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Pragmatic Villainy

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Eliphas: You allow them to escape, Lord Araghast?
Araghast: Because it serves me, Eliphas! If we kill them now, we waste the value of the traitor in their ranks. Your vengeance can wait.
Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising
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A subversion of the Even Evil Has Standards trope, when a villain refuses to do something horrible not because it is too evil and/or abhorrent, but rather because it's not in their interests to do so; it's a waste of limited resources, and may even be counter-productive.

Sometimes, even a villain finds it furthers their aims to Pet the Dog from time to time, even if it's just for show. Maybe there's dog-kicking in their past; even if there isn't, the Pragmatic Villain is the type to have studied those who have. No matter the combination of dogs and boots, and they're sure to have investigated them all quite thoroughly, there just isn't anything to be gained by it and one's toes get a little tender after too much of that kind of thing. Also, a dog kicked too often can bite back. Though a pragmatic villain is likely to be less destructive than their Card-Carrying Villain counterpart, they are made all the more dangerous by their focus on their ultimate goals and their reluctance to carry the Villain Ball.

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Oftentimes, their course of action is determined solely by discerning which would best serve their purposes. Being evil, to them, just keeps their options open when it comes to illegal and immoral acts, and doesn't stop them from using 'legitimate' (or at least socially respectable) strategies and tactics. Heroes are sometimes surprised when said villains do something "unexpectedly" evil later, when they were doing "good" things before. Should kicking the dog become a necessary step in their master plan, however, expect their kick to have the power and precision of a football player going for a game winning field goal, usually while stating it's Nothing Personal. They will easily cross the finishing line in a Moral Event Horizon if it's useful to them.

Virtually any Villain with Good Publicity tends to be a master of this trope. Villains With Good Publicity almost always have years of experience in earning the trust of their supporters, and are well aware that angering dog-lovers (among others) will not advance their cause and may hinder it. Even for those who don't happen to be Affably Evil, if any dog-kicking is deemed necessary, they will keep these acts of cruelty out of the public eye, or when they can't do that, they'll do what they can to make it look like the victim deserved it; how evil they truly are under cover of darkness must remain shrouded in darkness. They also tend to be masters of the Xanatos Gambit. The Noble Demon will probably attempt to justify his nobility this way, with varying degrees of believability. Whenever there's a Generic Doomsday Villain or an Omnicidal Maniac around, there's a good chance the other villains will form an Enemy Mine with the heroes to stop them, as they want to rule the world, not destroy it. Or at least not steal their job of fighting the heroes. Even most Chaotic Evil Ax-Crazy villains who do things For the Evulz fall to this trope. There's no fun or challenge for them if everyone's dead — they'd be left forlorn with no idea what to do next. An Incidental Villain most often excels in this with his worldview generally being that of a Monopoly game where advancing towards their goals through the quickest and most efficient way is the only thing that matters to them and beating the rivals on their way is optional and hardly obligatory much of the time. This mindset is helpful in stories where the bad guys have a huge advantage over their antagonists, leading them to not so much beat them, as much as convince them that it will be more profitable not to commit the crimes that they intended to and instead choose a legit way as an alternative.

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An obvious foil to villains with Complexity Addiction (who will do the evil deed anyway), though some do manage to pair the two. A subtrope is Can't Kill You, Still Need You if applied to villains. Contrast Stupid Evil, where the villain hurts their own interests by preferring indiscriminate evil. Compare and contrast Shoot the Dog, where a hero or anti-hero does a morally questionable act for pragmatic reasons. See also Cooperation Gambit, Cut Lex Luthor a Check, Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat, Sanity Has Advantages, and Bread and Circuses. Compare Evil Virtues, where a villain has good traits. For the less evil and more moderate version of this trope, see Jerk with a Heart of Jerk.

Not to be confused with Do Wrong, Right, where an evil act is decried for being poorly executed, and in which the standards that the evil act fails to adhere to are not necessarily those held by a Pragmatic Villain: e.g. one villain could invoke Do Wrong, Right on another for lacking flair.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Code Geass, Cornelia tries to fight the drug trade because the drugs hurt productivity among the conquered Japanese.
    • Guilford and Darlton have little time for the racist attitudes of many Britannians in the military. Not particularly because of principle, but because they think that a meritocratic military which allows in talented Japanese like Suzaku is much more effective than filling the ranks with incompetent Britannians.
    • Schneizel turns out to be this by the end of the series - up until then, he has debated an ethical/economical view to mercilessly conquering other nations. His major retinue comes from disgraced/insane rejects of Britannia's worst, but he has used them like a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. As a result, everyone trusts his word over Lelouch's in the Black Knights, using nothing but semi-coherent (and some incorrect/faked) evidence. And then he gets to fire a nuke on Britannia's capital to shut his other siblings up, and everyone just thinks that it was a necessary evil. By the end, he's preaching eternal peace and using nuclear Armageddon to do it.
  • Dutch from Black Lagoon runs illegal booze, slaves, guns and drugs. He does piracy when the delivery business goes slow. He does not, however, condone his employees running off Ax-Crazy and taking out their issues by shooting at noncombatants when he's in a combat zone. Not because he gives a crap about their lives, but because he wants to know that his backup can be relied upon and stay professional.
    • Most of the cast of Black Lagoon act out of this trope almost all of the time: People who don't seldom last long (except Revy, who has a tendency to run off Ax-Crazy when she has a bad day but is also a main character). Balalaika averts it once when she declares personal war on Hansel and Gretel for killing one of her men, though she also had a pragmatic reason since the pair were destabilising Roanapur by their presence, and by ruthlessly crushing them she sent the message to Hotel Moscow's enemies that there would be a bloody price extracted for anyone who dared attack her or her men.
    • When Elroy, the man Dutch arranged to finish Gretel's getaway, kills the girl instead, Dutch chews him out for ruining his reputation as a transporter. Elroy admits that he did it as One Last Job because his son is sick so he has to get out of the business.
      • Despite Balalaika desperately wanting Hansel and Gretel dead for killing her subordinate, she doesn't go after the Lagoon Trading Company for ferrying Gretel out of the city. Though not explicitly stated, it's implied she spared them because they've proven too useful to kill over a single act against her.
    • Dutch also says in the manga that he doesn’t want to risk himself in an operation that could make him a lot of money, (dooming himself to work for significantly less money that other operators) because he knows doing the job is a great way to get himself killed).
    • During the Baile de la Muerte arc, everyone in Roanapur (except Roberta) wants the American soldiers to get out of town safely, simply because if they died it'd draw a lot of unwanted attention from the United States government.
  • The Gandor Family in Baccano! stays steadfastly out of the drug trade, sticking with relatively less objectionable crimes like bootlegging and gambling. This is due to actual moral objections on the part of Keith Gandor, but the other two Gandor brothers, Luck especially, recognize that it's also because their relatively small organization is not equipped to compete with the larger organized crime families currently running drugs.
  • Aur from Maou no Hajimekata treats those who have become his subjects with decency, even if he has fooled some demons to become part of his army or the women he violated to submission, he gives them what they want by being at his side thus ensuring loyalty, erasing suspicion and lingering hatred from those who hated him before they joined his ranks.
  • Moo in the Monster Rancher anime captured Holly to use the Magic Stone to locate his original body, figuring he could destroy the heroes with it. They rescued her, but by that time he had gotten what he needed to know. Rather than let them find out where he was going or try and stop him in his humanoid form, he simply left them behind so they had no idea where he was.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • In Dragon Ball Z, Nappa and Vegeta (of the Saiyan race) are surprised that a Half-Saiyan/Half-Human Hybrid creates a much stronger warrior than either the Saiyans or humans alone. Nappa suggests that the two go to Earth conquer it, and use their women to breed an army of extremely powerful warriors. Vegeta shoots him down immediately—not because he was against the plan itself, but because it would be ridiculously stupid to breed a race of beings that would one day be far more powerful than you are yourself. Instead, he suggests they just blow the planet up after making their wish for immortality. Seeing as how Vegeta is eventually defeated, and won over (more or less) to the side of Earth, the fact that he ends up marrying a human and having a child with her suggests he's at least possibly implementing the interbreeding plan with the aim of now protecting his newfound home.
      • Vegeta also scolds Nappa for pointlessly wiping a city off the map when they first arrive on Earth, pointing out that he may have inadvertently destroyed one of the Dragon Balls in the process.
    • In Dragon Ball Z: The History of Trunks: While both of the Androids are mass murderous psychopaths, 18 shows some restraint, and scolds 17 for blowing up a clothing store since there will be no one around to give her clothes. Furthermore, when 17 begins joyriding and begins to run over pedestrians, she told her brother to stop since there won't be anyone left for her to kill and wants the humans to live long enough to last.
    • In Dragon Ball Super, Frost seems like a hero, but in reality he's this. He's selfish and concerned mostly with his own gratification, but unlike his counterpart Frieza, he's also smart enough to know that it's easier to get what you want when everybody likes you. So he secretly causes conflicts and disasters, than uses his powers to save everybody and happily accepts the extravagant rewards he gets in return. Naturally, Frieza is such an arrogant idiot that he can't see why this is smart and betrays Frost for being an "amateur".
