Disappointed by the Motive

Holly Gennero McClane: After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you're nothing but a common thief.
Hans Gruber: I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.

In fiction, most bad guys have a Freudian Excuse. Some may even go as far as having a Start of Darkness. Some, however, have neither. Or, at least, not a "good" one.

This trope occurs when the bad guy hits the good guys with the typical Motive Rant for their actions, and an observer dumbfoundedly proclaims, "THAT'S your reason?" with unabashed disgust or disappointment. To the bad guy, committing murder, Cold-Blooded Torture, or any other heinous deeds or crimes based on that motive made sense, or at least, they saw it as a legitimate excuse. The heroes and others who find out the truth, however, are utterly disappointed not only that so much evil happened for such nonsensical reasons, but that this loser has had them running around expecting an epic battle of wills This isn't the same as For the Evulz or It Amused Me. The character in question had a "reason", but as far as the good guys are concerned, it wasn't a very good one. Also, please no "Heroic" examples of this trope. If the character isn't doing "bad" or immoral things, it doesn't count for this trope.

Compare and constrast with Motive Decay, where the initial motive was actually a good one (or at least made more sense) than what it ended up devolving into. Also compare Tragic Dream, where the motivation can be very valid, but is in no way reachable, as well as Disproportionate Retribution and Comically Small Demand.

May overlap with Evil Is Petty. See also Anti-Climactic Unmasking, where the identity of the perpetrator is also disappointing.

NOTE: In-Universe Examples Only. The important part of this trope is other characters' reaction to the motive; the motive itself is secondary.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Dragon Ball, Commander Red, leader of the Red Ribbon Army (which has been an entire army made of Knights of Cerebus) initially says he needs the Dragon Balls in order to take over the world. However, he eventually reveals he wants them to wish that he's a few inches taller. When his second in command, Adjutant Black, finds out, Black kills him and takes over the army.
  • One Piece
    • In the Fishman Island arc's climax, Hody Jones is a Fantastic Racist who utterly hates humans. However, it's revealed in an exchange that occurs between himself and Prince Fukaboshi that he was just raised to be a bigot. He's never had a bad experience with humans personally, but when in Rome.... Fukaboshi immediately sends out a mass-communication admitting that Hody's grief is "one without substance".
      Fukaboshi: What happened to you? Did humans enslave you? Did they hurt your loved ones? Answer me, Hody! What the hell did those humans do to you?
      Hody Jones: ...nothing.
    • One year before the story's beginning, the "Pirate Noble" Cavendish took the world by storm. One year later, Cavendish's fame was eclipsed by Luffy and several other rookie pirates now known as the "Worst Generation." Being the Attention Whore that he is, Cavendish has sworn vengeance on those pirates. Even Luffy is smart enough to realize this is a rather petty grudge. Cavendish eventually gets over it (kind of..) and even becomes the first commander of the Straw Hat fleet. Though he still wants to be the most famous of them....
  • Due of the nature of the work, this trope ends up happening quite a lot in Haiyore! Nyarko-san. For example, when Mahiro found out why the first villain in the series is trying to capture him (to be sold to be a star in a TV drama), he gets dumfounded and frustrated enough to ask Nyarko to kick the villain's ass.

    Comic Books 
  • One X-Men story featured a mysterious new supervillain named Kaga who turns out to be just a bitter old Japanese man in a wheelchair who, as a Hiroshima survivor with deforming, debilitating mutations, was jealous of Mutants for having relatively benign and paranormal mutations (plus looking drop-dead gorgeous). He lampshades and defies this trope.
    Kaga: What were you expecting? A master plan? A scheme to turn off the sun? This is the real world. Hatred and disgust are good enough reasons to want to kill people.
  • In an issue of Monica's Gang set in the real-life theme park based on the franchise, the villain starts paralysing everyone in the theme park with a weapon he invented, when Monica and Jimmy ask his motivations, if they are taking over the world, he answers no, he just wanna play with all the rides in the theme park, he couldn't bear all the kids on the rides and the lines, bonus by the fact that the villain was an adult and that now closed park was more like a deluxe playground for kids with slides and ball pools and not much of a theme park with rollercoasters and such, of course, Monica and Jimmy don't take this very well.

