"I didn't kill that Yoma to save you; I killed it because it's my job."
The Punch Clock Hero isn't fighting for peace, revenge, or because it's the right thing to do. He's only going against the Big Bad
because he has to. In some cases, he is destined to do so
but refused the call
, only to find out that You Can't Fight Fate
. In other cases, he gets involved only because he has bills to pay.
This is usually what happens when a hero is True Neutral
. Compare Heroic Neutral
, where the heroic character wants to be left alone and only allies with a group (usually the heroes) when their isolation is threatened by an outside source. If the culture becomes toxic, the heroic character can become a Punch Clock Villain
Only in It for the Money
is a subtrope, as is Not in This for Your Revolution
May overlap with I Was Just Passing Through
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Anime and Manga
Films — Animated
- Wreck-It Ralph: Much like how the bad guy characters are just actors playing a role, their good guy counterparts are just doing their jobs. However, at the very least we know that Felix is heroic in real life, and it's likely that many of the other good guy characters are the same.
- The entire plot of Megamind is kicked off because Metro Man has become this and fakes his own death so he can quit and become a musician.
Films — Live-Action
- This is the Film Noir Defective Detective in a nutshell. If they do good, it's because the mysterious woman in the slinky dress hired them. If they get emotionally involved, it's because the villain hurt someone they love.
- Star Wars: Han Solo started out this way, though half the climax of the first movie was his overcoming this.
- Ghostbusters are, well, an extermination (exorcism) company.
- Most of the members of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are only in it because they've been promised a full pardon for their past crimes and misdeeds. Only Quatermain, who wants to prevent world war from corrupting his beloved Africa, and Tom Sawyer, who wants vengeance for the murder of his best friend, have other agendas.
- In House II: The Second Story, John Ratzenberger appears as Bill, an "electrician and adventurer" who carries a sword in his toolbox.
- In Mystery Men, Captain Amazing is definitely this, what with the corporate sponsorship and all.
- Terminator: For the exact same reason that Terminators are normally Punch Clock Villains, Terminators reprogrammed by humans are also Punch Clock Heroes. They'll literally die for you (or kill those who try to harm you), because that's what their programming says to do. God help you if their programming runs the other way....
- Although their adaptive programming is flexible enough to provide at least some degree of character growth.
- Played straight and for laughs (sometimes simultaneously) in Grosse Pointe Blank.
Martin Blank: They all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they've all made themselves a part of something and they can talk about what they do. What am I gonna say? "I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How've you been?"
- G-Girl in My Super Ex-Girlfriend is a superhero, but not terribly heroic. She gives every appearance that her decision to save people and fight crime was made just because that's what's expected of people with superpowers.
- Humorously in Star Trek: First Contact, the crew of the Enterprise learn that their icon, Zefram Cochrane, inventor and pilot of the first warpship, was this. When Riker is trying to explain the historical importance of the flight, Cochrane angrily states he doesn't care about ushering in a new era for humanity, in fact he hates flying (he'd rather take trains)! He built the Phoenix to make money.
- The Troll Hunter: While Hans is certainly a good man at heart, he makes it no secret that he hates his job. He takes no pleasure in what he does.
- Rincewind in the Discworld books, on the rare occasion where he has to do something to save the day. He just does it because he knows he will be dragged into it anyway.
- Or more often, because it's going to kill/maim him and he's unable to run away.
- Even more frequently, running away causes him to be in the right spot at the right time to save the day. He'd much rather be locked in his room, safely examining boredom. Excitement chases him.
- In The Last Hero, he even volunteers for a dangerous mission to save the world with the explanation that he'll probably stumble or be dragged into it anyway, and this way saves him the hassle. He still doesn't want to go, though. His companions agree with him, then put him on the mission.
- He does have moments of genuine heroism, though - notably in Sourcery and the callback to it in Unseen Academicals.
- Commissar Ciaphas Cain repeatedly pulls some truly heroic stunts despite being, well, himself, not because he wants to do it, but because he has. Either he doesn't want to ruin his reputation and lose all the perks it gives him, or he has learned in a hard way that meeting the danger is actually safer, or he might simply not give a credit where it is due. His editor, Inquisitor Amberley Vail, certainly leans to the third option.
