A character is on a quest that could potentially decide the fate of the universe... but they don't care about that at all or any of this good/evil stuff, they're only on this quest for a personal reason: revenge, money, repaying a life debt to someone, and so on. Common motive for an Anti-Hero or a Nominal Hero.
Not the same as It's Personal, where a character who is already in it out of duty or righteousness or whatever is given an additional personal motivation.
There will often be a moment where the character has an opportunity to leave with what they came for while the rest of their group continues the quest alone. This typically leads to them returning later to reveal that they have grown a heart, often in the form of a conveniently timed last minute rescue.
See Only in It for the Money when wealth is the main motivation.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Afro Samurai does not care about the supposed "Godhood" you get from wearing the Number One Headband — He just wants to avenge his father. In Resurrection, it appears that he hasn't even been wearing it, which allows the villain to just walk up and take it.
Haruko from FLCL sets the whole plot in motion because she's (possibly) in love with/wants to eat Atomsk. The fact that freeing him from Medical Mechanica stops them from destroying the world is an unintended side effect.
Bastard!!: Dark Schneider is fighting to keep his ex girlfriend and ex army from showing him up.
Later his motivations become much more complex, but showing everyone who's the top banana remains one of the main among them.
Some Regulars from Tower Of God aren't ascending the Tower to reach the top to fulfill their strongest desire. Rak Wraithraiser just does it to fight people, and Anak Zahard climbs because the only way she can exact her revenge on the Zahard family is to enter the Inner Tower, which is where everybody climbs.
Also within the Tower there also exists a criminal organization called FUG, who are trying to take down the tower from the inside. In season 2 it is revealed Baam/Viole is a FUG member. His motivation is not to destroy the tower, but because they threatened to murder his friends.
The Straw Hat Pirates in One Piece could be said to be not in it for their own revolution, when they declare war on the World Government not because they've taken the time to have an issue with the way the highly corrupt government conducts itself, but only because they want Robin back. They have this sort of attitude towards everything too, exemplified on Thriller Bark after they save a bunch of people and Zoro essentially tells them "We were doing this for ourselves, saving you just sort of happened."
On Fishman Island, Hyouzou openly states he is assisting Hody Jones for the money and doesn't care at all about the uprising Hody is instigating.
In the various X-Men series, Wolverine is rarely depicted as actually having an invested stake in human/mutant relations. In the beginning, he simply thought that the X-Men sounded like more fun than working for the Canadian government. Then the writers decided that he had amnesia, and uncovering the truth about his past became his primary motivation.
In Deadpool #1 (1997) Deadpool has "liberated" a gun from a repressive Bolivian government for the revolutionary force. The revolutionaries try to pay him in a not-yet-viable currency. Deadpool is clearly not in it for the revolution, because as soon as he figures out he is not getting paid in real money, he offers to show the revolutionaries how to use the big gun and quickly wipes out the entire revolutionary force before teleporting out.
Bone: Phoney Bone is more concerned with getting himself and his cousins home—and making some quick cash on the way—than anything else.
Well, really he's just interested in getting rich like he used to be. The unholy obsession with getting himself and his cousins home that appears to eclipse his money obsession is mostly because they've found themselves in an agrarian community whose economy is based on barter, so it's impossible to get rich the way he understands the concept unless he can get the Bone trio back to Boneville.
In Winter War, Grimmjow joins up with the heroes for two reasons: to recover his strength, and to have a chance to fight Aizen. At first, that is. He develops an actual sense of loyalty to his companions- and a bit of compassion and conscience- as the fic goes on.
Your name is VRISKA SERKET. You always found the idea of CONSCRIPTION to be BORING, so instead you DESERTED to become a PIRATE like your ANCESTOR. You are currently living in the CAVERNS with the SUFFERISTS. You think they are WEIRD and take every opportunity to MOCK KARKAT VANTAS about his position as the SUPPOSED SECOND COMING of the SUFFERER. You organize RAIDING PARTIES for them, STEALING FROM and GENERALLY HARASSING the EMPIRE. As soon as you can find a SAFE HIDEOUT of your own, you are OUT OF HERE.
