The Big Bad tries to get the hero (or someone else) to do his bidding by taking someone precious from him and essentially holding them to ransom. It's often a significant other, frequently a wife or girlfriend.
This sort of thing tends to go in the following sequence:
Significant other is kidnapped.
Villain calls up hero and says "I've got your significant other. I'll put her on the line".
Significant other is expected/ordered to wail "Do as he says!" More often than not, they say something along the lines of "Don't do it, it's a trap!"
Villain tells hero that he is being watched. If he doesn't obey orders and/or informs the authorities, then he will kill the significant other.
The hero will try at least once to get a message to friends and usually succeeds (eventually). The friends in turn usually figure out what is going on — that their friend is in great danger, closely watched and controlled by a villain — and swing into action to help.
Hostage for MacGuffin is a subtrope for when the trope occurs with a MacGuffin. If the villain is attracted to the hero, he/she may give them the Scarpia Ultimatum.
A common variant used with lone heroes (in which case 6 on the list is not exactly an option) has the hero reluctantly doing what the villain orders him to do, only to be screwed over when the villain reneges on his promiseto let the loved one go, usually before killing the loved one in question in a nasty Kick the Dog moment. The result, for many action heroes, is often a Roaring Rampage of Revenge that usually culminates in Storming the Castle and handing the villain the mother of all asskickings for daring to mess with the loved one in the first place. Alternatively, a Roaring Rampage of Rescue ending in the rescue of the loved one may also take place.
Sometimes, a villain will do this as a plot to get a hero to betray his friends, only to have him Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves.
Can't blame many a hero for taking precautions against this.
Sometimes, of course, the intended target may feel that You Can Keep Her, in which case the whole thing is moot by Threat Backfire.
If this is the reason why the villain is doing it, then it's a case of The Commies Made Me Do It.
In the real world, a kidnapping committed for the purpose of coercing another person to commit a crime on the original criminal's behalf is called a tiger kidnapping. Most real-life kidnappings, tiger or not, tend to end peacefully, whether or not the victim sees the kidnapper's face. Media usually ignores this because of the Rule of Drama, acting like the victim will be killed the second the ransom is paid. This is largely due to pragmatism, as murder is a far more serious offense than kidnapping.
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Anime and Manga
Griffith from Berserk does this with one of the Queen's mooks in order to blackmail him into helping Griffith kill the Queen, only the hostage is the mook's young daughter.
Guts also had a habit of doing this when he was in full Jerk Ass mode.
Ichigo from Bleach has this done to him twice with Orihime as bait. Though, it was more of a 'We have your friend and potential Love Interest' moment.
Subverted in Death Note, with an exchange that goes something like this (he wasn't holding anyone hostage)
Kira: Guess who I'm holding hostage.
Raye Penber: ...No! You're holding her hostage? ("her", being Naomi Misora, Penbar's fiancée)
Kira: (smirks to self) That's right, and I'll kill her unless you do what I say.
It's later played straight when Mello kidnaps Light's little sister Sayu. Their father happens to be the head of the team working on the Kira case. Mello specficially mentions that it would be pointless to tell him not to contact the police, because he's in the police. But he does ask him to stop it spreading further.
The movie has an odd variation. Naomi takes (Light's girlfriend) Shiori hostage, intending to get him to reveal himself as Kira. It turns out to be a plan on Light's behalf, with him planning a "murder-suicide" scenario.
The Fullmetal Alchemist manga is in love with this trope, at least metaphorically. When Ed and Roy step out of line in the middling chapters, the Big Bad crew hold Winry and The Mustang Team hostage, respectively. Riza is taken hostage, as she now works in close proximity with the Big Bad crew, but the others are all in danger. Dr. Marcoh is constantly forced to do the Big Bad crew's bidding due to their hostage-taking. It gets so bad that he expresses the desire for death over having to work within the constraints any longer. Clearly Roy Mustang didn't like it so now he has his own hostage. King Bradley I have your wife. Which is later subverted when it turns out that taking Mrs. Bradley hostage was part of a Batman Gambit designed to make her realize that her husband and his top generals considered her as expendable as any member of Mustang's crew, followed by a promise from Mustang to keep her safe.
In Ikki Tousen, Toutaku wants Hakufu to kill Ryoufou for him. What does he do when she says no? He grabs Hakufu's friend and teammate Ryoumou and chokes her, telling Hakufu he'll kill her if she keeps refusing.
The series soon tops it by having the badly injured Gakushuu and Koukin being held hostage by Saji, the Sixth Ranger Traitor, so Hakufu goes face him after defeating and killing Toutaku. And it seems the writers love that, since in Dragon Destiny Kan'u surrenders herself to Kyoushou High when told by the Three Pillared Gods that her teammates (including her Les YayLove Interest and leader, Ryuubi) are cornered by practically every Kyoushou fighter.
Sango from InuYasha was occasionally coerced with threats against, or promises to release, her Brainwashed and Crazy brother Kohaku. After the first couple of times she finally seemed to get that Naraku is a liar and stopped going along with it.
Mamoru Chiba is kidnapped a couple of times over the course of Sailor Moon. Usually this isn't for any purpose except to brainwash him to fight the good guys, though twice in the anime, his kidnapping is actually used to get the heroes to act. In the first example, during Sailor Moon S, Kaolinite figures out Usagi's true identity as Sailor Moon and traps Tuxedo Kamen in glass after taking Usagi's compact. She then demands Usagi meet her at the Tokyo Tower if she wants him back. In reality, she's just baiting a trap to get an opportunity to take Usagi's pure heart, which she believes to have a talisman. Later in the series, Nehellenia possesses Mamoru via a glass mirror shard in his eye, and kidnaps him in order to lure Usagi into her realm.
