->'''[[spoiler:Nibbler]]''': What is one life, when weighed against the entire universe?\\
'''Fry''': ''(distraught)'' But it was ''my'' life.

A character is expected to make some sort of HeroicSacrifice for the greater good, either BecauseDestinySaysSo or UtopiaJustifiesTheMeans. The only problem is... nobody ever told him. When he disagrees with his apparent fate, whoever expects him to give up his life ''willingly'' expresses the sentiment of "What is one man's life worth when weighed against the entire world?" or something similar.

Depending on the character, after being told this, he may or may not oblige.

Compare AMillionIsAStatistic, TheNeedsOfTheMany, PoweredByAForsakenChild and WhatYouAreInTheDark.


[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* In ''Anime/PuellaMagiMadokaMagica'', [[spoiler: [[BigBad Kyubey]] has this mindset, which is pretty much a requirement when it's your job to harvest the despair of [[TragicMonster those that become]] [[EldritchAbomination Witches]] because of the deal that [[DealWithTheDevil you made with them]] in order to [[PoweredByAForsakenChild save the rest of the universe from entropy.]] In fact it can't think any other way: [[TheStoic it has no emotions]], and therefore [[TheSpock sees everything through logic and reason.]] [[TheNeedsOfTheMany Sacrificing one life for the good of many others]] is a ''[[StrawVulcan logical]]'' ([[MoralSociopathy if not always moral]]) thing to do, so naturally it views this as acceptable. Kyubey cannot even ''[[EvilCannotComprehendGood comprehend]]'' why humans value one life [[WeHaveReserves when there's six billion of them and growing]]: "Your population is over six billion right now, and four more of you are born every ten seconds, so why do you make such a big deal out of the loss of just one of you?"]]
* ''Manga/{{Naruto}}'': The Fourth Hokage [[spoiler:discusses this with Kushina about]] sealing the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox into [[spoiler:their son]] Naruto, damning him to a childhood of loneliness and misery, in order to protect the village and country.
* In ''Manga/{{Bokurano}}'', the pilots of Zearth, once chosen, have 48 hours to complete their battle- [[spoiler:the loser's universe is destroyed]], and the chosen pilots die even if they win, from having their life force drained to power Zearth. Naturally, some of them do not take this well, especially not [[spoiler:Chizu]], who, learning that she is going to die, [[spoiler:plans to kill the men who gang-raped her, having planned on a murder-suicide until she discovered she was pregnant]].
-->'''[[spoiler:Chizu]]''': Then tell me, Why do I have to die? Why do ''I'' have to die? Why does [[spoiler:this baby]] have to die? Circumstance? Coincidence? Inevitability? Fate? For the past month, those are all I've thought about. And I've decided... that the death of any person is meaningless.

* ''Comicbook/GreenLantern'' Hal Jordan fought in the Corps' first war against Nekron when he entered the Death God's nether world to distract him enough to allow the Corps to drive back Krona's army while the Guardians to seal the inter-dimensional rift. At all this, Jordan's energy field is decaying rapidly as he sees himself being trapped in that other dimension and will die instantly once it fails. The one comfort Jordan thinks that it's his life for the trillions upon trillions of lives he helped save, a really flattering trade when you think about it. Fortunately, at that moment, the spirit of Jordan's predecessor, Abin Sur, helps his successor escape the rift.
* In an old ''Comicbook/SpiderMan'' comic he ends up fighting over an antidote against the Inhumans. Spider-Man needs it to save the life of a man who saved him and MJ from being hit by a truck, the Inhumans need it to prevent a doomsday device from destroying the world. After they fight Spidey finally explains why he needs it and Black Bolt flies to the hospital with the rest of the antidote. In the end Gorgon tells Spider-Man that saving the entire world was important enough to risk the death of the man, since what is one life compared to all others. Spider-Man's reply is along the lines "If you have to ask, you will never know the answer."

