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Motivational Lie

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Neo: Morpheus. The Oracle... she told me I—
Morpheus: She told you exactly what you needed to hear. That's all.

Sometimes the good guys get backed into a corner. Maybe Bob The Hero is getting his butt kicked by The Rival or the Big Bad. Maybe there's some kind of impassable barrier between him and his objective, or some kind of mind-bending riddle has bogged them down. Whatever the problem, it doesn't look good for our heroes, and Bob is on the verge of giving up.

Then Alice — a Guile Hero, the Cynical Mentor or The Lancer — tells Bob something that gets him fired up with a fresh batch of Heroic Resolve. Maybe she tells him that the Big Bad killed his parents. The Femme Fatale is waiting naked on the other side of the barrier. The world's greatest chef will make the hero's Trademark Favorite Food once he figures out the riddle! Whatever she says, it works: Bob gets his Heroic Second Wind and start kicking ass.

One problem: none of what Alice said was true.

Although the person telling the lie usually isn't thinking beyond getting past the immediate problem, sometimes (especially in the hands of a prophet) this is done with a long-term goal in mind, such as forcing Character Development or some other change in behavior or nature. In these cases, the lie may even become a form of Prophecy Twist.

A Motivational Lie can also be a deadly weapon in the hands of a cunning villain, who can use it to either manipulate the heroes or turn others against them, such as in a Let's You and Him Fight scenario. As such it can be a favorite weapon of the Manipulative Bastard, Magnificent Bastard, and The Chessmaster.

See Inspirational Insult when taunting is used to get the same result. Compare and contrast with tropes such as Batman Gambit, Magic Feather, Lying to Protect Your Feelings, Blatant Lies, Wounded Gazelle Gambit, Unreliable Expositor, Metaphorically True, False Reassurance, and Let Them Die Happy. Closely related to the Placebo Effect.


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  • In a memorable McDonald's commercial from the 90s, a boxer is being badly beaten until his father/coach reminds him of how one of his childhood birthday parties at McDonald's was ruined when someone stole his fries. Dad points to the boxer's opponent and says "It was him". During the display of the McDonald's slogan the boxer One-Hit KOs his opponent. Link for the curious.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Attack on Titan, after a soldier attempts and fails to reclaim his friend's body (which subsequently forces the dumping of other recovered bodies), Levi gives him a Survey Corps badge which he claims belonged to his friend. It's implied that the badge actually belonged to Petra, one of Levi's own fallen squad members, as he was previously shown taking the badge from her uniform.
  • In Dragon Ball Super's Tournament Saga, Beerus brings in a strange scrawny alien named Monaka, who is claimed to be the strongest fighter Beerus has ever faced, even more so than Goku as a Super Saiyan God, something that impresses Goku and Vegeta. At the end of the saga, everyone except Goku learns that Monaka's actually a scrawny mailman that Beerus grabbed so that he can motivate Goku and Vegeta into fighting better.
    • Earlier than that, Goku is floored when he finds out that the 100 million Zeni Mr. Satan gave them has been completely and utterly spent by Chi-Chi for Gohan and Videl's approaching child and she's saving what's left, forcing him to start working again. Chi-Chi lied as she still has a massive amount of money, she said it so Goku can settle down for once and be a grandpa for their grandchild. It kinda-sorta works - he dotes on baby Pan a lot and he's still working, but Goku does sneak out for training.
  • In the first episode of Gundam Build Metaverse, Rio and Mask Lady enter a 2v2 match and find themselves face to face with Riku and Sarah. Noticing Rio nervous, Mask Lady tells Rio that many players design their avatars after characters they like, suggesting that these two were just players who liked the two, which calms him down. After the match, Rio notices Riku's friendship acceptance notification bears the logo for Force Build Divers, meaning they, Ayame and Momoka were the real deal.
  • Right at the beginning of Love Hina, Keitaro tells Shinobu that she'd be able to get into Tokyo University because he got accepted. Almost immediately, he realized in his head that he just helped further the misunderstanding everyone had at the time of thinking he goes to Tokyo University.
  • The Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid anime does this after the fact in its sports festival episode. Saikawa ends up tripping during the relay race, so Kanna deliberately wins the final lap by a hair's-width and claims that she only won thanks to how hard Saikawa tried to close the gap (it had already been shown at multiple points that Kanna has Super-Speed).
  • My Hero Academia: During the quirk assessment test, Aizawa threatens expulsion on the student who has the lowest scores. At the end, he admits he was lying to get his students to push past their limits. It's later revealed that Aizawa has a habit of expelling and re-enrolling students so they understand that the consequences of being a Pro Hero can be very final (calling the expulsion 'experiencing death') in the hopes that it will drive them to take their training more seriously and by extension be less likely to die in the line of duty, making the expulsion itself a motivational lie.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion In the End of Evangelion, (29-year-old) Misato offers (14-year-old) Shinji this pearl after giving him a passionate kiss: "We'll do the rest when you get back." (Well, she doesn't.) She then shoves him into an elevator, smiles as it closes, and immediately slumps to the floor as she bleeds to death. The kiss is a sexual stimulator for him, as Shinji's lack of sexual confidence is what chains him to inaction for at least the first third of the film. Unfortunately, her shoving him into the elevator is the only tangible difference she makes for him plot-wise as her lie tells on itself when Shinji tastes/sees her blood inside his mouth/on his hand.
    • Considering the potential and ambiguous nature of the Rebuild series, it may have been an unintentional truth! Depending on the content of the fourth and final movie...
  • During Ranma and Ryoga's first battle in the anime version of Ranma ½, Ranma gains the upper hand until Nabiki gives Ryoga "steroids". They're later revealed to be mere vitamins, but that doesn't stop him from proceeding to RIP A TELEPHONE POLE OUT OF THE GROUND AND CHASE RANMA DOWN WITH IT.
  • In Samurai Champloo Mugen and a highly attractive ninja girl are in a room surrounded by more than 20 highly trained ninjas that want to kill them both for stumbling onto a counterfeiting operation. The girl, who has already used sex to motivate Mugen before, promises to do something too perverted to be spoken aloud if Mugen helps her. Mugen curb stomps the armed ninjas barehanded.
  • Kotetsu, one half of the superhero team Tiger & Bunny, once claimed that the collapsing building he was holding up was too heavy, and only the intervention of a young boy who's afraid of his own powers could avert tragedy. In reality Kotetsu (and the other heroes) probably could've saved the day without help, and his public image would've gotten a much-needed boost from it, but letting the kid prove his worth to the crowd and to himself was more important.
  • In the Devil May Cry 5 tie in manga Visions of V, Dante tells V that he gets a lot of people lying and exaggerating about how dangerous or important the job they're trying to get him to take up. Usually, he doesn't see it as a big deal and will take the job regardless. When V suggests that Vergil is back, he assumes that V is no different from such liars, but sees someone lying about his dead brother in order to convince him to take the job as crossing the line and gets so angry that he partially enters Devil Trigger. However, V is actually telling the truth and Dante quickly refocuses on the mission. As it turns out, V is actually Vergil himself, or at least the human part of Dante's brother, while the threat he hired Dante to kill was Vergil's demonic half. While he does want Urizen stopped, he also wants to rejoin with Urizen in order to return to the completed Vergil.

