"Destiny has cheated me,
By forcing me to decide upon,
The woman that I idolize,
Or the hands of an automaton.
Without these hands, I can't complete,
The opera that was captivating her!
But if I keep them, and she marries him,
Then he probably won't want me dating her..."
Something the hero has quested for intently is now within his grasp.
It could be a valuable treasure, personal knowledge about his unknown past, a chance to avenge an old wrong, or maybe the very thing needed to finally get off the island and negate Failure Is the Only Option
But at the same time, a friend or ally who has helped him is lying unconscious on the floor, about to be crushed by a collapsing ceiling, eaten by monsters, or murdered by the Big Bad
and his minions.
There's only enough time to save one — which one is it going to be
Of course, a true hero will choose to save his friend over taking the treasure every single time. (Besides, it wouldn't be wise to resolve a whole major ongoing plotline right in the middle of the season, now would it? Or to lose any of the regulars, either.
) It's very rare that the hero manages to Take a Third Option
and do both; that's usually reserved for a Grand Finale
or situations where a villain forces a hero to make a Sadistic Choice
Whether villains know this and deliberately set up such situations to prevent their own capture (or to ensure that they can get the heroes later) is left as an exercise to the reader.
with "My friends are more important to me than anything else" overtones almost always follows.
If employed too often, this can get Anvilicious
and try the audience's patience, making them wonder why they don't Just Eat Gilligan
. They won't, of course. Who knew being good could suck so much?
(Conversely, under some circumstances, the very fact that the hero hesitates can make us suspicious about his moral instincts.)
This trope is sometimes referred to as a "Doctor's Dilemma", after the title of a play by George Bernard Shaw (see "Literature", below).
See also Hostage for MacGuffin
. A specific form
of the Sadistic Choice
and a classic Moral Dilemma
open/close all folders
- A Burger King's viral marketing scheme tried to be a parody of this concept. With the "Whopper Sacrifice" facebook app, you can get a free Whopper. The real cost? You must un-friend 10 people. As most could probably expect though, all this resulted in were thousands more free whoppers given away than expected as just about everyone has some pruning they could do on their friends list, and, for that matter, had nothing stopping them from refriending once they got the friggin' burger.
Anime & Manga
- In the Ranma ˝ movie Nihao My Concubine, Ranma and Akane find themselves falling through open air toward a magical pool whose water will turn anyone permanently into a man, even overriding the Gender Bender Jusenkyo curse Ranma had spent the whole series trying to cure. In an unusually elegant variation of the Friend or Idol Decision, Ranma realizes that if he dives right in, Akane will fall into the water as well, and will become afflicted with the very curse he seeks to cure in himself! And of course, since they are the Official Couple, and Status Quo Is God, it naturally follows that Failure Is the Only Option, and so Ranma must use his tremendous chi powers to destroy the fountain before they touch the water, so that Akane will be spared.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima!, Negi is forced to either stay behind and fight a giant monster so his students can escape with a magical book that can make them smarter (for the big exams) or dump the book so they can all escape safely. Subverted in that Negi ends up trying to stay behind, but Asuna decides to make the "right" choice for him anyway.
- Ahiru/Duck in Princess Tutu is given this sort of dilema at the end of the series when she finds out that the pendant that allows her to be a girl is Mytho's final missing heart shard, meaning that she has to choose between saving the boy she loves (who, to make it worse, has decided he's in love with another girl, who just pulled an Heroic Sacrifice for him) and her ability to be human. The way this is resolved is one of the most touching moments in the series.
- In Baccano!! it's revealed in the 1933/The Slash arc that, once she informally hooks up with Claire Stanfield, Chane's greatest fear is that she'll be forced to choose between him and her loyalty to her father should Huey ever order her to kill him (particularly since Claire is proving to be a serious Spanner in the Works of his more recent plans). Claire's response is exactly what you think it might be:
"Feel free to try. I'll just dodge them and
stay in love... Hey, that's even more
like true love, now that I think of it
- In the Record of Lodoss War OVA there is a great example of this trope starring the villains. When Black Knight Ashram is given the chance to take the Scepter of Domination before the good guys can or save the life of dark elf Pirotess he actually picks saving her over the scepter. She dies anyway, unfortunately.
- In Transformers: Robots in Disguise, the Autobots enter a race to find SkidZ, in which Megatron and Sky-Byte also enter. Megatron manages to trap the other Autobots under a rock, forcing SkidZ to choose between winning and saving his friends. He manages to get both.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, during a chaotic fight, May Chang has to choose between going for the Philosopher's Stone, which she needs to complete her quest to save her clan, or stop Hawkeye from bleeding to death, someone who she barely knows. She chooses the latter, only to see that Wrath has seized the stone.