  • This is the reason why Ginjo from Bleach told Tsukishima to stop Mind Raping Chad and Orihime. He has no moral objection to it, but destroying your hostages' minds means you can't use them as pawns. It's easier to just stick to Mind Control.
    • Mayuri has shades of this too. He sticks with the Soul Society because it gets him: an officer position, funding, minions, supplies, etc. Working freelance gets you an execution by the Soul Society.
    • Kenpachi Zaraki helps save Rukia, not because he believes that her execution is morally wrong... but because he wants to fight Ichigo again. That and it gives him a rare opportunity to fight against his fellow captains, some of the strongest possible foes.
    • Bambietta Basterbine has a habit of sleeping with a random mook, then killing him. Her comrades chew her out for this, saying it's a waste of hot guys.
  • In Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force, Arnage and Veyron take on two other Eclipse infectees. The latter's willy-nilly attacks on innocents will be blamed on the Hückebein, who don't want the added attention.
  • Death Note has Villain Protagonist Light Yagami who was willing to kill tens of thousands of criminals and other undesirables to further his ambitions. But he doesn't approve when his less stable follower Teru Mikami, announces that Kira is going to kill lazy people as well... because Light considers the move premature. Once all the criminals are dead and Kira is regarded as God, Light fully intends to prune out other undesirable elements from "his" world.
  • In Naruto, it could be argued that every ninja village practices this. While glossed over, the series does admit to ninja taking jobs like kidnapping and assassination. By and large, everything a ninja village does is either to win a war or because they were hired to.
    • In Kakashi Gaiden, Kakashi argues against going to save Rin because he believes that as a medical ninja, she will be treated well as long as she tends to their wounded, and the mission takes precedence at the moment. Obito, however, argues that if the Rock ninjas who captured her are "brainless flunkies", they will simply interrogate her. Obito turns out to be right.
    • Turning to a more villainous example Tobi aka Obito Uchiha extremely good about avoiding pointless and/or unnecessarily risky fights. In addition he's fairly nice to his subordinates (as long as they don't betray him) and will help them out when they're in a jam. Not so much because he particularly cares about them, but because he values loyalty and there's simply no advantage in having your subordinates hate you. It's also notable that he seldom tries to force anyone to do anything and usually just talks people into doing what he wants. Though doesn't prevent him from being quite ruthless and fond of taking hostages, threatening children.
    • On surprise Orochimaru (fancier Villain Ball) seems made a few lessons in this after his rebirth. He helps stop Obito on the basis that if the world's destroyed, he won't be able to continue his experiments.
  • Everything Hisoka from Hunter × Hunter does is so that he can help cultivate fighters with potential into someone who can give him a good fight, or in Chrollo's case, to set up a situation where he can fight them without interference.
  • Arlong from One Piece is a Fishman Supremacist who despises humans, but is willing to put his prejudices aside for profit, and prefers bribing corrupt Marine Captains over attacking them. He also finds Nami valuable for her map making skills and praises her for it.
    • Donquixote Doflamingo is the beloved king to the citizens of Dressrosa. While he is renowned as an accomplished pirate worldwide, his people know him as their savior. He is seen shooting Trafalgar Law in public, but explains it away by implicating the victim as a terrorist against the country.
    • Early in the series, Don Krieg wanted to feed his starving crew at the Baratie so he won't lose the manpower at hand.
    • Used in a cruel manner in the Alabasta arc when Crocodile was confronted by Alabasta's elite soldiers, who had taken a lethal elixir to enhance their strength at the cost of dying in five minutes. Even though he could easily defeat them even with their power up, Crocodile didn't see any need to since they would die in a few minutes, instead, refusing to fight them and denying them an honorable death at the same time.
  • In Bakuman。, when Nanamine realizes that "What is Required" will certainly be canceled, he loses hope and Kosugi, the editor he had bullied into going along with his plan of getting ahead, loses his temper in response to Nanamine giving up after how far he went, and punches Nanamine. Nanamine considers getting Kosugi fired and even suing him for battery, but decides not to since it will only serve to make him a laughingstock of the Internet.
  • Kiritsugu Emiya of Fate/Zero may not see himself as a villain, but deliberately uses methods he knows to be both pragmatic and villainous. In his perspective, there is no such thing as a noble war, and that chivalry is the greater crime for perpetuating war by glamorizing it, rather than ending fights with merciless and abrupt execution and leaving survivors with no taste for war.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the only thing stopping Homura from outright villainy is the fact that her main goal is to ensure Madoka's happiness...a goal which cannot be achieved through immoral methods. So Homura says, at least.
  • This is how the protagonists of Cyborg 009 come about in the first place. The Black Ghost specialize in selling weapons and thus have it in their best interests to ensure that the world is in a continuous state of warfare. They are fully aware, however, that letting things escalate to the levels they plan will eventually mean leaving the planet uninhabitable and thus unsuitable for war. In preparation for this, they plan to perfect a process to turn humans into cyborgs capable of living in space... solely so those cyborgs could serve as soldiers and keep the cycle of war going on.
  • In Anatolia Story, one of the reasons it takes so long to get any accusations against Nakia and Urhi to stick are because both are very good at leaving themselves ways to ensure their plans don't get traced back to them. Nakia relies heavily on methods such as using magic water to brainwash unsuspecting people into helping her (the water vanishes when it's thrown up, so no evidence remains behind) or having Urhi do her bidding. At one point, Urhi successfully kidnaps Yuri, but returns her. This is not out of the goodness of his heart, but because Kail would kill Nakia. Similarly, he only admits to assassinating the king because it allowed for him to pin the crime solely on him (Nakia had actually planned it and he carried it out) and let Nakia get off free while he was executed for it.
  • Berserk: Griffith/Femto is the king of this trope as he will never do anything pointlessly evil and will appear as benevolent and fair to anyone who's not antagonizing him. Give him the possibility though to further his goals and he will cross the Moral Event Horizon like a chicken would a road.
  • A Certain Magical Index: Even when he considered himself a villain, Accelerator buys his groceries and meals instead of taking it by force. When questioned about this by Last Order, he explains that although he's powerful enough to just take anything he wants, it's too much hassle to have to deal with the authorities and others futilely trying to fight him off. Buying stuff without making a fuss means he gets it quickly and without any problems. Having everyone in the city hate him for fighting the police would be very annoying.
  • In Black Butler (as well as the anime) Ciel is determined to explain all of his actions away with this, especially if Sebastian thinks he is being kind or generous. No matter what it is, Ciel has a reasonably evil or at least unkind explanation—he lets Prince Soma stay at his London house? He needed someone to watch it and managed to stick Soma with the job. He seemed to have a nice time when visiting with his fiancée? Well, he was only acting that way because it was expected.
  • Cross Ange:
    • In a meeting of the Mana leaders, Julio declares that they must eradicate the Norma, declaring it was their mistake to let them live. One of the leaders immediately protests, reminding him that they're still useful as Cannon Fodder and are needed to harvest the Dragons.
    • Embryo also uses Julio's massacre to his advantage in order to gain new recruits for his Battle Harem. He also tries to convince Ange to side with goal of destroying the Mana world. Too bad for him, Tusk disrupts this by showing the kind of man he really is.
  • Lord Marksman and Vanadis:
    • While leading a raid on the Alsace territory, Zion orders his men not to attack anyone who has taken shelter in the temple, saying such an act would cause everyone in the kingdom to turn against them.
    • After Roland fails a mission, Duke Ganelon has him framed for treason and executed. When Duke Thenardier finds out, he angrily calls Ganelon an idiot, since Roland was a very powerful soldier, one of the few people able to fight a War Maiden on equal terms, and was much more useful alive.
  • Izetta: The Last Witch:
  • In Izure Shinwa No Ragnarok, the warring gods put their previous war on hold when they realized they were razing the very lands that they were fighting over. Their current rules now limit them to an island for their battlefield.
  • Robotech has its fair share:
    • The Robotech Masters at first hold back, even limiting civilian casualties on Earth... Because all their remaining assets are on their motherships and they fear Earth will do whatever they did to wipe out the Zentraedi (almost six million ships) if pushed too much, not knowing it could not be repeated. Even when they figured that out, they still tried to have peace (at conditions Earth was materially unable to fulfill) because by that moment they had weakened enough the Invid were a danger.
    • After conquering Earth, the Invid Regess keeps her race from hitting the conquered humans unless they hit first... Because the last thing she needs is a rebellion that could leave them open to the Robotech Expeditionary Force's attempts at taking back Earth. This one comes to pass perfectly: late in the series one of her subordinates tries to exterminate the population of New York, and suddenly the forces on the ground supporting the final REF offensive are not limited to a handful of resistance fighters but are numerous enough to actually pose a threat.
  • How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord: Medios is a slave trader. She does not abuse her slaves and makes sure they are well educated and all their needs are met. Her reasoning is that this results in Happiness in Slavery, meaning everyone is satisfied and her slaves don't try to escape or resist their masters, resulting in higher profits for her.
  • In episode 15 of Tweeny Witches, Sigma does save Eva from the warlock army, but that is only to win Sheila's trust.

