, Spock, I thought you'd like that.
Spock: No, not really. Not this time.

    • Although Kirk knew what Nero's response would be. And he's all to happy too oblige him.
  • Inverted in Blade Runner, in which Roy Batty saves Richard Deckard. Of course Deckard is an anti-hero and Batty is an anti-villain.
  • Subverted in the trope-heavy GoldenEye. Bond catches his nemesis by the wrist just before he falls to his death (from his own superweapon, no less). "For England, James?" "No, for me" and he lets go. The villain survives the fall long enough to also die in a spectacular explosion.
  • A deleted scene from Iron Man shows Tony trying to save Obadiah after both their suits have been disabled, but Obadiah grapples the wrist of Tony's suit to drag Tony down as well, and Tony is forced to eject his glove so he doesn't die.
  • At the end of In the Line of Fire, Horrigan tries to save the assassin Leary from falling off an elevator, noting when Leary asks him that he doesn't want to, but it's his job.
  • Averted in Race for the Yankee Zephyr (1981). The villain and his chief henchman are squabbling over the aircraft and its cargo of gold bullion, even as it sinks beneath a lake. Disgusted by their behaviour, the hero refuses to save them from drowning despite the Damsel Scrappy imploring him to do so.
  • Memorably averted in Darkman, where the final Climbing Climax ends with Westlake catching the villain (by his ankle, for a change) just before the latter can fall to his death from a half-built skyscraper. Hanging helplessly, the Big Bad confidently points out that Westlake can't possibly drop him, because then he wouldn't be able to live with himself. But unfortunately for him, this hero's been learning to live with even worse things, all through the film...
  • Butch does this for Marsellus Wallace, the man who wants him dead for not throwing a major fight, from Pulp Fiction. Pulp Fiction being what it is, though the two of them do have their respective fight, the saving in question is from even worse guys.
  • It is somewhat jarring when it is used in Daredevil. After he kills nearly every enemy he goes up against (including petty thugs), he decides to let the Kingpin live. It was probably done to show that he had learned that he can stop bad guys without killing them, but it feels like the director wanted to keep the Kingpin alive in case a sequel was made.
    • Also, if he learnt that, he'd learnt it very quickly and without much explanation, in the brief time since hurling Bullseye through a high window.
  • Double subverted...kind of, in a Russian movie Lions' Share. The hero kicks the villain of a roof and, while the villain is falling, shoots him straight in the forehead. Cue an awesome one-liner: "So that it doesn't hurt when you land."
  • Father Cornelius saves Zorg from choking on a cherry in The Fifth Element, prompting the "You saved my life, so I'll spare yours" line.
  • The 1987 version of The Untouchables both affirms and subverts the trope when Elliot Ness first assists Big Bad mob hitman Frank Nitti, whom he had cornered dangling from a rope off the edge of a building, and then after enduring some Evil Gloating Ness reappraises the situation and casually throws him off the roof.
  • Played with in Thor when, during the climactic battle between Loki and Thor, they crash through the wall of the Observatory and onto the Bifrost, Loki rolls over the edge and is left clinging to it by his fingertips. As they are brothers, Thor does not hesitate to reach down and help him, but it turns out that it is only one of his illusions.
    • Also, the whole point of the battle in part was to prevent Loki from exterminating the Frost Giants, the deadly enemies of Asgard.
  • In the movie Safety Patrol, Mrs. Day, one of the two robbers, nearly falls into a Hades crater, and Scout and the other kids try to save her. They succeed, and she is arrested shortly after along with her son Bert Miller.
  • Shows up in the 2009 Sherlock Holmes.

Blackwood: "It's a long way to the rope..."

  • In The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, one of the punk gunslingers loses his balance as he makes his way down to a rail (to kill our hero, Ford Fairlane). Zuzu tries to save him... by grabbing the gun in his mouth to pull him back up. Guess what happens next.
  • In The Mummy Rick tries to pull Beni from out of the Collapsing Lair, but doesn't make it. He's not too upset about it, though.

Rick:"Goodbye, Beni."

