Heroes have a very large pool of potential foes, and a fair number of them aren't even made of matter. Some are even a part
of the hero, or somehow feeding off his fear, hatred or insecurity. So how exactly is a hero supposed to fight something he can't punch without empowering, or escape an enemy that lives inside him?
By saying, "I'm not afraid of you," or a variation.
The thing is, these villains are literally fueled by the hero, so to fight them requires either denying them the emotional energy they eat
or dispelling them with a forceful affirmation. Yes, you read that right. This enemy can be talked to death
. It's much more awesome than it sounds, really!
There are a few variations on this trope, depending on the nature of the villain:
The imaginary villain may require a series of demotivators, like "The Reason You Suck" Speech
or even just a Shut Up, Hannibal!
. Of course, the villain might end up coming back if the heroes think about him or lose faith in themselves.
Not Afraid of You Anymore
is similar, but deals with an external threat or another person.
As this trope is often about learning a villain's specific Kryptonite Factor
, expect unmarked spoilers below.
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Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Tyler Durden from Fight Club, sort of. In the movie version, the hero wills the gun into his own hand away from Tyler.
- Well, it's closer to him realizing he was holding the gun and Tyler is him, and thus being able to control Tyler.
- How about Stephen King's It? In the first half of the story, the Monster Clown disappears when the children prove they aren't afraid of him.
- The Trope Namer is James of James and the Giant Peach, where he faces down the rhinoceros that's been haunting him (It Makes Sense in Context).
- A Nightmare on Elm Street:
- Subverted in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). At the end Nancy says to Freddy "I take back all the power I gave you, Freddy!" and that he's not even real, so she shouldn't be afraid of him. It seems like she defeated him, but he reappears not much later. Of course, since Freddy can resurrect just by someone who thinks about him, it was followed by a dozen sequels.
- The third film suggests it's actually Freddy's belief that trumps this trope:
Freddy: "Sorry, kid. I don't believe in fairy tales.'' (kills D&D geek)
Debbie: "I don't believe in you!"
Freddy: "I believe in you." (breaks her arms)
- The original scene was going to be parodied in an early version of Freddy vs. Jason. Kia repeats Nancy's lines almost word for word, and then turns her back... on Jason. As Freddy put it, right before Kia is killed, "Wrong one, bitch."
- Sarah's 'You Have No Power Over Me' revelation regarding Jareth in Labyrinth.
- Invoked word-for-word in Drop Dead Fred.
- In The Skeleton Key, the protagonist shouts "I don't believe!" while a hoodoo spell is being performed on her since she was earlier told that the spells would have no power unless she believed. It turns out that she really did believe since the antagonists had spent the whole movie ensuring she did so the spell would work.
- In the '80s horror-comedy House, once the protagonist recognizes and stands up to the Big Bad ghost, he becomes immune to the ghost's power and simply lifts his young son out of its grip. The trope title is invoked verbatim, with a capper of: "I beat you! And this stupid house!"
- This is screamed by a character going through drug withdrawal in Cornered!, when he's surrounded by imaginary cockroaches.
- Kevin does this to the creepy basement furnace in Home Alone.
- Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings has Sméagol tell Gollum to "Leave now, and never come back!"
- The reason any monster loses a workable door in Monsters, Inc. as once a child isn't afraid of them, the monster can't collect screams to power the city.
- Harry Potter: There is a monster called a boggart, which takes the form of your worst fear. If you use the 'riddikulus' spell, and imagine a way to make the thing funny (e.g. a spider on rollerblades) then it'll be weakened, as it's hurt by laughter.
- It's an ally rather than an enemy, but Dave discovers that the man who had been interviewing him is dead and his appearance just a result of Dave taking the sauce in John Dies at the End. However since the reason the damn things are there in the first place isn't logical (they are a product of the mind) they promptly disappear, because willing them out of existence isn't logical, either.
- In The Wheel of Time, this is the only way of fighting nightmares in Tel'aran'rhiod.
- Companions on the Road by Tanith Lee: Three mercenaries involved in sacking a castle are pursued by the vengeful spirits of people killed there. The ghosts invade their sleep and kill them in nightmares; but when the last remaining member of the group realizes that he pities the ghosts more than he fears them, they vanish.
- Done awesomely in the Discworld book Carpe Jugulum. "I know who you are. The Count just let you out to torment me, but I've always known you were there. I've fought you very day of my life, and you'll get no victory now. I know who you are now, Esmerelda Weatherwax. You don't scare me no more."
- In A Wizard of Earthsea, Sparrowhawk is liberated from the threat of the shadow creature by discovering its True Name. It's Ged (his own true name).
- In The Graveyard Book, the heroes briefly meet a tattooed ghost called "the Indigo Man." They realize he's just an illusion, and he disappears.
- Played with in R.L. Stine's Night Games Spencer turned out to be a dead person who needed to hate the protagonists in order to exist. The heroes talked him to death by hugging him and telling how much they loved him. This caused him not to be able to hate them, which destroyed him.
- In Patricia A. McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Sybel summons The Rommalb, a creature which destroys all those who fear. She's simply too young and too powerful to understand fear though, so the encounter is harmless.
- In The Dresden Files we encounter phobophages, monsters who literally eat fear. As a correlative to this, none of their defenses or countermagic works against someone who isn't afraid of them.
- In Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart, this is the reason that the titular villain was invulnerable: he can only be hurt by someone who does not fear him. Unfortunately, thanks to his imposed Reign of Terror, the only person alive who fulfills that requirement is himself.
Live Action TV
- The Real Ghostbusters gets into this with the Boogieman. When a pair of children hire the boys to deal with this frightening apparition, the lads initially fail, but they remind the kids that if they're not afraid, then the Boogieman — who feeds off fear — can't actually hurt them. The kids later come to their rescue, putting that advice to good use by laughing at the Boogieman, and providing enough of a distraction for the boys to pull off that week's phlebotinum overload.
- Although, the phrase, "if you're not afraid, it can't hurt you" seems to be a team catchphrase, as it turns up again in later episodes, notably in The Halloween Door.
- Subverted in Futurama, when Bender asserts that the attacking Bad Santa can't hurt them if ignored, only to be promptly harmed.
- Samurai Jack: Jack is in the woods, angry at everything that has happened lately. Aku uses this anger to create a duplicate of himself that he cannot conquer until he calms down, at which point Mad Jack ceases to exist. He lasts long enough to try and bring his sword down on Jack before vanishing right before contact is made.
- Inverted in an episode of Teen Titans. Beast Boy brings home a horror movie and, later that night, shadow monsters attack and the Titans start disappearing one by one. Raven repeatedly insists that she isn't afraid. Finally, she's the last Titan left, and the shadow monsters are dragging her to their leader ... "I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid. I'm ... I'm afraid. But that doesn't mean I can't fight back." It turns out the other Titans are fine, and the shadow monsters were created by her own suppressed fear reacting with her magic. Acknowledging her fear made them go away.
- This isn't exactly verbal, but Pinkie Pie's "Giggle At the Ghostly" from the second episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic qualifies. The creepy trees are made creepy only by magic from Nightmare Moon, and when the ponies laugh at the scary faces rather than scream, they lose their purpose and vanish.