- One chapter later, Al faces a similar decision — reunite with his body or leave it to join the fight against Father. When he sees the bad shape his body's in, it's an easy choice.
- Yet perhaps the wrong choice. Father needed Al's soul to return to the armor to make his Evil Plan work.
- Well Father would have still been unstoppable had his Evil Plan not worked then due to Hohenhiem's trap not being able to work unless Father succeeded even if it would only be temporary. Plus Al returning period would have given Father what he wanted as he only needed a soul who was capable of returning from the gate. It really didn't matter which form he returned in. Plus his choice did save Ed's life because it enabled him to make a Heroic Sacrifice later.
- In the Grand Finale of Ojamajo Doremi, the girls are asked if they want to become full time witches or return to being regular humans. They choose the latter, which Sixth Ranger Hana doesn't take well.
- Before the Naruto timeline begins, Sakumo Hatake faced a choice between his comrades or a mission. He abandoned the mission, saved their lives and was ostracised by his entire country. Eventually he committed seppuku, and his son got the wrong message and spent the next few years of his life turning himself into an emotionless and successful weapon. Life can be stupid.
- THE iDOLM@STER - Played literally with Miki in episode 24 when she has a chance to become the solo MC of the show to be aired in the timeslot that would succeed the "Are we live?" show.
- Played with in the Tower of Heaven arc of Fairy Tail. Simon sacrifices himself to shield Erza from Jellal's attack; after Natsu defeats Jellal and passes out, the Tower of Heaven begins to collapse. Erza briefly sees Simon's body sliding slowly into a crevasse, but she turns away and escapes with the unconscious Natsu rather than retrieving him.
- In the Pretty Sammy storyline in the No Need for Tenchi manga series, Pixy Misa had set things up for Tenchi to learn Sasami was Pretty Sammy, then turned him into a monster during a school play about Pretty Sammy (with Sasami as the heroine, natch). Pixy Misa forced Sasami to chose between revealing her identity and stopping the monster or letting the monster go on its rampage and maintain her identity (either way, Rumia would end up winning). Tsunami, then, steps in,, disguised as Pretty Sammy, allowing Sasami to swap up and save the day.
- The story before that had a childhood friend of Tenchi's coming to visit, royally pissing of Ayeka and Ryoko due to her clingyness and a childhood promise. However, Washu discovers why the friend was there and agrees to help her with a plan. They end up knocking out Ryoko and Ayeka and putting through a theoretical situation - for Ryoko, she gets a chance to date Tenchi with the agreement to not use her powers or lose that chance forever. However, an ambulance carrying an expecting couple she aided gets stuck in traffic and only she can make a difference. For Ayeka, she's asked to return to Jurai with Sasami. However, she panics and tries to stay, with Emperor Azusa calling her and telling her that if she stays, she loses the crown. Both end up going with their hearts rather than what others tell them. Turns out the childhood friend set it up because she was dying and she wanted to make sure Tenchi would be alright with them. They return the favor by having Tsunami resurrect her moments after her death.
- In the Jigokiller two-parter of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, the titular creatures have gathered around an important water reservoir. G-3 had been captured by one of the flowers very recently. G-1 has to choose between burning the flowers, knowing his teammate will almost certainly die, and leave them, allowing them to spread. He chooses burning, earning a punch from G-2 and protests from 4 and 5, although they later back him up. Double-subverted in that burning the flowers makes them release their dandelion-like seeds, and that G-3, who had been wearing an experimental protection suit, had survived, attracted Galactor's attention, and was in their custody. Incidentally, the Gatchaman and Guardians of Space versions killed women, while the Battle of the Planets species killed anyone.
- In Happiness Charge Pretty Cure, Princess Hime's been collecting Pre Cards in order to use them to grant her wish, rescuing her kingdom from the Phantom Empire, undoing one of her mistakes. She finally gains enough cards in episode 22, but finds herself in a conundrum: Iona Hikawa, Cure Fortune, is at the mercy of the Precure Hunter Phantom, powerless and trapped in another dimension. This is also the same girl who has spent the same amount of episodes giving Hime hell over her Dark Secret. Hime decides to lead the charge into that dimension and begs Iona to take her cards. Iona does so and uses them to regain her powers.
- The first story in Bucky OHare twists the trope a bit. There is a moment when the human boy, Willy Dewitt, tries to save his imprisoned friends by threatening to destroy vital code records. The villain turns it into a hostage situation, threatening to jettison Willy's friends into the hard vacuum of space. Willy agonizes over what to do, then cedes to his friends' urging to destroy the records, rather than save them. The villain immediately receives a copy of the records, rendering Willy's decision meaningless.
- In Doctor Strange: The Oath, Strange has the last drop of a magic potion that can cure any disease and must choose between using it to save his friend's life or using it to make enough potion for everyone in the world.
