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Nominal Hero

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Where are the heroic traits?

"According to a loose enough definition of 'hero', we qualify. Well, more or less. The point is that good deeds were done and we were nearby."
Red Mage, 8-Bit Theater (Episode 920)

Fictional heroes tend to be a diverse bunch, but most have one thing in common: a morally positive motivation. Even morally questionable heroes usually are at least partially motivated by a genuine concern for others, desire for justice, belief in playing by the rules, etc.

The Nominal Hero is the exception to this rule. While at least technically on the side of good, their motivations are neutral at best.

So why are they on the side of good? Usually, it's one of the following:

  • Leave Me Alone: They just want to keep to themselves. But that's not going to happen with the villain blowing everything up; or worse, specifically targeting them.
  • Annoyance/Revenge: For these characters, It's Personal. Maybe the villain did something to them (or to a loved one, which overlaps with the Relationships motivation below) in the past, or maybe they think the minion's uniform is tacky. They aren't interested in fighting evil, they want to see their opponent defeated. Often overlaps with Enemy Mine.
  • Boredom: These characters are basically fighting for good because they don't have anything better to do. They don't care if the heroes actually succeed, they just enjoy the adventure. A Heroic Comedic Sociopath or The Trickster might have this motivation.
  • Mutual Interest: These characters have selfish reasons to help the heroes succeed. Often, they are characters who would normally be villains, but at least for now are more concerned with stopping some other villain (perhaps the first villain just wants wealth and/or power, but the second one wants to destroy everything). Often an Enemy Mine. A Magnificent Bastard might aid heroes to manipulate events in their favor as a standard tactic. Or a heroic dissident fighting an oppressive regime might end up side-by-side with criminals who probably deserve to be imprisoned or executed.
  • Relationships: Not all Nominal Heroes are purely selfish. Some have a love interest or other that they do care about. A Nominal Hero might do something heroic to impress or rescue that someone, even though they couldn't care less if other people die. As mentioned above, this can also overlap with Annoyance/Revenge if the Nominal Hero is pissed off about something the villain did to a loved one.
  • Reward: These characters want something in return for their help, such as a share of the treasure, or simply something to look good on their resume. They aren't interested in whether anyone else benefits. The Miles Gloriosus is an example of a character type that might choose to join a band of heroes for this reason.
  • Force: Some characters become heroes because they literally aren't allowed to be anything else. Maybe they're on an Explosive Leash or are a Cosmic Plaything, but when they fight for the side of good, it's only because it's their only option other than perhaps death.
  • Lawful examples of this trope find themselves "stuck" to the good side by a deal, contract or some similar bind, or (more ideally) simply out of a sense of loyalty to the heroes.
  • Other motivations: Not all Nominal Heroes need to have a motivation that makes any sense to others. They might be a Cloudcuckoolander or have Blue-and-Orange Morality.

This type of hero is rarely averse to working alone, with other heroes. On a team of otherwise conventional heroes, they'll often be in an Enemy Mine, Sociopathic Hero, or Token Evil Teammate role. Other heroes may only work with them because they could use all the help they can get, or specifically to keep an eye on the hero-in-name-only so that they don't become a more serious threat.

In terms of sympathy, most Nominal Heroes are Noble Demons. Many other tropes about questionable heroes can overlap with Nominal Hero, but most are not true subtropes:

Note: This is for In-Universe characterization. Subjective/Audience Reaction interpretations go in Designated Hero.


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  • The old Wilkins Coffee commercials have Wilkins, who looks to be the usual "peppy guy who convinces the grumpy-gus to like the product"—except that, unlike most such characters, Wilkins is also incredibly willing to use violence to get his point across. In many commercials, he threatens Wontkins for not liking coffee or preferring a different brand, and in quite a few, he outright kills him. It's all Played for Laughs, though.

    Comic Books 
  • The vast majority of Gaulish villagers in Asterix are like this. They're only heroic at all because they're fighting against The Empire, which they mostly just pick on, usually for fun, rather than make any serious rebellion against them. They have two reasons for fighting them — they love fighting (even turning on each other when Romans aren't available) and they're incredibly set in their ways, usually even when the Roman way is better. They started out intended more as a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits La Résistance but got Flanderized into this mostly because it's funnier. Asterix, Obelix, and Getafix are much nicer people, though.
  • Virtually the entire superhero community in The Boys. Thanks to the massive media empire built around them by Vought-American, they don't even have to save anyone to be considered heroes as embellished comic lines surrounding their supposed "adventures" are made, and many let the fame and money go to their heads and end up becoming narcissistic sociopaths. Several of them used to even be supervillains but only switched to the "hero" side because it pays better.
  • Deadpool is a Noble Demon Sociopathic Hero. He easily eclipses even The Punisher, as he frequently finds it funny to casually torture, dismember, and murder people. Though in later years, Deadpool has become more and more heroic, to the point where he's a solid Anti-Hero in the place of his old Nominal Hero status. To the point where he was the Only Sane Man and the conscience of the X-Men's Black Ops squad under Wolverine who thought that killing the kid who was Apocalypse's reincarnation is just wrong. Throughout the arc, he became more and more heroic too via Character Development, and even convinced the kid to join the Jean School for the Gifted so he can use his powers for good instead of evil.
  • The Clipper, a "hero" from the Great Depression era who is mentioned in The Flash. While he gunned down poor people driven to crime by desperation and then cut off the tips of the ears of the survivors, he lived in a fancy mansion and had it easy. He's quoted as having said "it doesn't matter if they're guilty, it matters if they're dead!" indicating he didn't even bother to check if his victims were innocent.
  • Hellblazer's John Constantine is also a milder case. But being an Anti-Hero, many of his battles are because he was being forced to comply, for personal gain (ready to sacrifice anyone), or simply just being bored and wanting to do some shit.
  • The Incredible Hulk can frequently turn into this. While he generally dislikes the "puny humans" (and understandably so, given how often they provoke him or misblame him for things that are someone else's fault) he nonetheless ends up doing a lot of good by smashing villains whose plans threaten humanity, even if it's only because they made the mistake of pissing him off. This is especially pronounced with the more intelligent varieties of Hulk, such as Joe Fixit or the Green Scar, who are entirely cognizant of the damage they do and don't tend to particularly care.
  • In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hyde, Griffin, and Nemo are a murderer, serial rapists, and psychopathic pirate respectively, who are offered an official pardon if they'll turn those qualities against the Empire's enemies. In the film version, Griffin is replaced by Lovable Rogue Rodney Skinner, and Hyde and Nemo get a makeover. In the second volume of the comic, Griffin eventually becomes a straight-up villain when he betrays humankind to the Martians. His characterization never really changes, though, which shows how nominal a hero he was to begin with.
  • Scrooge McDuck develops into one by the "Empire Builder From Calisota" chapter of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. His life experiences have hardened him to the point that he's become a corrupt robber baron, hates his family, has Ignored Epiphanies, and only derives joy from getting even richer. He is redeemed later on, however.
  • Depending on the Writer, Lobo is sometimes portrayed as one, instead of a Satire/Parody/Pastiche of an unstoppable villain-full-stop. Considering that he is literally worse than Hitler, without any hyperbole involved, as he wiped out his own Pillars of Moral Character utopian species for kicks and giggles... when he was a teenager, this reveals a lot about media conventions in general.
  • Sub-Mariner: Namor can veer between this and Unscrupulous Hero depending on the book and era. Unless he's the villain of the piece.
  • Sabretooth usually tends to be this. If he's working with the heroes, it's because he was forced to and/or had something to gain. In other instances, he's tried to do right by a love interest. Holly & Bonnie are examples. He's not a hero when he meets either of them, but was very protective of them, and would've possibly settled down with them had they survived. During the AXIS event, Creed was inverted into a hero due to a spell gone wrong by Scarlet Witch. He starts off as a truly heroic figure wanting to atone for his sins, even refusing to kill for a time. During Uncanny X-Men (2016), his nominal hero tendencies returned after developing feelings for Monet St. Croix, whose well-being he cared more about than anyone else. He's still inverted and repentant, but when Monet is around, his priorities shift.
  • In Sam & Max: Freelance Police, Max considers it a compliment to be called a grade-A sociopath, and was even dubbed the most terrifyingly dangerous force in the universe by the villain in Season One of the Telltale games. The only thing that really seems to keep him in line is his less sociopathic partner. In most other media, both Sam and Max qualify as this, with their loose moral compass mostly putting them on the side of good because while they are unhinged sociopaths, they find it more fun to direct their brand of justice on people who really deserve it.
  • The Beyonder in Secret Wars II tried being a superhero for a while, just for the heck of it. He quickly got bored and decided instead that he wanted to destroy everything.
  • In Sin City, Miho's motives are unknown since she is mute, but she seems to have loyalty almost exclusively to Old Town. She has assisted Dwight in the past only because he once saved her life but that didn't stop her from essentially threatening to kill him if he interfered while she was torturing a corrupt cop in the middle of the street. Otherwise, the best you can say about her is that she doesn't target innocent people. In the first movie, she does seem like an Unscrupulous Hero, but only because it covered her more heroic actions.
  • Suicide Squad head Amanda Waller. Depending on the Writer she is either this or a Knight Templar; her job is always in the government's best interest, but she sometimes uses methods that tend to be too extreme. Her plans are not limited to recruiting supervillains to get the job done but extend to outright hunting superheroes.
  • The third Captain Marvel, Genis-Vell, ending up becoming this during a period of madness (caused by Entrophy). Genis became something of a Villain Protagonist with a severely warped sense of justice and rabid sense of entitlement. Rick Jones, to whom Genis was molecularly bonded, constantly opposed him and (rightly) questioned Genis's sanity. On one occasion, Genis bestowed powers upon a serial killer whom his friend Rick Jones had testified against in order to get the killer to stalk both Rick and his wife, Marlo. After putting Rick through absolute hell to the point where death seemed certain, Genis then executes the serial killer and explains to Rick that all of this was to teach Rick that he only lived on Genis's own whims and that he was never to question him again. He does get better once freed from Entrophy's control.
  • In New 52, Superboy is this initially. This version of Superboy has no interest in heroics beyond what it takes to survive/gain his freedom. Between the first and second issues, he kills many of his captors by reflex and feels no remorse or guilt, tortures a group of soldiers who hold him at gunpoint, and flat-out threatens to kill anyone who stands in his way. Issue #4 steers him toward being a Knight in Sour Armor, and he eventually becomes an All-Loving Hero.
  • In Violine, Kombo is cowardly, greedy, willing to betray his friends for money, and prone to abandon the heroes to their death at the first sign of trouble, but is treated by the main characters as an ally. If no one is around to steer him onto the right path, the plot will conspire to do so anyway, and he will take credit for "saving" everyone.
  • From Watchmen, the Comedian: a thrill-killing Blood Knight, rapist, war criminal, and all-around Psycho for Hire (and he's actually a more sympathetic version of the trope, believe it or not).
  • Wonder Woman: Hercules tries to be heroic, but this is hampered by Deliberate Values Dissonance and the fact he cares little for the people he is supposed to save, expecting them to pretty much grovel at his feet. It also doesn't help that he's a rapist perpetually stuck in a Heel–Face Revolving Door, for a given value of "face".

