You find yourself at the mercy of someone much more powerful than you. Whether you're too weak to keep fighting, hopelessly outclassed, or just plain out of luck, you know there's nothing you can do to stop them. And then... they do nothing. They leave you to your fate, whatever that may be, and go about their business like you were nothing but a bump in the road. What happened?
They decided that you're "Not Worth Killing."
If a hero engages in this behavior, it's usually because a hero has a code against killing, and simply won't stain their hands with the blood of a bad guy, because their morals are more important to them. Sometimes, the hero believes that the villain is already suffering a Fate Worse than Death, and killing them would be the easy way out. Sometimes the hero sees the villain is suffering and doesn't feel like they deserve a Mercy Kill. Sometimes the hero sees that the villain is no longer a physical threat and considers it beneath them to fight a weak opponent. Sometimes the hero decides that the villain is sufficiently punished by being defeated or having their crimes backfire on them. Sometimes the hero decides that avenging whatever wrong the villain did would just do nothing to solve their anger at them, or that killing them would result in the hero becoming no better than the villain. And sometimes the hero simply doesn't care about the villain's fate and lets them off with a warning. In any case, the hero decides the bad guy, from the toughest Big Bad to the lowest of Mooks, simply isn't worth their time anymore. However, if the defeated bad guy is just the real villain's most powerful henchman, the hero may believe he/she still has a chance at redemption, so the latter is spared death to think about what they're doing with his/her life, resulting in a somewhat possible Heel–Face Turn.
If a villain decides someone's not worth killing, it's usually either The Hero and their party or the averagely-skilled friends of the highly-skilled hero who survive their Final Boss Preview with the Big Bad or The Dragon because the bad guy couldn't be bothered finishing them off. Whether or not this makes any sense as an excuse to keep the secondary heroes alive varies. Sometimes it's an excuse from a Worthy Opponent or Noble Demon to not engage in wanton slaughter. Sometimes the villain is trying to maintain a respectable image and doesn't want to risk getting his hands dirty. Sometimes the villain doesn't kill because it wouldn't advance their goal. Sometimes the heroes fit into an Evil Plan of the villain that requires their survival (for the moment). Sometimes the villain figures that the would-be victim is actually a net liability to the heroes or a potential convert to the villain's cause. Some consider the would-be victim so pathetic or repulsive that being in their presence, even to kill them, disgusts them. In some cases, the villain just doesn't consider the victim any kind of threat that can interfere with their plans. Either way, expect this to backfire as the heroes eventually return and defeat the villain for real, raising the question of why the villain did not just kill them.
The most literal examples of the trope refuse to kill their targets for the same reason a normal person doesn't hunt down and stomp on every cockroach they see; it's just not worth the time and effort unless they're making a nuisance of themselves. This usually applies to characters arrogant enough to believe that the opponents aren't a real threat, or powerful enough to know that they aren't a threat. Savvy characters should note that those who invoke this trope can and will change their stance if the target causes enough trouble for them later.
- In Black Lagoon, Chaka desperately wanted to duel Revy despite being in way over his head. Fortunately for him, she was totally aware that he was not going to survive a fight against her under any circumstances and refused to engage him because she had no interest in fighting or killing an idiotic man-child. Unfortunately for him, Ginji wanted to kill him very, very much for completely valid reasons, and she was all too happy to turn Chaka over to him. It did not end well for Chaka.
- Subverted by Kenpachi. He decides Nnoitra is not worth killing once there's no fight left in him, and prepares to just leave him alone, hoping to fight him again some other day once he gets stronger. Nnoitra gets offended by the act of 'mercy' and charges Kenpachi, who decides that this makes him worthy of being killed and cuts him down mid-stride.
- Ulquiorra took this line with Ichigo after their first confrontation, but later acknowledged him as someone that "needs to be eliminated" and started fighting him more seriously. Ichigo turns this around with his Superpowered Evil Side and performs a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Ulquiorra.
- In the "Burnout Inferno" chapters, Aizen Outright tells Yamomoto that he won't spare him or say "I won't kill you here" or anything, and draws his blade to finish him off. Hilariously, on this one time that someone tries to defy the trope, he gets a face full of Hadou 96 as a result. Of course, it barely burns Aizen's clothing and didn't kill Yamamoto either.
- Ginjou does this to Ichigo after he reveals his true colors and steals Ichigo's Fullbring.
- In fact, about half of battles in Bleach end with the winner leaving the loser alive because they're 'not worth killing'.
- In A Certain Magical Index, the amoral psychopath Teitoku Kakine occasionally does this, because he feels it would be beneath him to waste energy on someone who is completely helpless or already dying. An example is when he is attacked by Rikou Takitsubo, whose powers are fueled by taking the drug Body Crystal, which slowly kills its users.
- In Code Geass, in the penultimate episode, Diethard is not worth Geassing.
- Death Note: Light doesn't really target the regular Joes in the task force, figuring that they can be hoodwinked easily enough and besides, they're decent enough people. The fact that his father is a part of said task force probably has something to do with it, too. When Aizawa catches on, though, they pretty much all have to die when Near does.
- In Devil May Cry: The Animated Series, Dante encounters a demon mook named Sid, who is so weak and pathetic that Dante simply tells him to get lost instead of killing him. This comes back to bite him when Sid later acquires artifacts that increase his power to be a legitimate threat.
- Didn't I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life? has a moment where Reina wants to take revenge on an army captain who has been raiding caravans, killing traders like her father. The rest of her team stop her, saying it's not worth the guilt.
- Dragon Ball Z:
- Goku subjects Frieza to this during their fight on Namek. He fights until Frieza is no longer a challenge, then throws that fact in his face, believing that living with the shame of being defeated by a superior fighter was a far worse punishment than simply killing him, made worse by the fact that said superior fighter was "just a monkey." Frieza, however, isn't about to give up so easily.
- A particularly strange example occurs early in the Android Saga. Dr Gero/Android 20 has the solitary goal of eliminating Goku, for his role in destroying the Red Ribbon Army. When Goku is weakened by a heart virus, Android 19 has the opportunity to finish him off. Vegeta intervenes, and when Yamcha flies away with Goku, Dr Gero decides that Goku is suddenly not worth his time, and can be finished at a later opportunity. This is despite how his entire existence has been devoted to killing Goku for the past 20-odd years. Some of this is because he wants to save the best for last and he truly believes Android 19 overpowered Goku, not knowing he only won because Goku had fallen ill.
- Cell, upon reaching his Perfect form, lays an effortless beatdown on Vegeta (who was way too powerful for him in his previous form) and then defeats Trunks only after humiliating him, then abashing him about his poor judgement in powering up too much to move fast. He then claims that both Super Saiyans have disappointed him and that none of the heroes are a threat to him now. This is part of why he lets Vegeta and Trunks live— the other part is his desire to fight powerful opponents, giving them more time to become stronger.
- Mr. Satan "fights" Perfect Cell and is simply backhanded a few hundred feet backwards into a mountain. He inexplicably survives (Piccolo suggests Cell didn't want to waste a single drop of energy when he was about to fight Goku).
- In Dragon Ball Super, Goku spares Frieza again because he isn't worth killing since he failed to master his new golden form, causing Frieza to burn himself out, just like the last time they fought. This backfires on him when it turns out Frieza still has enough power to blow up Earth and kill everyone on it.
- In The Executioner and Her Way of Life, when Manon Libelle was a child, the Executioner Flare killed her mother for being an Otherworlder but spared Manon because she hadn't inherited her mother's power. Manon always felt worthless due to people being disappointed she hadn't inherited a Pure Concept, and being told that she wasn't even worth killing was the final straw that pushed her into death-seeking nihilism.
- Invoked in Fist of the Blue Sky when a mook asks a mob boss and a French general about his share of the money of a drug operation and finds himself held at gunpoint by both of them. They discuss the thing and agree he's not worth the price of a single bullet... And then they shoot him anyway.
- Adolf Hitler is spared by Liu Zong Wu because he thinks the tyrant is far too pathetic to deserve a good beating.
- Fushigi Yuugi has Miaka's ex-best friend Yui justify (in both of Miaka's visits to Kutou, mind you) that she only wants to keep Miaka and the Suzaku Seven alive because after all, "Where's the fun in killing them right away?" Yeah right.
- The Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode "Jungle Cruise" ultimately results in this. The suspect in question is an ex-American soldier who is terrorizing the city and with whom Batou is familiar. This is intentional on the American Empire's part, as they're trying to draw Batou into killing the soldier for them. When the two finally confront each other, Batou seems on the verge of doing this, firing his gun...but he intentionally misses, shooting the wall behind the perp instead.
Batou: Sorry, pal. But my war ended a long time ago!
- Weed from Ginga Densetsu Weed would often spare a bad dog's life, saying that they're not worth killing and murder is wrong. A few dogs in his own pack call him out on this...especially Kyoushiro.
- Hiro decides this with a recently beaten Kamikiri, who's been castrated brutally, and says that he's only showing him mercy one time. Kamikiri tries to attack the Great Pyrenees once more, but...surprise, surprise! His fangs were ripped out! And it's been confirmed that he died from his wounds.
