Our heroine Alice is in a situation she cannot escape. Before her stands the Evil Overlord, holding a loaded gun. He stalks up, enjoying her predicament, and puts the gun to Alice's head. The moment hangs, and just as we (and Alice) are certain he's about to pull the trigger and end her life, he whips around and shoots some underling who has annoyed him.
Obvious, but always shocking.
A variant can occur in which the person who is threatened is a major henchman, and the person who is killed is one of the rank and file. The implication being that ordinarily he would have killed the major henchman, but he's just too valuable so he needs to show he hasn't gone soft yet.
Named after Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who did this on multiple occasions in the James Bond films—though, in point of fact, Blofeld would scare the random mook or equivalent and then kill the actual guilty party, or at least the one who appeared to be. So he either inverts his own trope, or just plays it intelligently.
- Dragon Ball Z, Frieza seems fond of offing his own Mooks in lieu of the heroes in this manner. Two thirds of the way through the Namek saga all but the most elite mooks are dead, with a substantial chunk having been killed by Frieza himself.
- When Frieza comes to Earth as a cyborg, Trunks slashes his way through his father's men. They all drop dead except for one guy whose armor falls apart where Trunks' sword slashed it. As he backs away fearfully, Frieza comes up behind him. Instead of attacking Trunks, he instead kills the sole surviving minion, presumably for failing to kill Trunks.
- In Resurrection "F", the resurrected Frieza does this again on a much larger scale near the end. Almost all of the Mooks he brought with him are defeated by the heroes, and lie around the battlefield in various states of injury. Rather than attack the good guys, Frieza vaporizes all of the defeated minions (or at least the ones in the immediate vicinity) because (as he explains) he can't stand to see them lying there helplessly in his outfits.
- A Bug's Life: Hopper has his brother Molt pinned against the wall and is threatening him. He says that if he hadn't promised their mother he wouldn't, he would've killed him for his stupidity and clumsiness years ago. Molt mumbles that nobody appreciates it more than him, and continues annoying his brother until Hopper balls up his fist to hit him. Molt cries, "Remember Ma!" Mindful of his promise, because Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas, Hopper turns and punches another grasshopper who was standing behind him to vent his rage.
- James Bond
- Blofeld does this twice in You Only Live Twice, and the second one is pretty funny, in a gallows humour kind-of-way. He points a gun at Bond, and when it looks like he's going to shoot him, he shoots Mr. Osato first, for failing so much. Before he can shoot Bond, Blofeld gets a shuriken to the wrist. This is particularly ironic, as Mr. Osato had been threatened in turn by Blofeld, only for Number 11 to be the one executed. Blofeld held them both responsible for failing to kill Bond, and he was arguably right.
- In Thunderball, Blofeld electrocutes one of the henchmen sitting at his conference table for embezzling money from him, only after grilling another (and totally innocent) henchman for the reason why their drug trafficking ring had turned in such poor profits. Showing that it applies to things other than just failing to kill a "00" Agent.
- From Russia with Love; Chess Grandmaster Kronsteen looks on smugly, confident that fellow underling Rosa Klebb is being held terminally accountable for their scheme's failure - only for the poison blade to change direction at the last moment. Klebb lives to scheme another day. Ironically Kronsteen was right — his plan worked perfectly; it was the assassin picked by Rosa Klebb who stuffed it up. Of course only Bond was in a position to know that.
- In The World Is Not Enough, Renard confronts Davidov, Elektra King's head of security, for Bond escaping the parahawk attack earlier that day. But when he says "Kill him", the gunman instead shoots Mikhail Arkov, a nuclear scientist, and Davidov is forced to take his place- The two look nothing alike, but Arkov had "failed his test of devotion" by saying the mission should be scrapped (mostly because, while it was presumably Davidov's men and / or plan, the parahawks were rented by Arkov- he feared he would be found out since they weren't returned, and was putting his own self-interest ahead of Renard's objective).
