(nervous laughter) "All the better! Cases are so much easier when the bad guy offs himself like that."
Not to be confused with No Body Left Behind
While the monsters of the week
have the decency to be sufficiently inhuman
and irredeemably evil that the heroes feel no guilt over slaying them
(so polite!), human
enemies are another story. What exactly is the hero to do when he captures Cleo the Necromantess? Tell the police to arrest her for stealing chunks of Soul Anatomy
from Innocent Bystanders
, cursing them to endless nightmares? It's hard to prove that in a court of law. And even if a high-ranking member of the police is a Secret Keeper
who can get Cleo jailed for other charges, what prison could hold her?
Then there are the villains who are remorseless, sociopathic killers. You know that nothing but death will prevent Saul the Fingerchopper from killing again, but If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him
When a hero is faced with someone who cannot be dealt with through legal channels, his morals come up hard against practical circumstances. Killing Saul
is right out, but letting him go free will just result in more victims. The Big Damn Villains
or a killer even more evil than Saul
won't always be around when you need one, and sometimes you can't Seal Evil In A Can
. The Chosen Many
Corps or The Men in Black
might occasionally come through and lock Saul up with their high tech/mystical imprisonment, but you can't count on that every day. And while the hero may have his powers lost/stolen
every other episode, permanently Depowering
a villain is rarely ever possible for an unsympathetic villain. (And let's not even get into Brainwashing for the Greater Good
So an idealistic hero may find that the very morals he stands for are a serious hindrance to effective peacekeeping — a tricky situation with no easy solution. He could be in serious trouble except for one helpful fact: a human villain about to be defeated usually goes straight for the Villain Ball
. Instead of begging for mercy and "playing nice" for a few episodes, Cleo and Saul will double down. When Saul is rescued from hanging off the cliff's edge
and given a Last-Second Chance
, he inevitably takes the opportunity to backstab the hero
(who then reacts in self defense when he cuts Saul down). When Cleo is defeated while holding the Artifact of Doom
, she will never simply drop the thing and 'surrender'
. She will scream "No! This Cannot Be!
I just need more power!!!"
, bringing on the Superpower Meltdown
that destroys her.
In short, the heroes will not have to bear the burden of killing because these villains will inevitably cause their own downfall. Their excessive egos and poor planning will turn on them at exactly the wrong moment and get them Hoist By Their Own Petard
, sent to a Fate Worse Than Death
, or destroyed by their own death traps
. They can also take themselves out nonfatally, ending up Depowered
, amnesiac, in a Convenient Coma
, or trapped in a Tailor-Made Prison
The purpose of this trope is to resolve the villain's menace without going into the moral complexity of what justifies taking a human life. As such, it often appears in series where killing would be wildly inappropriate for the target audience or tone of the setting, such as works for children. When it appears in more adult fare, it is there to enable a certain kind of hero — a Knight in Shining Armor
or someone with Incorruptible Pure Pureness
— to deal credibly with Cleo and Saul without tarnishing his image
Conveniently, this trope also keeps the hero's secret identity secret if the villain had discovered it
. The aftereffects of the Phlebotinum
she was using (or even a simple Tap on the Head
) will immediately make Cleo forget any damning information she may have uncovered
. It might even make her forget she is
A big part of the appeal of this trope is that it makes for a smooth but satisfying resolution. Once Saul has dispatched himself, the hero and his party can walk to the nearest Burger Fool
and order a Delicious Extra Meaty
without feeling the slightest pang of guilt (well, except maybe over the empty calories in the fries). If they're particularly Nice Guys
, they might feel a little sad that Saul got himself killed/trapped/disposed of — but whatever; it's not like he won't be back in the next episode
Compare Disney Villain Death
, which similarly disposes of a villain for good while leaving the hero's hands clean. If you were looking for the trope about a literally self-disposing body, see No Body Left Behind
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime and Manga
- This trope is extremely common in superhero comics to prevent the hero from becoming a killer. Often involves the superhero's imperiled secret identity. Some Spider-Man examples:
- The original Green Goblin (who was especially dangerous because he knew who Spidey was) getting impaled by his own glider in ASM #122. (He got better, later).
- The Jackal (Miles Warren) having a meltdown after being unmasked by Gwen Stacy's clone and ending up being killed (along with the Spider-Man clone) by his own bomb at the ending of the original Clone Saga in ASM #149. (It was not the last we saw of either).