Zoisite loves this strategy in the anime. Zoisite has his youma kidnap Naru in order to threaten Nephrite, as he's figured out Nephrite is obsessed with her, and tries to ransom her for the Black Crystal using three powerful youma. Nephrite just proceeds to beat up the youma and take Naru back, though Zoisite ends up killing him a little while later anyway. Later in the season, Zoisite uses Naru again to threaten Sailor Moon into giving up the only rainbow crystal the Sailor Senshi have collected, this time by having a youma suffocate her until Sailor Moon gives up and hands it over (though he initially planned to just turn Naru into a youma and threaten her that way, but he missed his attack and hit a Power Ranger parody instead.) Finally, Zoisite captured the Sailor Senshi through a convoluted scheme in order to force Tuxedo Mask to give up the rainbow crystals which he had collected. This is the only time he actually failed because Sailor Venus made her first appearance in this episode, thus avoiding his trap...though he still got information on Tuxedo Mask's true identity in the process.
Rubeus captures all four of the Guardian Senshi during Sailor Moon R and demands Sailor Moon arrive in his UFO to hand over Chibiusa and the ginzuishou if she wants them back.
Interesting subversion in 20th Century Boys; the bad guys kidnap the daughter of a scientist whose help they need; however over his ensuing years of work, she becomes converted to their side, and is a minor villain throughout the rest of the series.
This is used quite a bit in Yu-Gi-Oh!. Pegasus takes Yugi's grandfather's soul to make him compete in his tournament. Then there's the Joey anchor duel. Then Duke Devlin humiliates Joey and makes Yugi duel to get him out of the dog suit. I'm sure there's more.
Mokuba. He is kidnapped or placed in some sort of mortal peril (or both) at least once a season because the villain has an agenda against his brother.
Done in Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu when someone tells Sousuke that they have Chidori kidnapped. So before showing up to make a deal with the bad guys he kidnaps or threatens EVERY SINGLE MOOK'S MOST PRECIOUS SIGNIFICANT OTHER to force them to give up Chidori. Crowning Moment Of Awesome indeed.
Gunsmith Cats: Buskie kidnaps Alan Scott's daughter to force Scott to deliver Rally into an ambush unarmed.
Minerva pulls of a twisted version in Fairy Tail when she tells Sting, her ally, that she's holding his closest companion Lector hostage. Because she's just saved Lector's life as well Sting would already do whatever she wanted. She's just adding the extra punch in the gut to try and make him fight for higher stakes.
Almost subverted in the comic miniseries Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge. The agents of the Big Bad Libra kidnap the father of Rogues leader Captain Cold. They threaten to kill him unless Cold and the Rogues surrender. But the bad guys don't understand that his father's sadistic abuse and terror was the main factor in shaping Cold's personality. So he tells them that he will hunt them down, kill them, and kill his father himself. The Rogues do kill the bad guys, but Cold does not kill his father. Instead he orders his teammate Heatwave to burn him to death.
Transmetropolitan makes use of this with Spider Jerusalem's wife's cryogenically preserved head. Mostly subverted in that Spider does not actually care about his ex-wife, much to the consternation of those who have her. Spider then completely subverts this by throwing his wife's cryogenically preserved head into the river. Since she was the one who had angered the kidnappers in the first place, they then calm down and leave.
Bungled by Fink and Mean Machine Angel in Judge Dredd when they abduct Dredd's landlady assuming she is his wife.
X-Men foe Nimrod, a Sentinel from the future, forced an alternate timeline Forge to repair him by holding his daughter hostage. This is after he murdered Forge's wife — Storm in this timeline — right in front of the kid.
The Royal Reaper: Oh, she's safe. For now. I'm taking good care of her. Very good care indeed.
Simba: If you hurt her, then—
The Royal Reaper: I'm afraid it's too late for warnings now, Simba. I've already... injured Nala to a certain extent, so she won't be running away from the location where I've held her captive. Was it necessary? Yes. Was it fun? Yes. Will I do it again? Yes.
In the Mass Effect fanfic Interstitium, Wrex and Shepard have to set this up in order to convince the other krogan to let Mordin take care of some personal business on their planet. Since Mordin doesn't have a wife, however, they have to fake it. With Miranda playing the part, and Mordin hamming it up for all it's worth.
Jim Rhodes helps with the Program in 72 Hours because his family is being held hostage by the government.
A Growing Affection has the Fire Daimyo's daughter kidnapped by the Big Bad. The price for the girl's safety? That the Fire Nation and Hidden Leaf Village stay out of the coming war.
Gary Oldman ups this trope's usual ante in Air Force One: "When you talk to the President, you might remind him that I am holding his wife, his daughter, his chief of staff, his national security advisor, his classified papers - and his baseball glove!" And it's that last part that really pisses everyone off.
Only Tim Curry could have delivered that line any better.
Bayard the bloodhound, in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, reluctantly serves the Red Queen because she's holding his wife and their pups in her dungeon.
Played with in Austin Powers. When Austin is about to capture Dr. Evil, Alotta appears holding Vanessa at gunpoint, telling Austin to let him go. At this point Scott walks in, so Austin grabs and holds him at gunpoint in exchange for Vanessa. Dr. Evil is completely indifferent.
In The Big Lebowski the (non-Dude) Jeffrey Lebowski's wife, Bunny, is "kidnapped" and held for one million dollars ransom.
In Bon Cop, Bad Cop, the villains kidnap the French cop's daughter in similar fashion.
The initial premise of Schwarzenegger's Commando is that the baddies have kidnapped his daughter to force him into doing their bidding.
In Capricorn One, the astronauts are told the safety of their families is contingent on their willingness to cooperate with the fake moon landing.
Die Hard plays around with this. McClane's wife is among the hostages taken by Hans' crew, but Hans is completely unaware of this until late in the movie. And once he does find out and radios McClane to tell him about it, he can't get a hold of him because he's already fighting The Dragon.
The fourth movie has the villains capturing his daughter instead. Instead of even feigning that he'll cooperate, he just tells them he's going to kill them all and take her back.
In Despicable Me,up-and-coming supervillain Vector kidnaps Gru's adopted daughters and demands the moon, which Gru has shrunk and removed from its orbit, in exchange. Gru complies, but when Vector goes back on the deal, he finds himself dealing with an enraged Papa Wolf.
The Firewall-esque Lifetime Movie of the WeekThe Kidnapping has Judd Nelson kidnap a bank employee's daughter (and her babysitter, who they promptly kill when she tries to escape with the kid) to get her to give them access to a specific safe-deposit box.