- In The Punisher (2004), Mickey takes Howard Saint's son to arms deal, where he's killed by the arms dealers. Saint later has his men beat Mickey, before taking a gun from a Mook saying "The man responsible for my son's death must die." He then promptly shoots the Mook (his late son's bodyguard), a move which surprises everyone but The Dragon, for failing to protect his son.
- Mission: Impossible Film Series:
- Subverted in the movie Mission: Impossible II, where Sean Ambrose, the villain, has his gun against what seems to be Ethan Hunt's head (Hunt is the hero). It is expected that he will kill McCloy, whom he is talking to. However, he instead shoots and kills Hunt.Minutes later, the subversion is subverted when it is revealed that the Hunt that was killed was actually Ambrose's chief lieutenant (courtesy of Latex Perfection).
- In Mission: Impossible III, the film opens with Davian appearing to kill Ethan Hunt's wife. It is revealed that, again courtesy of Latex Perfection, the woman he shot was his translator who failed him earlier in the film. It turned out she was also his security chief, so the fact that he was kidnapped when she was right there with him obviously made him rather...upset with her.
- While in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, the trope is played perfectly straight by The Mole Ilsa, the nameless mook she took down to prove her loyalty and skill, and Bad Boss Lane, who in response to Ilsa's demand to just kill her if he couldn't trust her... Shoots the mook. Though the mook was behind Ilsa, the scene is shot so as to hide who is shot until the mook falls down dead.
- Justified in Crimson Tide. Based on faulty information, the submarine commander is trying to get the key to the nuclear launch control and launch a nuclear strike, but the Executive Officer who is trying to stop the launch has convinced Weps, the officer with access to this key, not to open the safe or give the captain the key. When the captain shows up, he draws his sidearm and threatens to kill Weps if Weps doesn't give him the key. It then occurs to the captain that he can't shoot Weps, he's the only one that knows the combination to the safe with the key. So the Captain grabs a subordinate of Weps and threatens to kill him if Weps doesn't give him the key. Weps reluctantly gives in and opens the safe, but only after giving the Captain a look of such pure disgust that the Captain looks shaken and unsure of whether he's doing the right thing for the first time in the film.
- Non-gun example from The Butterfly Effect: The protagonist Evan is kissing his girlfriend in a movie theater and her overprotective, sadistic brother Tommy starts toward them, enraged. A bigger kid trips him before he gets there and he falls on his face. He slowly gets up, looking at Evan with an expression of fury, and then turns and brutally beats the kid who tripped him. As security escorts him out, he turns and smiles at Evan.
- In the movie Mystery Men Casanova Frankenstein is taunting the heroes when he kills his own men, just to make a point about how insane he is.
- A variation of this occurs in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Towards the end of the film when everyone has arrived at the temple, Donovan looks like he's about to shoot Indy, but instead shoots Indy's father Henry Jones Sr, in a bid to motivate him to get the Holy Grail for him.
- Skeletor does this in the live-action Masters of the Universe film when his Quirky Miniboss Squad fails to get the Cosmic Key. Blade asks for a second chance, and Skeletor replies that he isn't feeling particularly forgiving... only to turn and vaporize Saurod, who'd been drawing his gun (although it's difficult to notice). It seems that Skeletor intended to kill Blade only to notice Saurod's potentially hostile move, and killed him instead because of this. Despite not vaporizing his original target, he still gets his point across.
- A variation occurs in Prince Caspian. The Big Bad is upset with The Dragon, but he just wounds the Dragon, then forces the Dragon to kill the mooks.
- Two variations in Lord of War : the South American narco-guerilla, pointing Vitaly but shooting Yuri and the Liberia president, shooting one of his man for cruising around, after having virtually aimed nothing.
- In TRON: Legacy, Clu looks like he's going to kill Rinzler for failing to secure Flynn's Identity Disc, but instead kills Jarvis.
