"I'll tell him that the substitute Shinigami he was worried about... turned out to be a piece of trash that wasn't even worth killing."The averagely-skilled friends of the highly-skilled hero survive their encounter with the Big Bad or Dragon because the bad guy couldn't be bothered finishing them off. Whether or not this makes any sense as an excuse to keep the secondary protagonists alive varies. Sometimes it's an excuse from a Worthy Opponent or Noble Demon to not engage in wanton slaughter. Sometimes the villain is trying to maintain a respectable image and doesn't want to risk getting his hands dirty. Sometimes the villain needs to remain stealthy and realizes that a large body-count does not aid that. Sometimes the heroes fit into an Evil Plan of the villain that requires their survival (for the moment). Sometimes the villain figures that the would-be victim is actually a net liability to the heroes or a potential convert to the villain's cause. The most literal examples of the trope refuse to kill their targets for the same reason a normal person doesn't hunt down and stomp on every cockroach they see; it's just not worth the time and effort unless they're making a nuisance of themselves. This usually applies to villains arrogant enough to believe that the heroes aren't a real threat, or powerful enough to know that they aren't a threat. Genre Savvy heroes should be aware that a villain can and will change their stance if they cause enough trouble for them. Also sometimes used by the Anti-Hero as an excuse for not wiping out the Mooks. Can be parodied with words the effect that, "I'd kill you, but the paperwork would kill me." May be related to Doesn't Like Guns. Compare Cruel Mercy, If I Wanted You Dead..., You Will Be Spared, and Villain's Dying Grace.
— Ulquiorra, Bleach
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Anime & Manga
- Dragon Ball Z:
- Goku subjects Frieza to this during their fight on Namek. He fights until Frieza is no longer a challenge, then throws that fact in his face, believing that living with the shame of being defeated by a superior fighter was a far worse punishment than simply killing him, made worse by the fact that said superior fighter was "just a monkey." Frieza, however, isn't about to give up so easily.
- A particularly strange example occurs early in the Android Saga. Dr Gero/Android 20 has the solitary goal of eliminating Goku, for his role in destroying the Red Ribbon Army. When Goku is weakened by a heart virus, Android 19 has the opportunity to finish him off. Vegeta intervenes, and when Yamcha flies away with Goku, Dr Gero decides that Goku is suddenly not worth his time, and can be finished at a later opportunity. This is despite how his entire existence has been devoted to killing Goku for the past 20-odd years. Some of this is because he wants to save the best for last and he truly believes Android 19 overpowered Goku, not knowing he only won because Goku had fallen ill.
- Cell, upon reaching his Perfect form, lays an effortless beatdown on Vegeta, who was way too powerful for him in his previous form, and then defeats Trunks only after humiliating him, then abashing him about his poor judgement in powering up too much to move fast. He then claims that both Super Saiyans have disappointed him, and that none of the heroes are a threat to him now. This is part of why he lets Vegeta and Trunks live— the other part is his desire to fight powerful opponents, giving them more time to become stronger.
- Mr. Satan "fights" Perfect Cell and is simply backhanded a few hundred feet backwards into a mountain. He inexplicably survives (Piccolo suggests Cell didn't want to waste a single drop of energy when he was about to fight Goku).
- In Dragon Ball Super, Goku spares Frieza again because he isn't worth killing since he failed to master his new golden form, causing Frieza to burn himself out, just like the last time they fought. This backfires on him when it turns out Frieza still has enough power to blow up Earth and kill everyone on it.
- In Bleach, Ulquiorra took this line with Ichigo after their first confrontation, but later acknowledged him as someone that "needs to be eliminated" and started fighting him more seriously. Ichigo turns this around with his Super-Powered Evil Side and performs a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Ulquiorra.
- In the "Burnout Inferno" chapters, Aizen Outright tells Yamomoto that he won't spare him or say "I won't kill you here" or anything, and draws his blade to finish him off. Hilariously, on this one time that someone actually tries to defy the trope, he gets a face full of Hadou 96 as a result. Of course, it barely burns Aizen's clothing and didn't kill Yamamoto either.
- Subverted by Kenpachi. He decides Nnoitra is not worth killing once there's no fight left in him, and prepares to just leave him alone. Nnoitra gets offended by the act of 'mercy' and charges Kenpachi, who decides that this makes him worthy of being killed and cuts him down mid-stride.
- Ginjou does this to Ichigo after he revealed his true colors and he stole Ichigo's Fullbring powers.
- In fact, about half of battles in Bleach end with the winner leaving the loser alive because they're 'not worth killing'.
- In Gundam Age Decil gets bored seeing a UE mook clearly beating the Gundam Titus in episode 8 and orders the UE to retreat.
- In Tokyo Babylon and X1999, Subaru, the protagonist of the former, is left alive by the Sakurazukamori because Seishirou explicitly tells him that he's not worth killing. This becomes Subaru's primary motivation in the sequel; he believes he can only be worth something to Seishirou (who he loves) if Seishirou kills him. However, as it turns out, it's not that Subaru isn't worth killing - it's that Seishirou wants Subaru to kill him.
- Part of Sasuke's backstory in Naruto is that this was why his brother spared his life alone among the extended family. Or so he believed for years.
- Sasuke also gives this excuse for not killing the mooks he faces in his quest to kill his brother.