Subverted and then played straight in Akira Kurosawa's High and Low: kidnappers tell a wealthy industrialist they have his son, except they grabbed the his servants' son by mistake. After a lot of conscience wrestling — close a major deal or save someone's child — he pays the ransom. The rest of the movie follows the cops trying to track down the kidnappers, and the kidnappers reasons for their crime.
The movie Hostage: Bad guy kidnaps Bruce Willis' family to force Bruce to get a DVD that incriminates him from a hostage situation going on elsewhere. After resolving the hostage situation and getting the DVD, he manages to kill the bad guy and save his family.
In the Marvel Spider-Man films, this happens to Peter Parker all the time—Mary Jane is held hostage in some manner by supervillains at least four times; as is Aunt May, twice; and so are quite a number of innocent civilians throughout the trilogy. In the second movie, it's done by a villain who doesn't even know that Peter is Spider-Man.
In The Karate Kid Part II, the villain Chozen forces Daniel to fight him by threatening to kill Kumiko, the Japanese girl Daniel loves. He doesn't actually kidnap her, but he does capture her in the middle of a festival and hold a knife to her throat in front of the entire village, so it counts.
The film version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has a variation that might be called I Have Your You. The Big Bad steals Dorian Gray's portrait — yes, that one — and uses it as leverage for his cooperation. Interestingly for a villain, he actually honors their agreement once his victim holds up his end of it.
In a more straightforward example from the same film, the Big Bad forces the cooperation of the scientists he kidnapped by holding their wives and children in prison cells.
The movie Ransom is a complete subversion of this trope. Instead of paying the ransom for his son, he offers the amount of 2 million bucks to anyone who can find and rescue his son instead, because he assumes his son is either 1. already dead, or 2. the kidnappers have no intention of returning his son anyway.
In RED the CIA captures Frank's love interest, Sara. When Cooper tries to use this to get Frank to turn himself in, the CIA runs a phone trace. As it turns out, Frank was in Cooper's house at the time while Cooper's wife and kids were outside; Cooper is shocked and promises that Sara would not be hurt.
Red Eye: "Right now, our guy is parked outside your dad's house, listening to a little smooth jazz while he sharpens his 12-inch K-Bar. That's a knife."
The kidnappers in Ruthless People threaten to kill Sam Stone's wife. Turns out, however, that he was going to kill her, and the kidnappers appear to have saved him the trouble.
In the Made-for-TV MovieSan Francisco International (another proud MST 3 K alumnus), a group of thieves do this to an airline pilot to force him to keep his flight for the day grounded, as part of a Evil Plan to smuggle the proceeds of a bank robbery out of town. (Their leader also kidnaps a female airport employee for another stage of the plan.)
The first Saw plays this pretty straight with Dr. Gordon's family. In an interesting subversion, in the second movie Detective Matthews's son is taken hostage, but, in order to get him back, Matthew's is ordered not to steal/kill/etc. but... to do nothing. He fails miserably in one of the best twist endings ever.
Subverted (possibly inverted) in the movie Se7en: Less "I have your wife" and more "You have your wife's head.". The idea is still to use this to get the hero to do what the villain wants.
Superman II. Ursa has the 3 Kryptonian supervillains take Lois Lane along with them to the Fortress of solitude with the intent of using her as a hostage against Superman.
The Usual Suspects has a "flashback" of how Keyser Soze came to power. Low-level thugs take his wife and children hostage while he's out on business. He comes home to find them under guard and with guns pointed at them. He then shoots his wife, multiple thugs and his kids. He tells the only remaining thug still alive to tell his bosses what happened.
Shooter. The bad guys kidnap Sarah, which makes Bob realize how much he cares for her.
Nick Memphis: I didn't know you had a woman.
Bob Lee Swagger: Neither did I... until they took her.
The Man Who Knew Too Much sees Dr. Ben McKenna receive warning about the impending assassination of a prime minister. The people in charge of the plot try to prevent Ben from telling the police by holding his son hostage.
Act of Valor: Miller shows Christo a recording of the latter's daughter during his interrogation, with this implied. Then immediately subverted; he is not threatening Christo's daughter, he's just showing him his daughter to remind him of what he will lose if he doesn't cooperate and gets sent to prison for the rest of his life. When Christo asks if Miller will leave his family alone, he emphatically replies that he would never harm Christo's family. It's a brilliant piece of subtext without a direct threat, because you know Christo was wondering how in the hell this guy got footage of his daughter.
Killer Elite. A Retired Badass is forced to do One Last Job when his mentor tries fleeing with the money rather than taking on the dangerous assignment. After completing the job, he's retired to his home when he gets an unexpected phone call from his employer saying he still has to kill one more person, and implying that he has hitman's girlfriend. He rushes to her room only to find she's sleeping peacefully. Then he finds a cartridge case tucked into her hair.
Welcome to the Punch (2013). A Professional Killer goes to visit his grandmother, only to find the Cowboy Cop and Villain Protagonist sitting on either side of her, posing as his old army mates who've come to visit. Unknown to grandma, a third man standing right behind her is pointing a pistol at her head. They make it clear the killer is to come out "for some drinks" while one of them waits with grandma to ensure his co-operation. The killer calls their bluff.
"You think that keeping a hostage is going to force me into a corner? But none of you have been where I have, seen what I've seen. None of you have the selfless commitment. And not one of you possesses what it takes...to actually put a bullet through the back of that woman's head." (shootout ensues)
High Lord Kalarus in Codex Alera likes this tactic. When he rebels against Gaius, he kidnaps the High Lady Placida and other loved ones of important nobles in order to insure that they stay neutral in the civil war. He even took Rook's, his own chief spy and assassin, daughter hostage to ensure her cooperation and locked her in the same room as Placida. Placida is a Person of Mass Destruction in her own right so she probably could have escaped on her own, but Kalarus set the security systems to go for the kid first if she tried to escape, since he knew that she would not sacrifice a child for her own freedom.
In the book, play and movie The Desperate Hours, three escaped cons take the protagonist's family hostage in their own home.
