By forcing me to decide upon
The woman that I idolize
Or the hands of an automaton.
Without these hands, I can't complete
The opera that was captivating her!
But if I keep them, and she marries him,
Then he probably won't want me dating her..."
Something the hero has quested for intently is now within his grasp.
It could be a valuable treasure, personal knowledge about his unknown past, a chance to avenge an old wrong, or maybe the very thing needed to finally get off the island and negate Failure Is the Only Option.
But at the same time, a friend or ally who has helped him is lying unconscious on the floor, about to be crushed by a collapsing ceiling, eaten by monsters, or murdered by the Big Bad and his minions.
There's only enough time to save one — which one is it going to be?
Of course, a true hero will choose to save his friend over taking the treasure every single time. (Besides, it wouldn't be wise to resolve a whole major ongoing plotline right in the middle of the season, now would it? Or to lose any of the regulars, either.) It's very rare that the hero manages to Take a Third Option and do both; that's usually reserved for a Grand Finale or situations where a villain forces a hero to make a Sadistic Choice.
Whether villains know this and deliberately set up such situations to prevent their own capture (or to ensure that they can get the heroes later) is left as an exercise to the reader.
An Aesop with "My friends are more important to me than anything else" overtones almost always follows.
If employed too often, this can get Anvilicious and try the audience's patience, making them wonder why they don't Just Eat Gilligan. They won't, of course. Who knew being good could feel so bad? (Conversely, under some circumstances, the very fact that the hero hesitates can make us suspicious about his moral instincts.)
This trope is sometimes referred to as a "doctor's dilemma", after the title of a play by George Bernard Shaw (see "Literature", below).
See also Hostage for MacGuffin. A specific form of the Sadistic Choice and a classic Moral Dilemma. Happier cases overlap with Secret Test of Character or Sweet and Sour Grapes, where saving the friend means winning the idol too. Depending on how important the "idol" is to the hero, this trope may overlap with Act of True Love. Compare Death by Materialism when a character chooses the idol over something immaterial which marks them for certain death.
- A Burger King's viral marketing scheme tried to be a parody of this concept. With the "Whopper Sacrifice" Facebook app, you can get a free Whopper. The real cost? You must un-friend 10 people. As most could probably expect though, all this resulted in were thousands more free Whoppers given away than expected, since just about everyone has some pruning they could do on their friends list - and, for that matter, had nothing stopping them from refriending once they got the friggin' burger.
- In the Ranma ½ movie Nihao My Concubine, Ranma and Akane find themselves falling through open air toward a magical pool whose water will turn anyone permanently into a man, even overriding the Gender Bender Jusenkyo curse Ranma had spent the whole series trying to cure. In an unusually elegant variation of the Friend or Idol Decision, Ranma realizes that if he dives right in, Akane will fall into the water as well, and will become afflicted with the very curse he seeks to cure in himself! And of course, since they are the Official Couple, and Status Quo Is God, it naturally follows that Failure Is the Only Option, and so Ranma must use his tremendous chi powers to destroy the fountain before they touch the water, so that Akane will be spared.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima!, Negi is forced to either stay behind and fight a giant monster so his students can escape with a magical book that can make them smarter (for the big exams) or dump the book so they can all escape safely. Subverted in that Negi ends up trying to stay behind, but Asuna decides to make the "right" choice for him anyway.
- Ahiru/Duck in Princess Tutu is given this sort of dilema at the end of the series when she finds out that the pendant that allows her to be a girl is Mytho's final missing heart shard, meaning that she has to choose between saving the boy she loves (who, to make it worse, has decided he's in love with another girl, who just pulled an Heroic Sacrifice for him) and her ability to be human.
- In Baccano!! it's revealed in the 1933/The Slash arc that, once she informally hooks up with Claire Stanfield, Chane's greatest fear is that she'll be forced to choose between him and her loyalty to her father should Huey ever order her to kill him (particularly since Claire is proving to be a serious Spanner in the Works of his more recent plans). Claire's response is exactly what you think it might be:
Claire: "Feel free to try. I'll just dodge them and stay in love... Hey, that's even more like true love, now that I think of it!"
- In the Record of Lodoss War OVA there is a great example of this trope starring the villains. When Black Knight Ashram is given the chance to take the Scepter of Domination before the good guys can or save the life of dark elf Pirotess he actually picks saving her over the scepter. She dies anyway, unfortunately.
- In Transformers: Robots in Disguise, the Autobots enter a race to find SkidZ, in which Megatron and Sky-Byte also enter. Megatron manages to trap the other Autobots under a rock, forcing SkidZ to choose between winning and saving his friends. He manages to get both.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist,
- During a chaotic fight, May Chang has to choose between going for the Philosopher's Stone, which she needs to complete her quest to save her clan, or stop Hawkeye from bleeding to death, someone whom she barely knows. She chooses the latter, only to see that Wrath has seized the stone.
- One chapter later, Al faces a similar decision — reunite with his body or leave it to join the fight against Father. When he sees the bad shape his body's in, it's an easy choice.
- In the Grand Finale of Ojamajo Doremi, the girls are asked if they want to become full time witches or return to being regular humans. They choose the latter, which Sixth Ranger Hana doesn't take well.
- Before the Naruto timeline begins, Sakumo Hatake faced a choice between his comrades or a mission. He abandoned the mission, saved their lives and was ostracised by his entire country. Eventually he committed seppuku, and his son got the wrong message and spent the next few years of his life turning himself into an emotionless and successful weapon. Life can be stupid.
- The Idolmaster - Played literally with Miki in episode 24 when she has a chance to become the solo MC of the show to be aired in the timeslot that would succeed the "Are we live?" show.
- Played with in the Tower of Heaven arc of Fairy Tail. Simon sacrifices himself to shield Erza from Jellal's attack; after Natsu defeats Jellal and passes out, the Tower of Heaven begins to collapse. Erza briefly sees Simon's body sliding slowly into a crevasse, but she turns away and escapes with the unconscious Natsu rather than retrieving him.
- In the Pretty Sammy storyline in the No Need for Tenchi manga series, Pixy Misa had set things up for Tenchi to learn Sasami was Pretty Sammy, then turned him into a monster during a school play about Pretty Sammy (with Sasami as the heroine, natch). Pixy Misa forced Sasami to chose between revealing her identity and stopping the monster or letting the monster go on its rampage and maintain her identity (either way, Rumia would end up winning). Tsunami, then, steps in,, disguised as Pretty Sammy, allowing Sasami to swap up and save the day.
- The story before that had a childhood friend of Tenchi's coming to visit, royally pissing of Ayeka and Ryoko due to her clinginess and a childhood promise. However, Washu discovers why the friend was there and agrees to help her with a plan. They end up knocking out Ryoko and Ayeka and putting through a theoretical situation - for Ryoko, she gets a chance to date Tenchi with the agreement to not use her powers or lose that chance forever. However, an ambulance carrying an expecting couple she aided gets stuck in traffic and only she can make a difference. For Ayeka, she's asked to return to Jurai with Sasami. However, she panics and tries to stay, with Emperor Azusa calling her and telling her that if she stays, she loses the crown. Both end up going with their hearts rather than what others tell them. Turns out the childhood friend set it up because she was dying and she wanted to make sure Tenchi would be alright with them. They return the favor by having Tsunami resurrect her moments after her death.
- In the Jigokiller two-parter of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, the titular creatures have gathered around an important water reservoir. G-3 (Jun the Swan) had been captured by one of the flowers very recently. G-1 (Ken the Eagle) has to choose between burning the flowers, knowing his teammate will almost certainly die, and leave them, allowing them to spread. He chooses burning, earning a punch from G-2 (Joe the Condor) and protests from 4 (Jinpei the Swallow) and 5 (Ryu the Horned Owl), although they later back him up. Double-subverted in that burning the flowers makes them release their dandelion-like seeds, and that G-3, who had been wearing an experimental protection suit, had survived, attracted Galactor's attention, and was in their custody. Incidentally, the Gatchaman and Guardians of Space versions killed women, while the Battle of the Planets species killed anyone.
- In Happiness Charge Pretty Cure, Princess Hime's been collecting Pre Cards in order to use them to grant her wish, rescuing her kingdom from the Phantom Empire, undoing one of her mistakes. She finally gains enough cards in episode 22, but finds herself in a conundrum: Iona Hikawa, Cure Fortune, is at the mercy of the Precure Hunter Phantom, powerless and trapped in another dimension. This is also the same girl who has spent the same amount of episodes giving Hime hell over her Dark Secret. Hime decides to lead the charge into that dimension and begs Iona to take her cards. Iona does so and uses them to regain her powers.
