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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

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.

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.

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.


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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.
  • 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 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.
    • 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 antagonising 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.

    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 Galley 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.
  • 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.

    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 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.
  • 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.

  • A major focus of A Practical Guide To Evil. The current Dread Empress and Calamities are really no more powerful than their predecessors (in Amadeus's case, he admits that the previous Black Knight was far more powerful than himself), but they have become the most powerful and successful leaders of the Empire due to a combination of being pragmatic enough to win the hearts and minds of their subjects rather than trying to cow them with raw power, and partly by the fact that they genuinely get along and aren't wasting effort scheming against each other.
  • Discworld:
    • Havelock Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, does not really rule his realm with an iron fist. He has the novel idea of maintaining control by making people actually want him in charge, or at the very least, make removing him from power an unsavory prospect. In both Going Postal and Making Money he's confronted by people trying to usurp him. Instead of cracking down on them, he points Loveable Rogue Moist Von Lipwig in their general direction, and waits until he makes sure his usurpers are publicly discredited. Then he reminds them he's the Tyrant and can, in fact, crack down on them.
    He didn't administer a reign of terror. Just the occasional light shower.
    • In Jingo the D'regs have the same philosophy as Genghis Khan regarding their treatment of merchants. Kill merchants, or steal too much, and they don't come back. Rob them just enough and your sons can rob them too. Vimes compares it to farming.
    • The Assassins Guild is like this; they kill only for money, never taking sides, which allows them to survive political upheavals in the city because when one tyrant overthrows another the new one will want their services as well. They also refuse to assassinate anyone whose death they feel will destabilize the city; civic chaos is no good, and they want the city rich enough to afford their very expensive fees.
  • In the Draka series, the Draka are horrified at the Holocaust. Because the death camps were a massive waste of resources.
  • In The Hobbit, the three trolls don't want to eat Bilbo, simply because he wasn't big enough to go through the trouble of skinning and boning him.
  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • The orcs don't torture Merry and Pippin and actually heal them, because they don't have time to linger in enemy territory (and some of the orcs have orders not to search or plunder them by Saruman who needs to be the one to find the ring first). He didn't bother to give such orders about the rest of the Fellowship of course.
    • Similarly, Sauron doesn't torment or question Pippin through the palantír - because "he wanted [Pippin], quickly, so he could deal with [him] in the Dark Tower, slowly."
    • Sauron lets Gollum go after he tortures all the information he needs out of him. It could be because Sauron thought he would work more mischief if he were let go not unlike when Morgoth let Húrin go in The Children of Húrin. Characters within the story suppose that Gollum was released on orders to spy for Sauron or serve some other purpose, but Gollum strenuously denies this, never gives the full truth, and we never hear Sauron's explanation. Another probability is that Sauron hoped that Gollum would lead him to the Ring.
    • Shagrat the Uruk-hai commander defends the captured Frodo from Gorbag and the Minas Morgul orcs. Not because he cares about Frodo, but because Gorbag wants to steal Frodo's Mithril coat and other possessions for himself, whereas Shagrat has orders to take everything to Sauron.
  • Touched upon in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, when Dr Gonzo mentions the defence adopted by one of his clients: "Why would I fuck children? They're too small!"
    • Raoul Duke had earlier objected to Gonzo's drugging and then taking sexual advantage of Lucy. Not because Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil, mind, but because Duke and Gonzo were already several felonies into a proper visit to Las Vegas and the last thing they needed was Lucy sobering up and calling the police, especially considering they were currently crashing a national police convention. Duke very pointedly wants to dump Lucy somewhere while she's still strung out to lower the risk of her remembering anything incriminating.
  • Quoth Niccolò Machiavelli: "The prince can always avoid hatred if he abstains from the property of his subjects and citizens and from their women". The Prince is the textbook for Pragmatic Villainy. He also advised that a Prince was better off with popular support over the nobility. The nobles only want to oppress, and the people just want to not be oppressed. Support of the people is therefore the better and easier path.
    • This position was also noted in his Discourses on Livy. Both The Prince and The Discourses heavily influenced Enlightenment thought on politics (although people tried to mention it as little as possible), and in particular is responsible for this gem, penned by James Madison in "Federalist No. 51":
    If men were angels, no Government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on Government would be necessary. In framing a Government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the Government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the People is, no doubt, the primary control on the Government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
    • Federalist 51 is about checks and balances in the federal government. In other words, the whole point of checks and balances is to ensure that even if the whole government is composed of villains to a man, the structure of the system is such that it is in the interests of these villains to advance the public good. This is the entire theory of modern liberal democracy.
    • It's important to remember, however, that Machiavelli was in favor of republics, and "The Prince" was intended to be a critique of the behavior of despots, not a field guide.
      • When considered that way, it seems like a 15th-century version of the Evil Overlord List.
  • The Thrawn Trilogy:
    • Grand Admiral Thrawn will execute subordinates who failed and tried to pin the blame on others, but subordinates who failed at almost the exact same job who tried harder and took responsibility? Everyone braces for the order and the poor schlub sweats, but what happens? Promoted. It's a Career-Building Blunder. Thrawn explains to Pellaeon that this Tractor Beam operator tried a novel technique when faced with something he wasn't trained for, that it might have failed but still looked valid, and if the operator can perfect this technique and teach it to others (shown to pay off in the Hand of Thrawn duology), the Empire won't have a problem with people escaping tractor beams in this way. Pellaeon privately remarks that Thrawn's action also served to make everyone who saw it much more willing to give him their all.
    • And when he gives an I Want Them Alive order, he also says "if possible. If not — If not, I'll understand."
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe novels:
    • In Tatooine Ghost, set a few months before the Thrawn trilogy, readers can infer that Thrawn put on stormtrooper armor and went dirtside with some of his soldiers, not telling them who he was but still making them aware that he was someone very important. A squad leader is rough while trying to get information out of someone, and when asked about it says he thought that brutal was the new doctrine. Thrawn hits the squad leader with his blaster, then asks the leader if he wants to do Thrawn any favors now, and orders him to tell the truth. The squad leader says no, and Thrawn pointedly says that someone who has been threatened is likely to give nothing more than what they need to survive. The new doctrine is efficiency.
    • Tarzen Tagge makes sure that the Tagge Company only builds the highest quality construction work. That way the customers have no reason to complain to law enforcement. An investigation would reveal Tarzen's smuggling operations. Eventually the legitimate business is so profitable that the smuggling becomes redundant.
    • For obvious reasons, when Corran Horn goes undercover as a pirate in I, Jedi, he prefers this sort of piracy, encouraging the gang to kill as few as possible to encourage cooperation in the future. While a few of the pirates are in it more For the Evulz, most of them recognize the potential of this racket and end up accepting a legitimate security contract at the end of the novel. Later, when the pirate gang has to fight its way out of a confrontation with the New Republic Navy, Corran convinces the crew's leader that they should use ion cannons to disable the Republic fighters... because some forces will have to be diverted to rescue the pilots, distracting from chasing the pirates.
      Corran: Yeah, a refueling station might blow up really pretty, and might even set half a city on fire, but that's not the objective here. Look, you can kill a woolly-nerf and make a coat out of its skin, or you can shear the beast's coat and come back year after year for more wool. We play this right, six months from now we show up in the system, send a list of demands and they'll freighter the loot out to us.
    • X-Wing Series: Fliry Vorru has this as his modus operandi. Everything he does has a practical purpose. In The Bacta War, he's constantly advising Isard on the best method to root out the problem of Wedge Antilles and his squadron, even if it doesn't appeal to Isard's desire for blood (and her primary objective to "destroy the Rebels"). Often the methods are targeted at crippling the economic capabilities of Antilles and the people working with him, and/or increasing their own. This becomes increasingly difficult as Isard becomes more unstable over time.
  • Carl Sagan, in a footnote in his nonfiction book Pale Blue Dot, says this about fears that aliens will ship us off Earth as food.
    "Put aside the profound biological differences that must exist between the hypothetical aliens and ourselves; imagine that we constitute an interstellar gastronomic delicacy. Why transport large numbers of us to alien restaurants? The freightage is enormous. Wouldn't it be better just to steal a few humans, sequence our amino acids or whatever else is the source of our delectability, and then just synthesize the identical food product from scratch?"
  • How to Succeed in Evil: Central character Edwin Windsor makes a lucrative, if frustrating, living counseling would-be supervillains to turn their efforts away from wanton destruction and towards more profitable strategies.
    • It's not just practical in the sense of money as a goal, the book's primary plot-line centers around how genuinely terrifying and brutally efficient the man is at achieving his goal when the goal ISN'T money, but revenge.
    • Amusingly, Topper's efforts to play counterpoint to his friend by doing everything just for kicks also clarifies into a clear goal in the second book, and he is similarly successful in obtaining what he was aiming for because of his underlying pragmatism in getting there, even if the goal itself is somewhat nonsensical.
  • Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers is stated to have given up such petty things as vengeance, since they end up in the way of getting and keeping power.
  • Sword of Truth series:
    • Both Darken Rahl shows shades of this. In the first book, you'd expect Rahl to pull a You Have Failed Me when it turns out Richard broke through Denna's training. Hell, she certainly expect it. Instead Rahl reasons that her failure was no fault of her own, and shrugs it off. In the same scene, Richard plans to get Rahl angry enough to kill him, so that he can't use Richard's knowledge of the Book of Counted Shadows. Rahl calmly listens to Richard, then, after verifying his knowledge, shrugs, and gives him two options, amounting to, "Help me open the right box, or don't. I've got a 50-50 chance of getting it right either way, and if I end the world, no skin off my nose."
    • Emperor Jagang perhaps manages to be a bigger monster, but he's still smart enough to gather intelligence and listen to his advisers, especially when they're experts in magic and he's not. In Phantom, for instance, he and the Sisters of the Dark are looking for the Book of Counted Shadows. On finding what appears to be a copy, he thinks it's fake, while the Sisters insist it could be real. You might expect him to simply overrule them considering they're essentially slaves. Instead, they have a pretty civil debate about it. He also reads the warnings in spell books and heeds them. Jagang also reads lots of books and sends some of his best troops off looking to salvage ancient libraries in the hopes of finding knowledge from the wizards' war that could help him. He didn't even care terribly much when the Palace of the Prophets was destroyed, because the knowledge buried under in one of the "central sites" was much more valuable to him. When Kahlan is captured, has her mind erased, and is made invisible to almost everyone, her captors are captured by Jagang, and they discover that the process that turned Kahlan invisible was tainted, and that random people will be able to see her. Instead of killing his prisoners who failed in their magic, he sends her out walking in the camp, naked (though with guards close by) to see who notices, thus assembling guards who can see her.
    • The Fellowship of Order sent spies to many of the wonders of the world to use or copy their magic. In one instance, they sent one of their top people to work in the stables just so he'd have a chance at copying a magical construct.