- The burglar conveniently having a fatal heart-attack in ASM #200 moments after Spider-Man took off his mask and showed him he was the nephew of the guy he murdered in Amazing Fantasy #15.
- Carrion (Professor Warren's clone), who also inconveniently knew Spider-Man's secret, killed by his own Spider-Amoeba in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #31.
- The Composite Superman, a Silver Age enemy of Superman and Batman, possessed all the powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes and knowledge of the heroes' secret identities. He defeated them and demanded that they give up being heroes, and they actually considered it(!), but the powers then faded away, leaving him without even the memories of ever having been a villain! (This actually happened twice!)
- The Marvel Universe gives us Thanos, who routinely comes dangerously close to complete universal domination, only to screw up in some fashion at the last moment and engineer his own defeat. This behavior is noted by both Vision and Adam Warlock in The Infinity Gauntlet, wherein after taking on almost everyone in the Marvel Universe, including Eternity himself, he decides to become a disembodied presence and leave his body sitting on his throne, allowing his alleged granddaughter to simply grab the titular Cosmic Keystone from his inert form with no resistance at all. Adam Warlock then talked Thanos into making a temporary Heel-Face Turn with a Hannibal Lecture wherein he accused Thanos of deliberately—albeit subconsciously—sabotaging himself and giving up the power he knows he has no right to wield.
- Mortadelo y Filemón: It's a rule in the comics that when a villain really tries to destroy the pair for real, he will fail miserably and get himself owned. A notable example is "El seńor todoquisque" the bad guy is a man who can disguise himself and, in the first half of the album, humiliates our heroes in very painful ways. However, when he decides to take care of them himself and goes to the TIA, his plans brutally backfire on him, and, at the end, he goes insane.
Films — Animated
- In Rio 2, Big Boss gets eaten whole by a giant serpent.
- In The Boxtrolls, Archibald Snatcher's obsession with upward nobility and insistence on cheese-tasting despite his violent allergies causes him to explode into a cloud of nasty yellow mist.
Films — Live-Action
- All of the Batman films since 1989 used this trope extensively, at least regarding named villains. Batman and Robin (and later Batgirl) never, ever kill. Their opponents are beaten by falling to their deaths trying to kill the heroes (Two Face, in two movies), killed by another villain (Schreck and The Penguin by Catwoman, Bane by a more heroic Catwoman) driven insane from overdosing on Phlebotinum (Riddler), and captured in Tailor Made Prisons (Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy). The only one who dies (mostly) by Batman's hand is the Two Face from The Dark Knight, but in that case Batman was only trying to tackle him to stop him killing a child and he fell as a result. Stretched a bit in Batman Begins, where Batman refuses to deliver a killing blow to Ra's al Ghul but nonetheless leaves him to die as the derailed train on which they're riding crashes, the derailment having been caused by Jim Gordon under instruction from Batman.
- Used in all three Spider-Man Trilogy movies to remove the villain while allowing the main character to keep to his code against killing.
- The first Green Goblin is Hoist by His Own Petard (impaled by his glider as per the comics above, Dr. Octopus and the New Goblin die due to Redemption Equals Death, and Eddie Brock kills himself by diving into the Venom symbiote just as Spidey's about to incinerate it. It's lampshaded by Aunt May in the third entry after Peter thinks he's killed Sandman with water: "Spiderman doesn't kill people!"
- The accidental but somewhat convenient death of the burglar in the first movie - removing as it does the threat of Spider-Man's identity being compromised right at the start of his crime-fighting career - can also be seen as a case of this.
- In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fate conspires so that the heroes rarely kill their own big bads.
- In Iron Man 2, Ivan Vanko blows himself up after being defeated by Iron Man, though he could've been taken into custody or attempted an escape, mainly because he was confident in his success and had nothing else to live for.
- In Captain America: The First Avenger, the Red Skull accidentally destroys/teleports/somethings himself when he tries to handle the Tesseract.
- In Ella Enchanted, the Big Bad Sir Edgar defeats himself with the poisoned crown he planned on using to kill his nephew and heir by putting it on during his Motive Rant at the end of the movie.
- A common theme in the Indiana Jones films as its more or less the lust for power that does the villain in while Indy wises up and leaves well enough alone. It has been pointed out in some movie reviews that in three out of the four films, Indy could have stayed home and let the villains destroy themselves with no negative repercussions (aside from initially rescuing his father and Marcus in the third film).