- Sore ga Seiyuu! has a literal example. The crux of episode 10 is that Rin has to decide whether she will give up her voice acting/Idol Singer career and stay at Hakuo, or go to apply to a high school where she can continue it (leaving Sayo behind). Ultimately, she chooses to apply to a different school, but Sayo points out that they can still see each other during their free time.
- In one episode of Sailor Moon, Chibi-Usa switches ages with Usagi and is (at first) delighted at being tall and very beautiful and well-figured. But Pegasus has trouble finding her after her dream was fulfilled and tells her that it's unlikely he'll ever be able to do so again. Chibi-Usa, through sheer force of will alone, reverses the magic that changed her and Usagi to not lose him. Somewhat averted in that she'll eventually grow up anyway and be able to have both, but she resisted taking the easy way out.
- Codename: Sailor V (the series from which Sailor Moon was spun off) ends with Sailor Venus and the Big Bad both having one: for Venus is between love or continuing to fight as a Sailor Senshi, and for Danburite/Ace is to stand down and join Sailor Venus the woman he loves, or fighting (and dying) to make her understand she'd always choose her duty over love before she can be destroyed by the doubt. They both choose to fight.
- The Pokémon episode "Jumping Rocket Ship" has an interesting villainous Reconstruction. When Meowth pulls a HeelFace Mole scheme against the heroes, they discuss his potential as a talking Pokemon, with Dawn even offering him media ties via Rhonda. Starstruck at the idea of becoming a potential TV star, he ponders whether to ditch Team Rocket for real. However, when Jessie and James find Meowth and suffer their usual Curbstomp Battle against Ash's group, he realises he doesn't have the heart to abandon them, turning on the heroes and happily joining his team in another blasting off.
- The first story in Bucky OHare twists the trope a bit. There is a moment when the human boy, Willy Dewitt, tries to save his imprisoned friends by threatening to destroy vital code records. The villain turns it into a hostage situation, threatening to jettison Willy's friends into the hard vacuum of space. Willy agonizes over what to do, then cedes to his friends' urging to destroy the records, rather than save them. The villain immediately receives a copy of the records, rendering Willy's decision meaningless.
- In Doctor Strange: The Oath, Strange has the last drop of a magic potion that can cure any disease and must choose between using it to save his friend's life or using it to make enough potion for everyone in the world.
- Batman: Harley Quinn had to decide between saving a girl's eyesight or getting codes that give her lots of money. She chooses the money. But she can barely look at herself in the mirror afterwards and the girl in question deals with it better than Harley does.
- The central conflict of Scion: Does Ethan choose loyalty to his family and kingdom in the war against the Raven Kingdom, or loyalty to Ashleigh in her quest to liberate the Lesser Races? And can he live with the consequences?
- Near the end of The Smurfs comic book story "The Smurfs And The Book That Tells Everything", Brainy is trapped on a rock in the middle of a flooded river with Baby Smurf and the titular book, and he is forced to choose either to save Baby or the book in order to swim across to safety. The book tells Brainy since that it's more important, he should sacrifice Baby. Brainy thinks that the book is a monster and so throws the book into the water and swims to safety with Baby.
- A Sandman Mystery Theatre flashback story in Starman reveals a case where The Gambler had a stolen statue in one hand and a knife to Wesley Dodds' throat in the other. Ted Knight doesn't hesitate to blast the Gambler and destroy the statue. It turns out he knew it was a fake, but he would have fired anyway, because an inanimate object isn't worth a human life. Ted and Wesley weren't even good friends.
- During the final confrontation between Superman and Lex Luthor prior to The New 52, Luthor has gained god-like power and has actually brought total peace to the cosmos. However, the Lois Lane android with him warns him that he can't do negative things like, say, kill Superman. Luthor actually agonizes over before finally deciding that killing Superman is the lesser evil. All the while The Joker is laughing back in Arkham, realizing that Luthor had all of that power and he threw it all away.
- Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton:
- Brainiac tempts Asuka with a knowledge orb of Krypton. She doesn't gives as much of a damn about it as Brainiac thought she would have, but she does try to save it when Brainiac's ship starts to explode. She fails to but manages to save a knowledge orb with recordings of Kyoko when she was sane, instead.
- Later on she has a similar moment when Leliel starts to swallow Evangelion Unit-02 and she tries to decide whether to eject from the Eva and be Supergirl all the time or not. Shinji saves her before her Evangelion completely falls into the Dirac Sea, rendering it (temporarily) moot.
- Finally, when Armisael struck she had to choose between getting into her giant robot to or donning her Supergirl identity to fight it. She had got better odds of winning if she used her super-powers, but then she would be fired and stop being a pilot. She chose being Supergirl, quitting being an Eva pilot for good.
- In Save Me a Star Trek (2009) AU where Kirk and Khan are dating Khan can either save Kirk or the instruments of his Revenge.
- This Gravity Falls fancomic depicts Dipper facing a Sister Or Big Book Of Everything Decision courtesy of Bill Cipher.
- The Bridge: In the backstory, Anguirus once had a choice to either absorb some mana crystals to gain his full potential, or allow Baragon to absorb them to heal his fatal injuries. He chose to save Baragon, deciding power was worthless without his friends.
- Near the end of All Dogs Go to Heaven, Charlie is forced to choose between saving Anne Marie from drowning or his watch from sinking. Keep in mind he's literally living on borrowed time — he stole the watch from heaven to resurrect himself after being killed by a car, and if the watch stops, as watches tend to do in water, he will die. And worse, he'll be sent to Hell since he "can never come back". Ultimately, he chooses saving Anne Marie while sacrificing both the watch and his life, earning his way back to Heaven.
- In Brother Bear, Kenai finally achieves his goal of changing back into a human. However, when he learns he cannot talk to Koda, whose mother he killed, Kenai realizes his true responsibility. After all, given what he did to Koda and the options that are available, changing back into a bear to care for the bear cub is the only moral thing to do.
- In Pixar's movie Cars, Lightning McQueen gives up first place in the Piston Cup race to help The King cross the finish line after Chick Hicks causes him to wreck out. Hicks still wins the cup, but everyone knows that Lightning would have won, and Hicks' dishonorable tactics lose him any regard the win would have brought. In a mild Double Subversion and An Aesop, McQueen gains the adulation he had desired but discovers that he doesn't really need it anymore — the events of the movie have taught him that there are more important things than fame.
- In the climax of Cars 3, Lightning realizes his former trainer Cruz Ramirez wanted to be a racer just like he is, and resigns from the race halfway through so she can take over. When she wins, she turns down the deal to race for Sterling and chooses to race for Dinoco instead, and when Lightning is about to accept his fate that he didn't win the race and has to retire immediately, he is considered a winner along with Cruz due to both sharing the number, thus he wins the bet and gets to keep racing. Not only does he help a friend, he gets the idol as well!
- This happens twice in Despicable Me. First time, Gru has to make the decision of choosing between the girls' ballet recital and taking the moon, which was his lifelong dream. Originally, he wanted to push back the date for taking the moon but Nefario called Miss Hattie so she could take the kids back to the orphanage and Gru could focus back on task. The second time, Vector kidnaps the girls and demands that Gru gives him the moon. Gru gave up the moon, but Vector didn't hold his side of the bargain.
- In The Emperor's New Groove Kuzco, who starts the movie as a spoiled brat, gives up the potion he needs to change back into a human in order to rescue Pacha. In a subversion, the pair uses The Power of Friendship to get it back not two minutes later.
- At the climax of Frozen, Anna wants to get a kiss from Kristoff that would hopefully thaw out her frozen heart; but then she sees her estranged sister about to be murdered by her own treacherous fiancé, who wants them both dead so he can become the new King of Arendelle. Immediately she abandons the chance to save her own life and rushes to Elsa's aid, shielding her from the killing blow. Since this counts as an Act of True Love, she ended up thawing out moments later.
- The end result of Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension. After the events of the movie, Major Monogram appears and reveals Perry has to be assigned to a different family because his cover was blown. Phineas is upset and wishes there's another way, but Monogram declines as it's not safe. When Carl suggests Doofenshmirtz's Amnesia-nator, Phineas is given a choice: remember the events of today but never see Perry again, or use the Amnesia-nator to forget the entire adventure and forget learning Perry's agent life. Ultimately, he chooses the latter.