    Fan Works 
  • A Brighter Dark: Hans, of all people, rescues Sakura and Mozu from Nohrian bandits for the purely selfish motivation of retiring safely in Hoshido, who he believes will inevitably win the war.
  • Array from the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Chronicles of Harmony's End. He represents Order, and therefore opposes Discord on principle rather than morality.
  • Chloé intends to become this in Chloé's Lament. Having Wished to trade places with Marinette, she expects to become this new reality's Ladybug, and immediately starts scheming about all the ways she could abuse that power. Such as stealing the Miracle Box for herself, sabotaging and destroying the reputations of anyone she chooses to target, and withholding her Miraculous Cure unless she's paid handsomely for her efforts. Fortunately for everyone else, she fails her Secret Test of Character without ever realizing she was going to be tested in the first place, and the Ladybug Earrings are entrusted to Sabrina instead.
  • Nikolos Drakonakos from The Conversion Bureau: The Palladium Wings is the extremely cruel, borderline sociopathic leader of a band of Sky Pirates. He fights against the Equestrians out of sheer hatred and desire for booty. In fact, many of the Sky Pirates have the same motivations that he does.
  • The Devil of Zero: Vergil is just as power-hungry as he was in the past and as anti-ethical in his methods of dealing with his enemies. It's just that he's on the side of good due to being Louise's familiar.
  • Hakeev, of all people, in the Star Trek Online fanfic Emael Mosekhesailho. He's still definitely a very evil man—he's a leading officer of the Tal'Shiar and at one point he casually speaks of mounting a reprisal pogrom against the Remans after Shinzon is dealt with—but in trying to topple Shinzon and root out the conspiracy that put him in power, he's on the same side as protagonist Sahuel t'Khnialmnae, whom he's trying to recruit into the agency.
  • Fade: Beyond Birthday. The only reason he bothers opposing Kira is that he hates L, who has become Kira in his attempts to stop the original's rise to power. It's implied that if L hadn't become Kira, he would've sided with the original instead just to get back at L. Once Light enters the picture and becomes L's partner (mainly due to a combination of attraction and Stockholm Syndrome), Beyond's motivation goes from "stop L" to "stop L and save Light" in quick fashion.
  • Ulquiorra from A Hollow in Equestria fits the lawful kind of Nominal Hero, something he spells out when Luna first calls him a hero, noting that the things he's done in the past without remorse mean he can't be a hero by their standards.
  • In Iron Will's Foalcon Necrophilia Sex Rampage Iron Will is the only hero of the story. The only other character apart from Sweetie Belle is the computer shop owner who finds Iron Will's stash of foalcon and tries to extort money from him.
  • Discussed in It's Over, Isn't It (it's only just begun) after Inko learns about Katsuki's bullying. When her six-year-old son tries to insist that he doesn't want to get Kacchan in trouble because he's going to be a hero, Inko gently questions his logic, walking him through the realization that if his bad behavior is never challenged, he wouldn't be a very good one:
  • Godzilla himself in Kaiju Revolution, as even though he seeks to protect the planet from hostile forces, it's mainly due to him seeing the world as his territory. He frequently clashes with the other benevolent Kaiju and is extremely destructive and aggressive, obliterating cities and devouring other monsters.
  • The people who identify as Animals in The Keys Stand Alone could be seen as these since they were brought over by the Pyar gods as heroes to help overthrow the Black Tower and its minions. Theoretically, they're doing this, though all the reader ever hears about them is what miserable torturing cruel bastards they are. Several minor characters even express bewilderment that the gods would bring over such people as potential saviors.
  • Latias' Journey has an in-universe example in the Red Ranger. An amoral and borderline sociopathic "superhero" is designated as heroic by Mr. Ford.
  • Midoriya, Plus Three-Sixty-Five: The majority of Izuku's classmates in this For Want of a Nail fic are primed to become nominal heroes. Much like Katsuki, they've been coddled and praised for having powerful Quirks, allowed to bend the rules and get away with stunts. Suffice to say, they're shocked when Aizawa refuses to allow them to continue their selfish ways, and most wind up expelled for their bad behavior, such as engaging in underage drinking and nearly offing a classmate with a barely-averted Deadly Prank.
  • Inverted with the Black Arachnid in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines. As opposed to his canon counterpart, his incarnation in this story is a Gentleman Thief who only targets people who are way worse than him, and takes something of historical or monetary value from them as punishment for their actions. However, despite some doubts among the members of the police force, they make it clear that he's still a thief and it's their duty to catch him.
  • Jen Black in Princess of the Blacks is only fighting Voldemort and his forces because 1) He tried to kill her (Jen even admits to herself she probably wouldn't have bothered reporting his return if he hadn't), and 2) Her patron (Death) has demanded she kill him. When asked, Jen admits she wouldn't join Voldemort, not for moral reasons, but because he's made himself her enemy.
  • A Rabbit Among Wolves: Jaune is trying to reform the White Fang and battle corruption, but he has zero genuine interest in either cause. But having accidentally murdered Adam Taurus, he has inadvertently become Public Enemy #1 and wants to prove to the public he isn't a cold-blooded killer. He even admits that if not for his situation, he'd probably ignore the plight of the poor.
  • Lieutenant Commander Brokosh, the Lethean protagonist of the Star Trek Online fic Red Fire, Red Planet. He does follow an ethical code of his own making, but he's a mercenary who signed with the Klingon Defense Force for the money since he's married to a minor Klingon noblewoman from an Impoverished Patrician house and they have a son to support.
  • In Scarlet Lady, Chloe Bourgeoise as the titular heroine, full stop. She has no interest in fighting Akuma or saving Paris, just in getting famous and beloved. She makes her partner Chat Noir do the lion's share of the work and just uses her Lucky Charm/Miraculous Cure as needed. Pretty much everyone who knows her personally hates her (and only put up with her because she's the only one who can purify Akumas and fix the damage), but her talent for playing the media ensures that the world at large thinks she's the real deal.
  • The Harry Potter depicted in Seventh Horcrux is a Retired Monster with the mind of Voldemort and a major-league Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist. He's entirely amoral but still ends up saving the world largely by accident or for selfish reasons. Of course, it helps that he's mellowed out of the blatant sadism and racism of his canon counterpart.
  • This is played for horror in Two Letters with the new Ladybug. While she still saves the city on a regular basis, she's only in it for the money and fame, and she's willing to weaponize her rabid fanbase to ruin the life of anyone who crosses her. She uses this to extort bribes from anyone with enough money, force the city to cater to her whims, and generally boost her own ego. Most of her fans are too devoted to pick up on this, and those who do won't speak out for fear of becoming her next target. The Reveal at the end confirms this also applies to Marinette. From Luka's perspective, she's been through hell as Ladybug and is well within her rights to wash her hands of Paris's problems and air some lingering grievances in the bargain. While she's a bit too gleeful about the misfortune her retirement has caused, he's hopeful that she'll improve with time. However, Marinette's POV reveals that she's been traumatized to the point of becoming a Yandere who only cares about herself and is convinced that she deserves to revel in everyone else's misery after what she went through. She's only playing nice outwardly to keep up appearances for Luka. Oh, and if Luka ever tries to leave her, she'll remake the entire universe to force him to stay with her forever.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Braveheart, Steven the Irishman seems to have only joined the Scots because he'll be able to kill Englishmen, not to help the Scots get freedom.
  • Death Note (2017): Light Turner becomes this after Mia kills the FBI agents. Before that happened, he was an Unscrupulous Hero, as he used the Death Note to make the world a better place. But afterwards, he used it to keep it from people worse than him.
  • Escape from New York: When ordered to rescue the President of the United States, Snake Plissken would gladly hijack his transportation and fly to Canada, but a bomb planted in his body makes him do otherwise.