- Batman: Harley Quinn had to decide between saving a girl's eyesight or getting codes that give her lots of money. She chooses the money. But hey, at least she feels guilty. Considering that you can restore someone's eyesight for 25$, that doesn't sound like a hard decision.
- The central conflict of Scion: Does Ethan choose loyalty to his family and kingdom in the war against the Raven Kingdom, or loyalty to Ashleigh in her quest to liberate the Lesser Races? And can he live with the consequences?
- Near the end of The Smurfs comic book story "The Smurfs And The Book That Tells Everything", Brainy is trapped on a rock with Baby Smurf and the titular book and he is forced to choose either to save Baby or the book in order to swim across to safety. The book tells Brainy since that it's more important, he should sacrifice Baby. Brainy thinks that the book is a monster and so throws the book into the water and swims to safety with Baby.
- A Sandman Mystery Theatre flashback story in Starman reveals a case where The Gambler had a stolen statue in one hand and a knife to Wesley Dodds' throat in the other. Ted Knight doesn't hesitate to blast the Gambler and destroy the statue. It turns out he knew it was a fake, but he would have fired anyway, because an inanimate object isn't worth a human life. Ted and Wesley weren't even good friends.
- During the final confrontation between Superman and Lex Luthor prior to The New 52, Luthor has gained god-like power and has actually brought total peace to the cosmos. However, the Lois Lane android with him warns him that he can't do negative things like, say, kill Superman. Luthor actually agonizes over before finally deciding that killing Superman is the lesser evil. All the while The Joker is laughing back in Arkham, realizing that Luthor had all of that power and he threw it all away.
Films — Animated
- In Pixar's movie Cars, Lightning McQueen gives up first place in the Piston Cup race to help The King cross the finish line after Chick Hicks causes him to wreck out. Hicks still wins the cup, but everyone knows that Lightning would have won, and Hicks' dishonorable tactics lose him any regard the win would have brought. In a mild Double Subversion and An Aesop, McQueen gains the adulation he had desired but discovers that he doesn't really need it anymore — the events of the movie have taught him that there are more important things than fame.
- In The Emperor's New Groove Kuzco, who starts the movie as a spoiled brat, gives up the potion he needs to change back into a human in order to rescue Pacha. In a subversion, the pair uses The Power of Friendship to get it back not two minutes later.
- In the climax of Treasure Planet, the movie's resident Anti-Villain has to choose between saving a boatload of gold that's about to drift into a laser beam or his surrogate son Jim who's holding on for dear life over a raging inferno. He chooses to save Jim, saying that he'll get over giving up his lifelong obsession.
- In The Road to El Dorado, Tulio is forced to sacrifice almost all of the enormous pile of gold that he and Miguel acquire by posing as gods in El Dorado in order to save the city's people from advancing Spanish soldiers. Though he is very choked up about the decision.
- In The Wild Thornberrys Movie, Eliza has to make a Sister or Idol decision when the Big Bad has Debbie and wants to know how Eliza could have known about his plans. She saves Debbie by revealing the thing she cannot tell: she can talk to animals. It costs her the power. she gets it back later with a heroic sacrifice.
- This happens twice in Despicable Me. First time, Gru has to make the decision of choosing between the girls' ballet recital and taking the moon, which was his lifelong dream. Originally, he wanted to push back the date for taking the moon but Nefario called Miss Hattie so she could take the kids back to the orphanage and Gru could focus back on task. The second time, Vector kidnaps the girls and demands that Gru gives him the moon. Gru gave up the moon, but Vector didn't hold his side of the bargain.
- Near the end of All Dogs Go to Heaven, Charlie is forced to choose between saving Anne Marie from drowning or his watch from sinking. Keep in mind he's literally living on borrowed time — he stole the watch from heaven to ressurect himself after being killed by a car, and if the watch stops, as watches tend to do in water, he will die. And worse, he'll be sent to Hell since he "can never come back". Ultimately, he chooses saving Anne Marie while sacrificing both the watch and his life, earning his way back to Heaven.
- In Brother Bear, Kenai finally achieves his goal of changing back into a human. However, when he learns he cannot talk to Koda, whose mother he killed, Kenai realizes his true responsibility. After all, given what he did to Koda and the options that are available, changing back into a bear to care for the bear cub is the only moral thing to do.
- In The Strawberry Shortcake Movie: Sky's the Limit, Strawberry has to rescue her friend Mr. Longface Caterpillar and The Great Geyser Stone (which will provide water for her town) after both fall over the side of a cliff, landing on a ledge. In order to do so, her friends lower her, using a rope, so she can grab the stone first, and then Mr. Caterpillar. However, as she's being lifted with the stone, the ledge that Mr. Caterpillar is standing on crumbles, and he starts to fall. She grabs hold of his hand with her free hand, but can't hold onto him with just one hand. She briefly considers which to give up, but drops the stone in favor of her friend.