This is why Wellington Yueh betrays the Atreides in Dune, with a twist: the Harkonnens have Yueh's wife Wanna, and they are torturing her. Constantly. Yueh's deal with the Baron is that the Baron will kill Wanna, putting an end to her miserable existence. This is why Yueh also sacrifices his life to assassinate the Baron; the plan fails, but it's kind of sweet.
In Fangs of K'aath 2: Guardians of Light, the villain Tzu-Khan has the good Shah Raschid's wives kidnapped. With them in his clutches, he makes contact to the Raschid through a magic mirror about how he intends to have them horrifically tortured and yet unable to die unless the Shah surrenders. However, the heroic wives break free just long enough to reveal the location of the villain's army and instruct their husband both to break his mirror to cut off contact for more threats, and "Kill the bastards!" Well aware of what his wives are sacrificing sending that message, Raschid wastes no time to honour those demands. Fortunately, a combination of cunning and The Power of Friendship allows the wives to not only individually escape, but to join the fight against the villain.
The premise of Dean Koontz's novel The Husband. "We have your wife. You can get her back for two million cash."
In Night Over Water by Ken Follett, Eddie the mechanic must help hijack the airship because the bad guys are holding his pregnant wife hostage.
In The Scarlet Pimpernel, Chauvelin gets Marguerite to help him because he has taken her brother, Armand.
In one of the sequels, Eldorado, Armand betrays the Pimpernel to Chauvelin in exchange for the freedom of Armand's lover, Jeanne L'Ange, who had been arrested for helping him elude capture; ironically, the Pimpernel has already freed Jeanne from prison.
The third Soldiers of Barrabas (a Heroes R Us series by Jack Hild) novel had enemies of Nile Barrabas from his Vietnam days kidnapping his girlfriend and saying "You've got 48 hours before we kill her. Come and get her." The Big Bad thinks his jungle fortress surrounded by booby traps and ambushes will take care of Barrabas and his men, but they kill an ambush squad and infiltrate up their hidden retreat path, which is free of booby traps.
Happens all the time actually, though it's not always shown how. Though there's usually a mention later of a number of mooks being bumped off in the process by Jim's armed and psychopathic wife.
The Strain: The Master hides in Eph's apartment to await his return to tell him "I have your pig wife."
In Superman novel The Last Days of Krypton, the villain kidnaps the hero's wife. It's a two-for-one hostage since his wife is pregnant.
The Big Bad of the Tamuli, the sequel trilogy to the Elenium by David Eddings, sends The Dragon to kidnap the knight Sparhawk's wife. Seeing as 1) Sparhawk has a handful of assorted gods who like him and are willing to help him out, and 2) there's nothing in the world he loves more than his wife, this can only be considered a Very Bad Idea in the long run.
In Twilight, James blackmails Bella to sneak away from the Cullens by pretending he has her mother as a hostage: in reality, he just played a recording of her voice over the phone.
Standard peacekeeping method in Westeros. Defeated nobles send their children to live with the victors as hostages/wards. The kids are typically treated well, but there's the ever lingering threat that the children will be killed if the defeated lords misbehave. Most prominent example in the series: Theon Greyjoy.
In Grunts!, Ashnak uses the threat their mother's life to "encourage" Will and Ned Braindiman to steal nullity talismans from the Visible College for him.
Gender flipped in Mockingjay where President Snow kidnaps and tortures Katniss' husband as one step in foiling the revolution. A pretty interesting example since Katniss and Peeta aren't actually married, Peeta just claimed that they were married and pregnant in the hopes of gaining sympathy and sponsors for Katniss in the Quarter Quell. They are engaged, but that's kind of on the fake side too.
What turns it into Fridge Horror is when she realizes that Snow insisting that she convinces him that her feelings for Peeta are genuine had nothing to do with quenching the riots in Panem, as Katniss originally thought, and everything to do with this trope. Being no idiot Snow knows that Peeta's value to him is in direct proportion to how much Katniss cares about him. Unfortunately for Peeta Snow figures out that Katniss is in love with him before she herself realizes it.
In a way this trope applies to all Hunger Games victors. Unless they stay in line and do whatever Snow asks of them (like prostituting themselves) their families will pay the price. As Johanna Mason and Haymitch found out the hard way.
Lieutenant Vulpes forces Mehitabel to spy for the Bastion by threatening her lover Hallam Bellamy with torture in Doctrine of Labyrinths.
In The Tombs by Clive Cussler and Thomas Perry, this is attempted. It fails miserably. The husband, Sam Fargo, mounts a rescue while his wife Remi plots a daring escape. For good measure, they set fire to the kidnapper's house on the way out.
Live Action TV
Practically a weekly event on the Highlander TV show. Evil immortals really like to lure Mac in with this one.
24 managed to carry one off, very successfully, for 8 episodes of season one, as Jack's wife and daughter were kidnapped. Among other things, Jack was forced to shoot his friend Nina (but set it up so she'd survive). Her later revelation as The Mole caused some rather rapid Retcon.
24 also used this trope in season three with Tony's wife Michelle being kidnapped. And then in season four, they reversed it as Tony was kidnapped and Michelle was forced to work with the bad guy.
In Alias series 2, in order for Sark to give her an antidote to save Vaughn from a deadly illness, Sydney was forced to assassinate (or rather attempt, it turned out to be a ploy for the two to work together) Arvin Sloane. This is a slight variation on the scenario.
In Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined) Admiral Adama threatens to have Cally Tyrol put up against a bulkhead and shot, to force Chief Tyrol to end a refinery workers' strike. And this is the good guy to one of his own men.
After playing it straight multiple times, there is a spot of Lampshade Hanging on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Harmony claims to have the perfect plan to defeat Buffy, but when Spike outlines the above plan as a guess, she steals the idea. It fails miserably.
In another episode, he has a henchman with Micheal's brother. They manage to get him to back off, by making him believe they have someone ready to kill his daughter.
The shortlived series Drive used this to force Alex Tully into the race, with the implication that they would release her only if he won.
Neatly defied in the Due South episode "The Vault". Ray and Fraser are trapped in a vault with armed robbers outside. The robbers capture Ray's sister Francesca, and call a phone located inside the vault. They inform the heroes that they have Francesca, and Fraser immediately responds by disabling the phone before the robbers have a chance make any demands. Fraser correctly reasons that if the robbers cannot communicate with them, they have no way to threaten them and no reason to harm Francesca.