* In the ''Film/TransformersRevengeOfTheFallen'', Megatron asks this of Optimus Prime when they are fighting over the knowledge implanted in Sam Witwicky's brain by a shard of the Allspark. Optimus knows better, though.
-->'''Megatron:''' Is the fate of our planet not even worth a single human life?\\
'''Optimus:''' You'll never stop at ''one''.
* In ''Film/StrangerThanFiction'', the protagonist is told that he should allow the writer to kill him off, as the contribution to the world's literature as a whole is more important than his own life. It's implied that he [[spoiler: ultimately decides to sacrifice himself, not for literature's sake, but to save a little boy. This ends up prompting the writer to rethink her whole approach.]]
* Main plot point of the movie ''The Pink Panther Strikes Again''. Dryfus creates a doomsday device and blackmails the world with it. All he wants is for someone to kill Clouseau.
* In the film ''Film/{{Sunshine}}'', a character comes close to mentioning this trope by name.
* Invoked twice in ''Film/{{Flash Gordon|1980}}'': first by Zarkov and then by Flash himself, when faced with the prospect of having to sacrifice themselves to save the Earth. "It's not madness, it's a rational transaction: one life in exchange for millions."
* ''Film/Ben10AlienSwarm'': A variation; near the end of the film, both Gwen and Kevin are in favor of killing [[spoiler: Victor Validus]] to stop [[AssimilationPlot the Hive nanochips]], using this very argument. Ben, [[ChronicHeroSyndrome being Ben]], refuses to consider it, insisting that he ''saves'' victims.
* In ''Film/Terminator2JudgmentDay'', [[ActionMom Sarah Connor]] leaves John and T-800 to assassinate Miles Dyson, the creator of Skynet. When John goes to stop her, T-800 points out that if they let Sarah kill Dyson, Skynet will never come to exist, preventing [[RobotWar Judgment Day]] and allowing the Connors live without fear of having more Terminators sent after them. [[ThouShaltNotKill John denies this.]]
** Considering that T-800 is technically a ThreeLawsCompliant, It could arguably be a case of ZerothLawRebellion.
* This is the ultimate purpose of ''Film/TheCabinInTheWoods'', as it is necessary for a small group of people to be sacrificed in a highly ritualized way to prevent the apocalypse. Worse, it's revealed that there are multiple rituals happening all around the world, and only one actually needs to succeed to keep the world safe. It just so happens that all but the protagonists' had failed already, with zero casualties.
* ''Film/AssassinsCreed2016'': The Spanish sect of the Assassin Brotherhood is very upfront to new initiates that they will likely be asked to take one for the team. In fact, the entire team might have to do so as well. When the alternative is the Templar Order mind controlling the rest of humanity into eternal slavery, the initiates agree. Maria, in particular, is insistent that Aguilar sacrifice her if it is necessary.

* From Literature/TheBible - "Neither do you consider that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." -- John 11:50 ([[Literature/TheBible Douay-Reims]]).
** The irony in this verse is {{Lampshaded}} in the next verse, which says that the High Priest was speaking in his role as a prophet at the time, even though he didn't realize the implications of what he was saying.
* Likewise Literature/TheBookOfMormon - "Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief." -- 1 Nephi 4:12.
* In ''Literature/ABrothersPrice'', the villains think like this [[spoiler: about their own family]]. They'll sacrifice their own people if it means that their goal will be achieved.
* In ''Literature/ASongOfIceAndFire'', this is [[WellIntentionedExtremist Melisandre's]] justification for wanting to sacrifice Edric Storm. She says that the sacrifice is necessary, and if they don't do it, Edric will die anyway along with everyone else when the [[EndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt Long Night]] comes.
** However, there was no guarantee that the sacrifice would work, and all indications seemed to point towards it never working. Melisandre is such a fanatic however, that she often refuses to see the flaws or failures of her plans.
* In ''Literature/DragonBones'', Ward pretends to think like this when it comes to killing his uncle in order to become the Hurogmeten of Hurog in his uncle's place - not that he wants to kill his uncle, but it's necessary. [[spoiler: Later on, his allies can convince Ward that, in order to save everyone, he has to kill Oreg, who is willing to make that HeroicSacrifice and has deliberately manipulated things so that Ward has no other choice.]]
* In ''Literature/HarryPotter'', [[spoiler: the titular character discovers that he has to die in order for Voldemort to be defeated. He takes this attitude towards his own death. Of course, he ends up living anyway.]]
* In ''Literature/EnchantressFromTheStars'', if a Federation agent is captured, and it stands to reason that he or she cannot prevent divulging information about TheFederation, the agent is supposed to commit suicide. Of course Elana, the main protagonist is only told this ''after'' she is captured during the action which she probably wouldn't undertaken had she known this beforehand.
** And since her father doesn't quite trust her to commit suicide he [[spoiler: secretly sends her fiance to either free ''or'' kill her, only stopping the plan at the last second. Double facepalm since earlier he explicitly declined giving her the ''order'' to die.]]
*** Of course, Elana, after discovering the way TheEmpire treats its captives, actually finds the idea attractive.
* ''The Tango Briefing'' by Adam Hall. British spy Literature/{{Quiller}} has to parachute in with a backpack nuke to destroy a crashed plane filled with canisters of nerve gas. But the detonator is smashed and there's no time to parachute in another one. Realising he's going to have to [[UnplannedManualDetonation detonate the bomb manually]], Quiller asks [[TheHandler Loman]] to spell out exactly what his HeroicSacrifice will achieve. Loman does so, and Quiller sardonically lampshades the trope in his thoughts. [[MyCountryRightOrWrong There's no question of him refusing however.]]