- A variation occurs in Whiplash. Fletcher determines that someone in his studio band is out of tune. After going through everyone, he comes to one student who he terrorizes into admitting that he's out of tune and tosses him out. Then, he identifies the student who actually was out of tune, noting that the previous one couldn't tell whether or not he was, which was just as bad.
- In Gadiantons And The Silver Sword by Chris Heimerdinger, Mehrukenah threatens to kill Jim Hawkins with the Sword of Coriantumr, and then first kills his rival Shurr instead, buying the nearby villagers enough time to storm the grounds and rescue Jim from when the robber tries it for real the second time.
- In the James Bond novel Thunderball, the opening meeting between SPECTRE agents has Blofeld chewing out someone in charge of a kidnapping that went awry when the kidnap victim was raped during captivity. He then kills another underling sitting nearby - the one who was responsible for the rape - revealing he was using the first agent as a distraction and let the real target get too comfortable sitting in his electrified chair.
- A less fatal version happens in the book and movie Holes, in which the villain, Miss Walker, tells Caveman about her rattlesnake venom nail polish, which is "perfectly harmless... when it's dry." She raises her hand up to Caveman's head, then spins around and smacks Mister Sir, who was standing behind her.
- A variant of the variant on this trope occurred in the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Darksaber. Durga the Hutt, former Vigo of Black Sun, has his henchmen's chairs wired so that they can be electrocuted at any time. After accidentally punishing the wrong underling, he decides that it serves just as well as a warning as it would have been if the one who had actually been at fault had died. The next time an underling screws up, he finds that the entire bridge crew has leapt clear of their chairs. He later resorts to tying them to their chairs to prevent this dodge.
- We also learn in this book that Palpatine had a particularly sadistic variant of his own. When the first Death Star blew up, he had the chief engineer brought before him and had him brutally killed for the design flaw Luke exploited. But because he was too valuable to The Empire, he then had him resurrected as a clone (complete with memories of the death) and put him in charge of finishing the new Death Star....and every time something went wrong with the construction process, regardless of whether he was really at fault or not, Palpatine would do it all over again, each time using a new method of slow and painful execution just to spice things up. The guy remembers Palpatine cackling like the madman he was every time he did it too.
- In the first book of The Thrawn Trilogy, the Grand Admiral pulls a very interesting You Have Failed Me. A tractor beam operator was unable to capture Luke Skywalker, and tries to make excuses, blaming his immediate superior (both of which were Contest Winner Cameos). Thrawn turns and questions the ensign who trained him, and everyone knows someone's going to die. While reprimanding the ensign he has the tractor beam operator killed, then explains that the operator was executed for borderline insubordination, failure to adapt, and as a lesson in the difference between mere errors and worse mistakes.
- There's then a Call-Back to this in the third book, where a very similar situation happens, but this time - because the tractor beam operator took full responsibility, used his imagination, and tried an innovative solution, even though it didn't work - Thrawn instead promotes him and orders him to keep working on a way around the method Luke used to escape the tractor beam. Finally, in the Hand of Thrawn (set a decade later) another character indeed uses that method...and the Empire has a way to stop it.
- In the Alex Rider book Eagle Strike, Damian Cray orders Yassen Gregorovich to kill Alex and Sabina, but Yassen refuses, saying he "does not kill children". Flustered, Cray snatches away the gun and shoots Yassen instead of Alex and Sabina. In the fifth book Scorpia, Alex gets caught by The Dragon Nile and a scientist on Scorpia's payroll, and Nile responds by throwing his sword...at the scientist (who had outlived his usefulness by then), not Alex. Cue the reveal that Scorpia is not trying to kill but recruit Alex.
- Faith of the Fallen has an example where a military commander orders a witch to show the people how ruthless the Imperial Order is, presumably by burning alive some children. She orders the soldiers to burn alive the commander - to demonstrate the Order won't hesitate to kill anyone.
- In the Larry Collins and Dominique La Pierre thriller The Fifth Horseman, a terrorist who has been informing is killed when he is called to execute a snitch himself, only to have the gun be unloaded, whereupon he himself is shot.
- Played with in Breaking Bad: Walt and Jesse conspired to have Gus Fring's meth cook Gale Boetticher killed so they will be indispensable to his operation. Gus can't afford for his supply line to dry up while finding another meth cook...but he also can't let Walt and Jesse think he's soft. Gus proceeds to get a box cutter leaving Walt and Jesse nervous and thinking that they are about to die, and then Gus cuts Victor's throat and drops the bloody corpse right in front of them as a warning not to defy him again. The thing is, while he doesn't explain this to Walt or Jesse, he was probably going to have Victor killed anyway for being spotted at the scene of Gale's murder.
- Parodied in Season 4 of The Kids in the Hall, in a skit called "Things To Do", where a bank robber ends up shooting all of his henchmen as examples.
Good morning everybody! This is a hold-up! I repeat, this is a hold-up! No funny business, or this will happen to you! [Shoots one of his own men] Get the money!
- In Reilly, Ace of Spies, Reilly is lured to a crypt in London by Zaharov, a man running a private spy ring. A grave is being dug by Redgrave the man who earlier over-did an interrogation of Reilly's prostitute girlfriend and killed her. Zaharov is waiting with a loaded revolver, gets Reilly over to a corner and has him turn his back- then kills Redgrave.
- 24 Season 3 — Nina puts a gun to the captive Jack's head and then shoots her bodyguard.
- This also nearly happens in Season 4: Dina Araz is told by her boss, Habib Marwan, to kill Jack, but she switches at the last second and shoots Marwan — only to find the gun was empty and it was a test. They then take her away and kill her.
- And again in season 7, after Jack thinks he's been double-crossed and takes a Mook hostage. After being let go, the Mook demands that his boss kill Jack—and he kills the Mook instead.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Anya, a vengeance demon, has a crisis of conscience after one of her acts of vengeance kills dozens of people. Expecting to die, she summons her boss, D'Hoffryn, and tells him that she takes responsibility for what she did, and is willing to offer up the heart and soul of a vengeance demon to undo it. D'Hoffryn accepts, and promptly kills another vengeance demon, who happens to be her best friend. As he leaves, he scoffs that she had forgotten the first rule of her job: don't go for death, when you can go for pain.
- An unusual twist on this in Angel, where it happens to a villain, Lindsey, on one of the few occasions he works with Angel. While helping Angel to break into the Evil Corporation that he works, he is stopped by mind readers, who look them over, and confer with his boss. The boss comes back to talk to Lindsey threateningly, as a guard moves into position behind him, then messily kills the man next to him instead for a different transgression. He later assures Lindsey that he is fully aware of his transgressions. It helps that the man who was killed was planning on leaving the firm, and taking clients with him, while Lindsey was (from his boss' perspective) merely having a temporary burst of conscience, and simply needed proper guidance.
- Doctor Who:
- In the serial "The Pirate Planet", the Captain berates his main Butt-Monkey of an underling for not having figured out the Negative Space Wedgie from earlier in the episode. "When someone fails me," he declares, "someone DIES!" With that, his mechanical bird thingy arises... and kills a different underling. He then assigns the same task to the same underling, violating the Evil Overlord List again.
- In "The Romans", after an unsuccessful attempt to break her out, Barbara is held by a guard. Nero advances on her with a sword, stabs... and the guard drops dead.
Nero: He didn't fight hard enough.
- In True Blood, after finding out that his werewolf mooks drank Bill Compton's blood, the vampire king of Mississippi doesn't shoot his dragon, but one of said lesser mooks.
- A variant in an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles. Sam infiltrates an Islamic terrorist group (al-Shabaab with the serial numbers filed off) to rescue a Saudi prince who's been taken hostage. The hostage, a preteen boy, makes an escape attempt while he's there, and Sam, as the newcomer, is told by the cell leader to kill him. Sam takes the gun, then hands it back, saying "You should trust me and hand me a loaded gun." The leader is impressed, then quickly loads the gun and kills one of the boy's guards.
