Tim: But I'm not married!
Military Commander: You are now... To AMERICA!
The Big Bad tries to get the hero (or someone else) to do his bidding by taking someone precious from him and essentially holding them to ransom. It's often a significant other, frequently a wife or girlfriend; but any family or friend works, or even strangers if it's a certain type of hero.
This sort of thing tends to go in the following sequence:
- Significant other is kidnapped.
- Villain calls up hero and says "I've got your significant other. I'll put her on the line".
- Significant other is expected/ordered to wail "Do as he says!" More often than not, they say something along the lines of "Don't do it, it's a trap!"
- Villain tells hero that he is being watched. If he doesn't obey orders and/or informs the authorities, then he will kill the significant other.
- The hero will then be given his orders, usually: a) steal something, b) deliver something, c) kill someone, d) surrender to the villain, and/or e) lead his allies into a trap.
- The hero will try at least once to get a message to friends and usually succeeds (eventually). The friends in turn usually figure out what is going on — that their friend is in great danger, closely watched and controlled by a villain — and swing into action to help.
- Eventually, the significant other will be released, either by completion of mission or rescue by the hero (in a Roaring Rampage of Rescue) or The Cavalry. The Mole is sometimes involved.
Hostage for MacGuffin is a subtrope for when the trope occurs with a MacGuffin. If the villain is attracted to the hero, he/she may give them the Scarpia Ultimatum.
A common variant used with lone heroes (in which case 6 on the list is not exactly an option) has the hero reluctantly doing what the villain orders him to do, only to be screwed over when the villain reneges on his promise to let the loved one go, usually before killing the loved one in question in a nasty Kick the Dog moment. The result, for many action heroes, is often a Roaring Rampage of Revenge that usually culminates in Storming the Castle and handing the villain the mother of all asskickings for daring to mess with the loved one in the first place. Alternatively, a Roaring Rampage of Rescue ending in the rescue of the loved one may also take place.
Sometimes, a villain will do this as a plot to get a hero to betray his friends, only to have him Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves. It's also a great way to turn a member of the good guys into Regretful Traitor.
Can't blame many a hero for taking precautions against this.
Sometimes, of course, the intended target may feel that You Can Keep Her!, in which case the whole thing is moot by Threat Backfire.
If this is the reason why the villain is doing it, then it's a case of The Commies Made Me Do It.
In the real world, a kidnapping committed for the purpose of coercing another person to commit a crime on the original criminal's behalf is called a tiger kidnapping. Most real-life kidnappings, tiger or not, tend to end peacefully, whether or not the victim sees the kidnapper's face. This is largely due to pragmatism, as murder is a far more serious offense than kidnapping. Media usually ignores this because of the Rule of Drama, acting like the victim will be killed the second the ransom is paid.
- Early on in Ultimate Spider-Man, Norman Osborn threatens Peter to do his bidding in exchange for not going after Aunt May and Mary Jane Watson. He refuses and persuades May that Norman can't be trusted, but Mary Jane still ends up getting kidnapped.
- Almost subverted in the comic miniseries Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge. The agents of the Big Bad Libra kidnap the father of Rogues leader Captain Cold. They threaten to kill him unless Cold and the Rogues surrender. But the bad guys don't understand that his father's sadistic abuse and terror was the main factor in shaping Cold's personality. So he tells them that he will hunt them down, kill them, and kill his father himself. The Rogues do kill the bad guys, but Cold does not kill his father. Instead he orders his teammate Heatwave to burn him to death.
- Transmetropolitan makes use of this with Spider Jerusalem's wife's cryogenically preserved head. Mostly subverted in that Spider does not actually care about his ex-wife, much to the consternation of those who have her. Spider then completely subverts this by throwing his wife's cryogenically preserved head into the river. Since she was the one who had angered the kidnappers in the first place, they then calm down and leave.
- Bungled by Fink and Mean Machine Angel in Judge Dredd when they abduct Dredd's landlady assuming she is his wife.
- X-Men foe Nimrod, a Sentinel from the future, forced an alternate timeline Forge to repair him by holding his daughter hostage. This is after he murdered Forge's wife — Storm in this timeline — right in front of the kid.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) Queen Chrysalis kidnaps the Cutie Mark Crusaders to force the cooperation of the Mane 6.
- In Morbius' Marvel NOW! series, the Rose tells Morbius he has his mother, who is alive "but I wouldn't say well" and is bound to get a lot worse. The Rose gives Morbius his mother's wedding ring as a reminder he works for him now. Subverted when Morbius reveals his mother died years ago; he even was at her side when she passed away. The Rose's employer, who provided the ring, knows Morbius would know the threat was empty — so it was the Rose who was being conned.
- The first issue of the Invader Zim continuation comic reveals that this is the reason Prisoner 777 provides Zim with information — Zim has his children, and will "erase them" from existence if their father doesn't do what he says.
- In Issue 13, Zim is on the receiving end of this when another group of aliens plan to obtain his newly-created "humungoserum." Unfortunately for them, they've kidnapped Dib under the mistaken belief that he's Zim's best friend, and Zim not only doesn't care that they've taken him but is entertained when they start torturing him.
- In Secret Six, Catman receives a phone call letting him know that his infant son has been kidnapped and will receive one year of life for every member of his team Catman kills in the next five minutes. He considers it for a very long moment, but instead tells the kidnappers that they can drop the kid...but he'll find them. Which he does.
- In Back to Brooklyn, Paul Saetta kidnaps his brother Bob's family with the implication he will murder Bob's young son Michael if Bob crosses him.
- Protecting her family from this is why X-23 sent her aunt and cousin into hiding at the end of Target: X. Kimura eventually tracks them down anyway, and although she at first considered killing them out of spite, she ultimately plays the trope straight and decides to use them as leverage to force Laura to submit to her in All-New Wolverine. Considering it's Kimura, it's highly unlikely she'll hold up her end no matter what Laura does.
- In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Lex Luthor and Brainiac force Superman to do their bidding by holding the bottle city of Kandor hostage. Batman eventually figures out this is the case and arranges for the city's rescue as part of his plan.
- Wonder Woman: In the original comics and The Legend of Wonder Woman (2016), Baroness Paula von Gunther is only working for the Nazis because they are holding her daughter Gerta hostage. When Wonder Woman rescues Gerta, Paula happily defects to the good guys.
- Wonder Girl: Lashina tries to force Cassie to cooperate by kidnapping Cassie's mother.
- Robin (1993): When Dodge realizes the fellow villains he's rounded up to humiliate Robin intend to murder the young hero and he decides he wants no part in their plans one of the others quickly informs him that if he leaves or tries to inconvenience them his family will pay the price.
- Batman: Black and White: In "Heroes", set in 1937, a pioneering inventor is approached by an agent of German military intelligence with a job offer. When he refuses, the German captures his ten-year-old son to force his compliance.
- In the Superman storyline Strangers at the Heart's Core, a criminal group known as The Visitors threatens to kill Edna Danvers to force her husband Fred to work for them, as well as get their heroic adoptive daughter off their backs.
- Knightfall: Abattoir gets Clayface to kidnap Graham Etchison by holding Clayface's wife and son hostage.
- Luke Cage: Hero for Hire: Iron Fist villain Bushmaster forces Luke to attack Misty Knight by holding Luke's friend Dr. Bernstein and his girlfriend Claire Temple hostage. Afterwards, this proves to be the last straw for Claire, and she breaks up with Luke, not to be seen again for two decades.
- Heroes for Hire: A few years after the previous incident, Bushmaster does this to Dr. Bernstein, this time with his actual wife, having abducted her on their honeymoon.
- In the Action Comics storyline "Kal-El Returns", Metallo is tired of fighting Superman, would rather stay in prison, and is prepared to kill himself rather than take orders from Luthor again. Luthor asks him if he's wondered why his sister missed her last visit.
- Iron Fist (1975): The Wrecking Crew try attacking the hospital Donald Blake works at, knowing he's connected to Thor somehow, but wind up with Iron Fist and Misty Knight instead. Adapting, they take Misty hostage so Danny will get the Avengers for them. Naturally, they plan on betraying Danny and killing him and Misty anyway, and Danny knows it.
- Garfield: Fed up with Garfield staying in bed all day, Jon kidnaps Pooky in an attempt to force Garfield to come out, but the fat cat won't even budge.
- Modesty Blaise: In "Samantha and the Cherub," Lucy Kolin, the wife of Soviet musician who defected to the West, is kidnapped. Her husband is told to renounce his defection and return to the USSR if he ever wants to see her again.
- Played for Laughs in Catwoman: Hunted. Catwoman is forced by Interpol to help them take down the Leviathan crime syndicate. Batwoman makes her parachute onto the building Leviathan have chosen for a meeting place.
Catwoman: (floating down on her parachute) Now that I'm out of the plane, what makes you think I'm not going to bail on this whole endeavour?Batwoman: (on comm link) Well...I have your cat.
- In Despicable Me, up-and-coming supervillain Vector kidnaps Gru's adopted daughters and demands the moon, which Gru has shrunk and removed from its orbit, in exchange. Gru complies, but when Vector goes back on the deal, he finds himself dealing with an enraged Papa Wolf.
- In Howl's Moving Castle, Madame Suliman holds Sophie's stepfather (whom she's never met) hostage, forcing Sophie's mother to betray her by planting a Peeping Bug in the castle.
- In The Snow Queen (1995)'s sequel, the Snow Queen kidnaps Dimly to force Ellie to go to her castle. A similar thing happened in the first movie, but there it wasn't intentional.
- Night of the Necromancer have an I Have Your Sister example when the hero's younger sister, Orianna, gets abducted by the titular Necromancer for an immortality ritual, which he must prevent before the sun rises.
- Nomeansno's song "Dance of the Headless Bourgeoisie" has the narrator inform the listener that they've kidnapped his wife, son, and daughter and demanding money in exchange for their safety... before revealing that they don't actually want anything from him and are coming for him too out of pure hatred.
- The Notorious B.I.G. alludes to this in the second verse of the song "Hypnotize":
At my arraignment, note for the plaintiff
"Your daughter's tied up in a Brooklyn basement"
Face it, not guilty, that's how I stay filthy
- In The BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play Camberwell Green, Marilyn is a newly-promoted London Transport bus controller, whose husband gets held hostage by criminals to force her into manipulating the traffic so they have a clear escape route. To discourage her from going to the police, they've set things up so it looks like it was him who committed the robbery.
- In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the villain pulls this on Tom with his girlfriend Becky in order to get him close enough to stab him.
- In Margin for Error, the Consul keeps his unhappy wife Sophie from running out on him by reminding her that he's protecting the life of her Czech father in Prague.
- In Oedipus at Colonus, Creon, knowing Oedipus is necessary for victory, forcefully abducts Oedipus' daughters (on whom he is completely dependent) to get him to come. Fortunately, Theseus intervenes.
- Ace Attorney:
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All did this in the last case, only with the hero's beloved assistant Maya rather than his significant other.
- In the last case of Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth 2, Blaise Debeste has his henchmen kidnap Judge Courtney's son to have her declare Patricia Roland "Not Guilty." However, his henchmen were morons who mistakenly kidnapped Sebastian, Blaise's son, instead of John. Then the Big Bad comes along and kidnaps John anyway so that Edgeworth would investigate the missing evidence for Roland's trial, which Blaise disposed of.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies: Bobby Fulbright claims that his family being held hostage is what made him work for the phantom, the Big Bad of the game as a whole in order to throw off accusations of being him. But it turns out to be Blatant Lies, as when asked to specify who got taken hostage he utterly messes up his planned reactions and audibly starts deciding which answer would get the most pity.
- In the last case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, Maya gets kidnapped again to have Phoenix ensure that Paul Atishon can claim the Founder's Orb. This leads to him getting in a civil case against Apollo over a dispute for the Orb. Apollo gets Phoenix out of working for an obviously criminal client by proving that the kidnapper needs Maya alive and cooperative, and thus wouldn't hurt a single hair on her head.
- In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, every chapter, Monokuma provides the students with an artificial "motive" to entice them to kill one another. I Have Your Wife, or at least a variation of it, plays out as the "motive" of chapter 1: Monokuma shows each student videos of something horrible happening to either their friends or loved ones (Makoto Naegi's family, Sayaka Maizono's idol group, Mondo Oowada's gang, etc.). Monokuma teases the students with the possibility that the situations on the videos might be real, so wouldn't it be a good idea for a student to commit murder, "graduate" from the school, and thus be able to go find out? The student who finally takes Monokuma up on that is Sayaka, but it doesn't work because when she tries to kill Leon, Leon successfully defends himself, and then kills her.
- And he later uses it again while holding Sakura Oogami's beloved dojo hostage and forcing her to be The Mole. She only gets out of the deal via killing herself.
- Poor Grace in Havenfall Is for Lovers ends up used as a hostage against the player character and her Love Interest as often as not.
- In Diego's season two, Antonio threatens Grace in order to compel the protagonist to cooperate with his "game" against Diego.
- In Razi's route Grace seems to have initially been just a victim of opportunity, but as soon as Jonas realizes that the protagonist is Razi's weakness, he's more than willing to use Grace as leverage against both of them.
- Midway through Heart of the Woods, Morgan encounters her mother Evelyn by chance, and Evelyn insists that Morgan come with her. When Morgan refuses, Evelyn proposes that she could have Morgan's new friend Tara take her place. Morgan immediately understands that Evelyn is threatening Tara and reluctantly complies.
- In some of Ikemen Sengoku's routes, the female main character gets kidnapped by Nobunaga Oda's enemies because they know that she's become The Heart of the Oda forces and want to either bait the Oda forces into waging war against them for her or torture and kill her in front of her love interest to break his spirit.
- Eisuke's route in Kissed by the Baddest Bidder ends up with the protagonist being kidnapped by a rival executive to try and force him into signing a deal. Eisuke throws a wrench in the executive's plan by declaring that he doesn't care. Subverted in that he actually does care and is just bluffing to set the executive up in order to remove him as competition.
- Ctrl+Alt+Del: A Corrupt Corporate Executive takes Lilah hostage. To get her back, Ethan must surrender his crown as the King of Wintereenmas. In what can only be regarded as his personal achievement, Ethan throws the crown on the floor before the guy can finish making the demand.
- Used to great effect by the slavers in Far to the North to put an end to Kelu's Mama Bear rampage.
- The Fallen tries this in the Insecticomics, kidnapping Lazorbeak in order to manipulate Kickback. Kickback simply waits for Lazorbeak to rescue herself, which she does with great glee.
- The second chapter of Necropolis introduces the young Prince Lonso, a political hostage being kept to insure the good behavior of his mother after a failed prior rebellion. While he is treated very well and respectfully, there aren't really any illusions about his role in things, as seen in his first scene, when the First Sword comes to see him while he is reading a letter from his mother.
First Sword: Oh, and how is the royal consort? What does she have to say?
Lonso: She urges me to remember that you are not my hosts but my captors and our ancient enemies, reminds me that you murdered my family and countrymen in the border wars, and stresses that you humiliate us still by holding me, the rightful prince of Outer Hyberia, hostage under the pretense of peace-keeping and the veneer of diplomacy. Also, she asks about my diet.
First Sword: Your mother, as ever, exaggerates. But she is not entirely wrong. For now, we are at peace. But should you violate our treaties and attack Inner Hyberia when you ascend the throne, we would again become enemies. And I would have to make war against you.
Lonso: And would you kill me, Lady First? Like you killed my father?
First Sword: No, my prince. I would kill you much more gently... and with the deepest regret.
Lonso: I suppose I won't start a war then.
- Sluggy Freelance: Sasha went undercover as part of Torg's plan, and was captured by Monicruel, who is using that as leverage over Torg's team.
- Trope Overdosed The Webcomic: Bob gets this from SPIS and immediately begins preparing to head off into the trap.
- In Weak Hero, Jared convinces Gray to come to Wolf's location by showing him a picture of his friends after they were violently beaten by Wolf, implying that worse would happen to them if Gray didn't come along.
- In The Gamer's Alliance, Ferron forces Refan to work for him by threatening to kill Refan's son Gabriel if Refan refuses. Arawn kidnaps Kagetsu's wife Marya, forcing Kagetsu to work for him and preventing him from joining the Alliance.
Kagetsu I: Release her.
Arawn: Oh, I think not, my dear friend Kagetsu. I'm afraid I'll have to have some assurance of our friendship from here on in. I cannot have you joining yourself to the elf-lover and the wizard. Know that from this day onward, I own your precious wife.
- The LoadingReadyRun episode "Ransom" took it to its illogical extreme. The villain kidnaps the hero's girlfriend and calls him with the demands. The hero counters by kidnapping the villain's henchmen. The villain escalates by kidnapping the hero's mother which the hero counters by capturing the villain's deaf brother. All this takes place in the span of five minutes with the hero and villain still engaged in the original phone conversation. The villain tries to end things by kidnapping the hero but the hero responds by kidnapping the villain (while still tied up in the villain's lair).
- Subverted in Demo Reel, as Tom Collins makes Tacoma think something awful is or will happen to Rebecca, who appears to be alone in a big studio at night and who Tacoma thinks needs protecting after hearing about her past. Turns out she's fine and it was a trap so he could be kidnapped and delivered to her as a warning.
- In Welcome to Night Vale the Sheriff's Secret Police kidnap family members to ensure people vote the right way at elections, storing them in the secret location of the abandoned mine shaft, which has been used for this purpose so frequently that it's actually quite nice, with king-size beds, Wi-Fi, and, as the Sheriff's Secret Police recently announced, now gets HBO.
- Exploited in The Try Guys "Distracted Driving" video. Ned's personalized distraction during the test is to be given a note that says "We have your wife;" further down the course, Ned's wife Ariel is locked in a cage. He drives completely off the course to save her, giving him a huge penalty and causing him to lose the competition.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series parodies the example in the above page quote by giving the dialogue to Bandit Keith and Zombie Boy.
Keith: Tim, they've got your wife!
Zombie Boy: But I'm not married!
Keith: You are now...(Glasses Pull) to AMERICA!
- One of the (many) memes on Tumblr was a variation of this. Usually with their fandom or original character of choice
Kidnapper: We have your daughter.Persona A: But I don't have a daughter.Kidnapper: Then who do we have that is (Doing funny actions characteristic of Person B)Person A: Oh my god they have Person B!
- Kitboga is a scambaiter popular on YouTube and Twitch. In "The Craziest Scammer Ever I've Ever Called," one of the stratagems of the scammer is to claim that he is being held hostage and needs money from Kitboga's character, who has supposedly fallen in love with him and is his wife, if he is to be released.
Kitboga: Release him right now! I do not negotiate with kidnappers! Release him!
- At some battle during the Chu-Han War after the collapse of the Qin Dynasty, the King of Chu, Xiang Yu eventually captured the father of his rival, Liu Bang. At one battle, Xiang Yu and Liu Bang faced one another across a ravine. Xiang Yu yells (more or less), "Just give up! I have your father, and I'm going to boil him alive!" Liu Bang famously responded, "Send me a cup of the soup!"
- For the curious, Liu Bang defeated Xiang Yu (founding the Han Dynasty in the process), and Liu's father didn't get the least bit boiled.
- Another historical example, this time from 12th century England, concerns King Stephen threatening to hang the small son of one John Marshal if he didn't surrender his castle. John replied, rather crudely, that he still had the hammer and anvil to make even better sons. In justice to John, King Stephen was a coward and everybody knew it. Little William Marshal was not hanged and grew up to be the most famous knight in England and France.
- It's been said that in the Joseph Stalin era, those with families were the first to "confess" to being "spies."
- The German government tried to use this tactic against Joseph Stalin after his son Yakov was captured as a prisoner of war during World War II. The Germans offered to release Yakov in exchange for captured German Field Marshall Friedrich Paulus. Stalin refused, responding "I will not trade a Marshal for a Lieutenant." Yakov later died in a POW camp under unclear circumstances, either by suicide or being shot by camp guards.
- During the Sengoku Jidai, the Matsudaira Clan attempted to form a alliance with the Imagawa Clan, and one of the requirements was for the Matsudaira Daimyo to send his son to live in the Imagawa capital of Sunpu as hostage. This the Matsudaira dutifully did; unfortunately, the boy was captured by the Oda Clan en route to Sunpu. The Oda, mortal enemies of the Imagawa, threatened to kill the boy unless the Matsudaira broke their alliance with the Imagawa. However, the Matsudaira called their bluff, and essentially dared the Oda to kill the boy, as that would demonstrate to the Imagawa how seriously they took their alliance. Unsure of what to do, the Oda detained the boy (in safety and comfort) for three years and eventually returned him to his father. The boy later grew up to be Tokugawa Ieyasu, and the rest is Japanese History.
- A robbery technique involved calling a bank manager's wife at home and convincing her not to answer the phone for some reason (e.g. claiming to be a telephone company working on the line, which would cause the phone to ring at random). They would then call the bank manager and use this trope, telling him to fill a suitcase full of money and meet them in ten minutes or else. The manager would try to call home and of course, when there was no answer, he would assume the worst.
- A similar ploy has targeted university students studying abroad, who are told not to contact their families in any way (including social media) and to go into hiding. The students' families (who are typically wealthy) are then contacted and told that the student has been kidnapped, and demand a large ransom for their release.
- Simon bar Giora, a Jewish leader during the First Jewish–Roman War, had his wife captured by the Zealot faction. Instead of laying down his weapons for her freedom (as they had hoped) he instead went to Jerusalem and took everybody leaving the city captive. He then proceeded to torture, kill and cut off the hands of his captives, sending them back to Jerusalem with the message that he would do likewise to all Jerusalem if his wife was not released. The Zealots released her.