In Security: The Dutch kidnap Burt's parents and force him to steal N.I.S.A. technology to ensure their safety.
At the end of the miniseries Kill Point, Worthy Opponent Mr. Wolf takes negotiator Horst Cali's wife hostage to force him to slip Wolf and his team out of the police standoff. To his credit, Wolf doesn't seem happy to do it and, when one of his men decides not to let her go, he gives Cali a gun and covering fire to go to her rescue.
In the LOST episode "The Hunting Party", after Jack tells Kate to stay behind while he, Sawyer and Locke search for Michael, she follows them and gets captured by the Others. Jack was not too happy.
In the MacGyver episode "Hearts of Steel", disgruntled steel mill workers attempt to kidnap the daughter of the industrialist who put them out of work, but end up abducting his housekeeper's daughter instead.
Spoofed in a MADtv skit, were the bad guys keep doing this to the hero, ending with "I have your goldfish!"
NCIS does this in "See No Evil", until it turns out the officer pulled it on himself to get $2m from the Pentagon.
Also, the Mexican drug cartel's have Gibbs' heterosexual life partner, Franks.
In the current third season of Prison Break, the Companyblackmails the brothers into working for them by kidnapping the remaining people they care about. When the seemingly impossible task set by the villains forces the brothers to make a desperate attempt at a rescue, one of the captives is executed as an object lesson.
In RoboCop: The Series, a villain kidnaps Robo's wife from his old life, i.e. Mrs. Alex Murphy. The item he is to steal is a ray gun that causes heart attacks, called the Heartbreaker. Initially, his built-in Restraining Bolt stops him, using Obstructive Code of Conduct three, "uphold the law". As soon as Robo pictures his wife in danger, directive two — "protect the innocent" — overrides this.
This is subverted in an episode of Sharpe, when a villainous Frenchman tells his more noble countryman he won't plead for the release of his English wife. Sharpe promptly walks over and helps the English wife mount a horse behind her husband.
In the first season finale of Los Simuladores, their leader Santos is kidnapped in exchange for helping a mob boss being set free.
Done to Miles O'Brien on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The twist: the villain was actually a Pah Wraith (a noncorporeal being) possessing his wife, and could kill her instantaneously. The only solution was to figure out a way to kill the Wraith even more instantaneously, without letting it catch on to the plan.
Seems to happen a few times in Supernatural, though it's more like "I have your brother." This is discussed a few times, with others saying that Sam and Dean are each others' Achilles' Heel, since they would do almost anything to save each other.
Gwen's mother, husband and daughter are held hostage by Olivia Colasanto in Torchwood: Miracle Day to blackmail Gwen into kidnapping Jack for her.
White Collar: In the cliffhanger ending of the third series mid season finale, Keller has kidnapped Peter's wife, El.
Keller likes this one; in "Payback" he kidnaps Peter to force money out of Neal.
Toyed with on The Wire: Brother Mouzone kidnapped and tortured Omar's boyfriend Dante for information, and then held him hostage, agreeing to release him to Omar on the condition that Omar work with him to take out Stringer Bell. Omar and Dante were on the outs anyway, Omar was unimpressed by the fact that Dante had given up information on him, and Omar had been looking for a chance ever since Stringer had his previous boyfriend tortured and killed two years prior; Dante is released to Omar, but they then part ways.
On The X-Files, Mulder makes it very clear very early on in the series that the only way to hurt him is to hurt Scully, and that he'll go to great lengths to get her back. So, Scully falls victim to this quite a lot. But as the bad guys quickly figure out, this never has the desired effect. If anything, it makes Mulder even more resistant to dealing with them and he gets her back his way. Plus the Roaring Rampage of Revenge that goes along with this. This trope makes up about half of the 1998 movie Fight the Future.
It works the other way around, too. And if anything, Scully is even more frightening when Mulder is taken. In season 8, Mulder is missing and she unleashes hell on whoever gets in her way. Never mind that she's pregnant. It takes Skinner pointing out that Mulder wouldn't want her to risk her life and the baby's to get her even take a breath.
An inversion in BBC's Sherlock. In "The Great Game", Moriarty strapped bombs to people Sherlock had never met and gave him a time limit to solve several mysterious crimes. Sherlock was mostly dispassionate towards the hostages and only cooperated because he found the mysteries amusing. When the final victim was John Watson, however, Sherlock no longer found the game fun and attempted to appease Moriarty with valuable government information. Which turned out not to be Moriarty's object after all!
This trope is the reason why the human rights commission agent in NCIS: Los Angeles uncharacteristically attempted to kill the defected sister of the Sudanese dictator in transit before she could testify against her brother: A French CEO kidnapped his wife and daughter, and he threatened to have them killed if he didn't assassinate her.
Done by the villain in the Rizzoli & Isles episode "My Own Worst Enemy" is order to ensure the cooperation of an importer.
In Kamen Rider Double, this was done in the Accel movie. Akiko is kidnapped by the Commander Dopant, who believes that killing her will cause Ryu to become consumed by vengeance and "cleanse" the city of evil. The plan fails due to Ryu being changed by Akiko's love, and he instead takes down Commander Dopant as Kamen Rider Accel.
In the finale of Power Rangers S.P.D., Emperor Gruumm reveals that he has Doggie Kruger's long-thought-dead wife Isinnia in his possession.
Firefly: "Objects in Space". The bounty hunter Jubal Early tries to force Simon at gun point to either reveal where River is or help him capture her. Simon would rather die than betray his sister, so Jubal points out that Simon's smart enough to play along with a view to taking advantage of any slip-up Jubal might make. Simon remains unimpressed so he then reveals that he has captured Kaylee (Simon's Unresolved Sexual TensionLove Interest) and will rape her to death if Simon doesn't comply. At this point, Simon takes the "seeking advantage" option.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand plays with this. Sura isn't exactly kidnapped, she's captured and sold as a slave, but Batiatus promises Spartacus to search for her, buy her and reunite them in exchange for Spartacus behaving well. When Spartacus, after some minor hiccups, behaves and is victorious in the arena, Batiatus is true to his word, buys Sura and brings her to the ludus. Only to order her killed right before they reunite, so she dies in Spartacus' arms.