- This is how you're introduced to Mikhail in Grand Theft Auto IV.
Mikhail: You think it's okay to kill one of my employees?
Niko: If he's an asshole, yes.
(Mikhail, who has been pointing a gun at Niko, suddenly turns and shoots an employee who has angered him.)
Mikhail: I agree!
- Something similar to this trope happens in the opening of Brütal Legend. Eddie's blood has somehow just summoned a giant Metal (in both the musical and materials sense) demon, which appears about to impale him with one of its giant fingers. The game stops and asks if you want to show gore or not. It instead then turns and screams at three members of the Metal Boy Band he acts as the roadie for, causing their heads to fall off (unless you selected no gore, then they just faint), before turning on the one remaining member and killing him too. Turns out the reason is that he's not a villain, but you don't find that out until later.
- Subverted in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, when Admiral Karath tells Darth Malak that the assassin he sent after the player characters' party was defeated.
"The penalty for failure is death... but the failure was Calo's, not yours. You may rise."
- In Fallout: New Vegas, the first time you enter the Silver Rush, Gloria Van Graff is arguing with a customer who decided he wants to renegotiate a deal they made earlier; he received the weapons as agreed and they were in good condition as agreed, but now he wants to pay less after all. Gloria refuses and has one of her own goons disintegrated in front of the customer to prove a point.
- Although, given that said goon was tied up and blindfolded at the time, it's very likely he was being punished for some unrelated offense - cut dialogue states that he was Gloria's ex-lover, who cheated on her and paid the price - and Gloria was just killing two birds with one stone.
- In Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, Karel has Lara at his mercy at the end...but stabs Eckhardt with the Periapt Shard instead, killing him. Apparently Karel was the Big Bad all along, and Eckhardt's "usefulness was ended".
- Occurs with one of the villains in GoldenEye Wii, who shoots a Mook for firing his gun at the wrong time.
- Yakuza 0: After Awano's attempts to extort Kiryu into working for him fall flat and Kiryu turns to leave the dance club they are in, Awano executes his dancing partner in a desperate bid to show Kiryu that he's serious, telling him that there are armed gunmen waiting outside the club, ready to blow Kiryu away unless he agrees to work for him. Kiryu calls Awano's bluff and walks out into the empty street, leaving Awano to sit and stare at the dead girl's body, muttering that he should've known that the bluff wouldn't work.
- Lampshaded in Dragon Ball Z Abridged by Frieza while scolding Zarbon.
Freeza: Minion 43, would you come in here for a second? I need an example.
Minion 43: Private Namol reporting! An example of what, Lord FreezAAAH!
Freeza: You see that, Zarbon? That's you if Vegeta is not in front of me in the next 10 minutes. Bye.
- Stroker and Hoop had an excellent parody in the Ninja Worrier episode. By the time they have reached the villain of the episode, leader of a clan of assassins, he has already killed basically all of his subordinates individually for unrelated failures. This leaves the final battle somewhat anti-climactic.
- In the first season finale of Transformers Animated, Megatron has his fusion cannon pointed at Optimus Prime and declares he's going to destroy the one who tried to kill him. Then suddenly he turns and stabs Starscream in the chest with the AllSpark key. However, this is much more sensible than usual, as Starscream had tried to kill him, and Megatron probably would have killed the Autobots (who he considered a much lesser threat) next if they hadn't taken the opportunity to run away.
- In the Transformers Prime episode "Deus Ex Machina", when Knock-Out tries to claim credit for retrieving the Energon Harvester, Starscream points it at him threateningly — and then kills a random Vehicon standing behind him. In this case, Knock-Out is the only Decepticon medical and science officer around (Shockwave is alive in this continuity, but nobody In-Universe knew that at the time) so Starscream can't afford to just off him.