- Travis McGee takes on new cases when he needs the money, and spends the rest of his time taking his retirement "in installments." If you do harm to or take from, or both, one of Travis' friends, though, he will apply his skills and talents to getting payback, and salvage some coin, too, if possible.
- Sergey Lukyanenko's Night Watch quartet is full of a mixture of this and its direct opposite (people wanting to do something Good but not being allowed, because it'd let the other side do an equal amount of Evil...).
- However sometimes they manage to subvert it by working with evil on common goals. One minor example was about how a light mage was able to cure a group of children from a lethal illness with the help of a werewolf. First, a werewolf chose three children and bit them (making them werewolves and curing them in the process), then a light mage cured all the other children with magic. They both got away with it because the balance between dark and light stayed unchanged.
- The Dresden Files' Harry Dresden pretends to be this, but puts himself in harm's way a little too often for it to be credible. His friends call him out on it several times, and he even lampshades it at one point.
"I helped to do it
and lived to walk away. But there was an unhappy ending." Thomas:
"I didn't get paid. For either case. I make more money from flaming demon monkey crap. That's just wrong."
- The new Doctor Shade in "Cold Snap" by Kim Newman seriously resents the fact he's a Legacy Character, and that his dad's weird friends want him to save the world.
- Good Omens has Aziraphale, an actual angel, of all things. While he truly believes in Good, he's not much for the flaming sword of vengeance (he gave his away, anyway) or the smiting of the unrighteous, and he's shown to have decidedly unangelic traits, such as materialism (he is incredibly possessive of his books) and going on drinking binges with his best friend. In fact, his best friend is also his eternal and sworn Enemy — a demon who has more or less been his sole opposition for about six thousand years. Said demon's name is Crowley, who is, likewise, a Punch Clock Villain as well as a Noble Demon. They continue to thwart each other's efforts at salvation/temptation to keep up appearances, but they also do each other's work occasionally, with Crowley, after making some people's lives just a bit more unpleasant, spreading the odd bit of goodness nearby (after all, he's already in the area) and Aziraphale doing the opposite by doing his usual angelic business, and then maybe tripping a poodle or something. For example, at one point Aziraphale accidentally smothered a pigeon up his sleeve during a botched magic show and it was Crowley who resurrected the poor bird!
- The Nameless Bard from the Forgotten Realms Finder's Stone Trilogy. He initially falls in with the heroes by default in order to (a) escape from the villains who were holding him prisoner, (b) revenge himself on said villains, and (c) rescue his creation/daughter Alias. More generally, he doesn't mind helping people in need so long as it doesn't put him to great inconvenience, especially if furthers his real goals (fame and artistic immortality). But he is ultimately an amoral and highly narcissistic person who cares very little about matters of good versus evil. The heroes tend to forget this, given what a tremendous asset he is when he puts his mind to helping them. This is especially true for his erstwhile apprentice Olive, who idolizes him most of the time, only to be brutally reminded of his true nature whenever he decides that his own interests take priority over doing the right thing. He doesn't make a purely morally-based decision until the very end of the trilogy, when he chooses to risk his own life to destroy the evil god Moander.
- In Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain, Penny's parents imply that most supers on both sides are just in it for the brawl, rather than an actual desire to do good or evil. Lucyfar, especially, is noted to switch between hero and villain on the fly.
- Harry Vincent in The Shadow pulp novels starts out as one — his life is saved by The Shadow and he's put up in cushy comfort in the swank Metropole Hotel on the condition that he work unceasingly for The Shadow as an agent. Originally, that is his whole reason for being on the side of good. However, he graduates to full hero, as he undergoes countless Distressed Dude moments that would have made people less morally committed quit long ago, lap of luxury or no.
- The A-Team television series specifically states in the Opening Narration that the team is for hire.
- On Angel, Angel initially helps the helpless free of charge because he's The Atoner and because his needs are few. Cordelia needs money and wants him to charge clients. Wesley manages to sell Angel on the idea with the reasoning that people who pay will feel easier knowing that they don't have a debt to Angel hanging over their heads.
- Firefly's Jayne Cobb generally only fights the bad guys because, well, that's what The Captain is paying him to do. He was even a bad guy until Mal made him a better offer (his fair share and a room all to himself).