Breakout Kings: In "Queen of Hearts", Lilah Tompkins escapes from prison by claiming to have had an accomplice kidnap a guard's son, and threatening to kill him unless the guard cooperates. She shows the guard a photo of his son on a mobile phone in order to convince him She was bluffing, but the guard had no way of knowing that.
Happens to Mac when Christine is kidnapped in CSI NY 'Seth and Apep'. Although, it's actually a relief to Mac in one sense-hearing Christine's voice proved that the severed tongue Mac was sent earlier was not Christine's and that she was still ok.
In one episode of Person of Interest, a surgeon's spouse is held hostage to force the surgeon to 'accidentally' kill a high-profile patient while he's on the operating table. What makes this invocation is that it is one of the first (Possibly the first on network television) where this trope is used on a same-sex couple.
Happens in Arrow, with Count Vertigo kidnapping Felicity and then calling Oliver from her phone. He then threatens to kill her if he doesn't surrender and allow himself to be killed. Oliver shows up at the required place, but isn't willing to get himself killed, so the Count almost kills Felicity. A very angry Oliver kills him before he can hurt her.
Mission: Impossible: In "The Wall", the villain kidnaps the daughter of a key negotiator in order to sabotage a set of diplomatic talks.
Modesty Blaise: In "Samantha and the Cherub", Lucy Kolin, the wife of Soviet musician who defected to the West, is kidnapped. Her husband is told to renounce his defection and return to the USSR if he ever wants to see her again.
Also in Assassin's Creed: Revelations Ahmet kidnaps and threatens to kill Sofia Sarto in order for Ezio to deliver the Masyaf Keys. Ezio gives in, and Ahmet releases a girl that's dressed like Sofia, but ends up being a doppleganger. Ezio eventually finds and reaches Sofia moments before she is killed by hanging.
Subverted in Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn: Bodhi will warn you against continuing to oppose her lest you lose everything dear to you, and kidnap your love interest character, if any — but will offer no deal not to hurt them if you yield, presumably because she knows you have no choice but to follow her anyway and because she likes to be sadistic.
In the most recent development of BlazBlue, this eventually happens to Litchi Faye-Ling when Relius Clover took hostage of her boyfriend-turned-freaky... thing Arakune and told her to join NOL, or she'll never get the cure which NOL has, or even see him alive again. This plays up Litchi's Love Martyr qualities and by the end of the series, she pulls a Face-Heel Turn and hampers Ragna's quest to destroy NOL. It's not known how she'll end up since her Face-Heel Turn shows at the Cliff Hanger ending.
In Clash At Demonhead, Bang is told that his girlfriend has been kidnapped and instructed to meet one of the bad guys at a specific location. It's a lie; she was never kidnapped.
The plot of the original Double Dragon is about Billy and Jimmy being forced to fight their way into the Black Warriors' turf to save Billy's girlfriend Marian.
At one point in Dragon Age II, a rebel mage group kidnaps one of your party members - usually your love interest or sibling, but if neither of those are available, they'll go for the companion you have maximum friendship with - and demands you aid them to secure their safe return.
Malcolm Hawke was in a similar situation. Larius threatened his wife to force him to seal Corypheus with Blood Magic.
In the Attract Mode for Final Fight, Damnd (the Round 1 boss) calls Haggar and tells him to turn on the TV. It reveals his daughter Jessica with her hands tied behind her back.
Haggar: What have you done to her?!
Damnd: Nothing yet. But we'd enjoy the opportunity.
In The Force Unleashed 2, Darth Vader tries to force Starkiller to work for him again by kidnapping Juno Eclipse, the woman he loves.
Vader: Find and kill General Kota. If you refuse, the woman dies. You will return to me and give yourself to The Dark Side. If you resist, she dies. And when your training is complete, you will hunt down and execute the rebel leaders. If you FAIL, SHE DIES!
The motivation for the protagonist in The Getaway. Hilariously parodied by the Unskippable crew:
Charlie Jolson: I ring you, you do the job. You don't do what I tell you, the kid dies. You don't do it where I tell you, the kid dies. You don't do it when I tell you, the kid dies! Are you getting my drift? Now you want to see your kid again, you do exactly what I say. You talk to anyone, you're late, or you let me down, your kid dies! Do I make myself clear?
Paul Saunders (as Mark): But what if I go skydiving?
The whole point of the video game Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. Kane is forced into finding his mercenary friends' lost fortune when they take his wife and daughter hostage.
In this case, though, the wife gets killed, which starts the above-mentioned Roaring Rampage of Revenge, and depending on the ending, the daughter either hates Kane forever or is killed while trying to escape. The latter is the good ending.
This happens twice to Kairi in Kingdom Hearts II. She gets kidnapped by Axel, and then Saix kidnaps her while she's already kidnapped.
The reason for the actions of Dr. Cossack in Mega Man 4, as Dr. Wily has his daughter hostage.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney did this in the last case of the second game, only with the hero's beloved assistant Maya rather than his significant other.
Whether Maya happens to be Phoenix's significant other or not is up for debate, as the Ace Attorney fandom happens to be one of the fiercest with its absurd amount of pairings for the Loads and Loads of Characters that show up in the series. A majority of the heterosexual shippers tend to go with Maya being Phoenix's girlfriend, so the trope would be perfectly valid here.
The freeware RPG Game Quintessence - The Blighted Venom: Lunair kidnapped Reivier's wife Serai to Aeria under orders of the Duke, but after finding out that her own family betrayed her, struck a deal with Reivier that she would bring Serai back if he gets her the cure to the Quintessence's aftermath.
In the first Resident Evil game, Wesker blackmails Barry to do his bidding by using the latter's family as leverage - if Barry doesn't do what Wesker says, his family will die.
Sophitia Alexandra in Soul Calibur 4 is a sacred woman, loving mother and a holy fighter. Then her children get infected with the evil sword Soul Edge and it told her to destroy all its enemies, otherwise her kids die. This drives Sophitia's Mama Bear qualities that she ends up betraying everything she stood for to protect her kids. She gets better... thanks to Algol suddenly growing sympathy for her and helping her destroy Soul Edge.