    Comic Books 
  • In 52, Lobo's space dolphin interpreter "translates" Lady Styx's three words-sentence into an eloquent derogatory speech designed to insult the Main Man in every way possible. It works and Lobo rips Styx to pieces.
  • Near the end of The Boys, Billy Butcher who has been defeated and paralyzed after a Face–Heel Turn, tries to get Wee Hughie to give him a Mercy Kill. When he doesn't get one, he claims that he killed Hughie's parents, even providing a description of their house. Hughie naturally flies into a rage and kills Butcher, and then just afterwards he gets a phone call from his parents, who remark on how charming his friend was when he stopped by their house.
  • In B.P.R.D., field agent Ashley Strode feels she's in over her head with her latest mission, so Kate Corrigan inspires her by reading her a report from Liz Sherman, saying how much potential she has. Once she's off the phone, Kate admits that Liz probably doesn't remember Ashley at all, and she was just taking advantage of Ashley's admiration of her.
  • Towards the end of Fray, Urkonn kills Mel's friend Loo, who Mel looks after like a little sister, and frames the vampires for it, figuring that it will give Mel the extra push she needs to stop Harth/The One Who Will Lead. However, not long afterward Urkonn accidentally reveals that vampires need to be invited into someone's home, and Mel quickly guesses that he killed Loo and why. After Harth has been defeated, Mel goes after Urkonn and kills him.
  • The Punisher:
    • In the Over the Edge event, Frank Castle was brainwashed into believing that the death of his family was set up by Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D., so that Castle would focus his unquenchable wrath on killing Fury.
    • In The Punisher MAX, he is tricked into believing a young woman has been kidnapped by a prostitution ring (in fact, one drug dealing gang tried to get rid of a rival gang by siccing him on them). Naturally, both gangs end up slaughtered by the end.
  • As pictured above, from the fifth Scott Pilgrim book: Scott is on the receiving end of a Curb-Stomp Battle while trying to rescue Kim from the Katayanagi Twins, when Kim's phone starts beeping. At this point in the story Scott and Ramona have been having relationship issues and it looks like Ramona was about to break up with him, which the Twins have been using to demoralize and mentally torment Scott. So Kim tells Scott that her phone is beeping because Ramona is texting to cheer him on and let him know she's waiting for him to come home so they can patch things up. This immediately boosts Scott’s morale and he proceeds to kick the Twins' asses. In reality, the beeping was just due to Kim's phone dying.
  • This trope is discussed in depth in trade paperback #24 of The Walking Dead, where Negan advises Rick to use a form of this to rally people around him. As of the end of the trade, Rick appears to have taken the advice.
    Negan: I'm not saying you outright lie to these people... at worst I'm suggesting you use the truth to manipulate people. And at the end of the day if that keeps people alive, what's the harm?

    Comic Strips 
  • In one Dilbert strip, Dilbert and his CEO agree to do this to spare the boss a technical explaination.
    Dilbert: If we don't upgrade our servers, a herd of trolls will attack our headquarters.
    CEO: No trolls!

    Fan Works 
  • In Cyrill's Heart of Friendship, it turns out that the dancestors lied about cursing Cyrill in order to keep her motivated and drive her forward.
  • In One Wizarding Summer Mad-Eye Moody casts the Virgin's Ease charm on a nervous Harry about an hour before a press interview, telling him that it'll provide enough of an increase in calmness and self-confidence to get Harry through the thing. Moody carefully doesn't mention that the charm only lasts for about fifteen minutes.
  • The Perilous Romance Of Swans: After sealing her sister away, Princess Celestia told Luna's sons Castor and Pollux that she was killed by Nightmare Moon, rather than revealing what had actually happened to their mother.
  • The Second Chances Series reveals that Mjolnir's Only the Chosen May Wield is a lie Odin told Thor both to make his son feel better about himself and to motivate him into becoming a better person. Mjolnir was always keyed to Thor and Thor alone; Odin's spell mostly amounted to making Thor take some time to reflect on his actions. The reason Vision could wield it is because having an Infinity Stone embedded in him made the being an Outside-Context Problem for the hammer.
  • Seventh Endmost Vision: In order to ensure that AVLANCHE will consider the possibility of redeeming Aerith rather than killing them, Ifalna tells Sephiroth that Aerith is his sister.
  • Sleeper Hit AU both averts and plays with: the thread Aizawa made to kick out the student that performed the worst at his Quirk Assessment test is very real. However, he lies about the results — Hagakure did the worst, but he falsely claims Midoriya came in last, outing his Quirkless status and humiliating him in front of the whole class.
  • Truth and Consequences: While reeling from the unexpected consequences of her decision to make a deal with Hawkmoth in hopes of protecting Adrien, Marinette asks Tikki what she can do to fix things. Tikki reassures her that even if Adrien's father ends up in jail, she'll still be able to make a life with Adrien and achieve her dreams. However, in a private conversation with Plagg shortly afterwards, Tikki admits that she can't possibly imagine things ending well for the young heroes at this point.
  • The Ultimate Hope: Following the brownie incident, most of the class comes together to convince Kiyotaka that the secret ingredient in Yasuhiro's "special brownies" was oregano. Monokuma tries to sow discord with the truth, but gets ignored. Kirigiri even describes this as a "necessary lie".
  • Winter War has two examples:
    • Yoruichi knows that Ryuuken's son is dead; however, during a lull in the battle against Mayuri and Szayel, she decides not to inform him of this, judging that his mental state is far too precarious for him to receive such terrible news.
    • Kyoraku tells Byakuya that his memory of killing Rukia was one of Aizen's illusions, as Byakuya has become a Death Seeker as a result and Kyoraku wants him to stop trying to get himself killed.