Films — Live-Action
- The classic example of this trope in literature is George Bernard Shaw's 1906 play The Doctor's Dilemma, in which a doctor must choose whether a phial of a new life-saving drug is given to a kindly poor colleague or to a brilliant yet thoroughly unpleasant artist.
- Terry Pratchett subverts this in his Discworld novel Thief of Time, where Lu-Tze, after injuring himself, yells at his apprentice Lobsang to choose the Idol (stopping the "perfect clock" that will cause all of time to come to a halt) over the Friend (the injured Lu-Tze). The fact he even hesitates in saving the world for Lu-Tze's sake prompts Susan Sto Helit to call him a "hero"... in a tone that implies it's synonymous with "idiot".
- In the first book in The Dark Tower series, the Man in Black forces Roland to either save Jake from certain death, and never again catch up to him, or let Jake die, and gain the information he needs to continue his quest for the Dark Tower. Roland chooses to let Jake fall, establishing his character for the rest of the series.
- The same scenario is anviliciously repeated again in the third book, this time with Jake, who has come Back from the Dead (sort of), and his pet billy-bumbler (Mix-and-Match Critters), Oy. He chooses to go back and save Oy, but this time he manages to succeed anyway.
- In the short story If You Can Fill the Unforgiving Minute by David Andreissen (David Poyer), an teenage human is representing the Earth in a marathon race against an alien teen. When the alien is injured during the race, the human must make a choice: continue running and win the race, or help the alien and lose. He decides to help the alien and loses. Afterwards, he is told that the aliens consider honor to be more important than winning and that as far as they're concerned, he won the race.
- ... thereby proving that they are an alien race, utterly different from humanity.
- In Robert E. Howard's "Jewels Of Gwahlur", Conan the Barbarian faces it:
Either was within arm's length; for the fraction of a split second the chest teetered on the edge of the bridge, and Muriela clung by one arm, her face turned desperately toward Conan, her eyes dilated with the fear of death and her lips parted in a haunting cry of despair.
Conan did not hesitate, nor did he even glance toward the chest that held the wealth of an epoch.
- Kathi Peterson's Stone Traveler has Tag trapped in the past( 34 AD Meso America, to be exact), and his only way home is to use a blessed stone- which was stolen by the bad guys. when he is about to retrieve it, during a huge natural disaster explosion( storms, quakes,volcanoes, you name it) one of his friends, Rasha, falls through the ground. He only has time to save the stone or the girl( who isn't his love interest). He chooses to save her, meets Jesus, and gets a free ride home( turns out there was more than on magic stone.)
- Used in The Waterstone. Tad, the Chosen One, is in the lair of the evil queen, and needs to defeat her and take back the waterstone, or very bad things will happen. Then she reveals that she has captured his presumed dead father, Pondleweed. Tad can either save his father or take back the stone. surprisingly for a children's book, he knows his father would not agree with his choice to save him over the world, but before he can say either way, Pondleweed Takes a Third Option and sacrifices himself. Notably, he does not get better.
- In The Red Pyramid, Sadie Kane's father has been magically bound to the Egyptian god Osiris and captured in a coffin by the god Set (It Makes Sense in Context). When she finally discovers the coffin, it is inside a magic pyramid created by Set. She learns that if she breaks open the coffin, she can probably save her father, but the power of Osiris will be consumed by Set, allowing him to reduce North America to a desert wasteland. On the other hand, if she uses The Scroll Of Banishing Set (Egyptian magic scrolls have very descriptive names), she can banish Set and save the country, but the destruction of Set's pyramid will kill her father. Very unusually, she choses to use the scroll.
- In A.L. Phillips's The Quest of the Unaligned, the hero Alaric is trapped in a cave with an extremely powerful villain, and must choose between grabbing the Prince's Crown and accepting its incalculable power, or trusting his guide and friend, Laeshana, to use it.
- In The Big Wave, Jiya, orphaned by a tsunami, is given the choice to live in poverty with his best friend Kino's family, or to live in luxury, raised by the wealthy Old Gentleman. He chooses the former.
- In Hunted, the second book of the Spirit Animals series, a villain offers Connor his family's freedom in exchange for the Iron Boar talisman that both sides had been chasing. As fits his spirit animal (a wolf), Connor accepts the bargain.
Live Action TV
- In a somewhat gruesome example, in Twisted Metal: Black, Dollface is offered the key to her mask, but taking it will close her former boss (who put the damn thing on her in the first place) in an Iron Maiden. She takes it, then decides that she didn't really want it anyway.
