The Operative: The boy spent his entire fortune developing the contacts to infiltrate this place.
Dr. Mathias: Gave up a brilliant future in medicine as well. It's madness!
The Operative: Madness? Have you looked at this scan carefully, Doctor? At his face? It's love, in point of fact; something a good deal more dangerous.The Act of True Love proves beyond doubt that you are ready to put your loved one's interests before your own, that you are truly loyal and devoted to them. Usually this involves a sacrifice on your part, at the very least a considerable effort and/or a great risk. The action must be motivated, not by morals or principle or expectation of future reward, but by sheer personal affection. When your beloved is in dire need of your help, or in great danger, and you do something, at great expense to yourself, for the sake of their safety, their welfare, or their happiness, thus proving beyond any doubt that you put their interest ahead of yours. The love that motivates this does not need to be romantic: any of The Four Loves may be involved, from the friendship of a True Companion to the devotion of a brother, to a messianic, all-embracing love. Compare and contrast with Thicker Than Water, Undying Loyalty, or True Companionship, or a sense of obligation or duty, which can be devotions to roles or positions rather than to people. A mother can be emotionally distant from her children, a vassal can think their lord mad and evil, two squadmates can hate each other's guts, yet still fiercely and unconditionally stand by them. The Act of True Love, however, is always driven by sheer personal affection to the person. Contrast with Grand Romantic Gesture: showboating, parading or boasting of how much you love the other person, being dramatic or spectacular, all that shows that you're very interested in (furthering) the relationship, but it says absolutely nothing of your commitment to the person, no matter how much effort and resources went into it. The Casanova and the Serial Romeo make such displays as a matter of routine. On the same topic, compare with True Love's Kiss; kisses, while a great expression of affection, are, in and of themselves, rather unreliable indicators of love, as anyone who's had casual or hate sex can testify. Compare also with Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other, where characters who are not normally affectionate towards each other are seen to demonstrate their love in unequivocal ways, usually by enacting this trope, with Friend or Idol Decision (which may cross over with this, depending on how important the "idol" is to the character), and with I Want My Beloved to Be Happy. An Act of True Love may well involve a Heroic Sacrifice: this can often be a Death Trope, so beware any Unmarked Spoilers ahead. However, the sacrifice need not be heroic: sometimes Love Makes You Evil or Crazy.
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Anime And Manga
- In Kill la Kill, Mako does several of these for Ryuuko, usually in the form of a Cooldown Hug, and Senketsu sacrifices himself to protect her. Gamagoori takes a sword stab for Mako. The Elite Four would do anything for Satsuki. Satsuki defied the most powerful woman in the world to avenge her father and sister, but, much more touchingly, ran to catch her beloved sister falling from space, screaming her name with no restraint or shame.
- In Samurai Flamenco, Moe Morita proves willing to die in ignoble suffering for the sake of Maya. This act of grace on her part prompts a heartfelt apology from the villain, who in turns delivers a scathing Breaking Speech to Maya for not being sincere in returning the favour.
- There are many of these in One Piece. Many, many, many. Some of them are about as flashy as it gets, like when the Strawhats declared war on the entire world for the sake of one comrade, or when the Whitebeards went to rescue Ace in similar circumstances. But just as many are discreet and hidden, like Soldier-san's devotion to his protegee/daughter.
- Surprisingly even the daughter of Big Mom, Praline shows this by intending to follow her husband Aladdin of the Sun Pirates when his crew stops being allied to Big Mom despite knowing that no one has ever done so and survived.
- Codename: Sailor V gives us Ace's plan to help Minako/Sailor Venus: loving her from their previous lives but knowing she'll always choose duty over her own happiness he joined the Dark Kingdom as Danburite, set up the situation where Minako would fall for him, and then made it so she would have to kill him so she wouldn't have to find out at a worse moment and suffer even worse, screwing her up mentally but at least succeeding in getting her to live and, ultimately, get over it.
- In All-Star Superman, Jimmy Olsen turns himself into Doomsday, risking that the DNA will overwhelm him, to stop a black Kryptonite infected Superman without sending him to the Phantom Zone, even though this means risking his life and sanity to save his best friend.