    Films — Animated 
  • Osmosis Jones had Jones telling Drix about some sugar pills he knew that cured cancer in an effort to motivate him. This exchange happens a bit later:
    Drix: Jones? You really know a sugar pill who cured cancer?
    Jones: Naw. But it makes for a good pep talk, don't it?

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Avengers, after Coulson dies at Loki's hands, Fury tosses a small pile of bloodstained vintage Captain America trading cards (Mint Condition!) at Cap, as part of his attempt to use it to galvanize the Avengers. The cards were not on Coulson's person at the time, but in his locker.
  • Black Crab. Caroline Edh is a soldier assigned to deliver a Secret Weapon that will win the war, by crossing a frozen sea at night through enemy territory. When she balks at what she describes as a Suicide Mission, she's told her daughter—missing since the start of the war—has been discovered in a refugee camp and is waiting at her destination. After losing most of her fellow soldiers and crippling herself to get there, she's lauded as a hero but informed that the story about her daughter was just to give her the Heroic Willpower to succeed. Worse, if her daughter really is alive somewhere, the weapon she's delivered is a biological virus that will kill most of the civilian population and ensure her death.
  • In The Blues Brothers, while Jake is in prison, Elwood lies about keeping in touch with the rest of the band so that Jake doesn't lose hope.
    Elwood: What was I gonna do? Take away your only hope? Take away the very thing that kept you going in there? I took the liberty of bullshitting you.
    Jake: You lied to me.
    Elwood: Wasn't lies, it was just... bullshit.
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy:
    • The Dark Knight does this to the city of Gotham and Batman himself during the ending. In order to prevent mass chaos from the fallout of Harvey Dent's actions as Two Face, Batman willingly framed himself for the murders Dent committed, so that Harvey Dent could remain an inspirational figure to the rest of Gotham. Alfred also burned Rachel's letter saying she would marry Harvey, to spare Bruce further pain from her death.
    • The trope is further examined and ultimately subverted in The Dark Knight Rises. Dent's "murder" by Batman was used to rally support for the passage of the Dent Act, which curtailed civil liberties but also led to the near-elimination of organized crime in Gotham. However, Gordon's wife left him for covering up Harvey Dent's actions. Bruce retires from being Batman and becomes a recluse out of grief over losing Rachel, due to being convinced she would have married him if she's lived. And when Bane reveals the lie about Dent, the downtrodden citizens and prisoners join Bane's army as retribution. Bane's "revolution" also serves as a Motivational Lie, since it was only intended as a distraction before blowing up Gotham.
  • In Die Hard with a Vengeance, John McClane only gets Zeus Carver to help him investigate a spate of bombings by telling him that one bomb was discovered in a black neighborhood. Towards the end of the movie he admits that it wasn't anyplace close to where he'd claimed it was found. He also rather specifically doesn't lie, per se, but simply phrases things a certain way: He asks Zeus if the latter knows about a particular playground in Harlem, then asks where he thinks the latest bomb was found. He never outright says the bomb was found on that playground, but he apologizes for lying later anyway.
  • While he's mostly just trying to save his own skin, Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High makes it look like a rival high school wrecked Charles Jefferson's car, instead of Spicoli himself. Jefferson winds up taking that school's team apart in the next football game.
  • During one scene in A Knight's Tale, Roland tells William (who is a peasant pretending to be a knight) that his jousting opponent is cruel to his peasants. After William angrily charges off to thrash the opponent, Roland remarks that it's probably true.
  • The Oracle from The Matrix does a long term version of this to Neo, and it's hinted that she does this regularly to help people unlock their potential and think differently. In fact, that's exactly her motivation — although it takes six Ones to make one of them see outside of the Matrix (and the Architect's version of the prophecy) to make Neo take the needed third option to fix things.
  • Rubikon. Gavin tries to commit suicide after realising the Fog of Doom has caused The End of the World as We Know It but Hannah and Dimitri, the two other people on the space station, save his life. Dimitri tells Gavin that it's his business if he wants to kill himself, but he should know he'll condemn them both to death as well because the algae-based life support system needs at least three people breathing CO2 to work. Gavin later succeeds in killing himself after the others refuse to help some survivors down on the surface, and Hannah thinks he did it to force them to help as they can't survive with only two. Dimitri however is devastated, saying it was just something he made up so Gavin wouldn't kill himself.
  • The famous Star Wars scene where Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke that Vader killed Luke's father, then later justifies it as Metaphorically True can easily be seen as this. In Revenge of the Sith it is shown that this was also likely Obi-Wan's belief at that point, and what allowed him to nearly kill Vader at Mustafar.
  • In Talladega Nights, Ricky's father Reese tapes a kilo of cocaine to Ricky's car, then calls the cops on him. He tells his son that he's got minutes before they show up, so he'd better start driving! After a harrowing chase—wherein he regains his love for racing—Ricky finds out there's no coke. It's just a bag of cereal... with a note attached:
    Feels good to go fast again, doesn't it? By the way, don't try and snort these Lucky Charms. - Reese
  • Titanic (1997) features this during the climactic scenes. Cal urges Rose to board a lifeboat. He assures her that both he and Jack will get off the ship safely due to Cal bribing his way onto another lifeboat. Rose briefly buys it, seemingly having forgotten for a moment that Cal is an abusive self-centered jerk who would never do such a thing for the sake of a romantic rival. Interestingly, Jack believes right away that it's a lie, but misinterprets Cal's intention; Jack thinks that Cal doesn't actually have an arrangement set up and has no way off the ship, but said whatever he needed in order to save Rose. Cal quickly disabuses Jack of that notion.
  • Whiplash:
    • Fletcher is extremely fond of the popular myth that Jo Jones hurled a cymbal at Charlie Parker's head during a terrible performance, and uses it to intimidate/inspire his students into performing harder. The actual story, which is possibly apocryphal, is that the cymbal instead landed at Parker's feet with a gong-like crash.
    • A morbid example, culminating with Fletcher fabricating the circumstances behind the death of a pupil to motivate his students and divert any suspicion from his detractors.