- Mireille says this to Altena in the last episode of Noir, specifically that it's "not worth soiling a bullet" with her blood. Altena then (nonfatally) shoots Mirielle in the arm, and then tries again but Kirika jumps in by Taking the Bullet and then tries to pull a Taking You with Me by shoving them both into a volcanic vent, though Mireille manages to grab her in time while Altena plummets to her death, her final satisfied expression before she falls out of view suggesting this was the plan all along.
- Phoenix Ikki from Saint Seiya delivers this line to Sea Dragon Kanon at the end of the Poseidon Saga, throwing the pointlessness of his plan in his face before turning his back on him and walking away. Kanon tries to retaliate, but fellow Marine Shogun, Siren Sorrento, confronts him after hearing the truth behind Poseidon's premature resurrection. Like Ikki, Sorrento reasons that Kanon is so pathetic and worthless that fighting him would be a dishonor to Poseidon.
- Hal in Texhnolyze tells this to Shinji after being turned into a Shape, musing on his earlier promise to kill him when they next time met.
- In Code Geass, this is probably the only reason Tamaki survives any given battle.
- And in the penultimate episode, Diethard is not worth Geassing.
- Fushigi Yuugi has Miaka's ex-best friend Yui justify (in both of Miaka's visits to Kutou, mind you) that she only wants to keep Miaka and the Suzaku Seven alive because after all, "Where's the fun in killing them right away?" Yeah right.
- Death Note's Light doesn't really target the regular Joes in the task force, figuring that they can be hoodwinked easily enough and besides, they're decent enough people. (The fact that his father is a part of said task force probably has something to do with it, too.) When Aizawa catches on, though, they pretty much all have to die when Near does.
- Invoked in Fist of the Blue Sky, when a mook asks a mob boss and a French general about his share of the money of a drug operation and finds himself held at gunpoint by both of them. They discuss the thing and agree he's not worth the price of a single bullet... And then they shoot him anyway.
- Adolf Hitler is spared by Liu Zong Wu because he thinks the tyrant is far too pathetic to deserve a good beating.
- Before easily defeating Duke Devlin and Rebecca Hawkins in a duel, Valon decided that they weren't worthy to have their souls taken by the Orichalcos.
- YuYu Hakusho:
- Younger Toguro spared Suzuka, Bui, and Karasu. He said Suzuka was a pathetic and spineless coward, who was not worth killing. He made the other two serve him and join his Dark Tournament team. Averted with his brother. Elder Toguro says he will spare one of the two defeated team members that lay before him in the semi-finals. One begged for his life and was instantly killed. The other says he would rather die than do the same. Toguro says that his brother would let him live, but he won't and finishes him off.
- The Ice Maidens were shocked and aghast that one of them gave birth to a boy (which meant she had contacted a male: strictly against their strict isolationist policy). Said boy (Hiei) was cast down into Demon World proper and left to fend for himself. After some ordeals in the past, he located the sky island where they lived, seeking revenge. Ultimately, though, after seeing their cold, emotionless lives with his own eyes, he declares them to be not worth his time and leaves them to their pathetic existence.
- Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, The Number's attack on the TSAB's Headquarters left destruction of property, wounded many troops and main characters alike, and kidnapped two secondary characters. They let no one die. This bites them hard in the end when the wounded main characters was the turning point of the final battle and this is when they decided to drop the trope.
- InuYasha: When Inuyasha was controlled by his Superpowered Evil Side and killing bandits right, left and centre, it took Sesshomaru to bring him down. To the gang's surprise, instead of killing Inuyasha, Sesshomaru merely tells them how to reverse Inuyasha's condition. When Miroku demands to know why Sesshomaru spent the entire fight holding back against Inuyasha and refusing to kill him, Sesshomaru simply responds that there's no point in killing someone who's in no condition to know even his own self. He also adds that he'll kill Inuyasha when he's ready. He never does.
- Weed from Ginga Densetsu Weed would often spare a bad dog's life, saying that they're not worth killing and murder is wrong. A few dogs in his own pack call him out on this...especially Kyoushiro.
- Hiro decides this with a recently beaten Kamikiri, who's been castrated brutally, and says that he's only showing him mercy one time. Kamikiri tries to attack the Great Pyrenees once more, but...surprise, surprise! His fangs were ripped out! And it's been confirmed that he died from his wounds.
- In A Certain Magical Index, the amoral psychopath Teitoku Kakine occasionally does this, because he feels it would be beneath him to waste energy on someone who is completely helpless or already dying. An example is when he is attacked by Rikou Takitsubo, whose powers are fueled by taking the drug Body Crystal, which slowly kills its users.
- In Black Lagoon, Chaka desperately wanted to duel Revy despite being in way over his head. Fortunately for him, she was totally aware that he was not going to survive a fight against her under any circumstances and refused to engage him because she had no interest in fighting or killing an idiotic manchild. Unfortunately for him, Ginji wanted to kill him very, very much for completely valid reasons, and she was all too happy to turn Chaka over to him. It did not end well for Chaka.
- In Devil May Cry: The Animated Series, Dante encounters a demon mook named Sid, who is so weak and pathetic that Dante simply tells him to get lost instead of killing him. This comes back to bite him, when Sid later acquires artifacts that increase his power to be a legitimate threat.