    Film - Animated 
  • In Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension, Alternate!Doof's tragic back story is that he lost a toy train as a child. Immediately lampshaded by Prime!Doof who lists off tragic back story after tragic back story.
  • Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker:
    • In a flashback, The Joker finally learns Batman's secret identity, and he isn't impressed.
      Joker: I must admit, it's sadly anti-climactic. Behind all the sturm und batarang, you're just a little boy in a playsuit, crying for mommy and daddy! It'd be funny if it weren't so pathetic... Oh, what the heck, I'll laugh anyway! [mad laughter]
    • Invoked when Terry throws one back at the Joker during their final battle; Terry is in I Shall Taunt You mode and trying to piss the Joker off.
      Terry: So you fell in a tank of acid, got your skin bleached and decided to become a supervillain. What, you couldn't find work as a rodeo clown?

    Film - Live-Action 
  • In the movie Falling Down, William Foster has been through a lot: losing his job, his family, and otherwise having things go wrong. But finally, he goes on a rampage around Los Angeles because... he wants to go to his daughter's birthday party (granted it's implied that he was going to do much worse but still); along the way he gets pissed at people for the pettiest reasons. Somewhat justified in that his ex-wife implies he needed professional help. At the climax in the movie, this exchange happens:
    Bill: I'm the bad guy? How did that happen? I did everything they told me to. Did you know I build missiles? I help to protect America. You should be rewarded for that. Instead, they give it to the plastic surgeon. They lied to me.
    Sergeant Prendergast: Is that what this is about? You're angry because you got lied to? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven? Listen, pal, they lie to everyone. They lie to the fish. But that doesn't give you any special right to do what you did today.
  • Played for Laughs in Hot Shots! Part Deux. An important sub-plot concerns the fact that there is a mole who has provided information to Saddam Hussein and compromised several prisoner rescue missions already. At the end, it's discovered that The Mole is the Girl of the Week, Michelle, and that this girl has a vendetta against the previous Girl of the Week, Ramada, which drove her to treason. She gives a very Psycho Lesbian-sadomasochist-Girl-on-Girl Is Hot-laden Motive Rant.... which climaxes with her explaining that Ramada over-tightened her bungee rig back at college. Everybody else gets flabbergasted at that.
  • From Who Framed Roger Rabbit:
    Judge Doom: Eight lanes of shimmering cement, from here to Pasadena. Smooth, safe, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.
    Eddie Valiant: So that's why you killed Acme and Maroon? For this freeway? I don't get it.
    Judge Doom: Of course not. You lack vision, but I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on, all day, all night. Soon, where Toon Town once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food, tire salons, automobile dealerships, and wonderful, wonderful billboards as far as the eye can see! My God, it'll be beautiful!
  • Hot Fuzz. After constructing an elaborate scenario involving a local supermarket-owner murdering various townsfolk to secure land that will soon have an expressway built through it, thus escalating in value, Nicholas Angel learns that Mr. Skinner and his associates actually killed those people for extremely petty reasons, such as having an annoying laugh or repeatedly spelling their names wrong in the newspaper. Their ringleader, police chief Frank Butterman, allows this and targets anyone who dissents or stands out, in order to win the annual Village of the Year competition.
  • Die Hard has the above exchange after The Reveal about Hans' Evil Plan:
    Holly Gennero McClane: After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you're nothing but a common thief.
    Hans Gruber: I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.
    • During the climactic showdown, John has a similar reaction, although he's stalling for time.
    • All but one of the following films (Die Hard with a Vengeance, Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard), upon the reveal that the villains have done so much wanton terrorism in order to get richer (incredibly richer, but still), McClane is experienced enough to not care anymore, while his sidekick of the movie has one big "what?" moment. With a Vengeance even has the villain's henchman react this way to learning the real motive. Die Hard 2 is the odd one out in that its villains have an actual political motive.
  • In Eight MM, the motive of the killer is that he simply wanted to because likes to hurt and kill people. This enrages Tom enough to kill him.

