The Fullmetal Alchemist manga features a subversion. Ed's Love Interest is used as a hostage by one of the more Ax Crazy villains in the story, who tells him to obey some murderous orders from the military higher ups. Ed seems to comply pretty quickly, but in reality he is already planning to Take a Third Option.
Also averted when a villain attempts to force Roy Mustang to attempt human transmutation by having a mook cutRizaHawkeye's throat; recognizing an eye signal from the wounded Hawkeye, Mustang realizes that if he saves her, not only will he lose limbs or organs and become the last tool the Big Bad needs to bring about the end of the world, Hawkeye will kill him. He refuses. Unfortunately, even after a Big Damn Heroes moment, the villain's bosses manage to somehow force him to do human transmutation against his will, albeit with a method that severely weakens Pride as a result.
Earlier, when Roy is giving into Revenge Before Reason, Riza stops him from going too far by threatening to shoot him—as they agreed if he ever strayed from the path he had chosen. He asks her what she plans to do after she kills him, and she admits she's going to kill herself, since there will be nothing left for her. That is what finally convinces him to step back.
Roy: I can't bear the thought of losing you.
Getter Robo Armageddon brings us the "father / daughter" version: during a discussion, Hayato tells Benkei they can't think now about Kei, and remembers him the world's fate hangs in balance. Benkei's reply is compared with his adoptive daughter Kei, he does not care for the world.
In Chaos;Head, Takumi could have let Norose use Noah II to greatly improve the world but he saved Rimi instead. Of course, That's assuming the psychopathic Norose would use the Noah II as he claimed he would.
Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. At the beginning, it was touching and powerful when Syaoran was willing to give up everything he knew, and even Sakura's love for him, in exchange for saving her life. In later chapters, when we find out that, for Sakura's sake, he has purposely damned an entire town, watching them melt before his eyes, chosen staying with her over his own world and family at the age of seven, and then made a Deal with the Devil to radically alter, and not for better, the life of her entire family, herself, and his own parents, along with, potentially, all of space and time it's starting to become... a tad aggravating.
The town and its people were fake, things ended up okay (sort of), and he really didn't have a choice in the matter anyway.
The end of Slayers NEXT, when Lina chooses to cast a spell that's probably going to wipe out the entire universe just to save Gourry. On the other hand, considering what type of morally questionable person she already is, this is a lot less unusual for her. It didn't help that Lina would have been killed if she didn't cast it, and that she had been severely psychologically abused by this point. Lina did not cast the spell the first time Gourrys life had been threatened. She only broke after the villain revealed that he could still be saved.
Mai-HiME, when Mai's Most Important Person is revealed to be Yuuichi. Instead of, say, her little brother, who up until now seemed to be her top priority.
Then again, Takumi was already Akira's Most Important Person.
While Mai is gradually becoming closer to Yuuichi, Takumi is trying to become independent from Mai, which upsets her and slightly downgrades his importance. Natsuki suggests that Takumi was Mai's Most Important person at first, but Yuuichi replaced him before Takumi died.
While not weighing her loved one's life against many others, Akira allows her most important person Takumi to live after he finds out her true gender. Yukino is also once on the verge of killing her friend Mai in order to protect her best friend Haruka.
Code Geass does this at the end of season one when Lelouch drops everything in the middle of the key battle and goes off to save his sister Nunnaly, and again in season 2 when Lelouch does the same thing when Kallen is captured, and this time someone even Lampshades how it reeks of preferential treatment, and how absurd it is to choose one life over an entire country. Doesn't stop him from doing it anyway.
However, Code Geass is somewhat of a subversion of the trope, since while Lelouch does choose the girl over everything else, in both cases it backfires, causing him to suffer defeat, and lose the girl anyway.
Played very straight in one of the Sailor Moon Super S specials. A puppet is stealing Haruka's life energy. The ventriloquist tells Michiru that she cannot harm the puppet, because if the blue bottle the puppet is holding it destroyed, all the shadows of the world would attack their owners. Michiru Deep Submerges the puppet anyway. The ventriloquist asks Michiru how she knew he was lying, and she says, "Oh, it wasn't true?" Shocked, he replies, "You did it just to save her? What kind of heroine are you?" to which she says, "Oh, maybe you misunderstood. A world without Haruka is hardly worth saving." *
Michiru's posture and expression implies that she was calling the puppet's bluff the whole time, and just saying something witty to top it all off.
In Rave Master, the villain Sieg Hart wants to kill Elie to prevent the destructive power of Aetherion from awakening and tearing the world apart. He tries to make Haru see his point that one life is a small sacrifice for saving the world, to which Haru replies, "If peace can only come through killing someone, then I don't want it." When the power awakens anyway, Hart is unable to do anything, and it's up to Haru to make the decision... And he decides to Take a Third Option and seals the power without killing her.
Later, Haru fights a youth-restored Shiba and is getting his ass handed to him. Haru tries to motivate himself by thinking about how the world will be doomed if he loses, but it doesn't work. Then he thinks about how if he loses, Elie will cry, then defeats his opponent in a single blow.
Sanji from One Piece. Possibly one of his major character flaws, actually.
A good example is seen in the Foxy filler; Sanji nearly gives up a game of a Red Light-Green Light by jumping after an enemy girl to rescue her. Sanji is still in the game by kicking his legs really fast so he floats perfectly still, but the game master can't see. He loses when the girl hugs him.
Luffy also strongly prioritizes helping his friends over the rest of the world. The most obvious example is when he released half the inmates of Impel Down in his quest to save his brother. The prisoners served as a cannon fodder and most of them were shot, bludgeoned or poisoned to the death before they subjected themselves under Buggy. Luffy has yet to show any sort of guilt for the dozens of dangerous criminals that managed to escape alive.
Belldandy in Ah! My Goddess makes it clear she puts Keiichi's life ahead of all others, once allowing the cutting of the Universal superstring rather than killing him when he is possessed by the Lord of Terror, ends up taking the third option to save the day.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, just like everything else, takes this trope and cranks it past absurdity all the way into heartbreaking. While there is the excuse of having to fight off the evil swarm, the last few episodes boil down to Simon's perfect willingness to march into Hell to come for Nia. Even when it costs him enough energy to create detritus galaxies and fill the cockpit with blood, the lives of the Gurren Brigade, and comes close to destroying the universe. That's some Goddamned love. Of course, this only happens in Lagann-hen. In the anime, there's a lot less blood.
Played straight right after the timeskip in Mythic Quest. Tragic has decided to put off defeating the Chaos Sorcerer indefinitely so he can fully concentrate on finding Aramusha. He gets back on track after discovering most of the information about her is lies and misdirections planted by Shadow himself to keep Tragic distracted from him.
