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Ambition Is Evil

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"I have no spur/to prick the sides of my intent/but only vaulting ambition..."

"...The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault;
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it."
Antony, Scene II, Julius Caesar

There's a character who aims to improve their situation in life, be it in terms of money, fame, or power. There is a high probability of this character starting out as evil or becoming evil very quickly. The Visionary Villain and Well-Intentioned Extremist will do horrible things to achieve their Heaven on Earth; The Social Darwinist and The Sociopath will commit every act of crime and manipulation to move up the ranks; the Corrupt Corporate Executive began as a dirt-poor proletarian who wanted to live wealthy, etc. Upon attaining this power, they'll likely forget whatever it was they wanted it for in the first place. The Illusion of Pride, and the inevitable tale of Tragedy for the one who dared to be ambitious is likely.

Fictional and Real Life moral codes have a tendency to demonstrate Selfishness, Greed, Pride, Megalomania, and Machiavellian Chronic Backstabbing Disorder as a consequence of the catch-all term "ambition". If you consult a dictionary it's broader than that. Ambition is the same thing that motivates some heroes to make the world a better place, but in that case, it's more likely to be called "Hope".


This trope is one of the reasons why Villains Act, Heroes React. Villains who don't have great ambitions would not plot grand schemes and motivate story driving conflicts such as Take Over the World or Utopia Justifies the Means, and, therefore, would be boring and petty. It is possible to write an "ambitionless" villain — see For the Evulz — but they risk coming off as a Generic Doomsday Villain.

Usually justified when the existing society is an evil dystopia, or otherwise flawed — "advancing" in such a society would generally mean complying with or encouraging its systemic injustices.note  Also justified when ambition, or other emotions, is the personification of evil itself.


Can happen as a result of Status Quo Is God. Normally used as an heavy-handed Aesop about what's really important. Unfortunately ends up in a Broken Aesop that teaches us Evil Is Cool (or at least open to social progress).

The Svengali, since their goal is usually to profit through their (supposed) protege, will usually be an example of this, and turn their protege into one, unless they realize in time.

This is a common trait of The Starscream; indeed, it's often what makes them The Starscream.

The heroic converse of this trope is To Be a Master, where the hero is motivated by ambition. Note that heroes tend to pursue "healthy" goals such as strength and knowledge, while villains are more likely to be after power or money, usually for their own benefit and no one else's and at other people's expense.

For some reason, while even high levels of ambition are bad, equal or greater levels of determination are usually presented as good, or at least not bad. If you have high levels of both, you're The Unfettered. Heaven help the character intending to use their super powers this way; it guarantees Screw the Rules, I Have Supernatural Powers!. If a character wants to rise above the level of their fellows, it might be a case of The Complainer Is Always Wrong.

This, in a way, is the inverse of Living is More Than Surviving, where achieving more than the most basic things people can do is seen as good.

See also Pride, Personal Gain Hurts and Evil Virtues. Compare with Drunk with Power. Contrast with Self-Made Man and Go-Getter Girl, who pursue their ambitions, and aren’t (necessarily) evil, as well any Rags to Riches story where The Protagonist means to become rich.

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Air Gear, the Big Bad just wanted to improve his lot in life and ended up Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
  • Berserk: Griffith. Originally, he "merely" wanted to rise from a poor street urchin to king in a society that does not encourage this sort of upward mobility. After a few setbacks, he sets his sights a little higher, and sacrifices all of his mercenary band to the god hand, rapes Guts' girlfriend in front of him, and unleashes a plague of demons on the world in order to reach his goal.
  • Averted in Bleach. During his more reflective moments, Ichigo makes much of becoming more powerful so that he can better protect the people he cares about, even if he's doing it by using his Superpowered Evil Side. Combined with With Great Power Comes Great Insanity around the 350th chapter/the final stages of his fight with Ulquiorra, where the latest upgrade to his Superpowered Evil Side only appears interested in protecting Orihime, and will casually attempt to kill anyone else who gets in his way — like, for instance, Uryu.
    • Played straight with Big Bad Aizen. His unlimited ambition is the sole reason for all his evil.
    • Inverted with Starrk, one of the few amicable arrancar. He has a very similar backstory to Aizen, with the biggest difference in their Character Development coming from Starrk's extreme laziness.
  • Isamu in Breakshot is described as "an ambitious guy"... because he often cheats to win.
  • Subverted in Code Geass; everyone assumes Lelouch, a prince, used the Black Knights for personal gain at best and a game at the worst. However, by the end, a select few realize that all of Lelouch's ambition was for the good of the world.
    • Schneizel, described by Word of God as lacking ambition, ended up being the Big Bad since he would pursue whatever goal tickled his fancy at the moment without any overall or long-term interest.
  • In Cyber Weapon Z, Leiting may look like a Well-Intentioned Extremist but, at the end of the day, what he really cares about is his increasing his own power by siphoning that of the Demon King Solote.
  • Played straight with Death Note's Light Yagami; by the time the US President surrenders to Kira, his father is dead and his sister is traumatized. He even allowed his father to put himself in a life-threatening situation for his own gain, which ultimately led to his demise. And that's not even counting the countless other times Light has made morally questionable decisions in order to realize his dream of a perfect new world. The difference between his innocent, idealistic self and the person he becomes with the Note is startling.
  • Averted in Dr. Stone with Ryusui Nanami, the heir to a shipping magnate. He wholly admits to being greedy, but also says that he has enough greed for everyone in the whole world, meaning that he wants everyone to benefit from his efforts. Flashbacks to his youth show him chasing wild dreams and sharing the success with his friends, and his personal butler Francois defended his never-give-up attitude by arguing that the ambition to pursue a worthy goal no matter how impossible it seems is exactly the kind of trait one wants in a leader.
  • In Durarara!! Mikado's goal is to unite the Dollars and Blue Squares to show Kida that he can stand on his own. In his own words, "The only way for having your dreams realized is to have power." However this has pushed Mikado's sanity as of later novel volumes out the window for the most part (unless he was crazy from the beginning.) In a good example of the evil bit, he even goes as far as setting people who piss him off on fire.
  • Very much averted in Fullmetal Alchemist, where a number of characters (e.g. Mustang, Olivia Armstrong, Greed, and Ling) are ambitious but they are generally good because of this, not in spite of it. Ling's ambition to become the next emperor was the only thing that prevented Greed from taking over his body completely.
    • Greed's ambition is notable in that he desires to possess everything. Most people would chalk this up as evil, but the thing is that he also values everything he possesses. His minions may be possessions, but they're his and killing them is equal to stealing from him.
  • Mei from Ga-Rei -Zero- believes that she is more qualified than Yomi to lead the Isayama family. Her ambition allows her Sesshoseki stone to corrupt her, after which she kills Yomi's father and manipulates the family in order to steal the position for herself.
  • Ambition is the defining characteristic of Dio Brando from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, to the point that he rejects his humanity and transforms himself into a vampire for the sake of gaining more power.
  • Gihren Zabi of Mobile Suit Gundam is the single most ambitious member of the Zabi family. He's also the single most evil member, and the only one with no redeeming qualities.
  • Enchu of Muhyo and Roji desperately wanted to become an Executor to help his ailing mother, while Muhyo did not want the position, and would have turned it over to Enchu if given the chance. The committee for choosing an executor recognized that Enchu's preoccupation with his mother was a risk factor; hearing of her death and losing the position to Muhyo pushed Enchu into his Start of Darkness.
  • Subverted for Katsuki Bakugo from My Hero Academia. His ambition to be the number one hero is actually treated as one of his few positive points, despite him being a huge jerk about it. He also refuses to go down the path of a villain, despite the fact that his Quirk would be very suited for it. That said, in Chapter 120, All Might says that his drive to be the best is holding him back from being a hero and that he needs to work on also having an equal drive for rescuing people.
  • Naruto: Orochimaru's ambition to have eternal life (which he believed would be more easily accomplished by becoming Fourth Hokage, and he was passed over in favor of Minato) is pretty much the reason why he turned into the Big Bad. Similarly, Danzo was a political rival to the Third Hokage who sought to impose his warlike ideals on the village with means from covert operations to using his mind control powers to seize the Hokage title after Tsunade goes into a coma.
    • Averted for several characters too, most notably Naruto himself, who wants to be Hokage one day and by Hashirama Senju, the First Hokage, whose boundless ambition to change the world created the entire system of hidden ninja villages and drastically reduced the Crapsackiness of the world.
    • This is also inverted with some villains like Nagato, Tobi, and Madara since their wanting to change the world is viewed in a very positive light. But how they wanted to change it is where they gets into trouble.
  • Played straight and subverted quite often in One Piece. Most of the villains have pretty lofty goals, but the main characters have arguably the highest ambitions in the series. Inverted with Captain Kuro, who annoys Luffy because his goal to retire from being a pirate is completely lame.
    • Played straight with Blackbeard, whose ambition to become Pirate King led him to kill one of his own crewmates in the back story, capture Ace to secure a position in the Seven Warlords of the Sea, try and kill Luffy, caused a war that led to the death of Ace, Oars Jr., and who knows how many others, killing Whitebeard directly and unleashed who knows how many of the world's worst criminals on an unsuspecting world.
    • Basically One Piece is more like "Ambition is Neutral," as many of the villains they have fought had aims similar to the heroes, and it was merely their methods that were evil, not necessarily their aims. Blackbeard above is the best example as he also wants to be King of the Pirates, but his methods involve all sorts of cruelty. Or Eneru, whose ambition was to go to the Moon, perfectly innocuous except that he wanted to do it by plundering an island of all its gold then planning to blow the island up into the sea.
      • It should be noted that said blowing up wasn't even necessary to the plan. It was just for the sake of it.
    • Hell, "Haki" (Japanese for "ambition") is basically One Piece's resident Life Energy. Those who can control and project it out of their body get a substantial boost in battle. And the most powerful form, which one has to be born with, is the "Ambition of the King" — the sheer desire to reign over everyone else. The main hero has itnote . The Big Bad, probably, too.
  • Slade (no, not that Slade), a minor character in Rave Master who worked with Haru's dad back when he was a soldier, is the person that Gale turns to report his best friend who has since gone bad and began to run a criminal organization. He promises to tell Slade where the group, known as Demon Card, has its headquarters so long as Slade only arrests King. Slade agrees, then brings the whole army and shoots everyone down in as flashy a way as possible so his superiors will notice and he'll get a promotion. In doing so, he pushed King all the way into Big Bad status, and set his 6-year-old son down the road to that as well.
  • In Reborn! (2004), Futa's "ambition" rankings actually seem to measure how treacherous a given person is.
  • Averted for the most part in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann; daring ambition is the most powerful force in the universe, and the vast majority of the protagonists indulge. However, according to the Anti-Spiral, it's also the force that will eventually destroy reality, so really it could go either way.
  • Tokyo Ghoul explores this trope, particularly in the sequel, :Re.
    • Seidou Takizawa is quite vocal about his desire to get promoted, and this is one reason he frequently clashes with his rival, Akira Mado. At one point, they get into a drunken argument concerning whether being promotion-focused is bad or not. But when push comes to shove, he risks his career by disregarding direct orders and goes in search of a wounded Amon. In the sequel, he plays the trope straight — his thirst for power seems to have played a part in his Transhuman Treachery.
    • Kuki Urie's ambitions might be fueled by an understandable desire to avenge his father, but the methods he uses establish him firmly as the Token Evil Teammate of the Quinx Squad. Though assigned as their acting Squad Leader, he refuses to work with the others....unless, of course, he can use them to achieve his own ends. Intensely jealous of Sasaki's strength, he looks for ways to undermine his leadership and increase his own power even when warned against doing so. After his actions cause him to be dismissed as Squad Leader, he begins plotting ways to destroy the team from within in order to discredit Shirazu. It becomes a case of Be Careful What You Wish For: Urie gets his position back and receives credit for bringing down one of Aogiri's most prominent members... because Shirazu sacrificed himself to create an opening. Urie tries to convince Shirazu to live by promising him all the credit, and is left crushed by his friend's loss.
    • Matsuri Washuu is this trope incarnate. The heir of the illustrious Washuu Clan, he is infamous even among his clan for his ambition and callous disregard for human life. Operations he supervises are known for having incredible success rates, but also extreme loss of life in the process. He actively schemes against his colleagues and his own father, with many within the organization concerned about what would happen if he manages to take over. When asked point-blank whether seeing the bodies of his subordinates makes him feel anything, Matsuri states that it doesn't while looking like he'd been asked a stupid question.
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, Eva's ambition to succeed her father as the head of the Ushiromiya family instead of her older brother was stepped on most of her life due to the Heir Club for Men, but wow, once she manages to achieve her goal, she goes nuts and kills most of the rest of her family.