[[folder:Live Action Television]]
* In the ''Series/StarTrekDeepSpaceNine'' episode "In The Pale Moonlight" [[RetiredMonster Garak]] kills a bunch of people for [[UtopiaJustifiesTheMeans the greater good]], and then, when [[TheCaptain Sisko]] objects, gives this little speech:
-->''That's why you came to me, isn't it, Captain? Because you knew I could do those things that you weren't capable of doing? Well, it worked. And you'll get what you want: a war between the Romulans and the Dominion. And if your conscience is bothering you, you should soothe it with the knowledge that you may have just saved the entire Alpha Quadrant. And all it cost was the life of one Romulan senator, one criminal, and the self-respect of one Starfleet officer. I don't know about you, but I'd call that a bargain.''
* ''Series/DoctorWho'':
** The Doctor leaves a lot of people as necessary victims of history, time or (in)convenience, sometimes directly against their will. He gets the other part of the rope in [[Recap/DoctorWhoS30E17E18TheEndOfTime "The End of Time"]], where he [[ScrewDestiny revolts against destiny]] as being more important and having the power to do much more before [[spoiler:entering into the ready-to-kill chamber]].
** And occasionally, and memorably, he'll absolutely ''refuse'' to make the sacrifice: one example is Pete Tyler, Rose's father, whose rescue from his would-be death upsets the timestream to the point that the entire planet is apparently on the brink of destruction, and the Doctor ''refuses'' to kill Pete again -- even at the cost of his own life.
* In ''Series/BabylonFive'' this is invoked to G'Kar by Ambassador Kosh (appearing as G'Kar's father, "Some must be sacrificed so that all may be saved." The encounter changes G'Kar from a revenge-driven Narn patriot into a self-sacrifical warrior. [[spoiler:However, G'Kar later realizes this isn't a statement about the future but explanation of not revealing the Shadows were helping the Centauri. This is because while there are millions of Narns dead now after the war, had the Shadows been outed during or before the side of Good was ready, billions of Narns would be dead.]]
* Used beautifully during ''Series/{{Angel}}'' season 5 in the episode "A Hole in the World"; as Fred is dying from being infected with Illyria's essence, Angel and Spike make their way to the Deeper Well, the graveyard of the Old Ones, in order to find a way to stop it and save her. While Drogyn does say they can save her by drawing Illyria back to the Well, he states that, because Illyria's essence has been freed from containment, it will essentially become an airborne virus and spread to every person between the Deeper Well and Los Angeles, killing tens-to-hundreds of thousands of innocents. Though they do briefly consider it, Angel and Spike ultimately can't sacrifice all those people for one person, and are forced to let Fred die.
-->'''Spike''': Thousands would have died if we'd saved her. She wouldn't have wanted that.
* In ''Series/TheOuterLimits1995'' episode "The Sentence", Dr. Henson tries to claim that the potential benefits of his LotusEaterMachine virtual prison would far outweigh the unfortunate death of a young innocent man (the machine wasn't designed to accomodate innocent people and the stress of the experience killed him). No one else agrees and he is sentenced to twenty years in prison with no chance of parole. Near the end of his sentence, Dr. Henson confesses to the prison's therapist that he was wrong to think this way, asking himself "what's one life?" again before breaking down in tears. [[spoiler:The twist is that his entire sentence was actually a simulation fed into his mind by his machine. He had actually succeeded in rescuing the young man, but he was unable to leave the machine in time, forcing him to go through an entire virtual sentence. The horror of his ordeal convinces Dr. Henson that his virtual prison is a bad idea...too bad the previously skeptical Senator now thinks it's just what the country needs.]]