  • Two from the Ciaphas Cain novel Cain's Last Stand, in which the beleaguered defenders of the planet Perlia are facing annihilation at the hands of a Black Crusade. First, the defenders are heartened when they receive an astropathic message that a fleet of reinforcements are en route - it's actually a psychic echo of a fleet deployment to the previous Siege of Perlia, but Cain doesn't correct the mistake for the sake of morale. Later Cain is trying to get the Inquisition and Adeptus Mechanicus to cooperate and defend a dangerous artifact, but the two sides are blaming each other for the lapse in security that led the Chaos forces to learn its location. Cain declares that it must be the fault of a renegade Inquisitor who died some books previous, which may or may not be accurate, but at least means that they can focus on fighting.
  • The Dark Tower series has an example of this being used as a training method. Roland just can't get Susannah to focus on her gunslinger training until he resorts to reminding her of the traumas she suffered at the hands of racists before and during the black Civil Rights Movement. He goes so in depth that she practically gets lost in the memories. Then he suddenly points at the targets and shouts "There they are, shoot them!" Susannah does, but when she calms down she calls Roland out for manipulating her that way.
  • Discworld:
    • Attempted by Teatime in Hogfather: when Psychopathic Manchild Banjo demands to know if Teatime hurt the Tooth Fairy, Teatime says Susan did it so as to get Banjo to attack her. Unfortunately for him, Banjo Would Not Hit a Girl.
    • In Interesting Times, Rincewind gets out of a pursuit by running into a room of sumo wrestlers, yelling that one of his pursuers has a sandwich on him, and ducking out of the carnage.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • The White Court of vampires are emotion eaters. There are three clans inside and each favors a different emotion with the Raith Clan favoring lust. In the short story "Bigfoot on Campus" Strength of a River in His Shoulders, a bigfoot Harry is hired by, learns that the Raith clan also keeps from their children their vampire nature until after the child's vampire side develops around the age of 18 to 20 years old. River Shoulders quickly realizes this facade is maintained because of a motivational lie. When a young Raith has sex for the first time, it will lead to the death of the sex partner involved except for very rare circumstances. The lie is that it is okay to kill humans. They are weaker than vampires and are just food. The parents hold to this lie because it is what they were raised to believe after killing their first sexual partner. And this is what the grandparents were told by their parents. And so on and so on. To reject the lie is to reject all the culture and supremacy based on it. To admit they are are wrong for following some falsehood that was held by some ancient bastard or bitch.
    • In Skin Game ancient evil warrior Nicodemus Archleone has had in his head a Fallen Angel for nearly two millennia. He has had his daughter at his side Deidre, and sometimes in bed, for the last fifteen hundred years with her own Fallen in her head. He must send her some place to keep her safe from a force he calls "the Enemy." Whether he means God or threats from beyond the boundaries of Creation, isn't said. To that end, and needing her spirit to help him enter the private vault of the Greek God Hades, he kills her before the final gate: the Gate of Death. It requires a spirit of one who dies before it to willingly open the gate. The lies are many, as the Fallen are rarely keeping to their promises, but as Harry later tells Nicodemus his daughter is now condemned to a place that, unlike Hell which is more equal in its punishments to the damned than the Greek Underworld, gets personal in its punishments. She will be far from safe for a very long time.
  • Gods and Warriors: Pirra was allowed to believe her mother, High Priestess Yassassara, would release her from the House of the Goddess on her twelfth birthday, but she was all along intended to be sent to Lykonia for Arranged Marriage. She's also angry at Userref, her Egyptian slave and big brother-figure, for not telling her the truth even though he knew, so he lampshades this trope while referring both to her situation and his own desire to return to Egypt which he has never tried to act on due to him being The Fatalist.
    Pirra: You let me go on believing I'd be free.
    Userref: You needed something to hope for. Everyone does. It's what keeps them going.
    Pirra: Even if it's a lie?
    Userref: Yes. Even then.
  • In H. Beam Piper's short story "Graveyard of Dreams" (later expanded into the novel The Cosmic Computer), Conn Maxwell's investigations into rumors of an abandoned supercomputer on his home planet lead him to the conclusion that the computer doesn't really exist. Instead of saying so, he tells people that he discovered evidence of its existence but not its location so that people will start searching for it, stimulating the planet's depressed economy and improving morale. In the novel, the computer eventually turns up....
  • In Harry Potter, Dumbledore letting Harry live in the belief that he could survive his hunt to destroy all of Voldemort's Horcruxes. While technically not a lie since it was never expressly stated, the spirit was there. Averted in the end, though it's insinuated that Dumbledore wasn't sure what would or could happen.
  • In Holes, Stanley's fellow inmates assure him that the first hole he has to dig as part of his prison sentence will be the hardest. When he returns the next day with aching muscles, they admit that actually the second hole is the hardest, and keep Moving the Goalposts from there. The narrative eventually concedes that, for various reasons, the next hole is always the hardest.
  • The book Brisingr from the Inheritance Cycle had Elva lie to Nasuada before the Trial of the Long Knives, in order for her to win the trial. She told Nasuada that she would win, and that gave her the confidence to endure the pain longer, but if Elva had let things be, Nasuada would have lost.
  • Juggernaut by Desmond Bagley. Renegade army soldiers take everyone prisoner and lock them in an Abandoned Warehouse, but they're freed by their Token Evil Teammate, who gets them moving by saying that the soldiers were about to set the warehouse on fire with them in it. Later the protagonist doesn't find any inflammable material stacked around the warehouse, but their rescuer just says they to be told something so they'd stop dithering and escape.
  • The Jungle Book: Bagheera and Baloo persuade Kaa to help rescue Mowgli from the Bandar-Log by claiming they insulted him, calling him an earthworm, among others. Kaa retaliates by hypnotizing them (and Bagheera and Baloo, unintentionally) and eating them all.
  • Ivy Gamble of Magic for Liars drops these constantly during her job as a private investigator, often to defuse a violent situation. Within the story she uses them to incentivize interviewees to get more information.
  • In The Magicians, Quentin tells Alice that she's almost finished burning open a door when in fact she has a ways to go.
  • In Ray Bradbury's short story "The Toynbee Convector", Craig Bennett Stiles, a Bill Gates Expy, holds a press conference where he tells the world that he has succeeded in developing time travel. Although his time machine shorted out when he used it, he did manage to travel one century into the future, coming back with artifacts and video footage proving that in the future humanity will abolish war, poverty, disease and prejudice and create a true utopia. One hundred years later, the world has become the utopia Stiles had foreseen. Just before his death, the still-living Stiles tells a reporter that there was no time machine; he had hired a special effects crew to create the "artifacts" and faked video footage, because he saw a world descending into chaos toward the end of the 20th century, and wanted to give humanity a goal to strive for.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the fourth season of The 100, with a Nuclear Apocalypse approaching, the leaders of Arcadia have to continually work to convince the civilian population on methods of the surviving apocalypse with the hidden knowledge that, even if successful, no solution will save all the Arcadians.
  • In Angel, while trapped in Pylea, Angel finds himself getting lost to his demon side whenever he vamps out. As part of Wesley's plan to help the resistance, Angel challenges the Groosalugg, the champion of the monarchy, to single combat. When Angel is worried that he won't be able to defeat the champion without fully losing himself to the demon, Wesley convincingly assures him that he will triumph. Gunn confronts Wesley on whether he actually believes this, and Wesley responds "I need him to believe it."
