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Lesser of Two Evils

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"The lesser of two evils is still evil. And the enemy of my enemy is not my friend."

The hero is in a situation with two unpleasant alternatives and no other options are available to him. Begrudgingly, he holds to his moral code and chooses the lesser of two evils.

Modern elections, especially for the office of President of the United States, are the Trope Codifier for the modern sense of this trope in popular consciousness, and as such many examples are directly based on or otherwise referential to such politics. That being said, specific real-life examples should be kept off this page.

Compare Black-and-Gray Morality, when those who are technically the "good guys" are the lesser evil, and Enemy Mine, when the good guys work with the lesser evil to defeat a greater one. Even Evil Has Standards may be in play to drive the point home.

Not to be confused with A Lighter Shade of Black, which at least provides a side to root for. (Those stories usually involve a villain's P.O.V. fighting the other side.)


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Black Clover: After the devil Zagred orchestrates the massacre of the elves at the hands of human nobles, their leader Licht is brought to the brink of despair, which corrupts his four-leaf grimoire into a five-leaf and leaves him open to being possessed by Zagred, but when his human friend Lemiel shows up Licht retains enough sanity to realize that he wasn't involved in the massacre. While Licht is relieved by this realization, at this point it's too late to reverse his corruption; therefore, in an effort to deny his body to Zagred, Licht uses the magic stones to turn himself into a demon, trusting that Lemiel will be able to kill him. Lemiel is not at all happy about this, but agrees with Licht's reasoning. While Licht then goes on a destructive rampage that almost wipes out the Clover Kingdom, this is still presented as a far better alternative to what would've happened if Zagred's plan had worked.
  • Dragon Ball Z: During the Namek Saga, the heroes are presented with such a situation; Krillin agrees to use the Dragon Balls to make Vegeta immortal because he'd rather face that than be killed by Frieza, only for Guru, the creator of the Namekian Dragon Balls, to die of grief before Dende can finish making the wish, taking Porunga and the Dragon Balls with him. Played With since the subsequent fight between Vegeta and Frieza, as well as Goku and Frieza, not to mention the datebook, makes it clear that Frieza was way more powerful than even Vegeta realized, so it's unlikely that an immortal Vegeta would have been much more than a (somewhat) invincible punching bag anyway.
  • Fate/Zero: In order to keep a vast majority of people from dying, Kiritsugu chooses to kill the group with fewer numbers. The Holy Grail shows him, however, that doing this repeatedly causes the minority to become the majority.
  • Godzilla: The Planet Eater pits Godzilla Earth, a malevolent force of nature hell-bent on eradicating humanity, against Ghidorah, an extradimensional being that destroys entire planets in his wake. Godzilla is the lesser evil, and seeks to defend his planet from the interloper, but ultimately he's no friend of humanity and kills the main protagonist Haruo in the finale.
  • In The Heroic Legend of Arslan, neither Sindhuran prince is a paragon of virtue, but Arslan and his group decide to help Rajendra, who is far less of a Jerkass compared to his brother Gadhevi. At least Rajendra cares for the men under his command, wishing to bring them glory and victory.
  • A minor example in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders. When Kakyoin and Polnareff are fighting J. Geil, they see the Hanged Man appear in people's eyes (it can hurt people by attacking their reflections — and the human cornea is a reflective surface) on a few occasions. To their dismay, the best way to protect themselves is to kick sand in those people's eyes. It makes them look like assholes, but it beats getting stabbed or having to hurt someone innocent.
  • Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing: Liliana joins Luscinia and his plans after realizing that even though he is bent on conquering the world and killed her father, killing him will only makes things worse since his death will lead to a massive civil war in Ades over his position and the Exile nations will use that war to their advantage to grab power.

    Comic Books 
  • In one Carl Barks story, Donald Duck chooses to leap into a pool of sharks rather than confront Daisy and her sewing friend about the crochets he made. He cites this trope word to word.
  • The Punisher MAX: As little as they approve of his methods, Officers Parker and Miller of the NYPD grudgingly work with the Punisher to take down a Dirty Cop and a Human Trafficking ring. Despite being a psychotic vigilante with approximately two thousand dead criminals to his name, Frank is still the lesser of two evils by far compared to the type of scum he's up against in "The Slavers."

    Comic Strips 
  • Defied in The Boondocks, when Huey is knocked on his behind by his reflection for daring to side with a Democrat (John Kerry) just because he is slightly better than his Republican opponent (George W. Bush).

    Fan Works 
  • In Walk a Mile in Another's Shoes, a My Hero Academia fanfic, Izuku believes that he must hurt classmates he likes to win the Sports Festivalbecause All for One threatened to kill the winner if Izuku doesn’t win.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: The Shining Concord Empire, Avatar of All Light, King Albrecht, and many other lesser overworld powers briefly ally with Mercury for the battle of Crowned Death's high temple. This is actually a case of subversion, as Mercury is a heroine. However, most of the surface world powers involved do not know or do not acknowledge her as a hero and see it as Pragmatic Villainy on her part — she was at war with Crowned Death, and, having discovered the massive, mobile fortress, needs their help to destroy it.
  • An Unsung Song: To help the Capitol or District Fourteen?
  • The Immortal Game: This is pretty much the justification for allying with Discord in order to defeat Titan. As Celestia puts it, they've dealt with the former before, and besides, "better the devil you know".
  • The Pony POV Series: At one point during the Epilogue timeline (about five hundred years prior to the "present" of the Dark World arc), Grogar returned from his imprisonment and went to war with Discord for control of Equestria. During this war, many of Discord's enemies allied with Grogar, as they figured that his "perfect order" would be preferable to Discord's "perfect chaos". On the other hand, some did remain with Discord because they saw him as the lesser evil.
  • The Last Seidr: Upon learning that Harry is alone (except for Fawkes and the Sorting Hat) and far from his home dimension, Tony offers to take Harry in for the unforeseeable future, while Thor offers to take Harry to Asgard, so the "seidr" can be trained in magic by his mother. While no one is overly confident in Tony's ability to raise a child, everyone agrees that it's a better option than Thor's idea. At the very least, Pepper Potts can keep her boyfriend under control.
  • Queen of Shadows: Jade, stuck in the life of the Queen of the Shadowkhan, knows that she's expected to restart the paused war with the free human territories of Kyushu, and if she doesn't she'll blow her cover. So she devises a war plan that she hopes will minimize human casualties and give the heroes she believes are at Tobe a chance to defeat the Shadowkhan.
    • She faces the same dilemma later, as the Shadowkhan become determined to launch an attack on Awaji Island as revenge against the Shogunate in the Shadows for attempting to kill Jade. She ultimately decides on giving the responsibility to General Tsume, as she figures while it'll cause many innocent lives, it'll give the heroes a chance to fight back decisively, hopefully saving many more lives in the long run.
  • Castlevania: Nocturne of Ruin: When Walter Bernhard is resurrected and intent on taking back his power base from Dracula, Alucard quickly decides that it would be better for Walter to die and Dracula to remain in power; as evil as Dracula is, he kills with definitive planning and is nowhere near as depraved as Walter, who kills people for fun and plays sick games with his victims.
  • In Origin Story, this is Tony Stark's initial justification for the Registration Act. Toward the end of the story, he no longer really believes this, and has come to the idea that it was a choice that should never have been made.
  • In The Vow, when Lord Shen takes over Gongmen City, he turns the coming engagement party of his former fiancée Lady Lianne and Lord Juan (whom he murders) into a trap for the invited nobility of China. He forces Lianne to help in springing the trap so that he can force the nobility to support him in his conquest of China. When the time comes for that, and the Furious Five and Po are imprisoned, Lianne reluctantly goes along with the plan, knowing that should Jade fail to release the heroes, then the success of Shen's plan would mean the least amount of casualties. Fortunately, Jade releases the heroes who then free the nobility.
  • In Cissnei's Path, a Final Fantasy VII fanfic, Crimson (Cissnei) justifies this as the reason they shouldn't kill Rufus Shinra in Rocket Town unless absolutely necessary. Rufus is smart and rational enough to keep his priorities straight, whereas if he dies then either Scarlet or Heidegger would get the Company. Both are war-mongers and having complete control of the company would be giving them a blank check to create weapons of destruction and attack places that gave the group shelter.
  • In Hitting the Tomes, Harry considers Umbridge to be better than Snape because while she's waiting for any excuse to come down on him like a ton of bricks, Snape will make up excuses, having punished Harry for things like breathing too loudly. Umbridge at least waits until he actually breaks the rules or disrespects her (something he isn't doing due to changes the previous summer).
  • Darth Vader does not like the idea of Han Solo anywhere near Leia, at all in Sibling Revelry, but between that and the possibility of Luke and Leia committing accidental Twincest, something that a series of misunderstandings make him see as very close to happening, he would rather take the nerf herder.
  • The New Adventures of Invader Zim
    • In Episode 3, Dib states this trope as the reason he helps Tak fight Norlock. She's mildly insulted at being viewed as the lesser evil.
    • In Episode 8, Mr. Elliot is ordered (threatened) by Miss Bitters to punish Gaz for an accident she caused. Caught between a student who might make his life hell for the rest of the school year and a co-worker who will torture him forever, he follows the order.
  • Child of the Storm: During the Bloody Hell arc of Ghosts of the Past, Cowl tries to convince Wanda that he's the best option out of all the contenders for the Darkhallow, because while they all want to become Physical Gods purely for the power, he wants to use that power to make the world "better" (in his view), stating that he's the lesser of all the evils present. Wanda shoots back that a lesser evil is still evil.
  • White Sheep (RWBY): Ren tells Sienna Khan outright that she is one of the last people he would want in charge of the White Fang... but not the last. That distinction goes to the Albain brothers, who have turned Adam's faction into an insane cult worshiping him.
    Blake: I can't believe we live in a world where Sienna is considered a moderate.
    Ren: I think it's context. If you have one group that wants to wage an eternal war and eradicate an entire species, and another that wants to just be terrorists and kill a few people, then one is going to seem more moderate than the other, even if they really aren't.
  • Professor Arc features a rare inversion, where the greater evil is decided to be a better choice. Fria is forced to choose who to pass her Maiden powers on to. While two of her choices, Penny and Winter, are genuinely heroic characters, they lack both the skill and the psychological independence to properly wield them, and are too loyal to their specific causes to be flexible. Fria ends up choosing Cinder, a self-centered sociopath, because she has the experience needed to wield the powers, isn't blinded by loyalty to someone, and her selfishness makes her choices predictable should she decide to act out.
  • In the Persona 5 Peggy Sue fic series Start Again, Ichiryusai Madarame is this. His neglect and plagiarism of Yusuke and his other students is unquestionably cruel and unfair, but compared to the other problems the Phantom Thieves have to deal with, which include a renegade Metaverse assassin, a violent sexual predator, a mob boss, the sociopathic leader of a Government Conspiracy, and Hifumi's mother, whose toxic behavior is rapidly escalating due to Yusuke's accidental actions causing changes in the timeline, his cruelty is at least stable and predictable. Therefore, dealing with him is fairly low on the Phantom Thieves' to-do list.
  • Code Prime: Schneizel views servitude under the heel of the Decepticons as the best option for humanity, believing that mankind would destroy itself otherwise, and while not ideal, it's the course of action with the best chance of survival.
  • CONSEQUENCES: BULLYING spins around the common Salt Fic plotline of having Marinette's whole class turn on her by having them pretend to fall for Lila's claims. This included faking physical assaults, using makeup to feign bruises — in one case, however, Alix misjudged her momentum and actually slammed Marinette up against the wall, much to her horror. When Lila questions why they went through so much trouble, they retort that if they hadn't done so, Lila would have likely gone on to hurt Marinette herself; because she believed they were doing it for her, she left her alone.
  • Harry and the Shipgirls: Albus Dumbledore was fully aware that Harry would be mistreated by the Dursleys, but there was no other option to ensure that the child had some semblance of protection. The old wizard had no reliable method of finding a wizarding family that would genuinely love him, and there was an all too real risk that Death Eater remnants could find him in that scenario. At least with the Dursleys, Lily's blood protection and the veil of anonymity would protect him until another option arose.
  • In the Persona 5/Persona 4 crossover fanfic the disappearance of goro akechi, the Persona 4 Big Bad Tohru Adachi is this in comparison to the Persona 5 Big Bad Masayoshi Shido. While the Killer is certainly a horrible and dangerous human being, they are still just one person with one accomplice. Compared to Shido's national conspiracy, he's small potatoes.
  • In the Alternate Universe Fic Mosaic, Lelouch works with his father to arrange the wedding between his Childhood Friend Suzaku and his half-sister Euphemia. While it is presented as a tribute for Britannia aiding Japan against the Chinese invasion and not-so-secret ploy to slowly bring Japan into the Britannian Empire, the truth is that Euphie is an unaware Charm Person, literally breed and raised to push the subconscious of whatever country she marries into joining the empire, a trait that has been going on for generations. Lelouch isn't keen on using two of his loved ones as pawns, even if it is a Perfectly Arranged Marriage. But he goes along with it because the alternative is a brutal invasion and conquest of Japan.
  • Attack On Prime: When asked why he doesn't just kill Megatron despite all the things he did, Optimus explains that doing so would give Unicron a host, and he doesn't have the means to contain, let alone fight Unicron.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Freddy vs. Jason. With two nigh-indestructible sorts of killing machines on the loose in Springwood, the heroes pit them against each other and root for the guy who just wants teenagers to keep their booze and premarital sex out of Camp Crystal Lake, rather than the sadistic child murderer who can potentially hunt people who have seen him anywhere in the world so long as they're asleep. (The big irony here is, Jason's kill count in the movie was higher than Freddy's. Still, it's a valid point.)
  • Used as a Chekhov's Gag in Master and Commander when Jack forces Stephen to choose between the lesser of two weevils. It sets the whole Command Roster apart from Stephen laughing uproariously. Gets a Call-Back later in the movie when Jack has to sacrifice a man who went overboard to keep the Surprise from being dragged under by debris from a broken mast.
  • Nightbooks: Natacha considers herself this compared to the original witch, who cooked and ate children.
  • X-Men: The Last Stand: Charles Xavier invokes this trope when speaking to Logan with regards to the psychic blocks he placed over the Phoenix without Jean Grey's knowledge or consent.
    Professor X: I had a terrible choice to make; I chose the lesser of two evils.

  • Roughly half the plot of The Dresden Files consists of dealing with these. In particular, "Gentleman" Johnny Marcone (a very powerful, cunning, and ruthless gangster) and Lara Raith (the de facto leader of one of the three Vampire Courts) fully qualify as evil despite both having moments of sympathy, but Harry Dresden and co. end up allied with them more often than not, if only because they're forces of stability who have no use for the wide-scale destruction many of the real villains have planned. Harry still doesn't trust either of them near as far as he could throw themnote .
  • A major theme of the Wheel of Time series is people having to learn to work together against a common enemy: many, if not most, of the various nations, organisations and political factions are morally questionable at best, but against an Eldritch Abomination trying to undo reality you take what allies you can get.
  • In Shards of Honor, Prince Serg is so outrageously psychopathic that his father considers it necessary to both start an unprovoked war and then lose it deliberately just so Prince Serg and his supporters can be killed and discredited in the process.
  • In Kill Decision, Odin uses this to defend his tipping off an insurgent leader to an impending airstrike, explaining that the guy is a moderate compared to his rivals and would-be successors and would fight other foreign extremists and drug dealers once the West gets out of the way.
  • In The Man in the High Castle, at least some factions of the Nazi Party are depicted as more reasonable than the leadership, and oppose its genocidal plans such as wiping out the Japanese. And that reasonable faction is Heydrich and the SS, who already are genocidal maniacs in their own right. Faced with the Sadistic Choice of either supporting the SS rise to power or watching his homeland be exterminated, Mr. Tagomi has a bit of a Heroic BSoD moment.
  • Noob has this as Non-Player Character Töne Förk's backstory. He had the choice between getting captured and possibly killed by the men of a guy who wanted his throne and seeking help from his enemies. He chose the latter and now considers himself a Child of Two Worlds.
  • Animorphs: At the end of the series, this is the entire reason Visser Three chooses to be a Graceful Loser and willingly surrender to the Animorphs; as he himself states, no punishment he might receive from the Animorphs could possibly be worse than what he would receive from the Council of Thirteen.
  • In the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel The Ancestor Cell, the Eighth Doctor explicitly states that he never wanted to choose the lesser of two evils, but he is now in a situation where that is literally his only option; if he doesn't destroy Gallifrey and his people, than the twisted time-travelling cult of Faction Paradox- led by the Doctor's own possible future self- will essentially unmake existence.
  • Cray from The Hunger Games. He was head peacekeeper working in District 12, replaced by Romulus Thread in second book. By no means a good person, but he did turn a blind eye on black market and poaching, as he got his booze and turkey from it. Since Thread got into the district it all ended and everyone caught doing anything slighly illegal got A Taste of the Lash.
  • This is the central theme of The Witcher. No matter which side wins, in the end one of two evils prevails. This is the main reason Geralt prefers to not get involved in such conflicts. Geralt himself doesn't believe that there are lesser evils, it's only an excuse people make to justify their bad deeds.
  • In Reaper Man, the inhabitants of Miss Flitworth's village prefer Death to the Revenoo, as Death only comes around once per lifetime instead of every year.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The A-Team, "Curtain Call". As Murdock's condition worsens and Face and Tawnia still haven't returned with medical supplies, Hannibal tells B.A. that he's going out to look for them, and if he can't find them, he'll find Decker instead and bring him back. The sheer fact that Hannibal thinks bringing the team's archnemesis directly to their hiding spot is the better option (and that B.A. doesn't argue) is a big sign of how bad the situation has become.
  • 7 Days (1998): Let the world be destroyed, or give the psycho the keys to the time machine?
  • The Finder: A mafia boss hired the heroes to find a voodoo doll to end a curse against him. The trope was invoked out of fear an Eviler than Thou boss would take over.
  • Subverted in Supernatural. Lucifer the archangel is released in season 5 and starts the Apocalypse, and the Winchesters are stuck in a battle between Hell and Heaven. The demonic armies want to destroy the Earth and take over Heaven, although Lucifer plans on killing them too, while the angelic bureaucracy is barely better, being a corrupt military theocracy who want to bring about Paradise and find the slaughter of half of humanity in the ensuing fight between Lucifer and Michael acceptable losses. The Winchesters are too powerless to kill either of them, and after being stuck between two bad options for an entire season Dean almost gives in to Heaven's demands, but the team pulls him back and they continue looking for more options.
  • The season 1 finale of Gotham has Jim Gordon reluctantly work together with Don Falcone, only because Falcone is the one person who can put an end to the gang war.
  • In an episode of the Mexican sitcom El Chavo del ocho, Chavo runs over Quiko's cat with a bicycle, and is put on trial for it, with Quiko's mother Doña Florinda acting as the prosecution, Don Ramón as the defense, and Profesor Jirafales, Doña Florinda's boyfriend, as the judge. Throughout the case Chavo sabtage's his defense by saying he ran over the cat on purpose, and at the end when Don Ramón sees the case as lost, he allows Chavo to take the stand and give his testimony. Chavo reiterates that he did in fact run over the cat on purpose, but he did it because of a pretty woman that was nearby. When Don Ramón says a boy like him shouldn't yet be interested in pretty women, Chavo says the pretty lady wasn't the reason he ran over the cat, but it was a moron who stood in his way, looking at the pretty woman the reason he swerved and ran over the cat. When Don Ramon asks Chavo why he didn't mention a moron who stood in his way before, Chavo responds that he would've been asked if he could recognize the moron, he then looks at Profesor Jirafales and asks if they would like to know if he can recognize that moron. Profesor Jirafales declares Chavo not guilty and closes the case.
    • This was remade in a Chespirito skit starring Doctor Chapatín. Chapatín is being sued by a woman whose dog he ran over, and he keeps sabotaging his defense by admitting that he ran over the dog on purpose. Just as his lawyer is about to give the case as lost, he allows Doctor Chapatín to give his testimony and again admits to running over the dog, but he ads that he did it not out spite, but because he would have otherwise ran over a jaywalking drunk. When his lawyer asks why didn't say anything about a drunk jaywalker, Doctor Chapatín says that they would've asked him, under oath, if he could recognize who that drunk was, he then looks at the Judge and asks if the court would like to know if can recognize that jaywalking drunk. The judge declares Doctor Chapatín not guilty of any wrong doing and closes the case.
  • The Witcher (2019): As in the books and games, this is a central theme. Just in the first episode, Geralt has to choose between Stregobor (a sorcerer who killed fifty-nine girls born on an eclipse because he believed they would doom the human race) and Renfri (the last girl, grown up and wanting revenge for how Stregobor ruined her life). Both claim that helping them is the "lesser evil." Geralt tries not to get involved, but ends up killing Renfri and all her men while trying to keep her from going mad from revenge. And then Stregobor has Geralt run out of town.
    Stregobor: You made a choice. And you'll never know if it was the right one.
  • Charité at War: Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg discusses this with Doctor Sauerbruch, referring to his planned attempt on Adolf Hitler's life. On the one hand, he has sworn an oath to the man, on the other, without Hitler, the entire rotten system of Nazi Germany and the war will come to an end.
    Stauffenberg: One wrong has to be done. That of action, or that of inaction.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • A common setup for a Heel–Face Turn is by presenting a wrestler as the "lesser of two evils" in a heel vs. heel feud. In these cases, the "lesser evil" is usually an established star and the "greater evil" a fast-rising newcomer or an ex-face who just recently turned. With this technique, a promotion can get both "lesser evils" over as faces and "greater evils" over as heels.
  • During The Nexus's domination of RAW during the summer of 2010, several of the brand's top heels like Edge, Chris Jericho, and Sheamus, although remaining on the bad side, were cast as "lesser evils" compared to the Nexus. The one exception though was The Miz, who was seen as an equal although separate evil waiting on the sidelines to strike. Edge went face and Jericho took a break shortly afterwards, but Sheamus stayed heel for a while before getting his own "lesser of two evils" Heel–Face Turn by standing up to Mark Henry.
  • The Shield's Heel–Face Turn in 2014 was conducted in this manner by portraying them as a "lesser evil" to both the rest of The Authority and The Wyatt Family.
  • This was how Randy Savage's Heel–Face Turn was executed in a scenario of Wrestle Crap's "Rewriting the Book". Savage was one of two wrestlers left standing in a battle royal for the WWF Championship — the other was Paul Orndorff, the man who had seemingly sent Hulk Hogan into permanent retirement. The fans hated Orndorff so much that they were willing to root for anyone who would possibly keep him from winning the title, even someone who had only months before broke Ricky Steamboat's throat.
  • Queen's Quest are supposed to be bad guys in World Wonder Ring STARDOM, the culmination of Io Shirai's status as The Ace going to her head. The "problems" being that becoming their ace by default also made Shirai a face by default, to the point straighter baby faces have regularly worked with her. For Queen's Quest as a whole, Oedo~tai had not only been the defacto evil stable of STARDOM for years but were also a more disagreeable group in almost every possible way. Furthermore, Queen's Quest had HZK and AZM among its members. They looked like little girls, more so than Mayu Iwatani. Most fans didn't like seeing them get hurt. When Io tagged with them and hogged most of the ring time to herself it looked less like It's All About Me and more like a good mentor protecting them from harm.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Eberron: Keith Baker suggests this for players who want to roleplay one of the many cultists in the world (since playing a character as literally insane usually isn't fun for anyone else at the table). Right or wrong, the character is convinced that their cause is better than the alternatives. The demon Overlords are all immensely powerful fiends sealed beneath the world, and their cults try to free them. A cultist following the Rage of War might argue that he's a better alternative than the Heart of Winter—the Rage of War at least needs mortals alive in some form for his meaningless Forever War, while the Heart of Winter will happily kill literally everything in endless winter. This backstory is especially effective for warlocks, as even the basic class description suggests that they might be stealing their power rather than having made a Deal with the Devil.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Happens all too often with The Imperium's policies. Committing a world to Exterminatus is bad, but when the alternative is a Daemon World where the inhabitants will suffer for all eternity or being munched by Tyranids and bolstering their biomass, it may be a Mercy Kill.
    • The Octarius system is currently stuck in a Forever War between orks and Tyranids, both of which grow stronger by the day but are able to keep each other in check (Tyranids eat the dead orks and 'nids to replenish their numbers, orks create more orks when they die). If either side gains a decisive advantage over the other, it will become nigh unstoppable... but this is still preferable to having both of them independently ravage the Imperium.