  • From Dune: "A pogrom? That's not like the Harkonnens. A pogrom is wasteful." Because of this, the Baron doesn't much like Rabban, who is just a brute, and he is more than willing to sacrifice Rabban for his smarter younger brother Feyd-Rautha. On the other hand, putting Rabban in charge for a while, then deposing him in favor of Feyd-Rautha makes the latter look much better by comparison. So putting a monster in charge is ultimately quite pragmatic.
  • Zig-Zagged in Animorphs with Visser One, who claims she wants Earth to be conquered slowly and secretly because it's more pragmatic than Visser Three's plans of open war and genocide. In reality, she's worried that an open war could coincidentally kill two children she gave birth to through a previous human host. However, since the whole point of going after Earth was because there are enough people to give every Yeerk a host, the whole thing would have been pointless if Visser Three killed a large percentage of humans. Visser One also knows that Three has vastly overestimated their advantage (having taken a human host she knows that Humanity Is Insane and Humans Are Warriors), and that in an open conflict the humans may well win.
  • The government in Nineteen Eighty-Four outlaws the death penalty, preferring to torture and brainwash potential rebels into model citizens, rather than killing them immediately, and risk them becoming martyrs for the next generation's rebels. However, ultimately they will disappear, long after everyone has forgotten about them.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Shortly after the "attack" on Dis, the Calvarian general Drauglir had to stop his men from hanging Mosca, his Southern translator. He may consider the man to be less than a dog, but he was of the opinion that training another translator would take too much time.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: This work constantly reminds us that Stupid (either Stupid Evil, Chaotic Stupid or Stupid Good) has a steep price, so makes the Pragmatic stuff that much shinier by comparison (even if cold pragmatism also tends to come at a somewhat less immediately acute, if more predictable, price further down the line — that can prove a small nightmare to juggle).
    • When Joffrey acts all Stupid Evil and wants to totally wipe out surrendering enemies and their families, his grandfather, the powerful and cunning Tywin, counsels him: "When your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you." Underscoring that this is pragmatism rather than mercy is the fact that Tywin famously had no qualms utterly wiping out families that wouldn't go to their knees.
      • Tywin also berates Joffrey for the latter's execution of Ned Stark - not because Tywin cared about Ned, but because Ned would have been a vital bargaining chip, and indeed the North rose in rebellion after the execution. Tywin's son Tyrion (who actually has conscience) and daughter Cersei (who is perfectly capable of Stupid Evil) share this opinion - in fact, Joffrey has a gift of pushing people onto this trope, because he is such The Millstone that everyone in the family is forced into damage control over his dumbest moves.
      • Tyrion also advocates giving Gregor Clegane's head to the Martells, Gregor having raped and killed a member of the Martell family, as well as her child son. Tyrion does not advocate this out of disgust of Gregor's crimes (Although he doesn't approve) but because the crown badly needs to be on the Martell family's good side, and he considers psychos like Gregor to be a dime a dozen. Tywin initially agreed on this, but backed out later, planning to blame the deaths on the dead Amory Lorch. This itself is a downplayed example, as Amory was responsible for a third Martell death.
    • Roose Bolton is also extremely pragmatic, with his preference for "a peaceful land and a quiet people". This leads to some annoyance with his son Ramsey's open and increasingly inconvenient sadism. He gets a Crowning Moment Of Pragmatic Villainy after his son expresses a desire to flay a related(ish) noblewoman, who quite openly doesn't like him, and make her skin into footwear. She's actually a usefully sharp political ally, a consistent Stark-hater and has a decently manned, equipped and trained levy-army with a sound cavalry wing, so...
      "How many of our grudging friends do you imagine we’d retain if the truth were known? Only Lady Barbrey, whom you would turn into a pair of boots... inferior boots. Human skin is not as tough as cowhide and will not wear as well."
      • Another example is his objections to Ramsay's horrific treatment of Jeyne who has been presented as Arya Stark. Her screams and cries can be heard throughout the castle, which are demoralizing the people, and in turn making it harder for Roose to rule the North.
    • Viserys Targaryen shows off some of his lovely Stupid Evil moves when he chooses to insult a whole hall stuffed full of "barbarians" while drunk. Unsurprisingly, this doesn't end well. That's just one of his more impressive moments, though: he had plenty, far less impressive examples than that one in the tank, all serving to underline that he'd've been a Joffrey-level (mis)ruler. Why is this here? Because his sister, Daenerys Targaryen, resolves from then on that, should she have to be nasty to regain the throne, she'll try to be neither as Stupid nor as unnecessarily Evil (when Good is not an option) with it. Hence conquering and establishing control over Essosi City States to learn the basics of ruling with: dressing this up as the liberation of slaves does little to hide the whole "foreign conqueror-queen changing your whole lifestyle through Might Makes Right simply as a warm-up" bit. She's making her own mistakes, sure: but, she's been careful to not directly duplicate her brother's. She's somewhere between being a learner Pragmatic Hero and Villain with a horribly spotty record thanks to having few decent examples to copy, as a result. Depending on who you ask.
    • House Frey: We Insult and Enrage People Wholesale... all while thinking they're being Pragmatic, in a notable inversion of the trope (or an outright defiance after acknowledging its existence). No, really. Most genuinely think this is good business with no hint of irony (we're really not joking, here). Which only makes the Stupid that much worse when you read it. Even Cersei isn't as bad when it comes to delusional competency, as she actually has some basic understanding of what "Pragmatic Villainy" meansnote , even while she chooses to try twisting reality to fit her bonkers outlook and, therefore, becomes increasingly unable to use it.
  • Sandra Arminger of the Novels of the Change is the voice of reason to her husband's pure sadism. His vainglory, too; there are times when she exhorts him to make a kill that he perceives as damaging to his reputation. Once her husband is dead and there's a firm peace between Portland and the other nearby nations, she becomes so bloodlessly pragmatic that she comes off as a particularly intrigue-oriented good guy.
  • In the Night Watch series, the Dark Others tend toward this when declining more villainous actions:
    • In one scene, a Dark Other manifests a cat to torture a mouse and his cohorts are disgusted with him because it would waste less energy to just kill the mouse himself, and he's distracted from his job of guarding their headquarters. To an extent, he's also considered to be acting Stupid Evil.
    • The Dark Other Edgar is shown not using magic to steal from a store because he wouldn't want to be caught by the other side and because since humans are the "resources" of his side, it's foolish to hurt them needlessly. Edgar also decides to do a light Charm Person on an attractive woman rather than brainwashing her, because (more or less) consensual sex is more fun than rape.
    • Zabulon/Zavulon, despite being an obvious Big Bad, is generally in the role of helping the Night Watch stop some apocalyptic scenario, since if they are allowed to happen, he won't have any victims. However, his help is always done to further some other, hidden scheme, and he's quite happy about massive casualties to the extent they help his side.
    • Their disposition towards this approach also mostly averts the common "Villains Act, Heroes React" pattern. Dark Ones are mostly content with the status quo and rarely go out of their way to try and make the world more miserable, since humans themselves could usually be trusted with it. They even more often than not go along with the grand projects devised by the Light Ones to improve the humans, because, being cynical bastards, Dark Ones are assured that the human nature will prevail no matter what and those projects will backfire spectacularly, thus proving their point and providing them with all the delicious misery they could wish. They are usually right.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Gentleman Johnny Marcone mercilessly crushes gang violence in Chicago and cuts down civilian casualties, imposing order in the criminal underworld, making it so that his presence is by far preferable to the anarchy that would follow, should he be taken down. He fights on the side of the good guys more often than not, if only because the villain of whatever book he's in is a greater threat to Marcone's business than Dresden is. And to top it all off, he provides Harry Dresden, a man notorious for "having problems with buildings," a lifetime membership to all of Marcone's exclusive clubs to ensure that Harry doesn't smash them to pieces breaking in all the time. This is best exemplified with Marcone, by the attitude of one of his subordinates when she saw Harry enter. "What must I give you to get you to leave very quickly."
    • Lara Raith qualifies as well. She helps Harry out each time because doing so will increase her own political power.
    • The White Court vampires turn out to have been part of a secret war against terrifying ancient gods, taking it almost solely upon themselves rather than involve anyone else. Why? Because the more people know of these gods, the more powerful they get, and if the gods were allowed to live again they'd ruin the White Court's food supply.
  • In Death: Alex Ricker in Promises In Death demonstrates this in his conversation with Roarke. Alex reveals that the men who robbed his store and were found floating in the river all carved up were killed off by his father, Max Ricker. Max did this because the thieves embarrassed Alex and embarrassment is apparently unacceptable. Alex didn't have them killed and didn't want the problem handled that way, and that he doesn't do murder...because it's just not practical.
  • In Tony Hillerman's People of Darkness, the hit man Colton Wolf kills as few people as he can manage (aside from his assigned targets), because the fewer people that are killed, the shorter the resulting manhunt is.
  • This is one of the defining traits of the Lady in The Black Company novels. She's almost entirely devoid of compassion and mercy, and totally devoid of remorse, but neither is she cruel for the sake of cruelty — everything she does is to get some kind of advantage, and her empire is designed to be stable and enduring. She's deliberately contrasted with her psychotic rival and sister Soulcatcher, who is pretty much pure chaos, and her ex-husband, the Dominator, whose empire, rather than being oppressive but stable and organized was almost literal Hell on Earth.
  • The Hunger Games:
    • The eponymous "games" have Children Forced to Kill called "Tributes" as young as 12 in a Deadly Game. But game's organizers forbids them to use firearms because they're seen as an unfair advantage. If the kids just shot each other quickly, it wouldn't be as much fun for the Capital to watch.
    • The organisers also ensure that the climate of the Games Arenas are not too challenging - they want the tributes to be fighting each other, not spending all their time and effort struggling to stay warm and alive in desperate cold temperatures.
    • This trope is how President Snow convinces Katniss that he wasn't behind the bombs that Katniss's sister. He points out that, had he been in control of the hovercraft, he would have used it to escape instead of sending it to bomb civilians. "We both know I'm not above murdering children, but I am not wasteful."
  • Queen Arabelle in A Woman's Work by Tanya Huff is ruthless enough to encourage her not-very-bright son to wear highly decorated bright uniforms while she wears something more subdued (because who will an assassin instinctively aim at?) but makes sure her people are educated (at government schools with an approved curriculum), employed, have a good medical system, knows many of her troops by name and rewards them for good work and initiative, and when she conquers a new territory has most of the defeated nobles' property distributed among the lower classes of the conquered country and immediately starts infrastructure programs to help improve their lives. She even allows the odd dissident to make public speeches against her reign, giving her an excuse to remind the "oppressed citizens" that she's made their lives much better. And letting them beat up the troublemaker.
  • The Corrupt Corporate Executive in Stephen King's The Running Man insists to Ben Richards that he didn't have his wife killed as part of a plan to recruit him as a Hunter. He makes no attempt to convince Richards that he's above such a thing, merely that it would have been a lousy plan and Richards would have seen through it, as evidenced by the fact that his suspicions immediately landed on the network when he heard about the misdeed.