    Comic Books 
  • This seems to actually be a trend among superhero fiction; this article notes that rich superheroes tend to inherit their money, while self-made men are usually villains.
  • Half the point of The Authority was that, where other superheroes simply react to supervillains' schemes and preserve the status quo, The Authority would use their powers to genuinely change the world. The implications of this vary from author to author, but often involve the team Jumping Off the Slippery Slope and becoming Anti Villains or just plain villains.
  • Seahn of The First. He's the personification of ambition, and a nasty, nasty piece of work.
  • Subversion: Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) is hugely ambitious, to the point of it frequently biting him in the ass, but his drive is less for personal gain and more for the betterment of mankind... he hopes. His worst excesses (such as Civil War and Armor Wars) are usually not driven by lust for power, but by an overzealous sense of guilt and responsibility.
  • Irredeemable: The Plutonian has a very subtle version of this. It's revealed in flashbacks that he has a strong desire for love and adoration. Since his ambitions were very altruistic, and he used his superpowers to make them come true by helping people, nobody seemed to mind (or just assumed he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart and not a need for affection). But then he eventually realized you can't please everyone and gave up on being a hero, and instead ruined a world that he could never get to love him.
  • Judge Dredd: It turns out that Judge Martin Sinfield would do anything to become Chief Judge, including brainwashing his predecessor to step down. Of course, he did it all for the good of the city.
  • The Hood suffers Motive Decay (he initially just wanted to support his family) because of his ambition to be a big-time supervillain criminal mastermind instead of the street thug he really is. Acquiring the magical hood and boots empowered by Dormammu gave Parker Robbins an appetite for power that has gotten worse with time.
  • Rick and Morty (Oni): Doofus Jerry’s hunger for achievement and his desire for greatness is tireless. In his dimension, he is the literal definition of success.
  • The first Squadron Supreme miniseries (whose members are Captain Ersatzes of the Justice League of America) had the heroes helping to rebuild the world (after they themselves helped conquer it under an evil alien's mind control) and decide that instead of rebuilding it as it was, they would make it better. They even announced that if people trusted them they would give up control over Earth in exactly one year. However, this was seen as a bad thing by half the heroes, who organized a resistance against them. The reasons given weren't very convincing — they just seemed to be there just to maintain the Status Quo of their Earth resembling the real one. Note that this story inspired both DC's Kingdom Come and Civil War.
    • Only one hero, the Batman Captain Ersatz, actually objected to improving the world. What causes the real split was when the majority of the Squadron Supreme decided to use Brainwashing for the Greater Good.
      • Actually, he made a very valid point in the final issue. Even after turning power back over to civilian authority, the Utopia could only last so long as the Squadron was around to enforce it. There's no guarantee their eventual successors would hold to the same moral standards.
  • Downplayed in Star Wars: Legacy by the Fel Empire. The Fels were Reasonable Authority Figures loyal to the Light side of the Force, a branch of the Skywalker family, and cared deeply for the galactic citizenry. However according to writer John Ostrander, they were intended to be seen as A Lighter Shade of Grey rather than outright good as they were authoritarian in nature, valuing power above all else. Played straight by Darth Krayt's Galactic Empire, who after overthrowing the Fels sent the public right back to the nightmarish conditions they endured under Sidious.
  • The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers: Averted with Prowl, who is the most morally grey of the good guys as he's willing to go to lengths to end the war others find uncomfortable. He just wants the war to end; he doesn't want any credit or glory. For the Decepticons, Overlord is quite possibly the most evil Decepticon in the IDW comics. Megatron always thought that he'd pull a Starscream on him, but Overlord does not care about rank and he doesn't care about advancing in the power structure. He just wants to kill people. Kup speculates that his goal in life is to upgrade from homicide to genocide, and keep killing.
  • The Transformers: Robots in Disguise: Starscream is this. Bumblebee remarks that his ambition is untempered due to his lack of any ideology and a huge dose of caring only for himself. He wants power and control, but now the war is over, and the world they face is brutal and the people all distrust each other. To get power he... wants to be elected by a committee of his peers. He keeps his smug attitude but does his best to help the society move into a brighter future, one he wants to lead. He even befriends his political rival Metalhawk, and though he snarks at him, seems to respect Bumblebee. When Megatron throws it all into chaos, Scream berates him because of his shortsighted folly and stands with the Autobots. When Megatron is defeated Starscream rejoices, and then kills Metalhawk, uses his death as a political maneuver, swears off his faction, and has the entire public rally behind him. He then banishes Bumblebee and all the Autobots and Decepticons clinging to old alliances. His final words to Metalhawk lampshade this:
    Metalhawk: I thought you were my friend.
    [Starscream murders Metalhawk]
    Starscream: I was. I just wanted this more.
  • The cape-killer (Ozymandias) of Watchmen might fit, depending on whether you think he's evil or a Well-Intentioned Extremist. It's true that he gave up a fortune, but that just underlines his ambition (he wanted everyone to know that his accomplishments were his accomplishments, not his family's).
  • Wonder Woman (1987):
    • Cassie Arnold teams up with a murderer masquerading as a hero to propel her own career as a reporter by making it look like she's an Intrepid Reporter following a hero like Lois Lane.
    • Veronica Cale is a hardworking scientist and CEO, who hates Wonder Woman for getting "undeserved" praise heaped upon her for "being a pretty princess", does cruel experiments, and treats humans as disposable stepping stones.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 
  • AbraxasVerse: Apex Cybernetics. Though the exact details of their Evil Plan are kept ambiguous in the AbraxasVerse canon, it's pretty clear to the reader that it's very similar to what they attempted in Godzilla vs. Kong (see the Films — Live-Action folder): create mechs on par with the Titans, and implicitly challenge the actual Titans with them once they're brought online, all for the sake of power.
  • An Incognito Query: Brought up by Question when he's going over Reagan's background. Considering her lineage, skills in robotics, and overall intellect, coupled with how she seems to have been working a dead end job for over a decade, he finds her very suspicious. After all, you don't work at a dead end with that kind of resume unless it's a stepping stone in ruling the world.
  • Bequeathed from Pale Estates: Ned Stark blames the near downfall of the Starks two decades ago on his father's southron ambitions, which still have an effect on them even long after his death. It's for this reason that he's reluctant to play along with his goodfather's penchant for matchmaking and scheming. Seeing as said ambitions led to the deaths of his older brother Brandon, his sister Lyanna, and Rickard himself, and saw Benjen go to the Wall when it was all over, he may have a point.
  • In Blood and Spirit, Veress broke off from the main Sheikah tribe to create the Dark Interlopers because of her desire to succeed Impa as the leader of the tribe and lead the Sheikah into battle against Demise. However, since this was not the destiny of the Sheikah tribe, she was passed over in favor of Sheik, her former best friend.
  • FFS, I Believe in You: In the sequel, the Mormaer Uisdean is obsessed with personal power and control, and considers it his inborn right to rule over all zora, everywhere. This leads to his oppressive rule of Zola Province, and later to his attempt to invade Hyrule and conquer Zora's Domain.
  • In Forum of Thrones, this is a prime flaw of Harren Hoare, whose yearning for more and more power has turned him into a tyrant who ruthlessly bleeds his own kingdom dry.
    • Maron Mullendore and Edward Anturion show many of the same traits, as their ambition is generally the cause for their worst actions and almost exclusively portrayed as negatively.
  • Discussed in Free from Force. Ahsoka decries the Seperatists, claiming those in charge only want to "fill their pockets". Darth Maul counters that there's nothing inherently evil in wanting to live a life of luxury. As a Sith, though not a particularly evil one, he freely supports the idea that the cunning and ambitious should thrive over less intelligent individuals.
  • Friendship Is Magical Girls: Sunset Shimmer's Start of Darkness was caused by her desire for power and glory for its own sake and her belief that her mother and Celestia were holding her back. Thus why she ritually killed her mother to become immortal and started her campaign to become more powerful than Celestia.
  • Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters:
    • In his Start of Darkness chapter, it's revealed that Daolon Wong turned to darkness because he wanted the knowledge and power he couldn't achieve as a good wizard, and this warped to the point he now wants to become a god amongst men.
    • Likewise, Wong's Shapeshifter lieutenant Roberta has desires to gain as much power as she can, in contrast to her previous life on the street, which is why she accepted his offer to become a Shapeshifter in the first place. Which is how Miranda is able to turn her against Wong, by making a better offer.
  • Handmaid:
    • One of the reasons why the handmaid privilege fell out of disuse before Henry revived it. If the Queen predeceased the King and the Princess Consort, then the former was legally obligated to marry the latter in her place. For handmaids with particularly ambitious families, that posed a problem; history is littered with families executed for trying to elevate their daughters' newfound status through...dishonest means.
    • Thomas Seymour attacks a pregnant Anne so she can be replaced by the pregnant Jane. Despite whatever Jane believed, it becomes very clear that Thomas was driven by the thought of all he could gain by being the uncle of a prince/future king.
    • Jane is an interesting case. She clearly wants to takes Anne's place, but also recognizes that desiring Anne dead to make that happen is an evil thought; instead, she tries to convince herself that she would be a superior handmaid to Anne, and thus things would be better off for everyone if Anne was dead. In short, she recognizes that ambition is evil, and so tries to convince herself that she isn't ambitious but righteous.
  • Discussed and defied (among other things) in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, where Harry's ambition to become omnipotent and benevolently reorganize reality is fully endorsed by the Author.
  • The Night Unfurls:
    • One of Vault's motives for building a Sex Empire is that, by utilising the Black Fortress and its vast resources, he and the Black Dogs have an opportunity to rise to a position higher than a mere mercenary. Unhappy with servitude under the Goddess Reborn, he wants to bring the current people in power, like the Seven Shields, under his heel, while every man under his rule can "live like kings". Ambition is only a secondary motivation, though.
    • Evil Chancellor, Prime Minister Beasley. Unhappy with taking orders from Alicia, heir of the fortress Feoh, he joins Vault and the Black Dogs so that he can rule over his own part of the future Sex Empire.
    • Evil Sorcerer Shamuhaza is willing to conduct inhumane experiments to both innocents and people on the same side as he is (The Leaping Lizards), for the sake of gaining more power and knowledge, as well as delving further into the Eldritch Truth. All of his test subjects have become either grotesque abominations, or breeders of said abominations.
  • Twilight Sparkle in Pages of Harmony very much fits this, seeing as her ambition is to "preserve harmony"? How does she do so? By Mind Raping, torturing, and killing her friends to extract their Elements. And that's just the start.
  • Queen of All Oni:
    • Jade seems to fit this, as one of her major motivations is to prove herself, even as a villain, feeling unappreciated for all the times she helped against evil and saved Jackie's life. Later in the story, she suffers from PTSD, which leads to Motive Decay that makes her even more of an example of this — now, she wants to gather massive amounts of power for its own sake and doesn't care who gets hurt in the process.
    • Finn also at one point makes it clear just how ambitious he is, hoping for a Mook Promotion to higher ranks of villainy. He even tells Viper that he's a better criminal than she ever was, because he has ambitions to move beyond his current position.
  • In Queen of Shadows, most of the Circle of Generals have ambitions of gaining even further power (namely, becoming the Yojimbo). However, General Jirobo of the Bat Khan is the highlight of this, as he is so utterly convinced that his progressive views will allow the Shadowkhan Empire to truly flourish, that he's been trying to manipulate the Queen into a Puppet King he can control, something taboo to the Shadowkhan.
  • Exploited in Son of the Sannin. Just like in canon, Danzo has the ambition to become Hokage and is shown to be extremely bitter that he's always been passed over for the position every time, which leads him to stoop down to things like allying with Orochimaru and leaking intel to Akatsuki about the jinchuriki's whereabouts, resulting in several missions to retrieve them gone wrong. When he's confronted about it, he reveals that his plan was to let Akatsuki gather all the Tailed Beasts in a single place to take them back for Konoha, or so it seems, as shortly after he turns out to have been under Kotoamatsukami influence, thanks to Obito Uchiha. Rather than outright mind-controlling Danzo, all he did was plant the idea on him and let his ambitions do the rest. Given Danzo's reputation, nobody would have even suspected it wasn't his idea to begin with.
  • Inverted by Tobias Grey in The Anguis Series. He's definitely the most ambitious of his Slytherin mates, shown by his desire to work in the Ministry in Magic, whereas his peers are more content to just enjoy their school life. However, he's also the most scrupulous of them all, being the only Slytherin who refuses to join Umbridge's Inquisitorial Squad, even though this hurts his chances of becoming Head Boy.
  • Pointedly averted with the Harry Potter fanfic THERMOS!, or, How a Muggle-Born Brought a New Age of Spell-Making to Hogwarts (Entirely by Accident). The main character Phoebe is a Slytherin, and while she's noted to be ambitious (it being the defining trait of Slytherin House and all), somewhat lazy and definitely a Troll (no, not a literal one), she isn't mean-spirited in any way. Her friend Titus, also a Slytherin, comes off as friendly and nice, too. (The author's identified herself as a Slytherin, so it makes sense that she'd write them in a more flattering light.)
  • In The Vow, this is taken further with Lord Shen (see Kung Fu Panda 2 in the section of animated films). Even when he has won the heart of the woman he loves and his future as his parents' heir is secure, he can't help but feel that he must strive to make a name for himself instead of settling to inherit his parents' legacy. This leads him to experiment on black powder and design cannons, and his attempt to prevent the fate he'd end up with for continuing his dark path leads him to be driven away from his home and loved ones, leaving him filled with embittered ambition.
  • In the Harry Potter fic Why Harry Hates the Headmaster or Alt Sixth Year Ron actually started fighting Harry at the mere mention of ambition, which resulted in Harry giving a somewhat heavy-handed mini-sermon on how ambition wasn't "Slytherin" or "Dark."