Subverted at the last second in Weiss Kreuz. This is pretty much Youji's default mindset, but he ends up killing the woman he loves in order to save his teammates.
Aya also makes it pretty clear that he doesn't give a single fat damn about Weiss's mission to make the world a better place if it interferes in any way with his ability to protect his little sister.
This is deconstructed, like so many other tropes, in one of the series' manga spinoffs. At the end of the manga, Homura, Mami, and Kyoko are all alive, and neither Madoka or Sayaka had to sign Kyubey's contract. Then a witch kills Madoka and Homura decides to press the Reset Button again, despite the fact that she's pretty much achieved the Golden Ending. In the main series, this is eventually reconstructed when Homura's perseverance finally pays off and Madoka uses her wish to rewrite reality.
In the same spinoff, Madoka herself calls out Homura, saying that if she's going to sacrifice innocent people to save her, then she doesn't want to be saved. In Homura's defense, though, the much more idealistic Mami notes that it's impossible to save everyone in the school.
In Inuyasha, Sango's inability to live without Miroku shows how damaged she really is after losing everything she loved, and she'll do anything, anything, to save him. When she fails, she finally gives up and asks to die with him.
Accelerator doesn't care if you're an angel, an esper, or the entire world's militaries combined; he won't let anything happen to Last Order.
There's also Touma, who will help anyone in need. Usually this help involves punching someone in the face. While everything around him is exploding.
During one arc, several factions are trying to capture, rescue, or kill Orsola Aquinas due to her supposed knowledge of The Book Of Law. When Touma rescues her, she is surprised and charmed to find that he didn't care about the knowledge at all. He was the only person who cared about her.
After this, Guts has begun amassing new teammates and friends along on his journey, and although he cares for them all, Casca still remains on a completely different level. He clearly puts her well-being ahead of his other comrades (as this was a big reason why he tried to convince one of his teammates to stay with the group since she served as Casca's caretaker) and Guts is fully prepared to drop everything at a pin drop if there is even the slightest chance that Casca will be cured of her insanity.
This Ugly Yet Beautiful World: Hikari is the anthropomorphic personification of extinction. Takeru is a mutation born to stop her. And he still does everything in his power to protect her, consequences be damned. Granted he doesn't know either of those facts for most of the series, but even after he learns the truth it doesn't change anything.
Heavily subverted in Sin City: The Big Fat Kill, Dwight McCarthy offers Jackie Boy's head to Manute (which will allow Manute to tie Jackie Boy's death to Old Town) in exchange for Gail. Dwight's stuffed the head with explosives and as soon as it's in Manute's hands, blows it up as dozens of Old Town girls show up on the rooftops, raining bullets into the alley, killing Manute and all his men.
Also extremely subverted in Ultimate Fantastic Four during the Ultimatum storyline. Reed Richards chooses to confront Doctor Doom and save the world at large, abandoning his dying girlfriend, Sue. Eventually, she calls him out for it and breaks up with him. He explains that he made the "logical" choice, as saving the world would ultimately mean saving her as well. Sue remarks that she always felt that their love defied logic, and leaves him.
Absolutely subverted at the end of the Argentine comic book El Eternauta (the second volume). After blowing up the enemy headquarters, the hero flies to help La Résistance. When he arrives to the war scene, he must choose to help either his wife and daughter at one side of the battlefield, or the bulk of the women and children of the small population of last remaining humans. He goes for the later and saves them, but by the time he can go to help his wife and daughter, they have died.
Surprisingly played straight in the 2011 run of Journey Into Mystery. When Loki is confronted by the Leah who he created for the Serpent's story he decides to risk everything to give her a chance at having a better future
In Y: The Last Man the three astronauts (two male, one female) who avoided the effects of the male-killing plague crashland on earth, their pod in flames from a missile attack. One of them is able to escape the pod before it explodes. It's the woman, who reveals that the other two basically threw her out against her protests. Another character remarks on the apparent stupidity of the chivalry in a world where males are desperately needed, but the woman reveals that it's most likely because she was pregnant with one of the two's sons.)
A Growing Affection: Naruto's actions during the Dojutsu Tournament arc. He puts Hinata above everyone else (including himself) multiple times in the four chapters.
Disney's Hercules pulls this with Hercules giving of his powers to make Megara safe. It leads to Fridge Horror when you consider what would have happened if an unlucky accident hadn't killed Megara and returned his powers.
Attack of the Clones play with the trope. Anakin finally accepts continuing the more important mission while Padmé seems to be hurt, but it turns out she isn't even injured in any significant way.
Deconstructed in Revenge of the Sith. Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side, kills off all the Jedi, and turns a Republic into an Empire to save the life of his wife Padme Amidala. She dies anyways, and he likely caused her death through a self-fulfilling prophecy, as he Force Chokes her when, after confronting him over his actions, Obi-Wan arrives, having snuck onto the ship.
The Matrix Reloaded, in which Neo, faced with a choice between restarting the free human race with 7 other males and 16 females to rebuild Zion and returning to the Matrix (which the Architect says will result in the end of the free human population, and will crash the Matrix killing the non-free humans there) decides to return to the Matrix to save Trinity. At least, until Revolutions...
Someone (probably the Architect) also pointed out that the previous "One's" loved humanity in a general sense, leading them to sacrifice most of the population for the sake of the species as a whole. Due to the Oracle's influence, Neo loved Trinity more than humanity, directly leading to humanity's freedom.
There's the choice given in the first Spider-Man film where Peter is forced to choose between Mary Jane's life and the lives of some children in a cablecar. It appears for a moment as if he's chosen M.J., but actually he's Taken a Third Option.
In the first Hellboy film, the villain Rasputin offers Hellboy the choice of bringing about the Apocalypse to gain enough power to save his desouled girl Liz, or to save the world and lose her forever. Hellboy initially sees this as no choice at all, and begins the procedure of summoning the Ogdru Jahad and ending the world, before Naïve Newcomer Myers throws Hellboy his father's cross. The cross burns into his flesh, reminding him that this is his choice. Save the world, or save Liz, and his father always did say that a man is made by his choices. He then chooses the world, tears off his newly regrown horns, and stabs Rasputin to death with one of them. There is then a Double Subversion when he manages to save the girlanyway by sheer Badassery. A newly awoken and somewhat confused Liz asks him how he saved her. His answer?