  • The Heisei incarnation of Godzilla saves the world, or at least Tokyo from other monsters, but it's not clear whether he has any motivations other than territorial instinct and devotion to his son, "Junior".
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Blondie is "The Good", but only because the other two main characters are even worse.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: All of the Guardians have some kind of criminal past, and even Token Good Teammate Groot has apparently spent some time kidnapping and/or impaling people for money as Rocket's accomplice. They're interested in stopping Ronan either to save themselves or to get revenge on him for wronging them in the past.
  • Hulk is a milder example. But it's not entirely clear (until possibly the end) if the title character really knows and/or understands what he's doing.
  • I Shot Jesse James: Robert Ford is more than willing to kill Jesse James (and later, John Kelley) when he thinks it’ll get him Cynthy’s hand. However, he also has a sense of honor and seems decent enough in every other aspect of his life.
  • James Bond: Unlike his novel counterpart, Bond himself is too heroic for this trope, varying from Pragmatic Hero to Unscrupulous Hero Depending on the Writer. However, several of his allies do qualify.
    • Goldfinger: Pussy Galore is a full participant in Goldfinger's plot to set off a nuclear bomb at Fort Knox, which would kill 60,000 people and cause economic chaos in the entire western world, and is motivated solely by money. While she eventually pulls a Heel–Face Turn and does more to stop Goldfinger than even Bond himself, her motivations for this are a combination of falling in love with Bond and realizing her partnership with the dangerously psychopathic Goldfinger is doomed anyway rather than any sudden change in morality.
    • On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Marc-Ange Draco is the head of one of the world's most powerful crime syndicates. He only becomes Bond's ally in the first place because he wants Bond to marry his daughter Tracy, as a form of therapy for her suicidal depression brought on by her first husband's death, and he is so casually sexist and dismissive towards Tracy that even the notoriously misogynistic Bond is taken aback. He supplies Bond with an army to defeat Blofeld and SPECTRE in the Final Battle not to prevent Blofeld's plan to hold the world to ransom with the Omega Virus, but solely to save his daughter as Blofeld had kidnapped her.
    • Goldeneye and The World Is Not Enough: Valentin Zukovsky is an ex-KGB operative turned Russian mafia head. He helps Bond in the former film only because Bond bribes him with military equipment, and in the latter out of revenge for Elektra King betraying him and killing his nephew. Though he develops a begrudging respect for Bond as a Worthy Opponent and possibly even a friend, he is still an unrepentant criminal who will help save the day only when this aligns with his personal interests.
  • In John Wick, John himself. He massacres dozens of mobsters simply because the son of their boss, Iosef, killed his puppy and flat-out threatens to kill Viggo if he doesn't hand over Iosef. He's kept from being a full-on Villain Protagonist by a strict sense of honor (for starters, he takes great pains to avoid collateral damage) and the fact that, well, he's going up against The Mafiya.
  • All the protagonists of Kelly's Heroes are disgruntled US soldiers, who intend to abscond to Switzerland with 16 million dollars in Nazi Gold. They never do anything outright evil and are all fairly sympathetic in that they are repeatedly pissed on by their superiors and blamed for things they had no power over, but are also very blatantly only out to line their own pockets and don't care much about what they have to do to get what they want.
  • Lampshaded and played for laughs in Mystery Men. Captain Amazing is constantly viewed by the residents of Champion City as a great hero, even though he is often rude, inconsiderate, thoughtless, and only interested in making money off his powers. He even brings about the events of the film, unwittingly, by getting his archnemesis released from prison so he can fight someone worthy (and save his sponsorship deals), eventually getting himself killed stupidly in the process. The audience isn't supposed to like him. Their sympathies instead lie with the title characters, who are the underdogs of the superhero world; most of them have crappy superpowers (such as only turning invisible when literally nobody is watching...not even himself), and they're respected by next to nobody in the city they've sworn to protect.
  • Nobody: Hutch Mansell is a man with a lot of pent-up anger, and unlike similar protagonists in other action films (like, say, John Wick), he's only looking for an excuse to snap and lash out instead of any kind of justice or revenge. He also shows no remorse for the violence he did in his past or in the present. The only thing that stops him from being a straight-up villain is that the people he's fighting against are just as bad as he is.
  • Amleth is only the "hero" of The Northman because Fjölnir is a horrible person who destroyed his life and Amleth is paying in kind. Beyond that, Amleth is just as much of a brutal warrior who engages in, at least, the "pillage and burn" parts of Rape, Pillage, and Burn, as well as slavery at first, and it could be argued that he only freed Fjölnir's slaves at the end merely to provide a distraction; and although he doesn't directly harm women or children, he's got no problem with his fellow berserkers doing it. Even so, by the end, he has killed a woman and a child, who were also his kin, making him a kinslayer like Fjölnir too, albeit in self-defense. They have similar positive qualities too, making Amleth only A Lighter Shade of Black. In general, the movie consistently shows that Amleth and Fjölnir are similar; both products of their time and culture.
  • MacNamara (James Cagney) in One, Two, Three. He cheats on his wife, neglects his children, and all of his actions are motivated entirely by self-interest. To get the prize job in London (for which he already has bought a new umbrella), he has no scruples to destroy the happiness of a young couple, make the marriage documents vanish from the registry office, frame the bridegroom as an American spy, destroying his intended career and at the very least ensuring that he spent several years in prison. Then unfortunately it turns out the bride, the only daughter of MacNamara's boss, is pregnant...
  • The Rise of Skywalker: Admiral Hux becomes The Mole for The Resistance within the First Order. When confronted by the heroes about it, Admiral Hux states the rationale for this is so that rival Kylo Ren loses, and the best way to accomplish that is by having The Resistance win the war.
  • Starship Troopers. Humanity in this film is a race of arrogant, jingoistic, xenophobic bastards run by an openly fascist and militaristic People's Republic of Tyranny. Their every action in the war against the Klendathu Arachnids is framed as heroic by in-universe propaganda, embodying the film's intended satire on militarism.
  • In The Street Fighter, Takuma "Terry" Tsurugi is a brutal and pitiless man. He sells a girl into slavery and kills her brother when they're not able to pay him for services rendered, and he's not above sacrificing innocents that he's not directly helping. He avoids Villain Protagonist territory by fighting against Yakuza, whom he despises, and working to protect the good guys, even though he does so for his own reasons. In the Video Game version, he's portrayed in a somewhat more positive light.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day: The T-800 is a killer machine with no emotions, only protecting and following the orders of a ten-year-old because of his programming. By the end of the film, he's able to understand human behaviour and emotions, so he becomes a more traditional hero over the course of the movie.
  • The Terminator from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines plays this far more straight. At one point he even flatly admits he doesn't care at all about John or Kate and is only protecting them because it's his mission. Even toward the end, when he's been corrupted by the T-X and is about to kill John, it's being reminded that he's about to fail his mission that makes him stop.
  • Thor: The Dark World: Loki's reasons for helping Thor defeat Malekith are fairly selfish (Loki wants to avenge Frigga's murder, and this mission offers him an opportunity to escape his prison cell), but he nevertheless puts his life on the line to achieve their mutual goal.
  • Vendetta: As evil as Victor Abbott may be, let's not forget that Mason Danver's plan is to kill a man who, while a criminal, had nothing to do with the death of his wife, so he'll be sent to prison, where he can murder Abbott for a crime he's already been arrested and incarcerated for.
  • Yojimbo: Sanjuro cleans up the town in which the film takes place, not out of concern for the people, but because he jumped at the opportunity to make money killing people. He's kept from being a Villain Protagonist only by one or two Pet the Dog moments and the fact that his victims are even worse.