    Films — Animation 
  • Henna from Barbie: Mariposa poisons Queen Marabella to become Queen herself. Unfortunately, this also causes the lights guarding Flutterfield from Skeezites to go out, as their status depends on Marabella's health.
  • Archibald Snatcher, Big Bad of The Boxtrolls, is obsessed with climbing the social ranks by rounding up and exterminating all of the boxtrolls. His obsession drives him to spread outrageous lies about the boxtrolls being savage, baby-eating monsters, threaten children, mistreat his lackeys, and eat cheese despite his violent allergies to the stuff.
  • As bad as Lightning McQueen from Cars is by putting his ambitions over everything and everyone else to the point of not knowing the names of his own pit crew or caring when they quit (he gets better), his rival Chick Hicks is much worse. In the big race at the end of the movie, Chick seems to be willing to kill his long-time rival The King by causing a horrible crash. Chick wins the race, but everybody hates him and it's highly unlikely he'll be getting sponsorship from the people who employ the guy/car he just tried to wreck.
  • The villain's Backstory in Coco: Ernesto de la Cruz only became the star he was after he murdered his musical partner and stole his songs.
  • In Frankenweenie, the main character manages to resurrect his dog out of love, and while still kind of dead, the dog is otherwise fine. The other kids, meanwhile, are Designated Villains because they want to replicate his experiment to win the science fair; their animals all Come Back Wrong, for no apparent reason other than that they had "bad" intentions.
  • Prince Hans in Frozen. There was no way he'd inherit the throne to his own kingdom since he was the thirteenth-born son, so he plotted to marry into the royal family of Arendelle, kill Elsa, and assume the throne.
  • Lord Shen in Kung Fu Panda 2. First, he invents the cannon with plans to use it to make himself more powerful. When his family's Soothsayer predicts that he will be defeated by "a black and white warrior", his response is to try to murder a nearby village of pandas. By the time the film's events roll around, he wants nothing less than to conquer all of China.
    • Downplayed with Tigress in the first film. Tigress was quite overachieving in the beginning but it was mostly to reinforce her worth in the eyes of Shifu, the citizens of the Valley, and her teammates. Nevertheless, it's these traits and the feeling of being pushed aside by an incoming (and seemingly undeserving) student that drives much of her cruel treatment towards Po.
  • In The Little Mermaid (1989) Ursula was kicked out of Atlantica because she attacked King Triton and tried to seize the throne. Then, when Ariel came too close to getting that first kiss that would undo Ursula's plans, she sabotages that by transforming into Vanessa and using Ariel's voice to hypnotize the prince, just so Ariel would remain her slave. Then, even after promising Triton to release Ariel in exchange for his magical trident, she tries and fails to kill Ariel. To top it all off, she goes on a rampage and tries to kill everyone because of how badly her plans have been mucked up.
  • The Once-ler in The Lorax adaptation started out as a young man determined to prove himself to his family by becoming a successful businessman, but when he does become a success, he becomes obsessed with "biggering" his company until he turns into a full-blown Corrupt Corporate Executive.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Eve Harrington of All About Eve is nothing if not driven. She wants to be just like her inspiration, star actress Margo Channing, up to and including taking the role she has and will stop at nothing to get it.
  • Played with in Beyond the Lights. Both Noni and Kaz have dreams and aspirations that are seen as admirable. It's Macy, Noni's mother's, ambition that is seen as evil as it drives her to ignore her daughter's own wishes and micromanage Noni's entire life. It is part of the reason Noni attempts suicide and ultimately leads to her letting Macy have it and firing her as her manager.
  • Bones (2001): Jeremiah's first flashback establishes him as being resentful of how Jimmy refuses to accept criminal deals which could help him advance in the world. When Jimmy says he's fine with the status quo, Jeremiah replies that "you got all the status, and I got nothing but quo." He pressures Jimmy to partner with Eddie and Lupovich to get rich selling drugs, and while he's horrified during Jimmy's actual murder, he's unrepentant about helping to turn his old neighborhood into a slum.
  • Luchino Visconti's The Damned (1969) provides a thorough exploration of the trope. Various members and associates of a German steel family vie for control of the family business, set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany, using blackmail and murder to advance their means. Their ambitions are ruthlessly manipulated by SS leader Aschenbach, allowing the Nazis to take control.
  • The Family Man: The whole movie is about showing Nicholas Cage's character the life he would have had if he had chosen to stay with his girlfriend instead of going off on business. The thing is, he actually seems happy at the beginning of the film and miserable with his new circumstances to the point that he spends a fair portion of the movie trying to get his high-powered career back. Eventually though, he does fall in love with the family but is snapped back to his old life and circumstances are contrived as such that he has to blow the deal of his career to catch his ex-girlfriend at the airport (presumably sacrificing his career for a now-hypothetical family.) Why he couldn't have closed that deal and tried to look her up later is left to the viewer to figure out.
  • In Gladiator, Marcus Aurelius wants to make General Maximus his heir specifically because Maximus does not have any ambition to be Emperor and Marcus wants Rome to become a Republic again. Commodus, however, has great ambition to be a wise and just Emperor. When he learns that the position is about to be snatched from him, he murders his own father. This lends credence to an Alternative Character Interpretation that Marcus Aurelius felt that ambition was not the only flaw disqualifying Commodus from the purple robes of power...
  • Godzilla vs. Kong: Apex Cybernetics, the Evil, Inc. responsible for the plot of the movie. Though they try to justify their Evil Plan to kill and usurp Godzilla by claiming they're returning total control of the planet to humanity and are creating a secure line of defence against the Titans, it's pretty clear from Walter Simmons' behavior and Apex's nightmarish lack of regard for the millions of potential casualties they engineer that what Apex really want is to be the ones credited with breaking new ground in the form of their human-controlled anti-Titan Mecha and to be hailed as heroes. It's even all but confirmed in the official novelization that if Apex's plan had succeeded without any hitches, they would've gone on to Take Over the World outright.
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Elsa Schneider is a well-educated scholar who used her allegiance with the Nazis to obtain the Holy Grail. Her ambition drives her to betray both Indiana Jones and his father to get the invaluable information on the Grail’s location. In the end, ambition was her undoing, as she refuses to accept that the grail couldn’t leave its protective temple, which causes a Cataclysm Climax. Despite the chaos, Indiana manages to keep her from falling to her death in a huge chasm. In her quest to have the grail at all costs, she wildly reaches for the grail, and Indiana loses his hold on her slippery gloved hand.
  • A rather subtle version occurs in I Shot Jesse James. Bob Ford’s pursuit of silver and wealth makes him even more possessive of his Love Interest Cynthy, whereas his rival John Kelley’s decision to become Town Marshal (largely considered a thankless job) is treated as a selfless action. This makes the two men's Love Triangle with Cynthy even more intense.
  • Many, if not all, James Bond villains are motivated to dominate the world or be very powerful, and they'll use any means to get to their goals, including but not limited to straight-up omnicide or triggering World War III.
  • Wan ultimately ends up losing everything she actually loved in her grab for power in Legend of the Black Scorpion. Then someone killed her.
  • While Loki initially states that he never wanted the throne, he definitely gets a taste for it during his short rule in Thor. In The Avengers, Loki has a lot of ambition: he wants to be a king of Asgard but would settle for taking over Earth as a substitute. This, of course, leads him to do some pretty evil stuff.
  • Master: It's implied that Liv, a professor at Lancaster University who is a candidate for tenure, commits hate crimes against Jasmine and ultimately kills her in order to get tenure and thus secure her place in the college.
  • In Nightcrawler, Lou exemplifies this trope. He is literally willing to do anything to get ahead in the business, no matter who he has to hurt.
  • Savannah Smiles: Mr. Driscoll wants to run for the state Senate and neglects his daughter even more than usual to do so (while making his wife do the same), eventually graduating to outright destroying evidence that shows his daughter did run away instead of being kidnapped.
  • In Stardust, all of the Stormhold princes murder each other in an attempt to become heir to the throne. Only Primus seems decent, and he doesn't need to be ambitious because he's already the heir. The crown eventually goes to the most humble characters who is in line for it.
  • The Sith are all about this trope. They actively betray and murder in order to obtain more power, in contrast to the Jedi Philosophy. One particular Sith went so far as to destroy the entire Sith leadership because they had stopped the repeated betrayal that usually only weakened the Sith as a whole.
  • In The Thin Red Line (1998) the antagonistic Lt. Col. Tall orders a suicidal attack, because the battle offers perfect opportunity for promotion.
  • Vicki: Even though Vicki claims she is not ambitious, this is patently not true (and Steve even outright states this during one of Perp Sweating sessions). She uses those around her to ruthlessly claw her way to the top of the New York social scene, and then tosses everyone aside to move to Hollywood. It is her decision to go Hollywood that gets her murdered.
  • Wall Street: Villain Gordon Gekko famously asserts, "Greed, for a lack of a better word, is good." In a World… where money is power, greed is ambition.


