After his heroic feat, the person he's rescued or helped, or a whole crowd of spectators, gushes over The Hero.
His response? It may be acted, or spoken, or merely thought, but it's summoned up in a Stock Phrase: "Think Nothing of It" or "Don't Mention It". If this is his job, or routine to him, "All a Part of the Job". If they praise him, Dismissing a Compliment sometimes occurs, and if more tangible gratitude is forthcoming, Keep the Reward will appear.
Motives vary widely and may characterize in more detail than the heroism alone. Many of them are not mutually exclusive:
The rescuer and the rescued are in the middle of doing something, which still needs to be done and must get on with it; there is no time for gratitude. "Thank me later" may be said. Especially if the rescue will be only temporary if they don't succeed.
The rescued had, by previous actions, put the rescuer deeply in his debt. Gratitude for something which isn't even reciporal return is embarrassing.
He was responsible for the original problem and felt that he Must Make Amends; gratitude only reminds him of his original guilt.
His motives were more self-interested than the rescued person seems to think. Will often state such motives. The Cape will often be honest for this, or Good Is Not Nice.
He felt more fear than anyone realized, and is embarrassed to be hailed for what he thinks is a mere facade of heroism. Likely for the Cowardly Lion.
He did it for a lark, because he loves In Harm's Way, or whatever else he had to do, even if others regard it as dirty, servile, or difficult.
He didn't want to save the person, but knew he should, or that he needed the other one. May explicitly say that he did for the mission, or his duty, not for the other character personally. This character might be a Knight in Sour Armor and is prone to Grudging Thank You when he's the one saved.
He's trying to seem modest. Likely a less honest Fake Ultimate Hero. Also likely to backfire and look like a covert brag if the hero's actions were manifestly less than great. Particularly if he tried to disclaim his feat before anyone showed any gratitude for it.
Hayato Kazami from Future GPX Cyber Formula said that he "just trusted in Asurada" at a reception party for him when he was talked about him saving Asuka, Osamu and everyone in a plane when said plane couldn't lower the wheel.
Ranma ½: If Ranma doesn't complain about Akane butting in on his fights, odds are that this is how he'll respond to Akane's thanks. It doesn't hurt that they're both Tsunderes at heart.
In the Mai-HiME prequel story, "Natsuki's Prelude", Natsuki, while investigating the school at night, encounters Akane, who is retrieving her notes. Natsuki agrees to help Akane, largely to get her out of the way, rejecting Akane's suggestion that she's imposing on her.
Natsuki: Don't worry about it. I'm used to walking alone at night. And besides, this is a rare opportunity for me to offer such a service, isn't it? You should accept a person's kindness humbly, don't you think? (pause) .... Oi, Higurashi? What's wrong?
Akane: (bowing over and over) Th—- Thank you, Kuga-san!
Natsuki: You really don't need to be so thankful. Weren't we classmates before?
Marvel Adventures: Captain America gets praised at an award ceremony. He does actually say "Aw, shucks" when cheered, and immediately says that the real praise should be for — well, then he's cut off by the inevitable supervillain attack. Cap commonly is portrayed as being a bit embarrassed or taken aback by praise and hero worship, as seen in the Capmania miniarc.
Astro City's Samaritan, having saved the shuttle, told everyone he was just a good Samaritan. He tried to evade awards and honors at first, before he realized how much they meant to people.
In Thunderbolts, when MACH-1 and Spider-Man went up against the rest of the Thunderbolts under mindcontrol, Spider-Man saved MACH-1 from an attack; MACH-1 expressed his thanks, and Spider-Man dismissed it as something he would do for him. In this case, it's utterly untrue: MACH-1 is secretly a villain with no fondness for Spidey. Except that he does, in fact, do it at the end, giving him what he needs to clear his name.
Pandora: It was nothing. And when I say nothing, I mean...
Finder: Jaeger Ayers is both a Finder and a Sin-Eater, which often causes clashes in his personal code - while one aspect makes people want to reward him for his services, the other is honour-bound to refuse payment. He prefers to accomplish most of his Finder role in subtle ways, without people even realising he has done so.
At the beginning of The Incredibles, the police thank Mr Incredible for his help apprehending two bank robbers, and he says "I'm just here to help."