- Raiders of the Lost Ark: Belloq and his Nazi cohort opened the Ark of the Covenant themselves and its powers then disintegrated them a very painful manner.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Donovan drinks the wrong chalice (which he let Elsa Schneider, his assistant, choose) and rapidly ages to nothing. Shortly after, Elsa falls to her death in an abyss when she's concerned more about reaching the Holy Grail below her than saving herself.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Colonel Spalko wanted the unlimited knowledge, and she got more than she bargained for when she bursts into flames.
- The villain Mitch Leary in In the Line of Fire refuses to take his nemesis Frank Horrigan's hand and plunges to his death instead, in an Ironic Echo of an earlier scene in which Leary saves Horrigan from dying the same way.
- Taking the place of Vincent Crabbe from the book, Gregory Goyle is the one who casts Fiendfyre in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and while trying to climb to safety, grabs a loose chair and falls into the fire. Although his only intent was to kill Ron, he essentially killed himself.
- In earlier The Dresden Files books, human villains have a tendency to kill each other, be hoist by their own petard or killed by side characters... so Harry doesn't have blood on his hands and The White Council doesn't get angry at him.
- In Stardust by Neil Gaiman, there are two major villains, who effectively and elegantly dispose of each other when the heroes aren't even around. In the film version, three out of the five villains die at each other's hands.
- Likewise, the climax for Robin Cook's Vector has the two villains polish each other off.
- In The Book of the Dun Cow, Cockatrice is impaled by Chauntecleer's battle spurs and mortally wounded. He lunges one last time for the rooster and finishes himself off in the process.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:
- Wormtail is strangled by his own silver hand as punishment for showing Harry a small impulse of mercy when reminded that Harry saved his life. This does not happen in the film, and the closest that is implied to a death scene for him is that Dobby killed him, who is on the heroes' side.
- Vincent Crabbe casts Fiendfyre in an attempt to kill Harry, Ron, and Hermione, unleashes far too much flaming destruction than he beckoned for, and accidentally incinerates himself (along with one of Voldemort's Horcruxes).
- Voldemort himself. Harry explains him that the Elder Wand Voldemort uses is actually Harry's, due to a set of complicated magical rules concerning wand ownership. As a result of this, the Elder Wand will not kill Harry. Despite this explanation and the chance to repent, Voldemort still fires a killing curse at Harry, which reflects back towards him, finishing him once and for all.
- The Lensman series has a subversion in that it's deliberately engineered by one of the heroes. Nadreck's solution to the problem of a Boskonian base is to get all the Boskonians to kill themselves and/or each other over the course of a few minutes. He is ashamed about it, but it's because he had to personally intervene to kill three of them himself when the shooting was all over; he considers this to be sloppy work.
- This was very common in the early seasons of Smallville with the krypto-freaks. If they didn't somehow lose their powers they inevitably met a messy end at their own hands.
- A major trope in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, particularly during the early seasons. Human villains tended to fall into pits of their own monsters while Buffy tried in vain to save them. See especially "The Pack" and "Go Fish".
- In the Angel episode "Supersymmetry". Fred attempts to kill the villain who, years earlier, had trapped her in Pylea, a demon Hell Dimension, by sending him through one of his own portals. When her boyfriend, Charles Gunn, intercedes, he explains that if she kills him in revenge she will never be the same. Gunn then snaps his neck and throws him into the portal, and they tell the rest of the heroes that this trope happened and he fell into his own portal.
- Terrorists often martyr themselves in 24, most notably Habib Marwan, the Big Bad of Season 4.
- In the episode "Flashpoint" of Walker, Texas Ranger, two rouge Irish terrorists, a man and a woman, jump out a skyscraper window after sharing a kiss, choosing to become martyrs over life imprisonment.
- A Hercule Poirot sketch on That Mitchell and Webb Look had the detective calling the Summation Gathering and eventually pointing out that the perpetrator is the woman who, over the course of the scene, has inexplicably got sexier, started smoking and started speaking in an "evil voice". Ultimately she shoots herself rather than go to jail. "It is better zis way: some courts, zey do not accept ze evil voice as evidence."