  • In Star Trek: The Battle of Betazed, the Vorta overseer Luaran objects to her colleague Gul Lemec casually shooting Betazoids during their occupation of the Betazoid homeworld. Like most Vorta, she has no moral qualms at all, but does not approve of needless violence when there are more orderly ways to keep things in check. As far as she's concerned, Lemec's brutality will only serve to increase resistance among the occupied Betazoids.
  • While Moriarty and Moran in Kim Newman's The Hound Of The D'Urbervilles are not above doing things For the Evulz, they often adhere to this trope. At one point, Moriarty researched stealing the Crown Jewels of Britain, but rather than actually pulling the caper, sells the plans to the guardians, so they may tighten their security. And Moran discourses at some length about the foolishness of criminals who steal unique, one-of-a-kind, well-known (or religiously-venerated) valuables, because they're impossible to fence and often bring retribution after the thief.
  • Richard Stark's (Donald Westlake's) Parker is a career thief with no real moral, but he tries to avoid killing people because he knows the police search harder for a murderer than a thief. He does not cheat his partners because he knows they have to trust him to work together. This trope does go out the window if one of his partners betrays him, though. Then he will hunt you down to the ends of the earth.
  • Discussed in The Magician's Nephew. One bit of narration points out that once the witch was finished with Digory, she completely ignored him, because witches are "terribly practical."
    • This also holds true when she tries to tempt Diggory with a forbidden apple. She first appeals to his desire for personal gain by saying it will make him immortal and, when Diggory makes it clear he isn't interested in that, promptly switches tracks and starts urging him to take the apple back to his sick mother and use it to heal her. Either way, Aslan would have been deprived of the fruit needed to protect Naria and Diggory would have suffered in some way in the end.
    • This is shown earlier (at least in terms of publication, not chronologically), in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The White Witch captures Edmund but is unable to catch his siblings before they reach Caer Paravel (everyone believing that they'll fulfill a prophecy that the witch will meet her end when two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit on the thrones there). The witch decides that it's all but impossible to stop Edmund's brother and sisters, but reasons that simply killing him will render the group unable to fulfill the prophecy. Fortunately, a group of Narnians find and save Edmund. Earlier on, after first establishing that Edmund was part of a group of children made up of two boys and two girls, the witch tries to trick him into bringing his siblings to her castle, with the promise of making him a prince and his siblings lesser nobility. Mr. Beaver figures that she would have turned them all into statues the instant they set foot in her castle.
  • In Companions Of The Night, Don’t kill children is one of the first rules vampires learn. Because of moral reasons? No. It’s because missing or murdered children always attract more attention than missing or murdered adults.
    Ethan: One thing we’ve learned over the years, the number one rule – after You can never have too many covers on a window – is Don’t mess with kids.
  • In the President's Vampire series, it's shown that the Nazis recruited Johann Konrad to create Unmanschensoldaten for them, using the Holocaust as a means of gathering "parts", something he was all too happy to do. However, he refused to follow through on their secondary directive of creating magical-powered viruses to wipe out the British with, not out of morality, but because he knew that viruses can all too easily turn on their makers.
  • In Darth Bane, Bane forces the healer Caleb to save Bane's life by threatening Caleb's daughter. After he is healed, he briefly considers killing them but decides to let them live since he might need Caleb's abilities again one day.
  • Harry Potter Voldemort is as much of a Bad Boss as this trope allows it. Pragmatic Villainy and all this prevents him from wantonly murdering his pawns and only tortures them to scare them, with two exceptions and both had a pragmatic motive once to keep them from learning about the Horcruxes and secondly when he believed sacrificing a minion (even one of the best ones) would be the key to unlimited power. Also he is willing to play the role of the good boss who rewards whoever serves him well handsomely because it helps cultivate his image that he is not ungrateful and that he is close to each of his henchmen (which is a lie).
    • According to Pottermore, the Malfoy family, despite their Fantastic Racism, knew that trying to "keep the blood pure" by only marrying Purebloods would be impractical in the long run since there simply aren't enough Purebloods around to prevent incestuous marriages from happening at some point. Thus, whenever an unrelated (or so distantly related that a union wouldn't lead to possible birth defects) Pureblood was unavailable for marriage, a Half-blood—considered the next best thing—would be allowed to marry into the family instead.
  • Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall disapproves of pointless cruelty, but while interrogating Mark Smeaton he declines to torture him mostly because it doesn't work as well as hinting obliquely and letting Mark's own imagination terrify him into saying what Cromwell wants to hear. He can't transcribe screaming.
  • In the Fighting Fantasy books, the Sorcerous Overlord Zharradan Marr invests most of his time and his armies of darkness operating a... mining company on the frontier so he has a secure base to pursue his magical studies. He hires competent minions, obtains his coveted MacGuffins through guile rather than force, and prepares a tactical airstrike against a Hidden Elf Village with valuable secrets rather than waste resources invading the forests en masse.
  • Sight, in Two Percent Power, avoids giving his minions guns because he knows that it will bring the police down on him.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Magic: Part of the reason that Corin refuses to work with Professor Orden (besides the moral objections) is because the organization keeps taking massive risks in order to advance their country's place in the world, but if they make any mistake along the way, their entire nation could be wiped out. Corin just isn't willing to work with people so reckless.
  • Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain: All but the most unstable villains abide by a set of unwritten rules that include not trying to learn the secret identity of superheroes or going after their loved ones, not harming civilians, and generally not actually killing anyone. In exchange superheroes return the favor for their secret identities, and they get to retire peacefully. Ones who break the code tend to get swiftly corrected by their peers who like the status quo or who do have standards, or encounter Mourning Dove, who's notoriously bad at bringing people in alive.
  • The Hearts We Sold: Demons aren't inherently evil, but don't care much for humans and are seen as odd at best, and otherworldly monsters at worst. So, they have to take measures to make demon-human relations as pleasant as possible. Their one rule for making deals is that they won't bring physical harm to any humans. The Daemon, however, is willing to kill someone, for the right price.
  • The Malkuth family in Dance Of The Butterfly. They serve as antagonists, though they also help in the fight against the otherworldly invaders. They engage in manipulation, fraud, and murder, but they are very utilitarian in the application of such means.
  • Harmony Black: Buck Wheeler may be an amoral scumbag who bought monsters and demon-blooded to sell to customers for a variety of magical and sexual reasons, but he's not stupid enough to buy two federal agents and use them as sex slaves.
    Buck: Now, what sounds like a better business plan to you? Option A: I hold two feds hostage, have to keep 'em tied up and under constant guard the rest of their lives, and my customers get lousy service. Or, option B: I go to a couple of professional whores and say, "Hey, ladies. Wanna be my whores? I will pay you," in which case I get a couple of happy employees and a whole lot of happy customers.
  • Villains by Necessity: Robin spends most of the adventure confused why the group doesn't act like a stereotypical cutthroat band, and expecting them to backstab one another at any moment. The group realize talking to him that good and evil aren't black and white, and that being evil hardly means you need to kill your friends for no reason. Kaylana points out that had they behaved that way, the party wouldn't've lasted five minutes.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Alien Nation, Aphossno, the overseer scout, helps Cathy develop a therapy against a genocide-attempt genetically engineered from a "Purist" (Anti-Tenctonese hate groups) group— because the overseers can't profit from dead "cargo" (he plans not only to re-enslave the former Tenctonese slaves, but also to enslave humanity, since the overseers' military technology, according to the overseers, is vastly superior).
  • Angel:
    • In "Sense and Sensitivity", Wolfram & Hart refuses to help mobster Little Tony after he attempts to shoot up a police station. They consider him Too Dumb to Live and it would be next to impossible to acquit a Cop Killer.
    • In "Why We Fight", during World War II, Angel convinced Spike and the other vampires to spare the crew of the submarine they were on because none of them knew how to operate it. If they killed the crew, they would have been trapped on the bottom of the ocean.
  • Arrow:
    • Damien Darhk refuses Lonnie Machin membership of H.I.V.E. because of his chaotic methods - in the comics, Machin is known as Anarky.
    • The Big Bad of Season 6 Ricardo Diaz doesn't want to destroy Star City, like so many others. No, his goal is to take it over instead.
  • Babylon 5: In the beginning, G'Kar had the appearance of a pantomime villain, so it came as something of a surprise when he saved Catherine Sakai's life. This is the first clue that, under all the nationalistic bravado, he was actually a decent guy.
    G'Kar: There was no profit—no advantage—in letting you fall to an untimely and most uncomfortable death. It would distress the commander to no good end.
  • In the Blue Bloods episode "Officer Down" The Mafia joins in on a manhunt for a Cop Killer who was affiliated with them. Discussed later: Grandpa Henry notes that the Mafia had explicit rules against killing cops when he was on the force, because cop killers put the whole department on edge and make doing business difficult.
  • Boardwalk Empire:
    • In the words of Jimmy Darmody: "You can't kill everyone, Manny. It's not good business." Of course, Jimmy's temper and ruthlessness sometimes means that he takes steps that make everyone else think he is going too far and being impractical himself...
    • Both Arnold Rothstein and his Bastard Understudy Meyer Lansky are tremendous examples of this. They're constantly advising their more passionate associates to keep their attentions firmly on business rather than vengeance, vice or emotion.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • A humorous version of this comes up in season 6, when a vampire refuses to drink Buffy's blood because she's been eating a lot at a crappy fast food joint. Eating her at that point would likely make him feel sick. She also smells terrible.
    • An earlier episode had someone spared because the taste of steroids in his blood disgusted the vampire. Also, they were special steroids that were slowly turning him into a fish, so it's understandable.
    • Mayor Wilkins was equal parts Affably Evil and this trope.
    • Back in the 1800's, Angelus called Spike a moron for picking unnecessary fights and attacking humans in public. All that leads to is them getting run out of town by an angry mob, and they have to wait a generation before it is safe to enter that town again.
    • In the season 2 finale, Spike helped Buffy foil Angelus and Drusilla's plan to destroy the world not because it was right, but because destroying the world would deprive him of the various entertainments he liked such as sports teams, rock bands, and alcohol. Earlier, he also calls out Angelus for his constant Bond Villain Stupidity, particularly when he kills Giles' Love Interest Jenny Calendar and hides her corpse in the former's bed; he freely admits that he loves a good slaughter, but Angelus' mind games are going to backfire and leave them with a very pissed off Buffy.
  • Scorpius from Farscape is incredibly goal-oriented, and rarely lets petty things like "emotions" get in the way of his mission. Thus, even when John Crichton has utterly demolished his base, ruining his plans for revenge against the Scarrans, he states the following when John asks if he is considering following through on his earlier threat to glass Earth.
    Scorpius: To what purpose? Vengeance against you? The only vengeance I cared about is no longer within my grasp!