- In The Road to El Dorado, Tulio is forced to sacrifice almost all of the enormous pile of gold that he and Miguel acquire by posing as gods in El Dorado in order to save the city's people from advancing Spanish soldiers. Though he is very choked up about the decision.
- In The Strawberry Shortcake Movie: Sky's the Limit, Strawberry has to rescue her friend Mr. Longface Caterpillar and The Great Geyser Stone (which will provide water for her town) after both fall over the side of a cliff, landing on a ledge. In order to do so, her friends lower her, using a rope, so she can grab the stone first, and then Mr. Caterpillar. However, as she's being lifted with the stone, the ledge that Mr. Caterpillar is standing on crumbles, and he starts to fall. She grabs hold of his hand with her free hand, but can't hold onto him with just one hand. She briefly considers which to give up, but drops the stone in favor of her friend.
- In the climax of Treasure Planet, the movie's resident Anti-Villain has to choose between saving a boatload of gold that's about to drift into a laser beam or his surrogate son Jim who's holding on for dear life over a raging inferno. He chooses to save Jim, saying that he'll get over giving up his lifelong obsession.
- In The Wild Thornberrys Movie, Eliza has to make a Sister or Idol decision when the Big Bad has Debbie and wants to know how Eliza could have known about his plans. She saves Debbie by revealing the thing she cannot tell: she can talk to animals. It costs her the power. She gets it back later with a heroic sacrifice.
- Shrek 2, this is a parental example. Harold is forced by the Fairy Godmother to give Fiona a love potion in order that Fiona will fall in love with her son, Prince Charming, and marry him as per his promise to her decades earlier. Harold knows if he does not, he will expose himself to the Fairy Godmother's wrath. But if he does, he will be tearing Fiona away from her real love, Shrek, and forcing her into a fake love with what is treated as essentially a date rape drug. After reluctantly putting the potion into some tea to give her, she expresses to him how much she wants Shrek as himself, making him ultimately decide to go back on his promise to the Fairy Godmother and not give her the spiked. Turns out later though, his fears of the Fairy Godmother were completely justified.
- In the 1995 movie adaptation of Casper, the titular ghost makes just such a decision at the end of the film, choosing to give up the last bottle of fuel for his father's life-restoring "Lazarus Machine" in order to bring back Cat's newly-deceased dad.
- In Cyrano de Bergerac, Cyrano is finally confronted with the possibility that his cousin (don't worry about it) actually loves him for his wit despite his ugly nose. Tragically, at the same time Christian, the man she thinks is writing all the letters Cyrano has actually been writing, is fatally wounded. Cyrano, in the ultimate sacrifice, ends up choosing to save his friend's honor and memory over the chance to be with the love of his life.
- In Darkman III: Die Darkman Die, a villain shoots a floppy with the main character's accumulated research on skin substitutes, and a fire during the climactic fight leaves one girl severely burnt. Darkman had been intending to use the flask of liquid skin he kept on himself, since it had shown promising results... but he ends the series still faceless, as the flask goes to the burn victim instead.
- The Disney Channel original movie Brink! (a loose adaptation of Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates) revolves around this trope: the main character (a competitive skater) must choose between competing with his friends or as part of a sponsored team.
- At the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy had to choose between getting the Holy Grail or taking his father's hand, thus allowing Indy to survive. He chooses to "let it go". The Nazi-lady doesn't.
- This happens twice in the James Bond movie GoldenEye. During the second, the Big Bad even says "So, what's the choice James? Two targets; time enough for one shot: the girl or the mission?" The game uses the same scenario, but leaves an opening to subvert the trope; if the player stands at exactly the right angle, it is possible to kill the person holding the girl hostage, and shoot The Dragon before they get the shield down. This buys you more time in the escape scene.
- K2: Siren of the Himalayas: Team leader Fabrizio Zangrilli on one of his climbs up K2 was within an hour of the summit, but saw a porter that had suffered a stroke, so the priority became getting him down the mountain.
- In The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) both Napoleon and Illya are forced into this position by the end of the movie: retrieve the tape containing sensitive information at all costs, including, if necessary, killing the other to do so. Yet to do so would mean killing a man they've come to respect. After Napoleon gives Illya his father's watch (which had been stolen from a mook, and Napoleon found during the raid), they Take a Third Option and burn the tape altogether. Immediately after Mr. Waverly comes to them with a job offer to join U.N.C.L.E.
- At the end of Meet Dave, the aliens realize that they only have enough power to either retrieve the orb and save Earth or go home. Fortunately, Josh's quick thinking allows them to do both.
- In National Treasure, Ben the hero chooses the idol, dropping the Love Interest in order to save the Declaration of Independence. She later reassures him that she would have done exactly the same thing. And he drops her someplace safer than where he is at the moment.
- Riley: I would have dropped you both! [mutters] Freaks.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: At the end of the maelstrom battle, Jack has a shot at his lifelong dream of immortality and the most dangerous ship in the Caribbean — not to mention supernatural powers and revenge on all of his enemies — but gives it up to save Will.
- Star Wars:
- In the climax of Attack of the Clones, Count Dooku destroys a pillar to escape. Two Jedi are underneath the pillar, and would be killed if it fell. But Yoda needs to kill Dooku to end the war. Of course, Yoda saves the two Jedi. Though it's possible he missed the trick of throwing the pillar at Dooku's ship.
- In the climax of the Return of the Jedi , Darth Vader must make the choice between obeying his master Palpatine, or saving his son Luke. In the end he chooses to save his son by throwing Palpatine down the reactor shaft at the cost of his own life.
- Toward the end of Tower of Terror, Buzzy has to decide between helping the ghosts or getting his newspaper career back. In the end, he gets both.
- In Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Charlie finds himself faced with this in the final stretch. As the factory tour ends, turns out that Willy Wonka knew that Charlie and Grandpa Joe stole Fizzy Lifting Drinks, and due to violating a (very small!) clause in the contract they signed at its start, Charlie will not receive a lifetime supply of chocolate. But if he sells the Everlasting Gobstopper he received to Mr. Wonka's rival Slugworth, he'll get enough money to lift his family out of poverty, which he wants more than anything else...but he promised Mr. Wonka he'd never do such a thing when he got it. He decides to apologize for what he did by giving the Gobstopper back to Mr. Wonka, who then reveals that this was actually a Secret Test of Character that Charlie passed. Now Charlie will not only get the chocolate, but become his heir, so Charlie gets even more than he wanted for doing good!
- Avengers: Infinity War: Since Loki once craved the power of the Tesseract, for him the choice offered by Thanos between the cube and his brother's life is this. He pretends not to care for Thor, then attempts to Take a Third Option by announcing Hulk's attack, but neither works. Loki then tosses the cube aside and rushes to shield Thor.
- In Remember the Titans, Coach Yoast finds himself faced with one of these. The School Board has placed a condition on the African-American Herman Boone keeping his job as head coach (the Caucasian Yoast's previous position; he's now the Assistant Coach)—namely, Boone has to win every single game or be fired. Before the first playoff game, Yost's School Board friends assure him that they've done something to ensure a loss, and sure enough, the Titans are flagged for every single play. If Yoast keeps his mouth shut, he'll not only get his old job back, but he'll be nominated for the High School Football Hall of Fame, which has been his dream for years. For a few minutes, he seems to actively consider not saying anything...but then calls out the ref, telling him that he knows they've been paid off to make crooked calls, and that he'll reveal the whole operation to the papers if they don't stop immediately. The ref agrees, the Titans win, and the furious School Board officials assure Yoast that "you just lost yourself the Hall of Fame."
- In The Big Wave, Jiya, orphaned by a tsunami, is given the choice to live in poverty with his best friend Kino's family, or to live in luxury, raised by the wealthy Old Gentleman. He chooses the former.
- In A Brother's Price, Eldest Moorland is confronted with the option to marry her brother Cullen to a woman (or rather, set of sisters) he loves, and get little in way of a "brother's price", as the family is poor, or sell him to the highest bidder, so to speak. She chooses Cullen's happiness over the money.
- In Robert E. Howard's "Jewels Of Gwahlur", Conan the Barbarian faces it:
Either was within arm's length; for the fraction of a split second the chest teetered on the edge of the bridge, and Muriela clung by one arm, her face turned desperately toward Conan, her eyes dilated with the fear of death and her lips parted in a haunting cry of despair.