In the second film, however, this is played straight by both Abe and Liz. Abe tries to save his porcelain princess by giving her brother the MacGuffin that controls the Golden Army (the one, which, you know, nearly drove humanity extinct last time it was used) while Liz, after being told by an Angel of Death that Hellboy would bring about the Apocalypse, tells Hellboy's Angel of Death to sod off and save him anyway. This successfully doubles as a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, since it shows just how much Liz trusts Hellboy (and, as the director's commentary points out, is the human decision to make), but she still screwed the world to save her man.
Parodied in The Naked Gun 33 1/3. Rocco tells Frank to give him the bomb or he'll shoot Jane. A long discussion about the possible consequences of each action, and which is preferable, ensues. It doesn't help that the terms keep changing.
In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy offers to let the Nazis keep the Ark in exchange for Marion, threatening to destroy the Ark if they don't comply. Belloq calls his bluff and Indy gets captured.
The King in Spaceballs sacrifices himself and the entire population of his home planet, just so the princess doesn't get her old nose back.
In The Spy Who Loved Me, 007 chooses to defy his superiors to save Anya Amasova from the villain's lair, which is about to be torpedoed by the navy. Considering that she said she would kill him as soon as the mission was over, this proves that he really did love her.
In GoldenEye he subverts this trope by telling Janus to go ahead and kill Natalya, but this is actually a Batman Gambit. Of course, he ends up saving her.
A gender flip of this occurs in The Wolfman 2010. Gwen protects Lawrence from the police in the hopes of finding a cure... even though this almost certainly means someone innocent is going to get killed or savaged by a werewolf.
Subverted in Plunkett And Macleane when despite Plunkett's warnings he'll be captured, Macleane attempts to to go back and save Lady Rebbecca despite the risks. It is a trap and General Chance is waiting to arrest him.
In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, despite knowing the consequences of doing so, Dave gives up the Grimhold and Merlin's ring to save Becky. Despite the consequences, Balthazar admits that he would have done the same.
Predators: Royce is a Combat Pragmatist who doesn't hesitate to abandon any one of the team that gets injured or falls behind, unless it's lone female Isabelle. The fact that he shrugs and moves on any time she deliberately stays behind to help the others makes it seem more like a spinal reflex on his part than adherence to an honor code.
In Peter Jackson's King Kong, one of the members of the rescue party makes the perfectly reasonable observation that Anne is probably dead already, that a good number of the rescuers have just died, and the rest of them will probably either get killed or get left behind, since their ship will sail without them if they are not back in time. He is immediately accused of being a Dirty Coward by The Hero, and since the character has been an arrogant douchebag for the entire film, we are presumably meant to hate him even more for the heinous crime of not wanting to die horribly for an almost certainly lost cause.
In fact, the character's Scrappyness for the rest of the film ( his Big Damn HeroesCrowning Moment of Awesome notwithstanding) almost seems to have been inserted specifically to make the audience hate him enough to disagree with him as a matter of principle. While he does not put forward his case particularly well, the points he makes are completely valid, and would likely have many members of the audience agreeing with his argument if it had been put forward by a more likable character. His point remains valid even though Anne is brought back alive; of the seventeen people who die on the island, fifteen were killed trying to find her. No matter how much you might love Anne, is that really a price you want to pay?
In the MST3Ked film The Magic Sword, a young prince leads a band of knights on a quest to rescue his lady love. All the knights are killed along the way. At no point does anyone even mention that fact that several good men have died to save a single life and several more are likely to before the thing is done.
Pretty much the same thing happens in Krull. At least the prince manages to kill a horrible beast that would likely murder countless people if not stopped in the process (and a few of his allies survive), but it's clear that he's only in it to save the princess.
Discussed in Courage Under Fire, which reflected a real-life shift in the U.S. military's attitudes toward women in combat. As noted under "Real Life" below, female soldiers themselves weren't a problem, but prior experience suggested that male colleagues would endanger themselves or the mission to protect the woman.
In Zombieland, this trope causes Columbus to change one of his Rules of Zombieland (Never Be A Hero) and face his greatest fear (a Monster Clown) in order to save Wichita.
In Looper, the future Joe will just about anything to save his wife. However, when given an option to stop his past self from meeting her, he refuses. He cannot sacrifice their relationship.
In The Three Musketeers (2011), this is Double Subverted. D'Artagnen is at first reluctantly willing to ignore Constance (who has been captured by the villains) and continue with their mission, saying that the fate of France is more important. Athos urges him to save her, or else he will save France only to become a lonely and bitter man like him after he lost Milady de Winter. The Musketeers then save her.
Averted in Jack The Giant Slayer. Brahmwell decides to cut down the beanstalk to save the kingdom, even if it means his daughter will be left trapped with the Giants
Played with in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, where Athena accuses this of Percy:"You would give up the world to save your friends". Played straight, when Percy realizes this is his heroic flaw, and subverted when "It would seem you have managed to save both."
Subverted in Adam Hall's Spy FictionThe Sinkiang Executive. British spy Quiller murders an opposition agent that has him under routine surveillance, breaking the unwritten rule of the intelligence services and jeopardising the secrecy of the Bureau. Apparently the agent had a peripheral involvement in the death of a local girl who helped Quiller on a previous mission; she was captured and an exchange offered — Quiller for the girl. Quiller agreed, the girl was released but Quiller didn't keep his side of the bargain, jumping on a plane to Austria instead. The girl was then tracked down and killed by the opposition in an act of revenge.
Subverted with Captain Carrot, who says "Personal isn't the same thing as important." and, while he wanted to get Angua back, joined Vimes's group to stop the war in Jingo instead of going off by himself after her. Of course, Angua is a werewolf, and Carrot knows it, so he rarely thinks she's in any actual danger.
Played somewhat more straight in The Fifth Elephant: though there wasn't a crisis in Ankh-Morpork that needed dealing with, he immediately resigns his commission and goes after her when she leaves the city. Subverted in that he informs the proper authorities first. He's not rash, even when he is doing the romantic thing.
Bianca: You would risk war between the Wizards and the Red Court for one person? Harry:(slams his staff down on the floor) For one person! For one life! For one soul!
Earlier, when Bianca smugly thinks she's got Dresden cornered and is going to force him to sacrifice an innocent life, asks him logically if one woman is worth the price of war. He just responds quietly "I love her." *
Harry is Genre Savvy enough to see that a policy of appeasement to the Always Chaotic Evil Red Court would only postpone the inevitable and result in the deaths of even more innocents.
Changes. Susan has crossed the line and become fully vampire. Harry uses her as a human(ish) sacrifice to wipe out the Red Court entirely, winning the war and saving countless lives the Reds would have ended in the future. Not that there was much in the way of better options at the moment.