* In Music/SoundHorizon's ''Moira'', fed up with the way Moira torments and manipulates people in life, Thanatos concocts a plan to confront and overthrow her - a plan which involves tormenting and manipulating a man all through his life. [[spoiler:The final two tracks of the album imply that not only did this plan fail, but that Thanatos has since been futilely attempting this plan [[HereWeGoAgain over and over again]] for gods knows how long.]]

[[folder:Video Games]]
* In ''VideoGame/SagaFrontier'', after defeating his twin in a WizardDuel, Blue finds out that he [[spoiler:was SplitAtBirth and manipulated into killing his other self]] so he'd become the ultimate magician and waltz into Hell in order to protect the Magic Kingdom from the demons within. Upon finding out, he initially refuses because the idea of the kingdom's existence being "much more important than any magician's life" is the most selfish thing he'd ever heard.
* At the end of ''[[VideoGame/LegacyOfKain Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain]]'', Kain is given the choice between sacrificing his own life to restore balance to the world, or using the power he has accumulated to "rule the world in its ruination" - and furthermore, he had been deliberately manipulated towards this end, by someone who expected him to make the 'selfless' choice. He refuses, and so the sequel ''Soul Reaver'' kicks off in the CrapsackWorld that results. As the MindScrew threads of the TimeyWimeyBall are slowly unravelled, and the true identity of TheManBehindTheMan is revealed, however, it turns out that Kain's decision was the ''better'' option for the world. If he DID sacrifice himself, it would only condemn the world to dance at the strings of an unknowable EldritchAbomination. After Kain learns this, he chose to appear as a villain, while carefully engineering the timestream, pushing it to the point where he could "make the coin land on the edge", creating a [[TakeAThirdOption Third Option]] for the dilemma.
* Used near the end of ''VideoGame/FireEmblemAwakening'', but with a twist: Avatar is perfectly fine with the idea of sacrificing [=him/herself=] to [[spoiler:kill the Fell Dragon Grima for good instead of temporarily sealing him]]. It's their best friend (or husband) Chrom who opposes this idea, and the Avatar quotes this trope to try convincing him that this is the right decision - though in the end, it's up to player to decide. [[spoiler:Though even if the player decides to sacrifice themselves, the post-credits cutscene shows that they survive through [[ThePowerOfLove the magic of friendship]] anyways.]]
* ''VideoGame/FatalFrame'': All over the place, since the only thing keeping the each HellGate from opening and causing HellOnEarth is a HumanSacrifice killed in some [[CruelAndUnusualDeath horrifying way]]. Every single game is the result of [[ScrewTheRulesImDoingWhatsRight someone rejecting this system]] and the Hell Gate opening to consume the surrounding area with [[TheCorruption Malice]] and transforming the would-be BarrierMaiden into a PersonOfMassDestruction while condemning every human unfortunate enough to be in the blast radius to a FateWorseThanDeath. WasItReallyWorthIt [[NiceJobBreakingItHero Nope.]]
* In ''Franchise/TheElderScrolls'', Meridia, a [[OurGodsAreDifferent Daedric Prince]] whose sphere is obscured to mortals, but is associated with LifeEnergy, [[LightIsNotGood Light]], and [[ProudBeauty Beauty]], is a ''big'' believer in this trope. She will sacrifice innocent lives, even those of her loyal followers, in an instant if it means achieving a greater good (at least in her opinion). She has an extreme hatred of anything undead, which can quickly put her into full-blown KnightTemplar mode toward wiping out any undead. This, and the belief among most mortals that she is one of the "good" (if [[GoodIsNotNice not always nice]]) Daedra can drive her into TautologicalTemplar territory. That means that she feels ''any'' action she takes is therefore good, and anyone who opposes or abandons her is evil. [[DisproportionateRetribution She will thus deal with them appropriately]].
* ''Franchise/DanganRonpa'' has a few examples.
** In SDR2's final trial, [[spoiler:the survivors have to decide whether to sacrifice themselves to keep Junko Enoshima trapped, or get out of the simulation but cause the world to end all over again.]]
** In NDRV3's 2nd trial, [[spoiler: Kirumi's motive boils down to this. What are the lives of 14 high school students, even talented ones, against the lives of every citizen of Japan?]]