  • In Beauty and the Beast, Beast basically saves Gaston...from Beast. He's holding Gaston over a ledge of the castle, but instead of dropping him, he puts him back on solid ground and says a firm Get Out!. Gaston doesn't listen and tries to kill Beast again, at which point he slips and gets his Disney Villain Death. Still, Beast got to show how much of a good guy he had become.
  • At the climax of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where Frollo knocks Quasimodo over the edge of the cathedral but is pulled along with him. Despite having just found out that Frollo killed his mother, Quasi doesn't let go of the cloak by which Frollo hangs. As Esmeralda desperately tries to pull Quasimodo back up, Frollo (who refuses to drop his sword, even to save himself), manages to swing himself to a handhold before attempting to finish them both off, at which point karma kicks in.
    • Very pointedly averted, however, in the novel. Not only does Quasimodo deliberately push Frollo off of the cathedral (and not even in self defense): when Frollo manages to cling to the building briefly and attempts to pull himself back up, the narration points out that Quasimodo could easily have reached out and helped him. Instead he just stands there and watches him fall.
  • Attempted in Disney Animated Canon's Tarzan. Tarzan had only meant to incapacitate Clayton, tying him up in vines. Clayton, however, is in an Unstoppable Rage and starts slashing through them...except for the one around his neck. Tarzan sees the problem before Clayton does and tries to warn him: "Clayton! Clayton, don't!" He doesn't listen, plummets downwards, and Tarzan zips after him. Unfortunately, he's not fast enough, and by the time he reaches Clayton, he's already hanged himself. One look at Tarzan's face and you know he really did hope to save him...


"Come with us. We can have you reprogrammed."
"No. If they can find a way around my brainblock, if somehow my memory was downloaded, it would be fatal for me – and my master. We have much to answer for. Better to kill me now."
"It’s not your fault. You didn’t program yourself."
"I am what I am, Jedi. I don’t think there can be any salvation for me."
"There’s been enough killing. I’m not adding to it today."

  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins plays this fairly straight, making the trope Older Than Radio.
  • Les Misérables: Valjean saves his nemesis, Javert, from execution at the barricades.
  • The Batman novel "Fear Itself" double subverts this when it has Batman try this with Scarecrow when Batman, the Love Interest of the week, Scarecrow, a henchman, and the body of a guy Scarecrow had just killed are trapped in a burning house. Initially, Batman does leave Scarecrow to die in the mess he created ... But after he rescues the Love Interest and the Henchman, as well as carrying out the dead victim's body, he goes back for Scarecrow. He apparently doesn't succeed, but they Never Found the Body and we all know what kind of record the Bat Rogues have with death. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we love Batman.
  • Discworld:
    • In Small Gods, Brutha cares for and carries a comatose Vorbis through the desert after they are shipwrecked there. When Vorbis regains consciousness just before they reach civilization, he hits Brutha over the head with a rock, tries to murder his God, and then takes credit for saving Brutha. And again at the end of the novel, when they are both dead, Brutha finds him in the desert, paralyzed with doubt. Even Death, who tends to be objective, points out that Vorbis is pure evil. Brutha replies: "But I'm me." and leads him through the afterlife.
    • In Night Watch, Vimes has already set fire to the headquarters of the Cable Street Particulars when he remembers that one of them is still inside, strapped to a chair in their own Torture Cellar. Vimes runs back in, deciding to at least give the man a chance to escape. He's already dead, and Vimes ends up in a sword fight with his boss.
      • It's complicated. Vimes is perfectly happy with traitors being hanged, it is the burning he can't stand. Vimes will not rescue a villain from quick death; he will rescue villains from torture.
  • In Scaramouche, Mme. la Comtesse de Plougastel stops Andre-Louis from killing the Big Bad, the Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr.
  • In Dark Life, Ty saves the outlaw Shade from being hanged by angry settlers—despite the fact that he still has broken ribs from his last encounter, and the fact that only way to get the settlers to listen was by telling them all his most dangerous secret.
    • In Rip Tide, it's a little different. At the beginning, the Drift surfs are the villains, but by the time he saves them at the end, Ty's realized that they were never actually the bad guys.
  • There's a version in the Beka Cooper book Bloodhound; having finally caught, outfought, and subdued the Big Bad in a flooding sewer, our protagonists have to keep her from drowning and later have her healed of her injuries, despite the fact that open wounds that then got tainted with sewage are extremely difficult to treat. However, this is not a second chance: they want her put properly on trial for her crimes so she can be executed in good time.
  • In Darke, Septimus has to rescue his opponent Merrin Meredith after the Dragon Duel.
  • At the end of volume 22 of the A Certain Magical Index light novel, Touma puts Fiamma of the Right into the last working escape pod on the falling star of Bethlehem. Keep in mind this is a 50 km structure very high into the atmosphere that lost more of its flotation power. Though partially justified since Touma wanted to stay behind and make sure it didn't crash on land, since that would have caused immense damage.