  • Some people view the ending to Jenufa as an example. As the heroine ends up scarred and dishonored, she can hardly find a husband in a patriarchal 19th century village, therefore she has no option but to settle for the neurotic and jealous Stalker with a Crush Laca who scarred her, because at least he's honest and constant in his love, unlike the selfish drunkard Števa who knocked her up and left her for good, refusing even to look at his son. For other viewers, it's a subversion of the trope: it's all a question of believing or not believing that Laca genuinely repents and reforms.
  • In Hamilton, Hamilton ultimately is called upon in the presidential election to endorse either Aaron Burr or his hated enemy Thomas Jefferson, and ultimately picks Jefferson, reasoning that while he disagrees with all of Jefferson's principles at least Jefferson has principles.

    Video Games 
  • This is a focal point to the plot of Tales of Symphonia. The main character, Lloyd, is an idealist. His friend, Colette, must sacrifice herself in order to save her world. Most of this game's struggle involves finding a third option. By the end of the game, Lloyd has become the messiah of freedom; he also defeats the messiah of order, who went completely insane and wants to torture the world in a twisted vision of peace on earth by making everyone mindless and soulless, but with freedom toppling order, the merged two worlds begin to wage war against each other, and a horde of demons is preparing to strike while all the angels are dead.
  • In the first two Golden Sun games, the object is to restore alchemy to the world. Though the main characters understand that this will bring war and strife back to the world, they do this out of necessity because otherwise, the world will decay.
  • In the second chapter of the original Age of Empires III, after Stuart Black is kidnapped, John Black, Kanyenke and Nonakhee are involved in the Seven Years' War. They have to choose between the Britons and the French. They choose the French side.
  • In Starcraft Brood War, Jim Raynor and his allies side with Kerrigan against the Earth Directorate forces poised to conquer the sector. This is a case where the good guys misjudged which evil was the lesser one. Or did they? No one can know now as the UED simply didn't get the chance to prove themselves to be better or worse rulers than the Koprulu Sector's natives. The sequel shows that in the long run it was the better choice, as Kerrigan proves be the Spanner in the Works for Amon's plan. That said, The good guys including Kerrigan herself, eventually have to go through hell before it pays off.
  • Legacy of Kain: Defiance: Raziel allows himself to be absorbed into the Reaver rather than be the Elder God's captive for the rest of eternity. He's a prisoner either way, but one of his prisons can do more good than the other.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Snake tries to stop Liquid from taking over the System. He would have total control over pretty much the whole world. Given how much of a nut he's proven himself to be, the protagonists feel that at least The Patriots give the world more stability than Liquid would.
  • In the second Baldur's Gate game, the player at one point must ally with either the local guild of ruthless thieves and murderers, or the invading unholy vampires. Every good character, even the paladin Keldorn, is grudgingly willing to ally themselves with the thieves, but many leave the party if the player goes for the vampires instead. Though it is possible to go with either, the former is clearly regarded as this trope in the game.
