Also called "baddies", "goons", "scrubs", "drones", "small fry", "flunkies", "pawns", "toadies", "grunts", "minions", "lackeys", "underlings", "swarmers", "henchpersons", "popcorn enemies", "foot soldiers", and "Cannon Fodder". In Japanese videogame jargon, they're known as "zako" or "small fry", in Tokusatsu, they're called "Sentōin" or "Combatants". The actual term "mook" presumably comes from Hong Kong Cinema, and takes its name from the mook jong, the wooden training dummies used in Wing Chun, whose only function is to get hit. In Hong Kong movie circles, they're often called "three-hit men," in reference to how many hits it takes to put them down, though the actual number of hits varies.
It's a thankless job, to be sure, but somebody's gotta do it. Enter the humble mook.
Mooks play an important role, as without someone to fight on a constant basis, an action movie/show/game would have a lot less action. If every single minion your hero ever runs into has a personality, then the pacing of the show would slow to a crawl and Quirky Miniboss Squad, The Dragon, and the Big Bad would not feel as unique in comparison. Thus, mooks serve as Filler and a backdrop to the truly climactic moments of an action franchise while also ensuring that in-between things are kept lively. In Video Games, they may also double as a ready source of Experience Points, gold, and recovery items for the player.
In addition to accentuating the real villains, mooks also help establish the heroes, especially their combat skills, as their lack of an identity allows them to be beaten, mauled, shot or otherwise disposed of in creative ways without guilt. The Hero might find it in his heart to Save the Villain, forgive him, even accept him into his inner circle, but the guys whose only crime is not finding a better employer will be shown no mercy (although exceptions apply). Next to Punch-Clock Villain, but usually more faceless, this is one of the tropes most liable to Just Following Orders, a fact that may be pointed up in order to reduce their disposability.
It's rarely explained just why they're willing to fight and die for villains who want to destroy the world, or what they get in return. Their life expectancy is on a level with that of the average mayfly, and you have to wonder why they took the job in the first place, especially if master is abusing them as much if not more than the heroes. Depending on just who/what they are fighting for, the plausibility of this can vary.
Being Acceptable Targets by definition, sometimes mooks serve as (or devolve into) outright comic relief rather than an actual menace by being dimwitted, ineffective, clumsy, a genuine danger to themselves or just plain unlucky. Despite all this, some may get their own moments in the spotlight or become genuine villains in their own right.
Except where noted in some of the subcategories, it is generally considered "bad form" for mooks to be given any sort of detailed backstory or personality (beyond broad strokes). Put another way, for the purposes of heroes continuing to be seen as heroes, and to avoid a major mood swing, mooks generally have no girl/boyfriends, children, parents, grandparents; they don't belong to church groups or non-profits that might miss them; they don't spend part of their day looking forward to what's on TV tonight (never to see the show because they're about to die), and they generally die quick, semi-painless deaths (blood and gore optional). Mooks are rarely female, and if they are, they generally don't fall into the "gorgeous" category because you don't want the viewer/reader to become attached to a character the hero is about to kill (The Spy Who Loved Me is a noted example where this rule is broken, and years later James Bond fans still criticize the decision to have Bond murder Caroline Munro's helicopter-flying babe, though more in the They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character sense). There are, of course, exceptions, either to make a Mood Whiplash and ponder about the nature of violence, establish the protagonist as a ruthless Anti-Hero, or briefly acknowledge that the mooks have lives and personal affairs but they're so trite and cliche that they deserve no sympathy anyway.
Anime, has a second type tailored for Humongous Mecha: A Real Robot series will usually have at least one class of mecha that basically acts as the "Grunt" unit for the bad guy's army. This mech is usually simply constructed, probably with a basic ranged weapon (machinegun or Energy Weapon or two, a close-combat weapon, and may have the option of carrying a bigger gun, depending on how much tougher the hero's armor is.) How are they viewed depends on how much the writers want you to empathize with the enemy. There's usually a very good chance that the Hero's Rival will at least start out by riding in an Ace Custom version of this mecha. Tanks usually serve a similar role on the heroes' side, and said grunt will often be the only thing they can reasonably threaten.
Not to be mistaken with a portmanteau of "magazine" and "book" intended for a longer term of publication between editions, a certain racial slur, or the tentacled aliens from the Mother series (They technically qualify as this, but they’re more fitting as Degraded Boss instead, as they’re the "common" form of one of the preceding bosses encountered), or the purple bird-like creature from Princess Comet (although he is also a Mook in this sense).
This trope is the Evil Counterpart of the Redshirt Army, which are Mooks on the good side (and thus are where to go when searching for easily-killed good guys). Similar to but not to be confused with their non-combat brother Evil Minions (likewise the Redshirt Army with the Red Shirt). Occasionally, it turns out they were Not Always Evil. If a "character" who would otherwise qualify as a Mook is disqualified because he's apparently acting on his own, you have Bit Part Bad Guys. See also Vanilla Unit, for the weakest and most basic player-controlled troops in strategy games.
In Video Games, mooks tend to be slightly more powerful, and able to at least hurt the hero, if not kill him a few times. However, nine times out of ten, the hero has a Healing Factor (more often objects used to heal than spontaneous healing) while the mooks stay hurt forever. Also, while the hero can restart if they die, the mooks (usually) only die once per level, and, when the level is restarted, they usually do the exact same thing they did before.
If they're lucky, mooks may very occasionally get promoted to the status of a more major villain. The heroes may also be able to persuade them over to the good side, in which case they have performed a Mook–Face Turn. Humanizing mooks is a basic technique of Deconstruction. In some Video Games, certain kinds of mooks will have a special introduction when they appear for the first time.
Armies of mooks are not always but usually overwhelmingly male. Typically, killing or harming even one nameless female tends to twist an audience's sympathies differently than the effect of the same to a male. As your protagonist escapes the fortress of doom, you don't want the audience worrying about the mooks being taken out or hurt. In video games however, all-male mook armies are usually there for an entirely pragmatic reason, since including random female enemies would be requiring constructing entirely new character models for characters the player won't interact with outside of killing them.
If the mooks also provide romantic services, this may overlap with Paid Harem.
When supposedly elite fighters in large numbers are less competent together than a man alone, it's Conservation of Ninjutsu.
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Go forth and vanquish the army of Mooks below:
- Adorable Evil Minions (cute Mooks)
- Airborne Mook (flight-based Mooks)
- Aquatic Mook (water-based Mooks)
- Bandit Mook (Mooks who steal things from you)
- Bombardier Mook (Mooks who drop things on you)
- Boss in Mook Clothing (looks like a Mook, fights like a Boss)
- Cowardly Mooks (Mooks that flee from battle)
- Cute Slime Mook (little blob Mooks)
- Doom Troops (Mooks whose signature is their fear factor, regardless of strength or status)
- Elite Mooks (puts up a much better fight than the others, but still a Mook)
- Evil Minions (non-combat Mooks)
- Faceless Goons (Mooks without distinct facial features, making it easier to mow them down without feeling bad about it)
- Fake Ultimate Mook (looks tough, but it's not)
- Gas Mask Mooks (wear gas masks over their faces, which may or may not protect them from gas attacks)
- Giant Mook (bigger and tougher, but still a Mook)
- The Goomba (a video game enemy defined by being pretty mook-ish even by Mook standards)
- Hard Mode Mooks (Mooks that only appear on higher difficulties)
- Heavily Armored Mook (Mooks equipped with heavy armor)
- Helpful Mook (a Mook that ends up helping you somehow, intentionally or not)
- Henchmen Race (a race created to act as Mooks for their maker)
- Hive Drone (a near-mindless Mook of a Hive Mind)
- Instakill Mook (a Mook that can kill you in one blow)
- Invincible Minor Minion (can't be hurt by you at all)
- King Mook (scaled-up, boss version of a Mook)
- Kung Fu-Proof Mook (a Mook who is immune to a certain form of attack, but not others)
- Leaning Tower of Mooks (Mooks who stack up onto each other to form a tower)
- Mascot Mook (marketable Mooks)
- Mecha-Mooks (robots, machines, just about anything mechanical, either piloted or automated)
- Merciful Minion (a Mook who shows kindness towards the heroes)
- Middle-Management Mook (Mook bureaucrats)
- Mini Mook (smaller than normal Mooks)
- Mooks Ate My Equipment (Mooks that eat your stuff)
- Mook Bouncer (a Mook who teleports players back to a previous area)
- Mook Lieutenant (regular Mooks take orders from this guy)
- Mook Medic (heals others)
- Mounted Mook (rides a creature or vehicle)
- Night of the Living Mooks (the undead)
- Nocturnal Mooks (Mooks who only show up during nighttime)
- Patrolling Mook (Mooks who patrol a certain area)
- Plant Mooks (Mooks grown in a garden)
- Player Mooks (playable Mooks)
- Punch-Clock Villain (fights for the villains, but is not a villain)
- Pushy Mooks (Mooks that push you into hazards)
- Replacement Mooks (Boss gets new Mooks)
- Reviving Enemy (Mooks that do not stay defeated permanently)
- Shield-Bearing Mook (carry shields and even attack with them)
- Slave Mooks (Mooks that were enslaved and forced to work for the enemy)
- Sleepy Enemy (A mook that prefers to sleep, only fighting when disturbed)
- Smash Mook (Mooks who hit very hard but don't do much else)
- Stationary Enemy (Mooks that can't move off their spot)
- Stealthy Mook (Mooks who specialize in stealth, in some cases even having invisibility powers)
- Stompy Mooks (Mooks who specialize in stomping very loudly)
- Super Powered Mooks (supers with red shirts)
- Unique Enemy (this Mook appears once, and only once)
- Actually Four Mooks (a squad of Mooks is represented by one individual on the overworld)
- Artifact Mook (previously encountered Mooks that are contextually out-of-place in later appearances)
- Breakout Mook Character (one exceptional Mook rises above the ranks and becomes his own character)
- Dancing Mook Credits (credits featuring amusing Mooks)
- Enemy Chatter (Mooks talking to each other in video games for flavor)
- Even Mooks Have Loved Ones (Mooks have to choose between their loved ones and their loyalty to the Big Bad)
- I Control My Minions Through... (how a villain controls/coerces their Mooks)
- The Joys of Torturing Mooks (having fun messing around with Mooks)
- Keystone Army (when the Mooks are subject to a fatal Instant-Win Condition)
- Million Mook March (large number of Mooks displayed in one grand march)
- Minion Master (a character who creates Mooks)
- Mooks, but no Bosses (the game only features Mooks as enemies)
- Mook Carryover (Mooks get a new Boss)
- Mook Chivalry (only one Mook attacks at a time)
- Mook Commander (this kind of enemy strengthens mooks passively)
- Mook Debut Cutscene (fancy way to introduce Mooks)
- Mook Depletion (a villain discovers he no longer has reserves)
- Mook–Face Turn (a Mook that pulls a Heel–Face Turn)
- Mook Horror Show (a Mook massacre)
- Mook Maker (spawns Mooks)
- Mook Mobile (standard craft piloted by Mooks)
- Mook-Themed Level (video game level revolving around a specific mook type)
- Mook Promotion (a regular Mook that eventually upgrades into a villain of its own)
- Multi-Mook Melee (a boss fight against a large number of Mooks at once)
- No Sympathy Between Mooks (Mooks who aren't very loyal to each other)
- Set a Mook to Kill a Mook (turn Mooks against one another)
- Uniformity Exception (one of these Mooks is not like the others)
- Villainous Demotivator (You Have Failed Me = bad Mook morale)
- We Have Reserves (large numbers of Mooks can be tossed about because there's lots more to spare)
- What Measure Is a Mook? (Mook lives are morally irrelevant)