- The Incredible Hercules: Hephaestus captures Herc and Amadeus and puts them each in a cell with a button. If one pushes his button, he will die but the other will go free. If neither of them push the button, they both die. What happens? They both attempt Heroic Sacrifice: they push their buttons immediately at the same time. They both go free.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW), When Mirror Sombra realizes that Celestia will be trapped if they go through with the current plan for dealing with her evil counterpart, he decides on another option — absorbing the evil of Mirror Celestia and Mirror Luna, turning himself into a similar version to the regular Sombra.
- In Runaways, Xavin poses as her beloved Karolina Dean and hands herself over to a group of Majesdanians who blamed Karolina for the destruction of their homeworld, protecting both Karolina and the other Runaways from the Light Brigade's retribution.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Power Girl crossover Origin Story, Alexandra Harris kills three government agents because they nearly killed her lover/partner Louise. She kills a fourth person, this one a high-ranking government official, because the not only does Alex find out that the attack was on orders from the official, but that he ordered a fourth government agent to attack as well. Having to do so gives her nightmares and drives her into depression, but she thinks the cost is worth it as long as Louise is safe.
- In Captain Planet and the Planeteers fanfic Alternate Destination, Gaia tampers with the timeline to bring her dead Planeteer back despite knowing it's forbidden. Her choice's consequences kill her. Much later, she's said to have doted upon the Planeteers "with the love that only a mother can give".
- In Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle fanfic Shatterheart, Kurogane decides not to return to homeworld, Nihon, despite it being his greatest desire for most of the journey to continue traveling with his fiancee Real!Syaoran.
- In Ace Attorney fanfic Dirty Sympathy, Apollo tries to take the blame for his and Klavier's "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder in effort to protect Klavier. He also abandons his career to run away with Klavier to Germany when their plot unravels despite everything being started by Apollo refusing to abandon his career.
Film — Animated
- In Aladdin, Genie is willing to face an eternity of servitude if it means Aladdin and Jasmine get to stay together. For his part, Aladdin is willing to forgo the right to marry the princess if it means freeing his friend. It being a Disney movie, they both get what they want when the Sultan remembers that he can change the law forbidding Jasmine from marrying a commoner any time he likes.
- Beauty and the Beast:
- Belle asks the Beast to take her as prisoner in Maurice's place, even when he specifies that she'll never see her home again.
- The Beast releases Belle from her promise to stay, even though it's painfully clear he doesn't expect her to come back, doesn't think she would ever want to come back, which means he'll be doomed to be a Beast forever.
Beast: ... I let her go.
Cogsworth: [chuckles] Yes, yes. Splen- YOU WHAT!? How could you do that?!
Beast: I had to.
Cogsworth: Yes, but ... why?
Beast: Because ... I love her.
- This trope is namedropped in Disney's Frozen and appears at least twice. When a bolt of ice strikes a protagonist's heart, a wise Troll informs the victim that "Only an Act of True Love can thaw a frozen heart." Everyone listening assumes that it's True Love's Kiss (which admittedly in the Disney canon is a surefire bet) and acts accordingly. Unfortunately, Hans, to whom Anna is engaged, turns out to be a Sociopath and leaves her for dead. Olaf builds a fire to keep Anna from freezing to death, discovering in the process that the heat he's been so longing to experience will melt him. Despite this, he chooses to stay and help Anna. ("Some people are worth melting for.") Anna, on the verge of turning to ice from the inside out, then gives up her chance to kiss Kristoff and save her own life, in order to block Hans's sword and save Elsa's life. By laying down her life for her sister's, Anna's curse is broken, and she comes back to life.
- In Inside Out, Bing Bong, Riley's Imaginary Friend, pulls a Heroic Sacrifice when his rocket cannot carry both him and Joy out of the memory dump. He does this so Joy can pull Riley out of her Heroic B.S.O.D., despite it meaning Cessation of Existence for said character.
- In The Jungle Book, Bagheera, knowing that Mowgli has bonded with Baloo and having been personally unable to convince the "man-cub" to return to the village, asks Baloo to help him get Mowgli out of the jungle for his own safety. Baloo isn't happy about this, because it means going back on his earlier statement that Mowgli could stay in the jungle with him and because he's grown to love him "like he was my own cub." Bagheera retorts, "Then do what's best for Mowgli and not yourself!" This finally convinces Baloo to do it.