    Comic Books 
  • Crime Boss Wallenquist from Sin City refuses to seek revenge on Wallace, who almost singlehandedly dismantled his human slavery market, because there's no benefit to him.
    "Revenge is a loser's game. There's no percentage in it. All that matters is profit and power."
    • In "The Big Fat Kill", Dwight appears to know this about Wallenquist, and is counting on it. He makes a point of killing all of the men Wallenquist has sent so he'll conclude that fighting Old Town is more trouble than it's worth. The idea of escalation never seems to come up.
  • The Shocker, one of Spider-Man's enemies, is almost unique among the wall-crawler's enemies in that he's rarely concerned with taking revenge on our hero and prefers to only commit crimes that are actually profitable. Of course, superhero comics being what they are, Spider-Man is almost always the one to interfere with the Shocker's robberies. He also avoids doing anything above robberies as he believes doing anything beyond that will simply attract the attention of The Punisher.
    • The Hobgoblin started out with this, vowing to avoid the Green Goblin's mistakes and only went to kill Spider-Man to make sure he wouldn't mess with his plans. However, these traits were lost, though the character's backstory is complicated, with there having been multiple Hobgoblins. The original Hobgoblin still has profit as his biggest motivator, and is actually willing to let other villains use his gimmick, provided they pay him a cut and aren't too embarrassing to him.
    • Another Spider-Man example; after escaping from Ravencroft, Carnage assaulted Martha Robinson and then wrote his catchphrase "Carnage Rules" using her blood and his next to her on an elevator wall, but did not kill her, because he felt that a live, injured, and frightened victim would cause more panic among the Daily Bugle staff than a corpse would. (And it certainly did.)
    • In The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Tombstone was disappointed that his daughter Janice wished to become a costumed supervillain rather than be a mob lawyer since he felt the latter was more profitable and in his eyes equivalent to legalized crime. Nonetheless, he didn't stop her, but told her that she had to support herself if she wished to pursue supervillainy.
  • Bullseye may be an Axe-Crazy Psycho for Hire, but during the Dark Reign, he was lucid enough to realize that he was working for someone who was out of his gourd when Norman Osborn planned to attack Asgard. (And he wasn't the only villain working for Osborn who thought so.)
  • He needed Wonder Woman to point it out, but no, Ares does not support nuclear and biological war - he needs war in order to live. A nuclear war would give Ares a short-term major power boost, but with no one left to fight wars he would eventually fade into nothing. Smaller scale wars that can constantly feed him are more practical for long term survival.
  • Darkseid is like this a lot:
    • He will never try to conquer the universe through Time Travel on the grounds that it is far too reckless. There are simply far too many things that could go wrong when you alter history.
    • Also the reason he teamed up with the heroes to take down the Anti-Monitor. It wasn't out of the goodness of his heart, but if anyone was going to destroy and conquer the universe, it's going to be him.
    • He objects to Desaad and Sleez's acts of evil because they are largely pointless. Desaad is a petty sadist. Sleez once mind-controlled Superman, but instead of doing anything useful with him like trying to conquer the world, he made Superman star in a porno.
    • Another example occurred in Cosmic Odyssey (not surprising, since Odyssey had basically the same plot as Crisis on Infinite Earths), in which it was Darkseid, of all people, who organized the heroes to fight the Anti-Life Entity. Of course, Darkseid did try to manipulate the situation to his own advantage, fully in keeping with this trope.
  • Christu Bulat from The Punisher MAX arc "The Slavers", in total contrast to his father. The relationship between the two is rather strained because Christu views human trafficking as a business and raping girls as just part of the business. He also berates his father for using his bare hands instead of a gun to kill a gang member, as well as for shooting the whole gang. As you could guess from his profession, though, he's still a heartless, raping bastard. His pragmatism is best demonstrated by his willingness to kill his own father. It doesn't work out, both because he underestimated his father and because he gets disemboweled.
  • In the Watchmen universe, after the "costumed hero" phase hit its peak, most costumed villains started either reforming entirely or switching to "less showy" pursuits like drug dealing and prostitution rackets.
  • The Joker explained that he doesn't place Joker Venom on post office stamps because it was too ludicrous a crime even for him, preferring instead to operate on a much smarter level in regards to such matters. This was also when he was framed for placing Joker Venom on postage stamps and nearly executed as a result.
    • He himself also invokes the trope, whenever the bad guys do a Villain Team-Up, they RARELY (If ever) invite the Joker in. While most of them were genuinely afraid of him, some of them didn't like The Joker because he's not exactly a team player and is considered unprofessional and untrustworthy even from his fellow villains. The exception is Lex Luthor, who does invite him if he's in charge of the villain team ups on the basis that it's safer to have an unpredictable Joker on your team than it is to have an unpredictable Joker who's offended you snubbed him.
    • One time, he begged off from doing a Villain Teamup with Carnage because Carnage just wanted to maim and kill, while Joker preferred panache in his murders.
      The Joker: I always thought of myself as the Orson Welles of crime and chaos, while you, apparently, aspire to be nothing more than... David Hasselhoff!
    • The fact that the Penguin is perfectly sane may have contributed to his mutation into a gray market white-collar criminal who Batman is grudgingly willing to tolerate as a source of information on the criminal underworld.
  • You're Dracula. The series is Requiem Vampire Knight. Six million lemures, the souls of those who were mistreated and murdered in life and can only be stopped by killing their tormentor in death, are swarming your ship. Do you fight them all one on one? Or do you step into your back room and break Hitler's neck, wiping out all six million in a stroke?
    • Also in this same comic, Black Sabbat stops Atilla the Hun from murdering Requiem for the heinous crime of being kind and honorable (which by Hell standards, its considered quite objectionable) by pointing out they need every available vampire knight to fight their wars and they can't afford to waste their forces. Of course, Sabbat has ulterior plans for Requiem too so that is why he had him spared.
  • The Red Skull may indulge in petty wasteful sadistic villainy often, but he does not appreciate anyone on his payroll doing the same. Villainy committed on his dime has to have some kind of profit for him.
    • One comic showed him foiling a plan by Madam Hydra, his subordinate at the time, that wanted to blind every American who was watching a television set at some point. He said he was called a lot of things, but never a Nihilist anarchist.
      • Hilariously, he once renounced Nazism to embrace... nihilist anarchism. It didn't take.
    • His clone takes this to another level — while still an unrepentant racist, he's started recruiting from both sexes and all races, in order to gather enough people who hate mutants as much as he does.
  • The Flash's Rogues tend towards this, especially Captain Cold; it is one of their unspoken rules not to kill speedsters, since they know that the other superheroes will hunt them down, will not stop, and may even be "creative" about retribution... for example, what Wally "The Flash" West did to Inertia for de-powering Wally's cousin Bart Allen, also aka The Flash, which led to his death when the Rogues panicked and unwittingly killed him. They promptly turned on Inertia for that, meaning that Iris told Wally that Inertia was the "prime mover" in Bart's death, but still ended up on the run for a year; Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge was about them deciding to first hang up the spandex and disband, but then upon hearing of Inertia's escape, they decide to do their one last job and kill Inertia in revenge. Upon succeeding, they dump his corpse in Keystone City with a message to "Tell the Flash we're even - The Rogues."
    • Also, when Libra tries to get the Rogues to join, Captain Cold's refusal explicitly taunts him: "Have fun with the heat comin' your way for takin' out the Martian." That, and as Captain Cold pointed out in Rogues Revenge: #1, they were persona non grata among supervillains in the year after they'd killed a Flash, so Captain Cold isn't inclined to back them either.
  • In Empowered, most career villains (including mooks) avoid killing heroes unless absolutely necessary, particularly the weak, useless ones like Empowered — doing so will result in your victim's hero friend tracking you down to exact bloody vengeance instead of just arresting you.
  • This sometimes applies to low-level criminals and petty thugs in some of the later Marvel Comics as well. In one Incredible Hulk comic, for instance, two perverts in the showers at the local YMCA are planning to rape Bruce Banner until he warns them about his having super powers; they decide not to see whether he's bluffing. Moreover, in the future depicted in Spider-Girl's comics, several bands of assassins made it a policy only to subdue cops who got in their way and never to kill them, since the various law enforcement agencies involved tend to retaliate swiftly and brutally against cop-killers. A couple of petty burglars caught in the act by a superhero also surrender immediately rather than risk the near-certainty of being pounded into the pavement for fighting or fleeing.
  • Diabolik is a criminal who mainly steals from other criminals, but it's not because he hates them, it's because they tend to keep their money and jewels in their homes and banks have become too much even for him.
    "My dear Eva, illicit business pays well, and what really matters is that it's done in cash. I'm sure that home is full of money."
  • Many criminals appearing in Paperinik's stories, both in the normal stories and Paperinik New Adventures:
    • Petty criminals caught by Paperinik in the act will surrender, because whatever they do they'll get arrested and if they try and resist or escape they'll just get beat up;
    • In Paperinik New Adventures, the Evronians are Emotion Eaters who invade any planet on their way to drain their inhabitants of all emotions with a process that will transform them into Coolflames. They won't drain all inhabitants, however, as some could be useful at a later date and they still need a breeding population to feed themselves. They also spare significant energy sources as they're approaching an energetic crisis, and are desperately searching an infinite one specifically to avert it.
      • In the reboot, Gorthan reacts to finding out that Coolflamization can be reversed by not destroying Earth, as humans are particularly rich in emotions and raiding them continuously to drain them will be more profitable in the long run. In a possible future they do so for one thousand years.
    • Also from Paperinik New Adventures, the Organization, who provide multiple examples:
      • They are time pirates who aim at changing history in such a way they'll be in command of the world, but their attempts at doing it (or at least the one seen in the series) involve assembling a device to move history on their preferred course because they're smart enough to know it could easily backfire;
      • In one occasion they help Paperinik stopping the creation of a bubble that would otherwise erase time itself because it would destroy everything they want to steal;
      • When they decide to get rid of Paperinik, they send their agent to act after the defeat of the Evronians, as they knew his role into the event and that otherwise the Evronians would have become unstoppable and invaded Earth. They also only do it because Paperinik was becoming too much of a danger for them;
      • When they accidentally end up ruling the world as an unintended consequence of their apparent success in killing Paperinik, the future they rule over doesn't seem any different from what is seen in other occasions, presumably because otherwise there would be too many rebellions;
      • Their main agent the Raider once showed up to prevent Duckburg from getting destroying in a nuclear fusion experiment going awry. It's not out of the goodness of his heart, but because the nuclear experiment working would be the only possible power source for his Othership that isn't too surveilled. In fact, had he not needed to charge the Othership he would have left the events proceeding as normal because he isn't stupid enough to risk running afoul of The Butterfly Effect;
      • In his final appearance in the first series, the Raider betrays the Organization to the Time Police because, with time travel stopping working, it was time to retire, and the Time Police paid well.
    • In the reboot we have the time pirate Kronin (a composite character of the Raider and his predecessor in the job). He steals from all across time, but won't try and change time because he fears running afoul of The Butterfly Effect. He states so in his "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Zondag, who had stolen Kronin's time machine and prevented the birth of Evron's main enemies only to cause the Evronians to leave their militaristic ways, thus destroying the Evronian Empire he was planning to rule over.
  • The Transformers: Windblade: Starscream styles himself around this way of thinking when he takes over Cybertron. He's watched now, millions look up to him as the leader of civilization, and he cares only about himself. However, he's doing his best to get the public on his side, and the big reveal at the end of the series is that he wasn't behind the murders and malfunctions in the city because simply put: dead citizens and faulty maintenance reflect badly on him, so why would he go out of the way to sabotage the heroes if it meant him looking bad? This carries over into The Transformers: Combiner Wars where writer Mairghread Scott describes his character in one quote:
    Unlike other villains, Starscream is just as willing to do the right thing as the wrong thing. That's what makes him so dangerous.
  • Zigzagged with the Huntress. Just how evil she is is a matter for some debate. Certainly she's a multiple murderess who shows no remorse about her crimes, and she was made into a villainess in Arrow without any significant changes to her personality or methods. So whether she's a Villain Protagonist, Sociopathic Hero, or just a very dark Anti-Hero is a question of interpretation. But in any case, when she joined the Birds of Prey, she did agree to stop killing people, not because she thought it was wrong, but because the other Birds would not work with her otherwise. Of course, the reason she wanted to be a part of the Birds in the first place was because she valued the friendship of Black Canary so much. So is Huntress a pragmatic villainess who restrains her murderous impulses because she knows her teammates won't work with her otherwise, or is she a killer who has been at least partly redeemed by the Power of Friendship?
    • Notably, she had a similar agreement with Batman during her time in the JLA, but was prepared to break it for revenge on Prometheus, who was completely helpless at the time. Batman stopped her and promptly kicked her out of the League.
    • The No Man's Land arc around the same time also may have had an impact on her. After failing to live up to Batman's expectations operating as Batgirl, Huntress sided with an Ax-Crazy cop who shared her beliefs on killing criminals. It went very badly.
  • In the Angela (Marvel Comics) title Asgard's Assassin, Malekith the Accursed disguised as Angela's best friend Sera aided Angela in her quest to purge her newborn sister of Surtur's curse. When Angela confronted him having realized "Sera" was an imposter he explained that he did it to prevent Surtur from becoming ruler of the Ten Realms. As bad as relations between Asgardians and the Dark Elves are, the Dark Elves would fare even worse under Surtur.
  • In the Star Wars comic Boba Fett: Enemy of the Empire, Boba Fett has been tasked by Darth Vader to retrieve a mysterious package that is only revealed at the climax to be an Oracular Head. Vader himself arrives to take the package, and the two battle over it, Fett obviously greatly outmatched. Fett's only chance of survival is to hurl the package into a volcano, knowing Vader will be forced to levitate it to safety in time. At the end of the story it is revealed that as Vader was distracted, Fett aimed his gun at him for a kill shot before thinking the better of it and fleeing. As he puts it, by then there was no reason to fight further, and killing Vader would only make him the most wanted man in the Empire. He also recognizes this trait in Vader himself, noting that "the Dark Lord is not one to make fruitless enemies. In time Vader's anger will cool, and the Empire may once again require his services."
  • Crimson: Victor Van Fleet is a corrupt US senator and secretly a Vampire Monarch in league with the Big Bad to take over the world. However, he is extremely unhappy when dragons are unleashed from Hell and cause devastation upon the world, not because of any particular moral reservations over innocents being hurt, but because it threatens his public image. He is concerned he will be seen as a collaborator and a traitor, instead of a proper leader. When the Big Bad reveals that her master goal is to unmake reality, Van Fleet turns on her and helps the main protagonist because he realizes that he wouldn't get to rule over anything if she ever succeeded in her plans.
  • Laff-A-Lympics: In "The Day the Rottens Won", most of the Really Rottens have decided they'll no longer cheat and Dread Baron announces that they made that decision because they always get caught and disqualified whenever they cheat. It turns out to be a ruse so Dread Baron could "exclude" the Great Fondoo and Magic Rabbit from the team so nobody would wonder about their whereabouts while they sabotaged the other teams from the inside.
  • Vampirella: In the Harris run this is brought up by one of Von Kreist's bosses after he reports to him that he managed to land a crashing plane on top of a children's playground. He doesn't seem to object to Von Kreist's action because of any moral qualms, just the lack of professionalism.
  • Khaal: The Chronicles of a Galactic Emperor: When the warlord Khaal launches his decisive assault to conquer Empyreon, he personally executes his own warriors for mindlessly murdering their foes because he wants to take as many of them alive as slaves. He clearly doesn't have his enemies' well being in mind, he just wants to have proper use for them and will not abide unnecessary deaths.
  • Count Dracula from Marvel's The Tomb of Dracula had previously tried to gain supreme power or take over the world on separate occasions, but he was foiled each time by different heroes over the years. He decided to sit back and have vampires hide in the shadows away from human eyes because they couldn't possibly compete with other superhumans on Earth, as well as because they prospered better while hidden. This angered his son Xarus, who attempted a coup on him in Curse of the Mutants. That doesn't mean his conquest aspirations are dead and buried: after the superhero community was thrown into disorder by the events of Infinity which saw the Terrigen cloud awakening Inhumans around the world and poisoning mutants, Dracula tried to take advantage of the superhero community being in disarray to stage a invasion, though he ended up being stopped by Old Man Logan.