  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • Finn, whose desire to be a great political leader is intrinsically tied to his unlikable, arrogant personality. Downplayed, however, in that he's a jerkass rather than a villain.
    • Daigo, similarly, wants to overthrow the ruling powers and become a leader who can present himself to the masses as their saviour. While a somewhat noble goal in theory, he quickly leaps off into the dark side when he uses his newfound power to terrorise and murder innocents for the sake of his goal.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Violent in Anathema gain will from outclassing other shrouds. There's nothing wrong with being ambitious at your job. When your job is to murder millions upon millions of humans, however...
  • While BattleTech operates under a mostly Grey-and-Gray Morality, characters who are presented as ambitious (whether that ambition is to work their way up to a higher rank in the military, become governor of a planet, or conquer the entire Inner Sphere) are almost always presented as antagonists. Hanse Davion is the biggest exception — he came the closest to conquering the Inner Sphere that anyone had done since the collapse of the Star League but was generally portrayed as heroic because of his actions.
    • Brett Andrews is one of the worse cases, as the ilKhan (Khan of all the Clans) he puts his personal ambitions and ideas over the betterment of all the Clans. He instigated the Wars of Reavings which resulted in the Clans tearing each other apart, while his Clan the Steel Vipers benefited from it, at the expense of the rest of the Clans.
    • Hanse Davion avoids falling into this trope mainly by not actually being especially ambitious, at least not by Successor Lord standards. Cunning, yes, ruthless where he needs to be, too...but he does have a conscience and at heart genuinely believes that the people he conquers will in fact be better off than they were under their old oppressive regimes (and considering who his primary enemies in his time are it's not too difficult to see why he would think so). So from his perspective, it's actually not All About Him. (Compare and contrast his daughter Katherine, who in her own grab for power after his death plays the trope dead straight and promptly ends up thoroughly wrecking the very Federated Commonwealth he's only just helped establish again.)
  • The structure of Dungeons & Dragons averts the trope, since achieving wealth and power is a built-in result of adventuring.
  • In Legend of the Five Rings, there exist a set of four "Bloodswords", powerful weapons crafted by an evil sorcerer. They are named Passion, Revenge, Judgement, and Ambition, and greatly increase the given emotion/feeling in their wielder to an extremely unhealthy level. Throughout the story, two separate individuals have wielded Ambition. Both tried to murder the Emperor and take over his throne. Both ended poorly for the individual in question.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Ambition is one of the things represented by the color black. Granted, black is not always evil, but it is the usual home of Always Chaotic Evil creatures. Personified by Bontu, the God of Ambition on the plane of Amonkhet, which drove her personality so much that she allied with Nicol Bolas in order to gain more power. Predictably, once Bolas had used Amonkhet to his satisfaction, she paid for it.
    • Characters can also easily take "Ambition" as a Foible (similar to the Hubrises of 7th Sea), which is an open invitation for any GM to have it bite them in the ass. Then again, they can also take it as a Motivation or other Forte so that an ambitious nature works for them rather than against.
  • Scion: One of the Dark Virtues is Ambition.
  • 7th Sea: "Ambitious" is one of the Hubrises that can be taken as a "fatal flaw" by player characters in exchange for more Hero Points at character creation. However, Hubrises aren't explicitly considered evil traits, just dangerous ones, and characters that have one are just as heroic as anyone else. (The game also includes such Hubrises as "Loyal", "Misfortunate" and "Star-crossed".)
  • Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies: "Ambitious" best describes the national character of the Barathi, whose empire is tangled, corrupt, and ridden with assassination and Vendetta-killings. The other nations have their own ideals that can cause conflict, but the Barathi are the easiest to hand for any GM who wants a sinister plot driven by someone's desire for power. Ambition is even listed as one of the fatal flaws that distinguishes a swashbuckling villain from a hero, becoming consumed by the need to win.
  • In Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000:
    • Tzeentch is the Chaos god of ambition, also: hope, change, mutation, betrayal, psychic powers, lies, plotting, ravens, etc. In fact, in 40K he's the accumulated hope felt by sentient species in the galaxy.
    • The Space Marines believe, "Better to die for the Emperor, than live for yourself."
    • The Tau are all about this, to a point where they can be a Deconstruction. Everything they do is for "The Greater Good": they don't love in the romantic sense (they breed by eugenics with couplings determined by genetic analysis), they will throw themselves into a meat-grinder knowing full well they will die, and even their leaders will sometimes carry a bomb to blow themselves up all for the Greater Good.
    • Horus Lupercal embodied the Emperor's ambition, and that ambition led him to ruin.
    • Nagash from Warhammer Fantasy wanted to be king, but due to Nehekaran rules of succession, he (as the eldest son) was made a priest while his younger brother was made king. Pissed beyond belief by this, Nagash plotted for a means to overthrow his brother, which he got when some captured Dark Elves taught him the basics of dark magic, providing him with the base to invent necromancy. Nowadays Nagash (as a mighty lich) has loftier goals in mind: killing the entire world and the Chaos Gods so that his will alone would reign supreme.