In Tales of Destiny, the reason why Leon Magnus betrays Stahn is because his Brainwashed and Crazy father Hugo Gilchrist took hostage of Leon's favorite maid/mother figure Marian; forcing him to fight Stahn off and the surrounding circumstances ended up killed him.
Eddy Gordo in Tekken is mostly a normal guy, who does love his mentor. In 5. mentor goes out of jail, but is sickly. He fought in the 5th tournament to get the cure, failed to win. Then, Jin Kazama, after apparently having a Face-Heel Turn as the new boss of Mishima Zaibatsu, moved his mentor to his hospital and offered Eddy the cure if he works for him in the upcoming war with the world. Eddy reluctantly accepted, but in the end, he found out that Jin was lying and his mentor is dead. Even though Jin turns out to be executing The Plan for a greater good, that's the last straw for Eddy and he quits the Zaibatsu.
Inverted in Wing Commander II, the traitor attempts to hold Spirit's fiancée for ransom. It doesn't quite work.
In Final Fantasy VII, Cait Sith holds Barret's adopted daughter Marlene hostage in order to force the party to continue working with him as they head to the Temple of the Ancients, at least, sort of. He ends up working with the party, and protects Marlene when Midgar is in danger on Discs 2 and 3.
In Final Fantasy IX, Kuja pulled this off, holding the entire party hostage in order to get Zidane and the party members of Zidane's choice to go fetch the Gulug Stone from Oeilvert. (This was immediately followed up by him kidnapping Eiko, though in this case, it was for his own purposes, not because he wanted something from the party.)
In the original Metal Gear, Ellen Madnar was held hostage by Outer Heaven so her father would cooperate in developing Metal Gear.
In Metal Gear Solid, the Pentagon arranges for Meryl Silverburgh to be captured by the Sons of Big Boss by deliberately sending her to Shadow Moses with full knowledge that she's being sent the same day she'll revolt in order to force Roy Campbell to not only cooperate in halting the revolt, but also keep secrets from Solid Snake (such as Metal Gear REX's development and Snake being used as a vector for a bioweapon virus known as FOXDIE). In the in-game novel on the events in the sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, its also revealed that not only were the Patriots behind the Pentagon's decision in regards to Meryl being sent, but also the implication that they would have Meryl and Roy Campbell killed should Campbell even attempt to expose the secrets to Snake.
Metal Gear Solid 2 has two instances of this in the game (three, counting the aforementioned in-game novel), all of which the Patriots were responsible of doing: The first is with Olga Gurlukovich: The Patriots kidnapped her child during birth, and they threatened to kill her child should Olga either disobey their orders or fail her mission (in this case, if Raiden ends up killed). The second time is to Raiden himself: Not only does he have to save Olga's child after she died in an act of sacrifice, but now he has to live for Rosemary and his unborn child, as they are holding her hostage, and she's pregnant, and it is implied that even after Raiden succeeded in the exercise, they are still holding them hostage.
Something similar is revealed to be the reason why The Sorrow and The Boss fought to the death in Dolinovodno: They had to fight due to The Boss's failure and her unauthorized usage of the Philosopher's spy network or else they would murder Ocelot.
Used against Abel in Fire Emblem : Mystery of the Emblem. The Archanea soldiers occupying Altea kidnap Est, forcing him to fight against Marth's army, although he can be persuaded to rejoin again after speaking to either Marth or Est.
In Geneaology of the Holy War, Travant kidnaps Hannibal's adoptive son Corple to force him to fight. Path of Radiance does the We Have Your Younger Siblings, Radiant Dawn is I Have Your Milk-Sister and Awakening does this twice with Maribelle and later Emmeryn-both ploys by Gangrel in an attempt to get the Fire Emblem all for himself.
In The Space Bar, the police detective main character's partner is kidnapped and held hostage by the criminal they're chasing, and the Big Bad regularly calls the main character's PDA to taunt him with his partner's potential fate. Since the two seem to be good friends as well as work partners, it ends up being a rather significant motivation.
In Danganronpa, every chapter, Monobear provides the students with an artificial "motive" to entice them to kill one another. I Have Your Wife, or at least a variation of it, plays out as the "motive" of chapter 1: Monobear shows each student videos of something horrible happening to either their friends or loved ones (Makoto Naegi's family caught in an earthquake, Sayaka Maizono's idol group disbanding and everyone forgetting about her, Mondo Oowada's gang breaking up, something bad happening to Leon Kuwata's baseball team, etc.). Monobear teases the students with the possibility that the situations on the videos might be real, so wouldn't it be a good idea for a student to commit murder, "graduate" from the school, and thus be able to go find out? The student who finally takes Monobear up on that is Sayaka, but it doesn't work because when she tries to kill Leon, Leon successfully defends himself, and then kills her.
And he later uses it again while holding Sakura Oogami's beloved dojo hostage and forcing her to be The Mole. She only gets out of the deal via killing herself.
Seen in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim when the Hearthfire DLC is installed. The Dragonborn may come home from a hard day's adventuring to find a ransom note from a thug called Rochelle the Red, who has taken the hero's beloved wife/husband captive. If the Dawnguard DLC is also installed, the spouse may be abducted by vampires instead. As the kidnappers shortly learn, it's not really a smart idea to antagonize the Dovahkiin in such a personal manner.
Sluggy Freelance: Sasha went undercover as part of Torg's plan, and was captured by Monicruel, who is using that as leverage over Torg's team.
In The Gamers Alliance, Ferron forces Refan to work for him by threatening to kill Refan's son Gabriel if Refan refuses. Arawn kidnaps Kagetsu's wife Marya, forcing Kagetsu to work for him and preventing him from joining the Alliance.
Kagetsu I: Release her.
Arawn: Oh, I think not, my dear friend Kagetsu. I'm afraid I'll have to have some assurance of our friendship from here on in. I cannot have you joining yourself to the elf-lover and the wizard. Know that from this day onward, I own your precious wife.