    Fan Works 
  • In Spectacular Seven, the thief Snake Queen Lamia explicitly avoids killing anyone on her jobs. While this is partially because she's morally opposed to the idea, Lamia also points out that it's far more useful to her goals to not kill anyone; she wants to fence the best relics she can get her hands on, and the police are going to search far harder for a killer than they ever would for a thief.
  • Simply go to an undeveloped planet unnoticed, reverse-engineer your technology and sell it to the highest bidder. As long as you remain under the Alien Non-Interference Clause, you'll have a bountiful cache of resources and manpower to compete against the Space Navy that can do nothing to your home base for obvious reasons. See Kings of Revolution for example.
  • In the Jackie Chan Adventures story Queen of All Oni, Jade fits this trope — being very clever, and a Fallen Hero (as well as at least partially Affably Evil), she realizes that a World Domination plot would be unwise, since the Demon Sorcerers attempting to do so was the very thing that turned them into Sealed Evil in a Can, and she wants to avoid the same fate.
    • The Cuban refuses to get into a turf war with the Shadow Hand when they show up in Mexico City looking for the Vault of Endless Night, as he figures it's too dangerous to fight them, and that it's a win-win situation whether they succeed or fail anyway.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami is an odd case- Ami has to resort to this, as opposed to acting the part of a hero, like she wants. Otherwise her minions have discipline problems. Of course, the heroes wouldn't believe her anyway...
  • The A Certain Magical Index fic A Certain Crazy Christmas Special has a hilarious version in the reason why Bad Santa kidnapped a bunch of girls to pull his sleigh instead of using real reindeer:
    One might ask why he did not use real reindeer
    It probably would have been just as cool
    Simply Santa didn't want to mess with PETA
    He was crazy but not that much of a fool
  • In A Cure for Love Light becomes irritated when he learns his followers have opened death camps because it's not as efficient nor as controlled as killing with the murder notebook, not to mention it's bad for P.R.
  • Pony POV Series:
    • The Dark World version of Discord often has to rein in Fluttercruel and keep her from killing their victims, because he feels that having subjects to torment in the long run is better than killing for a thrill in the here and now. It later turns out he's already made a Heel Realization a long time ago during the "Groundhog Day" Loop and is just disguising his acts of genuine mercy as this so Nightmare Eclipse doesn't force him to be evil.
    • In the Finale arc, Discord's brainwashed minion Diamond Tiara suggests altering history so that Megan died before becoming a hero. That way, the Rainbow of Light aka the Elements of Harmony would never have been discovered, and Discord would never have been stopped and his reign would have lasted forever. Discord vetoes this; while he admits he'd be willing to do that if he was guaranteed it would work, Discord points out that there are so many things that can go unpredictably wrong with altering history (citing the Butterfly of Doom) that it's simply not worth the risk. And without Megan, the villains she stopped like Tirek, Grogar, and Lavan would still be around, and all of them are powerful enough to threaten even Discord and would not work with him. Finally, he points out altering history could risk erasing Silver Spoon, Tootsie, and Alula, among the only characters Diamond cares about.
  • Many Naruto fanfics have unspoken codes among ninja based on this trope. These include:
    • Limiting the torture of Genin because they're less likely to have valuable information.
    • Not raping women because their kunoichi comrades would kill them.
    • Not taking certain jobs no matter how lucrative because the loss of P.R. would cost them more money than they'd make.
  • In First Try Series Haku and Zabuza do not attack Tazuna's family when they have to kill Tazuna, not because its wrong but because it would breed ill will among the locals, who might help any ninja hunting them down
  • In Perfection is Overrated, The Usurper doesn't like Hitomi killing indiscriminately, as he feels it draws too much attention to her. Word of God reveals that none of the other SUEs would be willing to team up with Hitomi, partly out of a sense of self preservation and partly because they consider what she is doing unacceptable.
  • In Empire when Lucius Malfoy learns that Snape used his rep to help the Boy-Who-Lived he gives his actual support because it's a politically smart move.
  • In Waking Nightmares, Medic points out that although he once invented a zombie plague, he never would actually use it. Not because of the moral implications, but because a zombie horde cannot be controlled. When Twilight inadvertently remarks that uncontrollable infection vectors are an additional risk, he congratulates her for having the right priorities.
  • Theodore Nott in Harry Potter: The Serpent Lord differs from many pureblood supremacists in that he isn't interested in killing anyone of "lesser blood". His reasons for such are strictly because regardless of who's in charge, the world needs people working blue-collar jobs to make society function.
  • Draco Malfoy/Black in The Power He Knows Not Is gives up on the idea of ruling the muggles after he learns there's roughly 70 million in England alone. In his words, there's maybe 100 thousand wizards in magical England. Factor out the underage, old, and sick and you have maybe half that. Even if Voldemort had the loyalty of every witch and wizard in England, they'd be outnumbered hundreds to one. He still thinks the "Light side" are a bunch of idealistic fools but understands the sheer futility of ever trying to conquer the muggle world.
  • Both Another Perspective and Defending Sirius Black have the Dursleys help Sirius Black clear his name, simply so he can get custody of Harry and they'll never have to see him again.
    • From the same stories, several Death Eaters support Sirius Black getting a trial because they don't want to set a precedent of rich purebloods being sent to Azkaban without a trial.
  • In Crowns of the Kingdom, Lady Tremaine elects to stay out of the villains' team up because it wouldn't benefit her or her daughters.
  • Jennifer Black in Princess of the Blacks releases Cedric Diggory from a Life Debt after deciding that the potential ill-will from him and the rest of Hufflepuff aren't worth having the Head Boy at her beck and call. The goodwill she builds up by doing so also helps. She's extremely annoyed however to learn that, despite her beliefs, Cedric didn't expect her to release him from the debt.
    • Despite his anger at her for killing his familiar, Voldemort decides to offer Jen one last chance to join him, both because of her remarkable ability and because she's apparently Bellatrix's daughter and he doesn't want to risk Bellatrix turning against him if he kills her.
  • Ganondorf in Tangled In Time decides not to kill the infant Link because doing so would only have the child reborn. He decides to raise him as his own so Link would be too attached to him to fight and so he wouldn't learn anything that he could use against Ganondorf. As a result when Link is forced to answer the call and rise against him he barely has any skill in handling weaponry and has no idea who's fighting against.
  • In a Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Star Wars crossover snippet by dogbertcarroll, Jabba implements Andrew's and Xander's method for cloning organs as it's far more profitable than having to capture beings and harvest their organs to sell on the black market, particularly since it's renewable unlike harvesting. Though actually, it's a Batman Gambit the two came up with to shut down the organ trade, and Xander purposefully "lost" the data to Jabba in a bet so the big slug would see him as a sucker in the process.
  • While normally portrayed as Stupid Evil, Travers in the Warslayer works with Buffy since she's both highly effective and supplying the Watcher's Council with two squads of Battle Sisters. He also realizes the Cruciamentum is pointless since each of the three Slayers regularly fight vampires and demons without even using their powers (Powered Armor, Chainswords, and BFGs help).
  • Maledict from Sonic X: Dark Chaos doesn't want to destroy the galaxy with his galaxy-destroying superweapon because the resources of the Milky Way are too useful to squander - and trillions of his own subjects would die in the process, which could form another rebellion and hurt the Demon Empire. He only eventually relents once the Shroud start devouring the Milky Way in force under Dark Tails. The rewrite makes him so pragmatic that he quickly turns into an Anti-Villain, often criticizing the excesses of his servants and turning him into a personification of Hobbes Was Right.
    • Jesus decides to ally with Sonic and friends even though his Angels considers them evil, understanding that they're both a valuable distraction and could do serious damage to the Angels if they were antagonized.
  • In Necessary To Win, after some consideration, Shiho decides not to disown Miho after she wins the tournament, realizing that not even she can see it as a solution to her family's school's present situation.
  • In The Rise of Darth Vulcan, the villain avoids lines like murder and slavery. It's both that Even Evil Has Standards and the fact that crossing those lines would bring down on him a greater show of force from his opponents.
  • Peace Forged in Fire: Praetor Velal of the Romulan Star Empire, initially. By his own admission, he sues for peace with the Romulan Republic not because he likes D'Tan's splinter state, but because the Empire simply no longer has the resources or political will to continue fighting, what with Empress Sela's kidnapping and uprisings over the news that the Tal'Shiar were responsible for the supernova that destroyed Romulus. He later joins the Republic in an Enemy Mine against the Tal'Shiar, because they attacked his men to break up the peace talks.
  • The entire motivation of Harry Potter aka James Moriarty in Business. Everything he does is to either gain more money, power, or both, everything else is irrelevant. He even acknowledges that his plans wouldn't see any profit for several months but would rake in mountains of gold afterwards.
    • Furthermore, when he learns that many of his "employees" are werewolves, his only response is to make sure they have access to Wolfsbane Potion if they want it and are given the week of the full moon off.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness:
    • In Act II, this is the only reason Tsukune's inner ghoul helps save Kokoa from a Superpower Meltdown; so it could use Kokoa's newfound feelings for Tsukune to its advantage by manipulating her into giving it enough power from her overcharge to hijack Tsukune's body completely. The others are Properly Paranoid enough to suspect that the ghoul had an ulterior motive, but, unfortunately, fail to realize just what until it's too late.
    • In Act III, Falla helps Luna figure out how to save Rason by freeing her from her prison and avert Luna's Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum. Not because she actually cares if Luna destroys the world, but because Luna is The Only One who can free her.
    • Also in Act III, Hokuto outright states he hopes that Tsukune and co. thwart Kiria's Evil Plan, but only because if Kiria fails, then Hokuto will have free reign to enact his own Evil Plan as per his agreement with Kiria.
  • In a My Little Pony fanfic called Three Evil Rulers, Three Cold Hearts, the three rulers from the Hearth's Warming Eve play are revealed to still have been encased in ice, and Discord revives them to wreak havoc. The three rulers attempt to brainwash their respective former civilizations to make war on each other again, and at the climax, they are finally defeated when their former assistants are also seemingly revived, and show up to help the Mane 6 fight the rulers with love and friendship. Except they aren't really the former assistants—they're Queen Chrysalis and a couple of Changelings in disguise! So why would they help our heroes? Queen Chrysalis is still a villain, but a pragmatic one, and her species feeds off love. But if the evil rulers keep spreading hatred, the Changelings would starve, so the queen temporarily gave her aid to the heroes so her species wouldn't have to hibernate.
  • Sasuke Uchiha in Unconventional Win decides against trying to assassinate the Five Kage and instating a new world order after Naruto hooks up with Kaguya as not only would pissing her off be a bad idea, but the only person who could help him beat her would instead be helping her.
  • In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, Terra elects to not kill the humans of Earth until after his group conquers them, as he would rather they relinquished power to the Stardroids.
  • Ashes of the Past has Giovanni, boss of Team Rocket. He has an entire department dedicated to directing heroes to possible world-threatening crises. Why? Because you can't conquer/rule/extort the world if there is no world. Also, he sees the ability to remake reality useful, but ultimately too flashy and too risky to gain.
  • The Bridge:
    • Xenilla decides to act civil to the ponies instead of attacking them because it's too risky to incur the wrath of Princess Celestia, who is more powerful than him in his current state, and other Equestrians might have potent gifts like Fluttershy, who can subdue any creature with The Stare. He encourages Destroyah to do the same. He also mentions that he doesn't engage in "brutish behavior" like random destruction because it's pointless and will not help him achieve his goals. This later comes to the forefront when he decides his research in the Crystal Empire be more stable with Princess Cadance in charge, as oppose to the returning King Sombra; causing him to go after the latter. Played with, as ultimately Xenilla had far more noble intentions he first let on and his actions were more moral than he let on.
    • Bagan is an Omnicidal Maniac and desires nothing more than to snuff out every living being in the universe. However, he's in a weakened state and needs outside help to restore him. After gathering several servants, he strikes up the appearance of a Benevolent Boss so that they will obey him, and curbs his desire to kill them until he's been restored to full strength because they can't serve him if they are dead, and hurting one would get the others to turn on him. He also has his troops act subtly most of the time to avoid damaging the artifacts they have been sent to retrieve.
    • Grand King Ghidorah, also an Omnicidal Maniac, briefly gets into a fight with Starlight Glimmer, who actually manages to affect him with her spells and drain his power before getting knocked out. Ghidorah considers killing her, but impressed by her power, decides she is much more useful alive and brainwashes her to target Godzilla Junior, noting that he can kill her after she has drained his enemy and made him easier to defeat.
  • In The (Questionable) Burdens of Leadership of a Troll Emperor, Oma utilizes this when convincing Naruto and Xanna to make more humane decisions regarding their empire. Naruto is annoyed he can't simply punch out dissenters then lecture them, but Xanna admits ordering mass executions didn't work the last time she was a ruler.
    • Xanna easily admits that the sole reason she became a benevolent rulers is that it gets better results than tyranny. Also, her subjects do what she calls "stupid-but-interesting things" (such as trying to inhabit a Death World) instead of trying to rebel.
    • Early on, Naruto and Xanna cure one of the Asgard of their degeneration which earns them a great debt from the race. Xanna decides to hold off on collecting for a few centuries as their budding empire is still in the Stone Age. Once their society advances far enough to make use of Asgard technology, her requested reward is for them to teach her scientists.
  • Slavers in Leftovers don't rape the kunoichi they capture purely because the girls are worth more if they're virgins.
  • In Dexter's Lab: Equestria, the Changelings avoid attacking the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, because they are the only ones capable of stopping threats like Discord and King Sombra.
  • Onyxia initially sides with Harry Potter and his group in Wizard Runemaster after he explains that her current location is known to her enemies and they will continue assaulting her lair until she is dead. However if she helps Harry with a particular quest, he'll help relocate Onyxia and her clutch to a new, more secure location. Furthermore, she later helps free several Emerald Dragons from the Emerald Nightmare to start making inroads with the other Flights when she becomes the new Aspect of Earth.
  • A Feddie Story has Garma Zabi demand his subordinates be respectful of the natives and keep the destruction to a minimum when fighting on Earth, for the simple reason that he knows Zeon does not have the manpower to conquer eight billion people who all hate Zeon uniforms, their contents, and everything they stand for.
    "Conquering Earth will take more than revolutionary zeal. It will take pragmatism, and an ability to show we are not monsters."
    • He justifies the evacuation of New York City to his father by arguing that allowing the murder of the citizenry in addition to the destruction of the city would cause the Federation to fight harder, pointing to the fact that the colony gassing and the destruction of Seattle before he was placed in command of the Earth Attack Force provoked spasms of no-surrender fanaticism.