- Get Smart
- In an episode, Max joins a secret agent's strike in the middle of an assignment.
- In the first few episodes there's actually a punch clock in the Chief's office for agents to punch in and out.
- Unlike the other Star Trek crews whose mission is to "boldy go where no man has gone before", the crew of the USS Voyager didn't even like each other and simply wanted to go home. They subvert this later on by becoming a true family and kicking the shit out of the bad guys they encounter, many times choosing to help the helpless rather than themselves.
- Unlike his literary counterpart, the BBC's version of Sherlock Holmes is very much this trope. He really doesn't give two shakes about justice or the well-being of his clients: he only cares about solving puzzles, indulging his ego and staving off boredom. (Or so he claims; this is a character where the Alternate Character Interpretation is Word of God.)
: Don't make people into heroes, John
. Heroes don't exist, and if they did I wouldn't be one of them.
- Most of the cops in The Wire are basically this. They don't actually care for the most part about the people of Baltimore or the crimes they're investigating, the better ones show up and do a job, one which they're often not happy about, and sometimes get on the case of the ones who actually do care or try to make things better. The worse ones are corrupt Obstructive Bureaucrats that will actively screw over the public, their men, and ignore mass murder for the sake of their careers.
- A textbook example is the main character of Cybernator. In an unusual form of You Can't Fight Fate, he has to fight in a war because he was drafted into the army.
- Rayman is portrayed like this in his first game; after the narrator cries, "RAYMAN TO THE RESCUE!", Rayman is then shown lounging at a beach. He then lazily gives out a thumbs-up, saying, "No problem."
- Metal Gear Solid's Solid Snake fights the good fight at first because he believes in his cause. Unfortunately, with each successive Evil Plan, Man Behind the Man and Because The Patriots Say So, his cynicism grows to the point where he starts off the fourth game only just removed from this, being completely fed up with always being the tool of someone else, and only gets worse from there.
- The gist of Zero's awesome "World of Cardboard" Speech/Shut Up, Hannibal! at the end of Mega Man Zero 4.
I never cared about justice, and I don't recall ever calling myself a hero... I have always only fought for the people I believe in. I won't hesitate... If an enemy appears in front of me, I will destroy it!
- MadWorld's Jack Cayman doesn't give a crap about anything but his own vendettas. At the end, rather than go through legal channels, he breaks his CODEC and leaves his Mission Control behind just so he can kill the Man Behind the Man.
Jack: I don't save people. I kill them.
- Every member of Squad 7 in Valkyria Chronicles is a member of a mandatory citizen militia. While some of them joined voluntarily, others were simply drafted in.
- In the world of Bioshock, the prototype Big Daddies were mentally conditioned to love their Little Sisters as if they were their own daughters. When it was discovered that these prototype Big Daddies tended to react badly to seeing their beloved daughters murdered, the later Big Daddies were altered to be Punch Clock Heroes, defending any Little Sisters they come across (violently, of course), but don't appear remotely upset if there's none around.
- Fire Emblem usually has one recruitable character per game whose only motivation is money, usually starting out as an enemy but making it perfectly clear that they'll do a Heel-Face Turn in exchange for a significant amount of gold. In order, there's Beowolf, Hugh, Farina, Rennac, Volke, and Volke again. These characters range from "good person at heart, but extremely greedy" (Farina) to "will take on any job, no matter how unsavory, as long as the price is right" (Volke).
- Volke won't take any job. He refuses to be hired by the monster of Radiant Dawn.
- That same quote also mentions that said monster HAD hired him previously.
- Also Rennac can be
hog-tied, gagged and dragged kicking and screaming persuaded into joining your group without money if L'Arachel is the one to speak to him.
- Path of Radiance: the Greil Mercenaries pick-and-choose "good" battles (e.g. attacking bandits who are trying to sack a town), but they are still mercenaries. At one point they are close to switching allegiances to a nation that is invading theirs, but are attacked on sight before they can make any negotiations.