- Needles "Sweet Tooth" Kane is given a cure for his curse (an eternally burning skull), but is told it will only work as long as he never kills again. He decides he likes killing too much, and decapitates Calypso, deciding to just live with the constant agony.
- At the end of the Baldur's Gate series, you can choose: become a god, or stay mortal. This choice is particularly poignant if you have a romance going at the time. (Interestingly, one of your possible romantic partners actually tries to convince you to take godhood when it's offered.)
- The funny thing is, for this certain partner, actually doing as she asks you to do will give her the happier ending than staying with her.
- At the end of Ultima VII: The Black Gate, the Avatar can choose between entering the titular Moongate, returning to Earth but leaving Britannia in the clutches of Big Bad the Guardian, or destroy it but forever be prevented from returning. The choice is the player's, but the next game in the series naturally assumes the Avatar made the Friend choice.
- In the finale of Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Sam (having infiltrated a terrorist group as one of their members) is given the choice of either shooting his NSA boss (a series regular, who's been captured by the terrorists) to maintain his cover, or shooting the terrorist standing guard over them (which instantly blows his cover and causes everyone in the base to come and try to kill him).
- Pops up in Final Fantasy VI. At one point, an NPC thief and a moogle are left hanging over a ledge, and the group can choose to save one. Saving the thief nets them a Golden Hairpin, a rare, but by no means unique, relic that halves MP consumption when equipped. This causes the moogle to plummet to his (apparent) doom. Saving the moogle nets the party Mog, an optional party member with fairly useful abilities and arguably the best character-specific relic in the game, which eliminates random encounters. He can be recruited later in the game regardless of choice, but choosing the Gold Hairpin will make Mog unable to learn his Water Rondo dance.
- In Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction, Emperor Percival Tachyon gives Ratchet (the Lombax protagonist) the option to either go to the new homeworld that the Lombaxes have created and discover the mysteries of his origins or stay and attempt to save the Polaris galaxy from him.
- Spelunky has this in the endgame areas: When a level is generated with the "I hear prayers to Kali!" feeling, the player will be presented with a damsel and a solid-gold Idol suspended over a pit filled with traps and a lava pool at the bottom. Of course, canny players can rescue both.
- Only one of them actually triggers it anyway.
- This trope seems to be the only thing that can make Shirou give up on his dream of being a superhero. Of course, not just any friend. A semi-possessed friend. That he loves. Plus Ilya and all his other friends, to judge by the bad end that results if you don't do this, which implies Shirou wins by killing every other Master. At the end of that route, though, it's implied that he may still be trying for his 'idol' here as he is still training in magic, especially his reality marble. But he'll always know he knowingly turned against that path and got about half of his town killed off and nearly destroyed the world.
- In Tales of Symphonia, after breaking all the seals and thinking you finished the game you get a Your Princess Is in Another Castle moment at the Tower of Salvation when you find out the purpose of the Worldregeneration Journey is for the Chosen to die. During that scene Idiot Hero Lloyd gets asked if he'd rather have the entire world die than sacrifice one life to save it. He doesn't answer, but shortly afterward you learn in a skit that for a moment he chose to save the world rather than the Chosen.
- Dino Crisis: Regina must choose between assisting a severely wounded Gail, her commanding officer, in completing their mission objective of capturing renegade scientist Dr. Kirk, causing Gail to die in the process; or force Gail to give up to the chase and leave the island with her and Rick, allowing Dr. Kirk to escape, thus ending the mission in failure. However, Regina can also Take a Third Option by leaving Gail with Rick and going after Dr. Kirk by herself, allowing her to complete the mission without Gail dying.
- Employed in the first Overlord game where you face the dilemma of either rescuing the last surviving females of the elven race, thus ensuring the race continues... or getting a dwarven king's stockpile of gold. Needless to say, with the game's overall theme you're encouraged to pursue the latter option.
- The ending of Dubloon. You can either save the True Companions you formed throughout the game or the Chest you have been racing for the entire game.
- The ending of the adventure game Return to Mysterious Island 2: The player character discovers that her deactivation of the shield surrounding the island as part of her aborted escape attempt in the ending of the previous game has caused the island's ecosystem to start dying from foreign microorganisms. She then must choose between escaping and causing the entire island to die or reactivating the shield, saving the island but trapping her there for the rest of her life.
- Alpha Protocol likes these just a bit too much. At least thrice does your opponent put a contact (preferably a Romance Sidequest character) in one room, himself and/or your mission objective in the other room, and then announces this to the player.
- Mostly because it's effective: only one of those times are you able to actually save the contact and complete the mission, and it requires the right skills.