- Henkyou no Roukishi Bard Loen: After Kaldus's Despair Event Horizon and asking if he's going to be killed, Bard judges his actions between being Necessarily Evil from an economic point, a Snowball Lie to the prince-turned-king he had to keep, and injustice to the farmers, soldiers and Aidra who've died for his ambitions. He just intimidates him to return all the money and leaves.
- InuYasha: When Inuyasha was controlled by his Superpowered Evil Side and killing bandits right, left and centre, it took Sesshomaru to bring him down. To the gang's surprise, instead of killing Inuyasha, Sesshomaru merely tells them how to reverse Inuyasha's condition. When Miroku demands to know why Sesshomaru spent the entire fight holding back against Inuyasha and refusing to kill him, Sesshomaru simply responds that there's no point in killing someone who's in no condition to know even his own self. He also adds that he'll kill Inuyasha when he's ready. He never does.
- In an episode of Irresponsible Captain Tylor, the Soyokaze enters a dimension where the ghost of a previously demoted captain (who was Driven to Suicide) starts haunting them, attempting to drive them to insanity and despair before killing them. However, at the end, Yamamoto and Tylor start arguing with each other about responsibilities (namely, trying to dump them on the other) and in their squabble they completely ignore the ghost who, completely shocked upon seeing how pathetic and cowardly they are, ultimately decides to leave alone and spare their lives.
- In Kill la Kill, Ryuko Matoi tells Nui Harime to surrender after cutting off her arms rather than take the open opportunity to finish her off. Whereas before Ryuko held a blind, murderous, vengeful rage toward Nui, she now realizes that this only allowed Nui to manipulate her and she isn't worth the emotional energy anymore. As a result, Nui becomes the one filled with blind, murderous, vengeful rage.
- Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, The Number's attack on the TSAB's Headquarters left destruction of property, wounded many troops and main characters alike, and kidnapped two secondary characters. They let no one die. This bites them hard in the end when the wounded main characters were the turning point of the final battle and this is when they decided to drop the trope.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam AGE Decil gets bored seeing a UE mook clearly beating the Gundam Titus in episode 8 and orders the UE to retreat.
- In episode 7 of Mobile Suit Gundam 00 2nd season, Setsuna's 00 Gundam suffered overheating issues after activating Trans-Am system in its fight against Mister Bushido despite Ian already warned him not to use it as the twin drive isn't stable yet. Mister Bushido realises the flaw in Gundam 00 & outright says that Setsuna isn't worth defeating at the moment, thus sparing him. Obviously, this irritates Mr Bushido's teammates.
- Inverted in Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit despite trying to kill her. They suspect this trope is why they were left alive, and in the show's climax corner Balsa to demand an answer, because their warrior's pride won't stand for being ignored. When Balsa replies she had "no reason" beyond living by a Thou Shalt Not Kill creed, they realize she would have done this to anyone she fought and decide not to push for a rematch.
- Part of Sasuke's Backstory is that this was why his brother spared his life alone among the extended family. Or so he believed for years.
- Sasuke also gives this excuse for not killing the mooks he faces in his quest to kill his brother.
- Mireille says this to Altena in the last episode of Noir, specifically that it's "not worth soiling a bullet" with her blood. Altena then (nonfatally) shoots Mirielle in the arm and then tries again but Kirika jumps in by Taking the Bullet and then tries to pull a Taking You with Me by shoving them both into a volcanic vent, though Mireille manages to grab her in time while Altena plummets to her death, her final satisfied expression before she falls out of view suggesting this was the plan all along.
- One Piece:
- Shanks didn't respond to Higuma's attempts to pick a fight because he felt there was no point in crushing somebody so much weaker than him. Only when Higuma threatens Luffy's life does Shanks change his opinion.
- Luffy and Zoro take a similar stance when they encounter Bellamy in Jaya. Not only was Bellamy so much weaker that crushing him would almost be insulting, actually fighting him would in a way imply that his ideology was worth getting upset over. Blackbeard declares Luffy won decisively by recognizing it wasn't worth fighting.
- In Resident Evil: Degeneration, towards the end Angela Miller holds Frederic Downing at gunpoint, once he's been outed as the real mastermind of the events. He shamelessly tries to beg for his life, even offering to share the profits with her. Angela scares him by pulling the trigger only to reveal the gun wasn't loaded, and says "You're too pathetic to kill!" before the police and the marines swoop in to arrest him.
- Phoenix Ikki from Saint Seiya delivers this line to Sea Dragon Kanon at the end of the Poseidon Saga, throwing the pointlessness of his plan in his face before turning his back on him and walking away. Kanon tries to retaliate, but fellow Marine Shogun, Siren Sorrento, confronts him after hearing the truth behind Poseidon's premature resurrection. Like Ikki, Sorrento reasons that Kanon is so pathetic and worthless that fighting him would be a dishonor to Poseidon.
- In So I'm a Spider, So What?, when Earth Dragon Araba destroyed Kumoko's he knew she was still alive due to his Detect skill but didn't kill her as she was too weak to be worth the effort. Kumoko, already traumatized by her near death, is further infuriated by this realization and becomes fixated on getting revenge.
- Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie: Invoked by M. Bison towards Guile, during their confrontation near the end of the film. Bison doesn't even give Guile the dignity of fighting him back. Instead, he taunts Guile as he wastes time and energy trying to even land a punch before Bison drops him with one attack. Just when it seems he's about to finish Guile off, Bison adds further insult by turning his back on him and walks away laughing.
- Hal in Texhnolyze tells this to Shinji after being turned into a Shape, musing on his earlier promise to kill him when they next time met.
- In Tokyo Babylon and X/1999, Subaru, the protagonist of the former, is left alive by the Sakurazukamori because Seishirou explicitly tells him that he's not worth killing. This becomes Subaru's primary motivation in the sequel; he believes he can only be worth something to Seishirou (who he loves) if Seishirou kills him. However, as it turns out, it's not that Subaru isn't worth killing - it's that Seishirou wants Subaru to kill him.
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: Before easily defeating Duke Devlin and Rebecca Hawkins in a duel, Valon decided that they weren't worthy to have their souls taken by the Orichalcos.
- YuYu Hakusho:
- Younger Toguro spared Suzuka, Bui, and Karasu. He said Suzuka was a pathetic and spineless coward, who was not worth killing. He made the other two serve him and join his Dark Tournament team. Averted with his brother. Elder Toguro says he will spare one of the two defeated team members that lay before him in the semi-finals. One begged for his life and was instantly killed. The other says he would rather die than do the same. Toguro says that his brother would let him live, but he won't and finishes him off.
- The Ice Maidens were shocked and aghast that one of them gave birth to a boy (which meant she had contacted a male: strictly against their strict isolationist policy). Said boy (Hiei) was cast down into Demon World proper and left to fend for himself. After some ordeals in the past, he located the sky island where they lived, seeking revenge. Ultimately, though, after seeing their cold, emotionless lives with his own eyes, he declares them to be not worth his time and leaves them to their pathetic existence.
- In the Astro City story "Great Expectations," actor Mitch Goodman (who plays the "Crimson Cougar" on a soap opera) is ambushed in public by the Dark Centurion, who easily pummels him. When Mitch begs for mercy, the Centurion sneers that he's Not Worth Killing and leaves. It was a ruse set up by Mitch and his friends so Mitch could stop being a high-profile
- In the Marvel Transformers Generation 1 story "Target: 2006", Galvatron decides not to kill Ironhide on the grounds that such a pathetic specimen simply doesn't deserve to be killed by one as great as him.
- In Fables, Baba Yaga and the djinn find themselves trapped in the business office with Buffkin, Frank, the mirror, and some of the barleycorn brides. Buffkin challenges Baba Yaga and the djinn, but they just laugh at him and float away. This has some consequences later. Snicker snack, indeed.
- A Retcon in Villains United gave this as the reason Catman survived ratting out The Brotherhood of Evil in Green Arrow and subsequently Took a Level in Badass.
Catman: When a Frenchman and an ape think you're not even worth killing, that's a bit of a dark day.
- Morlun in Spider-Verse decides that the newspaper Spider-Man is just not worth going back to because of Comic-Book Time, as he noted the idea of trying to eat him would take weeks, if not months. It's also a perfect excuse for the Master Weaver to spirit that universe away and hide it.
- Button Man: After Cora implores Harry to leave at least some of his targets alive so as not to discourage sponsors from sending their own champions against him, he disposes of a relative newcomer by remarking that he's "not worth killing", but still cuts off his finger with an industrial meat saw. The same man faces him again in a later game. Harry isn't as merciful that time around.
- Following the Fatal Attractions (Marvel Comics) storyline, Lady Deathstrike confronted Wolverine in another attempt to regain what she thought was her father's adamantium (as she long believed that the process used to graft the adamantium to Logan's bones were what her father used), only to be surprised at how weak Logan is and that his adamantium is gone. She decides to leave the battle and wait until Logan is better to exact her revenge.
- Star Wars: Doctor Aphra: When Winloss and Noxx finally track down Aphra in Issue #30, it at first seems like they're going to finally take their revenge on her. However, seeing what a lonely, self-loathing and self-destructive wreck she's become by this point, they realize that killing her would be a mercy, so they decide to let her live.