  • At the end of the Battlestar Galactica (2003) pilot, Adama tells the fleet of a legendary thirteenth colony called "Earth", that he knew actually existed, and that they could flee there. President Roslin quickly calls him out on it in private. Later on they do discover that Earth is real, and start trying to find it.
    Laura Roslin: There's no Earth. You made it all up. President Adar and I once talked about the legends surrounding Earth. He knew nothing about a secret location regarding Earth, and if the President knew nothing about it, what are the chances that you do?
    Adama: You're right. There's no Earth. It's all a legend.
    Laura Roslin: Then why?
    Adama: Because it's not enough to just live. You have to have something to live for. Let it be Earth.
    Laura Roslin: They'll never forgive you.
    Adama: Maybe. But in the meantime I've given all of us a fighting chance to survive. And isn't that what you said was the most important thing, the survival of the human race?
  • In the Season 4 finale of Breaking Bad Walt convinces Jesse that Gus tried to poison a child with Ricin. In fact, Walt poisoned the kid (though not with ricin) and told Jesse about it in order to get Jesse on his side.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In early Season 3 episode "Faith, Hope and Trick", Giles needs to know the exact circumstances of Angel's death for a spell to prevent the return of Acathla. Buffy finally summons the courage to tell him that Angel's soul returned, just before Buffy was forced to kill him. Once Buffy leaves, Giles reveals to Willow that there was no spell; it was a ruse to get Buffy to open up to them and to accept what she'd done.
    • A more controversial example is Xander's lie to Buffy so she won't hold back when fighting Angelus. Willow had told him she may have a chance of restoring his soul, so Buffy would need to stall Angelus (who is about to bring about the end of the world). Xander was never especially fond of the vampire and has seen him repeatedly commit horrifying acts including torture and murder throughout the season, only to get away with it each time largely because of Buffy's reluctance to kill him. As a result, Xander ignores Willow's intent and relays her message as "Willow said kick his ass."
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show: In "100 Terrible Hours", Rob gets involved in a wake-a-thon. Soft-hearted (and very sleep-deprived) Rob gets obsessed with the story of a frightened kitten trapped in a tree. Laura admits she ultimately had to give him a completely different cat to hold and claim it was the same one in order to make him leave for the interview with Alan.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Big Bang," when Rory is having a Heroic BSoD over killing Amy while hypnotically controlled and doesn't believe he's human, the Doctor tells him one to show him otherwise:
    The Doctor: (sneeringly) Trillions of people have just been wiped from existence! Your girlfriend isn't more important than the entire universe.
    (Rory turns the Doctor to face him and slugs him in the jaw so hard he falls flat on his ass)
    Rory: SHE IS TO ME!!
    The Doctor: (delighted) Welcome BACK, Rory Williams!
  • Hangin' with Mr. Cooper sees Mark note  try to help a student pass algebra. Mark's former coach (the boy's current coach) points out that Mark would've failed algebra himself if the coach hadn't forced the teacher to pass him. This motivates Mark to retake his old algebra final to prove he can pass...and he does! Unnecessarily! Mark had passed algebra fairly, and the coach was just trying to guilt him into letting the kid cheat.
  • Happens a few times in Kamen Rider Build to push certain people's buttons the right way, but two major examples are:
    • In Build NEW WORLD: Kamen Rider Cross-Z, Evolto attempts to strangle Banjo's love interest just to have his Hazard Level naturally go up enough from accumulated rage and allow them to use the Muscle Galaxy Bottle and overpower Killbus. It's uncertain whether or not Evolto would have killed her, but given he simply leaves Earth after Killbus is killed it is very likely he turned a new leaf.
    • In Build NEW WORLD: Kamen Rider Grease, Sento tells Kazumi that his friends, the Hokuto Three, didn't survive the extraction of the Phantom Liquid. It was all just a lie, because the grief caused by thinking his friends died would cause Kazumi's Hazard Level to go high enough to use the Perfect Kingdom Grease form.
  • On the American edition of Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay calls Moe, one of the brother co-owners of the "Oceana" restaurant, "a busy idiot", being involved in all the wrong areas. Moe was about to pick a fight with Ramsay until Rami, his more level-headed co-owner brother, defused the situation by telling Moe that "busy idiot" is actually a compliment in British English.
  • An episode of Mama's Family has Thelma get involved in an arm wrestling competition at the Bigger Jigger, which she basically has no chance of winning. However, her son Vint and his wife Naomi lie to her that they bet their entire life savings on the match, and that if she loses, they'll never be able to afford to move out of her basement. This manages to give her such a burst of strength and determination that she instantly wins.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring The Time Travelers, Jonah introduces a series of brand new robots dedicated to doing a job particularly well. Crow and Tom, angry at this sort of thing, take baseball bats and start smashing them as they show up. At the end of the segment, Jonah reveals they weren't even functional — he built them so the Bots could get exercise. They turn their bats on him.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Devil's Due" revolves around a Motivational Lie that backfired almost catastrophically. A planet is facing mass hysteria because they believe a thousand-year contract is coming to term: Their ancestors had promised servitude to "the devil" in exchange for a millennium of peace and prosperity. Now the devil has appeared to collect. It's up to the Enterprise crew to prove that the contract was nothing more than a Magic Feather, all the planet's improvements were the result of the people's hard work, and the devil is a con artist trying to cash in on the prophecy.
  • Played for Drama in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine during the Dominion War arc, when Sisko and Garak form a plan to trick the Romulans (who are neutral in the war) into thinking that the Dominion/Cardassian alliance is about to betray and attack them instead of settling for the "I'll kill you last" version of You Will Be Spared.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), Sam tries to get the others ready to fight the demon by pretending things will be all right if they work together, but he has his own doubts. Jake realizes this, and says, "It doesn't matter if we believe it. Only matters that they do."
  • The Wire:
    • Stringer Bell used the classic villain version to set Brother Mouzone (a Professional Killer hired by Stringer's partner and that was getting in the way of Stringer's plans) and Omar (a badass who robs drug dealers and has a personal vendetta against Stringer) against each other. Whoever dies, Stringer wins. They both live and team up for revenge.
    • After Stringer's death, the soldiers of the Barksdale Organization assume that their rival Marlo was responsible. Even after Slim Charles (the head of Barksdale's muscle) finds out that Marlo had nothing to do with it, he encourages the lie, because it'll make the troops do anything to win.
    • A major plot arc in the fifth season is Detective McNulty's ploy to force City Hall to improve the budget that's crippling the police department: He invents a fake serial killer by altering some crime scenes and casefiles. It works, but it doesn't take long for it to get out of hand. The lie also taints the one case that was his personal White Whale, contributing greatly to the Pyrrhic Victory ending.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • At the start of Delirious' IWC Super Indy Title defense against Christopher Daniels at IWC Uncaged Fury, July 7, 2006, among his usual ramblings, Delirious said that AJ Styles, Low Ki and maybe someone else had told Delirious that Daniels had been talking all kinds of trash about him and Daniels denied that he ever said what Delirious claims those people had told him Daniels said. It will never be known if this was a case of Unreliable Narrator or not.
  • After coming to the realizations that keeping sugar away from Solo Darling was a full time job with an understaffed workforce, and that Solo wrestled better with a sugar in her, Daffney told Solo the SHINE Tag Team Championship belts were made of chocolate.