- In Marvel Ultimate Alliance, you enter Mephisto's lair, where he has Nightcrawler and Phoenix held hostage and rescuing one or the other alters the game's end: rescuing Nightcrawler means Phoenix dies, but she comes back as the Dark Phoenix, looking for revenge. Rescuing Phoenix has Mystique killing Professor X in revenge for Nightcrawler's death which causes the X-Men to disband.
- In Catwoman's storyline sections in Batman: Arkham City, the player is made to make a decision at one point as to whether to escape from the eponymous prison city with his reappropriated loot, or to leave it behind and go to save the dying Batman. Canonically, the latter has to happen (as the main storyline has her rescue him at that time), but the player can choose the former for a Non Standard Game Over if they wish.
- In the last mission of Saints Row: The Third, the Boss has to decide between finishing off Killbane before he escapes Steelport or save Shaundi, Viola, and Mayor Reynolds from getting blown up along with a regional monument. The latter is the more ethical choice and is canon according to Saints Row IV.
- Happens SEVERAL times in Tsukumogami - somewhere between 3 and 5 times, depending on how loosely you're willing to interpret the trope and whether you count two attempts within seconds of each other ("Oh, you don't care about this woman? Then I'll take THIS woman hostage instead...") as two separate cases. However, considering that the 'idol' in question is the only weapon capable of hurting the villains, it is perhaps understandable that they're trying everything to AVOID a direct confrontation...
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the only way to gain all fifteen Daedric artefacts for the Oblivion Walker achievement involves stabbing your ally in the back in most of their associated quests, or else losing the chance to gain the artefact involved. Understandable, since the Daedra are for the most part, a collection of Jerkass Gods.
- In Star Trek Online, Enterprise-F captain Va'Kel Shon finds himself in an conundrum: either destroy the recently activated Iconian gateway to spare everyone anything that could waltz through and lose the friendship of the Romulan Republic or leave it and allow anything to get through. The discovery of Omega molecules takes it out of their hands.
- In the Concept Album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis, the protagonist Rael is ultimately confronted with a situation where he can either escape from the mad dream he has been caught in and go back to his normal life in New York City, or risk dangerous rapids to rescue his drowning brother John (who has repeatedly refused to help Rael in his times of need). He decides to save John from the rapids, but during the confusion and peril of the struggle, the mad dream takes another turn and Rael finds that he and John are actually the same person. See also: Tomato in the Mirror, Twist Ending, and It Was His Sled.
- No one in GLOW was capable of defeating Mountain Fiji, especially not one on one, but many were more than capable of defeating her little sister. So whenever Mt Fiji came close to winning a championship in GLOW, one of her enemies would run out an attack Little Fiji or come out to taunt Mt Fiji with a kidnapped Little Fiji, forcing big sister to choose between continuing to fight the champion of forfeiting the match to save Little Fiji. Mt. Fiji always opted to save her sister.
- Valkyrie revealed itself by jumping and mercilessly beating Amazing Kong, laying out members of the SHINE roster who, somewhat unexpectedly, tried to stop them. This and an army of lawyers let Valkyrie ride a wave of intimidation to the crowning of their leader, Rain, as SHINE's first champion. But Kong didn't go away, fought off Valkyrie when they attacked her again and then joined Daffney's squad for a title match. So Valkyrie switched targets and went after one of Kong's new teammates, Solo Darling. Amazing Kong opted to save Solo, Rain retained by count out.
- Happens several times in Homestar Runner. In the original children's book that started the concept, Homestar gives up the chance to win the Strongest Man In The World Contest in order to expose Strong Bad's cheating. As a result, Pom Pom shares the victory trophy with him. The same thing happens in the remade cartoon version of it, only Pom Pom refuses to share the trophy. And in "A Jumping Jack Contest", it's Pom Pom who exposes the cheating, and Homestar who ends up winning and sharing the trophy with Pom Pom.
- In Starslip Crisis, Zillion tries to invoke this trope after he twists his ankle...and fails. His big mistake was making sure the other person didn't want him dead. Whoops.
- In The Order of the Stick, Elan uses his Genre Savvy to correctly predict that such a decision will occur. Partial subversion when he finds out he will be the hostage, or as he puts it: "Awwww, man! I didn't know * I* was going to be the girl."
- This Penny Arcade strip suggests that such a decision happens at the end of Blood on the Sand, then subverts it.
- In one Dragon Tails arc, Enigma begins to question his heritage, and decides to undergo a test to determine whether he is really related to his brothers. By the end of the arc (in which it turns out a giant bug creature with maybe-psychic powers had been influencing Engima in order to draw him away from his brothers), he receives the results of the test. His reaction...can be seen here.