- All-New Ultimates: Bombshell finally has Diamondback at her mercy. Just one explosion would blow up her head, and avenge her boyfriend. But instead, she decides to let her go.
- Maddie is a late addition to Rat Queens and is considered a hanger-on at best. When the Once and Future King appears to arrest the Queens for a show trial and execution, he simply boots Maddie off-panel.
- In modern Superman stories, Brainiac's MO is to shrink and steal the major populated cities of planets and then destroy them so only he would possess that world's knowledge and culture. When he stole the city of Kandor from Krypton, he simply left without destroying it. Brainiac was able to detect the seismic activity that would destroy Krypton shortly after his own arrival, so he simply left the planet to its fate.
- Another Way: Marquis has security camera footage of the Brockton Bay Brigade's ill-advised home break-in from after he skipped town. But rather than use it to discredit them, he merely brings out a spliced version to watch with his daughter each Christmas — because he doesn't consider the Brigade to be a sufficient threat to need any action. (Brandish is unamused to hear about this. Marquis is amused by her reaction.)
- The Child of Love: In chapter eight’s omake, the author thinks that Asuka is going to kill him after he used the words “time of the month” to describe her mood. However, Asuka says that he isn’t worth it… before kicking his groin.
- Discord spares Array in Chronicles of Harmony's End even though he had him at his mercy. Then again, he had earlier asserted that he's not a murderer, so perhaps he just has enough integrity to adhere to his Exact Words.
- Fate DxD AU: When the Demon Pillar Flauros meets Diodora, he thinks Diodora is so pathetic that killing him is a waste of energy.
- Fire Emblem Rekka No Ken: A Story Retold: In chapter 2, after dodging Glass's attack, Lyn opts to simply sever the tendon in his right wrist, phrasing this trope nearly word-for-word. However, when Glass foolishly opts for a Last Villain Stand after Lyn claims the Mani Katti, Lyn cuts him down.
- Inverted example in My Little Mages: The Nightmare's Return. After Rainbow Dash defeats Nightshade, she chooses to simply immobilize her and leave her to be arrested, quoting the trope while doing so. For her part, Nightshade is insulted, and impotently demands that Dash kill her.
- The Night Unfurls: After ending his Trial by Combat in the remastered version (which is not even a fight to begin with), Kyril declares Alicia and Maia "not even worth killing" and leaves.
- The Raven's Plan: This is how everyone regards Lysa Tully Arryn, post-Remembering. They could execute her for murdering Jon Arryn and being an accessory to Baelish's plans, but she's so freaking crazy that it'd be a Mercy Kill more than anything else. Instead, Bronze Yohn Royce has her drugged to the gills for her own safety while taking custody of Robin Arryn and the Vale in preparation for the Others.
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act I: In chapter 16, when Dark discovers that Kotsubo had tried to molest Mizore the previous year, he goes ballistic and gives him a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. He's only stopped from killing Kotsubo by Tsukune and Rason's insistence that he isn't worth it, but Dark nonetheless makes it clear that he will kill Kotsubo if he so much as looks at Mizore again.
- In Tealove's Steamy Adventure, a hooded unicorn attacks the protagonists in the woods, quickly knocking Colt Skylark, Libra Ace, and Snowcatcher unconscious. He then decides Tealove isn't a threat, and he ignores her to focus on killing her unconscious teammates. This is a mistake. Tealove attacks, distracting him long enough for the others to wake up and overpower him.
- In This Bites!, Cross specifically states he finds the Unluckies too pitiful to make them the first enemies he kills, regardless of how determined they are to kill him.
- Beauty and the Beast: Beast seems to consider Gaston as such when he wins their climactic fight. While he's not persuaded by Gaston's begging, especially right after Gaston tried to kill him, he had already promised Belle he would become a better person and simply tells Gaston to Get Out!. Unfortunately, this gives Gaston the opportunity to go for the dirty move when Beast's back is turned, which would cost Gaston big time immediately afterwards.
- In The Simpsons Movie, nearly all of the citizens are enraged towards Homer for polluting the lake with his pig silo and forcing the EPA (led by Russ Cargill) to contain Springfield inside a glass dome. As such, they all carry torches to the Simpson house, not only with the intent to kill Homer for what he did, but also Marge and the kids for being related to him. And upon Cargill's plan to blow up Springfield with a nuclear bomb, the townspeople tried to escape, only for Homer to accidentally blow their chance and set the bomb's timer in half. Despite having another chance to kill Homer for this, the townspeople instead throw rocks at Homer to make him leave their presence, knowing that killing him won't do any good as they're all gonna die with him sooner or later. Fortunately, Homer was able to rectify this by having Bart throw the bomb to destroy the dome and save the town.
- Near the end of Toy Story 3, after the toys are rescued from the incinerator, they notice that Lotso is missing. Hamm and Slinky Dog express a desire to "loosen his stitching", but Woody just says that Lotso isn't worth the trouble. That said, Lotso eventually does face an especially unpleasant comeuppance.
- Near the end of Tarzan, the titular character engages into a fight against the wicked hunter Clayton for fatally shooting Kerchak (the leader of the apes); even grabbing Clayton's gun and threatening to shoot him down with it. However, rather than begging for mercy, Clayton instead taunts Tarzan to shoot him and be a 'real man'. Tarzan responds by imitating a gunshot before breaking the gun in half, angrily declaring that he's not like Clayton and that he will never be.
- Wizards: Weehawk finds Blackwolf's groveling minion Larry hiding in some bushes, and hauls him out by the tail. Weehawk draws his sword, meaning to slay Larry, but Avatar intervenes. "Let him go," the old wizard advises. "Without Blackwolf, he's harmless." Weehawk dismissively drops Larry, who gives Gratuitous Gratitude as he backs away over a hilltop.
- Quentin Tarantino likes this trope:
- Kill Bill:
- The duology begins with a nifty subversion. Upon discovering that in spite of their vicious assassination attempt, the Bride is still alive though in a coma, Bill refuses to let Elle kill her because he thinks so highly of her and doesn't want her being killed like "some rat" in her sleep. He says that if she ever wakes up, they'll finish the job. She woke up alright, and she was pissed.
- Inverted, where The Bride hacks her cold-blooded way through literally dozens of sword-wielding Yakuza foot-soldiers, then decides one of them, a young teenager, is too pathetic to kill. She puts him over her knee, spanks him with the flat of her sword, and tells him to go home to his mother. He flees.
The Bride: THIS IS WHAT YOU GET FOR FUCKING AROUND WITH YAKUZAS! GO HOME TO YOUR MOTHER!
- In Inglourious Basterds, SS Colonel Hans Landa orders a family of French Jews assassinated in the beginning. A young girl escapes and Landa decides not to have her chased down. In a twist of fate, the girl will grow up to play a part in Hitler's assassination.
- Kill Bill:
- In Batman & Robin Poison Ivy is about to kiss Commissioner Gordon before deciding to spare him, saying that he's way too old for her.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after her sidekick comes to help her out and her mentor dies in a Heroic Sacrifice to save her, The Dragon is about to turn around and finish Buffy off when the Big Bad says it's time to leave:
Lothos: She is not ready yet.
Amilyn: What? Dinner's off!?
- In The Crossing, General Howe doesn't want to bother with finishing off the Continental Army in the middle of winter, so he leaves a small force of Hessians to keep an eye on them while he and his army winter in New York. Washington is incredulous, and also, insulted.
- Seen in the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee movie Horror Express. The brain-sucking alien finds the crazy monk not worth killing, and eventually the crazy monk starts worshiping the alien (which the alien finds somewhat annoying).
Crazy Monk: Are you going to kill me?
Brainsucking Alien: Oh, there's nothing in your head of any use.
- At the end of the Final Battle in the James Bond movie Spectre, Blofeld is severely injured after his helicopter crashed onto the Westminster Bridge. As 007 approaches Blofeld crawling away from the wreckage, he offers Bond the chance to Finish Him!. But after some initial hesitation, Bond tosses his Walther PPK away and states he's "out of bullets", and leaves him to be arrested by M. This also left Blofeld a bit perplexed as to why 007 chose to spare him despite their Cain and Abel relationship. And it also escapes Blofeld's mind in the fact that despite being a Professional Killer, there are certain moral lines even Bond won't cross, and while 007 may finally get his revenge, killing Blofeld won't do much.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Avengers: Infinity War: When Nebula tells Thanos that he should have killed her when he had the chance, Thanos taunts his least-favorite "daughter" that he didn't want to waste the spare parts.
- Captain Marvel (2019): Carol spares her Evil Mentor, Yon-Rogg, finally seeing him as a pathetic man to whom she has nothing she needs to prove. Instead, she sends him back to the Kree home planet and alert the Supreme Intelligence that she is coming to end the Kree's reign of terror.
- In the first act of Napoléon (1927), a Royal Navy officer aboard the HMS Agamemnon spots the ship Le Hasard making its way from Corsica to mainland France, and asks his superior if they should fire on the suspicious-looking craft. His superior replies that it's not important enough to be worth wasting ammunition. And so Captain Horatio Nelson can only glare at the departing ship, somehow sensing that he will have a long military rivalry with one of its passengers: future French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte (then a young army officer).note
- Nevada Smith (1966). Steve McQueen (actor)'s character hunts down the men who murdered his parents one by one. The final villain he shoots several times non-fatally until he pleads for Smith to Get It Over With. Smith just rides off, saying he's not worth it.