Conan did not hesitate, nor did he even glance toward the chest that held the wealth of an epoch.
- In the first book in The Dark Tower series, the Man in Black forces Roland to either save Jake from certain death, and never again catch up to him, or let Jake die, and gain the information he needs to continue his quest for the Dark Tower. Roland chooses to let Jake fall, establishing his character for the rest of the series.
- Terry Pratchett subverts this in his Discworld novel Thief of Time, where Lu-Tze, after injuring himself, yells at his apprentice Lobsang to choose the Idol (stopping the "perfect clock" that will cause all of time to come to a halt) over the Friend (the injured Lu-Tze). The fact he even hesitates in saving the world for Lu-Tze's sake prompts Susan Sto Helit to call him a "hero"... in a tone that implies it's synonymous with "idiot".
- The classic example of this trope in literature is George Bernard Shaw's 1906 play The Doctor's Dilemma, in which a doctor must choose whether a phial of a new life-saving drug is given to a kindly poor colleague or to a brilliant yet thoroughly unpleasant artist.
- In the Hurog duology, Ward is presented with the opportunity to protect his castle from invaders. This, however, comes at the cost of killing a friend, who wants to make a Heroic Sacrifice. As there is more at stake than just his property, he chooses to enable his friend's Heroic Sacrifice.
- In the short story If You Can Fill the Unforgiving Minute by David Andreissen (David Poyer), an teenage human is representing the Earth in a marathon race against an alien teen. When the alien is injured during the race, the human must make a choice: continue running and win the race, or help the alien and lose. He decides to help the alien and loses. Afterwards, he is told that the aliens consider honor to be more important than winning and that as far as they're concerned, he won the race.
- ... thereby proving that they are an alien race, utterly different from humanity.
- Journey to Chaos: Ataidar's royal sentinel, Fairtheora, defies this trope. His 42nd emergency procedure involves turning control of his armor over to an AI so it can act independently; it can go after the idol while he himself goes after the friend.
- The Kane Chronicles: In The Red Pyramid, Sadie Kane's father has been magically bound to the Egyptian god Osiris and captured in a coffin by the god Set (It Makes Sense in Context). When she finally discovers the coffin, it is inside a magic pyramid created by Set. She learns that if she breaks open the coffin, she can probably save her father, but the power of Osiris will be consumed by Set, allowing him to reduce North America to a desert wasteland. On the other hand, if she uses the Scroll of Banishing Set (Egyptian magic scrolls have very descriptive names), she can banish Set and save the country, but the destruction of Set's pyramid will kill her father. Very unusually, she choses to use the scroll.
- In A.L. Phillips's The Quest of the Unaligned, the hero Alaric is trapped in a cave with an extremely powerful villain, and must choose between grabbing the Prince's Crown and accepting its incalculable power, or trusting his guide and friend, Laeshana, to use it.
- In Hunted, the second book of the Spirit Animals series, a villain offers Connor his family's freedom in exchange for the Iron Boar talisman that both sides had been chasing. As fits his spirit animal (a wolf), Connor accepts the bargain.
- Kathi Peterson's Stone Traveler has Tag trapped in the past (34 AD Meso America, to be exact), and his only way home is to use a blessed stone which was stolen by the bad guys. When he is about to retrieve it, during a huge natural disaster explosion (storms, quakes, volcanoes, you name it) one of his friends, Rasha, falls through the ground. He only has time to save the stone or the girl (who isn't his love interest). He chooses to save her, meets Jesus, and gets a free ride home (turns out there was more than on magic stone).
- Used in The Waterstone. Tad, the Chosen One, is in the lair of the evil queen, and needs to defeat her and take back the waterstone, or very bad things will happen. Then she reveals that she has captured his presumed dead father, Pondleweed. Tad can either save his father or take back the stone. surprisingly for a children's book, he knows his father would not agree with his choice to save him over the world, but before he can say either way, Pondleweed Takes a Third Option and sacrifices himself. Notably, he does not get better.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: In "The Hub", Skye has the choice between searching out an unredacted version of the report on her being left at an orphanage or detail on Ward and Fitz's mission and extraction. She only chooses to get the mission details but only when it becomes clear she doesn't have time to get the report.
- In the Angel episode "Hell Bound", Spike gives up his chance to become corporeal in order to save Fred.
- In the Austin and Ally episode "Relationships & Red Carpets", Austin is forced to decide between revealing his relationship with Ally to the world and getting fired or breaking up with Ally to keep his job. Ultimately, he chooses the former preferring to be unemployed than to live without Ally.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Choices" the gang is faced with just such a decision. Buffy and Xander immediately and very vocally choose to trade the Big Bad's evil artifact back to him in exchange for Willow, while Wesley wants to continue with The Plan to destroy it. While they're arguing, Oz (Willow's boyfriend) smashes the mystic urn that was necessary for the artifact's destruction.
- In the very first episode of Forever Knight, Nick Knight has a split second to decide whether to save an innocent woman from his maker, or catch a falling cup that is the key to his cure for vampirism. He picks the woman, but since she's dead before the episode ends, it's kind of a Shoot The Shaggy Dog Story.
- An interesting case on Chuck at the end of Season 2. Chuck finally has the Intersect out of his head and has a chance to restart his normal life. However when asked by a mortally-wounded Bryce Larkin to destroy the Intersect computer before it can be captured during one last mission, Chuck must choose between going back to his old life, or re-uploading the Intersect and finally stepping up to become a hero by choice after spending the previous two years forced into it against his will. Chuck chooses the Intersect.
Chuck: Guys. I know kung-fu.
- In the series finale Chuck has been able to recover the non-faulty Intersect needed to restore Sarah's memories. However, a theater full of people, Beckman included, is being threatened with a bomb that will detonate in a few minutes, and the only method to defuse it is stored within the Intersect, which he's ultimately forced to re-upload into himself. However, it's strongly hinted that Sarah's memory will gradually return.
- In the penultimate episode of Continuum's second season Kira ends up pinned down on a rooftop with the Time Travel device that will allow her to return home and Emily, the Love Interest of an ally. In rage and panic Emily throws the device away. Kira chases after it, and Emily is fatally shot.
- Daredevil (2015): In season 3 episode 7, after being hospitalized during Dex's attack on the Bulletin, Ellison realizes that Karen knows who Daredevil (the real Daredevil) is. He demands that she tell him who it is, or she's fired. Karen is clearly upset, but she refuses to sell out Matt.
- Doctor Who: In "World War Three", the Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones (MP, Flydale North) are trapped in the Cabinet rooms in 10 Downing Street, unable to leave because the Slitheen have them surrounded. The Doctor has the option of instructing Mickey Smith, over the phone, to launch a missile into the building to stop the Slitheen from starting a nuclear war. However, he is reluctant to do so because Rose could be killed as a result, as he says, "I could save the world but lose you!" In the end, Harriet, as the only member of the British government present, orders the Doctor to go through with it. The trio hide in the closet and survive the blast.
- This is the basic premise of the series finale of Hannah Montana, as Miley must choose between starring in a big-budget movie in Paris co-starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg, and going to a California University with her BFF Lilly. She tries one last Zany Scheme of trying to convince Lilly she'd be too troublesome to room with her, getting into an argument with Lilly that nearly ends their long friendship. Miley then tries to convince Lily to abandon college for a year to go join her in Paris, but a comment to Lilly from Oliver at the airport convinces Lilly to stay and tearfully and reluctantly let Miley go shoot her movie without her. After Miley stays in her hotel, lonely, guilty, and greatly missing Lilly. Miley is next seen knocking on the door on Lilly's dorm, extending her hand, introducing herself as Lilly's "new neighbor", and telling her that there'll be millions of chances to make a movie or do a tour, but only one chance to go to college with her best friend. The two hug, and the episode ends.
- Heartbeat, Constable Rowan is chasing a trio of crooks and when their car stalls, the one male criminal runs away on foot. Rowan catches up to the two female accomplices who note that he can take in them, or let them go to catch the ringleader. Unfortunately, at that moment, a police K-9 unit arrives to have the police dog continue the chase and Rowan, with some satisfaction, notes in so many words that he can now do both.
- Herman's Head: Herman is out to set a world record for continuous working at one sitting. He discovers that one of his colleagues is planning to sing at a night club, and leaving work to watch her would preclude him breaking the record. He watches her anyway. The next day, the record book authorities come in, and Herman wonders why. Turns out that he broke a record: eating the most sunflower seeds in one sitting— he'd been eating them the entire time.