- A subversion occurs in Ed, Edd n Eddy, "Don't Rain On My Ed": with less than a minute before the candy store closes and the Eds miss Customer Appreciation Day, Eddy must choose between free jawbreakers and rescuing Edd from an unexpected chicken stampede. Eddy, being the greedy jerk of the trope, goes for the jawbreakers, but by the time he stops hesitating, the store's closed.
- Gargoyles had Lexington locked-on to the escaping bad guys' hovercraft with a laser cannon, but he gives up the sure shot to rescue Brooklyn.
- Noteworthy because the baddies in question are the Pack, Lex's former heroes, who used his fandom and naivete to trap and nearly kill Goliath. Lex harbored an intense hatred since (which he's not completely over by the time the clan moves back in with Xanatos and Fox.) In fact, that episode had largely concerned Lex's lust for revenge clouding his judgment. So the fact that he gave up that killshot to save his rookery brother says a lot.
- Samurai Jack had several of these moments where he refused to jump into the time portal until the current battle was won. By the time it was, the portal had closed or been destroyed. Technically, these portals would have let him defeat Aku in the distant past and made the battle unimportant. But ancient Samurai are renowned for their rigourous adherence to a code of honour, and not for their intricate understanding of temporal paradox.
- The cast of Dungeons & Dragons would refuse to take a portal home until the people who had helped them were safe.
- Code Lyoko, "Cruel Dilemma": Somehow, Jérémie has stumbled on a solution to Aelita's materialization he's been working on for the past 8 eps... however, Yumi falls through a pit into the Digital Sea on her latest mission against XANA, and Jérémie has to use it to bail her out instead.
- In the Karate Kid cartoon, anytime they got near the idol (it was even called that) they would inevitably have to give it up to save somebody. Its nature meant that it would inevitably be gone by the time they got back to it.
- In The The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, the group finds another plumber that got stranded in the Mushroom Kingdom. He had finished building a machine that could get back to Brooklyn, but it had a short window of use. The Mario brothers have to choose between going back home or saving Princess Toadstool and Toad from King Koopa (who's theme of the week was Genghis Koopa). Here's a hint on what they chose: this isn't the series finale.
- And another episode has them actually get back to Brooklyn... only to find out that King Koopa and his Koopa Pack had followed them and were taking over the city. They end up having to lure Koopa and his minions back to the Mushroom Kingdom and destroy the pathway to Brooklyn, thus returning to the old status quo.
- In an episode of The Magic School Bus, Arnold forces his cousin Janet to make one of these, more or less so she won't end up dead on Pluto when her oxygen runs out, as she had refused to leave without the souvenirs she had collected from around the solar system; the bus couldn't hold everything she had taken. Bringing back only ''some'' of her interplanetary plunder and still most likely becoming famous apparently didn't occur to anyone. Then again, you try convincing Janet.
- Codename: Kids Next Door, "Caked Four": Numbuh 2 is out to win the Tube-A-Thon for his winless dad. He ends up saving the other competitors from being baked into a cake instead.
- In the DuckTales episode "The Golden Fleecing", Scrooge twice has to make a decision between saving Launchpad and successfully taking the fleece.
- Rocket Power, "The Big Day": Otto is out to win a skating tourney, with a training trip with Shaun White as its top prize. He ends up having to convince his father's bride-to-be that he's ready for a new mother, even though he's been against it all this time, instead.
- In "Race Across New Zealand", Otto decides to stop to help Twister, with his sprained knee, cross the finish line in a race, instead of racing for the finish line and winning the main title. Later, when it turns out that the 1st place winner cheated in the race, he is awarded the title in a tie with his sister Reggie.
- Winx Club had Aisha earning her Enchantix through such a decision. But considering how they are earned (through a sacrifice), perhaps there should have been more.
- An episode of Taz-Mania has a dream sequence in which Taz, as a super hero, is forced to choose between rescuing his family or rescuing his comic book collection. He finally chooses his family and the time spent rescuing them leaves him unable to save the comics.
- On The Wild Thornberrys, Eliza had to make a Sister or Idol Decision during a volcanic eruption. Debbie needed help freeing a trapped foot, but Eliza had been hoping to make off with a chest of gold coins for herself. Three guesses.
- Another instance occurs in The Movie. Eliza has to choose between saving her sister or keeping her powers. She ends up saving Debbie by revealing the fact that she can talk to animals, and ends up losing her abilities. She gets them back in the end though.
- Used in The Simpsons episode "Three Men and a Comic Book", where Bart has to choose between rescuing Milhouse and rescuing the copy of Radioactive Man #1 that has caused them so much trouble. Given a particularly fine comedic twist with Martin Prince calmly pointing out "If you hadn't tied me up, I could be saving the comic book right now..."
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Traffic Cam Caper", Candace saves Phineas from falling off a bridge at the expense of a disc that would let her finally accomplish her goal of busting her brothers.
- In "The Lemonade Stand", Candace is forced to decide between busting her brothers or taking an opportunity to make up with best friend Stacy after an argument. She chose the latter.
- In the first episode of The Secret Saturdays, the main character, Zak, was forced to choose between saving the life of a cryptid he had befriended or stopping the villain from getting a piece of the Kur Stone. He saved the cryptid.
- The Halloween episode of Pinky and the Brain has Brain give up not only the world domination he's been magically granted, but the possibility of trying to take it over again in the future (a big deal to someone whose entire purpose in the world revolves around trying to Take Over the World) to save Pinky's soul from
Hell Hades. Fortunately for Brain, there's a problem with the original contract, and Pinky is let off the hook anyway.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Zuko has a choice between going after the Avatar, whose capture would restore his honor, or saving his uncle Iroh who has been imprisoned by the Earth Kingdom. After much agonizing, he chooses Iroh.
- Zuko later faces the same choice, between joining Azula against the Avatar (thus restoring his honor) and helping his imprisoned uncle. He chooses Azula.
- It wasn't something he had been looking for, per se, but in Freakazoid!, Cosgrove's girlfriend Mary Beth offers to share immortality with him, which, the secret being drinking the essence of a superhero, means Freakazoid will die. A chorus sings 'What will Cosgrove do?' as he ponders the decision, before he tells them to cut it out and turns Mary Beth down.
- Adventure Time: Finn, Jake, and four Hot Dog Knights go into a labyrinth searching for wishes, the first two hoping to get a psychic double-head war elephant. Jake stretches his body to have a lifeline back to the start and by the time they get a chance for a wish each two of the hot dogs had died and Jake was dying from overstretching himself. Finn was hoping to use his wish to bring Jake back to life while Jake wished for the elephant, but then the two hot dogs and Jake wished for a box, to blow up (he meant to get big but that didn't matter), and for a sandwich, respectively.
Faced with deciding whether to save his friend or get what they came for, Finn wishes for the elephant, by Jake's suggestion, then convinces the elephant to use ITS wish to revive everyone then fly out of there to the Labyrinth guardian's great frustration.
- A rather odd variation was used in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003's season "Back to the Sewers". As the goal of that season was to save Splinter from being lost in cyberspace the MacGuffin actually was a friend (to say the least). The episode "Hacking Stockman" featured a Friend or Idol Decision in the sense that Donatello was forced to choose between the data bits he'd been tracking for the entirety of the episode and saving his brothers... which, naturally, made it a difficult decision. Hint: everyone's still alive and well at the end of the episode.
- In the second part of the two part pilot for My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Nightmare Moon tempts Rainbow Dash to abandon her friends for the chance to live her dream and lead the Shadowbolts (dark versions of her idols, the Wonderbolts, but the idol part still plays in). Rainbow Dash quickly refuses and sides with her friends.
- In the ninth episode of the second season, Rarity gets put in this position, being forced to choose between maintaining some rather important upper-class connections, and hanging out with her lower-class friends. She ends up splitting the difference.
- Also, unlike most cases, when the Friends found out, they encouraged her to go for the Idol since it really was a genuinely good opportunity for her.
- When competing to qualify for the Equestria Games in "Rainbow Falls", an injured flyer and a technicality mean Rainbow would qualify to join the Cloudsdale team with her idols, the Wonderbolts, instead of the ragtag Ponyville team. Her indecision leads her to fake an injury, but Twilight points out that "Choosing not to choose isn't really a decision." When she learns the Wonderbolts had lied about their teammate Soarin's recovery so they could get a better flyer, Rainbow tells them she realized it was wrong to ditch a teammate, and the Wonderbolts offer Soarin to rejoin the team.
- Max Tennyson from Ben 10 experiences one of these in the episode "Ultimate Weapon". The episode centers around Max chasing after the only object he failed to acquire during his time as a Plumber. Near the end he has the choice of grabbing it or saving Ben. Obviously he saves his grandson. The artifact later is revealed to have aged to the point of crumbling into dust when the leader of the Forever Knights holds it.
- In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Plastic Man (who is obsessed with money) has to choose between taking the villain's gold/jewels or saving Batman, who was a great friend/mentor and kept giving him chances to better himself, even helping him get out of prison. He saves Batman of course but is distracted by the loot for a bit, so by the time he reaches Batman, he had already been turned into an ape. Luckily, the treasure helped him fight off the villain and his henchman and the transformation was reversed.
- The first season finale of Littlest Pet Shop (2012) has Blythe having to decide whether or not she should leave her family and friends to go to a prestigious summer camp. She goes through with it, and the first episode of season 2 is her realizing it's not all it's cracked up to be.