In Tangled, Rapunzel, after Mother Gothel talks of how difficult hauling her up must be. She says it's nothing, and Mother Gothel then asks why it takes so long, then.
Maximus expresses this with an eloquent whinny after the prison break.
In Treasure Planet, Jim prompts the robot cop with the precise paragraph of his offense, is thanked, and says, "Don't mention it."
Parodied in Kung Fu Panda. After helping Po out when he gets stuck in a split, Crane tells him "Don't mention it. Ever."
Films — Live-Action
Part of Hancock's be-a-better-hero training is telling any law enforcement officials that happen to already be on the scene "Good Job." He's obviously awkward about it the first few times (ie whenever we see in the movie); still gets a pretty positive reaction, though.
The end of Batman Begins has a moment like this between Batman and Lt. Gordon.
Gordon: You know, I never said thank you.
Batman: And you'll never have to.
Given a Call Back in The Dark Knight where Gordon thanks Batman, who again invokes this trope. Gordon insists afterwards that yes, this time, he does have to thank Batman.
Gordon: ...Thank you.
Batman: You don't have to thank me.
Gordon: Yes, I do.
Pirates of the Caribbean played it another way: the person who demurs the credit isn't the one who deserves it anyway. Though he did kinda help, a little.
Norrington: Good work, Mr. Brown. You've assisted in the capture of a dangerous fugitive. Mr. Brown: Just doing my civic duty, sir. Will rolls his eyes.
Subverted in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: after Howard resuscitates a young village boy who'd drowned, a group of villagers led by the boy's father tracks the trio down and insists on taking them back for a feast. Howard tries to wave it off out of modesty, but the father is insistent: seems local custom holds that "all the saints in Heaven will be angry with him" if he fails to honor them properly, so he's willing to bring them back through force of arms, if that's what it'll take.
Amusingly subverted in a scene from Charlie Wilson's War when congressman Charlie Wilson first meets the CIA contact Gust Avrakotos. Gust brings him a relatively expensive bottle of scotch as a "thankyou" for doubling the CIA budget for covert ops in Afghanistan.
Charlie: Well thank you.
Gust: Ah, it was nothing.
Charlie: Well it's a nice bottle of scotch, must've been hard to get.
Gust: No, doubling the budget was nothing. Ten million dollars for covert ops against the Russian army is meaningless. What are you, an infant?
In The Rocketeer, at the end, Howard Hughes shows up with a new airplane for Cliff, and leaves before Cliff can collect himself enough to think of asking. Cliff is assured that he saw the look on his face and knows what it means to him.
In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novels, Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) downplays his reputation for the lustre of modesty that it adds to it — although sometimes he seems genuinely embarrassed by the inaccuracy. He definitely minds that he gets all the credit, as opposed to some going to his faithful and extremely handy aide, Jurgen, who has been vital to Cain's success (or just survival) on many an occasion. And Vail has observed that he underestimates the effect he can have on morale — or that his death would have.
In Ghostmaker, Gaunt has to pry out of Mkoll what opposition he had faced on a patrol, because while he admired his modesty, he really needed to know. In the ensuing flashback, Mkoll goes back to check out something he saw on the patrol, kills a Chaos dreadnaught, and while his surviving companion is awe-struck, forbids him to report it.
In Necropolis, Rawne saves Haller's life, and Haller says that he owes him. Rawne bitterly rejects it. A fellow Ghost reflects that Rawne's bitterness toward Gaunt is caused by the knowledge that he owes Gaunt.
Also in Necropolis, Curth's first reaction to the area assigned to Dorden for his medical work was that it was unacceptable and she briskly demanded all the supplies and workers to make it acceptable. When Dorden thanked her, she told him she already had her hands full with wounded refugees and did not want his wounded soldiers to overflow into her area.
In Blood Pact, when Rawne backs up Daur, Daur thanks him, Rawne says he didn't do it for him, and Daur says, "Perish the thought."
‘Yes sir, and showed your quality: the very highest.’ Faramir smiled. ‘A pert servant, Master Samwise. But nay: the praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards. Yet there was naught in this to praise. I had no lure or desire to do other than I have done.’