- On Land of the Lost (1991), the Porters had the chance to drive through a portal back to their 20th-century home, but Tasha and Stink needed help evading Scarface. Unlike in most of the examples on this page, they expected to retain some chance of accomplishing both. But the portal closed a second before they would've made it.
- Seen in Lost In Oz, with the heroes choosing to either save Ozma and Oz, or use a bottled tornado to return home without saving the land.
- In Once Upon a Time, Belle at one point has to choose to save Anna, who's hanging off a cliff, or the (one-of-a-kind) crystal that shows how her mother died (don't ask why she'd want to see that in the first place), also right on the edge of the cliff. She chooses the crystal, and in a lovely example of Laser-Guided Karma winds up knocking it off the cliff and destroying it. Anna then falls too, but is saved by the Ice Queen as a part of her overall plan.
- Person of Interest: This is used to facilitate Root's HeelFace Turn in "/". She has the option to stop one of the villains from stealing a powerful chip that would help them bring an evil AI online, or help save the life of the man she had been tasked with protecting for the episode. Given who she is, everyone (including her) thought she would abandon him to his fate. Thanks to some prodding and lessons in morality from The Machine, she doesn't.
- Power Rangers:
- In Power Rangers RPM, a device that will only work once can be used to shut down Dillon's brainwashed cyborg sister. Unfortunately, the Monster of the Week is too strong, and Dillon chooses to shut it down instead and save the city.
- In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Rita had created a special candle that, when completely melted, would rob Tommy of the Green Ranger powers. Since Tommy is unable to get it as it speeds up the process in his presence, Jason goes after it instead. However, the Monster of the Week appears and Tommy attempts to fight it alone. As Jason's close to getting it, Zack appears and tells Jason to forget it and save Tommy instead.
Jason: But if I don't get the candle in time, he'll lose his powers!
Zack: If we don't get to him in time, he'll lose his life!
- Quantum Leap has this when Sam and Al switch places due to a lightning strike/electroshock therapy combo. Sam must save Al by entering the Quantum Leap Accelerator again, thus switching places with Al again and forgoing his chance to remain in his present with his wife.
- When Sam leaps into the middle of the Vietnam War, he has the chance to save his brother, Tom. Things come to a head during a mission to rescue some American prisoners-of-war. Just as there's a chance of rescuing them, Sam learns the exact cause of Tom's death and needs to cross dangerous terrain to find him to prevent it. Al decides to help Sam save Tom, which embodies this trope. As Sam learns in the end, Al was one of those prisoners and won't be freed for another five years.
- In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Thor's Hammer", the team finds a labyrinth created by the Asgard with an egress that can remove the possession of the Goa'uld... but Teal'c is trapped within when the device mistakenly identifies his symbiote, which if removed, would lead to his death. The task of destroying the device is left up to Daniel, a decision made especially hard for him because of his desperation to save his wife and brother-in-law from Goa'uld possession.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Worf lets a Cardassian defector get caught to save his wife. The defector is caught and killed; tactical information that could help turn the tide of the war dies with him. In the aftermath, Sisko tells Worf he made the wrong choice and lists the consequences this will have on his career; but admits that as a husband himself, he would have made the same choice.
- Star Trek: Voyager:
- The entire "lost in space" element was borne of such a decision in the pilot, when Janeway orders the destruction of technology that could have gotten them home to stop it falling into the hands of the Kazon, who would have used it to destroy the Ocampa. And the Ocampa weren't even friends, as such, just weak innocents.
- Subverted in "Prime Factors", when several of the crew conspire to betray their new-found allies to acquire their technology, which could conceivably have cut decades off their journey home. Unfortunately for the conspirators, said technology turns out to be incompatible with Voyager's tech, and nearly blows up the ship when they attempt to use it, thereby making it All for Nothing.
- Super Sentai: In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, the pirates are able to gather the 35 Greater Powers and bring about the MacGuffin, the Greatest Treasure in the Universe. They learn that the Treasure can grant any of their wishes, even up to wiping the Zangyack Empire from existence. However, doing so would destroy the powers forever, making it as if the Super Sentai never existed. The team weights the choices before making a decision... or well, Gai does, destroying the Treasure and find another way to beat the Zangyack without losing the powers.
- In The War at Home, Larry should choose between Kenny or the poem he got from him which he claims it was made by himself which had gotten a reward.
- On Wizards of Waverly Place, this is how Alex won the Wizard Competition in the Grand Finale. She was in the lead during the final round and was just about to cross the finish line, but immediately turns back to help Justin remove his leg from a plant he got caught in.
- Justin is also this in the same situation as he crossed the finish line and was just about to be crowned the Family Wizard, but refuses the position and gives it to Alex in graditute for saving him.
- The X-Files: Mulder has to choose between saving Scully or finding his abducted little sister several times. He always chooses Scully, but it's a close thing in the first few seasons.
- An odd example in Young Dracula, in "Dad's Back". Vlad has to choose between getting the cure for vampirism and saving Robin's life; however, his hesitation is portrayed as a sign of the prospect of the cure turning him evil, and Robin even says as much. He's also forced to choose between the cure for vampirism and his father's life in another episode, but this time doesn't hesitate at all.
- In the Concept Album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, the protagonist Rael is ultimately confronted with a situation where he can either escape from the mad dream he has been caught in and go back to his normal life in New York City, or risk dangerous rapids to rescue his drowning brother John (who has repeatedly refused to help Rael in his times of need). He decides to save John from the rapids, but during the confusion and peril of the struggle, the mad dream takes another turn and Rael finds that he and John are actually the same person. See also: Tomato in the Mirror, Twist Ending, and It Was His Sled.
- No one in GLOW was capable of defeating Mountain Fiji, especially not one on one, but many were more than capable of defeating her little sister. So whenever Mt Fiji came close to winning a championship in GLOW, one of her enemies would run out an attack Little Fiji or come out to taunt Mt Fiji with a kidnapped Little Fiji, forcing big sister to choose between continuing to fight the champion of forfeiting the match to save Little Fiji. Mt. Fiji always opted to save her sister.
- Valkyrie revealed itself by jumping and mercilessly beating Amazing Kong, laying out members of the SHINE roster who, somewhat unexpectedly, tried to stop them. This and an army of lawyers let Valkyrie ride a wave of intimidation to the crowning of their leader, Rain, as SHINE's first champion. But Kong didn't go away, fought off Valkyrie when they attacked her again and then joined Daffney's squad for a title match. So Valkyrie switched targets and went after one of Kong's new teammates, Solo Darling. Amazing Kong opted to save Solo, Rain retained by count out.
- VALkyrie also used this trick to retain the Tag Team Title belts, bating BTY's challengers, Ivelisse Vélez and ACR of Las Sicarias, with the potential abduction of their injured stablemate La Rosa. Though this ploy was also the beginning of VALkyrie's end, as original Valkyrie member, and Valkyrie killer, Velez, was much better suited for taking them down than Daffney.
- Tales from the Borderlands is rife with these, but only when you're playing as Rhys.
- An interesting subversion, where at the end of episode 2, you must make Rhys choose who to trust to save your friends Vaughn and Sasha who are being held at gunpoint: Fiona, who has a plan that's mostly just winging it, or the psychopathic Handsome Jack, who has a definite plan, but will lead to him gaining dangerous control of your body.
- Episode 4 ends with the choice and ramifications of a deal that Jack offers Rhys: he offers to get out of Rhys' head to become part of the Helios system and make Rhys the CEO, which has been his dream since he was a kid, or to reject the deal to stay with his friends. Whether or not you accept it can lead to the episode ending in very different ways.
- In a somewhat gruesome example, in Twisted Metal: Black, Dollface is offered the key to her mask, but taking it will close her former boss (who put the damn thing on her in the first place) in an Iron Maiden. She takes it, then decides that she didn't really want it anyway.
- Needles "Sweet Tooth" Kane is given a cure for his curse (an eternally burning skull), but is told it will only work as long as he never kills again. He decides he likes killing too much, and decapitates Calypso, deciding to just live with the constant agony.
- At the end of the Baldur's Gate series, you can choose: become a god, or stay mortal. This choice is particularly poignant if you have a romance going at the time. (Interestingly, one of your possible romantic partners actually tries to convince you to take godhood when it's offered.)
- The funny thing is, for this certain partner, actually doing as she asks you to do will give her the happier ending than staying with her.