- Mass Effect 2: Meet Zaeed Massani, Bounty Hunter, Determinator, and Sociopath. He's so confident in his abilities, that he's willing to go on a Suicide Mission for the pay (he's the Sole Survivor of many of them, often "making out like a bandit"). You can secure his loyalty by sacrificing several innocents that he was hired to rescue for the sake of Revenge on a fellow criminal who betrayed him, or instead, letting the target go in order to save said innocents and then holding a gun to his head, and persuading him that the team and the mission come first. His retirement plan consists of... killing himself and as many of the inhabitants of a Wretched Hive as he can, with an explosion.
- This changes in Mass Effect 3 (and is also discussed in a bugged conversation). After being betrayed by Cerberus, Zaeed immediately jumps at the call when Shepard asks him to help, and is heard (in deleted dialogue) incinerating Reapers and leading a team to dispatch them during the final mission. As shown in the Extended Cut, he appears to retire after the war is over, though not without finding spare parts to rebuild his favorite rifle, Jessie.
- This is Vector the Crocodile's typical motivation in the Sonic the Hedgehog series: His detective agency gets very few customers despite him having considerable sleuthing talent. It forces him to find anything that can even remotely earn him money to make ends meet, whether it's traveling to another planet or competing in hoverboard races. He just happens to always find himself against whoever the villain of that game may be.
- He's more noble than your typical example, however. He won't get involved with anything dirty or illegal, no matter how much it pays, and he is known to help people who need it for free, such as finding lost children.
- Sterling Granger from In the 1st Degree qualifies as this. He is a prosecutor prosecuting a man charged with murder and grand theft. There are hints dropped that he has a life outside of his job and that he has at least a working relationship with Inspector Looper and at least one member of the press.
- Touhou: It's... uncommon for the heroines to have noble reasons for resolving incidents. Reimu does it because it's her job. Marisa is motivated primarily by a mixture of curiosity and greed. Sakuya only gets involved if something is inconveniencing her boss. Sanae is ultimately looking to spread faith in her gods (and the franchise considers religion to be fundamentally the same as a business).
- Dan Danger and EVO, Heroes for Hire from Space Station Silicon Valley (pictured above). The only people able to save the world from a rogue space station, not to mention a steal for a mere 200 credz.
- You know Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher is one when he remembers that he forgot to do the laundry in the third game.
- In Final Fantasy VII, when the Turks (normally villains) corner Don Corneo, the reason they worked with the heroes in order to get him is "Because it's our job".
- In Project X Zone, Reiji Arisu says outright, "This is how I put bread on the table. I won't lose".
- The Borderlands franchise has the Vault Hunters, the main playable characters who (despite saving Pandora from several attempts to take over the world) are mainly in it for that nice looking weapons cache they saw on the way in, the thrill of the kill, or the experience points and cash, but sometimes it's their definition of a Fun Saturday Night on Pandora
- The most literal example is also one of the oldest of these: Sam the Sheepdog and Ralph the Wolf are the stars in several classic Chuck Jones cartoon shorts for Warner Brothers, starting 1953. From 9 to 5, Ralph tries ever-more-outlandish schemes to catch a sheep, and Sam thwarts Ralph with minimal effort and maximum punishment. But as soon as that 5 o'clock whistle blows, the two punch out and walk home together, ready to do it all over again tomorrow. Oh, and the lunch breaks! That's right, they have lunch together. (Except when Ralph tried to impersonate a sheepdog and take over Sam's shift.)
- When Sam's shift ends, another sheepdog's shift starts.
- Sam resumed his role in a Taz-Mania episode where Taz was the one trying to steal sheep. In consideration for it being Taz's first day at the job, Sam gave him an edge.
- Jenny Wakeman of My Life as a Teenage Robot was designed to be a teenage superhero robot that fights evil. However, upon deciding that she'd rather hang out with human teens, she becomes an example of this trope.
- Autocat punches the time clock on a regular basis in the Motormouse And Autocat segment of The Cattanooga Cats series.
- In the Huckleberry Hound cartoon "Two Corny Crows," Huck and the crows Iggy and Ziggy go through the motions of farmer-vs.-corn-thieves, bookended by the idea that it's their paying job to do so. We don't see a time clock, but there is a quitting-time steam whistle.
- In Kim Possible, the title character finds herself dealing with three superheroes who are only helping others for the money. After Kim Possible proves herself to be better at heroics than they are, they decide to become non-profit.