Sometimes, when the hero escapes right in front of the villain, they smirk and say "Oh, I think we can give him a five minute start." Alternatively, a criminal protagonist who's technically still due for arrest but has just assisted the law enforcement in something bigger will be given a Mercy Lead as an act of gratitude and good will.
Noble Demons and Worthy Opponents do this the most, to show that they respect the hero, and that they have style. After an Enemy Mine scenario, heroes usually give the villain a Mercy Lead, and the villain often reciprocates. May be justified by making the need to clean up after the problem they united against more urgent than catching the other.
The Pardon may function similarly, when the villain has done something to merit official mercy, but goes back to a life of crime.
- In Spiral, the main showdown with Rio: the first to get both the tape of her confessing to murder and the hostage, Hiyono, wins. In the interest of fairness, mostly because she had the key to defuse a bomb around Ayumu's neck, Hiyono was given a ten minute head start before Kousuke and Rio could attempt to capture her again.
- Zenigata has done this several times throughout the history of Lupin III. Usually tricked into it, as Zenigata has the choice between the world-class master thief, and the guy responsible for the recent plot.
- In a particularly poignant episode, Lupin has just stolen some kind of treasure in an armored van, and is running away with it while being chased by the police. He then discover that Zenigata has locked himself into the van, and is slowly suffocating to death, as the van is airtight. In spite of having a chance to both get rid of his nemesis and secure the loot at the same time, Lupin decide to leave the van behind, to allow the police to get to it and save Zenigata. Later, when the police is about to definetely snare Lupin, Zenigata prevents that by blocking the road with his car, thinking that, just for this time only, he owns Lupin one.
- One Piece: Captain Smoker, a powerful marine with the ability to turn into smoke and that has been chasing the Straw Hat Crew since they were the first pirates to escape from him, gives the Straw Hats one of these after the events of Alabasta Arc after he formed an Enemy Mine with them.
- In Grant Morrison and Dave McKean's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, a strong contender for the most beautifully illustrated comic book of all time, Batman is given an hour to run and hide by the Joker after the inmates take over the asylum. When the Mad Hatter complains that they're all bored, the Joker responds, "Oh, all right then. Let's just pretend it's been an hour."
- In Shaman's Tears #8, the Nesting Ones give Jon Sable a gun with a single bullet and a very short head start before setting out to hunt him through the sewers.
- In This Bites!, as thanks for killing Lily Carnation, Sengoku informs the Straw Hats that the Marines are on their way to the island.
- In The Jungle Book (1967), Shere Khan gives Mowgli a 10-second count because he's impressed at Mowgli's attempts to stand up to him and not run in fear. The trope appears subverted because Mowgli foolishly looks for a weapon instead of running and getting away due to the head start, but then it turns out that the 10-seconds gave Baloo just enough time to catch up to Shere Khan and save Mowgli.
- Despicable Me 3, Where in the end scene, Dru and the minions steal one of Gru's flying vehicles in the middle of the night waking Gru and Lucy. Lucy's ready to chase after Dru before Gru stops her saying "Honey, he's my brother! *beat* Let's give him a 5 minute head start" *Insert not-evil laugh*
- At the end of The LEGO Batman Movie, Batman gives all his villains a 30 minute head start.
- Pirates of the Caribbean:
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Jack Sparrow is given a day's lead by the Royal Navy.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest shows that the head start was a really bad idea: Norrington ends up in horrible situations (including a hurricane) because he was a day behind the Black Pearl, who outran said dangers by being a day ahead. It also shows the consequences of Norrington giving him a head start and then failing to catch him; he's demoted and disgraced.
- A Pirates comic included in Disney Adventures has Sparrow outrunning Norrington again, who tries to cover his rear by claiming he's just giving Jack another head start.
- In Minority Report, caretaker-of-precogs Wally sees the images predicting the involvement of Anderton, the protagonist and his superior, in a murder. Wally tells Anderton that he will give Anderton two minutes' lead out of respect before activating the alarm.
- In Jumper, the main character finally confronts his long-gone mother, who left him at the age of five because she was part of the group that kills Jumpers. After they talk, she gives him a head start because she really doesn't want him to get caught.
- At the end of John Carpenter's Vampires, Jack gives his friend Montoya a two day head start after learning he was bitten earlier in the film and is slowly turning. Apparently it's a tradition within their hunter group if something like that happens.
- Subverted in Double Indemnity: when Keyes catches Neff in the act of recording his confession, Neff asks him for a few hours to get away before he calls the cops. Keyes, however, points out that Neff's gunshot injury will prevent him from getting very far. This turns out to be quite correct; Neff tries to run but collapses, and in the background Keyes can be heard calling for an ambulance — and the police.