  • In Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire there are two evil organizations, Team Aqua and Team Magma. The player opposes one (whose plans threatened to destroy the world) and allies with the other (who is trying to prevent it). Which is which depends on which game. That doesn't mean that your allies aren't evil however, they just aren't currently involved in any evil plans (this is emphasized in the third game, Pokémon Emerald, in which both teams are actively carrying out their evil plots.) Thus, in this case, the Lesser of Two Evils is the team you ally with.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising: As much as Viridi is convinced that Humans Are Bastards, she nonetheless considers the Underworld Army to be even worse.
  • Played with in the Metroid series. The Metroids, which are likely to kill about everything they encounter by stealing their life energy but have the potential to be used as a powerful bioweapon or energy resource note , prey on and keep in check the X Parasites, which are even more likely to kill about everything, are capable of reproducing asexually like bacteria, and absorbing knowledge from their victims, making them a potential threat to all life in existence. The catch is Samus was apparently not given the way to learn this until after she'd already eradicated all but one of the Metroids.
  • At the end of Persona 5, the Phantom Thieves have exposed Masayoshi Shido's crimes, destroyed the Metaverse and defeated the evil god Yaldabaoth. However, with the Metaverse gone and The Dragon presumed dead, the only people who can testify against Shido are the Phantom Thieves. Not to mention that the authorities will most likely try to strike down the Thieves and stop them from being hailed as heroes in order to save face, potentially even framing them on false charges. The only option left is for the Protagonist to turn himself in as leader of the Thieves so he can give testimony; however, doing so will also mean admitting that he broke his probation, and thus means that he'll be sent to juvenile hall. The Protagonist chooses the latter, both in order to protect his friends and make sure their efforts weren't wasted. Fortunately, he only has to be there for a little over a month and a half, due to his friends managing to gather enough evidence to finally clear him of the crime he was on probation for in the first place note .
  • In Terraria, The Hallow could be considered this. While it is a biome that spreads itself and spawns powerful monsters, it does not destroy the Jungle and does not cause NPCs to move out of their houses as The Corruption and The Crimson do.
  • In Guild Wars Nightfall the player captures Palawa Joko, a lich who once attempted to conquer Elona and by all appearances will do so given time to prepare. Unfortunately the player needs access to Joko's junundu worms to stop Varesh Ossa who is going to unleash a god of madness on the world. Joko gets a free pass and the players save the day. And years later Joko conquers Elona and brutalizes all of the player's allies.
  • In Guild Wars 2 Path of Fire the Commander has already killed two Elder Dragons only to learn that if they kill a third it will result in the destruction of Tyria. This is discovered at the same time the human god Balthazar emerges fully intent on murdering Kralkatorrik and taking its power for himself. The Commander ends up having to save the Dragon and kill Balthazar because the threat of annihilation is too big to ignore.
  • Assassin's Creed Origins: Bayek has this opinion of siding with Cleopatra against her brother Ptolemy, saying as much to his wife Aya, who is wholly behind Cleo. Bayek turns out to be right, when Cleopatra screws them over when the Order of Ancients manipulate her desire for a throne.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda: On Kadara, there are two gangs vying for control, the Outcasts and the Collective. The Outcasts are drug-pushing loan sharks led by the bad-tempered Sloane Kelly, while the Collective are willing to abduct and torture members of the Outcasts, and try to seize control by luring Sloane into a trap. If the Collective takes control, their new Puppet King drives all non-angara out of the port, but they keep cordial with the Initiative, unlike Sloane who charges rent on the colony.