- In the ending of Outlaw King, Robert the Bruce utterly crushes Edward II's army at the Battle of Loudon Hill, and then also defeats the boy prince in a personal confrontation. At this point Edward actually has a panic-attack, vomits and cries out in terror as he crawls and stumbles away through mud and over the bodies of his slain Englishmen. The scene is clearly pathetic to Robert and the assembled Scots and none move forward to finish him off.note
- When the Spanish ships sail by Barbossa's in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, they don't so much as spare him a glance, even though their numbers would have easily allowed them to sink his ship. Barbossa sees this for what it is and realizes that his crew just wasted time getting ready for a fight.
- In Predator Dutch is about to smash the mortally wounded Predator's head with a boulder but then changes his mind and apparently decides to leave the creature to die on its own. The Predator then demonstrates why following this trope can be a really bad idea, when he activates his self-destruct mechanism, and Dutch barely escapes the resulting explosion.
- In AVP: Alien vs. Predator, at one point one of the Predators has a chance to kill Charles Bishop Weyland, but instead turns away, due to Charles' terminal illness meaning that he's not a threat and thus not worth killing. Charles gets offended at being ignored (and is desperately trying to stall the creature in an effort to help two others get away) and fires a makeshift flamethrower at the Predator. The Predator then kills him, either having re-evaluated him as a legitimate threat or simply being pissed off at having been set on fire.
- Nemesis in Resident Evil: Apocalypse effortlessly mows down an entire squad of S.T.A.R.S while leaving the Ethnic Scrappy L.J. untouched. We see L.J. through Nemesis's eyes and he's identified as "Armed Civilian. Threat: Minimal". When L.J. throws down his gun, the reading changes to "Noncombatant. Threat: None" and Nemesis walks away.
- In Saving Private Ryan, the German soldier who stabs Pvt. Mellish to death in the upstairs room finds Cpl. Upham cowering on the stairs outside, and is apparently able to piece together that Upham was there and could've intervened but didn't out of cowardice, and thinks so little of him that he simply walks past the still-crying Upham and rejoins the battle.
- In most of the Terminator films, Terminators have a habit of hijacking a vehicle, then ordering the driver to "get out". Presumably, scaring the driver out of the vehicle is less time-consuming than killing him and dumping his body outside. They'll also eagerly use non-lethal attacks if it's the fastest and most effective way to get non-targets out of their way.
- The Twilight Saga: In Breaking Dawn Part 1, when Bella is feared dead, Jacob blames Edward and tells him to his face, "I won't kill you. That would be too easy. You deserve to live with this."
- War for the Planet of the Apes: Caesar spends most of the film with a personal vendetta against the Colonel because he killed his wife and eldest son. When Caesar finally gets his chance near the end of the film, he finds the Colonel curled up alone in his quarters, drunk out of his mind, because he's been infected and succumbed to the Simian Flu, rendering him permanently mute. Because in his mind, speech is what separates humans from animals, in the Colonel's own deranged logic, he is now less than human. When Caesar furiously holds a gun up to the Colonel's head, he actually steadies Caesar's hand rather than try to fight back. Caesar realizes he's now too pathetic to kill, lets go of his quest for vengeance, and leaves the pistol behind on the table, forcing the Colonel to blow his own brains out instead.
- At the end of Yojimbo, the only enemy Sanjuro spares the life of in his Curb-Stomp Battle is the son of a couple of farmers he met early on. The guy practically shits his pants, and pathetically calls for his mother.
Sanjuro: Children shouldn't play with swords! Go home to your mother and live a long life eating gruel!
- In Animorphs, after Visser Three discovers that Tobias's father was a morphed Elfangor, he tries to arrange to see if Tobias responds in an interesting way, hoping to kill or infest him. Tobias, who already knew that Visser Three was in morph, instead hides behind his hawk instincts (at this point, he's a human in Shapeshifter Mode Lock as a hawk, morphed into himself) to resist showing any emotion and plays off like he's some street thug hoping his crazy father left him money. Visser Three is so disgusted that his Worthy Opponent has such an apparently useless offspring that he just lets Tobias waltz right on out.
- Discworld: This basically saves Rincewind's life and the world in Sourcery when tries to attack the nigh-omnipotent sourcerer Coin with a half-brick in a sock. Coin is so fascinated by the idea of someone trying to use a weapon that feeble against him that he defies his father's orders to kill him.
- In Cibola Burn, the fourth novel of The Expanse, Murtry explicitly doesn't kill Amos and Fayez because both were crippled and they weren't worth either the time or the bullets to finish off.
- Harry Potter:
- In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Harry was going to kill Sirius, but couldn't bring himself to do it. Fortunately, too!
- In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Snape tells Crabbe to stop hurting Neville without breaking character by telling him that if Neville chokes he'd have to do a lot of boring paperwork and also mention the Manslaughter offence when he went job hunting.
- The Last of the Untouchables, by Oscar Fraley & Paul Robsky. Robsky tells of how he got lost after raiding a backwoods distillery, eventually running into an old hermit armed with a rifle who guides him to the correct trail. His partner goes pale when he hears this, as from Robsky's description the man was a notorious multiple murderer, who apparently thought that a rookie Prohibition agent wasn't worth bothering about.
- Tortall Universe: In Trickster's Queen, Vereyu kills the recently-appointed spymaster (who's not really sympathetic, just incompetent, but you do kind of pity him). The heroine, Aliane Cooper, tells her that he was "not worth killing". Vereyu retorts that he "wasn't worth leaving alive, either." Aly remarks that that's true.
- A nation-scale example in The Witchlands - the state of Illrya has never been conquered because of just how difficult it is to live there, making any attempt at colonizing it worth less than whatever could be gained from it.
- Wulfrik: At the end of the book, Wulfrik decides not to kill Viglundr. Not that the man doesn't deserve it, but Wulfrik instead tells him that he's arranged a False Flag Operation wherein the men hired for Viglundr's expedition think he's responsible for leaving them stranded in the Empire, and once they find their way back north, will attack him. Those who don't will still demand compensation for their dead soldiers, meaning Viglundr won't be able to hire defenders, dooming his city and destroying the work of several generations of his line. Even offering to let Wulfrik marry Hjordis gets rejected, since unbeknownst to him Wulfrik had already been forced to kill her.
- Better Call Saul has a variation, in which it's less of this and more "Not Worth Killing Quick and Painless". Gus Fring would rather make his formidable enemy Hector Salamanca suffer a slow, painful death instead of wasting ammo on a man that's too despicable for such compassion.
Gus: Would you care to know why I stopped you from killing Hector?
Mike: Like you said, it wasn't in your interest.
Gus: A bullet to the head would have been far too humane.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- In season 4's "Doomed", Xander, during his Breaking Speech to Spike, remarks that he knows that he could easily kick Spike's ass as a result of his being chipped, but he's so pathetic right now that he's not even worth the effort. Spike is so humiliated by this that he attempts to stake himself... only to be thwarted by Xander and Willow's sudden entrance (Xander didn't want his Hawaiian T-shirt that Spike had borrowed turning to dust with him).
- Averted in "Into the Woods". After massacring the vampire pimp's gang, Buffy finds herself facing the vampire prostitute she earlier caught feeding on her boyfriend. She looks so pathetic that Buffy lets her go but then Buffy's Dark Side takes over, and she hurls a wooden spear into the vampire's back as she's running away.
- Played with in Burn Notice. Michael Westen takes great pains not to kill anybody himself — often employing elaborate Plans instead — because a body count would draw too much heat while he tries to clear his name. A few people are worth it, but the consequences are still generally unpleasant.
- In one episode, Nate invokes this on himself, after he pisses off some arms dealers. While at gunpoint, he points out that they'd spend all afternoon getting rid of the body, and he wasn't significant enough to be worth the trouble.
- Charmed: After the Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain Stillman sisters manage to swap identities with the Halliwell sisters in "The Power of Three Blondes", they find that the Halliwells' Book of Shadows does have an entry about them. A small one. Which calls them "not worth vanquishing".
- Criminal Minds: The episode "Painless" centers around the anniversary of a school shooting, where survivors are being killed off. In the initial shooting, the shooter Randy Slade asked students to look him in the eyes and then shot them when they were too afraid. When one boy did look him in the eyes, Randy declared him "not worth the bullet" and then escalated to a bomb.
- Gotham: After Oswald Cobblepot realizes that the Riddler no longer has the intelligence that made him a threat, Oswald chooses not to kill him commenting that now that he’s “plain old Ed Nygma” he is no longer worthy of his attention.
- Daredevil (2015): After Karen Page survives two attempts on her life in order to leak information about criminal activity at Union Allied to the New York Bulletin, Wilson Fisk and James Wesley go to work covering their tracks. They kill off Karen's former boss, the assassin that Matt Murdock defeated in Karen's apartment, and the guard that tried to strangle Karen in jail. But with Karen herself, Fisk decides to have her spared, telling Wesley that there's no need to kill her as everything she knows is already in the papers. They instead decide to try bribing Karen into silence, which backfires as it instead motivates her into investigating Fisk. And it backfires big on Wesley, as Karen ends up killing him when he kidnaps her and attempts to blackmail her.