- In the Astro City story "Great Expectations," actor Mitch Goodman (who plays the "Crimson Cougar" on a soap opera) is ambushed in public by the Dark Centurion, who easily pummels him. When Mitch begs for mercy, the Centurion sneers that he's Not Worth Killing and leaves. It was a ruse set up by Mitch and his friends so Mitch could stop being a high-profile
- In the Marvel Transformers Generation 1 story "Target: 2006", Galvatron decides not to kill Ironhide on the grounds that such a pathetic specimen simply doesn't deserve to be killed by one as great as him.
- In Fables, Baba Yaga and the djinn find themselves trapped in the business office with Buffkin, Frank, the mirror, and some of the barleycorn brides. Buffkin challenges Baba Yaga and the djinn, but they just laugh at him and float away. This has some consequences later. Snicker snack, indeed.
- A Retcon in Villains United gave this as the reason Catman's survived ratting out The Brotherhood of Evil in Green Arrow and subsequently Took a Level in Badass.
Catman: When a Frenchman and an ape think you're not even worth killing, that's a bit of a dark day.
- Morlun in Spider-Verse decides that the newspaper Spider-Man is just not worth going back to because of Comic-Book Time, as he noted the idea of trying to eat him would take weeks, if not months. It's also a perfect excuse for the Master Weaver to spirit that universe away and hide it.
- Button Man: After Cora implores Harry to leave at least some of his targets alive so as not to discourage sponsors from sending their own champions against him, he disposes of a relative newcomer by remarking that he's "not worth killing", but still cuts off his finger with an industrial meat saw. The same man faces him again in a later game. Harry isn't as merciful that time around.
- Following the Fatal Attractions storyline, Lady Deathstrike confronted Wolverine in another attempt to regain what she thought was her father's adamantium (as she long believed that the process used to graft the adamantium to Logan's bones were what her father used), only to be surprised at how weak Logan is and that his adamantium is gone. She decides to leave the battle and wait until Logan is better to exact her revenge.
- Discord spares Array in Chronicles of Harmony's End even though he had him at his mercy. Then again, he had earlier asserted that he's not a murderer, so perhaps he just has enough integrity to adhere to his Exact Words.
- Inverted example in My Little Mages: The Nightmare's Return. After Rainbow Dash defeats Nightshade, she chooses to simply immobilize her and leave her to be arrested, quoting the trope while doing so. For her part, Nightshade is insulted, and impotently demands that Dash kill her.
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act I: In chapter 16, when Dark discovers that Kotsubo had tried to molest Mizore the previous year, he goes ballistic and gives him a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. He's only stopped from killing Kotsubo by Tsukune and Rason's insistence that he isn't worth it, but Dark nonetheless makes it clear that he will kill Kotsubo if he so much as looks at Mizore again.
- Fire Emblem Rekka No Ken: A Story Retold: In chapter 2, after dodging Glass's attack, Lyn opts to simply sever the tendon in his right wrist, phrasing this trope nearly word-for-word. However, when Glass foolishly opts for a Last Villain Stand after Lyn claims the Mani Katti, Lyn cuts him down.
- In Tealove's Steamy Adventure, a hooded unicorn attacks the protagonists in the woods, quickly knocking Colt Skylark, Libra Ace, and Snowcatcher unconscious. He then decides Tealove isn't a threat, and he ignores her to focus on killing her unconscious teammates. This is a mistake. Tealove attacks, distracting him long enough for the others to wake up and overpower him.
- The Child of Love: In chapter eight’s omake, the author thinks that Asuka is going to kill him after he used the words “time of the month” to describe her mood. However Asuka says that he isn’t worth it… before kicking his groin.
- In This Bites!, Cross specifically states he finds the Unluckies too pitiful to make them the first enemies he kills, regardless of how determined they are to kill him.
- Quentin Tarantino likes this trope:
- Kill Bill:
- The duology begins with a nifty subversion. Upon discovering that in spite of their vicious assassination attempt, the Bride is still alive though in a coma, Bill refuses to let Elle kill her because he thinks so highly of her and doesn't want her being killed like "some rat" in her sleep. He says that if she ever wakes up, they'll finish the job. She woke up alright, and she was pissed.
- Inverted, where The Bride hacks her cold-blooded way through literally dozens of sword-wielding Yakuza foot-soldiers, then decides one of them, a young teenager, is too pathetic to kill. She puts him over her knee, spanks him with the flat of her sword and tells him to go home to his mother. He flees.
The Bride: THIS IS WHAT YOU GET FOR FUCKING AROUND WITH YAKUZAS! GO HOME TO YOUR MOTHER!
- In Inglourious Basterds, SS Colonel Hans Landa orders a family of French Jews assassinated in the beginning. A young girl escapes and Landa decides not to have her chased down. In a twist of fate, the girl will grow up to play a part in Hitler's assassination.
- Kill Bill:
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after her sidekick comes to help her out and her mentor dies in a Heroic Sacrifice to save her, The Dragon is about to turn around and finish Buffy off, when the Big Bad says it's time to leave:
Lothos: She is not ready yet.Amilyn: What? Dinner's off!?
- Seen in the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee movie Horror Express. The brainsucking alien finds the crazy monk not worth killing, and eventually the crazy monk starts worshiping the alien (which the alien finds somewhat annoying).
Crazy Monk: Are you going to kill me?Brainsucking Alien: Oh, there's nothing in your head of any use.
- When the Spanish ships sail by Barbossa's in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, they don't so much as spare him a glance, even though their numbers would have easily allowed them to sink his ship.