  • The very reason the Flander's Company was created in-universe: after years spent slaughtering each other with no control, both supervillains and superheroes became aware of the high mortality rate, and villains widely agreed that, as fun as it was to kill indiscriminately, it really was more lucrative and beneficial for them to follow Contractual Genre Blindness in exchange for getting paid. The few times the option or returning to the old system is suggested, most villains make it clear that none of them really miss that time.
  • Dexter: The Code of Harry that Dexter follows through most of the series is designed this way. In order to channel his killing urges in a productive manner, his adoptive father trained him to target only killers who've escaped the system. Despite the intentions of justice that Harry had, ultimately the goal is for Dexter to channel his urges without getting caught. Killing serial killers is simply more convenient and "justifiable" than wanton murder.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the serial 'The Dominators', Rago spends more time reigning in his Stupid Evil underling Toba than he does threatening the heroes. It's not that he's any less evil than Toba - he's just acutely aware that they've barely got enough resources to do the job they were sent to do, and if Toba keeps using the Dulcians as target practice their energy reserves are going to run dry.
    • The Monks from "The Pyramid At The End Of The World" are Reality Warpers who are powerful enough to conquer earth and rule it through fear, but consider fear an inefficient means of control. Instead, they reveal to humans that Earth is on an inescapable path towards the mass extinction of all life, and offer them protection in the form of a Deal with the Devil, so that they can be seen to rule with humanity's consent.
  • The Flash (2014): Captain Cold avoids killing civilians and cops if he can help it (but if he has no choice, he'll do it without hesitation) because he feels it's not worth his time and the attention from the cops.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Despite generally being Stupid Evil, there are a few moments when even Cersei realizes that petty revenge is a bad idea.
      • She is clearly appalled by Joffrey's decision to have Eddard executed, knowing full well that a tame wolf is better than a dead one and that Ned's survival was the only way to prevent war with the North, and indeed she had preferred simply stripping Eddard Stark of his lands and titles and having him exiled to the Night's Watch. There is an element of Even Evil Has Standards here, albeit expressed in a cruel Ironic Echo: since Ned planned to exile her rather than allowing her and her children to be murdered, it is sort of "fair" to "only" plan to exile the Starks rather than killing them.
      • In the second season, even she seems taken aback by Joffrey's order to kill Robert's bastard children, not necessarily because of personal standards, but because something like murdering children and babies draws the wrong type of attention. She even seems offended that Tyrion initially thinks she was the one who ordered it, though in the books, the purge of Robert's bastards was all her idea and Joffrey was unaware/uncaring of it, making for another point where Tyrion had to rein her in. However, she's also too prideful to admit Joffrey was wrong to do so.
    • One of Tywin Lannister's defining features, as he saw his house nearly destroyed by his good-hearted and gentle father. As a result, Tywin is brutal and vicious, but (he believes) only when there is a profit to be gained from it; for example, when he rides into a camp and finds his men randomly torturing and executing prisoners, he immediately gives them a dressing down for wasting valuable manpower during war time. Instead, he starts asking the prisoners their trades, and orders his men to put them to work. But when he suspects an assassin attempting to kill him, he immediately orders a decimation of the garrison, along with torture and interrogation of anyone suspected of aiding or knowing about the assassin. Later, his retort for arranging the "Red Wedding" is "Explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner." He is also fair and generous to his enemies after they surrender to him, not because he cares about them in any way... but because, as he points out to Joffrey, if you crush people who submit then no one will be willing to surrender in the future. In the books, it was mentioned that he's had enough of that last one after Aerys II violated that maxim by executing Houses Darklyn and Hollard after they capitulated. Tywin also disapproved of The Mountain's brutal murder of the Targaryen Children... gentle words and a soft pillow could have done the job with much less fuss. He also grudgingly respects Tyrion's political acumen and adaptability, putting his skills to use instead of just ignoring him altogether. Even naming Tyrion the Master of Coin, a job Tyrion himself balks at because he's never managed wealth in his life, seems to be because he believes Tyrion will do a good job. However, this is bizarrely averted during the Harrenhall arc. He recognizes Arya as a highborn girl and instead of doing what we would expect from his character (or from any sensible person in that situation) — determining her identity to see if she can be used as a hostage or bargaining material with someone — he decides to... uh, chat with her. And then leave her with Ser Gregor's crew.
    • Roose Bolton:
      • Roose was genuinely shocked and upset when Locke arrived with Jaime missing his sword-hand. He's fine with torture but pointless brutality is obviously distasteful to him. Not because of morality, but because it risked damaging his attempt to curry favor with Tywin Lannister and that's a man even Roose doesn't want to cross by maiming his eldest son.
      • Roose is furious at his son Ramsay's torture and mutilation of Theon Greyjoy into madness - because it has destroyed Theon's usefulness to him as a valuable hostage. Roose originally wanted to exchange Theon for Ironborn-occupied Moat Cailin, but King Balon would never consider giving up this strategic stronghold for a useless heir, since Theon can no longer sustain their line. Ramsay notes that he already made the offer before, but Balon didn't even consider it. He makes this point rather firmly to Ramsay, who flays people for not paying their taxes.
      • Roose also points out that Ramsay's habit of offering mercy to enemies who surrender, then torturing and executing them anyway, means that now no one is willing to surrender to them.
      • Roose's entire motivation for legitimizing Ramsay. While he does not think highly of him, Roose knows that he is in need of an heir, especially if he is not able to sire an heir from Walda.
      • He later points out that by repeatedly raping and abusing Sansa, thus driving her to escape, Ramsay made the same mistake that he did with Theon, thereby costing the Boltons the chance at having a marriage and heir that would allow them to control the North.
      • Overall this deconstructed with him: He's capable of being a pragmatic villain and would love for his subordinates to be, but his ruthlessness, treachery and general psychopathology ensure that only sadists, sociopaths and the psychologically broken are willing to work for him. His approach to child-rearing also seems to have some amount of responsibility for transforming his only viable heir into a raving sadistic maniac.
  • The Handmaid's Tale:
    • Word of God mentions that the reason the adaptation dropped Gilead's white supremacist ideology was because in a situation where infertility is rampant, the regime would require them not to discriminate against women on a basis of ethnicity and need all child-bearing women to fulfill their goals.
    • Gilead also spares lesbians, female intellectuals, and politicians if they are fertile, but in the case of fertile lesbians, they subject them to an alternative punishment instead if they get caught having sex with women.
    • Climate change is also mentioned to be very rampant in the series to the point that there is no snow in Boston now during the winter. The Gilead regime took steps to combat climate change, from limiting their industrial production to war production to cutting carbon emissions by 78% in three years, and establishing an "entirely organic" agricultural model. This is more or less have to do with the fact that climate change can have a negative impact on fertility rates and Gilead hopes reducing the climate change effects can help boost their fertility rates.
  • Hannibal: When Hannibal is killing intending to eat the victim, he minimizes their stress and suffering. He's not showing them kindness: a stressed animal releases hormones that cause the meat to taste off. When he's killing for other reasons he will readily be as brutal and violent as required.
  • House of Saddam: After Uday kills one of his father's confidants (he insulted Uday's mother by introducing Saddam to a new mistress), the enraged Saddam unleashes a beating on his son. While chewing Uday out, Saddam claims that he's upset not by Uday's violent behavior, but that there's no point to it.
    Saddam: You think violence is a pastime!? It is a tool! What are we? Barbarians?!
  • In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, Basco ta Jolokia is perfectly fine with letting kids die, blowing up schools, and even killing his own Morality Pet to get what he wants. However, he decides to spare (and in one case, save) the Gokaigers because they're all after the same treasure and it's easier to let them do the heavy lifting for him.
  • Luke Cage: Shades always has his eyes set on the bottom line, in contrast to the more emotional and distracted crime bosses he advises. Most notable when Stryker takes a big gamble by taking a bunch of hostages, which Shades criticizes. When Stryker calls on his men to execute any hostage who gives them lip, Shades turns and scowls at him.
  • Malcolm in the Middle: In the episode Grandma Sues, Ida's attorney walks away from her lawsuit after the realizing the family's homeowner's insurance policy is cancelled. His closing quote says it all: "Now, I don't mind tossing innocent people into the street. I just don't do it for free!"
  • In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Goes to Jail," it's revealed that the titular detective's Arch-Enemy Dale "the Whale" Biederbeck follows this philosophy—he won't commit a crime unless it benefits him in some way. Specifically, Dale is accused of murdering a fellow inmate who was already on death row; the man owed him $1,200, so the cops think the financier either killed him for the money or to send a message to the other inmates about how powerful he is. Dale scoffs at these ideas: he's already insanely rich ("I wouldn't bend over to pick up $1,200...I mean, even if I could"), and his reputation most definitely precedes him, especially in the criminal world. He even hires Monk to solve the case and clear his name in exchange for information on Trudy's death...which is ultimately revealed to be part of an elaborate plot to get Monk framed for a murder that Dale is planning years from now.
  • Samaritan of Person of Interest is willing to eliminate anybody it considers a threat or hindrance to its plans, but if they cease to be a threat will let them go.
  • In the Power Rangers Zeo "King for a Day" two-parter, Prince Gasket brainwashes Tommy into thinking he's the leader of the Machine Empire and that the Power Rangers are his enemies. Jason ends up being forced to fight him in a gladiator arena and struggles to reason with him. As all this is going on, Lord Zedd and his group are watching the fight and enjoying themselves... until Zedd realizes that Gasket's success will mean the Machine Empire gets to conquer Earth, while they get nothing. Much to Zedd's horror, they have to help the Rangers beat Gasket in order to have any chance of conquering Earth themselves one day. Finster proposes teleporting the remaining Rangers to the arena to wreak havoc with Gasket's plan.
    "So, I use the Power Rangers to destroy my enemies? I like that idea, Finister. I like it a lot! I'm glad I thought of it. Brilliant!"
  • In Shooter, this is Atlas as described by its leader. "We may not have a moral code in the traditional sense, but there are rules. We don't kill indiscriminately."
  • The various gangs in Sons of Anarchy sometimes set aside blood feuds in favour of profit.
  • In Stargate SG-1:
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • The Ferengi are a Planet of Hats based on greed. They've never had slavery as an institution or practiced genocide—because people who are enslaved and/or dead can't buy things; though some of them don't mind selling people as slaves to cultures that do have slavery, or selling weapons of mass destruction to genocidal warlords. Their second onscreen appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation even uses this to invoke the "what profit vengeance" Aesop, with one DaiMon's crew deposing him for wasting their resources in an obsessive attempt to get revenge on Picard, because this cut severely into their profit margins.
      • Despite this, they are revealed to be a He-Man Woman Hater society that doesn't allow females to work or even wear clothes...until Ishka convinces Grand Nagus Zek who in turn convinces the rest of Ferengi society that having over half the population not participating in the economy is terrible business.