In William King's Warhammer 40,000 novel Space Wolf, after Ragnar comes to Kjel's aid when two other aspirants are beating himm, Kjel thanks him, and Ragnar dismisses it, "Think nothing of it. You'd do the same for me." Later, during their punishment, climbing a mountain, Ragnar starts to slip, and Kjel helps him, and then dismisses his gratitude with the comment he should thank him when they actually finished.
In Ragnar's Claw, Sven thanks Ragnar for saving his life after a fight with genestealers; Ragnar dismisses because Sven had saved his, and Sven dismisses with "Think nothing of it."
In Grey Hunters, Ragnar's attempts to — truthfully! — minimize his having killed a wolf while still in training attract almost as much attention as the original deed, which leads to his being dubbed "Blackmane".
In his defense, the wolf was already injured when Ragnar encountered him. It is still a pretty badass act considering that Fenrisian Wolves are near the size of a tank. Ragnar's problem was that everyone assumed the wolf was strong and healthy, not an aged alpha who had lost dominance over his pack.
At the end of the same novel, Pavel Leforto tells Uriel that he is the one whose life Uriel saved. Uriel observes that he had done it for him, too. When Pavel disclaims it as lucky, he thanks him anyway.
In Dead Sky Black Sun, after Leonid had saved the Lord of the Unfleshed and been told "Now you Tribe!", the Lord saved his life, and Leonid thanked him.
"You Tribe," replied the Lord of the Unfleshed as though no other explanation was needed.
An "ongoing" version intersecting with Cowardly Lion appears in the novel Wraith Squadron. While very good in simulations, and when no one's depending on him, in "real action" Kell Tainer starts feeling sick and even gets shaky, but manages to power through it. He's very uncomfortable with citations for bravery, as he feels he hasn't earned it, and even secretly despises an award roughly on par with the Medal of Honor.
In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000Horus Heresy novel Horus Rising, when Torgaddon describes to Tarvitz, one of Eidolon's juniors, how Eidolon had saved the day — actions that Tarvitz did and Eidolon rebuked him for — Tarvitz says that Eidolon is wise. Only when one of Tarvitz's juniors speaks up does Torgaddon learn the truth — and Tarvitz tries to keep him from speaking. When Torgaddon asks why he would let Eidolon hog the credit, Tarvitz says he is his lord.
In James Swallow's The Flight of the Eisenstein, when Mortarion summons Garro forward to receive a reward, Garro tries to put him off, saying he deserved nothing special, but Mortarion says such false modesty is not becoming.
Flashman does this all the time. He learned early on that saying things like, "oh, it was nothing more than duty. Any proper British soldier would have done the same" impresses people far more than telling them how harrowing it really was (particularly for such a self-avowed coward as someone like him). Never mind that his reputation is, unknown to most other than himself, built entirely on such things as taking credit for others' work and managing to be the sole survivor of battles by hiding until the fighting is done.
In Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novel Turn Coat, when Morgan shows up at Harry's appartment, and Harry helps him, he starts to thank him, and Harry cuts him off because they don't want that conversation.
In White Night, Elaine responds to Harry's thanks for saving him from a frozen lake and ghouls by saying she was bored and had nothing else to do.
When a wizard was noting Harry's accomplishments, Harry gets embarrassed, and jokes that he only saved the universe because his ass was in the same spot of trouble as the universe, and he saved his own ass. The wizard was amused, but definitely didn't need that image.
At the end of Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin starts his speech at the party, and Eeyore starts this — before Christopher Robin manages to get it in that it's for Pooh.
In Nick Kyme's Warhammer 40,000 novel Salamander, Dak'ir tells Tsu'gan that he owes him a debt of gratitude; Tsu'gan doesn't even look him at him and tells him that it was for the mission, not Dak'ir's well-being. Later, saving Dak'ir in a Take My Hand situation, he says he did his duty and saved a fellow Salamander — even one unworthy of the name.
In Brisingr, Angela the herbalist tells Roran this after he thanks her for healing the injuries on his back from whipping. She then changes her mind and says "Or rather, thank something of it, but do not consider it overly important. Besides, it amuses me to have tended injuries on both your back and Eragon's."
In Guards! Guards!! Vimes is surprised hearing that he and his men will be rewarded for their efforts to save the city.