The LoadingReadyRun episode "Ransom" took it to its illogical extreme. The villain kidnaps the hero's girlfriend and calls him with the demands. The hero counters by kidnapping the villain's henchmen. The villain escalates by kidnapping the hero's mother which the hero counters by capturing the villain's deaf brother. All this takes place in the span of five minutes with the hero and villain still engaged in the original phone conversation. The villain tries to end things by kidnapping the hero but the hero responds by kidnapping the villain (while still tied up in the villain's lair).
Subverted in Demo Reel, as Tom Collins makes Tacoma think something awful is or will happen to Rebecca, who appears to be alone in a big studio at night and who Tacoma thinks needs protecting after hearing about her past. Turns out she's fine and it was a trap so he could be kidnapped and delivered to her as a warning.
Subverted in the "April Moon" episode of Batman Beyond. A gang kidnaps a cybernetic doctor's wife and holds her for ransom in exchange for him performing cybernetic upgrades on them. Only it turns out they didn't kidnap her, she's cheating on her husband with the gang leader and ran off with them of her own free will! He got his back, though; while he eventually discovered the ruse, they never found out that he did, and the leader ended up coming back still thinking the wife was leverage. The episode lets you imagine how things played out from there.
In the Dungeons & Dragons series, Hank the Ranger and his friend Bobby the Barbarian are kidnapped by Big Bad Venger, who keeps Bobby hostage and forces Hank to do his dirty work and not say a word about why is he doing it, much to the horror of the other kids in the group (especially Sheila the Thief, who happens to be Bobby's sister).
Subverted in an episode of Family Guy where in a flashback, Lois is captured by criminals who demand a ransom of her rich father. They put her on the line. His response: "Now honey, you know family policy, we don't negotiate with kidnappers."
The whole problem between Zachary Foxx and Queen of the Crown in Galaxy Rangers. Zach has Eliza's body in stasis. The Queen has her Life Energy decorating her living room as a little red crystal, and a one-sided case of Foe Yay. Acts mostly as a subversion, as Eliza's the only human psychocrystal and just too good a tool to actually destroy. The closest it came to this was "Psychocrypt," where the Queen's relentless Mind Rape against both of them caused Zach to make a suicidal run to get his wife back.
The penultimate episode of Static Shock: Omnara kidnaps Static's father. Richie, Static's best friend and sidekick, also has the tendency to get kidnapped a lot.
The first season finale of Teen Titans: Slade injects Robin's four teammates with potentially deadly nanoprobes and has his finger on the button, forcing Robin to become his sidekick. The scheme falls apart when Slade cows Robin by engaging the probes on a limited setting; the combination of this sudden inexplicable pain that seems to be under Slade's control and Robin's frantic reaction to it tips off the Titans that they are being used as hostages to control their friend. And then Robin puts the nanoprobes in himself when Slade is about to kill his friends, and since they aren't selective, he'd die too.
An episode of Tripping the Rift had Darf Bobo tell one of the judges for his daughter's supermodel contest that he's kidnapped his wife, and if he knows what's good for her, he'll vote for his daughter. Upon seeing the picture Bobo provides for evidence, the judge tells him that's his mother-in-law, and that Bobo's free to kill her.
Used in the Goultard special for Wakfu. The villain kidnaps Goultard's wife and children in order to lure him into a fight. He kills them before Goultard arrives, and taunts him about it in order to make Goultard angrier. This is actually all part of a plan to get a parasitic demon that feeds off of rage to see Goultard as a more appetizing host and jump from the villain into Goultard. The villain doesn't get to enjoy his new found freedom for long, however, as Goultard kills him immediately afterward.
Variation in The Zeta Project: Agent Lee gets held hostage by a sadistic mercenary threatening to kill her unless Zeta surrenders. Zeta, who she has been chasing, hunting down and treating like he's less than a sentient being, intervenes immediately anyway because that's just the kind of person he is. Setting aside their relationship, though, the rest of the trope is played like this, right down to the mercenary calling Lee Zeta's 'girlfriend' in several dubs.
Parodied in The Simpsons. Homer, Lenny, and Carl are waiting for Mr. Burns to leave the parking lot. The mailman talks with Mr. Burns a bit in regards to skydiving (which is not what they wanted to see, as they really wanted to leave). Homer then gets the idea of tricking him into leaving by calling him by claiming that he kidnapped his wife... and then changing it to his kid, and then to his dog, and despite it being a fairly obvious deception, the mailman still fell for it.
In Robot Chicken, the Mad Scientist kidnaps the Robot Chicken's wife once he learns that he has escaped from his laboratory, forcing him to battle all the original Robot Chicken characters in order to get to him.
Subverted on Gravity Falls; After using size-altering crystals to capture Dipper and Mabel, Lil' Gideon calls their Grunkle Stan to demand the Mystery Shack's deed in exchange for their safety. However, Stan doesn't believe the twins are in danger.
Stan: Oh yeah. This has gotta be your worst plot yet. I saw them playing in the yard a few minutes ago. They're fine.
Gideon: I have them in my possession! You don't believe me? I will text you a photo!
Stan: ...Text me a photo? Now you're not even speaking English! (Hangs up)
In Kim Possible: So The Drama, Dr. Drakken uses Kim's new boyfriend Eric as a hostage. Subversion: Eric is a synthodrone working for Drakken to distract Kim and ultimately bait her into a trap.
At some battle during the Chu-Han War after the collapse of the Qin Dynasty, the King of Chu, Xiang Yu eventually captured the father of his rival, Liu Bang. At one battle, Xiang Yu and Liu Bang faced one another across a ravine. Xiang Yu yells (more or less), "Just give up! I have your father, and I'm going to boil him alive!" Liu Bang famously responded, "Send me a cup of the soup!"
For the curious, Liu Bang defeated Xiang Yu (founding the Han Dynasty in the process), and Liu's father didn't get the least bit boiled.
Another historical example, this time from 12th century England, concerns King Stephen threatening to hang the small son of one John Marshal if he doesn't surrender his castle. John replies, rather crudely, that he still has the hammer and anvil to make even better sons. In justice to John, King Stephen was a marshmallow (sweet and soft) and everybody knew it. Little William Marshal was not hanged and grew up to be the most famous knight in England and France.