    • After a Cardassian ship gets blown up in suspicious circumstances, one Starfleet officer notes that even so, the Cardassians are not going to pick a fight with the Federation, or even ramp up their border security, since they are more than happy with the peace treaty. It gives them expanded territory, and they now have colonies on the Federation's side of the border that will not be mistreated and do provide a conveniently discreet view of the Federation's activities from behind the lines, so they are not going to throw away the deal they've got over such a trifling incident as this.
    • During the Dominion Occupation of Bajor and Terok Nor, the Dominion treated the Bajorans far better than the Cardassians did during their previous Occupation. As was explicitly demonstrated in later episodes, this wasn't just because the Dominion had a neutrality pact with Bajor: the Dominion was all too willing to violate agreements with its allies when it was to its advantage to do so. What motivated the Dominion to keep its word was a desire to draw the starkest contrast possible in the minds of subjugated peoples between how it would treat them if they submitted, and what it would do to them if they defied it.
    • Gul Dukat, in particular, plays this trope to the hilt in both directions, claiming to have cut back on Cardassian cruelty and oppression and improved the Bajorans' working conditions wherever possible during the Occupation of Bajor pre-series. In the series itself, he regularly allies with the "good guys" every time it serves his personal best interest, including particularly siding with the leaders of a popular uprising on Cardassia whom he considers to be a legitimate new government, and helping smuggle their Detapa (ruling council) to safety on Deep Space Nine during a Klingon invasion. Even in his more insane and villainous moments toward the end, one can see he always continues to do whatever he believes will serve his own practical best interest, right or wrong.
    • The Female Changeling gets an instance of this near the end of the series. The Dominion have just gained the Breen as allies, who have a weapon that totally disables any ship it hits. This decisive advantage allows the Breen to destroy a combined Federation/Klingon/Romulan armada, including the Defiant. When all the survivors are stuck in escape pods, the Changeling orders them spared; not because she's feeling generous but because, as she explains to Weyoun, the demoralizing effect the terrified survivors will have on the alliance's war efforts is worth far more than their deaths would be. Weyoun immediately sees the wisdom of this decision, though neither of them takes into account that among the survivors is Captain Sisko, whose ability to rally the troops is most substantial and whose personal attitude towards fear is that it's something that happens to other people.
  • Star Trek: Voyager uses this trope as a Take That! against the Kazon villain race from the first season. When an off-hand comment about them is made in front of Seven, she recalls how the Borg ran into one of their colonies. They refused to assimilate the colony because it would detract from their perfection. They didn't even have desirable physical qualities. Even the Talaxians got praise for that.
  • Suits: It's more jerkassery than villainy, but Harvey Specter won't sleep with married women - not because it's amoral, but because it's not worth the hassle.
  • Crowley from Supernatural is all about this. He's a demon who's willing and eager to work with the Winchesters or even angels if it means furthering his goals, and doesn't Kick the Dog unless it benefits him in some way. He strictly follows one rule: if you make a deal, you keep your end of the bargain, no matter what. Even if breaking the deal would be more beneficial to him, Crowley won't do it. Normally, when someone makes a Deal with the Devil, they get ten years of life before their soul is claimed, and Crowley is outraged with one of his followers for abusing a loophole to come for them early, because people will be less likely to make a deal if they think Crowley or his subordinates will go back on their word.
    Crowley: There's a reason we don't call our chits in early: consumer confidence. This isn’t Wall Street, this is Hell! We have a little something called integrity. If this gets out, who'll deal with us? Nobody! Then, where are we?
  • In an episode of Taxi where Louie is given a blank check by Jim's father to compensate for Jim burning down Louie's apartment, Louie explains that he's not putting in a ridiculous amount because he knows it won't be honored. But there is an amount that will be just low enough for Jim's dad to agree to pay it with only minimal reluctance, which Louie needs to calculate.
  • The Wire:
    • Played straight in Season 2 when The Greek and Vondas contemplate killing Frank Sobotka, not out of genuine malice but rather because police are using damning evidence of his corruption in order to turn him for the prosecution against them. Vondas convinces The Greek it would be more pragmatic just to buy Frank's loyalty (and silence) by manipulating Frank's son Ziggy's murder trial and preventing a conviction. Unfortunately, Frank had already made a deal with the FBI by then, and both The Greek and Vondas find out from a "friend" in the FBI while Frank is on his way to meet with them. Frank is shown with his throat sliced open in the beginning of the next episode.
      The Greek: "Your way... It won't work."
    • Similarly, in Season 3, once Stringer Bell took over Avon Barksdale's drug empire, he negotiated with other Baltimore players to create a co-op; his period of control marking what was almost certainly a low point in violent drug-crime, since it wasn't in the best interests of any of the dealers. Stringer had also been taking economics courses, and so this pragmatic course of action was a solid application of coordinated action to avoid the "tragedy of the commons". Unfortunately for them, Marlo's refusal to join their cartel and continued use of violence also solidly illustrated the free-rider problem and "prisoner's dilemma".
    • A more minor example is Dennis "Cutty" Wise. Cutty was a street soldier who has finally been released after a long stint in jail and gone to work for the Barksdale gang. When Cutty and a couple of other Barksdale enforcers catch a dealer stealing money from the organization, a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown begins. In the middle of it, Cutty begins to protest, saying that if they beat him too badly to work, how is the dealer ever going to pay them back what he owes? The young thugs keep going anyway, beat the dealer to death, and steal whatever money and bling he has on him.
  • In an episode of The X-Files, Cancer Man has the alien bounty hunter save Mulder's dying mother. When he asks why, Cancer Man tells him that his mothers' death would make Mulder more dangerous, as he would have nothing to lose.

    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.

  • 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.


    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).

    Video Games 
  • In Night in the Woods, the Big Bad does some truly terrible things, but they do follow a very strict set of codes about what they allow themselves to do. The Cult of the Black Goat commits acts of Human Sacrifice to an Eldritch Abomination for the sake of saving their Dying Town, but they only sacrifice people who "won't be missed." To that end, the cult lets Mae and her group go because they have loved ones who would notice if they went missing, and because they hadn't done anything to personally wrong any members of the cult with the exception of Eide. Though, the cult even lets that go because Eide was trying to kill them, so it's an eye for an eye. Of course, who "won't be missed" is entirely up to them. Both Gregg and Bea call them out on this, especially once it's revealed that their friend Casey was one of the cult's victims.
  • Dawn of War features a number of examples.
    • In the first game's Expansion Pack Winter Assault, during the Disorder campaign, the forces of Chaos are in conflict with the Orks of Lorn V; when they discover the Imperial Guard and Craftworld Eldar are also on the planet and both searching for an ancient Emperor Titan, the leaders of both factions temporarily team up to deal with their mutual enemies, but this doesn't mean they've decided to stop fighting one another for good. Also takes place in the Order campaign, where the Guard and the Eldar team up to stop the Chaos Marines and the Orks, despite both sides knowing that their ultimate motives are mutually-exclusive and they will eventually have to turn against each other.
    • The page quote is from Chaos Rising, the first expansion to Dawn of War II. During an early skirmish with the player's forces, Big Bad Araghast the Pillager allows them to leave the battlefield with their lives. When his Dragon Eliphas raises an eyebrow at this, Araghast counters that it suits his purposes to do so — there's a traitor amongst the player's loyal comrades who has provided him with useful information, and he let them leave to continue making use of the traitor without blowing his cover. Eliphas has a nasty grudge against the player's forces, some of whom defeated him in battle during the Kronus campaign in Dark Crusade, but Araghast has no interest in indulging his enforcer's vendetta.
    • In Retribution, the Imperial Guard campaign features a sterling example when Sergeant Merrick yells at Lord General Castor for leaving a large number of Guardsmen to die during a disasterous battle on Typhon Prime while he and the good sergeant escaped along with Commissar-Lord Bernn and Inquisitor Adrastia; the good general replies as follows:
    Lord General Castor: Merrick, A guardsman's life is to die. My job has always been to send them to places where they can die. I am not afraid to spend them, but I never waste men. Because of their sacrifice, the Inquisitor now has the proof she needs. [...] Now, Sergeant Major, you may proceed with your attempt to kill me, but as I mentioned, I do not waste men if I can avoid it, and killing you for insubordination would be very... wasteful.
    • How Inquisitor Adrastia first warms Kaptin Bluddflagg to the idea of killing Kyras, who has no intention of endangering himself and his krew challenging a nearly Physical God. If he obliterates the sector, what's left for the orks to fight and plunder? However, she also fails the trope by screwing up the negotiations when, having promised him a fight against three Imperial regiments at a time and place of his choosing, she refuses to add her Nice Hat to the deal.
  • In Heroes of Might and Magic IV, after founding his own kingdom, the necromancer Gauldoth the Half-Dead gains a once-in-a-lifetime chance to invade his neighbouring nation while their armies are elsewhere and become the most powerful ruler in the world. Instead of doing this, he sends the invasion plans to the queen of said nation, telling his Number Two that whenever a necromancer gets too greedy, every living thing in the world allies against them. Instead, he's content on ruling his own little nation for all eternity, overlooked by everyone else.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Bowser. At times he helps the Mario Brothers and other people, only because he wants to be the only one to take over the Mushroom Kingdom. Also, since his goal is conquest and not destruction, he'll assist the Mario Brothers so that others can't destroy what he wants to conquer.
    • Super Paper Mario's Dimentio is perhaps one of the darkest-ever takes on this trope. He repeatedly helps the heroes from behind the scenes... but is actually far worse than the main villain, only doing this to be able to weaken said villain enough so that his Artifact of Doom can ultimately be stolen for Dimentio's own ends. In the end, he even decides to subvert this trope altogether by using the last of his power to attempt a multiversal Taking You with Me out of sheer spite.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog's Dr. Eggman has willingly worked with Sonic and friends multiple times to prevent the world from being outright destroyed, including stopping his own grandfather's work in Sonic Adventure 2. Eggman's goal is opening his own theme park, not world destruction. These traits are best exemplified in Shadow the Hedgehog, where Eggman is a possible "Hero" and "Dark" assistant, the only character in the game to be on both sides. Also, during an early cutscene, as Eggman watches a city being destroyed by the Black Arms, he gets increasingly more frustrated with their mindless destruction.
    Eggman: How can I take over the city and build the Eggman Empire if there is no city!?
  • Caster in Fate/stay night refrains from actually outright killing the victims she drains because that would draw even more attention, too much to cover up with a story about gas leaks.
  • The Agency of Hitman normally go after criminals and the like due to the fact that people pay more for world stability. Also, Agent 47 prefers not to kill anyone who isn't his target, since collateral damage isn't professional and it creates the risk of more witnesses (though he will kill witnesses if he has to).
    • In Hitman (2016), the ICA is hired to destroy a bioweapon that can kill target specific people via DNA, allowing anyone with the weapon and a sample of the target to kill them from halfway across the world. Despite such a weapon having potentially catastrophic implications in both a moral, economic and geopolitical sense, Diana (and presumably the rest of the ICA) is more concerned that it would put them out of business.