The Patrician: Oh, and do bring your men in tomorrow. The city must show its gratitude.
Vimes: It must what?
When they are told that they can have a reward, his men ask for a small raise, a new tea kettle, and a dartboard (being afraid that they went too far with the last one.)
In John C. Wright's The Phoenix Exultant, when Temer Lacemodian goes into exile by talking Phaethon, Phaethon thanks him, and he says he did what his duty called for, (Besides, this will let him watch the ship fly, and he's fascinated with that ship.)
In Dorothy L. Sayers's Gaudy Night, after Harriet has defended Lord Peter Wimsey's detecting — even if he does it for fun, he does do it, and many people have reason to thank him — and another woman brings up A Friend in Need who had helped with her drains for nothing because he liked working with them. Earlier, Harriet had dismissed Miss Cattermole's statement that now she needed to be grateful to Harriet, telling her she had been pursuing an end of her own.
Later in Busman's Honeymoon, Joe Sellon thanks Lord Peter after the arrest, because catching the murderer meant his name was cleared. Lord Peter dismisses it because the end of the case always means reaction for him.
In Rick Riordan's The Heroes of Olympus book The Mark of Athena, Tiberinus notes where Romulus and Remus washed ashore, Rhea cooes how nice it was of him to flood for them, and he says it was nothing.
Galaxy of Fear: City of the Dead has Boba Fett kill Dr. Evazan, who was about to murder Zak. Fett doesn't care about anything but the bounty on Evazan and says so. "Thanks are inappropriate. You were incidental." Later he saves Zak again because he needs some information Zak has and, again, does not care. Indeed, when later in the series there's a bounty on Zak...
Later in the series DV-9 takes a blaster bolt for Tash and survives... well, 'survives'. He's a droid. "Think no more of it, Tash. I was doing my duty as your caretaker. Besides, although my outer shell has become rather unsightly, that blaster would have done you far more harm than it did me."
In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novels, thanking another fae is an act of fealty. As a consequence, fae wave off even approximations of thanks
In Rosemary and Rue, when Toby tells her the healing was a good job, Lily waves it off.
Angel: Angel does this. It is much-ridiculed by Spike, who sees it as a cheap act to impress women.
Mal: "You're in my crew. Why are we still talking about this?"
Simon: "Mei-Mei, all I have is right here".
River: "I never thought you'd come for me." Simon: "Well, you're a dummy."
In Black Adder's Christmas Carol, he responds with "Think nothing of it! I, after all, think nothing of you."
In the Xena: WP episode "Old Ares Has a Farm", Gabrielle refers to a previous episode where Ares (in an OOC moment) saved her life. Ares, determined to maintain his villainous street cred, partly subverts this trope:
Gabrielle: Ares— when you gave up your immortality to save me and Eve— that was— that was quite a sacrifice. Thank you. Ares: If Eve had died - and Xena lost her power to kill gods - then Athena would have killed Xena. So I was saving Eve to save Xena. You were an afterthought. Gabrielle: Thanks, anyway.
Inspector Morse is offered a large cheque by a millionaire businessman. Morse refuses stating that he was doing his job, the businessman responds that it's not for that, it's for being the first person in years to act like his comatose daughter is still alive. Morse still doesn't accept.
Scheming shopkeeper Arkwright exploits this trope in Open All Hours when he offers to reward a man for helping him, is refused, then asks if he will settle for advice on what's a real bargain right now. The man leaves with a large bag of shopping, looks surprised, then starts to run.
McCoy: Spock, er, I know we've, er, had our disagreements. Er, maybe they're jokes, I don't know. As Jim says, we're not often sure ourselves sometimes. But, er... what I'm trying to say is...
Spock: Doctor, I am seeking a means of escape. Will you please be brief?
McCoy: What I'm trying to say is, you saved my life in the arena.
Spock: Yes, that's quite true.
McCoy: [Indignant] I'm trying to thank you, you pointed-eared hobgoblin!
Spock: Oh yes, you humans have that emotional need to express gratitude. "You're welcome", I believe is the correct response.
In Doctor Who, K-9 has been known to say that gratitude is not required.
In "Frontios," the Doctor is afraid the Time Lords will object, and so asks them to keep it quiet.