  • Artemis Fowl: Holly is not quite disappointed but very surprised when she finds out that the guy who kidnapped a fairy is only doing it to ransom her for a very large quantity of gold. Prior to that, she'd assumed his goal was to spark an interspecies war.
  • Ciaphas Cain: In "Traitor's Gambit", Tau sympathizers hijack and blow up a ship to take out the Lord General. After Cain discovers that the mastermind was just there to loot the ship, he calls her a common thief, to which she reacts pridefully.
  • In the Period Piece mystery novel Eater of Souls, an ancient Egyptian serial killer targets people for such "unforgivable crimes" as accidentally spilling his drink or beating him to the punch in hiring a prostitute he'd had his eye on. The sleuths who solve the case are, themselves, taken aback by just how petty the killer's motives had been for several of the murders. It's why they conclude that he hadn't been possessed by the demonic Anut, but was merely acting out his own self-centered vendetta: no self-respecting divine being, even a scary one, would've gone to the trouble of seeking payback for such trivial offenses.
  • Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel: Barry confronts the Big Bad (who works in Wizard/Muddle Relations) and learns that he was prepared to exterminate the entire wizard community just to cut down the amount of paperwork in his job:
    Barry: That's it? No World Domination?
    Niccolo: Nope. That'd be an even bigger hassle. Who needs it? I just want to retire. Do you want an evil cackle or something?
    Barry: It might be nice! This is only the denouement to the entire sodding book! Genocide as a paperwork-reduction method is kind of a letdown, yes!
  • In the story "Totally Trashed" by Roz Kaveney in the second Temps collection, after Lord Orpington is revealed as the evil mastermind behind the robotic attacks on the Marcias, Loric is disappointed to learn that his motive is not the crazed remnants of his love for the mother of the woman they were cloned from, but simply that he's been embezzling their DPR stipend and is worried this might come out.

    Live-Action TV 
  • CSI:
  • One case in CSI: Miami where an entire family had been slaughtered except for the youngest daughter who had been hidden in the closet, and the father who was at work was revealed to have been this. It turns out it WAS the father who killed his family... because he felt his family was too stressful to deal with. Horatio is less than impressed.
  • CSI: New York has Flack say "You killed a guy over a cockroach?" The guy actually did. A jewel-encrusted Madagascar cockroach escaped from its owner in a restaurant and the chef, understandably, tried to kill it, at which point the busboy, a Friend to Bugs, flipped out. The detective was dumbfounded that the killer wasn't even trying to reclaim or steal the jewels; he was just trying to save a bug.
  • In the Doctor Who episode Voyage of the Damned, The Doctor finds out that the only reason the villain is trying to crash the spaceship into Earth is to get back at the board that kicked him out of his own company. The Doctor calls him out on how pathetic he is.
    The Doctor: So that's the plan? A retirement plan? Two thousand people on board this ship, six billion underneath us, all of them slaughtered, and why? Because Max Capricorn is a loser.
  • In the final episode of Monk, Monk confronts his wife Trudy's killer at gunpoint, furious that the man killed Trudy just to cover up an affair and further his career.