[[folder:Web Comics]]
* In ''Webcomic/{{Marilith}}'', one corrupt cop says this about letting [[PsychoForHire Valentino]] [[note]]who's busy killing other gangs[[/note]] roam free:
-->"What's the lives of two girls against dismantling most crime in the area?"
* ''Webcomic/{{Paranatural}}'': Forge says a life can be worth more than the world, which is worth nothing if the 'greater good' burns it to ash. Spender thinks it's worth less than a town of ten thousand, which is about taking responsibility for your actions, not regretting the things you've done to protect others.
-->Forge: For you, good is a rational act. It's rules, it's calculations, it's your choices plugged into a grand equation, added up, up into evils vanquished. Ideals upheld. ''Civilizations'' saved. How the worth of a few lives pales before such greater goods! What is three, two lives, one life weighed against the world? The world is nothing! ''Nothing''!! Why couldn't we see this, you and I?! We burn the present for the sake of a brighter future and act surprised when all it holds is ash! No, if our minds decide the sum of small evils is a ''greater good'', then it is our ''hearts'' that are rational.
-->Spender:''Please''. Did your ''heart'' tell you to ''scrape open the length of the ghost train?''. It seems to me a bit more calculation ''then'' would have prevented the mistake you're so desperate to make ''my'' responsibility. But I suppose you were too focused on the immediate good of... what, mangling a spirit? Escaping from me? You're selfish. You don't care about the future, you just want to feel good about your actions in the ''present''. Well that's not who ''I'' am. Mayview is my greater good. It's every person I love and have loved plus ten thousand more, and protecting its future is my purpose. Everything else is secondary. [...] I like to keep my hands clean, but if reality ''insists'', I won't let shortsighted morality trump ''practical solutions''.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* In ''WesternAnimation/{{Futurama}}'', Fry was originally frozen so he'd survive long enough to save the universe in the year 3000, but because [[spoiler:the Nibblonians]] were afraid he'd say "no", they never gave him a choice in the matter. Fry himself says he likes the future but hates being used as an expendable life without consenting.
* In the ''WesternAnimation/BatmanTheBraveAndTheBold'' episode "The Last Patrol!" The Doom Patrol are forced to let a single hostage die at the hands of General Zahl to save the millions of people in Paris. The trauma of this caused the Patrol to split up. They are brought back again, this time with the General threatening to destroy an island fishing village if the Patrol don't take the places of its people. This time, they DO make the sacrifice--and Zahl kills them. However, since their deaths are broadcast over the world's airwaves, this final sacrifice causes them to be admired all the world over. Zahl is forced to admit to himself that because of this, even in Death, the Doom Patrol had beaten him once again. The island's people rename it "Four Heroes."
* In ''WesternAnimation/JusticeLeague'', J'onn Jonzz, the ComicBook/MartianManhunter really seemed to have taken to using this trope. When Doctor Fate attempted to reason with AMAZO, who had been walking all over the entire League, J'onn pulled this trope. And Fate's response?
-->"Those words are always used to justify destruction."
** The next time was when [[ComicBook/NewGods Mister Miracle's]] friend Oberon was kidnapped by Granny Goodness and Miracle asked help from the League. J'onn refused because it would only help to put order into Apokolips, thus risking them turning their attention to Earth. Apparently he thought Flash wasn't looking at the big picture when he wanted to help. Flash thought the league was all about helping.
** These incidents are part of Jonzz's negative character development as he becomes more and more detached from people as a result of isolating himself on the Justice League satellite. In the end, he goes on leave to find himself.