Also from Changes, not a Love Interest, but instead a daughter Harry makes it very clear he'd let the world AND HIMSELF burn if it means he can keep Maggie safe. In fact, the entire plot of Changes (as well as most of the preceding books' Red Court-related events) only happens because of people taking advantage of this trait of Harry's. His being the handiest Unwitting Pawn around is a major reason people he cares about get in danger.
In Ghost Story Uriel calls attention to the consequences his actions in Changes have had for just one other person he cares about to point out that, basically, this trope is a really stupid approach, while Harry considers some of the global effects of his actions that he might have avoided if he'd been less reckless.
In the Harry Potter series, this trope basically sums up how Snape responded to Lily being in danger. He was happy being a Death Eater until Voldemort targeted Lily (and her husband and child, but he wasn't concerned about them). In this case, the trope worked for good, motivating Snape's Heel Face Turn as Voldemort could not have been expected to spare Lily since Evil Cannot Comprehend Good.
Defied in Deathly Hallows. Harry worries about Ginny's safety while she's at a Hogwarts run by Death Eaters, but resists the urge to go find her because finding the last Horcruxes were more important.
In David Weber and John Ringo's Prince Roger series, subverted when Nimashet Despreaux is kidnapped by mobsters. Roger leads the assault on the Imperial Palace whilst some of his ex-SWAT allies rescue her. To be fair though, he did need some convincing to follow this course of action.
In A Hard Day's Knight, renegade knight Stark plans to hand Excaliber over to an evil incarnation of Merlin — one who's already decimated his own world, and will invade ours if he gets the sword — in exchange for the resurrection of his dead wife. He eventually subverts this trope, but only because his wife's ghost calls him out on it, insisting that she'll kill herself again if he buys her life at such a price.
In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol story "Delenda Est", Van Sarawak drags Deirdre along when Everard rescues him, without regard for what it does to the rescue.
In Within Ruin Virgil epitomizes this trope to the point that the true reason behind the group's journey is to collect enough souls to prolong Descarta's life. Even Descarta herself was originally a vessel for the soul of Virgil's first love Ankaa. Virgil went as far as to learn untold dark magics, create a fake religion, and start a war to ensure there would be enough dead to provide all the souls he needed to this end. Virgil does more than just save the girl he creates her.
The Wheel of Time gives us Perrin, who diverts his mission to bring The Prophet back to Rand when Faile is kidnapped. When called out on this, he makes it quite clear that the rest of the world can burn if it gets his love back - even when it looks like an actual, imminent possibility.
In Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels, the title character frequently works as a bodyguard, and he's told clients to their face that if he has to choose between protecting them and protecting his long-time lover Susan Silverman, he'll choose Susan without blinking. Spenser's blood brother Hawk feels the same way — about the same woman. God help you if you're foolish enough to try to influence either of them by threatening Susan; it's a quick trip to the morgue. For that matter, Hawk will kill you for being a potential threat to Susan.
Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games is sort of a micro-cosmos version of this. The only thing he cares about in the arena is that Katniss makes it out alive even though that means his own death. In Catching Fire he more or less says outright that his own family's pain if he dies doesn't matter so long as Katniss gets to live.
To be fair, given the circumstances, this is justified. His family don't care about him, to the extent of telling Peeta as they say what might have been their final goodbye that "District 12 might finally have a winner". And they don't mean him. They mean Katniss. Ouch.
Live Action TV
Smallville, "Bride" and "Legion": When Brainiac possessed Chloe's body, he/she/it proceeds to drain the world of its knowledge and readies Doomsday to destroy what is left. With great difficulty, Clark manages to save both Chloe and the world - but the most heartwarming part is how they provide the page quote of The Needs of the Many.
The BBC's Robin Hood, when the outlaws and Marian are all taken hostage. Take a wild guess who Robin's the most afraid for. (Poor Much.)
Happens again in Season Three in which all the outlaws abandon a house that has caught on fire in order to rush off and save Kate. One can only assume the villagers were not too impressed.
Kira in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine found out about Odo's feelings about her when she encountered an alternate future where she had died when the Defiant crashed on a planet and the crew formed a town. The cast were subject to The Time Traveller's Dilemma as going back to change things would result in those being born in the town never existing. Odo pretty much committed chronocide, not just on himself but on the crew of the Defiantand their descendants without even thinking about it. Unlike many instances of this trope, however, Kira's knowledge of this would create a rift between them that would take months to heal.
Worf in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fails to save a Cardassian dissident because he goes back to save an injured Jadzia Dax (who dies anyway a few episodes later).
In Firefly, one of the villains presents Zoe with a Sadistic Choice between a captive Mal and Wash. She surprises the villain by immediately choosing her husband over her captain/war-buddy before he can even finish. Subverted in that, fans are still torn over whether she did this because Wash is her first priority or for the coldly logical reason that Mal will survive the villain's "gentle" ministrations long enough for her to rescue him as well.
In Doctor Who, the Doctor, particularly Ten, puts his companions (who are usually, if not always, young and female) before anyone else. Also the new Doctor Who series suggests that his companions represent his humanity in a universe full of mass death; as seen in "The Fires of Pompeii" when Donna convinces him to go back for one family among all those destroyed in Pompeii. It's mentioned some times that he feels responsible for them because it's his fault that they are in danger, since he brought them to wherever it is they are.
As of Eleven, the Doctor has sacrificed three of his lives for a companion, two of them female.
Then you have Rory:
The Doctor:All of creation has just been wiped from the sky. D'you know how many lives have now never happened, all the people who never lived? Your girlfriend isn't more important than the whole Universe. Rory:(punches him) She is to me!
River Song takes this trope to extremes, disintegrating Time itself to keep from killing the Doctor.
Amy gets in on it too. To hell with time and space, Amy Pond wants to be with her husband.
A mild version in Torchwood, which might even count as a somewhat Out-of-Character Moment for Captain Jack Harkness. In the third miniseries, Children of Earth, Jack is facing the alien menace 456 and is prepared to lead humanity in a war against them to protect the children of the Earth. Then the 456 releases a virus in the building, while Jack's love interest Ianto is in it. When it's apparent Ianto can't escape and will be killed by the virus, Jack recants and begs the 456 to spare Ianto in return for his surrender. By then it was too late and Ianto died in Jack's arms. It's unknown whether Jack really would have given up protecting humanity's children in exchange for Ianto's safety, or whether he was just bluffing in an attempt to save Ianto's life.
makes it doubly ironic then that Jack later gives up his grandson's life for the sake of humanity's children. Ianto had at least signed up for the danger. Jack's grandson hadn't.
Farscape makes this brutally clear at around the middle of the fourth and final season. Scorpius is on the ship and John is convinced he's only there because he craves the wormhole knowledge in John's head. So far over past seasons, Scorpius threatening John, his family, even the entirety of Earth hasn't made John give in. Meanwhile Aeryn, angry that she has done everything she can think of to tell him that she wants a relationship with him, confronts him on his emotional deadness... and John performs a neat trick that shuts down the comms long enough for him to explain that, yes, he'd let anything else be destroyed, but Aeryn and her child? Not in this universe. But if Scorpius knew that, he'd come after her immediately and he won't let that happen.
Next episode, she gets kidnapped by Scarrans with similar designs on wormhole knowledge, forcing Crichton into a deal with Scorpius — trading the wormhole knowledge for his help in rescuing her. Whoopsidaisy.
Incidentally, Crichton (and some fans) seem to believe that Scorpius wasn't fooled by the comm trick, and engineered the whole thing from beginning to end. Certainly he got all the information his big brain needed to puzzle out the truth during that same episode.
Subverted in an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: the Evil Alien Computer put Buck through having to choose between Wilma Deering and Hawk (an alien from a Proud Warrior Race of birdmen). He chose Hawk because he guessed that Wilma was really a double put in by the Evil Alien Computer because the real Wilma Derring wouldn't have been such a wuss.
Supernatural is a rare subversion where the heroes are more concerned with their Heterosexual Life Partner than with any Love Interests. Especially the moment in "All Hell Breaks Loose" where the hellgate opens: Sam, Ellen and Bobby try and shut it; Dean gets pinned to a grave by the Yellow-Eyed Demon, and Sam immediately goes to save his brother, leaving Ellen (who is a woman, but not a Love Interest) to try and shut one door by herself.
Pushing Daisies: Ned keeps Chuck alive fully knowing someone else will die instead.
In One Tree Hill there is such an amazing frequency of Lucas saving Peyton that it is even acknowledged by her saying "You're always saving me" repeatedly.
John Connor in The Sarah Connor Chronicles finds Cameron — his Terminator love-interest — with her chip missing. Ignoring Judgment Day's impending arrival and his mission to stop it, he leaves his mother, and joins forces with a rogue T-1000 (liquid metal Terminator), jumping to the future in order to rescue her. In jumping after Cameron, John seems to have erased himself from the timeline, veritably sacrificing himself and his position of mankind's savior to save the "woman" he loves.
Also a fundamental part of Paul Ballard's personality; first he saves Mellie, then he gets to work protecting Echo from everything.
On House, Foreman secretly switched Hadley from the placebo to the real drug in the drug trial he was working on, something that could end his career if it became known. Hadley was a bit weirded out by this, as they had only been dating for a couple of weeks.
When the drug gave Hadley a brain tumor and turned her blind he was all set to openly tell his supervisors about it. They got better.
Bill Adama does this twice in Battlestar Galactica, first to save his surrogate daughter Kara Thrace in "You Can't Go Home Again", then to save the woman he loves, President Laura Roslin, in "Sine Qua Non". Both times he's called on it by his colleagues and (eventually) realises they're right; fortunately fate rewards Adama's determination and returns both women to him.
Angel nearly makes this choice when he learns that the only way to save Fred is to let hundreds of thousands of people die in her place. He initially spits out an angry "to hell with the world" and storms off to perform the ritual as the scene cuts away. When it returns, though, he's still standing at the threshold, unable to actually go through with it, and he finally, sadly turns away.
Buffy, meanwhile, is willing to let the entire world die in torment to save Dawn. It doesn't fit on the surface, but Word Of God says that Dawn was intended to fill the dramatic role of Love Interest from Season 5 on out.
On The X-Files, this isn't even a thought for Mulder in terms of Scully; he seems to do it on pure instinct. Mulder is so predictable when his partner is taken, that the villains of the story exploit it. In the 1998 movie Fight the Future, one of Syndicate suggests that instead of killing Mulder, they must "Take away what he holds most valuable. That with which he can't live without." with the next scene showing Scully staring off into the horizon. True to form, Mulder doesn't hesitate to save her, even when it includes going to Antartica and breaking into a top-secret space craft.
It works the other way around, too, in which Scully will risk everything to save Mulder. She doesn't even let being pregnant get in the way of heading her own private investigation into his abduction, which involves driving cross-country and confronting alien replacements. In fact, it is Skinner who tries to convince her that Mulder wouldn't want her to do this if he had known her condition.
24 loves playing with this trope; both Jack Bauer and Tony Almeida are put into Sadistic Choice scenarios at different points during the series run, and their differing reactions are part of what make Tony such an effective Foil for Jack. Jack does absolutely everything in his power to Take a Third Option on Day 1, but his wife ends up being killed anyway, having had the misfortune to find out the identity ofThe Mole. When Tony's turn comes two seasons later, he breaks down completely at the prospect of losing his wife and proceeds to play this trope 100% straight, despite it being presented in-universe as morally and legally indefensible. Agonizingly, it's Jack who has to force Tony almost literally kicking and screaming into taking a third option, despite knowing firsthand what kind of grief is in store for Tony if it doesn't work, and Tony once reminds Jack about he supposedly "let (his) wife die".
In Flashpoint the rules against team members dating are there for this specific reason. During a dangerous situation the team and civilians could be put in danger if one of them breaks protocol to try and save their Love Interest.
In one episode an undercover cop falls in love with a gangsters girlfriend. He then tips her off about the upcoming city wide bust so she is not arrested. As a result another cop gets shot, the gangster escapes, the undercover cop's career is ruined and the girl gets killed.
From Merlin we have Guinevere on the one hand, and Camelot on the other. For Arthur, Merlin and all the Knights of the Round Table, Guinevere always comes first.
Given a few twists in Babylon 5 episode "Comes the Inquisitor". The Vorlons send the Inquisitor to see if Delenn has the right stuff to be one of the Chosen Ones in the fight against the Shadows. At the end of the episode the Inquisitor puts the life of her love interest on the line, saying that she can only save Captain Sheridan by giving up her fight against the Shadows. She chooses to save Sheridan... and it turns out this is exactly what the Vorlons were looking for: "How do you know the Chosen Ones? No greater love hath a man than he lay down his life for his brother. Not for millions. Not for glory, not for fame... For one person."
Sherlock loves this trope. After first disappearing Irene Adler is revealed to have died, only for it have been a ruse. Several months later, Mycroft reveals that she really has been killed by a terrorist cell, for certain this time. We end on a scene of Irene about to be executed, fading to black. Subverted once more, when the ringtone she left on Sherlock's phone rings, revealing her executioner to be Sherlock, who raises the sword and instead charges at the terrorists.