    Visual Novels 
  • Faced with the prospect of either going to summer school or spending the rest of his life on disability insurance, the protagonist of Double Homework grits his teeth and chooses summer school.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick: Serini Toormuck, burned out and traumatized by everything she experienced as guardian of the last Snarl Gate, decides that the best course of action is letting Big Bad Xykon win and take control of the Gate. Given the limited knowledge of the conflict she has, it's an understandable choice: the Order are Destructive Saviors who have been directly or indirectly responsible for the destruction of three of the other four Gates, which means that her Gate is now the only thing keeping the world-devouring Snarl at bay. As a consequence, she doesn't trust the Order anywhere near her Gate, and favors Xykon over them because he's at least not going to destroy it. Because even the despotic rule of an undead evil sorcerer is preferable to the destruction of all reality that the Snarl will cause if it gets out.

    Web Original 
  • The Ruins of an American Party System: According to Word of God, this is the view of Robert Taft (and presumably most another liberal/moderate Republicans) regarding the far-right American Party. He disagrees with them on most things but outright despises (both politically and personally) the similarly conservative but very corrupt Commonwealth Party. So, if it comes to a choice between the two, he'd side with the AP.

  • SCP Foundation: It is the job of the Ethics Committee to identify what the lesser of two evils (or, as they put it, the greater of goods) in any given situation actually is, in order to enable the Foundation to effectively operate while at the same time ensuring that their actions remain as morally justifiable as possible.
    Regardless of what the general population might think it wants, what we do, what the Foundation does, is in the overall best interests of that general population. Yes, I'm sure you did realize that already... but you haven't thought of the deeper implications. You've consoled yourself by thinking that all the torture and murder is for the greater good. This implies that there is a greater good... and a lesser good. It implies that there are multiple distinct goods, and that these can be quantified and compared. This is what we on the Ethics Committee do [...] We are the ones who balance the moral costs of everything the Foundation does. And in order to balance those costs, we must know those costs.

    Web Videos 
  • ' 'Marc Mues'': Invoked in the eponymous video series where two horrible musicians are compared to each other.
  • On The Filthy Frank Show, everyone appears to not mind the presence of Prometheus, but crap their pants whenever Chin Chin shows up, despite both of them being described as evil (Lawful and Chaotic, respectively).
  • SEC Shorts: South Carolina is the only SEC team to root for either Alabama or Georgia in the 2017 Playoff, but they're only rooting for Alabama because they hate their opponent, Clemson, more.
    South Carolina: I mean, I hate [Alabama], but I hate Clemson more. Does that make sense?

    Western Animation 
  • Garfield and Friends: In "Binky Gets Cancelled Again!", the President of WBOR cancels The Binky the Clown Show and replaces it with The Buddy Bears after recieving complaints from parents that Binky's show isn't educational. Garfield finds Binky loud and obnoxious, but he considers the Buddy Bears worse than Binky because they encourage children not to have their own individual points of view and punish them for thinking otherwise, so he helps Binky get his show back on the air.
  • Justice League: The end of "A Better World" has Superman pardon his nemesis Lex Luthor to assist with defeating his evil Justice Lord counterpart and his team. Given their long rivalry, and how the other world Luthor sparked the other Superman's Start of Darkness, Prime Superman states it's "just one of the hard choices he has to make today".
  • Potsworth & Company: The heroes decided the Nightmare Prince was this to Count Bubba Bonebreaker.
  • In Pinky and the Brain, the Brain had an Arch-Enemy named Snowball. Described by Pinky as a "genetically enhanced evil hamster dedicated to...well, evil," Snowball also wanted to Take Over the World, but his plans for it once he did so were much worse than Brain's, because Brain thinks he's the only one qualified to rule, Snowball thinks he's the only one qualified to live.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Love Is a Many Strangled Thing", it's revealed that Homer's strangling Bart has actually been keeping some of Bart's worst tendencies in check. However, the same thing happens in "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie" when Homer and Marge give Bart a legitimate punishment only to let him off the hook. When this happens again in "Postcards from the Wedge", causing Homer and Marge to let Bart fend for himself, it results in Bart attempting to destroy Springfield Elementary to get their attention.
    • In "Sideshow Bob Roberts", Sideshow Bob is running for mayor opposite "Diamond Joe" Quimby. Lisa and Bart do their best to try and make sure the sleazy and incompetent Quimby is reelected over the murderous and psychotic Bob, with the former quoting this word for word.
  • The finale of Total Drama World Tour. After Cody, the last remaining non-villainous contestant in the game is eliminated, everyone takes to supporting and rooting for Heather (whom they all dislike greatly for her mean personality and actions in the first season) over Alejandro (who has demonstrated himself to be the show's most heinous contestant at that point and has become even more despised than Heather as a result).
  • Transformers: Prime: When the Unicron threat rears its head, Megatron offers a truce with Optimus Prime to deal with it together. Ratchet lampshades this trope, as Unicorn wants to destroy Earth while Megatron wants to rule it, and the latter is likely to betray them at any time. In other [Ratchet's] words, siding the lesser evil is still siding with evil.

    Real Life 
  • Diseases: In 1927, Julius Wagner-Jauregg won the 1927 Nobel prize for finding a form of cure for syphilis - by giving people malaria. The fever from the malaria would go so high that it could kill off an otherwise untreatable syphilis infection. Left untreated, syphilis could lead to insanity. By comparison, the treatable malaria was considered the lesser of the two sicknesses.
  • One of the most notorious examples of this happening in politics in recent history occurred during the 1991 election for governor of Louisiana. The two candidates remaining during the runoff election were Democrat Edwin Edwards, who was widely believed to be corrupt, and David Duke, a former leader of the Klu Klux Klan, who was running as a Republican. Many prominent Republicans, including the current Louisiana governor (and losing candidate) Buddy Roemer and President George H. W. Bush endorsed Edwards. Two popular bumper stickers endorsing Edwards summed up the state's mood: one said "Vote for the Lizard, not the Wizard" and the other said "Vote for the Crook: It's Important!"