Even then he's mostly doing it for his friends. Especially Leia.
Lone Star in Spaceballs, being a combination of Han Solo and Luke in Star Wars.
Lone Star: "We're not just doing this for money. We're doing it for a shitload of money!"
In the first Conan The Barbarian 1982 movie, Conan is out for revenge since the Big Baddestroyed his village and killed his family; in the second, he's a mercenary hired by the Big Bad. But apparently he ends up becoming king. At the end of Conan The Destroyer, the princess he rescued asks him to rule at her side as her husband. He declines, saying "Someday I will have my own kingdom, my own queen." The shot of him sitting on a throne implies that he did eventually go and conquer a kingdom of his own. But that is another tale...
The Patriot: The name of the film obviously doesn't apply to the main character, who refuses to help either side until his son gets captured by the cartoonishly evil Colonel Tavington.
The Running Man. Arnold Schwarzenegger's character turns down a chance to join the revolutionaries after they help him escape from prison; he just wants to get his ass out of the country. Events conspire against him however when he's roped into the Deadly Game show and his continued survival makes him a symbol of resistance.
A Fistful of Dynamite. Juan. He was only interested in robbing a bank, but managed to get suckered into helping significantly in the Mexican Revolution. He drags his feet and gives a big speech about how revolutions are cyclical and only hurt the common people, but he eventually turns his ideals around.
Stephen the Irishman in Braveheart. He joins William Wallace only for the opportunity to kill Englishmen.
Jack in Romancing the Stone: He joined up with Joan to try to get El Corazon from her, but love and helping her save her sister turned out to be more important than the money...well, mostly.
Snake Plissken is only in it because he'll die if he doesn't succeed due to explosives or a virus injected in his body that are on a countdown to kill him.
In Brick Brendan invokes this, deadpan and almost bored sounding, to the school's vice principal despite how much power the other man has over him. Their dialogue also hangs a lampshade on the unlikelihood of anyone invoking this in real life, but Brendan's just that kind of crazy and-or awesome.
Roland of Gilead from Stephen King's The Dark Tower series is trying to find the titular tower simply for the spiritual fulfillment of seeing it and climbing to the top to see what's there. The fact that the Crimson King is trying to destroy the tower (which would consequently destroy all of existence) is only a concern for Roland because he can't reach the tower if the Crimson King knocks it down first.
This gets retconned in the prequel series. Roland seeks the Tower because he thinks it is a source of incredible power that can defeat John Farson and restore his shattered world.
This is a recurring theme in Rafael Sabatini's novels: a non-idealistic character is pointedly not supporting a less competent idealistic character on his/her quest. Then the forces the idealist opposes hurts the non-idealist or those he cares for. This is a Bad Move.
Captain Blood His Odyssey: Dr Peter Blood was not supporting plotting against the King of England until the Crown assumed he was and enslaved him for it.
Scaramouche: The title character joins the government of the French Revolution to seek revenge on a single aristocrat, but doesn't really believe in the Revolution's ideals.
Rincewind makes it damn clear to everyone he meets that he just wants to go home, hang up his things and never leave again. Everything he does to help them is purely by accident.
Initially, Vimes in Night Watch. He never wanted a revolution, he only wanted to protect a few people on the street.
Older Than Steam: In Journey to the West, published in the 1590s, Xuanzang's "disciples" (traveling companions) are all bound to him in order to atone for their various crimes.
In the Dresden Files novel Changes, Harry ends up essentially saving the world by decisively winning the entire Vampire War, now and forever, in one fell blow. But screw that. He did it because they took his daughter.
Also from The Dresden Files, Jared Kincaid is a mercenary who never seems bothered about helping Harry with any of his various good causes unless money is involved, but he genuinely cares about the Archive beyond being her bodyguard. He still gets paid, though. Hey, he's a mercenary!