- Gritty Noble Demon mercenary Vacendak has come to like the protagonist he's been chasing in the movie Freejack, and so gives him a 5 minute head start before he and his team begin their latest pursuit. He does so by closing his eyes and counting off the seconds, while the hero, once he realizes Vacendak's serious, sprints down the city streets to try to find somewhere to hide.
- Played with in The Quick and the Dead, when Herod gives a mook who's displeased him thirty seconds to get out of town. The mook takes off at full speed, and Herod waits the full amount of time, but then calmly pulls out a gun and shoots the still-rapidly-fleeing figure dead, showing that there was no way he could have gotten away in the time given.
- In Death Wish II, a hospital orderly discovers that Kersey has murdered a patient. After learning that the patient raped and murdered Kersey's daughter, the orderly gives him three minutes before he sounds the alarm.
- The entire premise of The Naked Prey, in which a white hunter is given a head start and then hunted down by African tribesmen.
- In the climax of Fast Five, Dom is given a 24 hour mercy lead by Hobbs in exchange for helping to kill the Big Bad. Said lead is all Dom needs to disappear forever... at least until the sequel.
- In Blade: Trinity, Blade tells a man who sided with the vampires he has twenty seconds to get out of here. Subverted as when the man starts running, Blade immediately says "Twenty!" and shoots him.
- At the end of John Wick: Chapter 2, after John kills Santino within the Continental and breaks the rules, Winston is forced to officially excommunicate him and gives him a one hour lead out of respect. In the third film, this very act of mercy leads to the High Table forcing Winston out of power.
- Subverted in Black Panther (2018). During the robbery at the British Museum, Klaue shoots the security guards but tells an unarmed witness to run, only to shoot him In the Back. When asked why he didn't just shoot him on the spot, Klaue says that it will make the crime scene look more disorganised if the bodies are spread out, convincing the police that amateurs were involved.
- The Predator. Justified given that the entire Predator culture is based on Hunting the Most Dangerous Game. After the Ultimate Predator has secured the crashed spacecraft so the humans can't get it, he sends them a message via the translation software saying that he's been entertained by them killing each other, but he will now allow them several minutes to join forces so they can kill him or escape.
- Les Misérables (1998). As Valjean knocks out Javert and prepares to flee, he's confronted by another officer, who asks him if Javert is dead. After Valjean tells him "no", the officer declares "That's a pity", then turns around and tells Valjean, "Make it look good", essentially telling Valjean to give him a Tap on the Head and allow him to escape. (The backstory on this moment is that the soldier has only known Valjean as the beloved Mayor Madeline and Javert as a brute).
- Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere:
- Subverted by Assassins Croup and Vandemar. They agree to give the Marquis de Carabas one hour of head start, but get bored waiting, teleport straight to him long before the hour is up, and proceed to torture him to death. In this case, this is not so much a "mercy" lead, as the Marquis swapped a rare pottery figurine with Croup in exchange for "three answers to three questions, and an hour's head start".
- In the graphic novel, they promise not to *touch* him for the next half-hour. They don't. This does not stop them from following him, tearing a ladder he's using off the wall and then standing over his broken body, counting the seconds until they can really start.
- Discussed in Jingo: The culture of the D'Regs places extremely high importance on granting anyone, even your worst enemy, three days of hospitality. Ahmed is called "71-hour Ahmed" because, while still under the burden of hospitality, he killed a man. A mass-murderer, yes, but what matters to the D'Regs is not that he did it, but when he did it. When Vimes calls Ahmed on this, Ahmed points out that if Vimes gives a suspect this, it's in a city you can walk across in an hour, whereas if Ahmed does it, he's in the middle of a desert that swallows armies whole.
- The guards give Rincewind a count of ten to escape in The Last Continent, because it's not right to have a final showdown in a kitchen.
- In The Fifth Elephant Wolfgang promises Vimes a one hour head start out of werewolf custom. However, he sees nothing wrong with sending his people ahead to ambush him the minute that hour is up.
Wolfgang is perverting a family tradition in which individual humans could volunteer to be hunted by his family, with certain courtesies such as the head start. In the original game, the whole thing was voluntary, the head start was genuine, some people actually survived, and if they did they would win a modest fortune.
- In Going Postal, Moist von Lipwig offers to do this for Reacher Gilt during the race between the clacks and the postal service, supposedly to give the Grand Trunk time to turn their message into clacks code. He does this to taunt him, since it's obvious semaphore messages travel vastly faster than the physical messengers of the post office, and Moist should have no chance of winning whatsoever, much less the luxury of letting his opponent have extra time.
- In the second Artemis Fowl book, The Arctic Incident, on-the-run criminal dwarf Mulch Diggums is given a two day head start by the authorities in exchange for aiding their efforts against the Big Bad.
- In the Tom Clancy novel Without Remorse, Kelly convinces Ryan to give him a one hour head start before trying to arrest him in exchange for the information that will allow Ryan to completely shut down what parts of Baltimore's drug network Kelly hadn't managed to kill.
- A heroic example: In the last book of the second Kushiel's Legacy trilogy, Kushiel's Mercy, Astegal is promised a good horse and an hour's lead if he can best Imriel in a duel. He can't.
- In Andre Norton's Catseye, Troy demands an hour's lead in his deal with Rerne — and enforces it later.
- Star Wars Legends:
- This is apparently codified into Imperial law in the Star Wars galaxy. Legal assassinations require notifying the victim, allowing them to defend themselves (including giving them a blaster if they are unarmed), and allowing them three minutes to escape.
- In Dark LordThe Rise of Darth Vader, a squad of clone commandos disobey Order 66 and allow their Jedi partners to escape. Climber and his commandos disable their fellow clones' equipment long enough for the Jedi to flee "for old times' sake," but warn them that they won't hesitate to engage if they catch up.
- In Neogicia, the leader of an enemy faction has Saly captured and asks for demonstration of her Bio-Augmentation induced powers to give him an idea of what he's up against. His incentive to get Saly to cooperate, in addition to a No, Mister Bond, I Expect You to Dine treatment, is to let her walk out of the room in which there is only the two of them if he gets what he wants.
- Ben Snow: In "Frontier Street", a crooked gambler gets spooked and shoots a deputy. Ben, who witnesses the shooting, draws his own pistol but tells the gambler he will give him a five second head start.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Angelus toys with Ms. Calender for a bit, letting her scramble out of her classroom. "Oh, good. I need to work up an appetite first." ("Passion")
- A video recording of Mr. Trick welcoming Buffy and Cordelia to Slayerfest '98. He explains that they have "exactly 30 seconds'(checks his watch)'' no, that's 17 nowto run for [their] lives." ("Homecoming")
- In "The Wish", Vamp Xander and Vamp Willow snuggle a bit, prompting Cordy to screech that she can't win, since Xander and Willow are an item even in the Wishverse. Xander agrees with the "can't win" sentiment, and vamps out. "But I'll give you a head start."
- Angel: Angelus offers Lilah a ten-count before he chases her in "Cavalry". She doesn't need telling twice.
Angelus: Ten, nine, now there's a girl who takes advantage of her opportunities!
- Subverted in Game of Thrones episode "Battle of the Bastards:" Ramsay Bolton lets Rickon Stark free to run towards his brother Jon Snow. However, he runs in a straight line, allowing Ramsay to shoot an arrow into him just before he reaches Jon.
- Subverted in an episode of House, where Dr. House offers a doctor who's committed a criminal offense a chance to walk away. The subversion comes in when, after the guy is safely out of earshot, House tells Foreman to call the cops.
- Star Trek: Voyager. The Hirogen do this a lot, given that the 'hat' of their species is Hunting the Most Dangerous Game.
JANEWAY: What are you waiting for?
TURANJ: I am a hunter. You are my prey. Run.
- Lost: In a flashback, after committing her crime and initially evading capture, Kate goes to see her father one last time at the army recruitment center he works in. After a tearful scene, her father agrees to wait an hour before he calls the authorities.
- Father Brown: The Egomaniac Hunter gives one to Father Brown in "The Lair of the Libertines": giving him the time it takes them to finishing loading their rifle in which to run.
- Blake's 7.
- In "Volcano", Servalan secretly lands on a planet whose population has been conditioned to avoid all aggression. She orders her Mook Lieutenant to shoot two locals who've witnessed their presence. Despite the Mook Lieutenant giving them a chance to run for their lives, they placidly wait to get shot instead.
- In "Weapon", Servalan has got her hands on the titular Secret Weapon, but plans to keep it for her own use rather than return it to the Federation. She gives Blake and the others the chance to outrun the weapon with a Hyperspeed Escape, but this is actually because she wants to make the Federation think that Blake has stolen the weapon; she plans to destroy the Liberator once it's out of sight of the Federation warships.
- A variant in "Blake". Blake, who appears to have defected and be working as a Bounty Hunter, has captured Tarrant and threatens to turn him in to the Federation. Tarrant escapes, and Blake lets him run because he actually hasn't defected at all and the whole thing is a Secret Test of Character. It ends badly for all involved.
- Parody: Carmelita offers Sly a ten-second head start at the end of Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. Sly spends nine of those seconds standing there, and then kisses her on the tenth one - which distracts her enough that she doesn't see him handcuffing her to a railing.
- In StarCraft: Brood War, Kerrigan is shown catching up the UED with her forces after giving them a very short Mercy Lead However, the scene plays it out as if the UED was merely exiting the sector.
- Played with in Baldur's Gate, where Bodhi gives you a non-specific amount of time to escape a dungeon at the asylum. Once you get far enough, she declares the time to be up and attacks you. Though it's in no way clear when she was supposed to come after you, the dialogue implies she's breaking the deal both of you understood you had.