One particular option (Rome) is to either save the day, or save the girl. If you save the day, everyone tells you that you did the right thing, but Mike is still racked with guilt about it. If you save the girl, everyone tells you that you did the wrong thing, including the girl that you saved. And Mike is racked with guilt about it. And The Bad Guy Wins either way.
In Final Fantasy IV, Cecil decides to hand over the last remaining crystal that Golbez needs for world domination in order to save Rosa's life. Turns out there are four more crystals after that, but he didn't know that at the time. And he didn't even do the exchange right.
Meanwhile, in Final Fantasy VIII, Squall clarifies his priorities after being confronted with the possibility that, as a sorceress, Rinoa could end up going insane or being possessed by the Big Bad: "Rinoa... Even if you end up as the world's enemy, I'll... I'll be your knight." Unlike the FFIV example, in FFVIII the issue is mostly hypothetical (aside from certain Epileptic Trees), but Squall does choose to free Rinoa after she voluntarily surrenders herself to be imprisoned in order to keep the Big Bad from using her to attack others.
Earlier in the game, Rinoa finds herself hanging on the edge of a deadly fall in the middle of a large-scale battle and Squall prioritizes saving her over helping to defend Balamb Garden. He has to be talked into it, but it's the first case of his desires overcoming his previously insurmountable sense of duty.
It's also implied that this is why Seifer is helping the Sorceress Edea, at least at first; he sees himself as the heroic knight protecting the princess, and says as much to Squall.
Les Yay example: Fang in Final Fantasy XIII would do anything up to and including causing the apocalypse — twice — if it meant keeping Vanille safe.
Fang: I'm not kidding when I say the world can burn if that's what it takes to save Vanille.
This is actually a gameplay mechanic in Final Fantasy IX. One of Zidane's talents gives him a 50-percent chance to take damage in place of a female party member.
In one of the more poignant scenes in Tales Of Symphonia, it is established that Colette will have to sacrifice her life and become an angel to save their world. Lloyd doesn't like this, and is just barely convinced by everyone, including her, that this is for the best. A subversion? Not quite. After several plot twists and a Boss Rush, Lloyd and party run off with Colette after all. And if that wasn't enough of a double subversion, Lloyd argues in a skit that because he was willing to sacrifice Colette for the sake of the entire world, he's a horrible person and a hypocrite.
An earlier instance that arguably makes this even more poignant is the incident in which Governor-General Dorr cooperated with the Desians to get a cure for his mutated wife, resulting in many people being taken to the human ranches and used to harvest Exspheres. Lloyd gets angry at this, telling him that he's endangering many other people to save his own loved one, and ultimately saying that if he actually cared, he would have given up his position to get help for his wife, but Colette calms him down by telling him that not everyone is strong enough to resist the Desians. It's implied that Lloyd has, in the course of the above incident, realized what it's like to make a decision like this, especially when the choice that's ostensibly for the world's benefit won't necessarily be the best thing in practice.
Taken to a literal extreme in the ending of Prince of Persia (2008), where the Prince releases the very same god of darkness he just sealed in order to revive his female sidekick Elika — who was the person he was helping to seal that god in the first place.
Not only that, but the whole reason they were doing anything to begin with is that he was not the first person to do that.
Nearly every line the Prince says in the Epilogue is him trying to justify what he did. As well as the above, he says that Elika's powers have grown, and if Ahriman didn't think she was a threat why is he pursuing them? The Ahura had been beaten before they rallied and sealed him away; if they could just repeat that somehow... For most of the epilogue, Elika doesn't listen, but at the end she leaves the Prince, saying she can't do it alone - she has to find her people.
The ending of Sonic The Hedgehog 2006 has Elise debating whether or not to destroy the time-destroying evil sun god Solaris if it means she'll never meet Sonic, who thankfully assures her that the world's more important.
There's also a gender-inverted example earlier in the game with Amy, following Silver's attempt at killing Sonic:
Amy: If I had to choose between the world and Sonic, I would choose Sonic!
In Kingdom Hearts, Sora commites a Heroic Sacrifice in order to save Kairi. However, "saving her" is equal to "recreating the Big Bads opportunities to end the world, which he just foiled a few minutes ago". Especially stupid, because Sora's also the only one who could stop this End of the World as We Know It, since he's the one with the Keyblade. In the manga adaptation, he at least throws Donald the Keyblade before committing suicide, so his friends can take over the task. Turns out to be pointless, because it disappears as soon as he's gone anyway.
This persists in Chain of Memories, where Sora tells Namine to shatter his heart and memories if it will mean saving her from harm at the hands of Marluxia, and that he'll still protect her even without his memories. Marluxia is amused at the naivete of this strategy, saying that Sora will be comatose if he loses his memories and unable to do anything. Of course, then something happens that challenges this claim, so it's unknown exactly what would have happened had Sora followed through with his initial plan.
inFAMOUS outright averts this when offered a sadistic choice by the villain to save Trish or a building full of doctors saving the girl is the evil choice to make and sacrificing her for the good of the many is the good one.
Not only that, there's literally NO WAY to save her — you go to save her, she's a decoy and the real Trish is among the doctors. You save the doctors, she's the real Trish.
Partially subverted in The Dig. When Maggie Robbins dies towards the end of the game, Boston Low can resurrect her using the crystals against good sense, and breaking your promise to her. If you choose to do this, she will commit suicide, die again and hate your guts forever. At the end of the game, the Cocytans will resurrect her and Brink, and her attitude towards you will depend on your choice.
Deconstructed in Mass Effect. After making the Sadistic Choice on Virmire, if the person you saved was your Love Interest, they will call you out on this, blaming their relationship with you for the other's death. This becomes Harsher in Hindsight with Ashley, as one of her letters to her sister explicitly warns her not to get into that situation, although she assumes that she'll be the one making the decision.
And Paragon!Shepard is a lot nicer about it than most examples of this trope, possibly giving Ashley a bit of a speech on how she shouldn't blame herself for Kaidan's death, but should blame Saren instead for forcing you to choose.
In a non-romantic sense, if Tali gets exiled on her loyalty mission, Shala'Raan, a friend of Tali's parents and the only admiral who cares what happens to her, will become furious with her and Shepard for not showing the evidence that would have exonerated her, although she calms down after a moment.
Shala'Raan: I don't give a vorcha's ass about the fleet! I was trying to protect you, Tali!
In Yo-Jin-Bo, the guys often mention how they are More Expendable Than You and are willing to sacrifice as many of their own lives as are necessary to save yours. Sayori, of course, is less than pleased with this.