  • Cyrano de Bergerac: In-Universe: One of the traits of the Gascon moral code: De Guiche, a gascon soldier is considered No True Gascon between all the other Gascons because he wants to get power through compromise instead of his personal valor.
  • Initially the main protagonist of The Fix, Calvin Chandler, only wants to hang out getting high and playing guitar — it's his scheming mother who forces him into politics after her Senator husband dies, because...
    If I can't be the wife of the President,
    You can bet your ass I'll be his mother!
  • Played with heavily in Hamilton, with Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and what drives their relationship from an amiable friendship to a duel to the death. At the beginning, Hot-Blooded Hamilton's mouth tends to get him in trouble, and Burr tries to advise him to keep his opinions to himself to avoid just that. Hamilton is disgusted by Burr's refusal to openly back causes based on his beliefs, but the two form an Odd Friendship all the same. Hamilton keeps pushing Burr to be more active and ambitious, but the first big crack in their relationship comes when Burr switches parties to run against Hamilton's father-in-law for a Senate seat, which Burr wins. Burr tells Hamilton that Hamilton inspired him to aspire higher, as far as the Presidency, but as Burr aims higher and higher the two men grow farther and farther apart, culminating in Hamilton endorsing his old Arch-Enemy Jefferson over Burr in the Election of 1800. Burr blames Hamilton for his loss, and they begin exchanging polite but vitriolic letters, culminating in the infamous duel which ends in Hamilton's death.
    • Hamilton's reason for supporting Jefferson in the election over Burr is explicitly this. He argues that while Jefferson's ideals run strongly against his own, he at least wants to be President because he believes in those ideals: Burr wants to be President so that he can become powerful.
  • Ambition leads Abigaille to usurp her father's throne in Verdi's Nabucco.
  • RENT: In "You'll See," it's revealed that before the events of the musical, ambition and wanting to move up on the social ladder are what gradually transformed Benny from an idealistic bohemian and friend of Mark and Roger, to a rather callous and occasionally unpleasant capitalist who reneges on his promise not to charge rent to his former room and housemates and tries to get a lot containing a tent city cleared out and demolished. It's worth noting that both of these actions are to achieve his dream of building a high-tech studio, which he hopes can allow his former fellow bohemians to actually make money off of their art.
  • Social hierarchies were a major part of Elizabethan society, so ambition beyond one's station is an important theme in many William Shakespeare tragedies:
    • In Julius Caesar, Brutus claims to the Romans that Caesar's ambitious nature was tyrannical and that stopping him justifies the murder. Antony provides the page quote by acknowledging the dangers of ambition even though he disagrees.
    • Ambition is literally Macbeth's only motivation in favor of kill Duncan: "I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition".
    • In Hamlet, Claudius' ambition to the throne leads him to kill his brother and marry the queen.
  • "The Way Things Are" from I Can Get It For You Wholesale:
    You've got to climb higher, always climb!
    To hell with the rules!
    Get used to the fools
    Who have to be stepped on
    From time to time!