  • In the big Disney crossover Disney's War — A Crossover Story, as well as its follow-ups End of Worlds and The Final Adventure, Chernabog from Fantasia is surprisingly portrayed as such instead of pure evil; he knows that even he wouldn't be sure to survive if the Worlds' balancenote  was broken, and conquering other worlds than his or even harming visitors from outer worlds would most certainly break it. He doesn't mind answering questions to Mickey and the gang, who sometimes come to visit him when they really need an information only a powerful being such as him is likely to know.
  • Derflinger brings this up to Saito in Enslaved on why rape isn't as common as Saito seems to think it is in Halkagenia. Mercenaries are often followed by groups of whores and rape in war is a war crime, so any mercenary who does so will at best find himself out of work. Nobles could rape peasants but it's easier to find a willing peasant girl (or a whore) and, according to Derflinger, peasants belong to the noble they work for, why would a noble deliberately devalue his own property?
    • On another note, most mercenaries try to avoid killing in battle. It's hard to get paid when you're dead so most just try to rough each other up some then retreat if things are going poorly for them. Furthermore, they might just be working with their current enemies some day.
  • At one point in Everybody Does Sunset Shimmer!, Sunset Shimmer agrees to be Principal Celestia and Vice Principal Luna's BDSM slave for one night to avoid detention. The two take delight in torturing and humiliating her. When Luna wants to record the session to further humiliate her, Celestia stops her. While it would be amusing, there's too great a risk that the footage could leak, resulting in them getting fired and arrested. Celestia also takes measures to prevent Sunset from being permanently injured or scarred for similar reasons.
  • In the Total Drama story, Courtney and the Violin of Despair, the spirit inhabiting the titular Violin decides not to kill the 11-year-old Courtney when she acquires the Violin because it deems a little girl to be not worth the effort. For a time, the Violin Spirit is content to merely erode Courtney's spirit instead.
  • In a chapter of Direction, the third story in The Nuptialverse series, Discord scolds Queen Chrysalis for trying to kill the Mane Five, in that doing so would alert the llamas of their presence, and besides that, they no longer provide a threat without Twilight.
  • Combines with Even Evil Has Loved Ones in Petrification Proliferation when Narcissa Malfoy throws Lucius under the bus after he's arrested for opening the Chamber of Secrets. The Malfoy name is ruined and she has to do everything she can to salvage their reputation, including possibly reaching out to the recently freed Sirius. Also, a Basilisk is considered a Weapon of Mass Destruction and could have killed their son Draco.
  • In the epilogue of Trolling the League, Poison Ivy is head of a Mega-Corp that's far ahead of every other company in eco-friendly technology and has even developed an algae that's terraforming Mars to make it fit for human habitation. All of it to reverse damage to Earth and eventually get humanity off the planet after Naruto explained to her that it was impossible to wipe out humanity without wiping out all life on Earth period.
  • A number of Cleveland vampires in Father Goose and the Black Knight avoid killing people as much as possible, simply to stay off the radar of the local Slayers. One outright states that so long as you're smart, you actually can live forever; buying into your own invincibility gets you killed. At the same time, the story also shows using newly sired Carla as an example of how difficult it is for a being whose soul was replaced by a blood-borne warrior demon that craves blood and slaughter to live like this even if they rationally know it's the best way to avoid being killed.
  • In Dungeons and Drow, the titular Drow is told by her new owner (Harry Potter) that he doesn't plan to rape or torture her for the same reason she wouldn't use her concealed dagger to chip stone: it ruins a useful tool to accomplish something meaningless.
  • In For Love of Magic, Adrastia Zabini abandons her plans to seduce Harry as well as Sirius, make one kill the other then later make the winner commit suicide when she realizes Harry is too strong and too self-aware for her magical seduction to work. Instead she settles on an alliance between the two as both know about the other's highly illegal activities but also has sufficient gold to bribe investigators even if either had enough evidence to truly condemn the other.
    • A later chapter shows that Quidditch is one area where being a pureblood won't cover for incompetence. Even the most devout blood purists want their team to win and would rather have skilled muggleborns carry them to victory than unskilled purebloods cost them a match.
  • Poison Ivy in Marry The Knight initially wants to expose her husband Bruce Wayne as Batman to get a random supervillain to murder him so she can inherit his fortune. However, Nightwing points out that if Batman's secret identity gets out, every criminal he's ever apprehended would file lawsuits for assault, which given how many he's apprehended would drain even his fortune. And if she simply lets Batman get killed by the two assassins currently after him, she'd be under suspicion for her husband's disappearance and lose his fortune as well. Even if she could raise another fortune afterwards, why forfeit the perfectly legal fortune and respectability she currently has in hopes of gaining an illegal fortune later? Lastly, Bruce keeps Harley's needs in check and prevents her from going back to the Joker. In the end, Ivy decides to not only not expose Bruce but to also save him from the assassins after him.
    • There's also the matter of her personal saftey: As Nightwing puts it, if Bruce dies, she'll have to deal with vengeful heroes-including ones like Red Hood and Huntress, who aren't ardent followers of the Thou Shalt Not Kill rule, and there's no guarantee she'll be able to deduce all the Bat Family's identities (she'd managed to unmask Dick, and deduced that Tim and Cassandra are Red Robin and one of the Batgirls, respectively). Likewise, if word got out that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one and the same, then every villain in his Rogues Gallery will assume Ivy and Harley knew, and be out for their blood (mentioning an earlier incident when the two nearly killed Catwoman for similar reasons).
    • Harley Quinn has a similar moment earlier in the story, when she points out a major flaw in Ivy's plan: if they flat out kill Bruce, then the various young wards he's taken in will swarm in to battle for the inheritance, slinging all sorts of slander her and Ivy's way. And even if nothing was ever tied to the two of them, the media would have enough of a field day to make their legitimacy as heirs highly questionable. Ergo, one of them (namely Harley) should at least get pregnant first, so that they'll at least get something for child support.
  • Former Evil Overlord Damien in Retired to Equestria makes it clear to Princess Luna that he has no interest in taking up his old occupation for two reasons. First, it will be at least a few centuries before he recovers enough power to challenge her and Celestia. Second, he's retired. Even if he defeats them, it'll just leave him as the Evil Overlord in a world where everyone wants him dead and that's precisely why he left his old world to retire.
    • He later helps a former enemy land a job, not because he wants to help the man, but because he's said enemy's landlord. He wants the man to earn enough money to pay his rent.
  • Aizen decides not to kill Hinamori in What Hides Beneath the Surface because he's managed to make some inroads with Ichigo and wants her to help keep Ichigo from becoming his enemy.
  • Menma/Naruto pretends to be this in Eroninja when a man owing him a large gambling debt tries to sell his daughter into prostitution to pay off his debts. Naruto tricks him into selling himself (and being put to work in a mine), then plays it off as him not wanting a subordinate sweet on the daughter to turn against him. Furthermore, he owns a 30% stake in the family store and the father would run it into the ground with his gambling whereas it's profitable under the daughter.
    • He also forgives the debts of the women working at the brothel he took over. With more money going to the workers instead of their husbands/fathers debts, they're more enthusiastic about their work which draws in more customers, earning both him and them far more money.
  • After being sent back in time with his morals replaced by those of a demon (specifically Mara in The Demon's Contract, Ranma decides to become engaged to Kasumi while manipulating the sisters to think it's their idea. Afterwards, he takes her out, helps her enjoy herself, and encourages her to pursue any job or hobby or lifestyle she wants. The reason for all of that? While he doesn't love any of the Tendo sisters, he wants out of that house and the only way to do so is with a fiance who will support him on anything. Like say, the one he saved from a lifetime of being stuck at home caring for her family.
  • Wandering Pilot has the Swamp Witch, who wants Shinji Ikari and wants him alive. The reason? Because he has divine healing abilities and has a demonic staff (which few know is the Unit 01) with incredible power. That still doesn't keep her from putting multiple curses on the poor kid or even Melona from forcibly milking him.
  • While they're mostly Anti Villains, Konoha decides not to pursue Naruto in The Pride after he and several Kunoichi go missing-nin because Naruto is far too powerful for them to realistically do anything about and it's not worth trying to capture or kill him when he's neither antagonizing Konoha nor joining its enemies.
  • In one Bleach story, Liltotto manages to get the drop on a weakened Ichigo but decides against eating him because he's half-Hollow and a Hollow's reiatsu is toxic to Quincies like her.
  • In A Year Too Soon Lucius Malfoy invites Harry to the Yule Ball he's hosting and when the boy can't come because Dumbledore won't allow it, does his best to placate everyone who expects Harry to be there without tossing the blame on Harry. Regardless of what he personally thinks of the lad, Harry Potter is the greatest celebrity in the Wizarding World and it would benefit Lucius to ingratiate himself with him.
    • Harry later convinces Slytherins not to use the slur "mudblood" by pointing out that not only is such language unbecoming of someone of their upbringing, but it's a rather foolish idea to potentially insult someone who might have more power (magical or political) than you.
  • Both Cooler and his deceased mother display various shades of pragmatism in Frigid Future. Cooler is willing to work with the Earthlings then later Gohan because the former knows the androids better and the latter is the only one strong enough to help him kill them. He still wants to kill Gohan as well, but is willing to put their fight on hold until the androids pay for first killing Goku (and denying Cooler his revenge) then later destroying his ship and stranding him on Earth. His mother, Empress Arctiza imprisoned Freeza for destroying a planet under her protection and cited his foolishness for doing so, as destroying a planet negates the point of conquering it in the first place.
  • In Lex Marks the Spot, Xander explains away his altruistic actions as pragmatism after he finds himself in Lex Luthor's body. Decisions such as providing full medical insurance for employee families are coached as increasing employee retention and potentially saving billions in lawsuits should someone get injured on the job.
  • In Hope for the Heartless, the Horned King is portrayed as a warlord who doesn't believe in any sort of waste, especially when it pertains to him. For example, he has kept Creeper around for as long as he has because the cowardly little goblin the lich despises has uses. After he's convinced to keep Avalina as his prisoner, he reins in his murderous nature and saves her life initially just because she's his only chance to avoid being imprisoned inside the Black Cauldron forever. However, he does gradually start genuinely caring for her over time.
    • The former master of the Horned King, Arawn, gets this characterization a bit as well. While worse than the Horned King, the Death Lord of Annuvin does not believe in attacking something without reason because it would be a waste of time, resources and energy. He would instead spot a potential threat and eliminate it without expending extra energy. Knowing this, the Horned King deduces that Arawn is tormenting Avalina in her dreams because he regards her as a threat to his own plans.
  • Pokémon Reset Bloodlines:
    • Team Rocket doesn't deal in prostitution, not because Giovanni has any kind of moral objection to the practice, but because he considers the industry too trackable.
    • Sabrina lets worthy trainers live in order to attract mediocre ones, due to the fact there's a chance for survival. She also follows Social Darwinism to a different degree than most who practice it: no matter what it is one does, she simply cares if you are good at it. Even a good thief or con artist is acceptable in her book.
    • Unlike canon, Giovanni doesn't use Mewtwo in gym battles as it'd draw too much attention and might out him as the leader of Team Rocket.
  • Harry Potter and the Natural 20: Lucius Malfoy doesn't actually want Voldemort resurrected. His Cartoonish Supervillainy ways are simply too destructive — far better to advance pureblood supremacy through the Boring, but Practical method of exploiting corruption in the Ministry of Magic.
  • Roman Torchwick decides against trying to manipulate the powerful but naive Jaune in White Sheep because the boy is powerful and naive. As Roman explains to Neo, people get smarter faster than they get stronger and manipulating someone as powerful as Jaune only works until they learn you're doing it. Instead, Roman does Jaune a favor and sends him on his way so the lad is unlikely to move against him.
    • Cinder eventually abandons her plan to attack Beacon to steal the Fall Maiden's power because, due to Jaune's accidental meddling Ozpin offers to make her the Fall Maiden.
  • The One-Punch Man fic The Strongest Hero has the world know Saitama is by far the strongest around, and thus offers a few examples:
    • The House of Evolution stops trying to take over the world and effectively becomes a subgroup of the Hero Association when Saitama asks them to not because Genus had a change of heart, but because he knows he could wipe out all his creations in a heartbeat. They've also started an Heel–Face Turn even before meeting him precisely because of that knowledge.
    • Bofoi convinces the Hero Association to give him control over the prison where the monsters and criminals that surrendered to Saitama are imprisoned not to experiment on them, but because there's the chance one of the inmates could organize the others into an army that could overwhelm Saitama through sheer numbers and he seeks to avoid it. In the same vein, he improves the inmates' conditions, and limits the experiments he'd run on them, because it helps prevent the revolt, and while he could just dump the prison into lava there's no guarantee some of the inmates could survive even that.
    • Vaccine Man and the Brain and Brawn Brothers are the inmates who could organize the others into an army, but refrain to do so, and even collaborate with whatever experiment Bofoi runs that day more than the others, because with him in charge there's no chance to get away with and collaborating grant them rewards. They even get the chance to be released one day (with the understanding that if they go back to be criminals the Hero Association will have Saitama kill them) in exchange for collaborating with Genus' experiments because they could pose a danger but are smart enough to instead collaborate with Bofoi.
  • The Tick vs... MY HERO ACADEMIA! has Chairface, whose evil plans in Japan involve cornering the H-Doujinshi market, the unlicensed hero merchandising market and other more profitable endeavors then just plain out villainous actions. This gives him low expenses, decent profit, and the only heroes who can be bothered to act against him are those who have been embarrassed by their starring role in some of his doujins (most notably Mount Lady and Kamui Woods).
  • Any monster that survives fighting Saitama in Hero's Harem abandon their plans to destroy humanity out of sheer terror of his power.
    • Deep Sea Queen (Deep Sea King's sister) overthrows her brother over his plans to wipe out humanity, citing that there's no reason to exterminate a perfectly adequate workforce.
  • While acting as The Reverse Mole in In the Kingdom's Service, Jaune criticizes another potential henchman for firing a gun to threaten the owner of the store they're robbing into giving up the combination to his safe. As Jaune puts it, Roman ordered them to get in, steal as much dust as possible, and get out, not hold up an old man for cash. Furthermore, not only is there a huge difference in being hunted for theft and being hunted for murder, but firing a gun is almost guaranteed to alert someone to what they're doing with how loud it is. Afterwards, Roman approves of Jaune's decision, especially since Jaune was the only one to actually bring back some dust while fleeing Ruby.