In Armored Core 4, this is Gender-swapped, Fiona Jarnefeldt is hinted at being in love with the Player Character- but this is made clear if you're doing poorly on a particular mission on Hard Mode— the enemy has sent forces to destroy the city that you're trying to protect, and you can't use your radioactive Primal Armor, or you'll risk harming the innocent civilians of the city... if your AP falls below 25%, she'll choose to save you instead, and activate your Primal Armor anyways.
In Chrono Cross, the flirtatious but practical harlequin, Harle, can ask the player character which he would choose: the world or her. If he chooses her, she is visibly affected and thanks him for saying so, even if it's only a kind lie.
Lost Magic has one of the most obnoxious examples of this. The Big Bad asks the character to hand over the MacGuffins or else she'll kill the girl. If the player refuses, the girl disappears and the hero goes mad over her loss, gets brainwashed by the Big Bad, starts working for her, and hands over all the MacGuffins he had, all by the end of the next cutscene. The player then has to go around killing people and doing the Big Bad's bidding.
The Force Unleashed: Starkiller disobeys a direct order from his master, Darth Vader, and rescues Juno Eclipse from The Empirical.
Juno: I've been branded a traitor to The Empire. I can't go anywhere, do anything. Starkiller: I don't care about any of that. I'm leaving The Empire behind.
In The Force Unleashed II, Starkiller is called out several times by Rahm Kota about how he doesn't care about the war between The Empire and the Rebel Alliance and just wants to rescue Juno.
The sequel lets your Player Character do this, if you romance Anders. You can let him live after he blows up the Chantry...despite all the fallout that comes with the decision, such as Sebastian swearing vengeance.
It's very easy to see this in Starcraft 2, as Jim Raynor's interal conflict about what to do about the controlled/infested Kerrigan is obvious, and thus even though the Queen of Blades "murdered 8 billion people" as Raynor says himself, he is still haunted by the propect of getting her old self back. That is, until Raynor's Raiders and the Moebius Foundation manage to use a Xel'nagan artifact to cure Kerrigan, and infestation is normally 100% incurable because it "mutates too fast".
Golden Sun gives us Felix's big Establishing Character Momentof Awesome at Venus Lighthouse: standing up to the endbosses over Sheba (at Level 5!), then jumping off the top of the Lighthouse to save her when she falls off, endangering himself and the mission to restore Alchemy to the world twice for the sake of some girl he implicitly just met.
In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, the entire plot is centered around Junpei saving Akane from dying as a child, to the point where she set it up that way. Though to be fair, if Junpei succeeds in this, it leads to the ending where every single person who possibly can be saved is saved.
At the Road Cone in Radiata Stories, Jack can choose to play this straight or avert it. Deciding to help Ridley brings about the destined end of humanity but leaves Jack with Ridley, while deciding to stay behind to aid the kingdom saves the human race at the cost of Ridley's life and Jack deciding to wander the earth a bit.
In Fable III, at the beginning of the story you can choose between saving your childhood friend and/or lover, or saving a group of protesters who are dissatisfied with your older brother's regime. To make things worse if you're considering choosing the former, your childhood friend will practically beg you to choose him/her, while the protesters will grovel for their lives as you make your decision.
In The Walking Dead video game, most players choose to save Carley over Doug, not that it matters much since the person you save ends up dying Episode 3 regardless of who it is. It's also averted in Episode 3, where most players choose to save the injured Omid over his Action Girlfriend Christa. In a subversion, however, the person you don't save will manage to catch up. The person you do save will berate you for saving them over the other, however.
Zig-zagged in Deus Ex: Human Revolution with Megan. During the prologue, it's played straight, with Jensen rushing to save her during the attack. After her death, Jensen is motivated by a desire to find her killers. When it's revealed that Megan may still be alive, Adam is again driven by a desire to rescue her... until he finds her and it appears that she may not have been an entirely unwilling participant in her disappearance.
Played very straight with Malik, to the point where many players attempting pacifist or stealth runs have abandoned their goals just to save her.
In Fate/stay night Heaven's Feel route, things take a different turn than normal as Shirou basically says 'Screw all that other stuff, I'm saving Sakura even if she might start devouring the town or go berserk.' When asked directly whether he wishes to save the girl or protect the town and by extension his ideal itself, he picks the girl despite the destruction this will probably entail. If you don't do it, you get a bad end. To make things worse, she knows and realises this, and is desperately torn between wanting Shirou and wanting Shirou to be happy. Inevitably she can only sit and watch as he throws away his ideals in order to save her.
"I... I broke him."
In Aoi Shiro, this is treated as the right way to go, always. The few times Syouko can take the decision to not save Yasumi or Nami and she does (which she notes how it's out-of-character for her), things always end badly.
In YU+ME: dream , Fiona's decision to attempt to go back into the Dream World to find Lia at the cost of never coming back to the real world.
To be fair to Fiona, look at her life in the real world: no friends, poor relationship with her family, ostracized at school. Oh, and her mother had tried to kill her. Even before the dream with Lia in it, she'd only been happy when she was dreaming. Yes, she's giving up her real life, but I'd call this more of a Screw Destiny.
Next panel, Gil choose to protect the most vulnerable girl rather than the one he loves. Agatha takes care of herself, but she doesn't like to watch Gil rescuing Zola.
In the first case, the choice is not between Agatha and Europa, but between kidnapping Agatha so that Baron Wulfenbach can ensure that she isn't the Other, probably killing any chance of a relationship, and taking the chance that she is (in which case both Europa and relationship are doomed) in order to preserve the chance to have a relationship with her if she isn't. Of course, he ends up Taking A Third Option.
In the beginning of The Dreamer, Alan infiltrates Gen. Howe's ship and rescues Beatrice.
In Sluggy Freelance, Amospia, later known as "Mosp" commits treason against the forces of good out of the belief that fighting in the war with the demons will get her lover killed. He's not at all pleased, and ultimately gets killed by an arrow that was meant for her.
The first volume of John Dies at the End ends with David Wong explaining that the forces of darkness have "checkmated" him now that he is in love with Amy. The shadow people drive this point home by demonstrating how easy it would be for them to retroactively kill Amy if he ever steps out of line.
In one arc of the '90s X-Men series, time-travelers kill the young Professor X, resulting in a Bad Present where all mutants are constantly at war with the Sentinels... and the Future Even-More-Badass Storm and Wolverine are married. When Bishop comes from the future to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, Wolverine initially refuses to help, somehow knowing that fixing the past would prevent him and Storm from getting together. When Bishop straight up asks if Wolverine is really willing to allow the devastating war to happen so he can be with Storm, Wolverine says yes without hesitation. After things are set right, there's hints that they both realize something happened, but nothing comes of it.