An inversion in 30 Rock, where Tracy Jordan tries to get back his bad reputation by causing havoc, until he comes across a man drowning in the Hudson. Tracy is visibly upset and rescues the man, later the man is interviewed by a news network, saying that Tracey had told him not to tell anyone (to avoid further praise).
Parker: Buffy, I don't know what to say. After the way I've treated you, and now I owe you my life. Buffy: It's nothing. Parker: It's everything. You're everything. And I'm going to do whatever it takes to get you to forgive me. Do you think that you might— [Buffy snaps out of it at the sight of Parker chatting up another girl]
Hilariously averted later in the same episode after she really does save his life. He ends up giving her a speech very similar to the one in her fantasy, but Buffy is still under the lingering effects of some magic beer that reverted her mind to a "cave man" state, so she just knocks him unconscious with a club instead of saying anything.
Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger uses this as Book Ends; at the end of both the first and the last episode, a group of schoolchildren thanks the Gokaigers for saving them (and the rest of the planet, in the finale). They respond that they didn't save anyone, the bad guys just got in their way and got taken down, so there's no need for thanks.
Zaphod Beeblebrox is uncharacteristically impressed by Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when Arthur uses the Infinite Improbability Drive to save the Heart of Gold from being hit by two guided missiles. Arthur says "it was nothing, really". Zaphod takes it literally, says "oh, well then forget about it, then" and goes back to completely ignoring Arthur.
Happens a fair bit in Stargate SG-1, what with the True Companions saving each other's lives on a regular basis. One good example occurs when Cam visits Sam in the hospital after he spent most of the episode tending to her while offworld.
Sora: I mean, sure, you could thank us a little...
Auron: You should say what you mean.
Jade Empire: If you're Good/Open Palm/Light Side, you're supposed to shrug off thanks and especially any rewards they offer you. This gets you karma points, and on occasion the same or even a better reward than if you had just accepted. Conversely, the Evil/Closed Fist/Dark Side path is to insist your rescuees give you even more.
Most of the time, insisting on more will only get you more money, where you already have Money for Nothing, whereas the refusal bonuses come as experience or rare items. Probably an effort to encourage the good choices, whatever the reasons may be.
In Chrono Cross, when Kid thanks Korcha for his help and gets an "It was nothing" response, she replies "Hmph. Thanks for nothing then."
The 2009 Runescape Easter holiday quest, "Splitting Heirs" (pun on multiple levels), has "a surprisingly healthy reward" from the Easter Bunny. Said reward is a wieldable carrot, and only a wieldable carrot, because your character acts modestly about the completion of the quest's tasks.
In the same comic, when Vaarsuvius teleports the Azurite fleet to a safe location, Kazumi and Daigo shower the elf with thanks. V then yells at them to shut about it, as the elf only moved the fleet to prevent the Azure City refugees from pestering him/her in the future.
It's worth to note that if V hadn't been running on temporarily borrowed Epic level magic, and V's debt to the hellish fiends had not been growing for every second V kept it, V would most likely have responded smugly and content to the praise. But with V's nerves in a tangle, demons whispering in V's ear and V's personal pride on the line, it wasn't easy for him to keep V's temper in check for something as trivial as a fleet of NPCs.
After Aang saves a village from a spirit monster, one of the elders asks how they can ever repay them, which Sokka immediately leaps on to ask for money and supplies. Katara tries telling him off, but he points out that they need stuff if they're going to cross the entire world to reach the North Pole.
South Park: In "Raising the Bar", James Cameron doesn't take credit for the eponymous act. "James Cameron doesn't do what James Cameron does for James Cameron. James Cameron does what James Cameron does because James Cameron is James Cameron."
Many, many real-life heroes will say some variation of "I just did what anyone would have done in my position." Alternately, if they saved the day because of special training, they'll still insist "I'm not the hero, a lot of people made the rescue possible." Examples abound:
For those too lazy to read the link, this is the man who managed to successfully splash down his failing airliner in the Hudson river, with no loss of life.
He also recently started appearing in commercials for St. Luke's Children's Hospital, where he claims that the true heroes are the littlest cancer patients.
British soldier Johnson Beharry received the Victoria Cross for saving the lives of several of his comrades in Iraq. He later said that he didn't know if his actions were brave because he was just doing his job.