- Justified likes to play with this trope. In the opening scene of the series, US Marshal Raylan Givens confronts Tommy Bucks, a Psycho for Hire who tortured and brutally murdered a man in front of Raylan. Raylan has no jurisdiction over the crime and no evidence to arrest Bucks for another crime so he instead told him to leave Miami in 24 hours "or else". Right before the time is up, Bucks pulls out his gun and is subsequently shot down by Raylan. Afterwards, Raylan wonders if he would have been capable of murdering Bucks if Bucks did not draw his weapon and made the shooting 'justified'. Throughout the series Raylan is faced with moral choices that resolve themselves because the bad guys kill themselves, each other or force him to act in clear self-defense. This culminates in the finale of season 4 where a mobster threatens Rayaln's family but is Genre Savvy enough not to 'self dispose' so Raylan gets a second mobster to kill the first mobster for him.
- In Adventures in Odyssey Dr. Blackgaard, already near death due to infection by the virus he had hoped to threaten the world with, stays behind inside the Whit's End building as the bombs he planted there are activated.
- Fawful, the Big Bad of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, self-destructs in a final attempt to destroy the Mario Bros.
- Boomer and Buzzar commit suicide in a Disney Villain Death when they are defeated in Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario, respectively.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Garo Master blows himself up with a bomb to "die without leaving a corpse".
- In Mother 3, Porky seals himself in the Absolutely Safe Capsule with no escape, yet he is now ageless and cannot die and must remain for eternity. Fate Worse Than Death indeed. Also a "tragic" example with the Masked Man, whom the protagonist cannot even attack against, uses attacks that the Franklin Badge reflects to break Free.
- In Uncharted 3, Rameses, though wounded by Nate, shoots the window of an underwater portion of the ship, causing it to flood and drown him. Although Nate is able to escape.
- In Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver, it was popularly believed that the unlockable encounter with Giovanni led him to commit suicide by jumping off a waterfall, due to the radio static in that scene sounding like a splash. This has been repeatedly refuted by Word of God, and disproven completely by Giovanni's appearance in Black 2 and White 2.
- On the other hand, Ghetsis ends up in Villainous Breakdown-induced catatonia after being defeated in Black 2 and White 2, for the non-lethal variant.
- In Pokémon X and Y, Lysandre fires the Ultimate Weapon. Afterward, it's made ambiguous whether he's dead, or immortal and Buried Alive forever.
- In Mega Man Zero, Hidden Phantom, although not exactly a straight-out villain, detonates his own body when he fails to subdue Zero before he reaches Copy X. More startling is the fact Phantom is the only one of the Four Guardians to try a suicide attack on Zero, indicating he may be the most ruthless of them all combined.
- At the end of the first Golden Sun, Saturos and Menardi throw themselves into Venus Lighthouse rather than accept defeat by Isaac & Friends. Subverted with a vengeance (literally) in The Lost Age when it turns out they weren't exactly villains to begin with.
- Subverted and inverted in the ending of Super Meat Boy. Dr. Fetus seems to be killed by his own Dying Moment of Awesome, but then he pops up again, only to be crushed helpless by Bandage Girl.
- In Xenoblade, the plot begins as a revenge quest to kill robot "Metal Face," who has killed countless humans. But when the heroes discover that Metal Face is actually a human named Mumkhar piloting the robotic suit, they decide to let him go, despite having a chance to kill him, since the heroes decide that killing a human is always wrong. Mumkhar takes this opportunity to fire a blast at the heroes. But the blast misses and hits a spire that falls down and impales him and pins him to a falling platform, killing him.
- In El Goonish Shive, Damien's Villainous Breakdown upon realizing Grace can match his power and he might not be a living god drives him to use his fire powers to immolate himself and Grace. If he is a god, he'll survive it; if he isn't, he doesn't want to.
- Subverted in The Order of the Stick, where Kubota cleverly surrenders right before Elan is going to kill him as revenge for Therkla's murder. Kubota realizes that he can probably raise sufficient reasonable doubt to get acquitted in a trial, and that Elan is too heroic to kill him in cold blood. Double Subverted, however, because Vaarsuvius isn't that heroic.
- Lampshaded and averted in Darkwing Duck in the episode where the Liquidator debutes. When Corrupt Corporate Executive Budd Flood falls into a pool of chemicals, Darkwing tries to reach him with a pole, only for the pole to melt. Darkwing is a little upset about it, but tries to hide it by telling Launchpad that "it saves a lot of time when the villain does himself in like that!" (Budd is not dead, however; the accident turns him into the Liquidator, making him far more of a threat than before.)
- Phineas and Ferb Doofenshmirtz evil schemes tend to backfire on him all the time, in fact there are times that when Perry is not around his own inventions get destroyed on their own.