- Nemesis in Resident Evil: Apocalypse effortlessly mows down an entire squad of S.T.A.R.S while leaving the Ethnic Scrappy L.J. untouched. We see L.J. through Nemesis's eyes and he's identified as "Armed Civilian. Threat: Minimal". When L.J. throws down his gun, the reading changes to "Noncombatant. Threat: None" and Nemesis walks away.
- In Predator Dutch is about to smash the mortally wounded Predator's head with a boulder but then changes his mind and apparently decides to leave the creature to die on its own. The Predator then demonstrates why following this trope can be a really bad idea, when he activates his self-destruct mechanism, and Dutch barely escapes the resulting explosion.
- In AVP: Alien vs. Predator, at one point one of the Predators has a chance to kill Charles Bishop Weyland, but instead turns away, due to Charles' terminal illness meaning that he's not a threat and thus not worth killing. Charles gets offended at being ignored (and is desperately trying to stall the creature in an effort to help two others get away) and fires a makeshift flamethrower at the Predator. The Predator then kills him, either having re-evaluated him as a legitimate threat or simply being pissed off at having been set on fire.
- In Breaking Dawn Part 1, when Bella is feared dead, Jacob blames Edward and tells him to his face, "I won't kill you. That would be too easy. You deserve to live with this."
- In Batman & Robin Poison Ivy is about to kiss Commissioner Gordon before deciding to spare him, saying that he's way too old for her.
- In The Crossing, General Howe doesn't want to bother with finishing off the Continental Army in the middle of winter, so he leaves a small force of Hessians to keep an eye on them while he and his army winter in New York. Washington is incredulous, and also, insulted.
- In most of the Terminator films, Terminators have a habit of hijacking a vehicle, then ordering the driver to "get out". Presumably, scaring the driver out of the vehicle is less time-consuming then killing him and dumping his body outside.
- In Saving Private Ryan, the German soldier who stabs Pvt. Mellish to death in the upstairs room finds Cpl. Upham cowering on the stairs outside, and is apparently able to piece together that Upham was there and could've intervened but didn't out of cowardice, and thinks so little of him that he simply walks past the still-crying Upham and rejoins the battle.
- Nevada Smith (1966). Steve McQueen's character hunts down the men who murders his parents one by one. The final villain he shoots several times non-fatally until he pleads for Smith to Get It Over With. Smith just rides off, saying he's not worth it.
- At the end of the Final Battle in the James Bond movie Spectre, Blofeld is severely injured after his helicopter crashed onto the Westminster Bridge. As 007 approaches Blofeld crawling away from the wreckage, he offers Bond into Finish Him!. But after some initial hesitation, Bond tosses his Walther PPK away and states he's "out of bullets", and leaves him to be arrested by M. This also left Blofeld a bit perplexed as to why 007 chose to spare him despite their Cain and Abel relationship. And it also escapes Blofeld's mind in the fact that despite being a Professional Killer, there are certain moral lines even Bond won't cross, and while 007 may finally get his revenge, killing Blofeld won't do much.
- In Tamora Pierce's Daughter of the Lioness, Vereyu kills the recently-appointed spymaster (who's not really sympathetic, just incompetent, but you do kind of pity him). The heroine, Aliane Cooper, tells her that he was "not worth killing". Vereyu retorts that he "wasn't worth leaving alive, either." Aly remarks that that's true.
- This basically saves Rincewind's life and the world in Sourcery when tries to attack the nigh-omnipotent sourcerer Coin with a half-brick in a sock. Coin is so fascinated by the idea of someone trying to use a weapon that feeble against him that he defies his father's orders to kill him.
- In Animorphs, after Visser Three discovers that Tobias's father was a morphed Elfangor, he tries to arrange to see if Tobias responds in an interesting way, hoping to kill or infest him. Tobias, who already knew that Visser Three was in morph, instead hides behind his hawk instincts (at this point, he's a human in Mode Lock as a hawk, morphed into himself) to resist showing any emotion and plays off like he's some street thug hoping his crazy father left him money. Visser Three is so disgusted that his Worthy Opponent has such an apparently-useless offspring that he just lets Tobias waltz right on out.
- The Last of the Untouchables, by Oscar Fraley & Paul Robsky. Robsky tells of how he got lost after raiding a backwoods distillery, eventually running into a old hermit armed with a rifle who guides him to the correct trail. His partner goes pale when he hears this, as from Robsky's description the man was a notorious multiple murderer, who apparently thought that a rookie Prohibition agent wasn't worth bothering about.
- In Cibola Burn, the fourth novel of The Expanse, Murtry explicitly doesn't kill Amos and Fayez because both were crippled and they weren't worth either the time or the bullets to finish off.
Live Action Television
- Super Sentai and Power Rangers feature multiple examples of honourable villains who will let the Rangers go after beating them.
- Mahou Sentai Magiranger (Power Rangers Mystic Force) has a subversion: Wolzard (Koragg) has a suppressed good side which leads to him finding excuses to let the Rangers live, the main one being that it's dishonorable to slay an unworthy opponent. When a Ranger confronts him, Wolzard gives the standard 'unworthy opponent' speech, and the hero responds with a volley of lighting bolts. Wolzard is completely unharmed, but decides anyway that the hero's worth fighting after all, and proceeds to utterly mop the floor with him. (He still lets him go in the end.)