- Doctor Who: In "The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos", when Graham and Ryan have Tim Shaw at their mercy, they both decide not to kill him, with Graham saying the trope name word-for-word.
- Game of Thrones. At the beginning of Season One and the end of Season Two, the White Walkers leave a single member of the Night's Watch alive, either to spread fear or as an example of this trope.
- Horatio Hornblower: Horatio tells his opponent in a duel Jack Simpson that he's "not worth the powder" after Simpson has fired prematurely, claiming it was a misfire, wounding Horatio and giving him a free shot. Simpson then begs for his life like a Dirty Coward. The minute Horatio turns his back, however, Simpson attempts to stab him In the Back. Captain Pellew can afford the powder and shoots Simpson with an exceptionally fine shot.
- In NCIS: New Orleans, Pride stops a Green Beret father from taking revenge on Michelle Facheux, stating that it's not worth killing the villainess. He reluctantly buries his weapon in the dirt inches from her face instead.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. After Gul Dukat is demoted to commanding a freighter, he gets miffed when a Klingon warbird attacking a Cardassian colony flies off without bothering to destroy his ship.
- Star Trek: Voyager: The initial villains the Kazon were so hated that, in a later season, Seven mentions that the Borg classified them as not worth assimilating.
- In the Supernatural episode "Time Is on My Side" Dean tracks down Bela with the intent to kill her, before announcing that she's "not worth it." Subverted with the later reveal that Dean knew her number was up anyway.
- Super Sentai and Power Rangers feature multiple examples of honourable villains who will let the Rangers go after beating them.
- Power Rangers Mystic Force has a subversion: Black Knight Koragg vastly outclasses the heroes but keeps finding excuses to let them live (due to being a Brainwashed and Crazy version of the Red Ranger's heroic father, who does not kill innocents), the main one being that it's dishonorable to slay an unworthy opponent. When a Ranger confronts him, Koragg gives the standard 'unworthy opponent' speech, and the hero responds with a volley of lightning bolts. Koragg is completely unharmed, but decides anyway that the hero's worth fighting after all and proceeds to utterly mop the floor with him (he still lets him go in the end).
- Downplayed with his original Mahou Sentai Magiranger counterpart Wolzard, who spares the Magiranger siblings more because he wants them to grow and become more challenging opponents (because he's actually the team's father Reforged into a Minion, and his pride in seeing them mature is causing him to act as a Stealth Mentor without even realising it).
- Juken Sentai Gekiranger: Rio proves that his Juken is stronger than theirs by pummeling the Rangers flat, then lets them go because they are not yet worthy of being killed by him.
- Power Rangers Mystic Force has a subversion: Black Knight Koragg vastly outclasses the heroes but keeps finding excuses to let them live (due to being a Brainwashed and Crazy version of the Red Ranger's heroic father, who does not kill innocents), the main one being that it's dishonorable to slay an unworthy opponent. When a Ranger confronts him, Koragg gives the standard 'unworthy opponent' speech, and the hero responds with a volley of lightning bolts. Koragg is completely unharmed, but decides anyway that the hero's worth fighting after all and proceeds to utterly mop the floor with him (he still lets him go in the end).
- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,:
- Cromartie slaughters the FBI agents sent after him, but leaves Ellison alive in the end, apparently for this reason. As it turns out, Cromartie does this because he believes Ellison will lead him to the Connors.
- Another Terminator leaves at least one minor character alive because, as the audience sees through the Terminator's vision, the character has a threat level of "none". Then subverted when he is (apparently) killed offscreen later in the episode by the same Terminator after he unloaded a Mossberg into it, which must have upped his threat level a tad.
- Cameron later explicitly tells John (after being confronted with an empathy test) that Terminators are not designed to be cruel. Which makes sense; being unfeeling machines, they think logically and practically, simply following their motivations. Interpreting an action of sheer pragmatism as cruel or benevolent is something only a human would do.
- Non-fatal variant in The Thick of It - when Ollie informs his Mean Boss Malcolm that a disgraced former MP is here to see him, Malcolm rounds on Ollie, delivering him a metaphor about how when the Queen's butler sees a cockroach in the kitchen, he steps on it and she never knows. When Malcolm does eventually go and speak to the MP, he treats him with weary contempt rather than his characteristic foul-mouthed ranting, suggesting he finds him beneath even a bollocking.
- The Unit: When the members of Alpha Team eventually find out that their CO Colonel Ryan has been having an affair with Mac Gerhardt’s wife Tiffy note , they have an impromptu “trial” in some secluded spot in the field. Standard procedure for the Unit to handle such situations is that they execute the officer who is sleeping with an operator’s wife. And Colonel Ryan is on his knees and seems ready to accept his fate. Mac even has a pistol pointed at the colonel’s forehead. But then, Jonas asks Mac if shooting the Colonel now in such a state - unarmed and on his knees - will be good for Mac’s own warrior ethos or not. Mac ultimately decides to spare the colonel, considering him too worthless and pathetic to deserve an execution.
- The Vampire Diaries: For much of the third season, the good guys depend heavily on Klaus not bothering to kill them, which he could do pretty much any time he wanted.
- On one episode of Wings, Antonio becomes a limo driver for a businessman, only to become convinced that the guy is a mobster. Antonio frantically wants to quit but is afraid he won't be allowed to walk away. His friends comfort him by pointing out that Antonio knows nothing incriminating, so he poses no threat.
Antonio: You're right! I'm too stupid to kill. I would be a waste of a bullet.
- The Wire: Omar and his shotgun arrive on a construction site owned by Stringer Bell to waste the drug kingpin. Stringer makes a run for it after Omar shoots his bodyguard, but the project manager Stringer was speaking to gets down on his knees and rather hysterically begs and cries for mercy. Omar realizes the guy is just a civilian and moves on.
- Calvin and Hobbes has a non-killing variant: Calvin is trying to fill balloons for a water fight, but keeps messing them up and splashing water on himself. By the time Hobbes arrives, Calvin is soaked from head to toe. Hobbes just says, "Gee, what's the point?" and walks away.
- In Magic: The Gathering, Sarkhan muses upon arriving in the alternate, dragon-ruled Tarkir he's created that his old enemy, Zurgo Helmsmasher (now Bellstriker) has sunk so far he's not worth the effort to kill. Ironically, the Zurgo Helmsmasher card was Awesome, but Impractical and saw no serious tournament play, while Zurgo Bellstriker's became an instant mainstay of red decks due to being a one mana 2/2.
- Munchkin: Several monster will not chase you if you're below a certain level, specified on the card. If you can't fight them, you automatically succeed in running away. This being Munchkin, there have been cases where other players have played level up cards on the active player specifically to raise them to the cut-off limit just to avoid this.
- In Traveller Intersteller Wars the Vilani don't bother making a real effort to subjugate the Terrans because they are "just another barbarian tribe". By the time they learn differently, it is the Vilani who are being subjugated.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Played with on the Imperium's general policy towards the Craftworld Eldar and Tau Empire. While the humans would love to see the foul xenos extinct and don't take incursions into their space lightly, sparing both species is a matter of practical foreign policy: In either case, the xenos are reasonable enough they often can be dealt with through diplomacy, and difficult enough to fight as to require a major expenditure of resources that can be better spent on more implacable foes such as Chaos, orks, necrons, and tyranids (and will sometimes even ally with the humans against them). In the case of the Eldar, it helps that they're a dying race anyway (their low birthrate is compounded by the fact that sexual acts can cause them to fall to Chaos), so all the Imperium really has to do is outlast them. The Tau, on the other hand, are growing aggressively, peacefully absorbing entire species that the Imperium would have destroyed as well as stealing worlds away from the Imperium.
- Imotekh the Stormlord happen to have such policy on those he defeats. High Marshal Helbrecht punishes him, leading the force that ambushed and destroyed his flagship, while Imotekh was forced to flee.
- From the novel Storm of Iron, after the first battle of the siege, Iron Warriors Captain Kroeger took one of the defeated soldiers, Imperial Guardswoman Larana Utorian, as his slave after deeming her not worthy kill, though he admitted to himself he didn't know why he decided not to kill her out of hand. Unfortunately for him, her hatred for Chaos and for her comrades grew to the point when it attracted the demon residing in Kroeger's armor. Afterwards, "Kroeger" was uncharacteristically silent, always in full armor, and more aggressive, but in a more disciplined and refined way than his usual self, more like a seasoned fighter than the usual crazed butcher he usually was. Kroeger also murdered a company's worth of Space Marines, traitor and loyalist alike, with officers and a librarian, then disappeared into a warp portal. The real Kroeger's body was only found after the siege was over.
- Orks being genetically engineered for war, they naturally exhibit this trope. However, they also apply to their enemies, so what they thought constituted the ultimate insult was nothing more than an incredibly stupid decision for the lucky victim, except when they're not so lucky. The only known exception to this was when the biggest Warboss in the galaxy made spared Commissar Yarrick, whom the ork considers the only 'umie to fight well enough to spare him so they can fight later on, demonstrating foresight unheard-of in an ork.
- In theory, devotees of Khorne practice this trope as their War God rewards valor and self-sacrifice. In practice, it's more that they'll kill defenseless civilians after anything that can fight back.
- In Noah Smith's stage version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Hyde initially refrains from killing Utterson, saying that it would be no fun to take the life of somebody who's never lived. During the final confrontation, after Utterson has tracked Hyde down and figured out his secret, Hyde says that now Utterson has tasted life and is fair game.
- In Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, in the cutscene that plays before the second to last mission, Dr. Schroeder is revealed to be a Belkan, who was sent to gather data from Mihaly to improve upon Erusea’s drone army to get revenge on Osea. After Ionela, Mihaly’s oldest granddaughter, destroys the data chip that contained the data, she stares down at Schroeder with a loaded gun, and Schroeder fully expects Ionela to kill him. She instead tosses the gun to the side, as it wouldn’t make her any different from him, and calls Schroeder out on what he’s done, which convinces him to help put an end to the war.
- The AI in AI War: Fleet Command starts out regarding the player this way, occasionally harassing them but otherwise leaving them alone. Much of the game is making sure the AI continues to believe this even as the player amasses enough power to turn the tide.
- At the end of Assassin's Creed II, Ezio Auditore spares the life of Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander VI despite the latter being the one who had his father and brothers killed, leaving him defeated, humiliated, disillusioned and deprived of Eden artifacts.
Rodrigo: Get it over with then.
Ezio: No. Killing you won't bring my family back... I'm done.
- In Baldur's Gate, when the party visits the town of Nashkel, an NPC named Noober actively engages dialog with the party, asking inane questions, interrupting other actions, and just generally being annoying. Killing a neutral NPC in the game usually affects reputation, but killing Noober does not. However, patiently cycling through all of his dialog triggers will net you some decent XP, at least at that point in the game.
- In Chrono Trigger, this is the justification given if you decide not to fight Magus in 12,000 B.C. At this point, you have much bigger problems (namely Lavos), and killing Magus accomplishes absolutely nothing towards solving said bigger problems (or, as Frog points out, bringing back Crono or Cyrus). Magus rewards you for this decision by joining your party.
- Dawn of War II: Retribution: the ork ending has Bluddflagg pull this on the Inquisitor, stealing her hat as well.
- In Def Jam: Fight For NY, the protagonist confronts Crow in the finale of the story campaign, absolutely livid over the death of his girlfriend. He's just about ready to kill Crow with a gun handed to him by a defecting Magic, but ends up unloading the piece around the room instead, tossing it over his shoulder while quipping that he "wasn't worth it". The protagonist ends up killing Crow anyway when Crow, in a fit of rage, tries to kill him.
- Reversed in Drakengard's canonical ending: Caim has defeated the Big Bad and she lays crying at his feet, begging him to kill her. Caim decides that would be too easy.
- In The Elder Scrolls: Arena the Eternal Champion is left to rot in a dungeon because his position in the Imperial Court was so low that the usurpers saw no need to bother. This was a mistake.
- Early in Fallout 2 there's an optional encounter where you run into Frank Horrigan and a couple of Enclave soldiers butchering a random family. Luckily, you're still at the "Nobody" stage in your journey and well beneath Frank's notice, so he just tells you to beat it.
- Fate/Grand Order:
- In the London Singularity, Goetia shows up and effortlessly beats up the heroes, then says that they are so weak that he won't bother to kill them before leaving.
- Hera was known for being a Woman Scorned who would attack her husband Zeus' lovers. However, she didn't do anything to Europa after Zeus slept with her. This was because Europa is so ditzy that she looks insane, so Hera didn't think it was worth it to attack someone not in their right mind.
- The Onion Knight attempts to invoke this trope when he and Terra are faced with the mighty Exdeath in Dissidia Final Fantasy. It appears to work, as Exdeath lets them go unharmed, but not without imparting some cryptic foreshadowing, implying that he may perhaps have had reason to do so...
- God of War III features two inverted examples:
- When he runs into Hermes, Kratos initially holds this opinion of him, dismissing Hermes as "a fly from the ass of Zeus" that isn't worth his time. However, he reconsiders when Hermes decides to taunt him over how he killed his family.
- Later, he views Hera the same, just pushing the Lady Drunk aside when she tries to pick a fight with him; however, when Hera decides to insult Pandora, Kratos loses his cool, doubles back, and snaps her neck.
- God of War (PS4): When Kratos and Atreus run into Modi after having defeated him, he is found completely beaten up by his own father Thor and left in disgrace. Kratos tells his son to leave him alone, stating this trope word-for-word as reason. However, Atreus disobeys him and proceeds to execute Modi for insulting his mother Faye too many times. By the end of the game, after Atreus is snapped out of his arrogance, he repeats his father's advice to him to prevent him from strangling Baldur, and Kratos heeds his word. Too bad Baldur tries to strangle his mother Freya as soon as Kratos walks away, forcing the Spartan to step in and kill him after all.
- God of War Ragnarök: After Odin is finally defeated and Atreus has put his soul in a soul marble, neither he, Kratos, or Freya feel he's even worth the bother of smashing since he's no longer a threat. Sindri has no such compunctions.
- In Grand Theft Auto IV, the main character Niko Bellic comes face to face with the man who betrayed his group in the Balkans and killed his village for money in Balkans war. The man is flown in and is in a pathetic state, barely even sane and you can choose to either execute him for crime or spare him. If the latter is chosen, Niko concludes that he is indeed not worth killing and deserves to be left alive to suffer, while in the former case, Niko brutally kills him, only to find that Vengeance Feels Empty.
- In Hitman: Absolution, after interrogating Lenny Dexter, while the player is given a variety of options to kill him (including a wacky Easter Egg option), 47 can also just drive away and let the desert take him on the basis that he's not even worth wasting a bullet on. You even gain an achievement called "Not Worth It". Besides, there's an even more fun way via Ice Cream Truck.
- In Hollow Knight, the Hunter's journal contains notes on hunting and killing most of the creatures in the game. The most prominent exception is Zote, who's such a clownishly inept jagoff that the Hunter could not even be arsed to go after him.
Some rare creatures are so weak, so helpless, so inept and so irritating that hunting them gives no pleasure.
- Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast: After curb-stomping Kyle Katarn in their initial duel, Desann spares his life; not out of mercy, but because he thinks Katarn has become so weak and pathetic after abandoning the Jedi Order that he's barely worth fighting, let alone killing. That's what he says anyways. The real reason he let Katarn live was so he could follow him to the hidden Valley of the Jedi, knowing that the humiliated and enraged Katarn would go there to re-empower himself in order to take on Desann.
- In Just Cause 2, Rico bribes a low-life for information, using (heavily-inflated) Panauan dollars. In a rare economic spin of this trope, Rico gives this quip for why he didn't just shoot the informant after he told Rico all he needed to know:
Rico: Considering the value of the Panauan buck, shooting you would have been more expensive.
- In The Last of Us Part II, Ellie and Abby spare each other's life on separate occasions with this in mind.
- In Mass Effect, this trope is considered by the krogan race to be the ultimate insult one can give to an enemy. As a Proud Warrior Race, krogan social status is determined by the enemies you make and even more so, the enemies you have killed. If one decides that they won't kill you, it's no act of mercy; it means you're considered less than noteworthy in a krogan's eyes while they go on to look for a better, proper enemy to kill. They extend this facet of their culture to other races as well; the long list of enemies comprising the Commander's Rogues Gallery, from the already-killed to the soon-killed to the eventually-killed, is precisely why most krogan pay Shepard tremendous respect, despite the fact that s/he's a human.
Warlord Okeer: "With that, I will inflict upon the genophage the greatest insult an enemy can suffer - to be ignored."
- This trope also can appear in Garrus' loyalty mission. Garrus seeks to kill the traitor who betrayed his entire squad and caused all ten of their deaths. Once you track him down, you can help Garrus take the shot or talk to the traitor and warn him, where you learn he only did what he did because of a threat to his own life, and his life has been nothing but an empty shell of pain and guilt since. Garrus can be convinced to relent and stand down, and later says that he's okay with him living because Sidonis will have to live with that torment for the rest of his life, which he feels is a far better fate for him than a simple death. Later on, you can hear about how Sidonis eventually turns himself over to C-Sec out of guilt.
- In his own loyalty mission, this is Jacob's opinion of his father — that he's not worth the price of the bullet it would take to kill him (and when you consider how ammunition in Mass Effect works, that's a very low price indeed). If prompted by a renegade Shepard, Jacob will change his position to "worth shooting, but I'm not going to do it".
- Finch, a member of the gang Shepard belonged in as a child. Finch attempts to blackmail Earthborn Shepard into getting a fellow gang member released from jail, using their Spectre status, but Shepard can refuse, then either scare the guy off or shoot him. If s/he shoots Finch, the C-Sec officer guarding Finch’s friend is impressed. If Finch is just told to fuck off, the C-Sec officer asks why Shepard didn’t shoot him, to which Shepard can reply that he wasn’t even worth the target practice.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda demonstrates the krogan principle with Morda. Finding one of her rivals has been trying to undermine her, she beats the crap out of him and declares him not worth killing. After that, it's shown she's gone the extra mile and not even bothered to throw him out, merely telling anyone nearby to do it for her, if they feel like it.
- Metal Gear:
- Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops has a scene where Python encounters General Skowronski in the bottom of a warehouse while hunting for Big Boss. After defeating Skowronski, Python freezes him inside a cage and exclaims "You're not worth killing!" before leaving. Snake frees the general minutes later.
- In one scene in Metal Gear Solid, Meryl tries to prove her dedication to the mission by telling Snake that if she slows him down even a little, he can shoot her. Snake tells her "I don't like to waste bullets".
- In Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Uruk captains and warchiefs with the Humiliator trait will do this upon defeating Talion. This can be a pain; Talion has Resurrective Immortality, and there's times you'll want an Uruk to kill you so they can become more powerful, granting you better runes when you kill them or making them better puppets when you dominate them. The Shame mechanic lets you do this in return with a side-dish of Mind Rape, which will lower their level for the next time you encounter the, with the side effect of damaging them mentally on the side, starting by increasing trauma until you reduce them to a wailing, mindless Empty Shell.
- In Octopath Traveler II, Osvald decides Stenvar isn't worth killing after his boss battle, despite the fact that Stenvar accepted a bribe from Harvey to get Osvald arrested for a crime he didn't commit. Stenvar is so pathetic and greedy that Osvald sees burning all of Stenvar's money as a much better punishment.
- In The Outer Worlds if you bring Felix to the Rizzo's Secret Labs when confronted by the patrolling security robots Felix will make up an excuse so pathetic that the robots will deem your party a negligible threat and promptly ignore you.
- Persona 5:
- The Phantom Thieves feel this way towards their targets in general. Not only because they find the people they go after despicable and know that killing them would make them no better than they are, but also because it would prevent the target from having to face justice for what they've done.
- The fifth palace's guards beat Mona severely when they catch him sneaking around, but refuse to actually kill him since they don't think he's worth the time and settle for dumping him outside instead.
- Pokémon: Tyrannitar are perpetually seeking strong opponents to fight, but if they find something not worth their time, they'll just move on.
- Zest from Shining Resonance is a Blood Knight and Super-Soldier so desperate for a Worthy Opponent that he refuses to kill opponents he judges as "weak" because it's a waste of his time and effort. If they insist, of course, he won't hesitate to mow them down.
- Subverted in Silver. Having destroyed the source of the titular villain's power the hero feels like sparing his life cause he's all old and pathetic now, but the Silver's Nemesis arrives and finishes him anyway. Somehow the hero has no qualms with that. Huh.
- In The Sims 3, when a Sim with both the Unlucky and Loser traits gets into a fatal accident, the Grim Reaper will appear. Instead of taking the sim to the afterlife as usual, he'll resurrect your sim. His rationale is that it would be funnier for your Sim to continue on with his miserable, pathetic life rather than being granted eternal rest.
- Sonic the Hedgehog:
- In Sonic and the Black Knight, after Sonic's first showdown with King Arthur, the king remarks that Sonic is "a fool of a knight not even worth slaying" before departing. This bites him in the ass later on, as Sonic takes the opportunity to learn and grow stronger in order to defeat him.
- Despite giving him more credit than he initially assessed, Infinite says Sonic isn't worth finishing after they fight in Sonic Forces. Dr. Eggman, however, wishes he would have gone through with it. In fact, Infinite commits the same mistake Shadow did to him. When Shadow destroyed the Jackal Squad, he defeated Infinite and let him live, telling him to "never show his face again" before leaving him to rot.
- In SoulCalibur 2, one of Raphael's victory quotes is "You're not even worth killing," said in the snootiest possible manner.
- Spooky's Jump Scare Mansion originally had two endings, based on how many enemies you killed with the axe. You would either be recruited as a new speciment, presumably "alive" in at least some manner, or be killed and recruited as a ghostly warrior in her army. However the HD Renovation added options to disable jumpscares and specimens. If you disable both, you get an Easy-Mode Mockery ending where Spooky "congratulates" you and simply sends you on your way.
Spooky: Congratulations, you've done... it. You can go home now. And if anything changes, uh, we'll... let you know. Bye.
- In Starcraft, one of the Zerg missions has you directing Sarah Kerrigan in an assault against Jim Raynor's headquarters on the planet Char. After razing Raynor's base to the ground Kerrigan decides not to kill him, proclaiming that he's not a threat to her....although it's possible and quite likely that she did it out of some remaining sentiment toward him. After defeating the UED base on Korhal, she decided that she had to kill both Raynor and Fenix. But after killing Fenix, she instead decided to spare Raynor again.
- Street Fighter:
- In Street Fighter II, Guile chooses to do this to M. Bison rather than kill him in his ending. This has become a bit of Characterization Marches On as M. Bison is such a monumental world-ending threat that sparing him like this is hardly practical.
- Akuma has said this to Ryu but it's really a bluff as Akuma isn't sparing him because he regards Ryu as too pathetic to use lethal force against but rather because he wants a worthy challenger and sees Ryu becoming that once he gives into The Dark Side. It works but not necessarily as Akuma predicted when he spared him (as Ryu never adopts Akuma's fighting philosophy to prove himself but instead proves that the opposite can be just as powerful if honed).
- In the Genocide run of Undertale, you can ditch Jerry and still qualify as genocidal. He's just that much of a pain in the ass to kill.
- This is one of Chunk's possible fates at the end of Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, he is considered such a pathetic threat that the player can choose to convince him to stay out of the way or outright ignore him and go straight to fight the real guards.
- In the "Bad" ending route of The Witch and the Hundred Knight, Metallia spared Lucchini's life even though Lucchini asked her to kill him, with Metallia explaining she should have the freedom to make that choice, not Lucchini's. Metallia chose to just simply sever her relationship with Lucchini and never want to see him again.
- In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, when Geralt finally confronts the crimelord Whoreson Jr., after a solid beating and some interrogation as to Ciri's whereabouts he's given the choice of killing him or sparing him on the basis that he's not worth staining his blade. That and since he no longer has King Radovid's protection from the other crime bosses of Novigrad and his criminal empire has been all but dismantled means he's now powerless.
- The eponymous villain of the Wrath of the Lich King World of Warcraft expansion. After being hyped up in the months before the release as being a villain whose threat will be felt throughout your travels instead of just "a meaningless name until you suddenly face him at the end" (the expansion is called The Wrath of the Lich King, for pity's sake), every time you meet him he lets you live, either knocking you out or just giving you a stern warning, while first killing his minions left and right for their failures to kill you. He always says something like "You are barely beneath my notice" or "Perhaps in time you will become worthy of serving me." He does have ulterior motives for keeping you alive. When players finally confront and almost defeat the Lich King, he uses Frostmourne to wipe out the players, and reveals his true plan; everything up to that point was a test to find the strongest warriors in Azeroth, and lure them to Icecrown where he kills them and raises them as Elite Mooks in his undead army.
- He had done it earlier in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne as well: After severely wounding Illidan near the Frozen Throne, Arthas didn't finish him off. The game's sound files reveal that he considered Illidan a piteous creature who wasn't worth killing.
- In X-Men: Next Dimension, several characters use this as a taunt, including some such as Mystique saying another character isn't even worth her time. One of the first matches in the story mode could have her saying this to her son, which opens up a whole set of problems.
- Can be done at the player's discretion at the climax of the Blood Lobster sidequest in Xenoblade Chronicles X. Said villain is unmasked as a bit part character you met early in the game, who went full-tilt Loony Fan after noticing all the JRPG hero tropes Rook fulfilled, and decided to become a proper villain for him. Instead of killing him (which he wants in order to finish the insane narrative in his head), Rook can just turn and walk away, which causes him a total meltdown.
- In Xenoblade Chronicles 3, after the Ouroboros breaks Colony 4's Flame Clock and liberates them from the Forever War, a colony member by the name of Jeremy confronts Mio and Sena about a friend of his who had been killed in battle by Agnian soldiers, not caring that they themselves were not from the same colony as said soldiers. When Mio offers her life as compensation, he moves to take her up on it, but relents upon seeing from her markings that she has only a few months left to live anyway.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! Capsule Monster Coliseum, losing to Marik makes him declare that you suck so much you're not even worth banishing to the Shadow Realm.
- Played for Laughs in 8-Bit Theater when Sarda spares the lives of the Dark Warriors because they’re so utterly incompetent and helpless that even he can’t find the idea of killing them amusing.
"Look, I don't do this... Uh, ever. But you guys are basically like kittens stuck on a leaking lifeboat in a typhoon. Just run."
- In Bob and George:
- Bob decides that killing Megaman and George would only delay his fight with Protoman.
- Mynd decides neither of the titular characters - demigod children imbued with
fireexplosion and electric powers, respectively - are worth killing, and even brushes George aside before trying to leave. This, inevitably, comes back to bite him in the ass.
- In Girl Genius Colette doesn't deem it worth her time to hunt down Beausoliel's real body outside Paris after destroying all his clank bodies, as whoever his new "masters" are will certainly not be happy with his failure to deliver Paris to them.