Live-Action TV

  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: In the episode "Annihilated," Elliot Stabler is the first to learn that a man killed his wife and kids and staged it to make his wife look like the killer. When Elliot finds him on the hospital roof as if he's preparing to jump, he plays along and talks him down as if he still thinks he's a victim on the verge of suicide. As soon the guy comes down from the ledge, Elliot cuffs him. When the perp asks what he's doing, Elliot responds, "I don't know. I should've thrown you off the roof."
  • Doctor Who subverts this trope in "Planet of Fire", in which the Master is burning in a volcano. He holds out a hand to be rescued, and the Doctor refuses. Twelve years later, the same characters played the trope straight, with the Doctor extending his hand and the Master refusing and then falling into a black hole, making him Deader Than Dead ...until he comes back in "Utopia", proceeds to take over the world, gets shot, and then enjoys the satisfaction of dying just to spite the Doctor, who is pleading with him to regenerate and live on. After a thorough cremation, the Master is now Deader Than Dead. Again... well maybe. Probably not. Definitely not.
    • In "Journey's End" he tries again, this time with Davros, going so far to remark "I tried to save you!" when he's turned down. He apparently also did this when Davros died during the Time War, despite the fact that they were at war Unfortunately, the Doctor has no real reason to do this, given that Davros has the inclination and the ability to make another army of Daleks using pieces of his own flesh; doubly unfortunately, the Doctor took out his frustrations on his clone. Hypocritical bastard.
    • In "The End of Time" this trope is invoked yet again, when the Doctor repeatedly pleads with the newly-returned Master to let him help with the Master's mental illness. For once, the Master seems to be on the verge of accepting the Doctor's offer, but subsequent events drive him to follow the other doomed Time Lords back into the Time War. Who knows what attitude he'll have the next time he's alive again.
    • In "Flesh and Stone", the Weeping Angels beg -- or demand, even -- that the Doctor to do this for them by throwing himself into a crack in time to spare their lives. Unfortunately for the Angels, they hadn't actually given him much of a reason to do so; he refuses, they fall in and cease to have ever existed.
    • Zigzagged in "The Magician's Apprentice", where it was revealed that, as a child, Davros himself was saved from death via a mine field on a war torn planet by a mysterious man with a sonic screwdriver, who was, in fact, the Twelfth Doctor. While Davros had yet to reach his Start of Darkness (and technically not a "villain" at the time) the Doctor was well-aware he was rescuing a child who would become a genocidal monster as an adult. He had no choice - this was a "fixed point in time", and letting Davros perish would have damaged the timeline irrevocably.
  • Subverted in the Stargate Atlantis episode "The Prodigal" Michael teeters on the brink of falling off the top of Atlantis to his awful demise. Teyla not only doesn't pull him up, she actually kicks his hands to hasten his death. This is what happens when you mess with Mama Bear.
    • And even the 'in the dark' portion doesn't work, since Sheppard is just offscreen.
  • In one episode of Bones, Booth tries desperately to save a serial killer who doesn't want to be saved. His failure sends him into a deep depression, until he is forced to see a psychiatrist.
  • Farscape has an interesting subversion - Moya's crew launch a dangerous, risky mission to save Scorpius. Until they reach him and John asks him what he told his captors - when Scorpius swears he said nothing, John cheerfully says to a shocked Aeryn "Kill him and let's go." Of course they then get distracted squabbling about who ought to kill him and he survives.
    • Eh, they never really intended to kill him, they just wanted to scare him into telling the truth.
  • In season 3, episode 3 of Primeval, villainess Helen Cutter is trapped in the burning ARC building (caused by an explosion in her failed takeover attempt). Nick Cutter, being the hero as well as Helen's husband, rushes into the building and frees her. As thanks, Helen shoots Nick, killing him for real.