- At the end of Ultima VII: The Black Gate, the Avatar can choose between entering the titular Moongate, returning to Earth but leaving Britannia in the clutches of Big Bad the Guardian, or destroy it but forever be prevented from returning. The choice is the player's, but the next game in the series naturally assumes the Avatar made the Friend choice.
- In the finale of Splinter Cell Double Agent, Sam (having infiltrated a terrorist group as one of their members) is given the choice of either shooting his NSA boss (a series regular, who's been captured by the terrorists) to maintain his cover, or shooting the terrorist standing guard over them (which instantly blows his cover and causes everyone in the base to come and try to kill him).
- Pops up in Final Fantasy VI. At one point, an NPC thief and a moogle are left hanging over a ledge, and the group can choose to save one. Saving the thief nets them a Golden Hairpin, a rare, but by no means unique, relic that halves MP consumption when equipped. This causes the moogle to plummet to his (apparent) doom. Saving the moogle nets the party Mog, an optional party member with fairly useful abilities and arguably the best character-specific relic in the game, which eliminates random encounters. He can be recruited later in the game regardless of choice, but choosing the Gold Hairpin will make Mog unable to learn his Water Rondo dance. (The remake for the Game Boy Advance allows the possibility for Mog to learn the dance after the critical point, but the encounter is one-time, and if Mog is not present for it, it's Permanently Missable.)
- In Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, Emperor Percival Tachyon gives Ratchet (the Lombax protagonist) the option to either go to the new homeworld that the Lombaxes have created and discover the mysteries of his origins or stay and attempt to save the Polaris galaxy from him. Ratchet sees this as a Morton's Fork, citing that if he leaves, Tachyon would use the Dimensionator to finish off the Lombaxes in a genocide attack anyway. And as long as Tachyon holds it and continues to summon Cragmites, reality itself is in danger. Ratchet opts to stay, making a vow to destroy the Dimensionator and kill Tachyon to save The Multiverse from his fascist tyranny.
- Spelunky has this in the endgame areas: When a level is generated with the "I hear prayers to Kali!" feeling, the player will be presented with a damsel and a solid-gold Idol suspended over a pit filled with traps and a lava pool at the bottom. Of course, canny players can rescue both.
- Only one of them actually triggers it anyway.
- This trope seems to be the only thing that can make Shirou give up on his dream of being a superhero. Of course, not just any friend. A semi-possessed friend. That he loves. Plus Ilya and all his other friends, to judge by the bad end that results if you don't do this, which implies Shirou wins by killing every other Master. At the end of that route, though, it's implied that he may still be trying for his 'idol' here as he is still training in magic, especially his reality marble. But he'll always know he knowingly turned against that path and got about half of his town killed off and nearly destroyed the world.
- A straighter example is Kotomine offering Saber the Grail... if she kills Shirou, who is already near death. She declines, unless you've made some very bad choices throughout the path and basically pissed her off at every juncture (Practically a Press X to Die affair), in which case she hesitates and Shirou dies.
"Do you not understand, knave? I want Shirou more than such a thing."
- A straighter example is Kotomine offering Saber the Grail... if she kills Shirou, who is already near death. She declines, unless you've made some very bad choices throughout the path and basically pissed her off at every juncture (Practically a Press X to Die affair), in which case she hesitates and Shirou dies.
- In Tales of Symphonia, after breaking all the seals and thinking you finished the game you get a Your Princess Is in Another Castle! moment at the Tower of Salvation when you find out the purpose of the Worldregeneration Journey is for the Chosen to die. During that scene Idiot Hero Lloyd gets asked if he'd rather have the entire world die than sacrifice one life to save it. He doesn't answer, but shortly afterward you learn in a skit that for a moment he chose to save the world rather than the Chosen.
- Dino Crisis: Regina must choose between assisting a severely wounded Gail, her commanding officer, in completing their mission objective of capturing renegade scientist Dr. Kirk, causing Gail to die in the process; or force Gail to give up to the chase and leave the island with her and Rick, allowing Dr. Kirk to escape, thus ending the mission in failure. However, Regina can also Take a Third Option by leaving Gail with Rick and going after Dr. Kirk by herself, allowing her to complete the mission without Gail dying.
- Employed in the first Overlord game where you face the dilemma of either rescuing the last surviving females of the elven race, thus ensuring the race continues... or getting a dwarven king's stockpile of gold. Needless to say, with the game's overall theme you're encouraged to pursue the latter option.
- The ending of Dubloon. You can either save the True Companions you formed throughout the game or the Chest you have been racing for the entire game.
- The ending of the adventure game Return to Mysterious Island 2: The player character discovers that her deactivation of the shield surrounding the island as part of her aborted escape attempt in the ending of the previous game has caused the island's ecosystem to start dying from foreign microorganisms. She then must choose between escaping and causing the entire island to die or reactivating the shield, saving the island but trapping her there for the rest of her life.
- Alpha Protocol likes these just a bit too much. At least thrice does your opponent put a contact (preferably a Romance Sidequest character) in one room, himself and/or your mission objective in the other room, and then announces this to the player.
- Mostly because it's effective: only one of those times are you able to actually save the contact and complete the mission, and it requires the right skills.
- In Marvel Ultimate Alliance, you enter Mephisto's lair, where he has Nightcrawler and Phoenix held hostage and rescuing one or the other alters the game's end: rescuing Nightcrawler means Phoenix dies, but she comes back as the Dark Phoenix, looking for revenge. Rescuing Phoenix has Mystique killing Professor X in revenge for Nightcrawler's death which causes the X-Men to disband.
- In Catwoman's storyline sections in Batman: Arkham City, the player is made to make a decision at one point as to whether to escape from the eponymous prison city with his appropriated loot, or to leave it behind and go to save the dying Batman. Canonically, the latter has to happen (as the main storyline has her rescue him at that time), but the player can choose the former for a Non-Standard Game Over if they wish.
- In the last mission of Saints Row: The Third, the Boss has to decide between finishing off Killbane before he escapes Steelport or save Shaundi, Viola, and Mayor Reynolds from getting blown up along with a regional monument. The latter is the more ethical choice and is canon according to Saints Row IV.
- Happens SEVERAL times in Tsukumogami - somewhere between 3 and 5 times, depending on how loosely you're willing to interpret the trope and whether you count two attempts within seconds of each other ("Oh, you don't care about this woman? Then I'll take THIS woman hostage instead...") as two separate cases. However, considering that the 'idol' in question is the only weapon capable of hurting the villains, it is perhaps understandable that they're trying everything to AVOID a direct confrontation...
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the only way to gain all fifteen Daedric artifacts for the "Oblivion Walker" achievement involves stabbing your ally in the back in most of their associated quests, or else losing the chance to gain the artifact involved. Understandable, since the Daedric Princes are, for the most part, a collection of Jerkass Gods. The most brutal decision is probably the one in the quest for Vaermina, the Daedric Prince of Nightmares. If you want her artifact and the achievement, you must kill Erandur, an Ensemble Dark Horse companion and one of the few followers in the game to actually level up with you. By saving this as the last Daedric quest you do, you can, through Save Scumming, get the achievement and keep Erandur alive, but you lose out on the artifact.
- The quest for Clavicus Vile is a particularly dark example of the trope, because Vile himself tells you to use the Rueful Axe and kill Barbas, the talking Big, Friendly Dog who has accompanied you on the quest. Doing this is the wrong move, because the Rueful Axe is not his true artifact. Instead, you have to replace the Rueful Axe in the statue, enabling Barbas to return to his rightful place as Vile's conscience. You are then rewarded with the true artifact, the Masque of Clavicus Vile.
- Jurassic Park: The Game ends on Nima having to choose whether to save Jess from the T-Rex or the can of dinosaur embryos she can sell for enough money to get herself and her daughter out of poverty for good. The will lead the player to different endings. In a subversion, if Nima chooses the can, she's the one who dies.
- In Star Trek Online, Enterprise-F captain Va'Kel Shon finds himself in an conundrum: either destroy the recently activated Iconian gateway to spare everyone anything that could waltz through and lose the friendship of the Romulan Republic or leave it and allow anything to get through. The discovery of Omega molecules takes it out of their hands.
- In inFAMOUS, Cole is forced to choose between saving Trish and a bus filled with medical professionals who can help the whole city. No matter which choice you make, Trish will die, but how it happens differs.
- Should you choose the "Good" decision, Cole, saves the bus, but watches as Trish falls. He jumps down to her, and she forgives him tearfully as she dies, resulting in Cole feeling both relieved and incredibly angry that this situation even happened.