  • This is the reason why "professional" pirates in EVE Online hate the more Griefer-like rat bastard ones. A professional pirate will trap your ship and make you a simple offer - pay them or your ship and capsule will be destroyed. If you pay up, they'll let you go, otherwise they blow you up and loot your wreck. The rat bastards will do the same thing, except if you pay up they destroy you and loot your wreck anyway. The professionals hate the bastards because they make people far less likely to pay up, which is far more reliable profit than looting wrecks (as what survives a wreck is random). Quite a lot of people in Eve refuse to ever pay ransoms for their ships simply because they don't believe in "honest" pirates any more.
  • "The Practical Incarnation" is the name for the most evil of your previous selves you encounter in Planescape: Torment. Everything he did had a practical use, even if it ultimately resulted in horrible things like convincing a woman he loved her so her very soul would stick around and act as an oracle for him. He even leaves you with some very good, easy-to-follow instructions, so much the better to make sure you can carry on his work even after his death. May be regarded as a kind of inversion — rather than evil goals tempered in means by pragmatism, the Practical Incarnation has a neutral-to-okay goal made horrible by the pure practical pragmatism in the means.
  • Fallout: New Vegas:
    • Mr. House is not a nice man and freely says that he desires to become the region's dictator (he prefers "autocrat"), but he has no interest in power without a purpose and his plans for the Mojave would certainly benefit mankind as a whole. Likewise, he's merciless in dealing with people who have earned his ire or even have a chance of standing in his way, but in personal interactions he's usually just sort of condescending, not showing any overt malice.
    • Father Elijah, a fanatic, actually had some pretty sensible policies during his time as the leader of the Brotherhood of Steel, including obtaining beneficial technology such as farming equipment and trading such technology with wastelanders in order to gain their support. Elijah doesn't care about wastelanders and is happy to sacrifice them if needed, but was smart enough to recognize that the Brotherhood was too small and insular to survive without support from their wastelander neighbors (a fact which even his much more moral successor completely missed). Or not. His successor can be made to admit that the Brotherhood is doomed, but he's not willing to break the Codex like Elijah was. Elijah breaks the rules for what he sees as the greater purpose of his organisation... both the ones that keep the Brotherhood from being outright evil, and the ones that have long lost their purpose in the modern wasteland.
    • The Khans are a group of raiders that act like "professional" pirates. They're mainly hostile to the NCR, but tend to ignore locals of the Mojave, and are willing to trade, though the only thing they have to trade is drugs (though they will sell weapons to the Courier if he manages to get on their good side) and by the time of the game mostly keep to themselves at Red Rock Canyon.
      • You can also use this trope as an argument to convince the Khan's drug cooks to make medicines in addition to their regular drugs; a more diverse product line, plus customers who are less likely to die allowing for more repeat business, will give them more profits.
    • The Fiends have at least learned to stay out of Westside after their leader Motor-Runner decided that the local Supermutant who protects the community is more trouble than it's worth to kill.
    • In the final battle, Legate Lanius will only consider retreat if he's properly convinced/bluffed that he will face inevitable defeat, either through attrition, through an inability to support his army or even by convincing him that the NCR is setting a trap for him.
    • Colonel Moore is this. She is willing to put up with anything the Courier does because it will lead to winning the war, but she makes sure to slander the Courier and gets Ambassador Crocker fired for doing things their way instead of hers.
    • Gloria Van Graff is a completely ruthless bitch of a businesswoman who will do what is necessary to monopolize the weapons trade in the Mojave. She is also willing to work with the NCR to take down Caesar's Legion, because the NCR has a larger economy, and because she (unlike several other Mojave faction leaders) isn't delusional enough to think she will be the exception to Caesar's rule of killing those who outlive their usefulness.
    • The Garrets are willing to aid the Followers in fighting addiction in their customers, because addicts cause more trouble than they're worth and scare off the more profitable tourist clientele. (May touch on Even Evil Has Standards since - bad reputation aside - they never do anything really bad in-game, and value a good reputation.)
  • "Good" choices in Overlord are often framed as this. For instance, after retrieving a village's stolen food supply, you're given the option to take it to feed your horde—but giving it back to the villagers instead increases their productivity (represented in-game by a higher respawn rate for the sheep you kill to feed your basic troops.)
  • In Portal 2, GLaDOS ends up thinking like this at the end of the single-player campaign. After all of the trouble she's gone through in two games, the evil AI finally decides to just let Chell go like she wanted. GLaDOS knows that if she keeps Chell around any longer, things are probably just going to keep getting worse. Though the return of the original Companion Cube and 'Want You Gone' present another possibility: GLaDOS lied about deleting Caroline, and invokes this trope to hide her true affection for Chell.
    The best solution to a problem is usually the easiest one. And I'll be honest. Killing you? Is hard. So you know what? You dangerous mute lunatic? You win. Just go.
  • In the Deus Ex: Human Revolution "The Missing Link" DLC, you can find an email from the evil base commander where he claims he was informed that his subordinates are raping their female prisoners and demands that they stop or face harsh punishment...because this decreases the chance that they survive the horrific surgical procedure that turns them into Hyron Drones.
  • Flemeth of Dragon Age is a mysterious shapeshifting "witch of the wilds" and an Evil Matriarch besides, but she scoffs at the stories of her kidnapping and eating children. "Pah! As if I had nothing better to do!"
  • Golden Sun:
    • Not so much a matter of avoiding morally reprehensible actions, but Agatio parts with his dignity in Golden Sun: The Lost Age and consciously plays the part of a dumb brute being manipulated by Alex because he knows that will get the job done, though he makes it clear that he's actually a Genius Bruiser and not fond of Alex's attitude.
    • Considering the events near the end of the previous game, Agatio also seems to be much more tolerant of Felix not directly following their plans than his predecessors were. Though he's pretty rough about reminding Felix what's at stake, he doesn't turn on Felix until Felix acts against him on behalf of Isaac, and even then he bides his time until Felix has finished his part and is no longer needed for the plan to succeed.
  • PAYDAY The Heist has this for the heist crew. They don't want to kill civilians because it will make the cops more aggressive against them and having no hostages gives cops less incentive to hesitate in attacking. In a gameplay perspective, you don't want to kill civilians because doing so delays your release from police custody, gives the team less hostages to barter your release with, and you incur a monetary penalty at the end of the level.
    • PAYDAY 2 gives you two more good reasons: untied civilians will now help up players with the "Stockholm Syndrome" skill (even giving them some ammo if the skill is aced), and police hostages can now be converted to your side - the ones with orange bulletproof armor in particular are really good meatshields because regular bullets cannot cut through their armor at all.
  • Ares in Injustice: Gods Among Us helps the heroes stop Superman's Government since the lack of conflict has left the God of War with little power.
  • BioShock: Frank Fontaine opened up soup kitchens within Rapture, not out of love, but to turn the city's lower class into an army.
  • Soren in Fire Emblem Tellius can skirt this at times, such as suggesting that Ike turn over Princess Elincia to the invading Daein soldiers to earn favor with the currently superior occupying force. He drops it as soon as Ike decides to protect her, though, and it's clear that despite his more questionable suggestions he's ultimately loyal to Ike and the Greil Mercenaries.
  • In StarCraft's expansion Brood War, when Kerrigan is facing the UED, she gets in an Enemy Mine situation with Arcturus Mengsk, the guy who once betrayed her, and promises she will help him take his planet back from the UED in exchange for his help. Much to everyone's surprise , she does keep her word... because by doing so, she considerably weakens the UED's grasp in the sector. Once it's done, she promptly betrays him.
  • Sleeping Dogs, Broken-Nose Jiang despises Big Smile Lee's prostitution and women-selling operations because she believes they are archaic and don't provide as much profit as white-collar crimes.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, Darth Revan was not a very nice person but kept his atrocities to a minimum because Orbital Bombardment is bad for infrastructure and profit. When his former apprentice, Darth Malak betrays him, all that goes out the window because Malak is an incompetent General Ripper; one of his first actions that the player sees is him ordering the total destruction of the completely-Sith-occupied Taris just to kill the player. Some Dark Side acts that the player can do are pragmatic, but most tend towards Stupid Evil.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords separates Dark Side acts into either psychotic Stupid Evil actions or cunning manipulation. Kreia will essentially call The Exile a moron if they trend towards Stupid Evil, but will praise them for manipulation. The game also goes into further detail for Revan's motivations prior to the first game, describing him as a Well-Intentioned Extremist Anti-Villain.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the various Imperial characters, particularly Sith often tend to justify Light Side decisions this way. By the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion, Darth Marr and a Light Side Sith Inquisitor can both champion that the Empire should adopt Villain with Good Publicity as their public image, seeing it as the only way to help stabilise the Empire and repair the damage from the ongoing war with the Republic and infighting between Sith.
  • In Danganronpa, Genocide Jack, the Ultimate Murderous Fiend decides that if the point of the murder game is to not get caught to escape, and Jack can't stand not using her signature modus operandi (and thus leaving obvious evidence at the crime scene), then it would be easiest to just not kill anybody. Plus, she knows that the outside world is reduced to ruins, so she has no interest in leaving.
    • The spinoff Ultra Despair Girls has protagonist Komaru Naegi being hunted for the amusement of the Warriors of Hope, while they simultaneously enact their Evil Plan. One of them decides to do something very constructive: Since Komaru is smashing all their robots, Nagisa decides to give her exactly what she wants and escorts her out of the town.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In Morrowind, Master Aryon seems to be the Reasonable Authority Figure of House Telvanni. However, he's actually being 'flexible' because the stubbornness of the other Telvanni councilors leaves the House at a disadvantage to its numerous powerful enemies; his motives are entirely self-interested.
    • Skyrim:
      • The Thieves' Guild has a "no killing" rule, because leaving behind dead bodies draws attention and makes people more hostile (and getting rid of the bodies takes work and money), and they'd much rather be seen as a nuisance than a serious threat. Additionally, as they say, "a half-dead man can still make his payment, while a dead man pays no gold".
      • Similarly, if you side with the Volkihar vampires, many of their side quests have you put down various non-affiliated groups of vampires, because the more advanced vampires in the castle don't appreciate their unsubtle methods and doesn't want the cattle (i.e. mortals) to get unduly spooked and possibly hostile. That, and they don't want to share.
      • Whether you side with the Volkihar vampires or not, you'll meet Valerica, Serana's mother, hiding in the Soul Cairn. She reveals the actions that she had taken to help prevent Harkon from fulfilling the 'Tyranny of the Sun' prophecy, which you'd initially think that she'd have been all for as a Vampire Lord herself. Her reasoning is that an event of that scale would drive all of the mortal races to fight back against them, and not stop until every vampire was snuffed out and the sun returned.
  • Governor Laureano de Torres y Ayala in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is shown to be against slavery, only because it will fuel resentment and rebellion in the long run, rather than seeing it as immoral.