  • The Fugitive had the necessity of this as part of its plot: the one-armed man has to live or there's no evidence that Richard Kimble is innocent. He also saved Inspector Javert Phillip Gerard quite a few times, which paid off in the finale when Gerard finally catches him, but in exchange gives him 24 hours to search for the real killer.
  • Averted big time in Xena: Warrior Princess during the second appearance of her archenemy, Callisto. After Callisto murders Gabrielle's husband in cold blood, then almost burns Gabrielle at the stake, Xena finally catches up with her in a furious chariot chase which culminates with the both of them stuck in a quicksand pit. Xena uses her whip and chakram to pull herself to safety, then simply stands there and watches as Callisto is pulled under, screaming. Callisto eventually comes back, though.
    • Reinforced big style, "Strike me down and I shall arise mightier than before." The next four seasons are Xena wangsting and paying off infinite karmic punishments.
    • Callisto becomes a God and in season 5, she is promoted to the Archangel sitting on Jehovah's right hand on high.
    • Finale damns Xena to the deepest pit of Hell for all eternity and all the episodes about Xena's reincarnations in the 20th century are retconned out of existence.
  • In one episode of Criminal Minds, "Elephant's Memory", Reid goes against orders to try to save a serial killer with whom he sympathises.
    • In the season 3 episode "Tabula Rasa", a serial killer is chased by the team to the top of his apartment building. He tries to jump across to the building opposite and ends up hanging off the edge of the roof. Morgan jumps after him, makes it onto the roof of that building, and then the serial kille loses his grip. And falls several stories. And ends up in a coma for about four years.
  • In the TV Movie for Nickelodeon's Cousin Skeeter, the villain is about to fall into what looks like an incinerator. The protagonists make a run for it, except Skeeter, who runs back for him while yelling "I got a conscience, man, I'm sorry!" and tells the villain to take his hand. The other characters go back to help pull when it looks like Skeeter isn't strong enough.
    • And in this case, the villain is so astonished/moved that they would bother to help him, that he immediately pulls a Heel Face Turn and helps the protagonists return home. (After giving Skeeter an alien medal as thanks.)
  • LazyTown's Sportacus will usually do it for Robbie Rotten. In at least one episode, "LazyTown's New Superhero," Robbie then betrays that help by trying to leave Sportacus stranded on top of the billboard hiding the entrance to his lair, the same one that he was trapped on top of.
  • Peter makes Neal do this in the White Collar episode Company Man.
  • In Prison Break, both Michael and Sara keep others from killing the villains, and sometimes even helping them.
  • In an episode of The Cape called "Dice", the titular hero had to save the villain, Chess, from a woman named Dice.
    • Atypically for this trope, however, The Cape's motives for doing so are purely selfish; he needs Chess to live long enough so that his name can be cleared.
  • Justified in the 2000 Robin Hood: Prince John promised that if the Sheriff dies, then the entire town will be nuked.
  • Played straight in 1960 Robin Hood: Robin wades through a sea of Mook blood and insists we must not kill the Sheriff, because that would make us as bad as him. Technical Pacifist * A Million Is a Statistic.
    • Fridge Logic: off-screen, Robin must also insist that we must not confiscate the Sheriff's money because that would make us as bad as him because next week, the Sheriff has hired a whole new army of Mooks for Robin to slaughter.
  • Subverted in the Angel episode "Shells": Knox murders Fred, and tries to bring about the reign of an Eldritch Abomination. When the heroes arrive to stop him, Angel makes a big speech about rescuing Knox. But Wesley, filled with grief over Fred's death, guns down Knox in cold blood. Angel angrily says to Wesley "Were you even listening?"
    • Of course, Angel being Angel, and the whole message of the show is "everyone is capable of, and deserves, a chance at redemption, this is played straight sometimes, as Angel often tries to save villans. In Season Two, him not doing this letting a load of Wolfram and Hart lawyers be killed by Darla and Drusilla is shown as an almost Moral Event Horizon.
  • It happens quite a few times in Wicked Science where Toby has to help Elizabeth when her experiments gave her unexpected results.

Tabletop Games

  • In the epic Dungeons & Dragons module Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, the Player Characters might inadvertently rescue one of the most notorious villains in the history of the game. Sometime prior to the events of this module, Zuggtmoy, the Big Bad of the original Temple of Elemental Evil module, was captured by the villains in this one, transformed into an altar, and forced to serve as a shrine in the Tabernacle of Utter Darkness, a location in the Temple of All Consumption. This nightmarish, evil room is usually one of the most dangerous places in the Temple, and the PCs risk their souls being imprisoned for eternity if they lose the battle that will likely take place here. However, if they first visit the actual Temple of Elemental Evil, there's one place where one of them hears Zuggtmoy's voice pleading to be released, telling them a way to do it, and promising three wishes if he does. (She does not reveal who she is.) If the character does this when he does get to the Tabernacle, Zuggtmoy is freed, the biggest danger of the place is eliminated, and he does indeed get the three wishes. However, Zuggtmoy does leave a giant Violet Fungus behind to attack him and his friends, although given the demons and cultists they'd have to defeat to get there, it's doubtful that would be a problem for them.

Video Games

  • Geese Howard from Fatal Fury dies this way. Terry (the hero) tries to save him, yet Geese simply smiles and lets go. It isn't until much later on that we figure out why: Geese knows that Terry will be racked with guilt for the rest of his life, because with Geese's death, Terry will have orphaned Geese's son Rock the same way Geese orphaned Terry and Andy.
  • The ending of Final Fantasy IX...except, not so much "save," as "don't let him die alone."
    • There's a similar situation in Advent Children.
  • A variation occurs in SUDA 51's No More Heroes. In this case, our Anti-Hero, up-and-coming assassin Travis Touchdown, has already dealt a fatal wound to his opponent Destroyman by impaling him through the chest with his beam katana. Nevertheless, Destroyman begs Travis to help him. Travis, who has already fallen for Destroyman's tricks a couple of times before, rips the weapon violently out of his chest. As his final vindictive act, Destroyman whips around and opens fire on Travis with his nipple-mounted machine guns (yes, really); he suffers his Karmic Death immediately thereafter, however, as Travis simply cleaves Destroyman from crotch to skull while bullets whiz past on either side of him.
  • Another Code for the DS did this.
  • And Time Hollow too.
    • It fails, and the villain's hand slips out of our protagonist's and he falls down a cliff. However, he survives and comes back to try and kill the protagonist and his parents later - he only manages to stab Kori.
  • In the ending of Zone of the Enders, Leo and Aida consider rescuing Viola, only for Viola to interrupt, saying that rescuing her would be adding insult to injury.
  • Subverted in Primal after the defeat of Iblis.

Iblis: "Please, help me."
Jen: "Well, my head says no, but my heart... says also no! Sorry, buddy, but this is not your day."

    • It ends up a bit different, though.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic you get a chance to either see a young Sith college entrant and already a major jerk being tortured to death or save him at the expense of being tortured yourself. Here we face the better version of the trope as he repays his debt to you straight away by freeing you from the torture and siding with you in a battling the torturer.
  • This happens in Last Scenario when Hilbert decides to save Big Bad Castor after the final boss fight of the game. Of course, he wouldn't have done it (he even says so) if he wasn't convinced by Ethan and Zawu.
  • In BioShock 2, if Delta continually demonstrates mercy to others, when Sofia Lamb is drowning in the end, Eleanor states that while her mother believes that people are beyond redemption, Eleanor has decided from the player's actions that anyone can be redeemed if given a chance, and saves Sofia's life.
  • Batman: Arkham City ends with The Joker invoking this trope and demanding Batman give him the cure needed to save him from TITAN poisoning. This is after he's poisoned 2000 people and killed Talia Al-Ghul, on top of his comic-book track-record, and yet he points out Batman'll follow the trope and save him anyway. Batman hesitates, so Joker stabs him in the arm, causing him to drop and smash the cure. Turns out Batman would have saved him anyway.
  • Justified in Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep: Aqua saves the life of Master Xehanort. The thing is, Xehanort was possessing the body of her friend Terra, and letting Xehanort die would kill Terra as well. Aqua was out to save Terra from the beginning, so this (combined with the fact that Terra is Fighting From the Inside) was the logical choice. Unfortunately, this turns into a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, as Terra can't break free, Xehanort's backup plan is in effect, and Aqua can't do anything to stop it.
    • In coded, Data-Riku saves Maleficent and Pete.
  • In one of Heavy Rain's possible finales, Jayden gets the opportunity to do this for Shelby, right down to the villain hanging off the edge of a tall building by his fingertips and continuing to attack the hero if he decides to save him.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko is ordered by Vlad to kill Ivan. After following him up the rooftops, Ivan will slip and barely hang on to the edge. The player may choose to invoke this trope and allow him to go into hiding, or let him fall and finish the job.
    • Ivan is far from being a villain. The mission is called "Ivan The Not So Terrible" for a reason.
  • At the conclusion of Devil May Cry 3, Dante attempts the Take My Hand version of this. A quick sword slash to the palm tells him what his would-be-rescuee thinks of the idea.
  • If you play through Ar tonelico properly, you'll find out that Big Bad Mir is trying to destroy the world because she is abused by humans too much as a Reyvateil, so the party change their objective from killing the Big Bad into saving her instead. You still have to destroy her killer barrier, though.
  • In the final stage of Bastion, The Kid comes across Zulf being nearly beaten to death by his fellow Ura. He then has the option of giving up his Infinity+1 Sword for Zulf's body, who he'll be forced to lug back while the Ura continually attack him. Eventually however, they'll be so impressed by your courage and tenacity that they'll all stop, with the one who decides to attack you getting killed by his comrades.
  • Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten plays with this trope. After Nemo realizes that Artina was alive as an angel, he realizes the error of his ways and plans to disappear along with fear the great. Valvatorez goes off to stop that, but he argues that he's not saving Nemo, he says that just disappearing is too good for him and that he can only repent for his sins if he stays alive.