    Video Games 
  • The aptly-named Ambition series has this with Yale.
  • Bug Fables: The Wasp King seeks out the Everlasting Sapling, which can grant immense power and immortality, in order to take over all of Bugaria. Throughout the story, he conveys haughty contempt and callousness towards the heroes, civilians, and even his own soldiers because he thinks that's what a mighty king is supposed to do, and his plan to conquer Bugaria is motivated by his belief that it's what he deserves.
  • Crusader Kings 2: The Ambitious trait gives a character a very good stat bonus, but it also gives the character a permanent -5 relations malus with anyone else who has the trait, as well as -25 towards anyone getting in the way of the ambition (typically the character's liege, if any). This means Ambitious vassals are more likely to rebel. Furthermore, its opposed trait, Content, gives a piety bonus. So, it's not so much "ambition makes you evil" as it is "ambition makes you a pain in the rear".
  • In Chapter 2 of Deltarune, Spamton is obsessed with becoming a [BIG SHOT!!], and in both routes seeks to upgrade himself into the monstrously powerful Spamton NEO to do so. In the normal route, the Addisons explain that his downfall started as a result of a Faustian partnership with a mysterious caller to achieve fame. In the Weird Route, meanwhile, Spamton uses his and the SOUL's corruption of Noelle and her ensuing rampage to take over the Cyber World, which he gloats now belongs to him.
  • Vergil's quest for more power throughout Devil May Cry shows that, while he briefly held the power he was searching for, it ultimately leads to his downfall into literal hell. Shortly after, he marches straight off to fight Mundus. In Devil May Cry 5 the Big Bad Urizen is literally the embodiment of Vergil's ambition and thirst for power created after Vergil split his demonic and sides apart with the Yamato. The horrific lengths Urizen goes to for more power horrifies V (revealed to be the embodiment of Vergil's humanity) and he endeavors to stop him.
  • Disgaea 4: This is the sin that sent Fuka Kazamatsuri straight to hell. At the tender age of five, she wanted to Take Over the World, and begged her Mad Scientist father for a little sister who would also double as a Person of Mass Destruction and her own personal Dragon. Once in the Netherworld, she first tries to take over Hades (as she was sick of being treated poorly as a Prinny), then tries to take over the entire Netherworld, and then tries to take over the Human World as well!
    • It's apparently such a big enough sin that in The Fuka and Desco Show she is effectively banned from reincarnation after she and her sister Take Over the World! Though that doesn't bother her too much and declares the Netherworld and Celestia are next.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Dragon Age: Origins: Bhelen Aeducan is a Well-Intentioned Extremist who wants to drag the dwindling dwarf kingdom into the modern-day, and isn't above poisoning his own family to get on the throne. Should you put him in power, he institutes martial law and sends assassins after anyone who might try to unseat him. He also opens trading deals with the outside world and gives casteless dwarves actual rights. Under the other guy's rule, the dwarves stay an isolationist Decadent Court and not much gets done.
    • Dragon Age II:
      • Anders is the only one who shows any kind of ambition towards ending the templar/mage conflict. So, he blows up the Chantry so there can be no compromise between the two sides.
      • Merrill also has shades of this trope. Her ambition to link her people with their past prompts her to try and restore a broken mirror that's a portal for a demon to re-enter the world from the Fade. While she herself survives, this goal gets at least Keeper Marethari killed, if not the entire clan she was trying to help.
      • Snarky!Hawke plays this straight, being one of the few unambiguously good characters in the game. Despite their actions pissing off more than a few people in the process, Snarky!Hawke acts out of a desire to help people with no reward, has no real goals other than protecting their friends and family and at the end of the day, simply desires nothing more than to head down to The Hanged Man for a drink among friends.
      • Played very straight with siblings Varric and Bartrand. The former is a party member, has no patience for "dwarven honor" and is happy to hang out at the Hanged Man drinking and telling stories. The latter is obsessed with reclaiming his family's legacy, incredibly unpleasant to work for, and leaves you all to die with a little push from an Artifact of Doom.
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition: One of the potential companions of the Inquisition, Vivienne, was pretty much described in the promotional material as 'The Ambition'. She's not evil per se, but self-serving and tends to cause conflicts with other companions. Being a player of The Game, she really needs to claw her way out to a society that despises mages no matter how much blood was spilled.
  • Dragon Quest VIII: In this JRPG, Marcello is obsessed with gaining power and status because he was born to a peasant woman and a nobleman. It doesn't end well. It does, however, end better for him than for the majority of other named characters; at least Marcello survives the game.
  • Dynasty Warriors: In the early games, most of Cao Cao's speeches links to the term 'Ambition'. And he is the bad guy in the novel. Becomes more of a grey area once Cao Cao and Wei become a faction of ruthless but ultimately well-intentioned Anti-Heroes in 7 (while still going on about ambition,) while Zhong Hui cites his own ambitions as his reason for backstabbing the Sima family and attempting to seize Wei for himself.
  • Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future: Justified. Ambition made dolphins from an alternate reality ruthless and selfish, but only because at the time it was their only trait besides Intelligence (the others having been stolen from them). When those qualities are balanced by the rest — Compassion, Wisdom, and Humility — Ambition instead serves as the noble trait that drives dolphins to fulfill their dreams.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Throughout the series, Ambition specifically falls within the sphere of Mehrunes Dagon, the Daedric Prince of Destruction. While none of the Daedric Princes are truly "evil", instead operating on their own scale of Blue-and-Orange Morality, Dagon is certainly one of the most malevolent toward mortals and is near-universally regarded as evil as a result. Dagon has served directly as the Big Bad of two games in the series (Oblivion and the Dungeon Crawl spin-off game Battlespire) and is later revealed to have been The Man Behind the Man/Greater-Scope Villain for Arena.
    • In the more heretical tales of his life, Tiber Septim, the founder of the Third Tamriellic Empire who ascended after his death as Talos, the Ninth Divine, had a lust for power led him to do some incredibly evil and underhanded things, such as betraying his allies and forcing the young Dunmer princess Barenziah to have a magical abortion because the child would've been inconvenient.
  • The eponymous Player Characters of Evil Genius are explicitly... well, Evil Geniuses trying to Take Over the World, in the purest form of evil ambition there is. But among the three, Alexis stands out, as she started a wealthy socialite, quadrupled her inheritance, and the thing that drives her to world conquest is the realization that this wasn't enough.
  • This shows up with both the Big Bad Yngvarr and side-villain Vernan in the mod Falskaar note . Brother Arnand laments that Vernan's desire to learn magic eventually got out of hand, which resulted in his expulsion and his experimenting with the Dream Crystal. Yngvarr's ambition to conquer Falskaar is also motivated by his desire to become immortal... doing which could technically put the entire island at risk.
  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones: Caellach, a mercenary who becomes one of the six generals of The Empire. His greatest ambition is to become a king, and he's also Affably Evil and That One Boss.
  • In Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, Berkut's greatest desire is to become emperor of Rigel. When Alm turns out to be the rightful heir to the throne, he snaps and sells his fiancee's soul to the local Mad God to obtain the power to kill him and take Rigel for himself.
  • Wolfgang of Growlanser II aspires to create a democratic territory for his fellow mercenaries, who are only of use to the current reigning kingdoms in times of war. However, achieving this goal requires deceit, trickery, and fighting against the game's protagonists.
  • Kingdom Hearts: One of the central themes of the series is that reaching for more power than you're entitled to never ends well. All of the major enemy types (Heartless, Nobodies, and Unversed) started with someone being overly ambitious and screwing things up royally in the process.
  • Played for Drama in Xerath's backstory in League of Legends. Originally a child slave of the ancient Shurima empire, all his life he only desired to be free. He would eventually save the life of the young Emperor Azir, who promised him his freedom, and would go on to be educated, taught magic, and become the Emperor's top adviser. However, he never gained the freedom he was promised, and eventually turned to scheming to take freedom. However, just as his schemes were about to bear fruit, Azir finally kept his promise and revealed he always intended to, just waiting for the right moment. Xerath, unable to do anything to stop the destruction of Shurima he had set in motion, could only silently weep at what was about to happen. He was then sealed away in a tomb for several thousand years by Nasus and Renekton before escaping into the present time determined never to lose his freedom again.