- Rio from Juken Sentai Gekiranger has more than one Crowning Moment of Awesome where he proves that his Juken is stronger than theirs by pummeling the Rangers flat, then lets them go because they are not yet worthy of being killed by him.
- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,:
- Cromartie slaughters the FBI agents sent after him, but leaves Ellison alive in the end, apparently for this reason. As it turns out, Cromartie does this because he believes Ellison will lead him to the Connors.
- Another Terminator leaves at least one minor character alive because, as the audience sees through the Terminator's vision, the character has a threat level of "none". Then subverted when he is (apparently) killed offscreen later in the episode by the same Terminator after he unloaded a Mossberg into it, which must have upped his threat level a tad.
- Cameron later explicitly tells John (after being confronted with an empathy test) that Terminators are not designed to be cruel. Which makes sense; being unfeeling machines, they think logically and practically, simply following their motivations. Interpreting an action of sheer pragmatism as cruel or benevolent is something only a human would do.
- Played with in Burn Notice. Michael Westen takes great pains not to kill anybody himself—often employing elaborate Plans instead—because a body count would draw too much heat while he tries to clear his name. A few people are worth it, but the consequences are still generally unpleasant.
- Horatio Hornblower: Horatio tells his opponent in a duel Jack Simpson that he's "not worth the powder" after Simpson has fired prematurely, claiming it was a misfire, wounding Horatio and giving him a free shot. Simpson then begs for his life like a Dirty Coward. The minute Horatio turns his back, however, Simpson attempts to stab him In the Back. Captain Pellew can afford the powder and shoots Simpson with an exceptionally fine shot.
- In the Supernatural episode "Time Is on My Side" Dean tracks down Bela with the intent to kill her, before announcing that she's "not worth it." Subverted with the later reveal that Dean knew her number was up anyway.
- Game of Thrones. At the beginning of Season One and the end of Season Two, the White Walkers leave a single member of the Night's Watch alive, either to spread fear or as an example of this trope.
- The Vampire Diaries: For much of the third season, the good guys depend heavily on Klaus not bothering to kill them, which he could do pretty much any time he wanted.
- Non-fatal variant in The Thick of It - when Ollie informs his Mean Boss Malcolm that a disgraced former MP is here to see him, Malcolm rounds on Ollie, delivering him a metaphor about how when the Queen's butler sees a cockroach in the kitchen, he steps on it and she never knows. When Malcolm does eventually go and speak to the MP, he treats him with weary contempt rather than his characteristic foul-mouthed ranting, suggesting he finds him beneath even a bollocking.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- In season 4's "Doomed," Xander, during his Breaking Speech to Spike, remarks that he knows that he could easily kick Spike's ass as a result of his being chipped, but he's so pathetic right now that he's not even worth the effort. Spike is so humiliated by this that he attempts to stake himself... only to be thwarted by Xander and Willow's sudden entrance.
- Averted in "Into the Woods". After massacring the vampire-pimp's gang, Buffy finds herself facing the vampire prostitute she earlier caught feeding on her boyfriend. She looks so pathetic that Buffy lets her go, but then Buffy's Dark Side takes over and she hurls a wooden spear into the vampire's back as she's running away.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. After Gul Dukat is demoted to commanding a freighter, he gets miffed when a Klingon warbird attacking a Cardassian colony flies off without bothering to destroy his ship.
- Daredevil: After Karen Page survives two attempts on her life in order to leak information about criminal activity at Union Allied to the New York Bulletin, Wilson Fisk and James Wesley go to work covering their tracks. They kill off Karen's former boss, the assassin that Matt Murdock defeated in Karen's apartment, and the guard that tried to strangle Karen in jail. But with Karen herself, Fisk decides to have her spared, telling Wesley that there's no need to kill her as everything she knows is already in the papers. They instead decide to try bribing Karen into silence, which backfires as it instead motivates her into investigating Fisk. And it backfires big on Wesley, as Karen ends up killing him when he kidnaps her and attempts to blackmail her.
- In Traveller Intersteller Wars the Vilani don't bother making a real effort to subjugate the Terrans because they are "just another barbarian tribe". By the time they learn differently it is the Vilani who are being subjugated.
- A variation in Warhammer 40,000:
- The Imperium's general policy towards the Eldar and Tau Empire. It's a matter of practical foreign policy: While the humans would certainly love to see both species exterminated and don't take incursions into their space lightly, in either case the xenos are reasonable enough they often can be dealt with through diplomacy, and difficult enough to fight as to require a major expenditure of resources that can be better spent on more implacable foes such as Chaos, orks, necrons, and tyranids (and will sometimes even ally with the humans against them). In the case of the eldar, it helps that they're a dying race anyway (their low birthrate is compounded by the fact that sexual acts can cause them to fall to Chaos), so all the Imperium really has to do is outlast them.
- Imotekh the Stormlord happen to have such policy on those he defeats. High Marshal Helbrecht punishes him, leading the force that ambushed and destroyed his flagship, while Imotekh was forced to flee.
- Iron Warriors Captain Kroeger made an Imperial Guardswoman, Larana Utorian, his slave, deeming her worthless to kill. Unfortunately for him, her hatred for Chaos and for her comrades grew to the point when it attracted the demon residing in Kroeger's armor. Meet the new Kroeger, mute, always in full armor and more Ax-Crazy than he was ever before (and he was). Also prone to murdering a company worth of Space Marines, traitor and loyalist alike with officers and librarian and disappearing in a warp portal afterwards. Kroeger's body was only found after the siege was over.