Web Comics

Digger: Now, I could probably work up a good explanation for why I caught the hyena, who had, after all, been trying to kill me for awhile now. I could tell you that I was hoping to earn her gratitude, or point out that Surka was still attached to her ankle. These are all good and valid reasons. The fact is, though, that when people fall off cliffs, you grab for them. It's just a reflex.

Western Animation

  • Batman: The Animated Series: Batman's second encounter with a villainous ninja, Kyodai Ken, ends with the ninja stranded on a rock in the middle of a lava flow. Despite all that has passed between them, Batman throws a line and offers to try and pull him to safety. The rescue is refused, and the ninja presumably dies seconds later.
    • In an earlier episode, Batman saves a villain called the Sewer King from being hit by a subway train. When the astonished villain asks why, Batman responds that he leaves judgment and execution to the courts. Batman is still sorely tempted to make an exception here, what with the nature of the otherwise silly-looking villain's crimes.
      • Which was that he used children for his crimes, and abused them if they didn't do it perfectly.
    • Another episode has Batman saving an unconscious Joker from an exploding building - probably unnecessary, given Joker's history with big explosions.
      • Actually, given his history with big explosions, that's a very good reason to save him. Somebody really ought to install a homing beacon on him...
    • In another episode, when other villain Killer Croc drops Baby Doll (already a sympathetic character, anyway, though still insane) over a poorly designed ledge in the nuclear power plant, Batman catches her. She then knocks out Croc with a chemical, saving Batman in return.
    • Lampshaded in an early episode, where The Joker is hanging over a pit of molten metal.

Joker: Batman! You wouldn't let me fry, would you?
Batman: (Considers it)
Joker: BATMAN! (Batman pulls him up)

  • Batman's expression during the moment is priceless.
  • An interesting subversion happens during the three-part "World's Finest" episodes in Superman the Animated Series. The Joker has just accidentally set the huge flying wing he, Harley Quinn, Batman, and Lex Luthor are all on board to exploding; Superman turns up, Batman tells Superman to get Luthor, he's got Quinn... exeunt omnes through Superman's entrance hole... without making even the slightest effort to save The Joker, who's on the far side of what's functionally a minefield. Granted, it did give us the immortal lines after the plane had gone up in a fireball the size of a small city:

Harley Quinn: PUDDIN'!
Batman: At this point, he probably is.

  • That scene came across as practicality on Batman's part - he knew he only had time to save one person, and Harley was closer and less of a threat to the world at large, so she got chosen. If Harley hadn't been there, you know he would have gotten Joker out of the plane.
  • For that matter, had it been physically possible to reach Joker in time you know Batman would have gotten them both out of the plane. As is, the Joker was not only too far away but impossible to reach without blowing yourself up even if the plane hadn't been a few seconds away from exploding and so, laughing boy pretty much doomed himself.
  • In the Justice League episode "Twilight", this is averted by Superman of all people. When Darkseid tells the League that Brainiac is trying to assimilate Apokolips, Superman refuses to help and the rest of the League has to convince him otherwise. After Darkseid's inevitable betrayal, Superman actually hunts him down to personally kill him. And he succeeds—Darkseid remains dead all the way to the finale of Justice League Unlimited four seasons later.
    • Also subverted in the earlier episode "The Enemy Below." Orm ends up dangling off a ledge over a high drop, screaming for help, after trying to kill both his brother Aquaman and his infant son as well as untold numbers of people by melting the polar ice caps. Aquaman reaches down... and grabs his nearby trident instead, while Orm falls to his apparent death.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Prince Zuko, an Anti-Villain, is fighting Admiral Zhao, a full-fledged villain, when the latter is suddenly seized by the Ocean Spirit. Even though Zuko hates Zhao's guts, he yells, "Take My Hand," because he's just honorable like that. Zhao refuses Zuko's help and suffers Karmic Death.
    • Naturally, Aang, the hero, has saved Prince Zuko on a number of occasions, including in the unaired pilot. However, despite the page quote, Zuko never actually tried to kill them and actually thought he had to catch Aang alive.
    • Even MOMO saves enemies which wanted to eat him five minutes earlier.
  • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop: In the episode "North Pole Peril", Penelope rescues the Hooded Claw after a yeti throws him off a cliff. Naturally, she regrets it later.
  • Audience-based subversion: There was once an Action Man advert where Dr. X was hanging off the edge of a building, about to fall to his death, and viewers voted whether Action Man should save him or not. They voted no, and Dr. X fell to his death.
  • Reversed in Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?, where the titular crook would actually save ACME detectives Ivy and Zach if one of her schemes unintentionally put them in peril. Naturally, they return the favor, and she refuses, but only because she's wily enough to have a backup escape plan just in case.
  • Spoofed in The Simpsons, after Bart has just saved Sideshow Bob's life:

Sideshow Bob: You saved me, Bart!
Bart: Yeah - I guess this means you won't ever try to kill me again, huh?
Sideshow Bob: [Sinister] Oh, I don't know about that. [Bart cringes back fearfully] Joking, joking!