In Allegiance, set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Han has already gone on several "charity runs" for the Rebel Alliance and is bitter about this. Luke, the Princess, General Rieekan, the whole Alliance assumes he's on "their side", and he doesn't remember when he turned. Helping Luke at the battle of Yavin was one thing, and he didn't mind if they were grateful to him for that. Chewie would join in a heartbeat. Han very reluctantly stays on through the book — he threatens to leave and never does.
Part of Han's dislike of the Rebellion, and his outright hostility to Leia at the start probably had something to do with his First-Love-turned-La-Resistance-Girlfriend, Bria. She utterly ruined his smuggler cred, got his pre-Luke sidekick killed, and was what Lando "Has probably already forgotten about" in Empire. The Arron Allision Solo trilogy goes into this much deeper.
But Han wasn't going to let anyone's passion drive him on this one. Not Chewie's, and certainly not Luke's. He had his own life to lead.
In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Talon Karrde and Mara Jade make similar statements about why they're working with the New Republic. After one of Karrde's protests, Leia can't help but lampshade the similarity of his comment to the page quote.
Leia: "The money's not really important to you, is it?"
Karrde: "Don't believe that, either. I have certain obligations to meet. If Fey'lya hadn't been willing to cooperate, your New Republic would have had to do so."
Leia: *A little smugly* "I see."
Karrde: *Unconvincingly* "I mean that. I'm here because it suits my purposes. Not for the sake of your war."
In The State Counsellor, a rich industrialist sponsors the revolutionaries but when they try to thank him, he bluntly replies that he is financing their operations for the government and the people to realize that The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized and that their best course of action is capitalistic reforms that he supports.
In the Wild Cards novel Inside Straight, Drummer Boy joins the group of aces fighting the anti-joker genocide explicitly to impress Action Girl Curveball. He fails to get the girl but succeeds in making the nearly invincible Righteous Djinn's head explode.
Grantaire in Les MisÚrables only hangs out with the revolutionary students and ultimately dies with them because of his devotion to Enjolras, their leader.
Katniss in the Hunger Games takes a LONG time to come around to the "Revolution" she brought about. Mot of Mockingjay is her arguing with people about whether or no she should feature.
Live Action TV
Kerr Avon of Blake's 7. Whoof, where to begin? Even when Blake is lost and he becomes the leader he never loses this attitude.
Though Avon was the most vocal, the rest of the Liberator's crew (except Blake and Cally) also fit the bill, as they are wanted criminals with nowhere else to go. Gan and Jenna are won over fairly quickly, but the lack of choice is still there. Vila claims to be too much of a coward to leave the ship.
In Series 4 Soolin, a skilled mercenary, joins them on a basis of mutual convenience (not that there was much revolutioning going on by then).
In Friedrich Schiller's William Tell, Tell refuses to join Swiss insurgents against Austrian oppression and becomes active only as tyrannical reeve Gessler makes it personal by forcing him to shoot an apple off his son's head with a crossbow because he didn't see the order that everyone had to tip their hats for Austrian officials. He shoots Gessler after shooting the apple off his son's head, sparking a full-scale revolt, which succeeds.
Fire Emblem is full of this trope. In each game, you can recruit a number of people, each with their own motives for joining you. These motives range widely, from loyalty to someone else, to earning money, to getting revenge on someone, and all sorts of other reasons.
Volke from Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn is an extreme example: he's only there for the money, and in both games you have to pay him before he joins your party (and in Path of Radiance, you have to pay him extra every time he opens a door). Before he joins, he'll gladly sit around on the battlefield watching your party members die since you haven't paid his fee. At least he gives you a discount in Radiant Dawn because he doesn't like the boss of that chapter.
Subverted when it turns out that, no, he's still not in it for their revolution, but that he wouldn't have showed up in the first place if not for his contract with Greil. Greil spent some time searching for the world's greatest assassin in case he ever touched the Fire Emblem again and went on a similar berserker rage to the one that took his wife's life. Upon learning this, Ike promptly signs Volke on for an identical contract for himself.