- Should you choose the "Evil" decision, Cole saves Trish, only to find out it's not Trish, but a girl wearing similar clothing. Cole then sees Trish was actually on the bus, which falls and kills everyone on board, save Trish, who is gravely injured. When Cole jumps down to her, she chastises him for being willing to forsake the city for his own personal satisfaction, and then dies.
- In Call of Duty: Black Ops II, a mole on the heroes side is forced with this when the Big Bad of the game manages to crash a helicopter and capture a fellow soldier (Your commanding officer in fact) who managed to survive, then giving the mole a gun and forcing him to kill the soldier. You're given the opinion of killing the soldier (which is a requirement to get the Golden Ending, as said mole has to survive for a later part in the story) who even encourages you to do it to maintain your cover. Or try to kill the Big Bad right there which predictably fails and results in the mole getting killed.
- In Quest for Glory III, during the Fighter and Paladin storyline the player undergoes the Rite of Passage for a local tribe, which is a competition with only one winner. Near the end of the race, your friend and competitor Yesufu has gotten his foot caught in a hole, and the player can either help him out or go ahead and win the race. However, rescuing Yesufu is the only right choice: a true warrior would never abandon a friend, so if you help him the chief bends the rules and declares you both winners, while ignoring him nets you a Non-Standard Game Over.
- In Spider-Man (PS4), Spider-Man has a sample of the cure to the Devil's Breath virus and learns that they need the entire sample to create more, which puts him in a conundrum as one of the first victims is his beloved Aunt May. In a moment of emotion, Peter prepares to jab the antidote sample into May's IV patch, but stops himself and grieves as he decides on The Needs of the Many, allowing Aunt May to die so others can live.
- Amnesia: Memories pits this at the end of Kent's route. It's the day of his presentation, something that he's been working hard for and will net him the chance to study a year abroad, something that he's really looking forward to do. But then Ikki rushes in and tells him that the heroine has gotten into an accident and has been taken to the hospital. She's injured, but not in mortal danger. Kent points out his dilemma of choosing to focus on his presentation or heading to his girlfriend's side. Depending on the Ending the player is approaching, Kent chooses three ways: 1) Chooses his presentation because he knows that being by the heroine's side at this time would be of no help to anyone, and both know how important his presentation is. 2) Chooses to do his presentation early, so that he can head to the heroine's side and kill two birds with one stone. 3) Chooses to forego doing his presentation completely, giving up on his chance for this year, and rushing to the heroine's side.
- Happens several times in Homestar Runner. In the original children's book that started the concept, Homestar gives up the chance to win the Strongest Man In The World Contest in order to expose Strong Bad's cheating. As a result, Pom Pom shares the victory trophy with him. The same thing happens in the remade cartoon version of it, only Pom Pom refuses to share the trophy. And in "A Jumping Jack Contest", it's Pom Pom who exposes the cheating, and Homestar who ends up winning and sharing the trophy with Pom Pom.
- In Starslip Crisis, Zillion tries to invoke this trope after he twists his ankle...and fails. His big mistake was making sure the other person didn't want him dead. Whoops.
- In one Dragon Tails arc, Enigma begins to question his heritage, and decides to undergo a test to determine whether he is really related to his brothers. By the end of the arc (in which it turns out a giant bug creature with maybe-psychic powers had been influencing Engima in order to draw him away from his brothers), he receives the results of the test. His reaction...can be seen here.
- Dynomutt, Dog Wonder: During "Factory Recall", Blue Falcon prepares to capture Mr. Cool with a net, until Cool points out that the frozen Dynomutt will fall off the rafter he was perched on in a few seconds. Blue Falcon chooses to save Dynomutt, and Mr. Cool escapes in the meantime.
- A subversion occurs in Ed, Edd n Eddy, "Don't Rain On My Ed": with less than a minute before the candy store closes and the Eds miss Customer Appreciation Day, Eddy must choose between free jawbreakers and rescuing Edd from an unexpected chicken stampede. Eddy, being the greedy jerk of the trope, goes for the jawbreakers, but by the time he stops hesitating, the store's closed.
- Gargoyles had Lexington locked-on to the escaping bad guys' hovercraft with a laser cannon, but he gives up the sure shot to rescue Brooklyn.
- Noteworthy because the baddies in question are the Pack, Lex's former heroes, who used his admiration and naivete to trap and nearly kill Goliath. Lex has harbored an intense hatred since (which he's not completely over by the time the clan moves back in with Xanatos and Fox). In fact, that episode largely concerns Lex's lust for revenge clouding his judgment, so the fact that he gave up that kill shot to save his rookery brother says a lot.
- Samurai Jack had several of these moments where he refused to jump into the time portal until the current battle was won. By the time it was, the portal had closed or been destroyed. Technically, these portals would have let him defeat Aku in the distant past and made the battle unimportant. But ancient Samurai are renowned for their rigourous adherence to a code of honour, and not for their intricate understanding of temporal paradox.
- The cast of Dungeons & Dragons would refuse to take a portal home until the people who had helped them were safe.
- Code Lyoko, "Cruel Dilemma": Somehow, Jérémie has stumbled on a solution to Aelita's materialization he's been working on for the past 8 eps... however, Yumi falls through a pit into the Digital Sea on her latest mission against XANA, and Jérémie has to use it to bail her out instead.
- In the Karate Kid cartoon, anytime they got near the idol (it was even called that) they would inevitably have to give it up to save somebody. Its nature meant that it would inevitably be gone by the time they got back to it.
- The Super Mario Bros. Super Show:
- In one episode, the group finds another plumber that got stranded in the Mushroom Kingdom. He had finished building a machine that could get back to Brooklyn, but it had a short window of use. The Mario brothers have to choose between going back home or saving Princess Toadstool and Toad from King Koopa (whose theme of the episode was Genghis Koopa). Here's a hint on what they chose: this isn't the series finale.
- And another episode has them actually get back to Brooklyn... only to find out that King Koopa and his Koopa Pack had followed them and were taking over the city. They end up having to lure Koopa and his minions back to the Mushroom Kingdom and destroy the pathway to Brooklyn, thus returning to the old status quo.
- In an episode of The Magic School Bus, Arnold forces his cousin Janet to make one of these, more or less so she won't end up dead on Pluto when her oxygen runs out, as she had refused to leave without the souvenirs she had collected from around the solar system; the bus couldn't hold everything she had taken. Bringing back only ''some'' of her interplanetary plunder and still most likely becoming famous apparently didn't occur to anyone. Then again, you try convincing Janet.
- Codename: Kids Next Door, "Caked Four": Numbuh 2 is out to win the Tube-A-Thon for his winless dad. He ends up saving the other competitors from being baked into a cake instead.
- In the DuckTales (1987) episode "The Golden Fleecing", Scrooge twice has to make a decision between saving Launchpad and successfully taking the fleece. The first time, he ditches his friend in an attempt to escape with the treasure, but ultimately he can't sit by and watch Launchpad be killed.
- In one episode of Duck Dodgers Dodgers is shown to be obsessed with winning prizes (whether they are useful or not). Dodgers wins a game show later on and has to choose between two prizes. The mystery grand prize or the lives of his fellow competitors (which include his friends and frenemies). He choose the prize, but pressed the wrong button and set his friends free.
- Rocket Power:
- In "The Big Day", Otto is out to win a skating tourney, with a training trip with Shaun White as its top prize. He ends up having to convince his father's bride-to-be that he's ready for a new mother, even though he's been against it all this time, instead.
- In "Race Across New Zealand", Otto decides to stop to help Twister, with his sprained knee, cross the finish line in a race, instead of racing for the finish line and winning the main title. Later, when it turns out that the 1st place winner cheated in the race, he is awarded the title in a tie with his sister Reggie.
- Winx Club had Aisha earning her Enchantix through such a decision (heal her eyesight or the dying mermaid queen, she chose the latter). But considering how they are earned (through a sacrifice), perhaps there should have been more.
- An episode of Taz-Mania has a dream sequence in which Taz, as a super hero, is forced to choose between rescuing his family or rescuing his comic book collection. He finally chooses his family and the time spent rescuing them leaves him unable to save the comics.
- The Wild Thornberrys:
- Eliza had to make a Sister or Idol Decision during a volcanic eruption. Debbie needed help freeing a trapped foot, but Eliza had been hoping to make off with a chest of gold coins for herself. Three guesses.