  • The first couple of times you run into Graham Jones in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow he is very friendly toward you and even helps you out. At that point in the game he thinks you're no threat to his plans and sees no reason whatsoever to behave otherwise. He also completely disregards the amnesiac bumbling around the castle. However, Yoko, an agent for the Church and a powerful witch, is dangerous enough for him to hunt down, and once he learns about Soma's strange powers, he changes his mind...
    • Similarly, Death tends to be this in any of the games he appears in where the castle is being ruled by someone other than Dracula. Especially in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin: he has no interest in fighting Jonathan or Charlotte because they are facing Brauner rather than his master, points this out when they challenge him, and decides to simply leave when they pose a threat to him. Pride be damned when he doesn't have a valid reason to put himself at risk against an opponent.
  • Constable Neyla of Sly 2: Band of Thieves, though only a "villain" in the sense that she works for Interpol and the protagonists are criminals, is aware that Sly's gang has a tendancy to bring down much more serious criminals and openly admits she's willing to slip him clues and even directly work with him for the greater good. Of course, this changes once it's revealed she actually is the game's Big Bad and was merely using you to get access to Clockwerk's body.
  • A quest in World of Warcraft has one Dreadlord criticizing another for using blood ink in love letters to a Succubus simply because Night Elf virgins aren't easy to come by and he's wasting a valuable resource.
  • In a Batman: Arkham Knight prequel comic, the Arkham Knight impersonates Batman and murders criminals, trying to frame Batman for it and make it look like Batman has snapped. He avoids killing innocents, both because he wants witnesses to spread the word and because he knows if he killed them, it would be obvious he was an impostor. In the game proper, he argues to Scarecrow to just let him kill Batman instead of using mind games and death traps. Getting rid of the biggest threat now is worth more than making him suffer and giving him chances to survive.
    • Scarecrow also counts here, since making Batman suffer is his main goal. He couldn't care less about taking over the city, that's just the bait to lure out Batman. He wants to be the Hope Crusher that destroys Batman as a symbol of hope for the people of Gotham. Just killing him outright would make him into a martyr, and thus solidify him as a symbol of hope forever.
    • This game also shows why, in the comic books, The Joker is often not invited to play with the other villains. Without his involvement, all the other villains are able to effectively join forces and present a far greater threat to Batman than they ever could have individually.
  • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team, Team Meanies participates in Pokemon rescues because it earns them money and influence, which they would need if they want to take over the world.
  • In Mass Effect 3, Aria T'loak is a ruthless crime boss who ruled Omega until Cerberus threw her out. After you help her secure her position again, she turns around and throws every bit of support she can to you, because in her words "if the Reapers win, it won't matter where I'm sitting." Most of humanity's allies are far more conservative with their support- only the Krogan leader Urdnot Wrex and the Geth can potentially provide more support to the war than she can.
  • Crusader Kings game mechanics encourage this on the part of the Player Character. Randomly revoking vassals' titles or imprisoning or beheading people without a clear reason increases the chance of a revolt against your rule, but a king who is "good" by modern definitions doesn't tend to last long. Doing things like faking claims on foreign lands so you can conquer them and assassinating heirs (prepubescent children included) so that particular people will inherit are key components of gameplay.
  • Despite all the genuinely psychotic stuff going on in the titular setting of Maniac Mansion, including bloody chain saws in the kitchen, mad experiments, the kidnapped Damsel in Distress, and so forth, if you run into Edna she merely captures you and either calls the police or your mother. After all, there's no way anyone would believe the teenager's reasoning for sneaking in, and technically speaking he is trespassing.
  • In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Gaunter O'Dimm will gladly help Geralt several times, even warning him to not try to discover what O'Dimm really is, for his own sanity. This isn't because he's a nice guy, since he's the Witcher equivalent of the Devil himself; rather, it's because he needs Geralt sane and effective so he can help O'Dimm collect on his contract with Olgierd. At the end, if Geralt sides with O'Dimm and lets him win, he'll tell Geralt information to help him save Ciri in the main game's ending... but that is so that Ciri will survive to defeat the White Frost, which threatens to destroy O'Dimm's favorite playground.
  • Quest for Glory: Despite being a very dangerous and wicked spellcaster, Baba Yaga is a very passive force of evil in the world, and generally keeps to herself until she's provoked. Even then, she usually satisfies herself with curses and hexes rather than destroying her enemies outright. And while she very well can devour the Hero if she desires, she ultimately leaves him off the menu; In Quest for Glory I she lets him live when he proves useful by running an errand for her (which comes back to bite her when you return and turn the tables on her with the magic mirror). By the time of Quest for Glory IV she's decided eating the Hero is altogether far more trouble than it's worth, and finds the various snacks the Hero brings her in exchange for her help and advice much more appealing, anyway.
  • In Kuroinu, a pimp stops one of his Sex Slaves from anxiously biting her lip- because he wants to get the highest price possible when selling her, and that particular sort of injury makes her less attractive/valuable.
  • Lord Djibril in Super Robot Wars V berates Emperor Julio after his attempted public execution of Ange ends in a colossal failure, implying that he never approved. Since the existence of Dragons is exposed publicly and various organizations and nations (particularly ZAFT, the Orb Union, the Celestial Being and even the Earth Federation) take military action against the Founding Nations afterward, he was more than correct.
  • In Tweety and the Magic Gems for the Game Boy Advance, Sylvester is one of the six playable characters who participates in the quest to find the five Magic Gems that reverse the curse that turns Tweety to stone. If Sylvester achieves a goal at the end of the game, he explains his reason for participating in the quest; he can't eat Tweety if he turns into a rock.
  • Count Arganan of The Last Story is very reasonable with the protagonist, Zael. When Zael is framed for kidnapping his niece, all it takes is an explanation from Zael's friend to get him out of jail, and later on, Arganan offers Zael knighthood and the hand of said niece in marriage, two things Zael has been hoping for. He does all this because he learns that Zael is The Chosen One and reasons that if he wants to use Zael's power to further his ambitions, it's better to just get on his good side than to try and threaten or force him into it.
  • Dungeon Keeper: The Keeper might be a Villain Protagonist malevolent spirit out to drown the world in darkness, but it behooves it to be at least somewhat considerate of its evil minions: providing amenities and entertainment, keeping them away from creatures that press their Berserk Button, keeping the Training from Hell moderate, and never saying We Have Reserves. Creatures will leave or rebel if abused too much, and high-level minions are worth accommodating a bit.

    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 Brahnwen 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...

    Western Animation 
  • During the War Arc against the Web in Reboot, Megabyte lends his assistance and resources to Bob, Dot and the rest of Mainframe to fight the oncoming Web creatures. After all, Megabyte can't take over Mainframe if someone else destroys it, or infects the system first. Once the threat from the Web is dealt with, Megabyte turns on Mainframe again, exiling Bob to the Web.
  • Spider-Man: The Animated Series: The Kingpin was presented this way, even occasionally teaming up with Spidey against more Omnicidal Maniac villains because "there's no profit to be had in the end of the world."
    • The same series also presented Dr. Doom in this manner during the adaption of the Secret War. While the other villains brutally conquer the planet the Beyonder has send them to and enslave the population, Dr. Doom turns the part of the planet that he manages to conquer into a peaceful paradise where robots do all the hard work and the population can live in luxury. His motivation for doing so is that the planet has technology far beyond that of earth (including a way for Doom to heal his disfigured face and cure Ben of the Fantastic Four of being stuck in his monstrous form), and by destroying the civilization or ruling as a tyrant, Doom would only deny himself access to this technology.
  • One episode of The Spectacular Spider-Man has the eponymous hero confront Tombstone after beating up a pair of his Mooks. Tombstone lands a few good blows on Spider Man and seems poised to give him the beating of his wall-crawling life, but instead calls the police and informs them that Spider Man just trespassed, assaulted his employees, and threatened his well-being. These all being valid facts, the police try to arrest Spider-Man while Tombstone sits back and watches.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Discord in the two-part episode, "The Return of Harmony". He does any number of atrocious evil things, but he draws the line at turning ponies into stone. Interestingly enough, this is not in contrast to another villain even worse than he is, but to Princess Celestia, which goes a long way toward demonstrating how he probably perceives her. But that's because statues lack entertainment value, after all.
    • The season sixth premiere revealed why King Sombra hid the Crystal Heart away rather than destroy it so it couldn't be used to stop him: its magic was the only thing protecting the Crystal Empire from the dangerous weather surrounding it. And even before that revelation, it was already implied that he wanted to convert it from an Achilles' Heel to an Artifact of Doom.
    • In "The Mean Six", after Queen Chrysalis creates evil versions of the heroes, backstabber-wannabe Mean Twilight asks Chrysalis why she didn't just attack her enemies when she was close to them. Mean Twilight points out that the spell used to create the Mean Six required a bit of hair from each pony that was copied, which Chrysalis took under the guise of a photographer, meaning Chrysalis had a good chance to get the drop on the heroes for a sneak attack. Chrysalis responds that the Mane Six and their allies have defeated the entire changeling army in the past. Even if Chrysalis had the element of surprise, fighting the Mane Six and Starlight Glimmer alone was likely going to end badly for her.
  • Shere Kahn in TaleSpin, despite being a Corrupt Corporate Executive, is actually a Benevolent Boss who treats his employees with respect. His reasoning is that employees who want to work under him are far more useful and productive than ones that have to. He also once made certain that his workers were freed from a corrupt underling who was working them to death.
    Shere Kahn: My dear, I desire only money and power. Unpresentable employees provide me with neither.
    • Shere Kahn is also smart when it comes to making business deals, as well. In one episode, an inventor was trying to sell Kahn his "Auto-Aviators," robots that flew planes automatically, never had to rest, and never deviated from their flight plans. While Kahn is interested in the idea, he initially refuses because he hadn't seen the robot in action yet. Kahn turns out to be right when the Auto-Aviator proves utterly incapable of dealing with air pirates, leaving Baloo to take over.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • This was the reason Ra's al Ghul deposed his son Arkady Duvall as a potential heir to his world-conquering empire; Ra's' entire shtick is his belief that Utopia Justifies the Means, which includes making sure The Trains Run on Time, so the prospect of using barbarous and inefficient tactics to ensure that (such as whipping hard workers for every little slip-up, or disposing of supposed interlopers by dunking them in molten lead, as Duvall does in the episode "Showdown") does not sit well with him, at all.
    • In "Joker's Millions", the Joker is forced between the options of facing the IRS for tax evasion or paying back all the money he thought he had. He decides that fighting Batman is one thing, but the IRS is a different ballgame altogether. He even tries to be subtle with his crimes so that he can raise the money without notice.
  • Pinky and the Brain:
    • The Brain claims that the reason he's stopping Snowball from conquering the world is so it will be available for him to take over later. (At least, that's what he keeps telling himself.)