  • Beast Tamer:
    • Arios Orlando is a deconstruction. He's a hero only because he has the Hero skill "Limit Breaker", which he inherited, and allows him to be humanity's champion against the Demon Lord and its armies. However, he's an arrogant, entitled asshole who thinks all the people in the world only exist as part of his personal heroic tale. He has no moral scruples and believes he can do whatever he wants to whoever he wants without consequence just because of his Hero title. He's also a Sore Loser who wants murderous vengeance against the protagonist Rein Shroud whom he kicked out of the party at the start of the story because Rein wasn't outright begging to be let back in the party when the party needed him to do something, fully intending to kick him out again, and instead fighting back when Rein dared to defend the honor of this new Battle Harem party. Arios lost and was forced to apologize. The instant he loses his "hero" title because his crimes are too grievous, he turns on the rest of the party and joins up with the Demon Lord to get revenge on humanity for the "disrespect" he's getting in not being recognized as a hero anymore.
    • The rest of the Hero party also qualifies for being Arios's escorts on his assigned quest against the Demon Lord. The commoners loathed them for their snobbery and being suck-ups to nobility and the wealthy while treating the commoners as dirt beneath their boots and they're even shown outright abandoning people in distress the moment they lose the tactical advantage and passing off the blame to others, and enforcing this shift of blame with blackmail and threats of force. It's not until Arios himself turns on them that they realize that they're not heroes at all.
  • Beware of Chicken: The magistrate of Verdant Hill is universally beloved, and he does in fact do quite a lot of good for the province, but when the narrative peeks inside his head, it becomes clear that his motivations are entirely selfish and petty. He is thoroughly addicted to having everyone's praise and approval, and so he does what it takes to keep getting those things — meaning that he's a rather good ruler in practice, but without any actual moral principles. Jin finds him to be exceedingly helpful, and assumes it's because of his great care and concern for his people; it's really driven by his constant stomach-churning fear that Jin will raze the town if angered.
  • Raistlin Majere is this in the original Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy. Really the only thing keeping him with the Heroes of the Lance is some lingering affection for some of them and the presence of his brother Caramon. Even during Chronicles Raistlin started drifting towards becoming the Token Evil Teammate and the Face–Heel Turn was complete by the next trilogy Legends. Still, he did earn his Redemption Equals Death and had a few Pet the Dog moments.
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh has its titular character, who doesn't really become properly "heroic" until the end of the story—he starts off as a cruel tyrant, and even after meeting Enkidu and mellowing out somewhat, he's still immature and self-centered. It's only when he learns to accept mortality that he becomes a good king.
  • Senna Wales, the witch of Everworld. She is motivated by her completely selfish goal of overthrowing the powers of Everworld, seizing control over the foundations of reality, and then ruling over the universe as an absolute god. However, she is kept from being a Villain Protagonist because most of the real villains that she opposes (Huizilopocli, Hel, Ka Anor) are monsters, she helps the other protagonists more often than she goes against them, and she seems to genuinely think that Everworld and its people would be better off with her ruling them all.
  • Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books does have something of a moral compass, in that he aims to atone for his mistreatment and inadvertent betrayal of The Lost Lenore by avenging her death. He doesn't care much for anyone else, though, as evidenced by his general nastiness… though this may have changed under the years of working with Dumbledore, taking into account his reply to Dumbledore on the lives he couldn't save, and risking blowing his cover to attempt to save Lupin's life at the start of the final book.
  • Everyone knows who James Bond is, but James Bond in the original Ian Fleming novel is a homophobic and sexist character who has no problems showing his disdain towards women doing work associated with men and the existence of lesbians. Ian Fleming noted in an interview that this was intentional.
    Ian Fleming: I don't think that he is necessarily a good guy or a bad guy. Who is? He's got his vices and very few perceptible virtues except patriotism and courage, which are probably not virtues anyway ... But I didn't intend for him to be a particularly likeable person.
  • Hybrid × Heart Magias Academy Ataraxia: As of Volume 8, Nayuta Hida has joined the protagonists in their battle against the Deus Ex Machina. Nayuta has no regrets about what she has done for her pursuit of godhood, such as the way she treated her children, and makes no attempts to redeem herself. For their part, Kizuna and the others know this and only accept her help because she is the best chance they have against the Deus Ex Machina.
  • Brazilian novel Macunaíma follows the adventures of the eponymous character, who is labeled as the "hero without virtues". One of his first "heroic" acts is to rape the queen of the Amazons, which earns him the title of King of the Jungle. Later on, he sets out to São Paulo to reclaim a mystic amulet from a man-eating monster, though he spends most of his time enjoying himself in the city's brothels. Finally, his envy of his own brother leads him to pull a prank that accidentally leads to the deaths of all his family members.
  • Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen:
    • Karsa Orlong is just about as anti as a hero can get. Being a deconstruction of the Proud Warrior Race Guy and Barbarian Hero, Karsa aims to improve the world... by slaughtering millions of people and smashing civilization back to barbarism.
    • Seerdomin is a hero to the Redeemer's followers because his daily presence at the barrow discourages bandits from entering the camp surrounding it, but his reasons for visiting are rather personal and he is even surprised that people would look up to him.
  • The protagonist of The Mental State, Zack State, appears to be this. He never does anything virtuous unless he can justify it with a selfish motive. Of course, it is open to interpretation as to whether this is always the case, or if he is simply trying to convince himself that he doesn't care about others.
  • Max Dembo from No Beast So Fierce. He's an ex-convict making a genuine attempt to reform, but it's motivated entirely by pragmatism and he's shown to be racist, homophobic, misogynistic, short-tempered, and amoral. He does have a few Pet the Dog moments, but after enough rejections and humiliations, he dovetails right back into being a criminal.
  • Yarol, the Venusian sidekick in C.L. Moore's Northwest Smith stories, is heavily implied to be this. The narration never specifies his enormities, but hints that his angelic beauty belies his absolutely evil nature.
  • Uhtred Ragnarsson of Bebbanburg, the main protagonist of the Saxon Stories, is this in his halfhearted service of Alfred the Great. Although he would much rather accompany the Danish invaders, certain events forced him to make an oath of service to King Alfred that he refuses to break.
  • Sherlock Holmes. In the early stories particularly, he's more interested in fighting crime for the novelty of it, and the fact that the more unusual cases give him something to do; if he gets too bored he starts doing cocaine. Later stories shy away from the drug use and make him a bit more classically heroic, though his main fascination with his work is still the strangeness of his cases. He rarely shows an interest in financial gain; he even states that "my work is its own reward." Holmes's motivation is really a combination of a sense of justice but also of a desire for a worthy challenge. He takes cases whose riddles he will enjoy trying to solve. You could say that he is a heroic foil of The Riddler who enjoys creating riddles.
  • Many of the heroes in Worm are morally dubious or in it for the sake of their own careers. The clearest example is Shadow Stalker — a thrill-seeking psychopath with a poorly articulated philosophy that serves only the purpose of placing her at the top of the food chain and regularly brutalizes or kills criminals when she thinks she can get away with it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24 protagonist Jack Bauer skirts along this trope during the show's eight seasons but manages to stay away from it for the most part. The sequel mini-series "Live Another Day," however, shows that he's officially entered this territory due to how much his experiences in the show's original run have soured him. He comes out of hiding to save the day again solely because he learned that his old flame Audrey and her father and his former boss James Hellar were in danger and displays a much more ruthless attitude than he did during the original series, including shooting a group of people in order to incite a riot for a diversion and outright murdering the main villain of the first half of the season with little provocation even after she's been successfully captured, a stark contrast to the original seasons where he primarily killed only in self-defense or if someone murdered someone important to him.
  • Andromeda: Tyr Anazasi is a mercenary. He is also a Nietzschean, a member of a Human Subspecies that practices enlightened self-interest, genetic engineering, and social darwinism. Tyr is ultimately on no one's side but his own; he is not only not much of a hero, he is an out-and-out antagonist at times and will always play the heroes and villains against each other for his personal benefit (though he is more than willing to drop an immediate benefit for a larger, long term one). He will stand by the heroes, even at great personal risk, when their interests align with his and it seems like they will come out on top (which, he recognizes, is most of the time; Dylan and Rommie are good enough to beat the odds more often than not), but doesn't hesitate to throw the heroes under the bus when he thinks the risks are small and the payoff big enough.
  • Black Adder Lord Flashheart is a rare example of a Fake Ultimate Hero who really was brave and dashing and always won. He first appeared as an Elizabethan swashbuckler in season 2 and a dashing flying ace in season 4 and was handsome, bold, admired by all, adored by the ladies, and laughed in the face of danger. He was also an arrogant prat who boasted constantly, lied, sucked up to his superiors, patronized his admirers, and treated women as sex objects. And the only reason he always won was that he was an underhanded bastard who cheated and employed every dirty trick in the book.
  • Blake's 7:
    • Over the course of his development, Kerr Avon varies from Token Evil Teammate to a Jerk with a Heart of Gold but loses all sympathetic qualities towards the end of Series 4 when he tries to kill Vila in cold blood. He's still fighting the Lawful Evil Federation but he only cares about saving himself.
    • His reasons for fighting the Federation also change as time passes: in Season 1 he claims to have nothing to do with Blake's revolution other than living on the same ship, in Season 2 he's playing along because he wants the ship, in Season 3 the Federation is a threat to his freedom and by Season 4 he genuinely hates them, though by this time he's sliding down the sanity slope and it's hard to tell what his true motivations are.
    • Most of the other "good" main characters — except Blake, Cally, Dayna, and perhaps Jenna and Gan — are being dragged along behind Blake's idealism. They fight because there's nowhere for them to run.
    • Dayna seems to stay with Avon out of a combination of not having anywhere else to go and wanting revenge on Servalan for her father's murder. While the seven more or less end up as Fire-Forged Friends, only Blake and Cally really have anything approaching idealism, rather than being motivated by loyalty or self-interest, and they're both gone by Season 4.
  • The Book of Boba Fett: Boba Fett is a crime lord whose sole motivation is to consolidate his newfound power. The only things making him worth rooting for are his strict sense of honor, desire to rule with respect rather than fear, and the fact that his enemies are also notorious crime lords who are far worse than him.
  • Season 4 of Breaking Bad has protagonist Walter White slip into this. He's still a nasty piece of work, but the Juarez Cartel (represented by the Faux Affably Evil Don Eladio) and Gus Fring are much much worse than him.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike from seasons 4-6. After having a chip inserted in his head that prevents him from attacking humans, but still leaves him free to hurt demons, he frequently teams up with the Scoobies solely because it's the only way he can get a good fight. From season 5, he's also motivated by having fallen in love with Buffy and gains Dawn as a Morality Pet, but still operates on Blue-and-Orange Morality compared to the rest of the good guys and commits many horrifying actions. He grows out of this and becomes a true hero in season 7 after regaining his soul.
  • Dexter: The titular character is at the far, dark end of this to the point where he could fairly be considered simply a likeable Villain Protagonist, being a Serial Killer who was disciplined at a young age to channel his sociopathy toward killing other evildoers. By the end of Season 7, he is 100% Villain Protagonist.
  • Amos from The Expanse (who is very reminiscent of a heavily Flanderized Jayne) only seems to stick around with the others out of personal loyalty and/or Unrequited Love for Naomi and because he has nowhere else to go, at least in Season 1.
  • Farscape, which was blatantly Blake's 7 with money, was also filled with Nominal Heroes. The only reason why the main characters come together is that they're all being hunted by the oppressive government, but only one of them was anything approaching an idealistic revolutionary. (That one person was not the main protagonist and died just over halfway through the show's run.) In four seasons, they only consciously set out to do something "good" for the universe on two occasions, at the end of the third season and in the Grand Finale Wrap It Up. Amusingly lampshaded when Rygel offers to nobly escape their latest encounter with certain doom in order to carry their message, only to be reminded that they don't actually have one.
  • Father Ted: Father Jack Hackett is a violent, selfish, perverted alcoholic and flashbacks suggest he was once a bullying fire and brimstone preacher and a paedophile. The only thing keeping him from being a Villain Protagonist is that his alcoholism and old age usually render him too docile to harm anyone. And sometimes they do the exact opposite.
  • Firefly:
    • Jayne is working for Mal only because Mal offered him more money and his own bunk. When given the offer he immediately shot the mercenaries he was currently working for and sided with Mal. He makes it clear throughout the series that he would do the same again if a better offer came along... Maybe. The big lug goes through a lot of Character Development in thirteen episodes and one Big Damn Movie and shows regular signs of Hidden Depths.
    • Arguably this can be applied to all the crew (with the exception of Book, whose motivations are unclear though his loyalty less so), who are on the crew for either financial gain or survival. Though there are moments of sincere heroism that even Mal can't ignore — such as returning the medicine they stole (only Jayne objects), helping out the whores (which only Jayne agrees to when he realises it'll get him free whore sex), and risking everything to out the secret behind the Reavers (even Jayne agrees to this).
  • Game of Thrones:
    • In Seasons 3 and 4, Sandor "The Hound" Clegane, having abandoned his position as a Kingsguard for the tyrannical Lannister regime, works to return Arya Stark to her family, which is a heroic goal, though his primary motivation is the ransom he expects to be paid for her. He's still not by any means a good person, as he robs innocent peasants on two separate occasions, on the first barely being convinced not to murder his unconscious victim by Arya, and on the second leaving a kindly farmer and his young daughter to starve after the man had invited him into his home, given him a free meal and offered him a job. However, he despises (and helps Arya kill) monsters like the Frey soldiers who murdered her family at the Red Wedding and Psycho for Hire Polliver, and by the end of Season 4, he has come to care for Arya enough that he is now looking after her with no hope of a reward. After a near-death experience, he returns in Season 6 as a much more heroic character, albeit still not a particularly nice one, fighting to save the world from the White Walker invasion for purely noble reasons.
    • Bronn is a mercenary who fights for whichever side pays him best, including propping up oppressive monarchs like Joffrey and Cersei, resorts to dishonourable tactics in battle, and, in his time as Commander of the City Watch of King's Landing, uses extreme measures to keep the peace such as having every known thief in the city rounded up and summarily executed. Though he does have some standards, being clearly disgusted by Joffrey having Sansa Stark beaten by Meryn Trant in front of the Royal Court, the only reason he qualifies as a hero at all is that the characters he spends most of his time working for are Tyrion and Jaime, who the audience is generally inclined to sympathise with.
  • Selina Kyle in Gotham is a street thief who cares mostly about her own survival but springs to action when a friend needs help (Bruce and Bridgit) and tries to stop her old friend Ivy from murdering a lot of people
  • Downplayed in the two TV series, Henry Danger and Danger Force. Captain Man, the main protagonist and superhero of each show, starts off the series as a superhero who's dedicated to protecting the innocent and good citizens of Swellview, his hometown, because he cares for their peace and safety. Or, at least, so you would he goes through the show, Henry Danger, it becomes increasingly obvious that he really is only just a superhero because he enjoys the fame and praise he gets from the people, he enjoys being the romantic object of all the ladies' attention, and he enjoys flirting and swinging through all his romantic relationships with the ladies that give him that romantic attention he likes. Also, when it comes to fighting criminals and villains, he just loves fighting crime because he enjoys the sensation of beating up the bad guys knowing he's almost completely indestructible and invincible and that they never usually can stand a chance against him. However, his friends and companions will occasionally remind him of why he became a superhero in the first place to protect the innocent and keep the peace, which usually makes him feel guilty when they tell him or show him that he's taking his obsession with the fame and attention-seeking way too far.
    • In the spin-off series, Danger Force, when the Danger Force teens become Captain Man's sidekicks, they too start out like him and even go as far as promising that even though they respect and admire Captain Man as a mentor, they'll never become like him, only fighting crime for the fame and attention. However as the series goes along, especially in the second season, it becomes apparent that they're becoming more and more like Captain Man and that he's rubbing off on them way more than they'd probably be willing to admit, especially when it comes to only fighting crime because they want the fame, glory, and attention and because they like the romantic attention from their young teen peer fans who have romantic crushes on them.
  • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid:
    • Taiga Hanaya/Kamen Rider Snipe, who fights against the Bugsters not because he cares about the patients or their lives. He just wants to collect all the Gashats so can he destroy all the Bugsters and get his revenge on Graphite. He also doesn't care about who gets hurt because of his actions. However, he later reveals Hidden Depths and shows that this is mostly just an act of him pretending to be a jerk.
    • Former Big Bad Kuroto Dan/Kamen Rider Genm eventually joins the heroes, but not out of a change of heart. He's upset because his father Masamune, the new Bad, has hijacked his scheme and diverted it away from the purpose he intended it for, and taken credit for all his hard work. There are also bits of the Relationship and Force motivations there, as he feels a familial connection to Poppy (for reasons that are complicated to explain here) and can now be trapped in a Bugvisor if he starts acting up.
  • The Arms Monsters in Kamen Rider Kiva. They’re no fans of the Fangire, but they aren’t afraid to indulge in rape and eating humans to survive. They only assist Kiva as a life debt to his father.
  • Kamen Rider OOO: Ankh is only helping Eiji against the other Greeed because it's in his own best interests, and has no qualms about who is hurt so long as he gets what he wants. though he gradually transitions into a Knight in Sour Armor by the end.
  • Zigizagged on Leverage. In the pilot, the heroes are clearly only motivated by payback and greed. Throughout the rest of the series, their motivations flip back and forth in almost every episode between wanting to atone, wanting to help the victims, and the love of stealing. Also, the "alternative revenue stream" is occasionally mentioned, implying that the team continues to profit from their work by betting against their marks in the stock market like they did in the pilot.
  • While Lucifer Morningstar from Lucifer (2016) has a strong sense of right and wrong (albeit a very twisted one), the only reason why he joined up with Chloe and her investigations was that she fascinated him due to her moral compass and immunity to his charms and because he found punishing criminals to be exciting. He only ever stays the course whenever it interests him in any way, becoming easily distracted or simply dropping out of the case altogether if it bores him, only to re-enter the case if it suits his needs.
  • Power Rangers Lost Galaxy: Magna-Defender is like this. He may assist the rangers in taking down a monster or two and want to take down Scorpious, but he's only doing it for revenge. This definitely becomes clearer when he tries to destroy Terra Venture because it might destroy Scorpious. Although he gets better, near the end.
  • Revolution: Rachel Matheson reveals herself as this in "The Longest Day" when she directly tells Aaron that she wants to turn the power back on not to help anyone, but to give the other factions the power to kill Monroe as revenge for killing her son Danny.
  • Sherlock: In this 2010 BBC modernization, Sherlock Holmes describes himself as a "high-functioning sociopath," and cautions Dr. Watson: "Don't make people into heroes, John. Heroes don't exist; and if they did, I wouldn't be one of them." This shows that his motivations are not those of a typical straight hero and that he's possessed a very cynical worldview. His motivation is quite explicitly boredom and a need for intellectual stimulation.
  • The Shield:
    • Vic Mackey alternates between this and a full-on villain. He's a drug-dealing, manipulative, murderous Dirty Cop but he still frequently finds himself trying to bring down criminals far worse than he is and put an end to crime in Farmington… whenever he isn't behind it. He slowly but surely slips into full-blown villainy over the course of the series, especially as his cruel manipulation tactics start being turned on legitimately good people who just happen to be in his way.
    • With the exception of Lem, the rest of the Strike Team falls into this too. Ronnie is a loyal accomplice who doesn't bat an eye at even Vic's worst crimes and Shane is a short-tempered, violent bigot. However, they still aid Vic in his nobler endeavors just as loyally as they do with his crimes.
  • The Sopranos: Tony Soprano is a con artist, a thug, a womanizer, a thief, a murderer, an extortionist, and an adulterer. But the things separating him from a Villain Protagonist are his genuine love for his family, kindness to his friends, occasional pangs of guilt and moments of vulnerability, and the fact that his friends (and enemies) are even worse than he is. It actually makes him seem like a milder case of the trope... and then he loses much of it by Season 6B and the finale.
  • Crowley in Supernatural starts off as this. He's no less evil than the other demons, but he is the only one to realize that it's in his best interest to stop Lucifer from destroying humanity, as he knows Lucifer will come for the demons once he's done with the humans. He mostly acts as a straight-up villain once Lucifer is out of the picture, but periodically goes back to being this whenever he finds it in his interests to work with the Winchesters against an even more evil entity.
  • In The Wire many policemen and public servants don't really care about fighting crime or improving the city and would only perform good deeds when it furthers their own agendas.
  • On X Company Mirri asks to join the resistance spies in order to get the chance to kill her enemies.


    Professional Wrestling 
  • Invasion angles have a tendency to create faces by default since no matter how disagreeable a heel is he still represents the company the fans came to see, that those jerks are getting in the way of. Ray Gonzales, who was directly responsible for bringing AAA luchadores into WWC in the first place and only fell out with them when they stopped doing what he told them, is a prime example, since, hey, he's still a Puerto Rican fighting the foreigners in the Puerto Rican company. In fact, this can apply to invaders that have simply been around longer than more recent arrivals, such as the W*ING wrestles becoming faces in FMW when IWA Japan and Víctor Quiñones's Puerto Rican Army came in. The Dominican Los Compadres and Los Broncos becoming faces when different foreign wrestlers came into WWC and the Dominicans were nominal faces again when wrestlers from the Puerto Rican independent circuit came into WWC. There are a few aversions though, as Carlito Caribbean Cool remained a heel when Savio Vega invaded WWC with IWA PR (mainly because his argument to Vega about not being a tecato just made fans think he was lazy instead). Another was Averno, El Texano Jr and El Terrible taking advantage of first Los Independientes attack on CMLL to blindside Brazo de Plata, Jon Strongman and Místico, as they ran out to stop the independent circuit invaders.
  • In heel based promotions such as Fuyuki Army, Oz Academy, Kai En Tai Dojo, and Perros Del Mal Producciones or on heel-based shows like nWo Souled Out or the NWA Wildside "Elite" events, it is incredibly easy for a heel not associated with the dominant Power Stable to become a face by default, as Eddie Guerrero discussed when the nWo were taking over WCW.
  • In professional wrestling, good deeds, good sportsmanship, generally being a good person, and, of course, being a good or even adequate wrestler will get one cheered somewhat reliably. But audiences are not static; it's impossible to really know how they will react until you're in front of them, and any wrestler who gets consistently cheered for will become a face by default. Generally one designated face or heel beforehand will try to invoke the "correct" response or correct the opposite, but sometimes, fans set their minds on someone being worth cheering for, no matter how reprehensible that someone might be. In the lucha libre territories of pro wrestling, tecnicos have a slightly easier time with this, as the battle lines are more clearly defined, but if they get booed enough they'll turn rudo too.
  • "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in 1997. Although events involving Bret Hart made him firmly a face in the fans' eyes, he retained all of the aspects that made him a heel, to the point where some fans thought he was just a Designated Hero. He beat up people who tried to help him, smashed Bret Hart's leg into oblivion with a chair and then hijacked an ambulance to beat him up some more and generally acted like a massive Jerkass to everyone.
  • The only real differences between Triple H as a heel and as a face is whether or not he's directly insulting the fans, and how often he tries to weasel out of a fight.
  • Similarly, Randy Orton still acted as a heel after his 2010 face turn, beating up anyone who gets in his way.
  • La Sombra, La Máscara and especially Rush, the most hated man in CMLL, only avoided being officially designated rudos by the latter's sheer insistence that they were merely "Los Ingobernables, técnicos diferentes", and that the other técnicos they typically opposed like Volador Jr. and Místico were still their brothers.
  • Allysin Kay's Heel–Face Turn in Shine Wrestling began with Kay insulting her own fans and ended with her embracing them after all her friends "betrayed" her and she had no one else to turn to. This betrayal consisted of Kay's friends proclaiming that Kay was NOT The Leader of their Power Stable and making what they thought was a good business decision even though Kay was against it. All the initial violence in the resulting feud was instigated by Kay, something their Psycho for Hire Sweet Saraya called her out on, and when not feuding with her former friends Kay continued to try and force the Shine promotion to give her what she wanted by "destroying innocent girls". What made Kay a baby face was that the friends she betrayed had made five on one no holds barred beatdowns of genuine baby faces their modus operandi, the business she was against was them merging with an even crueler power stable and after her face turn none of the "innocents" Kay was destroying were actually innocent.

  • Satan in Series 5 of Old Harry's Game. The Story Arc of the season has Satan attempting to get humans to be less sinful because Hell is getting too overcrowded and it's placing an intolerable strain on the people who work there.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Voiree Misallo from 8BitGamers. Though firmly on the side of good after a religious experience and a genetic examination revealing her to be born with a semi-sociopathic defect, her motivation mostly has to do with wanting to avoid hell, keep her boyfriend, and remain friends with her True Companions.
  • Nagash is one of Warhammers biggest douchebags, and likely the single most evil person in the setting. He still has a vested interest against Chaos destroying the world however, and so for a good chunk of the lore, he's technically been a "good guy". The quotation marks are very much justified, and in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar it's no real surprise when he finally gives in to his baser urges. It's fair to say he was only prevented from betraying everyone in Warhammer: The End Times because one of the other "Why are we friends with this guy again?" characters, his subordinate Mannfred von Carstein, betrayed him before he had the chance. It speaks to Nagash's character well that the moment his soul was released from imprisonment in Age of Sigmar and ascended to godhood, one of his first actions was to bring Mannfred's soul back in a continually decaying part of his empire just to torment Mannfred by making him his servant again.


  • The Light Warriors in 8-Bit Theater (with the exception of Fighter) only possess the distinction of being protagonists due to showing up at the recruiting station at the right time. Both in-story and by Word of God, they are far worse than any of the monsters they end up facing. The worst of the lot are Black Mage (a pure Villain Protagonist and an Omnicidal Maniac who wants to deliver the world to Chaos) and Thief (a kleptomaniac Jerkass Miser Advisor and race elitist who's only in it to screw over as many people as possible). Red Mage is an amoral Munchkin who's in it for the XP but will happily commit atrocities toward that end. Fighter, on the other hand, is an Idiot Hero who is only going along with the others because he thinks they're actually on the side of good. Still, the epilogue has them being credited as the individuals who started the events that led to the world being saved. That is, by being responsible for the world-ending threat in the first place.
  • In Ansem Retort, the only difference between Axel and the villains he fights is that the villains want to destroy all of humanity at once while Axel would prefer to do it one person at a time.
  • Abigail from BACK seeks to overthrow a corrupt dictatorship, but only so that she may more easily bring about the apocalypse. Any lesser villain she fights is because they got in her way.
  • Curse Quest: It is unclear why Avalon is even in the group considering he cheers on monsters trying to kill his teammates and pretending to be someone else when he needed to provide identification in the International Heroes Guild book. He does get excited about getting a quest to the Land of Avalon, so it can be assumed he has ulterior motives and is simply siding with the heroes as a cover.
  • Girl Genius: Tarvek is really only a "hero" because he cares about Agatha and Gil, something which led him to realize just how messed up mind-controlling the masses really is. He has at least one other surviving person he cares about, but that sibling-like relationship would have done nothing to prevent him from fulfilling the destiny the Knights of Jove were planning for him and generally being a back-stabbing manipulator. He also admits that he's willing to burn the whole world down to protect them no matter who he has to kill.
  • Homestuck:
    • The Midnight Crew are a group of bloodthirsty, vicious criminals. The only thing that keeps them from being outright Villain Protagonists of the first Intermission is the fact that the gang they're facing off against, the Felt, is even worse and is led by the Greater-Scope Villain of the whole story.
    • Vriska is normally fairly solidly on the heroes side, and still comes across as a villain most of the time. Any time she becomes too sympathetic she'll gleefully kick some random dog, and never stops being in it mostly for her own ego.
  • Learning with Manga! FGO has its take on the protagonist, generally referred to as Gudako. As a satire of the average gacha fan, she's self-absorbed, lazy, a massive pervert, and plays the game to obtain as many pretty girl Servants as possible. She's so uninterested in actually resolving the plot that her Servants have taken to doing it themselves without her. Her male counterpart actually does try to get through the story, but he's pretty transparently doing it because he thinks it's the best way to get lots of cute boy Servants.
  • Magick Chicks: Melissa was introduced as an antagonist, back when she first appeared in Eerie Cuties, but was eventually given her own Spin-Off series which was meant to reform her — against her will. The comic stuck her with a sentient wand that acted as her conscience and Tiffany as her self-appointed instructor. Except Melissa couldn't care less and remained as self-centered and petty as before - despite occasional moments of heroism.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Eugene Greenhilt swore a Blood Oath to defeat Xykon the Sorcerer because the latter killed his mentor, but he was the one who muttered "yeah, whatever," afterwards. He was a horrible father and an inattentive husband, and the small amount of interest he has in Xykon being defeated is only because that oath he swore is keeping him from resting. He's only barely inside heaven in the afterlife. When his son Roy died and went to heaven, Roy was able to get much further inside heaven because unlike Eugene, he actually gave a damn and did everything he could to fulfill the family oath.
    • Belkar Bitterleaf is an unapologetic Heroic Comedic Sociopath with no actual redeeming qualities. At one point, Roy claims that the only reason he keeps Belkar around is to keep him from using his abilities to become a full-blown villain. Belkar's Stupid Evil antics are entirely deliberate on his part, as he finds being his own personal Mook Horror Show is not only entertaining but also an effective way of gaining XP. Later, he shifts to a more subdued Token Evil Teammate role and gains an actual Morality Pet of sorts, his Right-Hand Cat, Mr. Scruffy.
  • Ozzie the Vampire: Ozzie and Kimmy to varying extents. Ozzie doesn't care about humanity so much as protecting the city she lives in from demon invaders. Kimmy verges on being a Heroic Comedic Sociopath — it's implied she made some kind of deal with Grimsley that obligates her to fight and seal away demons.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, any time Bun-Bun does something good in the series, Pete Abrams is always careful to give him a completely selfish reason (usually either that the good guys bribed him, or that the villain happened to piss him off). It's rare that he's implied to do anything solely because he cares about a member of the main cast.
  • Sebastian in True Villains is a Living Legend who took on heroic exploits more for the thrill and reward than any real benevolence. He becomes a Villain Protagonist more or less as soon as he gets a more interesting offer from a demon he'd intended to vanquish.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The entire main cast of Archer. Most of them are petty, hedonistic assholes who are more concerned with their lavish lifestyles and do things that are morally questionable or just plain stupid in their spy business. The worst case however is Malory Archer, the head of ISIS who lies, manipulates, and abuses her workers for her own selfish gains. Worst yet, one of them happens to be her son Sterling Archer, whom she has abandoned and abused since he was a kid.
  • The titular character of Black Dynamite is brutal, aggressive, prejudiced, commits crimes on a regular basis, and rarely does anything out of altruism unless it affects one of his friends (and sometimes, not even then). He's mostly the good guy because he opposes "The Man", and The Man is much, much worse. In the original film, he was closer to an Unscrupulous Hero, willing to stick up for the black community as a whole even if it would endanger him.
  • Daffy Duck is usually portrayed this way when he's the hero. Usually his heroism is motivated either by glory, money, or because the true villain is a threat to him personally, and in the last case it's often made clear that he wouldn't do it if it were anyone else who was in danger. He tends not to care about the damage his "heroic" antics cause as long as he gets what he wants, and he is perfectly willing to screw those around him over for even the slightest benefit to himself. All of these traits carry over to his incarnation as Duck Dodgers.
  • Futurama features a few:
    • Zapp Brannigan is a selfish, womanizing, ignorant Jerkass Glory Hound whose incompetence is of epic proportions, and whose battle plans often if not usually call for callously sacrificing thousands of lives in order to further his own career. Nonetheless, he is a key asset for DOOP. In many appearances, though, he's a functional or outright antagonist due to his habit of screwing over the Planet Express crew.
    • Bender is an extremely selfish kleptomaniac and thus falls into nominal heroism at times. However, much of this can be excused by the fact that as a robot, he does not fully understand human needs and emotions. He also has quite a few Pet the Dog moments.
    • Professor Farnsworth is an amoral crackpot who treats human life as expendable and freely admits that he's always expected that he would cause the apocalypse one day. He's still always on the front lines to save the Earth whenever it's put into peril by an even more evil entity.
  • Damien Darkblood in Invincible (2021) is this and a literal Noble Demon. He's a Captain Ersatz of Hellboy who escaped from Hell and works as a Hardboiled Detective in order to redeem his soul by seeking justice for others and delay, if not prevent, returning. However, according to Omni-Man, his motivations are purely selfish and he doesn't actually care about the people he helps.
  • Cotton Hill from King of the Hill. While he (and Hank at times) love to remind everyone he "killed fitty men in WWII", Cotton is also a racist, sexist, bitter old man who treats everyone (except Bobby) with utter disrespect and contempt. It's also shown that he exaggerated many of his "heroic" deeds in the war (such as him claiming to have been shipped from Italy to the Pacific, but then also claiming to have participated in two different battles that took place at roughly the same time on entirely different fronts - the only front we can be sure he actually fought in is the Pacific since one two-part episode focuses on his illegitimate half-Japanese son). It's even discussed in one episode when Hank points out to Peggy that, despite all his many shortcomings and exaggerated war deeds, he did come back from the war with a chest of medals, both his shins blown off, and a lot fewer friends.
  • Varrick from The Legend of Korra. He's pretty friendly and helpful to the heroes, but he's motivated by self-interest and the villains just happen to be cutting in on his business. Come Book Four, however, he's actually started to grow a conscience, and with some (heavy-handed) prompting from Bolin, he joins the heroes for good.
  • Megas XLR: Coop can come across like this much of the time. He views M.E.G.A.S. as less like a vital weapon in Earth's defense and more like a fancy toy he can show off and play with. In many episodes, Coop only fights the villain because they did something to offend him and the only reason he is relied upon to pilot M.E.G.A.S. is that he modified it in such a way that only he can pilot it.
  • Metalocalypse has Dethklok, who are barely out of Villain Protagonist territory. Outside of being thicker than cement to a man, they're also supremely self-centered, showing a Lack of Empathy for any of the many, many people injured or killed as a result of their concerts. For the most part, their main motivation is to just live a hedonistic celebrity lifestyle with no limits, and they treat anything else as an inconvenience.
  • Rick on Rick and Morty is a very, very extreme example, bordering on Villain Protagonist. He's a reckless, insane Straw Nihilist who is blatantly emotionally abusive towards his family and has been repeatedly shown to always be only one night of heavy drinking away from turning into a full-blown Omnicidal Maniac. Even so, he has a handful of Pet the Dog moments and fights even more evil beings often enough to avoid being an outright villain: it helps that he clearly cares very deeply for Morty, no matter how much he denies it or abuses Morty in the process.
  • Eric Cartman from South Park can be one of these when he's working with the other boys towards any kind of cause. He usually comes across as helping out for his own personal amusement, but it is just as likely that he simply has mutual interests - in "Kenny Dies" he wanted to reinstate funding for stem cell research. He had 33 aborted fetuses he wanted to sell.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) has an In-Universe Show Within a Show example with Captain Ryan, the "hero" of the Star Trek: The Animated Series parody "Space Heroes". He does nothing "heroic" on-screen, with actions like openly stating he brings along the red shirts so they die, refusing to help two red shirts because "they'll never learn if we keep saving them" (and not caring that this is their first mission and they have no weapons), subtly taunting the Spock expy about being in love with one of the just-killed red shirts, and sucking a bunch of innocent aliens out into space because he finds their noise annoying. He's played on a meta-level as a Heroic Comedic Sociopath, in that the audience is amused by the fact that Leonardo seems to never realize how utterly terrible Captain Ryan is and tries to emulate his perceived leadership, whilst Raphael and the others recognize that "Space Heroes" is a terrible show because of Captain Ryan's utter lack of heroic qualities.
  • Sentinel Prime from Transformers: Animated is technically on the side of the good guys, being a member of the high-ranked Autobot Elite Guard, but is a pompous, arrogant, incompetent Glory Hound Jerkass with a truly appalling level of anti-organic bigotry. He hates the Decepticons, but that's about the only thing "heroic" about him. He manages to get even worse as we learn more about him, and discover the reason for his hatred for Optimus Prime: way back when they were both cadets together, they had a female friend, Elita-1, until one day Sentinel and Elita-1 talked Optimus into making a trip to a forbidden, organic-inhabited planet to search for the wreck of a Decepticon battleship and retrieve its lost stockpile of Energon. Despite the fact that, as he repeatedly pointed out, this was both illegal and highly dangerous, Optimus eventually went along, mostly to keep them out of trouble. As expected, things went disastrously wrong when they were attacked by a colony of Giant Spiders and the Energon stockpile blew up; Optimus managed to drag Sentinel to safety, but Elita-1 was presumably killed. This got them both court-martialed, but because Optimus took all the blame, only he was expelled from the Elite Guard Academy. Sentinel never admitted he was the one who led them to the planet, nor stopped blaming Optimus for Elita-1's death. And just when you think he couldn't get worse, when he finally meets Blackarachnia, the transmutated Elita-1, he is so disgusted by her technorganic state that he outright tells her that she should have killed herself rather than living like this, making Blackarachnia, herself no fan of her state, protest that it's not that bad. He truly cements his Jerk with a Heart of Jerk status when he promptly attacks her and tries to kill her himself!
  • Dr. Venture from The Venture Bros. often falls into this category, sometimes bordering on Villain Protagonist. He's a Brilliant, but Lazy Bungling Inventor with extreme Freudian Excuses thanks to his emotionally abusive father and Hilariously Abusive Childhood. Usually, he still does the right thing in the end, but in a few episodes ("The Buddy System", "What Color is Your Cleansuit?",) he's "heroic" only in the sense that he is the show's protagonist, and the "good" he does (cloning a child who was killed on a tour of his compound, restoring the interns after exposing them to extreme radiation) is basically done to keep himself out of trouble.
  • Lord Hater becomes this in the Series Finale of Wander over Yonder. After being a Big Bad Wannabe for an entire season, he helps the heroes defeat the true Big Bad, Lord Dominator. Hater wants to rule the galaxy, whereas Dominator wants to destroy it, so Hater temporarily becomes a hero to save the galaxy he wants to rule.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Hero In Name Only


Grimdark "hero"

TWA recommends a hero with no heroic qualities at all in a grimdark story.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (18 votes)

Example of:

Main / NominalHero

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