- Orks being genetically engineered for war, they naturally exhibit this trope. However, they also apply to their enemies, so what they thought constituted the ultimate insult was nothing more than an incredibly stupid decision for the lucky victim. The biggest Warboss in the galaxy made an exception for Commissar Yarrick, who he considers the only 'umie to fight well enough to spare him so they can fight later on, demonstrating foresight unheard-of in an ork.
- In Magic: The Gathering, Sarkhan muses upon arriving in the alternate, dragon-ruled Tarkir he's created that his old enemy, Zurgo Helmsmasher (now Bellstriker) has sunk so far he's not worth the effort to kill. Ironically, the Zurgo Helmsmasher card was Awesome, but Impractical and saw no serious tournament play, while Zurgo Bellstriker's became an instant mainstay of red decks due to being a one mana 2/2.
- Subverted in Silver. Having destroyed the source of the titular villain's power the hero feels like sparing his life cause he's all old and pathetic now, but the Silver's Nemesis arrives and finishes him anyway. Somehow the hero has no qualms with that. Huh.
- Reversed in Drakengard's canonical ending: Caim has defeated the Big Bad and she lays crying at his feet, begging him to kill her. Caim decides that would be too easy.
- In SoulCalibur 2, one of Raphael's victory quotes is "You're not even worth killing," said in the snootiest possible manner.
- In Sonic and the Black Knight, after Sonic's first showdown with King Arthur, the king remarks that Sonic is "a fool of a knight not even worth slaying" before departing. This bites him in the ass later on, as Sonic takes the opportunity to learn and grow stronger in order to defeat him.
- In Grand Theft Auto IV, the main character Niko Bellic comes face to face with the man who betrayed his group in the Balkans and killed his village for money in Balkans war. The man is flown in and is in a pathetic state, barely even sane and you can choose to either execute him for crime, or spare him. If the latter is chosen, Niko concludes that he is indeed not worth killing and deserves to be left alive to suffer, while in the former case, Niko brutally kills him, only to find that Vengeance Feels Empty.
- Metal Gear:
- Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops has a scene where Python encounters General Skowronski in the bottom of a warehouse while hunting for Big Boss. After defeating Skowronski, Python freezes him inside a cage and exclaims "You're not worth killing!" before leaving. Snake frees the general minutes later.
- In one scene in Metal Gear Solid, Meryl tries to prove her dedication to the mission by telling Snake that if she slows him down even a little, he can shoot her. Snake tells her "I don't like to waste bullets".
- The eponymous villain of the Wrath of the Lich King World of Warcraft expansion. After being hyped up in the months before the release as being a villain whose threat will be felt throughout your travels instead of just "a meaningless name until you suddenly face him at the end" (the expansion is called The Wrath of the Lich King, for pity's sake), every time you meet him he lets you live, either knocking you out or just giving you a stern warning, while first killing his minions left and right for their failures to kill you. He always says something like "You are barely beneath my notice" or "Perhaps in time you will become worthy of serving me." He does have ulterior motives for keeping you alive. When players finally confront and almost defeat the Lich King, he uses Frostmourne to wipe out the players, and reveals his true plan; everything up to that point was a test to find the strongest warriors in Azeroth, and lure them to Icecrown where he kills them and raises them as Elite Mooks in his undead army.
- He had done it earlier in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne as well: After severely wounding Illidan near the Frozen Throne, Arthas didn't finish him off. The game's sound files reveal that he considered Illidan a piteous creature who wasn't worth killing.
- In Starcraft, one of the Zerg missions has you directing Sarah Kerrigan in an assault against Jim Raynor's headquarters on the planet Char. After razing Raynor's base to the ground Kerrigan decides not to kill him, proclaiming that he's not a threat to her....although it's possible and quite likely that she did it out of some remaining sentiment toward him. After defeating the UED base on Korhal, she decided that she had to kill both Raynor and Fenix. But after killing Fenix, she instead decided to spare Raynor again.
- In Mass Effect, this is the ultimate insult a Krogan can give an enemy. As a Proud Warrior Race, Krogan status is determined by who ones' enemies are. This extends to other races as well; the Mass Effect Rogues Gallery is exactly why most Krogan see Shepard as the most badass creature in the galaxy, even though s/he's a human.
Warlord Okeer: "With that, I will inflict upon the genophage the greatest insult an enemy can suffer - to be ignored."
- This trope also can appear in Garrus' loyalty mission. Garrus seeks to kill the traitor who betrayed his entire squad and caused all ten of their deaths. Once you track him down, you can help Garrus take the shot or talk to the traitor and warn him, where you learn he only did what he did because of a threat to his own life, and his life has been nothing but an empty shell of pain and guilt since. Garrus can be convinced to relent and stand down, and later says that he's okay with him living because Sidonis will have to live with that torment for the rest of his life, which he feels is a far better fate for him than a simple death. Later on, you can hear about how Sidonis eventually turns himself over to C-Sec out of guilt.
- In his own loyalty mission, this is Jacob's opinion of his father — that he's not worth the price of the bullet it would take to kill him (and when you consider how ammunition in Mass Effect works, that's a very low price indeed). If prompted by a renegade Shepard, Jacob will change his position to "worth shooting, but I'm not going to do it".