  • And the Big Men Fly by Alan Hopgood. A simple-minded country boy, capable of kicking a ball an amazing distance, is recruited to play Australian Rules Football. He has an ongoing feud with his neighbours the Williamses, so because his kicks are fueled by Berserker Rage he's always told before each game that the Williams have said that he's an awful footballer. Naturally he finds out about this deception just before the climax of the play.
  • Dear Evan Hansen: Following Conner Murphy's death, an imaginary version of him becomes one for his mother, as she latches onto the idea that her son had Hidden Depths that he revealed to his friend Evan. Over the course of the story, this builds into the imaginary Conner serving as a motivational lie for effectively the whole cast, including Evan, as keeping the memory of what they believe he was and everything associated with it takes on a life of its own.

    Video Games 
  • Dark Souls. The Chosen Undead, the whole premise is a trick. The lie is used to make undeads sacrifice themselves to extend the Age of Fire.
  • Played for laughs in Deadpool. Cable leaves Deadpool a note telling him to come to a certain location in one hour or "you'll miss the incredibly large-breasted naked woman who claims to be be your biggest fan!" The place turns out to be a Big Bad's facility, and the "large-breasted woman" that he actually sees there turns out to be Cable himself.
  • In Dissidia Final Fantasy, when the heroes are pondering whether they'll simply fade away even if they defeat Chaos, Cloud Strife says that their actions will save the worlds they each came from, and that those will be the homes they return to when it's over. He immediately admits he just made that up, but everyone else agrees that it sounds pretty nice and are willing to believe it.
  • In Ghost Trick, Ray will tell Sissel that as a ghost, he'll cease to exist at dawn. This only serves as a motivation to get Sissel to the right place at the right time to resolve the game's main plot. Because this isn't the first time the plot has happened...last time, Sissel didn't get involved at ALL, and it ended very badly.
  • In Horizon Zero Dawn, the Operation Enduring Freedom is this. A motivational lie to get everyone to fight to buy Project Zero Dawn time to complete the goal of setting up GAIA and all the infrastructure to restore the world after the extinction of the human race.
  • When Mario becomes sick in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga Luigi is told to go to a cave where a horrible man-eating monster lives to procure a plant that will help Mario recover. The player is forced, due to Luigi being too terrified to even jump, to visit a resident magician who hypnotises Luigi into thinking he's Mario. When Luigi snaps out of it he already has the plant, so it's a slight aversion in that he never seems to realise that he's just as good as Mario when he's not terrified.
  • In Mass Effect 3, after the fall of Thessia and the revelation that the Prothean beacon was the main reason why the Asari are technically superior to the rest of the galaxy, Liara confronts Javik and demands to know why he didn't fix things, because as a Prothean he's supposed to have all the answers. Depending on what you do, he'll tell her that his people believed that the Asari were the best hope for this cycle, which calms her down. After walking out of the room, Shepard can ask whether or not Javik was telling the truth. Javik doesn't give a straight answer, but it's implied he's just telling her what she wants to hear.
    Shepard: Did you really mean anything you just said?
    Javik: Does it matter?
    Shepard: Liara is a good friend to me. It matters.
    Javik: Then I will tell you what you want to hear: I meant what I said.
  • In Northgard Chapter 7 Jötunmheim, there are two factions of giants that are in conflict over the land and livestock. If the player achieves victory by gaining enough lore with the ancient sword, then Svarn tells both giant leaders that the ancient sword has writing from their ancestor telling them to share the land and livestock. This results in the giants resolving their conflict and agreeing to share the land. Later Svarn tells Rig that there was no such writing on the ancient sword.
  • Peret em Heru: For the Prisoners: If certain characters get killed off by the harsh judgments of the pyramid, Professor Tsuchida attempts this in order to keep Ayuto and the other survivors moving forward.
    • If Yoko dies, Tsuchida claims that they actually survived their mauling, with Dr. Kuroe hesitantly affirming that he managed to stabilize them. But nobody is allowed to approach and talk to them, supposedly because they need time to recover from the horror of what happened without anyone gawking at their mangled face.
    • Along the same lines, if Nei Ichikawa is lost, Tsuchida invokes Never Found the Body, suggesting that they might never have been imperiled at all and they can still catch up with them deeper within the ruins.
    • Notably, in both of these cases, Ayuto's thoughts reveal that he knows the professor and doctor are both full of shit. However, he's reluctant to challenge them, in part because that requires confronting the reality that they're lying and everything that means.
  • Played for laughs in Portal. GLaDoS constantly promises Chell cake as motivation to continue testing.
  • An unintentional meta-example: One of Starcraft's developers says that the original game was very much Warcraft in space, down to the graphics. At a con, they saw a rival RTS called DominionStormOverGift3 with much better graphics, gameplay, and all around better quality, the gameplay demo of which inspired them to start again and create the game we know today. Years later, the author learned that the game was in fact just as unprepared for the con as they were- they were watching a pre-made video with the demo guy pretending to play.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony has a lot of fun playing with this trope in Chapter Five. Kokichi shows the remaining students the secret of the outside world and tells them he is the mastermind, making them too apathetic to continue the game. His being the mastermind was a lie of course, as part of his plan to end the killing game. Unfortunately, the real mastermind created a Flashback light giving the class, save for Kokichi and Kaito, memories of being symbols of hope and Kokichi being a Remnant of Despair, reigniting their drive. This also led Maki to hunt down Kokichi to kill him.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, the culture of Nine-Tails Vale is based upon a good vs. evil myth that - unbeknownst to most of the Vale's citizens - never actually happened. One of the Vale's previous leaders made it up to keep people from finding an Apple of Discord hidden nearby. The citizens eventually find out the story isn't true...but they decide to go on telling it anyway, because it's cooler than what "really" happened and it's become a tradition in its own right at this point. (Also, it brings in a lot of tourism dollars.)