    • "A Meticulous Analysis of History" shows that Brain believes historic conquerors like Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun have often been thwarted by their own senseless brutality and warmongering, which is why his own plots for world domination tend to be nonviolent.
  • The Dreamstone:
    • Zordrak, of all villains, invokes this when Urpgor asks why he doesn't just kill his bumbling minions Blob, Frizz and Nug, having come to found murdering his troops on a whim to be ineffective.
    • Blob and his men themselves often are very pragmatic, while it's perhaps more out of cowardice than strategy, they rarely ever directly attack the heroes and most of their plans involve the bare means to get the stone from them. In some episodes this actually makes them seem less antagonistic to the heroes than vice versa, who have a much more vengeful streak.
    • In "The Return" none of the villains, even Zordrak, bat an eyelid to Spildit playing around harmlessly in Viltheed quarters (though Urpgor bullies her flying leaf from her), being focused completely on repairing the damage to their lair. When the Noops enter as a rescue party and start interfering with the construction however, Zordrak immediately orders the troops.
  • A subtle example happens in Star Wars: Clone Wars. The reason General Grievous spared Shaak Ti when he obviously could have killed her was because he needed a live witness to let the Jedi Council know that Chancellor Palpatine was gone (as his boss Darth Sidious, who unknown to Grievous, was Palpatine, had wanted them to know).
  • South Park:
    • From "Fun With Veal":
      Kyle: Dude, how are we going to move 23 cows to your house?
      Stan: I don't know.
      Cartman: Guys, I've got it. We can kill Butters, and then float the cows on a river of his blood!
      Kyle: Don't be stupid! Butters doesn't have that much blood in him!
    • In "200", dozens of celebrities get together to sue South Park into the ground after years of ridicule from them, and decide that they instead would like to get their hands on Mohammed. The Ginger Kids, however, want Mohammed for similar reasons and threaten to bomb South Park. Tom Cruise decides they should violently attack South Park as well, only to be reminded that getting violent would ruin their careers. They reactivate Barbara Streisand instead so she can destroy the town.
    • In "Freeium Isn't Free", the Devil himself detests the usage of "freeium" games due to its lack of nuance (subtly), pointing out it is blatant Skinner-box manipulation.
  • In the King of the Hill episode "The Accidental Terrorist", car dealer Tom Hammond is brought in when Hank, who he ripped off for the past 25 years, is accused of burning his dealership. Hammond tells the police to let Hank go, not for being innocent (Hank really was innocent, but Tom and the police didn't think so), but continuing to press charges would destroy his reputation as a businessman.
  • Xanatos from Gargoyles never carries the Villain Ball; his plans are pretty much designed so he HAS to win something. He also refuses to engage in revenge, because he sees it as a "sucker's game" with no real benefit, and keeps trying to remain friendly with all of his enemies, since he sometimes needs their help with cleaning up his messes. (Besides, he and his "allies" all have different agendas and tend to get along with each other even worse than he does with the Gargoyles.) A good example of this trope is in "Enter Macbeth," when he doesn't plan on killing the gargoyles during their stone sleep because it "seems like a waste" to destroy them (since he spent so much money awakening them in the first place) and hires Macbeth to drive them out of the castle, not destroy them. The same episode has Macbeth calmly wait for them to wake up before trying to capture them, since that, after all, is the honorable thing to do. (He's also got a bit of a history of working with gargoyles, and is just as willing to ally with them against a mutual threat as Xanatos is.) The one time Xanatos did value personal vengeance over pragmatism (when he thinks Sevarius betrayed him) it results in a monster that is as strong as Goliath and smarter than him being unleashed upon the world with twenty million dollars.
  • Agent Bishop in the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He had the goal of protecting humanity from aliens, and while he was extremely ruthless, he had his priorities in line and didn't go and spend time trying to kill the turtles, who were ultimately more an aid to him then a hindrance.
  • Although he hates Darkwing Duck and would be happy to get rid of the interfering superhero once and for all, Megavolt has helped DW on one or two occasions when the city of St. Canard is at risk of being destroyed. He justifies this by pointing out that if St. Canard is destroyed, there will be nothing left for him to rob.
  • In Kim Possible Monkey Fist explains he didn't kidnap Sensei because the old man was of no value to him.
  • Dracula from The Batman vs. Dracula doesn't like to kill his victims, but not because he doesn't like killing. He just hates wasting a life that could be better used as his undead servant.
  • Beast Wars: The Tri-Predacus Council, leaders of the majority of all Predacons, sends an agent to prehistoric Earth to aid the Maximals and capture Megatron, whom they declared a dangerous criminal. They, like Megatron himself, still want to take over Cybertron and spark a second interstellar war, but would prefer to do so through subtle manipulations and waiting for the opportune moment. That and Megatron's plan is too reckless even for them to consider. The plan also makes Blackarachnia defect in order to save her own life as it would destroy all Maximals which is what her protoform was.
  • Soundwave of Transformers Prime has made a career out of this. It diminishes his effectiveness not the slightest.
  • Imperiex of Legion of Super-Heroes winds teaming up with his Arch-Enemy Superman X in order to protect a young boy from some contract killers, if only because that young boy will be the one to invent the technology that would create Imperiex in the future.
  • Amon from The Legend of Korra specifically picks certain benders that are established monsters or jerks, refuses to debend the Avatar to avoid creating a martyr, and won't indulge in any Kick the Dog moments for the fun of it in order to build up a strong following. By the time his endgame comes into play, however, he tosses this aside, so perhaps he was only pragmatic as long as it was pragmatic..
    • Kuvira from Season 4 has a massive, well trained and well equipped army, but chooses to use diplomacy when trying to take over Zaofu so as to keep her public image positive. Once it's clear that Suyin won't listen to her, Kuvira falls back on invasion. Once her Humongous Mecha is up and running, she skips trying to look benevolent and just invades the United Republic immediately.
  • In Ben 10: Alien Force, Vilgax's return episode portrayed him as following a galactic code of conduct. However, Word of God is that Vilgax was only following it because it was more profitable for him, allowing him to conquer ten planets in a short amount of times without wasting massive resources to it. In later episodes, after this strategy failed against Ben, he has no scruples breaking said code several times.
  • Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz in Phineas and Ferb wants to take over the Tri-State Area, but he prefers to use complicated and overly-specialized "inators" rather than break out a weapon which could do real damage. His rationale is that, if he destroys the Tri-State Area, there won't be anything left to rule. That said, many of his plans, and the inventions to make them happen, are unbelievably petty. A large proportion have no purpose other than embarrassing his brother the mayor in some fashion. Also, he doesn't try to Take Over the World, since he considers it an unrealistic goal.
  • In the first episode of Family Guy Stewie mind controls a judge to acquit Peter of fraud and give him his job back because Stewie relies on him for food and a home.
  • The Series Fauxnale of Johnny Test involves several of his enemies forming an Enemy Mine against Dark Vegan, because the former was told out that they can't Take Over the World if there's no world.
  • In Phantom Planet, the Grand Finale of Danny Phantom, Danny convinces all the ghosts of the Ghost World to turn Earth intangible, because if Earth gets destroyed, so does the Ghost Zone.
  • The Powerpuff Girls:
    • Mojo Jojo stopped an alien invasion only because the said aliens were copying his plans.
    • In "Custody Battle," Mojo called Him out on how idiotic it is to direct the sun into earth, stating that by doing so Him will destroy everything including himself. But it was subverted to show that Him was bluffing.
  • In Action Man (2000), Asazi turns on Dr. X when he reveals his final plan is to competely annihilate mankind because it will be bad for her business as an assassin.
  • As Chaotic Stupid/Stupid Evil as Invader Zim is, he stopped other aliens from taking over or destroying the world. Because he won't let others steal his job.
  • In the two part Grand Finale of Jackie Chan Adventures, Drago realized that kidnapping Jackie, Uncle, and Captain Black and demanding the demon powers he desired as ransom was easier than attacking Section 13.
  • In one episode of Xiaolin Showdown, Jack Spicer helped the monks save the world from Wuya because he wanted to rule the world himself.
  • The fact that Venger of Dungeons & Dragons regularly uses the I Have Your Wife (or son, parents, hometown, etc.) tactic against his victims could easily explain why he always keeps his word — if word spread that he didn't keep his end of the bargain, nobody would respond to his threats.
  • Jacques of Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race objects to cheating late into the race, not because he feels it's wrong but because he and Josee keep getting time penalties for trying to sabotage the other teams.
  • The Pastmaster in SWAT Kats. Unlike the other villains, particularly Dr. Viper, who often go out of their way to hurt and kill innocents, whether or not the Pastmaster kills (or tries to kill) "foolish mortals" is dependent on what he's currently attempting to do:
    • In "The Pastmaster Always Rings Twice," he makes a point of letting grave robbers Jack and Tom go after returning from the grave, despite the fact they might tell people about him, because at that point he is focused on finding his missing spellbook, and plus he doesn't care if anyone knows he's back. And throughout the episode, he pretty much ignores people unless they attack him, and in particular, he just locks Callie and Dr. Sinian in the stairwell rather than kill them when they attempt to interfere with his plans.
    • In "Bride of the Pastmaster," the only times he (through his monsters) hurts or kills anyone is in an effort to persuade Queen Callista to give in to his demands; he repeatedly tells her that if she agrees to marry him, he'll call off the attack on Megalith City. Killing and endangering people here is merely used as a persuasion tactic.
    • And in "The Deadly Pyramid," he makes a concerted effort to kill Randall the photographer, and then Dr. Sinian and her assistant Henson, lest they escape and warn anyone of the coming mummy army. But once the SWAT Kats and Enforcers show up, the element of surprise is ruined, so he focuses his attention on attacking the city, abandoning all efforts to kill Sinian and her colleagues. The only other person he specifically tries to have killed is Mayor Manx, but this is only because he thinks killing Manx will make him the ruler of Megakat City.
    • There's also the fact that in "A Bright and Shiny Future," he was capable of swallowing his hatred for the SWAT Kats in order to cooperate with them against the Metallikats, because Mac and Molly had betrayed him and taken away his magic pocketwatch, rendering him powerless. But once the Metallikats are defeated and he gets his watch back, he goes right back into villain mode.
  • One episode of the third season of Mia and Me has Dax at one point suggest he and Gargona steal something from Polytheus, but Gargona is quick to talk him out of it since Polytheus is the only one in Centopia whose services can be bought.
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender: Prince Lotor is much more willing to use diplomacy than his father. Not because he actually wants to create equality between all the people of his empire or anything like that, but simply because people are less likely to rebel if they think they can actually talk to their overlords. There's lots of pomp and ceremony about having allies instead of slaves, but not much actually changes. Furthermore, Lotor often lets Voltron escape because he's not as obsessed with it as his father was. He does attack them at every opportunity, he just isn't willing to throw entire fleets into the meat grinder on the off chance that they might slow Voltron down.

Alternative Title(s): Pragmatic Villain, Pragmatic Evil