    Video Games 
  • Persona 4. When Adachi is revealed as the culprit behind several murders and attempted murders, he tells the Investigation Team that the reason he committed the first murder was because he found out a celebrity he was crushing on had a sexual affair with a married man, and he threw a temper tantrum. And the second one had a similar reason, when he spotted a high school girl talking to an older man, he accused her of being unchaste and murdered her for being "a whore". From then on, he fell headfirst into "some men want to watch the world burn" territory and committed the rest of the attempted murders strictly For the Evulz. The team is aghast that their entire adventure started because of one man's childish and perverted insecurities. The culprit hints that there might be more to it and that this was just the final straw, but by this point everyone is just sick of the whining.
  • Mass Effect 2:
    • In Jack's loyalty mission, they find out that someone is trying to rebuild the experiment that tortured and exploited Jack and other kids like her. At the end, she discovers that the person doing it is another victim like she was, who is trying to make sense of it and justify what happened to them by saying it must have had a purpose. His plan is to restart the whole thing with other children until he finds what the original scientists were after. Jack is extremely pissed when she hears this, and the Player Character, Commander Shepard, is likewise angry that he'd let other kids go through that kind of nightmarish Hell for such a ridiculous reason.
    • In Jacob's loyalty mission, it's discovered that Jacob's father, Ronald Taylor, had spent the past ten years marooned on a planet where the edible plant life degenerates intelligence. At first, the plan was to ration out safe food to the essential staff that could fix the rescue beacon while the non-essentials survived on the toxic stuff until help arrived. However, Taylor and several of the other officers started to enjoy the position of power this put them in - ruling over what amounted to a rape camp of docile, mentally-inhibited women - and as unrest among the crew increased, Taylor kept order by withholding food until his enemies went dumb, and rewarding those loyal to him by "giving away" women to them. In the end, Taylor - by this point the only person from his ship not under the effects of mental degeneration - only activates the (long since functional) rescue beacon because his reserves of safe food are about to run out, and the male crew members have grown violent and threaten to overrun his camp. Jacob flat out calls it a "juvenile fantasy" when he finds out.
  • Subverted in Mass Effect 3, during the mission to stop the hanar diplomat from betraying his entire planet to the Reapers. The reason he tells you that he's doing it is because his race has always worshiped the Protheans as gods, but the Broken Masquerade has revealed that most accomplishments credited to the Protheans were actually accomplished by the Reapers, and that the surviving Protheans are now a Slave Race brainwashed to serve them. Thus, as worshippers of the Protheans, the hanar must also serve whom the Protheans serve. This is a subversion because it's also revealed that the diplomat is Brainwashed and Crazy, but that doesn't stop Shepard from having an epic reaction.
    Renegade Shepard: You big, stupid jellyfish!
  • Sly Cooper
  • Cole's reaction to Bertrand's motives for attempting to start a Conduit arms race in inFAMOUS 2 falls into this category. Though he doesn't explicitly state his disappointment, his tone of voice does it for him.
    Cole: I finally get it. You thought the Ray Sphere was gonna turn you into some shiny superhuman, but instead it turned you into a fifty-foot maggot.
  • Clank spends most of the first Ratchet & Clank believing Chairman Drek is the Well-Intentioned Extremist-type, out to help the Blarg find a new homeworld after their old one became too polluted for them. When he learns that Drek is actually a Corrupt Corporate Executive who deliberately polluted the Blarg homeworld in order to force the Blarg to pay him a fortune for the new one, he reacts with dumb-founded disgust.
  • In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the party is disappointed to learn that the reason Vulcanus tried to start a war between Celestia and the Netherworld was so that he could become God... somehow.
    Etna: See? I told you it would be something selfish and stupid.
  • By the end of Lunarosse, Naamari's reason for throwing the story of Corlia's world into chaos wasn't a more understandable goal like getting home, but because he thought her story sucked (hey, it was only her first one) and he didn't like the role he was assigned. Channing gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech over how lame it was.

  • In The Order of the Stick, Xykon murdered the wizard Fyron Pucebuckle and stole something from his residence, and Fyron's apprentice Eugene theorises that whatever was stolen must be an artefact of tremendous magical power if Xykon was prepared to kill in order to own it. It turns out that the only thing taken was an entirely non-magical crown, which Xykon only stole because he thought it looked awesome. Eugene's son Roy (who takes up the quest to destroy Xykon after his father's death) is utterly furious when he learns this.
    Xykon: Magic? The crown's not magic.
    Roy: What? Then... why steal it? Why kill Master Fyron and his son for it?
    Xykon: Well, because it looks cool, obviously. Here, check it out: [indicates his crownless head] Badass; [puts the crown on] REALLY badass. Am I right or am I right?
    Roy: Oh my GODS, I hate you so much!

    Western Animation 
  • In the The Powerpuff Girls episode, "Just Desserts", a follow-up to the episode, "Supper Villain", Mrs. Smith and her children join her husband in helping him eliminate the Powerpuff Girls, following his release from prison. After the girls defeat them in a showdown, Mrs. Smith explains that her motive for wanting to destroy the girls was not really because they drove her husband insane or sent him to prison, but because they ruined her dinner. As the girls point out, that's not a good reason for wanting revenge on them at all. Their children's motives are even more stupid, the daughter wants revenge because the girls lost her jacks while playing, and the son? "I'm a teenager, I hate everyone."
  • In an episode of Stripperella the bad guy creates a working paper mache volcano he plans to use to destroy the town because 'It's something he's just always wanted to do', when she tries to see if he has a Freudian Excuse, he again admits he's only doing it because he felt like it.
  • Justice League: Gorilla Grodd spends the final season being very secretive about his Evil Plan, which is later revealed to transform all people in the world into gorillas. Lex Luthor is quick to point out the ridiculousness of such plan, and no one in the Secret Society bats an eyelash when Lex shoots Grodd and usurps leadership.