    Films — Animation 
  • One of the lessons the main character in Megamind learns after apparently killing Metro Man. Part of the enjoyment of being a supervillain is having a worthy superhero to do battle with.
  • While Sir Hiss from Robin Hood seemed genuinely shocked that Prince John would execute Friar Tuck to lure Robin Hood out, he was probably afraid that doing so would risk of them being excommunicated by the Catholic Church, a powerful political entity at that time.
  • In Frozen, Prince Hans gave blankets and food to the poor, so the people can accept him easily once he takes over the kingdom. He also dissuades Elsa from killing the Weselton soldiers and by the same token stops them from killing her, in order not to damage his Good Publicity.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls (2013), Sunset Shimmer mostly has standards, but also complains when her two followers trash the decorations for the Fall Formal too completely — since she wants there to be enough damage to allow her to frame Twilight Sparkle for it, but not so much that the Fall Formal can't be held on schedule, jeopardizing her plans.
  • The Storm King of My Little Pony: The Movie (2017) throws a party for his subordinates after successfully conquering a nation and generally treats them with respect. As the Storm King notes, this isn't really out of concern for their well-being as much as it is ensuring their loyalty. By his logic, minions who like him are always going to be more effective in battle, so it only makes sense to be nice. He subverts this at the end of the film by going back on his word to heal Tempest Shadow's broken unicorn horn, saying using people is "kind of what I do." This sparks a Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal from Tempest that gets the Storm King turned to stone. However, given the fact he'd just caught her saying how she'd 'show everyone what she was capable of' once he restored her horn and his previous number two stabbed him in the back, there may still have been a pragmatic reason for it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Pale Rider: "I want that preacher with a rope around him. No, wait, if we get too rough we'll make a martyr of him, last thing we want to give them is a martyr to fight for."
  • The Godfather
  • In Red Dawn (1984), World War III breaks out and Soviet forces invade and occupy the middle of the United States. Local teenagers in occupied Calumet, Colorado, form into a partisan group called the Wolverines. Every time they make harassment attacks against the Soviet occupation force, the ham-fisted local commander executes random civilians to try to deter future attacks. Things get so bad that a counter-insurgency specialist, Colonel Strelnikov, is sent in to take over. While being scarier and more ruthless than the prior commanders, he starts off with a big meeting hall speech to his local garrison, ordering an immediate halt to civilian reprisals - simply because it doesn't work. He accurately berates them that all this did was generate local sympathy for the partisan fighters and embolden them to keep fighting.
    • Strelnikov: "From this moment on, there will be no further reprisals against civilians. This was stupid. Impotence. Comrades, if a fox stole your chickens, would you slaughter your pig because he saw the fox? No! You would hunt down the fox, find where it lives and destroy it!"
  • The Villain Protagonist of Lord of War, Ukranian-American arms dealer Yuri Orlov, at one point reveals he has never done business with Osama Bin Laden "not on any moral grounds" but because "back then he was always bouncing checks." In fact, he even shipped cargo to Afghanistan while they were fighting the Soviets. His rival, Simeon Weisz, would only sell weapons to those whom he wanted to see fulfill their goals. In the case of the Iran/Iraq War, he supplied both sides in hopes that they would both lose.
  • In The Ten Commandments, Moses is given charge of using slave labor to build Pharaoh's new treasure city. When he takes charge, he improves the slaves' food ration and gives them a day off to rest. When Rameses protests that he's being wasteful, Moses replies, "Cities are made of bricks. The strong make many, the weak make few, the dead make none," and then shows Pharaoh that the city is being built faster than before.
  • In Avatar, the mining corporation uses the Avatar program as a tool of diplomacy to try to peacefully negotiate with the natives for their land and to research the planet. The company executive points out this was done because killing an entire tribe for their land would cause public relations problems. They'll only try to wipe out the Na'vi if they have to.
  • On C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, the Confederacy rejects Hitler's Final Solution because they consider it "a waste of human livestock".
  • The Prophecy featured a pragmatic Lucifer (played by Viggo Mortensen) who has the angelic habit of perching atop things like a bird. Satan saves the main cast from an evil Gabriel, who was on a rampage against mankind. His own selfish motives being that a Heaven ruled by Gabriel would just become another Hell, "and two Hells is one too many.".
  • Constantine also has Satan help foil a rogue angel's plot to help his son unleash Hell on Earth, since being Satan is his job.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Barbossa believes he needs the blood of Elizabeth Swann to remove the curse of undeath plaguing him and his crew. When he first tries the ritual, he simply takes a few drops of her blood, since he intends to keep Elizabeth for himself as a pirate bride.
    Barbossa: Begun by blood...by blood undone! (nick)
    Elizabeth: That's it?
    Barbossa: Waste not.
  • Reservoir Dogs: Played with. Mr. White and Mr. Pink disapprove of Mr. Blonde's killing spree...not because they have any qualms whatsoever about killing someone (they don't) but because they need a reason, even if that reason is "I'm fleeing the cops and you're standing in my way." Mr. Blonde appears to kill and torture For the Evulz. However, while it's true that his recklessness and lack of professionalism are their primary complaint, it's also clear that they both feel particularly bad about one of Mr. Blonde's victims who was "maybe nineteen...if that".
  • Sonny in A Bronx Tale is the only one who's willing to work and deal with black people for profit, while the more racist mobsters want nothing to do with them.
  • In Lawless, Floyd Banner saves the life of Jack and Cricket from his goons, gives them a great fee for their moonshine (whose quality he is impressed with), gives them the address to the creeps who attacked Forrest and finally whacks his mook who almost killed the boys with a shovel while roaring that he has enough trouble from the law without starting a needless feud with a local tough crime family.
  • In Miracle on 34th Street, Macy goes along with Kris's "send people to other stores because Macy's doesn't have it/doesn't have a good enough version of it" because it will make the store seem like a nice and friendly place, insuring greater profit. It leads to an arms race with Gimbels over who could be the "customer friendliest" store.
    • Another scene has a judge's campaign manager convince the judge to not declare that Santa Claus does not exist, because it will make the judge completely unelectable.
  • Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall cronies in Gangs of New York were appalled by Bill the Butcher's attitude and methods because it's bad for their appearance and alienates potential voters. Unlike the xenophobic Bill, Tweed doesn't care if America is "invaded" by foreigners, so long as they vote for him. He also refuses to use the police to do his dirty work because, "The appearance of the law must be upheld. Especially when it's being broken."
  • Benoit from Man Bites Dog doesn't like to kill children or rich people, and doesn't do kidnappings — not because he has some sort of standard, but because they bring too much attention (and, in the case of children, aren't "bankable").
  • Captain Vidal from Pan's Labyrinth was shown to be disgusted after he killed two innocent hunters he's mistaken for rebels. Only because his men didn't check on them thoroughly, thus wasting his time, and killing innocent civilians would probably incite the townspeople to support the rebels.
  • In The Crow: City of Angels, one of Judah's underlings destroyed a large batch of Judah's drugs because it was killing off the people who used it. However, the guy spun the bad drugs as being bad for business, rather than being morally repugnant. Judah kills him with the bad drugs for his trouble.
  • Interview with the Vampire, Lestat scolds Claudia for killing a seamstress, because now they will have to find someone else to finish the expensive dress she had been making.
  • Pragmatic villainy is a theme with Jackson Rippner in Red Eye. At one point, he outright says he doesn't lie to Reisert because it wouldn't help matters, and would risk making things unnecessarily complicated, and he doesn't even really get angry with her until she complicates his plan. (Specifically, by trying to thwart it.) See also, giving her an aspirin between her waking up from him headbutting her into unconsciousness and making an important — to him — call, and letting her throat go when she says she can't breathe, all of which are conducive to his plan.
    "I never lied to you, Leese. You know why? 'Cause it doesn't serve me. We're both professional..."
  • In Django Unchained, after Django gives himself up, Stephen tells Django that his master has decided not to give him the usual punishment of castration since it usually results in the victim bleeding to death within seven minutes. Instead, he states that it'll be far crueler to give him to a mining company where he'll spend the rest of his days in hard labor.
  • While a Terminator generally has no scruples against killing anyone who stands between it and its primary target, the Terminators are inherently programmed to be infiltration units, meaning that they don't kill Innocent Bystanders when doing so would blow their cover and draw unnecessary attention to themselves that would hinder their mission. The only time civilians unrelated to the target get killed is when they resist a Terminator's robbing them of some resource it needs (such as their clothes) or the Terminator is firing through them at its target (as in the Tech Noir nightclub in the first movie). They also won't bother to go far enough to kill people in their way if merely incapacitating or swatting them aside is good enough or faster (like when the Terminator merely knocks out a police officer to steal his car rather than taking the extra second or two to outright kill him).
  • In A Clockwork Orange, the droogs begin to get tired of their sociopathic lifestyle and of Alex's leadership, but only because they want a more profitable return for their acts of ultra-violence. Alex, for his part, isn't interested in their plans to go into more organized crime, content with petty theft and occasionally beating and raping random victims for fun. The droogs later get employed as police officers for the brutal state they live under.
  • The Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) remake has the crime lord Bishop, who makes it clear a few times that he's only helping the cops fight off the corrupt ones trying to kill all of them to save his own life. In the end, he's able to get away.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy, the "heroes" are all wanted criminals. When Rocket doesn't care about the lives that will be lost if Ronan succeeds in his plans to wipe out the galaxy, Peter Quill points out that they all live in the galaxy, so they all have a vested interest in stopping Ronan.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Yondu claims that this is why he didn't capture the Guardians for Ayesha so that she could kill them, saying that being involved in the deaths of a famous group of heroes, like the Guardians, would be bad for his and the other Ravagers' reputation—on top of getting the entire Nova Corp on their tail. However, none of the Ravagers buy it and believe that he's gone soft, leading them to mutiny against him.
  • The Dark Knight:
    • The Chechen is upset with Dr. Crane for supplying him with fear toxin (which has horrific, non-pleasurable effects) as a street drug because his business needs repeat customers.
    • Likewise, the Mob wants absolutely nothing to do with the Joker until it becomes clear that he was right about the Batman breaking their psychological hold on the city... but by then it's too late for anyone.
  • Star Wars:
    • The Empire Strikes Back:
      • Boba Fett cautions Darth Vader not to kill Han Solo when the Sith Lord is torturing him because the smuggler is worthless as a bounty if he is dead. The objection is dropped when Vader offers to compensate Fett should Solo die.
      • Likewise, Vader stops Fett from shooting Chewie when he was having his tantrum in Cloud City's freezing chamber, considering having the Wookie dead means he is useless as a hostage.
    • In A New Hope, after Wedge Antilles' X-Wing gets damaged, prompting him to leave the Death Star trench, Vader tells his wingmen to let Wedge go and stay focused on Luke. Earlier during the conference on the Death Star, this was likely the reason when Tarkin ordered Vader to cease choking Admiral Motti when Motti mocked the Force, seeing that Vader made his point and it would be a waste of time to kill and replace Motti for his petty opinions.
    • In Rogue One, Krennic is ready to use the Death Star to blow up all of Jedha, but Tarkin settles for just destroying the capital city, since The Empire needs "a statement, not a manifesto". Later in the movie, Vader disapproves of Jedha City's destruction, since it creates unrest when the Empire's not ready to reveal the Death Star's existence.
  • In Self/Less, Albright says at one point that shedding initially was supposed to use artificial bodies, as advertised. The only reason they began having pre-existing people sell themselves for the process was because they have yet to figure out how to feasibly manage that. Once they do, he claims they'll switch to that exclusively.
  • Juice: Raheem seems more concerned that killing Quiles wasn't part of the plan rather than the fact that they murdered someone.
  • Savaged: Trey plans to keep Zoe as a Sex Slave, until West notes that doing so will bring Hell on them due to Missing White Woman Syndrome. He decides to kill her instead.
  • Faust: Love of the Damned: M is annoyed when his Dark Mistress Claire slits the throat of one of his goons before the guy could give a proper report on his previous run-in with the supposedly dead hero. While M is a Bad Boss himself, he's not Stupid Evil.
  • Licence to Kill: This is Franz Sanchez's entire philosophy, such as preferring to pay off politicians and the police rather than violently threatening them because eventually, he'd have them under his control, which will help his drug cartel work freely. He gradually slips out of it because of Bond's manipulations.
  • In King of New York, drug kingpin Frank White, after being released from a long prison sentence, decides to invest his saved money into schools and saving a children's hospital in a poor community, as well as donate money to a politician he believes would really help the poor citizens of New York. He does this not because he is now The Atoner, but because he wants to take a different approach as a Villain with Good Publicity. If not for a group of rogue cops deciding to take him down, he would've succeeded in his plan.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, when Judge Doom and his weasels were searching the bar where Eddie and Roger were hiding, Doom nixed the weasels' suggestion to ransack the bar to find Roger because it would be quicker to get Roger to come out with the 'Shave and a Haircut trick', Toons being unable to resist saying "Two Bits".
  • In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Adrian Toomes points out that his weapons manufacturing and trafficking operation has survived for so long because they do their best to stay under the radar and not attract the Avengers' attention. When his employee Jackson Bryce foolishly starts blowing up cars in public and attracts Spider-Man's attention, Toomes fires him and then accidentally kills him.
    • Small-time criminal Aaron Davis ends up helping Spider-Man find Toomes and his gang because while he may have been looking to buy a gun off them so he could rob people, he recognizes that the weapons they're selling are too dangerous to let out on the streets.
      "I just need something to stick up somebody. I'm not trying to... shoot them back in time!"
  • All over the place in Con Air: The Big Bad Duumvirate is made up of an racist white Diabolical Mastermind and a Islamic black supremacist, and they are obviously not besties but work alongside each other for the common goal of getting out alive. They are also not fans of the local rapist, but tolerate him because they need all the able-bodied members for their operation. Even The Hero evokes this trope when he pretends to be on the villains' side by trying to save the hostages from being executed for fun, stating they need all leverage they can get.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Dick Tracy, the final Big Boy Caprice story by Max Allan Collins has him trying to kill Tracy with a million dollar open contract on the detective. Eventually, the organized crime ruling committee, The Apparatus, confront Caprice and tell him that the contract must be canceled. In this case, this is a matter of professionalism considering that not only is murdering police officers stupidly bad for business, but also Tracy has learned about the mob contract on him and has taken personal control of the department's Organized Crime Unit to retaliate. The Apparatus knows that they can't afford to let Tracy come at them full bore and so they must take action.