Guy in Blazing Sword owes Matthew his life (Matthew fed him when he was starving, and Guy's tribe believes in I Owe You My Life). When you recruit him, he vociferously complains about how he has to leave his paying job to work for you.
Neverwinter Nights 2 Mask of The Betrayer the central movitive is saving yourself from a curse that is slowly killing you.
Similarly, the Betrayer's Crusade — though advertised as a heroic revolution to change the order of the planes and correct a great injustice — had, at its core, Akachi's desire to see his love freed from it — after he, as Myrkul's, disciple, had been fine with countless other people going to the Wall of the Faithless.
Tommy Vercetti from Grand Theft Auto Vice City. He lost all the money Sonny Forelli entrusted him in a trap set up by Colombians, barely manages to escape alive, and now he must spend the rest of the game earning back a million dollars. Whenever someone asks for his loyalty in their faction, he replies with "Thanks, but I'm here for the money".
Manny Calavera from Grim Fandango is initially hesitant about helping the LSA, pretty much saying the page title out loud in a cinematic. Not surprising, considering that he is an expy of Rick Blaine from Casablanca.
Edison Trent from Freelancer turns down every single faction invitation, saying "causes come and go". In the late game, however, he joins the Order, saying nothing would please him more than fighting against the ones who were responsible for having 2 countries after his head.
In The Witcher at one point, when Geralt is asked his motivations for his quest, one option is "they robbed me and killed a friend" and that he has no other motive.
Mercenaries The leader of North Korea's provoked war with the South and China, and is building up a large WMD stockpile, but you are in it for the price on his head.
In Mercenaries 2, the new ruler of Venezuela is causing havoc with the world's oil supply and repressing the populace, but the main reason your character wants to take him out is that he refused to pay you for helping him seize power. Oh, and he shot you in the backside.
Kratos from Tales Of Symphonia accompanies the party during the Journey of Regeneration and only states he does it for the money when Raine questions him about it. As it turns out... Not so much.
In Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife is introduced in this way; when Barret rants about how the Planet's dying, Cloud replies that he's only in it for the money. Later, he stays with the group as their leader because he has a grudge against Sephiroth. He becomes truly heroic later, after recovering his memories.
Speaking of Sephiroth, Sephiroth himself qualifies under this trope in Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy: He doesn't actually care whether Chaos' faction or Cosmos' faction wins the cycle of war, he just participated so he'd be able to regain his memories.
Final Fantasy VIII's Squall is a mercenary by career, and as such takes no personal interest in the cause of the Forest Owls whom he is sent to assist. He starts becoming more clearly heroic after developing a crush on Rinoa.
Chrono Trigger's Magus is a double-whammy. He's introduced as the Fiendlord, a powerful sorcerer that the magic-using demihumans have rallied under to wage war against the humans; but for his part, Magus is lurking in his keep, intent on summoning and taking revenge on the Eldritch Abomination that destroyed his life. The heroes thwart him, and later in the game Magus becomes an optional party member, only for another chance to kill Lavos. While killing Lavos is the heroes' goal by that point as well, Magus doesn't really care about the fact that he's saving the world by doing so. It's still all about revenge to him.
In Just Cause 2, Rico Rodriguez is only in Panau to stop the country's corrupt President and clear the name of his mentor Tom Sheldon, and doesn't care about the revolutionary goals of Reapers and Ular Boys. As the Roaches are a cartel, basically a mafia outfit trying to control the business in Panau through force, they don't count as revolutionaries. Rico is really only in bed with these guys because they just so happen to be against Panau's corrupt President — the enemy of my enemy is my friend — he actually goes so far as to dismiss them as criminals when talking in private with Tom Sheldon.
During the first meeting with the factions Rico says very clearly that his goal is finding Tom Sheldon and that he will do any job they ask in exchange for information. Despite stating the rules of their partnership the Reapers' and Ular Boys' leaders "test" Rico's loyalty on multiple occasions and even ask him about his stance on the politics of the situation in Panau, with Rico standing there stiff as doorknob not even responding to their inquiries. Amusingly Rico doesn't actually talk much to the faction leaders during the game, aside from their initial agreement and a few Deadpan Snarker exchanges.
In the section of Red Dead Redemption that takes place in Mexico, John Marston participates in both sides of the revolution taking place. Everyone involved is baffled, and he explains several times that all he wants is to get his family back.
While John has no interest in being a part of either side's Civil War — something he makes explicitly known, telling them he is doing this only because they are the only ones that lead him to finding Bill Williamson — he does at least take the time to hear out their political views and philosophical views. On Reyes' side John claims he can sympathize with the people's frustrations with the corruption of government, and even claims that is why he became a bandit back home in America. On the Colonel's side he claims he understands how difficult it can be to run a government but doesn't speak highly of the oppression of the people. John has an opinion on the revolution, but he just feels that his family is a higher priority, and that the Mexicans should solve their own problems rather than have a guy like him intervene.
Kalas of Baten Kaitos initially couldn't care less about the end magnus, he just wants to take down Giacomo
The PC mercenaries in Jagged Alliance liberate a nation from under tyrranical rule for money. However, while they are being paid for it, quite a few see it as doing a service for the people of Arulco once they get there. They still need to get paid, though.
Balthier: I'm only here to see how the story unfolds. Any self-respecting leading man would do the same.
In Metal Gear Solid 2, Fatman only participated in the S3 plan as a Patriot Agent to test Raiden's skills so he'd have the opportunity to kill Peter Stillman, and otherwise did not really care about their goals.
In Mass Effect 3, Kasumi opts out of rejoining Shepard for yet another suicide mission, though she can be convinced to join the Crucible project.
Assassins Creed III: The Assassin protagonist, Connor, is the son of a Native American and a British colonist. He helps the Colonials in their fight against the British during the Revolutionary War, but his true interest is the Assassin/Templar conflict. He is, however, much more sympathetic to the Colonies until he finds out Washington has been attacking his people's villages.
In Wario Land 3, Wario collects music boxes to free the god of the world in which he's trapped, but not until after said god promises him his own freedom and whatever treasure he finds along the way. Played twice over when it turns out that the "god" is actually a demon, whom Wario kills - lifting the curse on the world's inhabitants, saving his own world, and inadvertently earning the freedom and treasure anyway - just so he doesn't get crushed like a bug.
Jason in Far Cry 3 is only out to save his brother and friends from Vaas' pirates, but Dennis Rogers sees the spirit of a warrior within him and encourages him to help the Rakyat reclaim their land from the pirates and slavers; Jason agrees because (along with being a good person) the experience and training he gets during the process will help him finally defeat Vaas.
Drowtales: the real reason the group of Drow the story is currently following are on the surface is that Ariel wanted to find her best friend, who ran away to the surface. Everyone else is either a hanger-on, has an agenda, or is one of Ariel's servants.
In Looking for Group, it's pretty obvious that Richard only goes along with them because he can find more people to kill and more places to wreak havoc that way. Or so we thought. This strip suggests that Richard may in fact be part of the conspiracy to turn Cale into the king of Kethenecia.
Part of the humor in DM of the Rings is that all the players except the one playing as Gimli (being The Roleplayer) treat all the GM's plot arcs this way.
In the Ciem Webcomic Series, Miriam initially wants nothing to do with the war between the Hebbleskin Gang vs. everyone else. She merely wants to be left alone to her lost, hedonistic ways. She does come around; but her initial reason for looking for her sister is not to help her sister save the world. It's merely to clear her name.
Schlock Mercenary: Here Colonel Pranger explains to his client what the primary interest is for his mercenary company, and revolutionary zeal isn't it.
Phica: With you on our side, our just cause cannot fail, Colonel. Pranger: The only "just" I do is "just pay us on time". I'm not interested in your preaching, Phica.