- There does exist a mod that will let Bodhi come after your party after a certain number of rounds have passed. Thus, it's possible that your party can escape the dungeon altogether without ever encountering her, or can wait at the beginning point and spawn camp her when she shows up.
- In I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: If Nimdok manages to convince the escaped death camp prisoners that he's on their side, their leader gives him a head start before they inevitably hunt him down.
- In Jagged Alliance 2, approximately halfway through the game, the Big Bad Deidranna will send Miko, the leading and best mercenary from the first games, after you (he switched sides after being offered a ton of cash). Upon realizing that he's fighting former comrades, he gives you a head start.
- LEGO Marvel Super Heroes ends with the heroes and villains teaming up to fight Galactus. In the final cutscenes:
Doctor Doom: You can't arrest us, Fury. We made an arrangement.Iron Man: You made an arrangement with them?Nick Fury: Yes. In return for your assistance and services rendered, we are going to count to thirty.
- Quant from Tower of God gives the Regulars a 32 minute and 15 second lead to reach the exit. This is exactly the time frame that will allow him to reach the very last of them right before they can exit.
- In the print-only Prequel to The Order of the Stick, On the Origins of PCs, Haley is given one hour to leave Greysky City before the leader of the Thieves' Guild will send his goons after her.
- During a The Simpsons Halloween Episode, Mr Burns gathers several characters so he can hunt them down across his estate.
Burns: Now, because I am too kind, I will give you all a five-minute head start. You may commence running.
Comic Book Guy: Five minutes of running? Shoot me now! *BANG*
- Parodied in American Dad!, when Stan and his boss give Jeff 30 seconds head start before they hunt him like an animal. Within 5 seconds he steals their car.
- Danny Phantom:
- Even though Danny promised Valerie he would surrender himself if she helped him save Danielle, she tells him to just go at the end of the episode "before I change my mind."
- Subverted in "Maternal Instincts" where Vlad has Danny trapped and depowered. After insulting his math grade, he tells him he is sending ghost animals after him, giving Danny a 5-minute head start, only to send them out after 5 seconds.
Vlad: 5 minutes, 5 seconds...Ooh, apparently I'm bad at math, too.
- By the end of the episode Danny's depowered Vlad and turned the animals against him.
Danny: I'll give you a 5-minute head start, Plasmius.
Danny: Minutes, seconds. You know how bad I am at math.
- By the end of the episode Danny's depowered Vlad and turned the animals against him.
- At the series end of Justice League Unlimited, the Legion of Doom has helped save the world from Darkseid's forces and the League tells them they're going to be arrested anyway. Atomic Skull protests, and Batman gives them five minutes head start before they go after them.
Skull: Five minutes? Are you kidding?Wonder Woman: Four minutes, fifty seconds.(The villains run, with Giganta stopping to snog the Flash before following them)
- Inverted in the pilot of Futurama. Fry has trapped Leela in a cryogenic chamber set for 1000 years and is free to escape, but he adjusts it so that she'll only be frozen for a few minutes.
- In one The New Scooby-Doo Movies crossover with The Harlem Globetrotters ("Ghostly Creep From The Deep"), the gang and the team are holed up in a decrepit old mansion. To while away the time, they play a game of basketball to ten points. The Trotters spot Scooby and the kids eight points. They score, giving them ten, only for the Globetrotters to tie it on a single play (having the ball bounce five times in their basket).
- In Dark Age Europe and The Middle Ages, the tradition of hospitality was so strongly honored that mortal enemies would stay their hands when sharing a common roof. It was the height of chivalry or gentlemanly sportsmanship for the stronger to give the weaker a mercy lead before giving chase.
- It is from this tradition, incidentally, that two belligerents will take it outside before a quarrel comes to blows.
- The Union Cavalry did this for one Confederate partisan sentenced to be shot.
- This is a tenet of international law, when both parties are in a neutral port. According to Section 13, Article 16 of the Hague Convention of 1907:
''When war-ships belonging to both belligerents are present simultaneously in a neutral port or roadstead, a period of not less than twenty-four hours must elapse between the departure of the ship belonging to one belligerent and the departure of the ship belonging to the other.The order of departure is determined by the order of arrival, unless the ship which arrived first is so circumstanced that an extension of its stay is permissible.A belligerent war-ship may not leave a neutral port or roadstead until twenty-four hours after the departure of a merchant ship flying the flag of its adversary.''
- Ironically, the most famous application of this rule in history may just be when it was used during WW2 to detain the German raider Admiral Graf Spee in the officially neutral Uruguayan port of Montevideo until British reinforcements could arrive — by secretly arranging for British and French merchant vessels to sail from that port every 24 hours whether their captains had originally planned to do so or not.