    Roleplay 
  • Velor Vedevix of Cerberus Daily News was a pirate and slaver before the Reaper invasion. Once the true magnitude of the threat was revealed, he began focusing his efforts on fighting the Reapers, gathering other pirates to fight, scavenging in the Terminus systems, even openly delivering needed supplies to Alliance warships that would have happily blown him out of space a month earlier. If the Reapers win, no more piracy.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Illithids in Dungeons & Dragons have to be pragmatic since their powerbase is a mere shadow of what it was in their glory days. Illithids would like nothing better than to gorge themselves on humanoid brains, but most of them are smart enough to realize that indulging their appetites too frequently would bring the wrath of every other humanoid race upon their tentacled heads. So the Illithids limit themselves to one or two brains a month while engaging in backroom deals, slave trading, and subtly aiming for power in the shadows.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • Blue and/or black villains tend to abide by this. For example, in the Odyssey and Onslaught Cycles, the Cabal is a ruthlessly evil organization that is, nevertheless, primarily interested in profit, and the Cabal Patriarch recognizes that certain types of evil are...wasteful.
    • Dovin Baan while working for the corrupt Consulate under Tezzeret strongly disapproves of their methods. When they confiscate every device he reflects that a change in approach - a few empty promises, some official-seeming forms, and a touch of politeness - would be 8easier, safer, and less likely to spark rebellion than just snatching them.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Tau are (besides the Card-Carrying Villain that is Chaos) the only faction that do not have "All the aliens must die, sooner or later" as policy, and are willing to incorporate other species into the Empire - sometimes at gunpoint, but other times a species will willingly join the Tau.
    • The Dark Eldar was made into this to explain how a bunch of Neutral Evil backstabbers were still alive after 20,000 years. Commorragh Needs Slaves for their labour and for their souls, and if kabals keep up their treacherous antics during a raid then they risk the downfall of their whole society. Of course, once the slaves are safely back in Commorragh then your peers are fair game... and so are you.
    • Indeed, every faction in 40k are pragmatic villains; Dan Abnett pointed out that if Chaos really was a "nail a baby to your helmet" society as some claim they would simply collapse in on themselves and be destroyed within a week. As such, even the most villainous 40k factions must, by definition, have a functioning society. Since they can all threaten the Imperium to a greater or lesser degree, that means there must be people who can engage in pragmatic villainy. Any examples (from any race) that contradicts this can therefore be dismissed on the grounds of "every sufficiently large organisation has a bloody twit in a position of power."
      • Speaking of Chaos, the Alpha Legion have this as their hat. Most other traitor legions treat their cultists and mortal servants with disdain and just hand them a rifle or melee weapon (if that) and throw them at the enemy. The Alpha Legion recognise that their few astartes can't be everywhere at once and are difficult to replace, so if mortal servants can be trained to be guerilla fighters and agents then that helps protect their lives even more than simply using them as bullet-catchers.
    • Horus is a very straight example. He doesn't seem to care for most of Primarchs who sided with him, calling them 'broken monsters' but he knows he's never going to beat the Emperor alone. Likewise he offers extremely generous terms to the Mechanicus because he knows he can't fight Earth and Mars at the same time. Hell, despite his demonic corruption he doesn't even seem to particularly care that much about the gods of chaos. His death almost completely destroys his forces because he's apparently the only man in all of chaos to appreciate practical compromise rather than Revenge before reason....
    • Likewise, for all the anti-xenos rhetoric that's fed to the common masses, the Imperium of Man actually runs on cold, hard Realpolitik, even working together with the Tau in a form of faction-scale Enemy Mine to help defeat the Tyranids. Of course, both sides are also trying to subtly maneuver one another into doing the dirty work so that their own side ends up with the advantage in the aftermath...
  • The Vampire Counts in Warhammer will cheerfully employ We Have Reserves when it comes to their zombie and skeleton minions. They'll raise the enemy dead and send them to kill their friends, and they'll even re-use mutilated zombies multiple times. Individual vampires will even treat themselves as expendable, because they can often just be brought back to life no matter what happens to them (cannonball takes their head off, get trampled under knights, take a magic sword through the chest, whatever) through magical means or just by absorbing enough life force and coming back through the dust they were reduced to. What vampires won't do is needlessly expend the lives of their mortal servants: why send a loyal dreg to his death and embolden the living against the Midnight Aristocracy, when you can simply raise a dead enemy and send him to kill his living friends? Few living beings will willingly associate with the undead, and unlike the undead they can operate in plain sight (and daylight!), so vampire lords can't just waste them.
  • In Rifts, the Vampire Kingdom of Mexico. Their Master Vampire is evil and ruthless, but he's Lawful Evil and understands the value of keeping a contented blood supply around, and thus the Kingdom is actually one of the safest and most peaceful realms on Rifts Earth. Blood is provided through a painless system of blood donations, staggered to avoid causing harm to the humans who donate, and vampires are forbidden from attacking humans to feed (though they still tend to be dicks toward them; they are, after all, nearly always evil). In part because of this system, Mexico is the most powerful and advanced of the Vampire Kingdoms.
  • Old World of Darkness:
    • In Vampire: The Masquerade, this is the main difference between the Camarilla and the Sabbat— While the Sabbat would rather wreck Hell on Earth and kill people right and left, the Camarilla realizes vampires wouldn't last long if humans knew about them, and as such forbid any action like random murder or killing your prey when feeding that would get too much attention.
    • Werewolf: The Apocalypse:
      • Even other minions of the Wyrm will destroy any Gray Mass infestation that shows up. Their corruption is so virulent and indiscriminate that they even jeopardize the other minions of the Wyrm and the Wyrm's greater plans.
      • Pentex does every underhanded thing you'd ever expect from the most stereotypical "eeeeeeeeeeeevil corporation" ever, but they do have some rules - and they are, first and foremost, a business. One of the guys who ran their electronics division thought it would be a good idea to stuff as many evil spirits as possible into his company's goods; the thing is, that meant they didn't work, or at least not well enough to sell. Rumor has it he ended up the main course at his replacement's welcome lunch.
  • New World of Darkness:
  • Shows up with some of the supercomputers in GURPS Reign Of Steel (a 'Robot War, the robots won' setting). The basic and most common example is that several of the supercomputers that have kept to the Kill All Humans goal of the original A.I. have decided that it's really more resource-efficient to work them to death, since you at least get something more than a dead human out of it. More elaborate examples tailored to the A.I.'s specific interests:
    • Washington, who runs a Vichy Earth arrangement where it pretends to the humans in its zone that they are the masters and it is a loyal advisor A.I. — this allows it to harness human ingenuity and economic prowess, while limiting the risk of revolts and keeping itself safely in charge.
    • Moscow, who wants to amass human knowledge. Since humans are often the best at finding that kind of knowledge, it only makes sense to leave humans around to recruit as agents — and it's not a bad idea to let them get an education, too, since that makes them better agents.
    • Brisbane, who is absolutely obsessed with science, the weirder the better. Killing all humans would be a waste of resources — it'd make entire categories of experiments impossible.
    • Caracas, who wants humanity reduced to a hunter-gatherer state to keep them from harming the environment, but is rational about the priority of it and consequently doesn't waste resources enforcing it that could be better used some other way (and with a Zonemind that wants to eradicate all organic life to the north, that better way sometimes includes co-operating with or at least avoiding fighting against human guerrillas on raids into Zone Mexico).
  • In Shadowrun, both Shadowrunners and Mega Corps live by this.
    • Since Shadowrunners are essentially freelance criminals, the more successful crews subscribe to this ideology. Basically, be a Gentleman Thief: don't destroy stuff you aren't being paid to destroy, don't kill anybody you aren't being paid to kill, and don't get caught by the news.
    • Most megas you steal from tend to follow the same 'code': Shadowrunning is simply a cost of doing business. Runners who can avoid or escape internal security and the police response without leaving the corps with a big pile of death benefits and property damage or an irreplaceable loss of prestige may not be worth sending a kill team after. On the other hand, if the price of hiring assassins becomes just another decimal point to the losses you've already caused them, the insurance that you won't be troubling them again becomes very tempting indeed.
      • However, there are exceptions to this. Reveal Aztechnology blood rituals or steal a set of the Renraku Red Samurai's signature armor and they might just call down a Kill Sat on you. Meanwhile, Mitsuhama makes it a matter of company policy to take all shadowruns against them personally. Conversely, runners do not care so much about collateral damage when running against Mitsuhama.