- Another instance occurs in The Movie. Eliza has to choose between saving her sister or keeping her powers. She ends up saving Debbie by revealing the fact that she can talk to animals, and ends up losing her abilities. She gets them back in the end though.
- Used in The Simpsons episode "Three Men and a Comic Book", where Bart has to choose between rescuing Milhouse and rescuing the copy of Radioactive Man #1 that has caused them so much trouble. Given a particularly fine comedic twist with Martin Prince calmly pointing out "If you hadn't tied me up, I could be saving the comic book right now..."
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Traffic Cam Caper", Candace saves Phineas from falling off a bridge at the expense of a disc that would let her finally accomplish her goal of busting her brothers.
- In "The Lemonade Stand", Candace is forced to decide between busting her brothers or taking an opportunity to make up with best friend Stacy after an argument. She chose the latter.
- In the first episode of The Secret Saturdays, the main character, Zak, was forced to choose between saving the life of a cryptid he had befriended or stopping the villain from getting a piece of the Kur Stone. He saved the cryptid.
- The Halloween episode of Pinky and the Brain has Brain give up not only the world domination he's been magically granted, but the possibility of trying to take it over again in the future (a big deal to someone whose entire purpose in the world revolves around trying to Take Over the World) to save Pinky's soul from
HellHades. Fortunately for Brain, there's a problem with the original contract, and Pinky is let off the hook anyway.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- Zuko has a choice between going after the Avatar, whose capture would restore his honor, or saving his uncle Iroh who has been imprisoned by the Earth Kingdom. After much agonizing, he chooses Iroh.
- Zuko later faces the same choice, between joining Azula against the Avatar (thus restoring his honor) and helping his imprisoned uncle. He chooses Azula.
- It seems to run in the family. His great-grandfather Sozin had to choose between saving his former best friend's life or letting him die to the poisonous gases of a volcanic eruption to pursue his dreams of conquest. Said friend was Avatar Roku, who had previously spared his life when he first began his world conquest and saved his life again during their joint efforts to stop said eruption. He chose ambition, though he would realize near his own life's end that it wasn't worth it.
- It wasn't something he had been looking for, per se, but in Freakazoid!, Cosgrove's girlfriend Mary Beth offers to share immortality with him, which, the secret being drinking the essence of a superhero, means Freakazoid will die. A chorus sings 'What will Cosgrove do?' as he ponders the decision, before he tells them to cut it out and turns Mary Beth down.
- Adventure Time: Finn, Jake, and four Hot Dog Knights go into a labyrinth searching for wishes, the first two hoping to get a psychic double-head war elephant. Jake stretches his body to have a lifeline back to the start and by the time they get a chance for a wish each two of the hot dogs had died and Jake was dying from overstretching himself. Finn was hoping to use his wish to bring Jake back to life while Jake wished for the elephant, but then the two hot dogs and Jake wished for a box, to blow up (he meant to get big but that didn't matter), and for a sandwich, respectively.
Faced with deciding whether to save his friend or get what they came for, Finn wishes for the elephant, by Jake's suggestion, then convinces the elephant to use ITS wish to revive everyone then fly out of there to the Labyrinth guardian's great frustration.
- A rather odd variation was used in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003)'s season "Back to the Sewers". As the goal of that season was to save Splinter from being lost in cyberspace the MacGuffin actually was a friend (to say the least). The episode "Hacking Stockman" featured a Friend or Idol Decision in the sense that Donatello was forced to choose between the data bits he'd been tracking for the entirety of the episode and saving his brothers... which, naturally, made it a difficult decision. Hint: everyone's still alive and well at the end of the episode.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
- In the second part of the two part pilot, Nightmare Moon tempts Rainbow Dash to abandon her friends for the chance to live her dream and lead the Shadowbolts (dark versions of her idols, the Wonderbolts, but the idol part still plays in). Rainbow Dash quickly refuses and sides with her friends.
- In the ninth episode of the second season, Rarity gets put in this position, being forced to choose between maintaining some important upper-class connections, and hanging out with her lower-class friends. She ends up splitting the difference. Also, unlike most cases, when the Friends found out, they encouraged her to go for the Idol since it really was a genuinely good opportunity for her.
- When competing to qualify for the Equestria Games in "Rainbow Falls", an injured flyer and a technicality mean Rainbow would qualify to join the Cloudsdale team with her idols, the Wonderbolts, instead of the ragtag Ponyville team. Her indecision leads her to fake an injury, but Twilight points out that "Choosing not to choose isn't really a decision." When she learns the Wonderbolts had lied about their teammate Soarin's recovery so they could get a better flyer, Rainbow tells them she realized it was wrong to ditch a teammate, and the Wonderbolts offer Soarin to rejoin the team.
- The episode "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone" has Gilda make a literal Friend or Idol Decision between saving Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash from falling, or saving an ancient griffon artifact called the Idol of Boreas. Gilda chooses to save Pinkie and Rainbow, letting the idol fall into the Abysmal Abyss, symbolically casting off her greed.
- In "Shadow Play", Twilight Sparkle has to choose between following Star Swirl the Bearded, her idol whom she has just brought back from limbo in banishing the Pony of Shadows, or listening to her friend and student Starlight Glimmer's suggestion that this is a friendship problem.
- In "What Lies Beneath", Rarity and Rainbow Dash invite Sandbar on a friendship mission but he has to abandon his friends to do so. After he ultimately chooses his friends, they are revealed to be illusions as part the Tree of Harmony's Secret Test of Character.
- Brandy and Mr Whiskers: Mr Whiskers saves Brandy from falling into the collapsing cave rather than the gameboy he had been obsessing over throughout the episode.
- Ben 10: Max Tennyson experiences one of these in the episode "Ultimate Weapon". The episode centers around Max chasing after the only object he failed to acquire during his time as a Plumber. Near the end he has the choice of grabbing it or saving Ben. Obviously he saves his grandson. The artifact later is revealed to have aged to the point of crumbling into dust when the leader of the Forever Knights holds it.
- In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Plastic Man (who is obsessed with money) has to choose between taking the villain's gold/jewels or saving Batman, who was a great friend/mentor and kept giving him chances to better himself, even helping him get out of prison. He saves Batman of course but is distracted by the loot for a bit, so by the time he reaches Batman, he had already been turned into an ape. Luckily, the treasure helped him fight off the villain and his henchmen and the transformation was reversed.
- The first season finale of Littlest Pet Shop (2012) has Blythe having to decide whether or not she should leave her family and friends to go to a prestigious summer camp. She goes through with it, and the first episode of season 2 is her realizing it's not all it's cracked up to be.
- In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Squirrel Jokes", Spongebob finds success as a stand-up comedian, but his only funny jokes are at Sandy's expense. When Sandy tells him to can it, he finds himself having to choose on-stage between his friend or his career. He drops the microphone, walks away... then returns for one last squirrel joke. Sandy does eventually "convince" Spongebob to change his material, however.
- The Punky Brewster episode "Be My Glomley" has Glomer and a female glomley called Glomine using their combined magic and some gadgetry by Punky and her pals to create a rainbow gate to their home land of Chaundoon. But a rope in the hot air balloon Punky is in snaps, leaving Punky dangling from the side. Faced with whether to finally return home or rescue Punky, Glomer sends Glomine back ("Tell momly and dadly I love them!") and effects the rescue. By that time, the rainbow disappears and Glomer remains stranded. But he's not too disappointed—he joyfully leaps into Punky's arms and hugs her.
- The titular BoJack Horseman was forced into this midway through Horsin' Around, after Herb, his best friend and show's creator, was caught in a gay sex scandal, and Herb wanted him to threaten to walk out if Herb got fired. BoJack chose the Idol.
- Star vs. the Forces of Evil:
- In the first season finale "Storm the Castle", Toffee has Marco in a Death Trap that even Star's magic can't bust him out of. When she realizes this, without a moment's hesitation Star hands over her magic wand, the very thing she's been fighting to protect for the entire series up to that point.
- In "Bon Bon the Birthday Clown", Ludo grabs Star's spell book and tries to escape. Marco grabs him, but Ludo points out Star is about to get sucked into a portal. Marco chooses to save Star.
- In the Sonic Boom episode "Fuzzy Puppy Buddies," Amy puts Eggman in one of these: Either he returns the Fancy Poodle he stole, or she'll call off their Fuzzy Puppy friendship. Eggman chooses "friend" and returns the stolen Fancy Poodle.