In the animated movie Ben 10: Secret of the Omnitrix, Ben willfully activates the Omnitrix to save Gwen, When he is warned that doing so will speed up the destruction of the universe he answers "I don't care!" Granted, Gwen is his cousin and not his Love Interest, but considering the Kissing Cousins subtext...
Subverted, on the other hand, in the sequel Ben 10: Ultimate Alien when villain Captain Nemesis attempts to pull out a Sadistic Choice using Ben's girlfriend Julie and another girl everyone thought he was dating. Ben does save Julie without hesitation... but it turns out he was Genre Savvy enough to have his friends come with him and save the other girl.
In Wonder Woman DVD, Steve Trevor saves Diana (a.k.a. Wonder Woman!) from certain death at the hands of Ares, the God of War. She then slaps him, tells him she would rather have died and he saved the world, and sulks.
A villainous example in "Deep Freeze"; Mr. Freeze encounters a crazed mogul, Grant Walker, who wants to use his technology to freeze the entire planet, killing everyone except those on his island. In exchange for his cooperation, Walker offers to revive Freeze's wife. Freeze is willing to go along with the plan until Batman points out that Nora would be waking up to a cold, dead world, whereupon Freeze releases Batman and Robin and helps them defeat Walker.
In Justice League, Morgaine le Fey attempts to manipulate the Martian Manhunter into betraying his new world and his allies for the promise of restoring his dead world - and with it, his wife and children. Subverted in that only when his psychic assault on Etregan causes him to see how Jason Blood had fallen for a similar offer, and been betrayed, did he realize that the offer was false and foil Morgaine's plan.
A justified example in Code Lyoko, where it's in the interest of everyone for team leader Jérémie to always save his Love Interest Aelita first, since she is the key to prevent XANA from attacking the real world. Even if others are left in dangerous situations in the process, Aelita can save them as long as she doesn't arrive too late; as such, saving her over the others is the logical move.
The premise of the show, on the other hand, plays this trope straight, as Jérémie is willing to risk the life of thousands of people by playing heroes with his friends rather than just sacrificing Aelita to save millions. Still, from some perspective, leaving a 14 years old girl to her death to save many isn't exactly moral either.
While obviously not a Love Interest, the Legion Of Super Heroes animated series has Superman's Darker and Edgier clone from the future (further in the future than the setting of LOSH) protecting a boy who is being targeted by assassins. Turns out they're from the future, too. The boy will grow up to be largely responsible for the existence of Big Bad Imperiex. It was to show how ruthless "Superman X" isn't anymore, when he decides the ends don't justify the means and chooses saving the kid over preventing Imperiex's rise.
Gender switch variation in the season one finale of Loonatics Unleashed. When Lexi fails to save Ace and Rev, she gives a surprisingly emotional speech, more or less solely directed at Ace, leading to a slightly awkward moment when he and Rev turn out fine.
In Adventure Time episode "Hot to the Touch", Finn is stuck between harming his new crush Flame Princess or allowing her to destroy the Goblin Kingdom. He breaks down over this moral choice and cries. Resolved when Flame Princess sees him crying and comes to the conclusion that he is a "water elemental" and this is why he keeps accidentally hurting her.
A gender-inverted subversion in "Burning Low" where Princess Bubblegum forces Jake to plug up Finn and Flame Princess's oxygen supply so that Flame Princess wouldn't burn out the world unintentionally after Finn kissed her. Princess Bubblegum was aware that this would suffocate and potentially kill both teenagers, but even though Finn is one of her closest friends, she prioritized the safety of the planet without hesitation.
Generator Rex: When Rex is stuck in the Bug Jar, a city containing the most dangerous EVO monsters. Circe has just made sure that they stay in the city, and he's given the choice to protect her with Bobo, or restart the generator to project a barrier to keep all these dangerous creatures in. Rex lampshades it in his "hero-monologue."
Rex: "Caught between saving his love interest or the world, the hero makes the... stupid choice."
Biowulf then shows up in a Villainous Rescue, subduing the immediate wave, and ordering him to fix the generator. With the creatures further at bay, he's able to use the extra time to fix it, and run.
This mindset is used as the US Army's policies against both Fraternization (relationships between soldiers when one is subordinate to the other) and women joining combat-heavy MOSes. In the former, a superior's decisions could possibly be affected by a conflict of interests, and in the latter, the belief is that men are prone to protect women even if the situation doesn't warrant their protection.
Likewise, medical professionals are generally expected to step aside and let a colleague treat their own loved ones, as this trope can easily compromise their clinical judgment.
This is also why legal professionals (judges, lawyers, etc) are strongly advised by the canon of ethics not to represent their family/friends, but there's no actual rule against it.
The ABC News show What Would You Do? show that in many different scenarios, people are more likely to jump to the aid of a woman, but will still help a man. For instance, they had two different episodes with actors who slipped strange powders into their dates' drinks. When a woman was having her drink tampered with, half the restaurant leapt to her aid. When there was a role reversal, a group of old men, who had their faces blurred, indicating that they didn't want their faces to be shown on television, agreed that they saw it and found it funny, and also stated that they were excited to see what would be in the paper the next morning. Interestingly with this experiment, when the man was the victim, it was a woman who made the most vocal warnings about what his date had done.
There was also the episode where they had a man pretend to be flirtatious to the point of his advances being harassment. The first people to help her were an elderly couple who invited her to sit with them outside. When the actor insisted on coming with them, the husband sternly shouts "NO." He later explains that he was ready to bash the man's head in with his cane. A group of men and a group of women, and even several people who don't know one another come together to help the victimized girl, and this is one of the episodes where the creator's don't make a point about how few people stepped up and said something.
The Greek city state of Thebes invoked this trope as official military doctrine everyone in the army was in a relationship with the other members and were supposed to be incredibly protective of their lovers. They called this policy the "Sacred Band of Thebes". They were 300 strong, pairs of homosexual lovers selected out of the army. They (with light cavalry support) defeated 1500 Spartans at Leucratea. When the theban army faced a much bigger force, the thebans ran for it, except the Sacred Band. They made their last stand on a small hill, surrounded at attacked from all sides. The unit was never remade.
Many parents will go above and beyond to protect their child(ren), regardless of gender. However, many parents are more likely to worry about a daughter than they are a son, as seen when a girl's significant other gets the If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her... speech.
Spoofed in a comedy routine (cannot remember the comedian's name). He said his girlfriend asked if he would fight to protect her. His answer was "No. I wouldn't even fight to protect myself. But we can hold hands while we run away if you think that will be romantic."