    Theatre 

    Theme Parks 
  • In Doctor Doom's Fearfall at Universal's Islands of Adventure, the title character provides a lot of safety precautions for the Tower of Doom because he needs human fear to power his new weapon. He can't extract it from a corpse (though he's okay with extracting it, then allowing the person to die).

    Web Comics 
  • The Sphynx from Subnormality may like to eat humans but shown to spared humans a few times, claiming it's because they're small and not worth the effort. (She doesn't eat children for the same reason. "Barely a meal", as she says from the image above.) Also, on the other end of the spectrum, she also chooses to lurk outside a gym when hunting for victims, because customers tend to be clean and showered when they come out and too tired to run, insisting to the owner when he complains about it that he'd do the same thing if he were a predator.
  • Exterminatus Now: The Cesspool mercenaries won't sell weapons to the Cultists of Darkness. Because they refuse to pay up front and try to weasel out of the bills.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • In the prequel series Start of Darkness, Xykon says he will not do any scheme of kidnapping virgins because "it's like telling a guy who doesn't know how to hold a hammer to build a house for you". He also thinks that destroying the world is a stupid idea, because if he did that, what would he have left to rule? "I like the world... I'm certainly not about to destroy it unless I get really, really bored."
    • During a story arc in the main series, an imp suggests that Vaarsuvius use some virgin's blood as a spell component, which is rejected for three reasons:
      Vaarsuvius : This is reprehensible, depraved, and most importantly, highly impractical given our current location.
    • Tarquin, who claims to be Above Good and Evil, runs the Empire of Blood. His interaction with Heroes suggests he's so Genre Savvy it hurts, including knowing world domination is rather hard to pull off if everyone knows you're doing it. He even offers help and magical rewards to prevent Xykon from doing so either.
      • When his vanity finally got the better of him, he started sacrificing a large number of minions to try and kill the rest of the Order to make his son the hero of the story. His two teammates differ on opinion: Laurin Shattersmith considers it a waste of good resources, and that indulging Tarquin had permanently cost them an important ally less than an hour ago, while Miron Shewdanker sees no profit of any kind in doing so.
    • Belkar, amazingly enough, manages an instance of this, after one of his shoulder demons convinces him that saving Hinjo's life will work out better for him in the long run than letting him be killed by an assassin.
      "It's for the Greater Me."
      • Later on, he receives a vision from Lord Shojo, who tells him that rather than acting in his typical antisocial and psychopathic manner, it would be more beneficial for him to try and play by the rules of society but cheat whenever he can. Belkar sums this up as faking Character Development.
    • When the Three Fiends make a Deal with the Devil with Vaarsuvius, Vaarsuvius is suspicious that they are trying to trick them in some manner. The Fiends reply, no, they are being perfectly fair in their deal, and they actually are. One of them says "We simply don't need to trick you when we can get what we want by playing it straight."
      • And it's later revealed that the fiends are, in fact, lying to Vaarsuvius about how the deal works (by pretending the evil souls will influence them into evil as well, to make V think themselves above responsibility). The above quote sounds very much like "we're not lying" without actually meaning that.
  • The Trolls of Homestuck are a mostly violent race with their Blue and Orange Morality that don't consider lying, manipulating, and murdering to be particularly bad things to do. However, they consider Vriska to be Stupid Evil: not because she's doing anything wrong by their standards, but because she's kicking dogs to fulfill her own vanity rather than being productive about it.
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • Some parties understand this better than others. Ob'enn may be Scary Dogmatic Aliens — not that their military love their theocracy all that much — but they became the second superpower in the Milky Way not for being stupid:
      Ob'enn Leader: Intelligence operations funded with blood draw more attention than those funded with cash.
    • Earth intelligence agent Kowalski has proven himself to be a ruthless stone-cold killer, but at one point when he says some inconvenient would-be bystanders "have to go", it turns out he's speaking literally, and has them shipped off on a luxury space-cruise.
    • The All-Star, a sort of brain-uploaded singularity, tends to kidnap and copy the identities and egos of those it needs to "get rid of" when doing so is required to continue hiding its existence. These people remain trapped and under the All-Star's custody, but fully sentient and in control of their own thoughts. It certainly has the option of essentially rewriting those people to be more in line with the All-Star's objectives, but it has plenty of reason not to.
      Putzho: You could edit everything I know, everything I am, to fit a new narrative.
      All-Star: Your mind would occupy a thousand times more space if we installed enough hooks to do that. Lying is expensive.
  • Mokepon has Estelle, of Team Rocket.
    "Not that I'm complaining, but... Why did you help me get out? I'd kind of got the impression that Team Rocket was... bad..."
    "There wasn't any reason for you to die. ... That is, assuming you're not going to go talking to people about what happened here. But you seem smart enough to know that would be a very poor decision."
  • Tower of God has an criminal organization, FUG, that's seemingly split on what to do with Viole/Baam, who they forcibly hired by threatening to kill his friends. One side wants to kill him and turn him into a weapon while breaking promises to him (and having the gall to claim he broke the deal first). The other side treats him far more kindly mainly because they believe that with his potential, he's more useful as an ally than as a weapon. They even allow him to make non-FUG friends, simply because doing so gives them more potential hostages. Unsurprisingly, the side that betrays him causes Viole to leave FUG after surviving their attempt. The more benevolent side saves him despite his defection, but only because they have plans to make him join again.

    Web Original 
  • One of the methods encouraged by the Evil Overlord List. In addition to lining out ways to avoid holding the Villain Ball, the list advises that any Big Bad should try and be pragmatic and practical rather than needlessly cruel for its own sake. It advises this not because being pragmatic is more moral, but because it tends to ensure long-term survival.
  • Dark General Cobalt of Sailor Nothing is this in contrast to his Card-Carrying Villain acquaintances. It's not that he has a moral objection to rape, torture, and murder, it's just that he finds it a colossal waste of time. He'd much rather focus on getting things done. Interestingly, his pragmatism actually results in his being the villain the heroes encounter the most—in the interests of actually getting his project off the ground, he decides to kill the girls who've been wiping out his underlings.
  • Troops following Lord Doom, an Evil Overlord from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, are under strict orders to protect innocent bystanders as much as possible and keep collateral damage to a minimum during their operations. Lord Doom believes that such activities are a waste of time and "bad for business". Doom also knows that subjects who feel their Lord and Master is looking out for their safety engage in rebellions far less often than subjects who feel their Lord and Master tortures them for his own amusement.
  • Quite a few characters in the Whateley Universe have shades of this. Take Mimeo — with his shapeshifting and power-copying abilities and definite intelligence, he could readily become a dangerous Hero Killer if he ever put his mind to it. (He is on the record as the sort of villain that can confidently take on entire teams and expect to win.) Instead he's quite content to fight a bunch of opponents for a while to acquire their powers, then use those while they last to pull off his real scheme, and then do a vanishing act to enjoy his ill-gotten gains; that approach has been working well for him for years by now and as far as he's concerned he has no reason to change it.
  • Coil of Worm, who wants to take over a city, is this. His stated goals include an involved plan to reduce unemployment via a massive reconstruction effort, reduction in drug-dealing to less harmful drugs, and no more hate crimes in the streets by superpowered Neo-Nazis. As he states, this is because his pride simply couldn't bear it if something that he owned didn't function at the absolute best levels.
    • The protagonist herself is one of the best examples of the crossover between this trope and Anti-Villain; Her fundamental goal is safety for herself and whomever she considers "her people", to the extent that she originally planned to be a hero. In the end, she tends to come down on the side of murder and mayhem because it seems to be the most pragmatic means to those ends, and her 'virtue' is almost always a matter of stopping because she's already won, not doing something because it would be counterproductive in the long run, or doing something 'good' because she and her gang benefit overall. Even her power and its uses are focused primarily around logistics more than anything else.
    • More generally, the greater majority of villains in Worm are pragmatic in their villainy, as those who publicly commit sufficiently heinous crimes are marked by the Parahuman Response Team with a "kill order" and find themselves hunted by successively larger and more powerful groups of unpowered and superpowered individuals. In particular, breaking the Endbringer truce or targeting another cape's family are likely to cause your opponents to pull out all the stops in an effort to kill you.
  • RWBY:
    • Cinder berates her minions Emerald and Mercury for murdering a White Fang terrorist defector without orders. This isn't because she opposed the killing itself, as she'd already ordered Roman Torchwick, a local known criminal, to kill the defector in the first place. Rather, she's pissed because her plan requires herself, Emerald, and Mercury to remain unnoticed while they infiltrate Beacon Academy and the killing would draw unnecessary attention to them.
    • Later Cinder has trouble understanding why her boss, Salem, insists on letting Ruby live and working with the Branwen tribe bandits instead of just taking what they want from them by force. Salem explains that being too quick to kill their enemies wastes valuable Unwitting Pawns.
    • Dr. Watts also knows to prioritize the goal of obtaining the Relics above all else. When Raven demands that their group kills her brother Qrow for her assistance in stealing the Relic of Knowledge, Watts is against her proposal. He also wants Qrow dead, but a drawn-out fight with him would jeopardize the otherwise simple and quiet Relic retrieval.
    • Raven Branwen, for all of her ruthlessness, demonstrates this repeatedly. When the Branwen Tribe captures Weiss, Raven's warrior Vernal states that the Tribe doesn't normally deal in hostages, as it's too much trouble, but Weiss basically fell in their laps to ransom. When Weiss breaks out of her cage and teams up with Yang, Raven agrees to let her go as a brawl would attract the Grimm. When Cinder and Watts show up to strong-arm her into service, Raven demands Qrow's death in return- So she can double-cross them in the chaos. She's also the Spring Maiden, but rather than make this obvious, she has Vernal act as a decoy. A wise bird hides her talons, indeed...


Alternative Title(s): Pragmatic Villain, Pragmatic Evil

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