  • Legacy of Kain: Kain gets called out on this in a few games of the series. He may be the hero of the series, but that doesn't change the fact they actually make a point.
  • In The Legend of Zelda, the Big Bad, Ganondorf lead an expedition to the Sacred Realm in order to acquire the Triforce, a creation of the three goddesses that could grant unlimited power to the one who has it. However, when he touched it, the Triforce separated into three parts, as it would only remain intact for those whose hearts value Power, Wisdom, and Courage equally. Ganondorf only received one piece of the whole: the Triforce of Power, as he only valued Power and wanted to Take Over the World. Meanwhile, the other two pieces, the Triforce of Courage and Triforce of Wisdom, went to the heroes: Link and Princess Zelda respectively. Thus, in all games in the series, it is the job of the various Links and Zeldas to stop Ganondorf from gaining the full Triforce so his ambitions can come to fruition.
  • In Live A Live, This ends up being the downfall of Straybow in the Knight Chapter. When Oersted's party crashed into Devil's Peak and wandered into a dead end, Straybow figured out there was actually a secret passage where the princess was kept, but wanting to get one over on his rival and take her for himself, Straybow faked the room collapsing to get everyone else out, then tricked Oersted into killing the king and becoming a pariah. In the end, his ambition resulted not only in his death and the princess committing suicide to follow him, but Oersted became corrupted into Odio because of this, dooming all of Lucretia and kickstarting the events of the other 7 chapters.
  • The whole plot of Peret em Heru: For the Prisoners is driven by the raw ambitions of one man: Professor Tsuchida. While already highly respected in his field, he still wants more — and when some illegal explorations lead to him uncovering hidden ruins, he ropes a tour group into accompanying him inside. Supposedly to give them a 'once-in-a-lifetime experience', but honestly because he intended to use them as Human Shields to get past whatever booby traps might be waiting inside.
    • His assistant Dr. Kuroe also demonstrates this, though to a lesser degree. Like the professor, he isn't satisfied with his accomplishments and desires, which leads to him going along with his plan despite some reservations. This leads to some internal conflict as the expedition continues...
    • Then comes the endgame revelation that Tsuchida's true motive was to punish Kuroe for this, blaming him for not being able to save his daughter one year prior. At the time, Kuroe hadn't graduated yet, and while he offered several reasons as to why he couldn't save her, the one that stuck out the most to the Professor was his fear of losing his license. Thus, he believes that Kuroe's ambition helped cause Shizumi's death, and was obsessed with seeing him punished for it.
  • Rise Of The Third Power:
    • Emperor Noraskov seeks the glory days of an old empire that was eventually split into the Kingdom of Cirinthia, the Republic of Tariq, the Kingdom of Arkadya, and many smaller territories. He overthrows the king of Arkadya, reforms the country into an empire, and tries to conquer Cirinthia and Tariq.
    • Phillip wants to sell out Cirinthia to Noraskov for the sake of gaining political power. He plans on using Princess Rebecca as a puppet queen in order to gain popularity for himself before disposing of her and ruling Cirinthia directly.
  • Ruina: Fairy Tale of the Forgotten Ruins:
    • Prince Teor of the Kness Dukedom starts out as an ally, but eventually, it becomes clear that he's exploring the ruins not out of altruism, but to gain power and glory for himself. He eventually decides to rebuild the Archean Empire with himself as the ruler and plans to trap everyone in Star Spirits in order to preserve Titus's spirit.
    • In the final dungeon, if the player asks Titus I how he can justify his actions, he states that it's human nature to seek power and immortality. His goal is to force everyone on the planet to dream of him and his empire so that he can preserve himself and his legacy forever.
  • From Sands of Destruction:
    • Subverted by Pistris Rex. While his sole motive for holding the peace talks is to secure a better seat for himself on the counsel of beastlords, he's perfectly reasonable and willing to make genuine strides for peace. Too bad the Front decided to send in Kyrie, who's known to not have complete control of his powers, as their representative, and the Crimson Sun picked that moment to active his Destruct Code.
    • Eventually played straight by Lacertus Rex. His ambition to destroy and remake the world to his liking lead to delusions of godhood.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, human ambition being destructive is one of the central teachings of Shijima, the World of Silence Reason. Hikawa, one of the most vocal advocates of Shijima, likens greed and ambition to fire; in small amounts they can bring comfort and warmth, but all too often humans allow them to grow out of control until they consume everything around them.
  • Penelope in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. Her intent was to invent and sell weapons in the black market for billions of dollars, and Take Over the World. But she needs Bentley's cooperation, as he's the brains of the pair, but she grew jealous of his two Childhood Friends Sly and Murray, who were also friends with Penelope, and came to believe that killing them both would hasten her climb to power and ensure Bentley's continued loyalty. It backfires spectacularly, leaving Penelope broke, friendless, and a wanted fugitive.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: A lot of darkside choices allow for players to achieve personal goals at the cost of committing actions considered morally wrong, so this trope is played straight plenty of times within the game. However, a potential conversation option for Imperial Players brings up the topic of ambition during a side quest on Dromund Kaas, where it's ultimately defied. There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting power; what is the problem, however, is what you will do to get it and what you will do once you have it.
  • Super Robot Wars X: Power-hungry for acknowledgement, status, and fame, Celric would do anything to secure his path to be Pope of the Order of Mages. As he overthrows Counselor Kildean, and used the power of Ende to feed on his ego, his Warth Dienvel eventually went berserk, along with himself.
  • Valkyria Chronicles: This is actually one of the major themes of the game; every single character who actually aspired to achieve their rank in the military is in it for some form of selfish gain and nothing else, and most of them die. The exception is Varrot, who only became a captain because she wanted revenge for her murdered lover., and retired shortly afterward. Everyone who either enlists voluntarily or is conscripted, without pursuing an actual military career, gets a more or less happy ending — and the exception to that is Faldio, who dies explicitly for believing in military strength over the power of love. The bottom line is that in Europa, the only way to win a war is by blowing it up with your belief in pacifism (and regular guns — magic lasers are evil.) It takes this a step further by having the entire main Gallian army die in a huge explosion. Their deaths are mentioned once and then completely ignored by the main cast — because even though enemy Mooks are shown to be human, the Gallian army are Mooks that have no worth at all, presumably because (unlike Squad 7, which is made up of people who volunteered in response to a threat to their hometowns) they're professional soldiers, who only exist to promote warfare and be willingly manipulated by their evil, shallow overlord, General Damon.
    • Valkyria Chronicles 4 fleshes this strawman scenario out; when the Empire threw all fantasy Geneva Conventions out the window, most of the Gallian military and conscripted militia immediately signed up with the Federation out of principles and the promise of a future alliance with a greater power. The remainder of the high-ranking forces stayed home from a combination of cowardice, apathy, and the knowledge that they'd get shiny new promotions if they sat back and watched their superiors sacrifice themselves on the real frontlines of the war. This backfired greatly.
  • Many of the villains in Yakuza embody this concept, though few are as tragic as Akira Nishikiyama. Originally an orphan just like his friend Kazuma Kiryu, he joined the Dojima family with the desire to reap the lavish riches of the high-ranking yakuza. However, as time went on, he began to grow jealous of Kiryu's recognition with his peers and superiors as well as winning the heart of Yumi Sawamura, a fellow orphan he pined for but only had eyes for Kiryu, feeling like he could never measure up. It came crashing down the night Nishiki shot and killed their Oyabun Sohei Dojima after he tried to rape Yumi, and Kiryu took the fall and went to jail. A combination of his guilt, the lack of respect his peers gave him and admitting they wanted Kiryu to be their leader, Yumi losing her memory thanks to the trauma and vanishing, and eventually his sick sister Yuko dying over the course of 10 years caused Nishiki to cast aside his personal ties and do whatever it'd take to rise to the top of the yakuza world in an attempt to regain control of his life and be respected. By the end of the first game, he tried to kill Kiryu several times, was willing to try and hurt Yumi and her daughter Haruka, had the man he viewed as a father figure shot and killed a woman who loved him and ultimately died shooting a bomb on the 10 billion yen he betrayed his loved ones for, vowing to make things right with his own death.
  • Zyll: This is what got Zyll into trouble in the first place.