- The Onion Knight attempts to invoke this trope when he and Terra are faced with the mighty Exdeath in Dissidia: Final Fantasy. It appears to work, as Exdeath lets them go unharmed, but not without imparting some cryptic foreshadowing, implying that he may perhaps have had reason to do so...
- In X-Men: Next Dimension, several characters use this as a taunt, including some such as Mystique saying another character isn't even worth her time. One of the first matches in the story mode could have her saying this to her son, which opens up a whole set of problems.
- In The Elder Scrolls: Arena the Eternal Champion is left to rot in a dungeon, because his position in the Imperial Court was so low that the usurpers saw no need to bother. This was a mistake.
- In Def Jam: Fight For NY, the protagonist confronts Crow in the finale of the story campaign, absolutely livid over the death of his girlfriend. He's just about ready to kill Crow with a gun dropped from a mook, but ends up unloading the weapon around the room instead, tossing it away while quipping that he "wasn't worth it". The protagonist ends up killing Crow anyway when Crow, in a fit of rage, tries to kill him.
- In Just Cause 2, Rico bribes a low-life for information, using (heavily-inflated) Panauan dollars. In a rare economic spin of this trope, Rico gives this quip for why he didn't just shoot the informant after he told Rico all he needed to know:
Rico: Considering the value of the Panuan buck, killing you would have been more expensive.
- The AI in AI War: Fleet Command starts out regarding the player this way, occasionally harassing them but otherwise leaving them alone. Much of the game is making sure the AI continues to believe this even as the player amasses enough power to turn the tide.
- In The Sims 3, when a Sim with both the Unlucky and Loser traits gets into a fatal accident, the Grim Reaper will appear. Instead of taking the sim to the afterlife as usual, he'll resurrect your sim. His rationale is that it would be funnier for your Sim to continue on with his miserable, pathetic life rather than being granted eternal rest.
- God of War III features two inverted examples:
- When he runs into Hermes, Kratos initially holds this opinion of him, dismissing Hermes as "a fly from the ass of Zeus" that isn't worth his time. However, he reconsiders when Hermes decides to taunt him over how he killed his family.
- Later, he views Hera the same, just pushing the Lady Drunk aside when she tries to pick a fight with him; however, when Hera decides to insult Pandora, Kratos loses his cool, doubles back, and snaps her neck.
- In Hitman: Absolution, after interrogating Lenny Dexter, while the player is given a variety of options to kill him (including a wacky Easter Egg option), 47 can also just drive away and let the desert take him on the basis that he's not even worth wasting a bullet on. You even gain an achievement called "Not Worth It". Besides there's an even more fun way via Ice Cream Truck.
- In Street Fighter II, Guile chooses to do this to M. Bison rather than kill him in his ending. This has become a bit of Characterization Marches On as M. Bison is such a monumental world-ending threat that sparing him like this is hardly practical.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! Capsule Monster Coliseum, losing to Marik makes him declare that you suck so much you're not even worth banishing to the Shadow Realm.
- In the "Bad" ending route of The Witch and The Hundred Knight, Metallia spared Lucchini's life even though Lucchini asked her to kill him, with Metallia explaining she should have the freedom to make that choice, not Lucchini's. Metallia choose to just simply sever her relationship with Lucchini and never want to see him again.
- In Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Uruk captains and warchiefs with the Humiliator trait will do this upon defeating Talion. This can be a pain; Talion had Resurrective Immortality, and there's times you'll want an Uruk to kill you so they can become more powerful, granting you better runes when you kill them, or making them better puppets when you dominate them.
- Dawn of War II: Retribution: the ork ending has Bluddflagg pull this on the Inquisitor, stealing her hat as well.
- Can be done at the player's discretion at the climax of the Blood Lobster sidequest in Xenoblade Chronicles X. Said villain is unmasked as a bit part character you met early in the game, who went full-tilt Loony Fan after noticing all the JRPG hero tropes Rook fulfilled, and decided to become a proper villain for him. Instead of killing him (which he wants in order to finish the insane narrative in his head), Rook can just turn and walk away, which causes him a total meltdown.
- In the Genocide run of Undertale, you can ditch Jerry and still qualify as genocidal. He's just that much of a pain in the ass to kill.
- Lampshaded in The Order of the Stick: During his second encounter with Roy, Xykon, the Evil Overlord, dismisses him as not worth fighting and suggests calling off the battle as a Mulligan, essentially offering Roy to go free so he can gain power and return later for a "good final tussle, Hollywood style". Roy rejects the offer, so Xykon kills him.
- In Bob and George
- Bob decides that killing Megaman and George would only delay his fight with Protoman.
- Mynd decides neither of the titular characters - demigod children imbued with
fireexplosion and electric powers, respectively - are worth killing, and even brushes George aside before trying to leave. This, inevitably, comes back to bite him in the ass.
- Dellyn Goblinslayer from Goblins considered himself the arch-nemesis of Thaco the goblin. Eventually he's at the latter's mercy, thinking that Thaco is going to kill him and immortalize Dellyn as his greatest foe... only to be left alive instead after a truly magnificent "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
Thaco: "You're not worth the XP I get from killing you."
- Of course, by recent Dungeons & Dragons rules, Thaco gets XP for "overcoming the challenge" that Dellyn poses, so he's really not worth killing at that point. But Thaco (as his name suggests) is used to the rules of older editions...
- Zebra Girl: Sandra invokes this as the reason why she doesn't kill the vampires who attacked Crystal and Sam.
- In The Gamer's Alliance, Ronove, the new Dreadlord of the Northern Horde, decides to spare the surviving defenders of the besieged city of Vanna and allow them to flee while the horde takes over the city. His superior and peers later question the merciful act as well as the fact that the survivors will inevitably spread news of the horde's activities and strategies to other cities which will be prepared for the upcoming war. He quickly justifies his actions by explaining his reasons for letting the heroes flee: their worthy opponent status, the promise of a later even bloodier battle worthy of higher demons' time, as well as the heroes' tales of the siege which will weaken other cities' morale when they find out about the horde's unstoppable might. However, the Dreadlord is playing a much more complicated game because among other things he also wanted to pay the defenders back for helping him when he was helpless by letting them flee to fight another day.
- The Dimensional Guardians from the web fiction serial Dimension Heroes find themselves being spared from death multiple times, often by the Big Bad, who would much rather his servants take care of matters that are beneath him.
- In The Salvation War there is a psychic woman who had been mentally tormented by a demon for her entire life. After the human army conquers Hell, she finds and confronts her tormentor... who turns out to be a teenager, literally a Troll From Hell, for whom driving a random innocent person insane was just a game (well, you know the kind). She's about to shoot him, but after seeing him groveling and wetting himself with fear, she decides that he is not worth pulling the trigger.
- In Courier's Mind: Rise of New Vegas, The Courier decides Benny is not worth killing yet. When The Courier finally catches up with Benny to avenge his own attempted murder, he's stunned to disbelief by the fact that Benny not only shrugged off seeing one of his victims Back from the Dead, but is now offering to let The Courier become his right-hand man when he takes over New Vegas. The Courier sees right through it, but lets Benny go and kills the goon squad Benny sends up to dispose of him. As The Courier puts it, he wants Benny to realize how fucked he is before killing him, and dealing with him while he still thinks on top of things would suck all the fun out of finally killing him.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Katara meets the man who murdered her mother, and after seeing what a sad, pathetic wretch he's become since then to the point that he's even begging her to kill his own mother in exchange, and Lampshading it with a mini-"The Reason You Suck" Speech, she lets him live with the knowledge that she will never forgive him for what he did to her and her family and that he's already living out a Fate Worse Than Death.
- Ben 10: In one episode, after Kevin went around committing crimes and placing the blame on Ben, they end up in a showdown on a bridge. At one point, Kevin shifts back to his normal human form on accident and is completely at Ben's mercy, who is still using Fourarms. It seems like he's about to crush his skull with a well placed fist or two but instead hits right next to him before walking away, remarking that Kevin's not worth it and never was. This however, doesn't end up going well for him as he ends up needing to be saved by the guy who's been hunting him down the entire time due to Kevin's rage at being told this causing him to go One-Winged Angel.
- In the sequel series, Ben 10: Alien Force, after getting hassled by school bullies JT and Cash, Ben is seemingly about to go alien on them... but then outright states that they aren't worth the trouble, instead opting to give them a "The Reason You Suck" Speech about how they're nothing but sad, pathetic losers who bully others to make themselves feel big and that they need to grow up.
- Ben 10: Ultimate Alien has JT and Cash being Fake Ultimate Heroes in "Reflected Glory". When Psyphon hears them boast about being the ones responsible for his master's defeat, he arrives to Earth to destroy them. The two admit in tears making all this up, causing Psyphon to say the trope with disgust.
- In the sequel, sequel series Ben 10: Omniverse, there is a less lethal example. A group of former villains who call themselves "The Vengers" are trying to subvert Ben and become the city's superheroes instead of him. Ben not only doesn't take them seriously, he doesn't even bother trying to prove them wrong or compete with them. He instead chooses to sit on the sidelines and watch as they tear each other apart.
- Robot Chicken:
- The Yakuza kills all of *NSYNC except Joey Fatone, who was in the kitchen at the time. When he begs them not to shoot him, they tell him they wouldn't waste their bullets on a simple roadie.
- Zune Man decides to kill Steve Jobs, but ends up being thwarted by CD Man. After proving how outdated CD Man's format is, he takes care of him, but not before realizing how pathetic he and the Zune really are. He begs Steve Jobs to put him out of his misery, but Jobs wouldn't want to waste the bullet.
- Used in Futurama, except not with killing. Zoidberg teaches Cubert that the best way to avoid an ass-kicking is to pitifully grovel at the feet of a bully. It works surprisingly well.
- ReBoot: Upon defeating Megabyte, Matrix appears to be about to impale him through the skull with AndrAIa's trident... but instead stabs the space right next to Megabyte's head, declaring him to be not worth it before going on to tell Megabyte to remember the humiliation of his defeat and that Mainframe will always endure and Megabyte will never win. Sadly backfires come Season 4: a still-alive Megabyte invokes Came Back Strong and, because of the show's Cancellation, does win (however, given the announcement of Sequel Series ReBoot: The Guardian Code, this may not last).
- The first time someone tried to release The New York Ripper in Britain, every single print got returned to Italy after the BBFC refused to classify the film.
- On the Howard Stern show G. Gordon Liddy gave this as his reason for not holding a grudge or seeking revenge against his fellow Watergate conspirators (who had cooperated with prosecutors to get lenient sentences, leaving him hanging out to dry because he refused to do so).