Dr. Blight: You've got to save me, Planet! It's in your hero's manual!
Captain Planet: For once, she's right.

  • An episode of ReBoot had both Bob and Megabyte both fighting for survival in a glitched-up Game, which culminated in Megabyte being trapped by the User's character. Bob saves him, and later in the episode, successfully resolves a standoff by reminding Megabyte that he owes him. The indisputable highlight, though, is the way Megabyte finally asks for help...
  • In one episode of the X-Men animated series, Juggernaut starts an all-out attack on Xavier's mansion, but is stopped when somebody else steals his powers. Cain Marko then starts to die, requiring the X-Men to find the Ruby of Cyttorak to restore his power and save his life. They do, and Juggernaut repays them by stopping the attack and leaving.

Cyclops: We're going to save the Juggernaut's sorry life. And don't bother telling me you don't like it.
Wolverine: I don't like it.

  • Super Mario Bros Super Show features a subversion in its Christmas Episode. Bowser, who has taken Santa Claus captive at this point and is threatening to throw him into the icy water below, stupidly causes an avalanche. Mario uses his plumbers' snake to rescue St. Nick, but instead of doing the same for the Koopa King, he gestures to the reptile that he'll just have to jump into the water himself (which he surprisingly survives).
  • Lampshaded a bit in Kim Possible in this exchange from "Gorilla Fist.":

Ron: So you want to tell me again exactly why we're going back?
Kim: 'Cause it is the right thing to do.
Sensei: (wisely) A weed that never grows does not need to be cut down.
Ron: Hmm, yeah, that's a good gardening tip. So why are we doing this again?
Yori: What Sensei is saying is that even though Monkey Fist is bad, he has not done us wrong this day. It is our honor to save him.
Ron: Oh, we're rescuing the bad guy!
Kim: Yeah, but it sounds better the way he says it.

  • "Rewriting History" has Kim get Drakken and Shego away from an invention that would have probably killed them, with Drakken then saying "We never speak of this again!" She also dives in and saves Drakken from drowning in "Cap'n Drakken", proving she's that big a damn hero once and for all.
  • Happens in the episode "Black Sand" from the Aladdin TV series when Aladdin tries to save Mozenrath from falling off the palace into his black sand trap. Obviously, Mozenrath attempts to pull Aladdin down with him, but ends up falling into his own black sand. Aladdin seems to try to save Sa'luk from falling off a cliff in the sequel "Aladdin and the King of Thieves", but fails.
    • In the episode "The Hunted," Genie has to save Mukhtar, a Genie Hunter, from a man-eating Venus flytrap in Mozenrath's citadel. He then says "Saving people we might not like. It's a good guy thing!" Afterwards, Mukhtar seems to be an Ungrateful Bastard and betray Genie to Mozenrath, but after reflecting on what Genie did for him for a while, comes back and helps save Genie and defeat Mozenrath.
  • On Phineas and Ferb, Perry the Platypus occasionally does this Dr. Doofensmirtz, even though the doctor routinely manages to survive huge explosions and worse. In the episode "The Magnificent Few", Perry saves Dr. Doofenshmirtz from his exploding evil lair.
    • Amusingly, Perry is also prone to rescuing Doofensmirtz from much less serious situations, such as in "Brain Drain", where Perry saved Doofensmirtz from embarrassing himself in front of his daughter and her friends, and "Run Candace, Run", where he convinces Doofensmirtz to ask his ex-wife for money so he doesn't lose his building.
    • Doofensmirtz is also one of the few villains that has no problem with thanking the hero.
  • In an episode of Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes, Mr. Fantastic briefly considers leaving Mole Man to be eaten by the monsters he was trying to control, before concluding "I think they'd take away our superhero licenses".
  • In an episode of The Spectacular Spider-Man, Spidey finds himself saving Tombstone from the Green Goblin. He seriously resents this.
    • In an episode of the animated series Spider-Man rescues Jameson from the Scorpion (who, by the way, was created by Jameson to hunt down Spidey). Naturally, That Doesn't Change Anything, and Spider-Man later ruminates in amusement that "It's like Sherlock Holmes rescuing Moriarty".
      • In the 80s show, Jameson is in trouble at one point and begs Spider-Man to save him, promising to stop printing bad things about him. After he's rescued, he immediately tells Spider-Man that he was lying and gloats about it. Spider-Man says that he wasn't fooled. If Jameson had kept his promise, then he'd be surprised.
    • Back into Spider-Man: The Animated Series, the trope was occasionally subverted. Peter Parker (he didn't have time to change clothes) once saved Wilson Fisk from the Hobgoblin but Spidey didn't know back then Fisk was the Kingpin. In a later episode, he saved an old man he'd later learn was the mob boss Silvermane. Spidey even commented he'd give him back to Doctor Octopus if he knew the truth back then. Considering how Spidey learned Silvermane's identity, who can blame him? He once knowingly saved the Scorpion from danger, playing this trope straight, but he made it clear to Black Cat (and the viewers) he's only doing it because it was Spidey's own fault the Scorpion was in that danger in the first place.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog rescues his callous, mean and generally Jerkass owner Eustace on a regular basis. To his credit, he does this most reluctantly and only so not to upset Eustace's cute and caring wife Murriel whom Courage adores. Every plunge into the maw of death to retrieve the Ungrateful Bastard is preacted with a mournful lament: "Things I do for love!"
  • Woody and Buzz save Lotso in Toy Story 3 from a shredder without hesitation, even though it was Lotso's fault in the first place that any of them was in a life-threatening situation. Lotso doesn't return the favor.
  • He-Man saves Skeletor's life a lot of times (or his henchmen and other villains) in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
  • The Lion King II- Kiara does this to Zira when she's trying to pull herself up. Kiara offers a hand (paw?) to Zira to pull her back up, but she swipes at her and falls to her death in the raging flood below.
    • Believe it or not, what was originally intended was Kiara saying "Zira! Give me your paw!" and Zira shouting "Never!" and letting go, falling to her death! Unsurprisingly, Executive Meddling changed the scene, since suicide is not exactly a topic Disney is known to touch on.
  • In one of the final episodes of Storm Hawks, Stork attempts to save Repton from falling to his death. He fails.
  • In Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-Lot, the Care Bears are usually willing to do this for Grizzle.
  • The Smurfs end up doing this to Gargamel on various occasions, one reluctantly being when Gargamel accidentally turned himself into a statue while the Smurfs rejoice afterward, Papa Smurf being the exception.
  • Jake and/or the members of his team on Jake and the Never Land Pirates always offer this to Captain Hook when he inevitably gets into a sticky situation. Hook, however, always refuses, claiming that he doesn't need help. Jake and the others don't try to press the issue.
  • Subverted by Posey in Mission Hill when she's threatened by a pimp for taking away with her (unfortunately printed) "healthful release" massage. When he pulls his back out of place she uses her massage techniques to fix him, then pushes him off the building.

Posey: I didn't want him to fall off the roof and not feel it.

  • In Kong: The Animated Series, Jason and the others save De La Porta a few times, and at one point he returns the favor, if only to make them even.
  • Subverted in Transformers Prime. When both Bots and Cons get caught in a cave in, the Autobots consider rescuing them. They choose not to, reasoning that not killing them in cold blood is good enough.
  • Played in Hurricanes. Toro faced his fear of snakes to save Melinda Garkos.
  • In Young Justice, Superman tries to save Kroleteans about to be destroyed by a bomb hidden in their volcano base. They don't believe him and keep attacking, so he fails.
  • One interesting variation of the theme happened on Jem, where a plane carrying both the Holograms and the Misfits crashed in the ocean several hundred feet from the shore of an island, and Jem has to rescue Stormer - who couldn't swim - from drowning. The big problem here was the water briefly interfering with Synergy's signal, and Stormer thinks Jerrica had saved her. Technically true, of course, but neither she nor the other Misfits know about her dual identity. Big problem. With the whole cast now marooned on an island and and the Misfits thinking Jerrica was alive but missing, suffice to say it caused problems.
  • This Trope is Deconstructed in the Family Guy episode “Fecal Matters”. When Peter’s arch-nemesis Ernie the Giant Chicken is dying from terminal “bird flu” (and no longer wants to live, as his wife has left him for an even larger chicken) Peter (who isn't exactly a hero himself) does indeed save him via CPR, but does so entirely for selfish reasons, both because his obsession with their rivalry gives his life purpose, and because if Ernie died, he’d be solely responsible financially for all the damage their fights has caused.