- In Tangled, Flynn has been mortally wounded, and Rapunzel agrees to willingly spend the rest of her life alone with Mother Gothel if she is allowed to heal Flynn first. Before she can save him, Flynn cuts Rapunzel's hair, destroying its enchantment and freeing her from Gothel's enslavement, even though it seems like his only hope of survival. Essentially, she tries to sacrifice her freedom for his life, and he sacrifices his life for her freedom.
Film — Live-Action
- In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve stops fighting the Winter Soldier during their final battle, once he's certain no innocent people are in danger. He is willing to risk that his Brainwashed and Crazy best friend will kill him, but he won't return the favor.
- The film, The Love Of Siam, have two instances of this.
- Ying decided to help Tong get together with Mew even though she loves Mew. She is willing to give up Mew, the person who she had loved since she was a child, because she knows Mew is in love with Tong. She wants him to be happy over herself.
- A bit for Tong. He did ignore his own mother's command and tried to continue seeing Mew anyway.
- On Thir13en Ghosts, the only way to shut down the Ocularis Infernum is by means of an act of self-sacrifice, which is something that Arthur Kriticos is willing to do to save his children. Only this is not quite true, as the sacrifice will instead trigger the device... and Arthur's Evil Uncle Cyrus knows quite well that Arthur will perform the sacrifice to save his kids, which is the reason he's using them as bait in the first place.
- In Titanic (1997), Jack does everything he can to save his beloved's life, culminating with his letting her float on one of the few available planks, while he froze to death with most of his body in the water.
- Serenity starts with Simon breaking his sister out of the Alliance research facility where she was being experimented on. On viewing a recording of it, the Operative and the lead researcher discuss Simon's motives, and the fact that he pretty much threw his life away to do it. The scientist thinks it's insane, but the Operative points out that he's motivated by love, which makes him even more dangerous.
- In Harry Potter, there are several of these, many of which are truly beautiful. The setting is very rewarding of those: in the right circumstances, a Heroic Sacrifice can make your protectorate invincible to your enemies!
- The entirety of The Lord of the Rings (book or film) is one of these for Samwise Gamgee. He followed Frodo into Mordor, being his keeper for the whole trip. Probably the highlight is the moment when Sam says, "I can't carry your burden, but I can carry you!" In the film, this scene is accompanied by music reminiscient of the Grey Havens — the closest manifestation of divine love in Middle-Earth.
- Throughout The Princess Bride, Westley's True Love for Buttercup motivates nearly every effort and sacrifice he does, but where we have an Act Of True Love is when he practically comes back from the grave and struggles against extreme pain and weakness for the sake of rescuing her from the grisly fate that would await her, were he to allow himself to succumb.
- The Hunger Games:
- Peeta repeatedly (and at one point literally) throws himself on the sword for Katniss. He convinces their mentor to focus only on saving her at the cost of Peeta's own life, runs back to her after the tracker jacker attack to warn her off (which leads to him fighting with Cato and taking a sword to the leg) and at the end of the Games begs her to kill him so that she can win. In the second book he volunteers to be in the Games so that he can ensure she will win them and once again makes a pact with Haymitch to focus on her survival above his own.
- Katniss, on her end, volunteers to be in the Games to save her baby sister. In the second book she too makes a pact with Haymitch to save Peeta at the cost of her own life. In the third book she kisses Peeta when he's at the beginning of a hijack-attack, knowing that if it doesn't work he will do his best to kill her. It works, and it's implied that her beginning to show her love for him is a huge part of what makes him recover from the hijacking.
- True Love is incredibly dangerous to the White Court vampires in the Dresden Files series (at least those who feed on lust — the RPG speculates that ones who feed on e.g. despair or fear could be vulnerable to True expressions of hope, faith, and so on). In particular, an Act of True Love reciprocated between a White Court member who hasn't come into their powers and another normal human will permanently "cure" their vampiric status, allowing them to lead an ordinary life.
- Despite the grimness of A Song of Ice and Fire, there are moments of this.
- Toward the end of the first book, Eddard Stark confesses to a crime he didn't commit, vouches for a king he doesn't believe in, and resigns himself to a life of shame and exile at the Wall for the sake of his daughter Sansa. It doesn't end well.
- Maester Cressen was willing to poison himself in a Taking You with Me gambit to kill Melisandre because he feared she would lead Stannis, his former ward and liege lord, into a hopeless war. Unfortunately, his sacrifice is nullified by her survival.