- Dellyn Goblinslayer from Goblins considered himself the arch-nemesis of Thaco the goblin. Eventually he's at the latter's mercy, thinking that Thaco is going to kill him and immortalize Dellyn as his greatest foe... only to be left alive instead after a truly magnificent "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
Thaco: You're not worth the XP I'd get for killing you.
- Of course, by recent Dungeons & Dragons rules, Thaco gets XP for "overcoming the challenge" that Dellyn poses, so he's really not worth killing at that point. But Thaco (as his name suggests) is used to the rules of older editions...
- Played for Laughs in this Nerf NOW!! strip where Angie decides an enemy is not worth killing because they don't give out enough XP or drop valuable enough loot to be worth the effort. Said enemy is unamused.
- Lampshaded in The Order of the Stick: During his second encounter with Roy, Xykon, the Evil Overlord, dismisses him as not worth fighting and suggests calling off the battle as a Mulligan, essentially offering Roy to go free so he can gain power and return later for a "good final tussle, Hollywood style". Roy rejects the offer, so Xykon kills him.
- TwoKinds: Subverted in a side strip, where Zen begs for his life by saying that he is too pathetic to kill. Clovis agrees, but then replies that Zen is too pathetic to live. It turns out that Clovis is playing with action figures.
- Seongmok from Weak Hero is well-known for only fighting opponents that he thinks are strong. He passes up Alex without a second thought, which his partner Dongha loudly mocks Alex for. This doesn't help with Alex's existing self-doubts about being The Load to his best friend Ben, and he ends up picking a fight with Dongha instead to prove himself.
- Zebra Girl: Sandra invokes this as the reason why she doesn't kill the vampires who attacked Crystal and Sam.
- Played for Laughs in "A Peppa Pig Magazine" by Caddicarus. Caddy tries feeding a cutout of Daddy Pig to his dog, Stan, only for Stan to avoid eating it and leaves it on the floor instead.
Caddicarus: Daddy Pig, you're not even good enough for the DOG to eat.
- In Courier's Mind: Rise of New Vegas, The Courier decides Benny is not worth killing yet. When The Courier finally catches up with Benny to avenge his own attempted murder, he's stunned to disbelief by the fact that Benny not only shrugged off seeing one of his victims Back from the Dead, but is now offering to let The Courier become his right-hand man when he takes over New Vegas. The Courier sees right through it but lets Benny go and kills the goon squad Benny sends up to dispose of him. As The Courier puts it, he wants Benny to realize how fucked he is before killing him, and dealing with him while he still thinks on top of things would suck all the fun out of finally killing him.
- The Dimensional Guardians from the web fiction serial Dimension Heroes find themselves being spared from death multiple times, often by the Big Bad, who would much rather his servants take care of matters that are beneath him.
- In The Gamer's Alliance, Ronove, the new Dreadlord of the Northern Horde, decides to spare the surviving defenders of the besieged city of Vanna and allow them to flee while the horde takes over the city. His superior and peers later question the merciful act as well as the fact that the survivors will inevitably spread the news of the horde's activities and strategies to other cities which will be prepared for the upcoming war. He quickly justifies his actions by explaining his reasons for letting the heroes flee: their worthy opponent status, the promise of a later even bloodier battle worthy of higher demons' time, as well as the heroes' tales of the siege which will weaken other cities' morale when they find out about the horde's unstoppable might. However, the Dreadlord is playing a much more complicated game because among other things he also wanted to pay the defenders back for helping him when he was helpless by letting them flee to fight another day.
- RWBY: At the conclusion of his battle at the end of Volume 8, James Ironwood is deliberately left alive by his opponents. Winter Schnee defeats and leaves him behind in the Vault, where Cinder Fall later meets with Salem. Though Ironwood had believed himself to be the world's best chance to defeat Salem, she doesn't even acknowledge his existence. Cinder only acknowledges his existence fleetingly to rub in just how badly he's lost. In the end, he's left to die while Cinder and Salem fly away from the crashing city.
- In The Salvation War there is a psychic woman who had been mentally tormented by a demon for her entire life. After the human army conquers Hell, she finds and confronts her tormentor... who turns out to be a teenager, literally a Troll From Hell, for whom driving a random innocent person insane was just a game (well, you know the kind). She's about to shoot him, but after seeing him groveling and wetting himself with fear, she decides that he is not worth pulling the trigger.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Katara tracks down the man who murdered her mother, and after seeing what a pathetic wretch he's become since then, to the point that he's even begging her to kill his own mother in exchange, and lampshading it with a mini-"The Reason You Suck" Speech, she lets him live with the knowledge that she will never forgive him for what he did to her and her family and that he's already living out a Fate Worse than Death.
- Ben 10:
- In one episode of the original series, after Kevin went around committing crimes and placing the blame on Ben, they end up in a showdown on a bridge. At one point, Kevin shifts back to his normal human form on accident and is completely at Ben's mercy, who is still using Fourarms. It seems like he's about to crush his skull with a well-placed fist or two but instead hits right next to him before walking away, remarking that Kevin's not worth it and never was. This, however, doesn't end up going well for him as he ends up needing to be saved by the guy who's been hunting him down the entire time due to Kevin's rage and hatred at being told this causing him to go One-Winged Angel.
- In the sequel series, Ben 10: Alien Force, after getting hassled by school bullies JT and Cash, Ben is seemingly about to go alien on them... but then outright states that they aren't worth the trouble, instead opting to give them a "The Reason You Suck" Speech about how they're nothing but sad, pathetic losers who bully others to make themselves feel big and that they need to grow up.
- Ben 10: Ultimate Alien has JT and Cash being Fake Ultimate Heroes in "Reflected Glory". When Psyphon hears them boast about being the ones responsible for his master's defeat, he arrives to Earth to destroy them. The two admit in tears making all this up, causing Psyphon to say the trope with disgust.
- In the sequel, sequel series Ben 10: Omniverse, there is a less-lethal example. A group of former villains who call themselves "The Vengers" are trying to subvert Ben and become the city's superheroes instead of him. Ben not only doesn't take them seriously, but he also doesn't even bother trying to prove them wrong or compete with them. He instead chooses to sit on the sidelines and watch as they tear each other apart.
- Used in Futurama, except not with killing. Zoidberg teaches Cubert that the best way to avoid an ass-kicking is to pitifully grovel at the feet of a bully. It works surprisingly well.
- Miraculous Ladybug has a non-lethal variant in the Valentine's Day episode. The Monster of the Week Dark Cupid is infecting everyone in town with a Hate Plague, but when he gets to Chloé, he notes that she's already so cruel and hateful that there's no point shooting her.
- Moral Orel: Clay's father Arthur tells the boy he's not worth hitting following the prank that caused Clay's mother Angela to die of a heart attack. Unfortunately, this resulted in Clay associating abuse with worth and attention.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In the episode "Power Ponies", the Mane Six and Spike are transported into Spike's comic where they become the titular heroes and Spike is their sidekick Humdrum. When they attack The Mane-iac's lair, she defeats them by paralyzing them with her Hairspray Ray of Doom. However, she doesn't spray Spike with it, declaring that he is too "useless" to be of any concern and not worth paralyzing and taking hostage like the others. This comes back to bite her when Spike manages to infiltrate her lair and free his friends.
- ReBoot: Upon defeating Megabyte, Matrix appears to be about to impale him through the skull with AndrAIa's trident... but instead stabs the space right next to Megabyte's head, declaring him to be not worth it before going on to tell Megabyte to remember the humiliation of his defeat and that Mainframe will always endure and Megabyte will never win. Sadly backfires come Season 4: a still-alive Megabyte invokes Came Back Strong and, because of the show's Cancellation, does win.
- Robot Chicken:
- The Yakuza kills all of *NSYNC except Joey Fatone, who was in the kitchen at the time. When he begs them not to shoot him, they tell him they wouldn't waste their bullets on a simple roadie.
- Zune Man decides to kill Steve Jobs but ends up being thwarted by CD Man. After proving how outdated CD Man's format is, he takes care of him, but not before realizing how pathetic he and the Zune really are. He begs Steve Jobs to put him out of his misery, but Jobs wouldn't want to waste the bullet.
- A variation happens in The Venture Brothers When Dr. Venture, Pete White, and Billy Quizboy accidentally find Sphinx's headquarters, they wipe Billy's memory of the encounter, but not Pete's. When he asks why, this is Col. Gathers' response:
Gathers: White, you lazy bastard, if you had even an ounce of that little guy's moxie, I'd be cleaning you like a toilet seat!
- The first time someone tried to release The New York Ripper in Britain, every single print got returned to Italy after the BBFC refused to classify the film.
- On The Howard Stern Show G. Gordon Liddy gave this as his reason for not holding a grudge or seeking revenge against his fellow Watergate conspirators (who had cooperated with prosecutors to get lenient sentences, leaving him hanging out to dry because he refused to do so).
- Muhammad Ali once stopped a boxing match because of this. In 1972, he was having a rematch bout with Jerry Quarry. However, by the seventh round, Jerry was running on fumes and not fighting at his best. Ali saw this and urged the ref to end the bout as he could have severely injured the man.