    Visual Novels 
  • Double Homework:
    • Played with regarding the protagonist. His Olympic aspirations seem to make him a stuck-up glory hog, and as he matures, he starts to lose interest in them. And when he loses the qualifier, he’s okay with it.
    • Averted with Rachel. She has — and keeps — the same Olympic ambition as the protagonist, but she doesn’t lose her moral compass for it.
    • Played straight with Dennis. A social outcast who wants to become an alpha male, he uses all manner of immoral and illegal means to achieve his aim.
  • Played straight with Nagi, Nami, and The Midnight Killer in Major/Minor. While the former two are looking to restart the universe, their actions have caused death and suffering across the galaxy. The Midnight Killer, Maxine Armstrong, wants to gain possession of The Ark, claiming she'll use the powers of it to stop death — however, she is psychotic and treats the lives of the people she's killing as nothing. It's also hinted that she arranged to have her older sister killed so she could inherit Armstrong Incorporated. Subverted with Acheron and Velasquez: Acheron wants to gain the power of The Ark to prevent his psychotic sister from controlling it, and to use it to combat death; Velasquez wants to help The Federation find a new source of power and seems to care about his royal subjects, but the morality of his methods is questionable.

    Web Animation 


    Web Original 
  • Averted In the Whateley Universe: Phase used to be a Sheltered Aristocrat and is now fairly obsessed with regaining wealth, power, control, and the ability to do stuff with that power...but is a good guy.

    Western Animation 
  • Arcane: As Vander laments, Silco once had the respect of everyone in the Undercity, but it was never enough for him. Silco wants the respect of topside Piltover and he'd do anything to get it.
  • This is both played straight and subverted in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show's main bad guys are the firebenders. Fire is described as being the element of power and those who practice it have desire and will and the energy and drive to achieve what they want. They are, by their nature, ambitious. However, we are also shown many characters, including firebenders, whose ambition drives them to improve themselves and the world around them. Of special notice is Fire Lord Sozin; his seemingly earnest ambition started the show's conflict generations later.
  • In the DC Animated Universe, Batman was driven by a noble but unrealistic cause to rid all crime from Gotham city, which ultimately caused him to alienate the people closest to him. By Batman Beyond, all his vision got him was living utterly alone, in a city that is even worse off than when he was still Batman.
  • Batman Beyond also has Derek Powers, who wants to build his company, Wayne-Powers, into the most powerful force in future Gotham, and he's not afraid to throw away all scruples to do it. It'd probably be easier if it weren't for his condition acting up at inconvenient times, and that annoying kid in a batsuit messing up his plans.
  • In a Caleb and Sophia video, a student tempts Sophia by giving her the correct answer to a math problem that she has a problem with during a test. In her mind, she sees herself giving the teacher the test sheet with the correct answer that the student would give her, and also her appearing at her own graduation giving a valedictorian speech, in a purple tint — the same purple tint that the Devil appears in during the segment where he tempts Jesus in the wilderness with the three temptations — and so decides against succumbing to the temptation and leaves the answer to the math problem blank when she hands the test sheet back to the teacher.
  • Castlevania (2017): In practically every scene that features her, Carmilla at least gives off the impression that she's scheming for more power; something she apparently takes pride in. Hector notes in a conversation with Lenore that this seems to be an inherent vampire trait, the desire to drink more than they actually need, and Striga makes a similar statement in the direct aftermath of Carmilla's death.
    Vampires always have plans, don't we? Maybe it's just in our nature to overreach, grasp at too much at once, try to drink everything. Maybe that's why, in the end, we win all the battles, but always lose the war.
  • For Eddy (along with his friends, who are far less deserving) of Ed, Edd n Eddy, Failure Is the Only Option by the end of an episode, usually because he is a scam artist who attempts to weasel the other kids out of money. However, even if they manage to pull off a relatively legitimate business with rather impressive efforts they will still end up getting screwed over badly.
  • Huntik: Secrets & Seekers's villain Wilder is definitely this, to the point his ambitions about ruling The Syndicate blind him. Clear and looming threats, combined with his Demonic Summons titans and Smug Snake personality make for a villain who doesn't listen to facts or care about the consequences as long as he gets what he's after.
  • Catra in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is this, due to a childhood of abuse and being unable to escape from her best friend's shadow. She's fully aware that she's working for the villains, but sees climbing up the chain of command as the best path for proving that she's her own person deserving of praise and respect. The reason why she refuses to take Adora's offer to follow her and join the rebellion isn't just because of a sense of betrayalnote , but also because doing so would leave her back at square one: stuck as Adora's sidekick and seen as a background nuisance by everyone else.
  • Deconstructed in the Season 22 Simpsons episode "Lisa Simpson, This Isn't Your Life." Lisa spends an episode dreading ending up like Marge and transfers to an elite private school. Sitcom law dictates that the children there must be insufferable snobs, sending her running back to good ol' Springfield Elementary. Instead, the school suits her perfectly and looks like it absolutely would improve her chances in life. But late in the episode, she discovers the long hours Marge works to cover the tuition. The discovery leads to her lying about how the children are snobs and how she'd rather turn out like Marge, feeling guilty about the strain her attending private school puts on her mother. The lesson here being that ambition itself may not be evil, but fulfilling it can be, because it requires not caring who you have to step on to get ahead.
  • Teen Titans: Jinx is the only member of the H.I.V.E. Five with any real ambition — which is why she pesters them to try to join the Brotherhood of Evil and escalate their threat to the world. This then turns into an inversion, as while the rest are content to remain petty crooks, Jinx's willingness to take life in a new direction leads her to a Heel–Face Turn.
  • In ThunderCats (2011), though the Fantastic Caste System of The Empire of Thundera is presented as deeply dysfunctional, the one person who expresses an explicit, deep desire to rise above his station is the villain Grune, a Four-Star Badass with dreams of being The Usurper of Thundera's king. Frustrated in his efforts, he later settles for the more expedient strategy of defecting to be The Dragon to the series Big Bad, collaborating in Thundera's downfall.
  • On Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race the Ice Dancers are definitely the team most determined to not only win but also come first in every leg of the race. Other teams want it, but to Jacques and Josee, it's an obsession.
  • Megatron in Transformers: Prime started this way. What he initially wanted was to bring social reform to a caste-bound Cybertron, and believed himself to be worthy of the title of Prime. Flash forward to a few stellar cycles later, and he's now a war-mongering tyrant who plans to bring "Peace through tyranny." As in the comic book section above, most incarnations of Starscream are paragons of this trope (In addition to The Starscream), wanting to lead the Decepticons for no other reason than the fact that HE wants to be in charge, and will stop at nothing to achieve this, even though he's usually massively unsuited for the position. As he says in Transformers Prime, he is no stranger to ambition.
  • Zorro: The Chronicles: Corporal Gonzales desperately desires to become sergeant in Garcias' place, and is willing to follow any order Monasterio gives while showing up Garcia at any opportunity, in order to achieve this goal. Granted, when you're the personal Butt-Monkey to a sergeant who's an outright incompetent idiot, you do tend to want to achieve better for yourself...unfortunately, Gonzales isn't much better than Garcia in the intelligence department.


Video Example(s):


"Taking Care" of the Children

Palaptine, in his secret Sith identity of Darth Sidious, tires to perform experiments on the Force-Sensitive Children, which would potentially turn them to the Dark Side or die trying, though the future Emperor coldly dismisses their possible deaths.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / WouldHurtAChild

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