- Jaime, on his way back to Kings's Landing, turns around and races to Harrenhal to rescue Brienne, whom he'd grown close to in their travels, from being killed in a bear pit. He's only risking his own safety, seeing that he could have continued on to be with his sister again.
- It says a lot of how much Eddard Stark meant to his bannermen that they would gladly march through a devastating blizzard and then fight a battle to honor his memory and save his daughter, even though they could have stayed home and waited for spring.
- In Mars Needs Moms, a boy named Milo follows his mother to Mars after she is kidnapped by Martians and accidentally breaks his helmet. His mother puts her own on his head, knowing that this means she'll suffocate in the Martian air. Fortunately, she gets saved by other means. A similar incident occurs in the film of the same name.
- In Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Snow Queen", a girl named Gerda sets off after her friend Kai after he is corrupted by an evil mirror and taken by the mysterious Snow Queen. She winds up traveling a good bit of the world and getting into a lot of trouble, but she eventually rescues him.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- "Amok Time":
- Kirk sacrifices his career to save Spock. He gets it back, of course, but he didn't know that that would happen.
- In return, Spock humiliates himself in front of T'Pau, the woman Kirk refers to as "all of Vulcan wrapped up in one package", by begging her to keep Kirk out of the kal-i-fee. T'Pau throws it back in his face with a few insults about his humanness, and it still isn't enough to stop him. As much as he fears breaking the taboo against emotions in front of his people, he fears more that Kirk will die if he doesn't attempt to save him.
- "The Empath": Each of the Power Trio attempts to sacrifice himself to protect his friends. Kirk intends to give himself up to the Vians to keep Spock and McCoy from having to go through the Cold-Blooded Torture they would inflict on them; Spock fully means to do the same once Kirk is sedated, making him the highest-ranking officer on the mission. Then McCoy sedates Spock and sacrifices himself to protect him and Kirk. He lives, thanks to outside interference, but he did not know that that would happen.
- "Amok Time":
- Sherlock's friends are willing to go to extreme lengths to help and protect him, and, much to his surprise, so does he.
- Doctor Who
- A particularly egregious example of this common-to-the-show trope in recent memory is the Plastic-Man-which-thinks-it-isRory's absolutely epic and yet secret two thousand years of warding of his beloved while she was... stuck.
- Discussed in "Last Christmas". Danny claims that he died to save Clara, not the world but this is ultimately revealed as just a part of the dream.
- After the death of Clara Oswald, a companion the Doctor had fallen in love with (though some aspects of fandom prefer to consider it simple friendship; the series itself offers some wiggle room due to its policy of using The "I Love You" Stigma), he spends 4 1/2 billion years in a bespoke torture chamber, simply to gain leverage with his people, the Time Lords, in hopes of changing history to save her life; it is later made clear that the Doctor did not have to spend so long being tortured, but says outright that he suffered it to save her. When Clara, after her extraction from time, finds out about this, she is thunderstruck. Ultimately, the Doctor allows his memories of her to be sacrificed in order to allow her to continue living, for a while at least. In terms of timeframe alone, this is an uber-example of the trope.
- Following the tragedy of the above, the Doctor performs a lower-key (and shorter-term) act by finally allowing River Song to meet her final destiny in "The Husbands of River Song" after refusing to accept her death as inevitable. (His allowing events to finally move towards her end is a direct response to what happened with Clara and can be considered a form of self-sacrifice.
- Vicious has a minor but significant example in Stewart secretly working at a clothes shop to earn enough extra money to pay for a new suit for his old life partner Freddie (the old one literally fell apart). He keeps it secret in order to preserve Freddie's pride, as he's the provider and breadwinner... and has fallen on hard times. But here is when it gets a bit grander; when Freddie finds him in the shop advising another man on clothes, he assumes he Stewart was cheating on him... and Stewart takes it in stride, preferring to take the abuse that would come from being caught "almost cheating" than to embarrass Freddie with the truth. Given that this show isn't called Vicious for nothing, when Freddie does surreptitiously discover the truth, he keeps it quiet, characteristically using the situation to heap as much abuse, bile and vitriol at Stewart as his viciously sharp tongue lets him, gleefully enjoying every minute.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Spike thinks he's doing this when he offers to slay Drusilla, the vampire who sired him, to prove to Buffy he loves her. Buffy is not impressed. Several episodes later, Spike is willing to be tortured to death to protect Buffy's little sister. It's this act that finally gets her attention.
- Supernatural. Dean and Sam Winchester are willing to sacrifice themselves to save or protect the other. They are willing to go to the extremes to protect each other, even if that means that they go to Hell, sell their soul, commit suicide to bring one back from the dead or risk letting one be possessed by a supernatural being so that they can stay alive. It's pretty much a Running Gag of the entire series.
- Swan Lake: Late-Arrival Spoiler: Prince Siegfried needs to choose a bride at the ball. He encounters a group of swans who are really enchanted maidens. They have been placed under a sorcerer's spell where they can only appear in human form at night by the side of the enchanted lake. He falls in love with the main swan, Odette. The spell can only be broken if one who has never loved before swears to love Odette forever. At the ball, Siegfried is not interested in any of the princesses that his mother wants him to marry because he has fallen in love with Odette. Suddenly the black swan, Odile arrives. She is the sorceress' daughter in disguise. Siegfried announces to the court that he plans to marry Odile. After the sorcerer reveals the truth, Siegfried rushes back to the lake. Siegfried apologizes to Odette but the sorcerer demands that Siegfeld marry Odile, condemning Odette to spend her life as a swan. Siegfeld's Act of Love is to jump into the lake with Odette. They drown and this act of sacrifice breaks the sorcerer's spell over the other swans and the sorcerer dies. Siegfeld and Odette are united in heaven. The ending changes depending on the production, though.
- Probably-platonic example: A background conversation on the Citadel in Mass Effect 3 slowly reveals that a human woman has sold her car, which she loved, in order to buy a suit of armor for a Salarian friend who's about to head off to fight in the Reaper War.
- Sands of Destruction features two:
- Kyrie asks Naja to kill him so he can't destroy the world specifically so Morte will be safe (and because he didn't want to destroy the world in the first place, but who are we kidding?.
- Morte then struggles to find the entrance to, and then get to the top of, the Temple of Light because she finally realized her feelings toward him were more than a mere desire to see him end the world. The rest of the Front helps because they consider Kyrie a personal friend and unequivocally the nicest guy they've ever met.
- Hey Arnold!: Helga Pataki demonstrates how truly devoted she is to Arnold in Arnold's Christmas and Hey Arnold! The Movie. In the former, she gives up a pair of designer snow boots she wanted just to give Arnold a Christmas miracle; and in the latter, she gives up the chance to become rich in order to help Arnold save their neighborhood.
- Played for Laughs in an episode of Stoked. After Lo forces Reef into starting a vegetarian diet with her, he tries to stick with it for a while, but ends up giving in to temptation and even secretly enters himself in a sausage-eating contest. (He really, really loves meat.) By the end of the episode, both of them are there. She had just managed to find out the truth, and Reef is about to win the entire thing. However, when he looks over at Lo's unhappy face, Reef decides to forfeit the match (and lose the lifetime supply of meat he would have gotten) for her sake. The audience members watching them "aww" in reaction and Lo immediately forgives him.
Reef: Sorry I lied to you, babe.Lo: But [you] chose me in the end, which is so romantic.
- Steven Universe: In Garnet's backstory, her components, Ruby and Sapphire met when the former was guarding the latter. When the rebels, Rose Quartz and Pearl showed up, Sapphire is nearly killed (temporarily as she'd only have her physical form disrupted) and accepts her fate with dignity—but Ruby immediately saves her, accidentally forming Garnet in the process and changing the future Sapphire had seen. Sapphire's superior tries to kill Ruby for it—Ruby being perfectly willing to take it—only for Sapphire to grab Ruby and escape with her to Earth. The Act of True Love was mutual on both their parts; Ruby was willing to die for Sapphire's sake while Sapphire was willing to give up everything to ensure that Ruby would live. It's even lampshaded when a confused Garnet asks Rose why the two of them were willing to go to such lengths for each other.
Garnet: How was Ruby able to alter fate? Why was Sapphire willing to give up everything?
Rose: No more questions. Don't ever question this. You already are the answer.
(back in the present)
Steven: So what was it? The answer?