In 1914, in an attempt to check the German advance, General Gallieni ordered that troops be rushed to the front via taxi cab. When complimented on his brilliant idea, Gallieni responded, "Eh bien, voila au moins qui n'est pas banal." (Oh well, at least it's not boring.)
When people who had rescued Jews during the Holocaust were questioned about why, many had no answer. Some actually grew angry at the question. As if they could have done nothing!
Irena Sendler (who saved about 2500 children) said: "Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory."
Miep Gies, one of the people that hid Anne Frank during the holocaust. People tend to call her a hero, but she disliked the title and retaliated with "I myself am just an ordinary woman. I simply had no choice"
Oskar Schindler, even though his choice to save 1100 Jews practically ruined him, said he would do it all again.
Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who served in Lithuania and gave thousands of transit visas to Jewish refugees so that they could travel to Japan said: "I do it just because I have pity on the people. They want to get out so I let them have the visas."
Giorgio Perlasca was an Italian businessman who in 1944 pretended to be Spanish consul-general to Hungary, and saved more than 5000 Jews. After the war, he didn't talk about his actions to anyone, and remained unknown until 1987, when he was discovered by a group of Jews saved by him. When asked about his motives, he said "I couldn't stand seeing children being killed. That's what I think it was. I don't think I was a hero." In another occasion his answer was "What would you have done in my place?"
And those are just the ones who are known. There's who knows how many people who did something above and beyond to help the Jews and remain unknown to this day. Many a Holocaust survivor has expressed anguish about never managing to find a person who helped them significantly to thank him/her personally because said person remained anonymous enough to be of no note to history.
John Smeaton regularly told the press that he just did what anyone would do in tackling the Glasgow Airport bombers, that other people did more and deserved more credit.
A standard Spanish and Portuguese translation of the English phrase, "You're Welcome" is "De Nada", more literally meaning "It was nothing".
In French, it's "de rien," with the same meaning.
In Italian, it's "di nulla".
All of them probably came from the Latin "Est nihil."
Some English speakers use the phrase "No worries."
Or: "Not at all". In German similar phrases are "nicht doch" and "dafür nicht", sometimes rendered comically as "da nicht für".
Arabic takes it even further - using the same word for "you're welcome" and "I'm sorry."
Polish uses a rather elaborate phrase "nie ma za co", which essentially means "there is nothing to [thank me] about".
There's also the phrase "Forget about it," used by the mafia (and people who like mafia movies) to mean essentially, "Hey, even remembering this favor would be pointless, cause I'll do it again anytime." Sort of a subversion, though, cause the phrase, given the context, can also just as easily mean "fuck off."
Some languages like Russian and Estonian use the same word for "please" and "you're welcome"
Philippine Languages: In Tagalog, they use the phrase "walang anuman". In Cebuano, they use "walay sapayan", which is literally means "don't consider"
Grigori Perelman is a Russian mathematician with a history of doing this. In 2003, he proved the Poincaré conjecture, a problem which had gone unsolved for almost 100 years. He then proceeded to turn down the Fields Medal, the most prestigious prize in mathematics, as well as the $1,000,000 prize from the Clay Mathematics Institute for proving the Poincaré conjecture. His words:
I'm not interested in money or fame... I don't want to be on display like an animal in a zoo. I'm not a hero of mathematics. I'm not even that successful; that is why I don't want to have everybody looking at me."
Considering that he even rejected the idea of donating the prize money to charity, or taking it to support his elderly mother, he did come off as something of a Jerk Ass, even by the standards of the world of mathematics, in rejecting the award.
Subverted in a popular, though unverified anecdote about Frederick The Great of Prussia. When someone suggested he pay a special bonus to an official for negotiating the contract by which a famous ballerina joined the ensemble of the Berlin opera, he reputedly refused with the words: "He only did his damned duty (seine verfluchte Schuldigkeit)."
A few Op-Ed articles have complained about this becoming prevalent in Western culture, since it's no longer "You're welcome" - but instead "No problem" when someone is thanked for something.
Played for laughs by John F. Kennedy when he was asked how he became a war hero: "It was absolutely involuntary. They sank my boat."