    Web Comics 
  • In The Last Days of FOXHOUND, the spirit of Big Boss claims to have been responsible for telling Liquid that he was the inferior clone to Solid Snake and filling Liquid's head with completely erroneous ideas about genetics so that Liquid would be motivated to excel rather than just relying on natural ability.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • In strip #22, Roy needs Belkar (the party ranger) to track down a chimaera. Since Belkar has no idea he can do that, Roy tells him that the chimaera made fun of how short he is. Belkar gets angry and starts tracking it.
    • Later he uses a similar trick on both Belkar and Haley. He wanted them to join him in his sidequest, which they refused, so he made up that there were giants which are worth a lot of XP to make Belkar come with him. He told Haley that they are king giants because she cares more for gold than XP.
    • On a far longer-term basis, Redcloak has been lying to Xykon about the ritual to control the Snarl since before Xykon was a lich, in order to appeal to his "world domination" instincts. Xykon won't have any control at all, it will all go to Redcloak's god.
  • In San: Three Kingdoms Comic, considering how much McDonald's is a Running Gag, the advertising example above gets used: Lu Bu manages to tank the accusation and slanders against Dong Zhuo about sharing Diaochan (which originally in the novel would've been his ultimate catalyst of betrayal), stating that they had consent on sharing her. So how did Wang Yun finally managed to convince Lu Bu to do his betrayal? Tell him that Dong Zhuo stole his McDonalds French Fries. As he left Lu Bu furious and preparing to kill Dong Zhuo for that, Wang Yun tells Diaochan, who was actually the one eating the aforementioned French Fries, that the plan worked.
  • Sarilho: Nikita tells Alessandro what the general wants to hear as soon as he realises this may result in a declaration of war with Lusitania.

