Tom Hagen: Your father wouldn't want to hear this, Sonny. This is business, not personal. Sonny Corleone:They shoot my father and it's business, my ass! Tom Hagen: Even shooting your father was business, not personal, Sonny!
A longstanding Stock Phrase that has two uses.
The first is usually used by an antagonist. Generally it will be given after the antagonist has announced what he's about to do, but before he actually does it. Alternatively, it may be given after the protagonist has overwhelmed the villain and the villain is trying to defuse the hero's anger or justify his actions. It wasn't personal, after all. This can also come in the form of "it's not personal."
Often used this way by the Lovable Traitor and the Punch Clock Villain. Often this phrase comes back around in the form of an Ironic Echo.
Usually, when a person says this, it really isn't personal to them. Why this should matter to the person they're hurting is a mystery, however. One can also argue that saying it isn't personal makes it personal, as it means the victim doesn't matter to the speaker. If anything it often makes it worse, because it usually means the victim didn't even do anything to even remotely justify the pain they have been forced to go through. As such, this trope can also refer to the character himself and not just to dialogue.
There are quite a few times when someone (usually the hero) starts off this way, and honestly means it; however, as the conflict progresses, he starts to get genuinely angry at whoever it is (usually because the guy is does things that disgust him), at which point he changes him mind, and says, "All right, now you've made it personal..." or something like that.
Often punctuated with "Just Following Orders". Contrast It's Personal. See also Being Personal Isn't Professional and Consummate Professional.
Unfortunately, this trope is very much Truth in Television.
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Anime and Manga
Used in Afro Samurai, when a random mook who led an attack for the Number Two Headband asks Afro "Why you gotta kill all my men? Why you gotta kill me?", Afro replies "Nothing personal. It's just revenge."
Neon Genesis Evangelion: End of Evangelion, one of the JSSDF tells Shinji that shooting him in the head is nothing personal, Misato explains to said grunt that he shouldn't take her blowing them away personally either. The wording differs in the translations:
Subtitle-Misato: Nothing personal here either. *BANG!*
Dub-Misato: Heeey, no offense taken. *BANG! SPLORCH!*note the dub track has an extra brain-splattering-on-the-wall sound effect
On the English language commentary, Jason and Amanda Lee say that they originally imagined Taliesin Jaffe delivering the line in an "I eat babies for breakfast" voice, but when he delivered it in a much more casual way they realized it was even colder and went with it.
In Bleach Starrk says this to Kyoraku just before shooting him in the back. The reason why he got the chance to do so, incidentally, was because Kyoraku took Wonderweiss's attack on Ukitake rather personally.
In Digimon Tamers, when Beelzebumon comes after the Tamers to fulfill his Deal with the Devil, he claims that it's just business and following through with the deal (odds are, given how conflicted he was to attack people he kinda liked, he's probably more telling himself that than he is them). Then he kills Leomon and it promptly goes to his head, subverting the trope.
In a filler arc of Dragon Ball Z, Gohan encounters Goku's old nemesis Mercenary Tao in a remote village. When Tao is ordered by his employer to kill an old man who was causing trouble for them, he says "Nothing personal, old man. This is just a job."
In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Arkana told Yugi this during their duel. (Given what an underhanded cheater he was, it's kind of hard to believe him, however. Arkana's only saving grace was that he was being manipulated by someone who was even worse.)
Morlun, thousand years old immortal that predates over beings with animal-like powers gave us a funny dialogue based on it, when he encountered Spider-Man:
Morlun: This is how it's going to be. You will run. I will hunt you.(...) But finally you will fall from power. And then you will die. But you have my word. It's nothing personal. Spider-Man: Wait a second. You say you want to kill me and claim it's nothing personal? Nothing personal?! Listen, man. I was fighting with every kind of jerk on this planet. I was fighting with freaks, mutants, aliens and superequipped gangs... God dammit, I was fighting even with my own costume! And you know what? You're the first one, that really pissed me off!
In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, we see a flashback to the climactic final confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty. They make it clear to one another that this isn't a manner of personal spite and immediately begin fighting to the death.
Lampshaded and subverted by Underworld in a Marvel Civil War comic. He visits the injured Hammerhead in the hospital, then tells him about a time that Hammerhead had grievously injured a friend of his for a petty amount of money. Underworld puts a gun in Hammerhead's mouth and, before pulling the trigger, says "It's always personal, ya mook."
Ultimate Hulk vs Wolverine had a variation; after ripping Wolverine in half, Hulk is about to eat one of Wolverine's legs, letting him choose which one. Wolverine gets understandably pissed off, which prompts Hulk to say "You're taking this way too personal...", commenting that if he doesn't eat one leg, Wolverine will just reattach them and chase after him. When Logan says he'll do that anyway, Hulk comments that he's just giving him motivation to eat both legs.
Deathstroke spears Phantom Lady through her torso. When she asks him why, he responds "Sorry, darlin'. Just business."
In a crossover between The Punisher and Eminemnote Discussed here, second entry, Barracuda, a childhood friend of Em's, hits him with this line after he's captured both Em and the Punisher.
In Shadowpact, the Pentacle tell the townspeople whom they have trapped in a giant magic prison shield that they will choose sacrifices at random from their number. They explain that it's nothing personal, it's just bad luck that their town was chosen, more people will be sacrificed if they try to resist, and that everything will be easier if they just go along with it. The Pentacle's leader Strega explains all of this with an eerily calm business-like tone.
In The Wizard in the Shadows, Eirian notes that one of Saruman's few saving graces as compared to Wormtongue is that it was never personal.
Earth and Sky: The LaFish brothers say this right before attacking Soarin' and Pipsqueak during the Pegalathon. It's strongly implied (and later confirmed) that they were paid off by Diamond Tiara to do so, so it's probably a true statement.
The Pony POV SeriesDark World Series has this with Rancor, Discord's little sister, who states this is the case between her and the Dark World Elements of Harmony. It's completely true, as she genuinely has nothing against them and would probably be cheering for them (she is the Anthropomorphic Personification of Revenge after all) otherwise, its just Her Father Havoc ordered her to help Discord out. It turns out that her real mission was to get close to Discord to stab him In the Back and take back Destruction's stolen power from him, in order for it to be used for its intended purpose (Destruction's actual job). Once her mission is finished, she just says "see yah later" and leaves the fight altogether.
Films — Animated
Used by the invading alien in the movie Monsters vs. Aliens. It's not personal he's going to wipe out most of Earth's population and enslave the rest.
Pegasus: What, no hello, no how are you? I thought we were friends, Kaiba-boy. Don't tell me that kidnapping your little brother and seizing control of Kaiba Corp. has put a rift between us. It was nothing personal.
In the Disney movie The Rescuers Down Under, Mcleach says this to Cody when he tries to feed him to some crocodiles. He claims to be doing it because he doesn't want to disappoint the rangers (who he had tricked into thinking Cody had been eaten by crocodiles earlier in the movie).
The Joker: When I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know that I'm telling the truth. It's the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer, you had plans, and look where that got you.
Said by Ned Cecil to Dr. Doom in Fantastic Four when he takes over Doom's company. Shot right back by Doom after he kills him.
The romantic comedy You've Got Mail emphatically rejects the trope: Godfather fan Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) runs the chain of mega-bookstores that ran the little specialist bookstore owned by Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) to the ground:
Joe: It wasn't personal.
Kathleen: What is that supposed to mean?! I am so sick of that. All it means is that it wasn't personal to you. But it was personal to me. It's personal to a lot of people. And what's so wrong with being personal anyway?
Joe: Uh, nothing.
Kathleen: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.
In Apocalypse Now, a movie that takes place during the Vietnam War, Colonel Kurtz's haunting monologue emphasizes how important this concept is for a soldier. Kurtz illustrates this by describing an occasion when he was on a humanitarian mission to help a village and they gave medication and other supplies to help the people there, but the enemy took notice of this and killed every single person there just to spite the Americans. This shook Kurtz to his core, he wept bitterly and became so depressed over what had happened he thought he was going to go insane, but then he realized that to the Vietcong what they had done was nothing personal they loved their families and motivated by that love they were willing to do anything that it took to defeat the Americans so that they would leave the country and they could get back to their normal lives. In Kurtz's mind he had determined that the Vietcong had the right idea on how to be a soldier, you have to be a good, moral person but at the same time be able to tap into your instincts and be able to kill without, remorse, passion or judgment, if the Americans were as dedicated as their enemy and were willing to do anything that it took to win then the war would be over very quickly.
Used by Jelly when he's about to murder Billy Crystal, in Analyze This. Crystal responds, "Don't kid yourself, Jelly. It doesn't get more personal."
Dr. Strangelove: Used in the second sense - "You just can't expect a bunch of ignorant peons to understand a machine like some of our our boys - and that's not meant as an insult Mr Ambassador."
This is explored in The Whole Nine Yards. Mob hitman Jimmy talks about his first target for assassination, and how he spent so much time with the guy and came to like him so much that when the order came to kill him, Jimmy couldn't go through with it. Instead, Jimmy told his target the truth and warned him to run, only to have his target shoot him in the back as a result. After that, things were verypersonal for Jimmy, and the target "took a reallylong time to die." Ever since then Jimmy has stuck to the assassin's code of not getting too close to your target, and remembering that it's just business.
In Training Day, Smiley says this after he spares Jake's life. In this case, it really isn't; Smiley hates the guy who ordered the hit a lot more than the actual victim, towards whom he harbors no particular ill will beyond a general dislike of cops. It's when the target makes it personal that his life is spared—Smiley has to show his gratitude to the guy who rescued his little cousin from a pair of rapists on the street, and sticking it to Alonzo is an added bonus.
In Man on Fire, the people involved with Pita's kidnapping that Creasy tracks down all insist that it was not personal, but just business. Eventually Creasy just gets sick of this response, warning the last person that uses it.
The Last Boy Scout. The woman Bruce Willis' character has been hired to bodyguard is targeted by assassins, who take him into a dark alley to bump him off so he won't get in their way.
Willis: That's what you think. I screwed your wife last night.
A major plot-point in New Jack City. When undercover cop Scotty Appleton and drug kingpin Nino Brown are hanging out one night, Nino confesses that he killed an innocent school teacher as part of an initiation into a gang. Scotty asked Nino if the killing was business or personal. Nino made it clear that all his killings are business, never personal. Turns out that school teacher was Scotty Appleton's mother and he nearly kills Nino Brown during the climax, making it clear that killing his mother was personal.
Used in Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach, where Lassard is kidnapped by jewel thieves as a hostage, but he thinks it's all staged for his benefit and is having the time of his life. When the kidnapper is about to shoot him, he uses this phrase, but then the other cops show up. When Lassard finally figures out the truth, he tells the kidnapper the same thing, right before punching him out.
In Hellraiser, Frank uses this one on Julia as he buries his fingers in her neck and drains her blood, killing her. She turns it around on him in the sequel.
Played with in Discworld's recurring phrase "Personal isn't the same as Important".
In Men at Arms, Edward D'Eath kills a clown and says it was nothing personal. The clown actually hates this, saying sarcastically "Oh, nice to know it wasn't personal. I'd hate to think I'd just been killed because it was personal."
In the Andrew Vachss Burke book Strega, one of the child sex offenders tries to call his child pornography "just business". This is contrasted with an earlier self-proclaimed pedophile that Burke is forced to speak civilly with, who speaks disdainfully of those who are "commercial" with child pornography and waxes lyrical about emotional bonds and being personal.
In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Ares does this, telling Percy that "you just might get those hardheaded idiots to listen to you. So I have to kill you. Nothing personal." It seems to be being used humorously, though.
In Starfighters of Adumar, Wedge's Red Flight is attacked by several Adumari ships before ever reaching the planet. After touching down Wedge speaks to the diplomatic liaison for an explanation.
Michael: Tom, don't let anybody kid you. It's all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it's personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don. My old man. The Godfather. If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his the old man would take it personal. He took my going into the Marines personal. That's what makes him great. The Great Don. He takes everything personal. Like God. He knows every feather that falls from the tail of a sparrow or however the hell it goes. Right? And you know something? Accidents don't happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult.
In Unwind, Risa is consigned to being "unwound" (to donate all her organs) because of budget cuts at the state children's home where she lives.
Mentioned in Jon Stewart's Earth (The Book) (written to aliens) that humans often believed that trade was, for some strange reason, exempt from normal moral codes of conduct.
In Shadow of Freedom, Firebrand notes to himself that he has nothing personal against the agents for the Seraphim Independence Movement he meets in Chapter Four. He even wishes them well, even if he doesn't expect "well" to be what actually happens.
Faquarl says to Bartimaeus fairly early on in The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. Generally, with djinn, this is true, as they're only working on the orders of a human master, but somehow it always did seem to get rather personal between Faquarl and Bartimaeus, any claims of it not being so aside.
Allison Parker: It's all in this memo. Again, I'm sorry. It's nothing personal. It's more about your illness.
Nada Personal, the exact translation of the phrase that names the trope, was the name of a Mexican Soap Opera, and of the memorable Opening Song specially composed for it. In the soap, the title was justified because most of the protagonists involvement in the plot was because they were collateral damage of a Narc Boss' actions, and the phrase was uttered several times. In the song, however, the phrase was used as "Between both us/there is nothing personal...", i.e. There is no intimacy between us anymore, even if we still love each other.
Used in the MacGyver episode "Strictly Business": Mac's arch-nemesis Murdoc returns and announces to MacGyver that his employers, the assassination organization H.I.T., has assigned Murdoc to kill him. Mac is dumbfounded because the last time they met, they had teamed up against H.I.T. to rescue Murdoc's estranged sister who was kidnapped by H.I.T. when Murdoc resigned. Murdoc explains that his sister was later killed in an avalanche, giving Murdoc nothing to live for and prompting him to go back to his former life. Thus Murdoc explains his desire to kill Mac as "Nothing personal. Strictly business." (And indeed this was the only time he did so for that reason since their first meeting it was because he got in the way of his battle with Pete Thorton and the others were motivated by revenge more than anything else).
Common on Survivor where whittling down tribes to the final numbers often causes a lot of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. Boston Rob "The Rahbfatha" Mariano takes this to almost catchphrase levels.
Used frequently in Burn Notice, both from the villains and the protagonists, although the protagonists use it more often to explain to the Victim of the Week that what the villains are planning to do to them isn't personal (as if that should matter).
In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Inside Man," a dabo girl named Leosa helps some Ferengi to steal a hologram made by Reg Barclay, whom she was sleeping with. When she gets caught, she tells him "If it makes any difference, it wasn't personal. It was just business."
Used as the tag line of the original non-celebrity version of the American The Apprentice. "It's nothing personal. It's just business."
The trope shows up in the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad. "Just you so you know, this isn't personal": Todd to Andrea.
Jamie Reagan, the least likely of the Blue Bloods characters, says this to Mafia prince Noble Sanfino when he asks why Jamie befriended him for the sake of an undercover op. Interestingly Jamie felt enough remorse to at least try to keep the mob from assassinating him when they discovered Noble's error.
An inversion: "You Bet We've Got Something Personal Against You!" by Black Flag.
Found in John Cougar Mellencamp's "Rain on the Scarecrow," a very dark song from 1985 on an otherwise cheerful and wholesome album (named Scarecrow, and featuring the much more commercially successful "Small Town" and "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A" as well). The family of the protagonist (named "John," of course) loses its farm when they become hopelessly indebted to a bank. Schepman, the bank's auctioneer, shows up to take bids on the land; when John confronts him, all he can say is: "John, it's just my job, and I hope you understand." Since "Rain on the Scarecrow" is a thinly veiled allusion to the Crucifixion, Schepman is clearly the equivalent of those about whom it was said: "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do." John telling Schepman he'll pray for his soul clinches the metaphor.
Quintessence: The Blighted Venom: At the end of Chapter 1, Lunair says to Reivier, "Nothing personal... But I'd rather not be held back by an annoyance like you."
Sword Man in Mega Man 8. He's very businesslike, citing his orders from Doctor Wily as the only reason he's fighting.
Invoked by Zevran in Dragon Age: Origins after you beat him, as he doesn't know Loghain's issues with you, and you can't afford to take it personally.
In the original Tomb Raider, the cowboy says this when you encounter him in Natla's Mines.
Played straight in Metal Gear Solid when Snake talks to Naomi about why he beat her brother Gray Fox and left him to die during the events of Zanzibar Land. According to Snake the fight between him and Fox was nothing personal, they were simply soldiers on opposite sides and it is a soldier's job to kill the enemy, that Fox survived is something Snake is happy about for Fox was his best friend at one point.
In Mass Effect 1, Ambassador Udina calmly sells you out to the Council and grounds your ship, despite having been on your side through most of the game. When you call him out, he says you've served your purpose and it's just politics.
In Mass Effect 2, if the player takes the Renegade path during Zaeed's loyalty mission, when you corner Vido Santiago he pitifully tries the "just business" line with Zaeed. It doesn't have any more success than one would expect it to.
Miranda will claim this during the prologue mission, regarding Cerberus's history with the quarian flotilla.
Team Fortress 2: The Affably EvilSniper is very clear on the differences between a paid assassin and a crazed lunatic when it comes to how to treat the act of murdering someone.
"Feelin's? You know who's got a lot of feelin's? Blokes that bludgeon their wives to death with a golf trophy. Professionals have standards."
"It's nothing personal. After all, you did kill me. Fair's fair."
This turns up a lot in Armored Core. You're a mercenary, and generally any enemy pilots you fight are mercenaries from the same group you work for. Business is business, and just because you were allies earlier is no reason to hold back now. Outside of the storyline, only a small minority of pilots are actually interested in fighting specifically you.
Eternal Sonata has Rondo use this on Claves when she kills her. "Sorry, but I was ordered to kill you if your identity was revealed. Nothing personal."
In The Godfather 2, Hyman Roth tries to offer this when you confront him for the last time.
In Teen Titans, Jinx said it right before attacking her ex-team mates in the series' penultimate episode.
Teen Titans Go!: When Trigon tells Raven to kill all her friends he states it's nothing personal and that it's just the last step in being truly demonic.
The Question uses this in Justice League Unlimitedas he is about to kill Lex Luthor in cold blood, even as he describes his distaste for other person as "brobdingnagian". Slightly subverted in that Q proceeded to get his ass handed to him by Lex Luthor, then sent to a prison in which he would be tortured with one of his team-mates as his main warden. Seems it wasn't personal to Captain Atom either.
Transformers Animated: Dirt Boss turns Bulkhead into a People Puppet and plans on using him to create an explosion at an oil refinery...while his fellow Constructicon Mixmaster is attached to him. Dirt Boss himself doesn't even respond to Mix's protests, while Scrapper tells Mix it's nothing personal.
When Tak tries to steal Zim's mission, she claims it's not about revenge; she only wants to take back what's rightfully hers, since he ruined her mission years ago. He can't get this subtle distinction through his head.
In one episode of Animaniacs (the Goodfeathers segment) The three protagonists are angry after the plot puts them through the wringer - like always - and halfway through, Pesto smacks Squit in the face:
Squit: What was that for??
Pesto: Nothin'. Just felt like whackin' somebody.
During Spawn: The Animated Series, Jason Wynn sends corrupt government agents to assassinate Terry after he finds out Wynn was behind the shipment of illegal weapons. During the hunt, they chase him into a military warehouse. While there, a female employee runs into one of the agents who doesn't hesitate to kill her.
Agent "Sorry, sweetheart, wrong turn."
It is not unknown for professional soldiers to feel this toward their counterpart on the other side. Not necessarily just because they viewed them as worthy opponents but because they realize that in another life they could have been friends. War is just a game of politics, the meaning of who is an enemy changes from one day to the next. Under those circumstances they realize it is petty to hold resentment towards an enemy now that the war is over. However, this depends on the strength of the propaganda in the war effort. During the Cold War, many civilians felt that it totally was personal as a result of the Red Scare.
Assassins throughout history (ex. CIA, Mobsters, any Fanatic, etc.) probably felt this way. Getting to know a person before killing them is a time consuming process that takes a lot of effort. It just wouldn't be practical in most cases to make it personal.