    Web Original 
  • During Bennett the Sage's review of the anime version of Demon City Shinjuku, Sage mentions that one of the characters is named Mephisto, then cringes as that summons Linkara who begins ranting about that one Spider Man arc that everyone hates, because it also featured a character named Mephisto. To get rid of Linkara, Sage claims that another reviewer was badmouthing some of Linkara's favorite comic writers. Linkara promptly storms off for revenge.
    Sage: Hey, did you hear that The Last Angry Geek called Alan Moore overrated?
    Linkara: Well... I can see that. The man can only write so many classics before he taps out.
    Sage: Wait, did I say Alan Moore? I meant Neil Gaiman. Yeah, Neil Gaiman.
    Linkara: WHAT?!! Where is that slimeball, I'm going to rip him to shreds!
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged uses this several times:
    • In the first case, Gohan has been transformed into a giant ape and is destroying everything in sight as a result. Goku gets him to concentrate on Vegeta by saying that Vegeta was responsible for killing Gohan's pet dragon. As Vegeta wasn't even on the planet when it happened, he gets rather pissed by this.
      Vegeta: Oh, this is bullshit! I haven't killed a damn thing since I got to this godforsaken planet! Not for lack of trying, mind you...
    • In the parody of Dragon Ball Z: Lord Slug, Goku is knocked out and awakens to find the planet frozen. Because he's Goku, he assumes that because it's snowing it's Christmas, and that the Villains of the movie are looking to wreck Christmas like a different group of bad guys Goku had fought before. When Goku is losing the fight to Lord Slug, King Kai reminds Goku that he's fighting to keep Christmas from being wiped out, which sends Goku straight into Unstoppable Rage.
    • Guru once gave Nail a Rousing Speech about how Nail could beat Freeza, in order to give Nail fresh resolve and determination, then laughed at him for believing it the second the two flew away to do battle.
  • SCP-2317: The Door to Another World involves a highly complex ritual designed to prevent an XK-Class End of the World Scenario if the SCP is triggered, but (similar to what is believed of many nuclear attack survival guides) the truth is that the highly complex (and rather awful) ritual will not do a darn thing and once the event starts it's already too late: the ritual's only purpose is to distract everyone aware of the event enough that they're kept busy and don't have a chance to panic.
  • In Worm, Tattletale lies to Taylor about Grue's death so that she wouldn't blame herself for his death at a crucial time.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Aang lies about the source of the conflict between the two tribes to get them to make up. When he admits such to Katara and Sokka, they're floored.
    Aang: You could call it luck... or you could call it lying. I made the whole thing up.
    Katara: (amused) You did not. That is so wrong.
  • Subverted in Family Guy Presents: Laugh It Up, Fuzzball. Stewie Vader tells a soldier that the Rebels killed his friend's dog to get him to attack the Rebel base. Seems like an obvious case of this trope being at work, but later Peter and Chris reminisce about kidnapping and eating a dog...
  • Futurama:
    • In the "My Three Suns" episode, Fry accidentally drinks a planetary Emperor with a liquid body, which results in a You Kill It, You Bought It situation. That is, until it gets revealed that the Emperor is still alive in Fry's body and the Emperor's subjects start trying to get the Emperor out. Violently. As an alternative to letting the watery beings kill Fry, the gang tells Fry that Leela is dead to get him to cry the Emperor out instead. ...But it's just a manly Single Tear, so the actual Leela comes in and just beats him up until he cries for real.
    • Bender trains under the legendary chef who trained Elzar. After trying Bender's food, he totally doesn't die from the food but instead of natural causes. In response, he imparts on Bender a vial of "pure flavor", which will make any dish taste delicious. Evidently it works, and Bender beats Elzar in a cooking contest. The Professor takes a sample and discovers that the secret ingredient... is water! Ordinary water. Laced with a few spoonfuls of LSD.
  • David Xanatos from Gargoyles used several such lies to trick Derek Maza into holding a grudge against Goliath and remaining loyal to Xanatos.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Dr. Hibbert tells Bart and Marge that the only way to get some superglue off his face is with several painful injections into his spine. This makes Bart sweat with nervousness, which makes the glue come off.
      Marge: What happened? You didn't do anything!
      Dr. Hibbert: Oh, didn't I? (laughs) Nothing dissolves glue better than human sweat. I knew Bart would panic and start perspiring at the sight of this button applicator!
      Bart: Couldn't you have just turned the heat up a little?
      Dr. Hibbert: (sinister) Oh, heavens no! It had to be terror sweat!
    • In one episode, Homer finds himself needing to land a plane after the pilot passes out. Desperate for help, he and Marge call the life/career coach Homer had been seeing throughout the episode. Said coach gets Homer to land the plan by lying and saying he heard someone say that Homer couldn't do it, so out of sheer Eagle Land spite, Homer manages to do it.
      Colby Kraus: All right, Homer. What is it you're attempting to do? Win over a difficult client?
      Homer: I'm trying to land a plane with no experience.
      Colby Kraus: (Beat) Ok Homer, I don't know anything about planes, but I know about you. You have what made America great; no understanding of the limits of your power and a complete lack of concern for what anyone thinks of you. So you'll land that plane, and do you know why? Because I heard some guy say you couldn't.
      Homer: (furious) What?! I'll show him! I'll show that guy! (Lands plane successfully)
  • Played with in the South Park Season 1 episode "Damien", in which Jesus is losing to a boxing match against Satan. Stan encourages Jesus with an inspirational quote, claiming that it was something Jesus said. After Jesus gets back into the fight, it's revealed that the quote is actually from Star Trek; however, Stan wasn't intentionally lying, he'd just gotten the source of the quote mixed up.


Video Example(s):


Vulpix (Only) Has Flash Fire!

After a bad fight in his first Nuzlocke run, Alpharad tells Fyrus that if his Vulpix has the Flash Fire ability, his fortune might turn around. His Vulpix does, but what Fyrus doesn't realize is that's the only ability Vulpix could get and that Alpharad only said there was a chance it could have it as a motivation boost.

How well does it match the trope?

4.9 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / MotivationalLie

Media sources: