Like a mercenary, but with none of the sociopathy.
These are characters who have no real grudge against the heroes, but are simply doing a job for which they are getting paid. After hours, they are totally personable Joes, who go hang out like anyone else. Most Punch-Clock Villains are not even particularly mean. Clear cut cases will not be bad outside their job as it would undermine the existence of this trope.
The trope used to be an odd plot device, but it has become increasingly frequent due to the popularity of the superhero parody genre, where the supposedly Evil Minions are portrayed as sympathetic employees for unreasonable bosses. In addition, nearly all anime series featuring a comedic villain usually have these type of minions, who are frequently cute characters like the Perky Female Minion.
Conversely, if played seriously, the emotional detachment that the Punch-Clock Villain displays when they knowingly contribute to various atrocities can be chilling, and audiences may see them as a monster. Depending on the nature of the story, this trope can make a villain either more relatable to an audience or more hateful. If they are employed in a violent capacity, they may be an Apologetic Attacker, or insist that there is Nothing Personal in what they do.
Many Punch-Clock Villains may execute a Heel–Face Turn at the very, VERY end of the film, should the Big Bad totally lose it.
If they would rather Pet the Dog and don't even willingly participate in any criminal activities, they might instead be the most innocent character on an evil side, the Minion with an F in Evil; if they got into evil because the superhero team fired them for misbehavior, they may be a Hero with an F in Good. People using this trope as an excuse for their crimes, regardless of the truth of their claims, are Just Following Orders; real-world examples should go there.
Related to Villains Out Shopping and Good All Along. May overlap with Churchgoing Villain or Family-Values Villain. Compare Obstructive Bureaucrat. The opposite of Visionary Villain and Psycho for Hire. For the Anti-Hero version, see Punch-Clock Hero and Not in This for Your Revolution. Not at all related to villains who love their clocks, or to villains who punch their clock.
Note: A Complete Monster doesn't qualify as this trope, as their villainy is completely intentional and by choice.
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- Lamput: Technically speaking, the docs aren't evil at all, and they only chase Lamput since it's a part of their job (Lamput escaped from their laboratory after an experiment went wrong and is probably believed to be a threat of some sort as a result). Lamput and the docs have been known to help each other out on occasions outside of this job and seem to care about each other to some extent.
- Finnish songwriter and artist Juice Leskinen has depicted this phenomenon chillingly in his song Osapäivänatsi (Part-Time Nazi), where a father takes off his uniform and jackboots after a hard-working day, kisses his wife and plays with his children. He demonstrates how this kind of villains usually are the most dangerous as they are fully able to compartmentalize their ethics and their actions in two neat separate boxes.
- The music video for "Genghis Khan" features Miike Snow as one of these. The unnamed mastermind postpones killing a dapper spy with a laser beam because at precisely 5 o'clock, the lights go low and it's time for him to go home to his perfectly normal wife and kids.
- John Mellencamp portrays the repo auctioneer in "Rain On The Scarecrow" as being this way. He tries to tell John that it's Nothing Personal, he's just doing his job, but John tells him that it's no excuse, and that he'll still have to answer for his sins.
- The song "Henchman" by Kirby Krackle is about a henchman being interviewed for a villain's henchman asking about things like dental/healthcare plan and the hours. He even lists off some of his past experience for working as a henchman.
- Bill Sutton: Taken quite literally in the "9 to 5 Barbarian" song.
- The Bible: Tax collectors are among the most disliked members of society. Back then they were considered little more than thieves employed by the government. The Roman Empire often made use of "Tax Farming," the practice of selling the authority to gather tax moneys. The purchaser could squeeze people as hard as they liked under the tax laws, and any extra they got was profit.
- Mission to Zyxx has the CLINTs, an army of clones raised from birth to do violence in the service of whoever happens to be in charge at the time. One escaped CLINT named AJ proves that if you can get them out from the chain of command then they're happy-go-lucky dummies along for whatever club will have them.
- Most prosecutors in Ace Attorney. Arguing against you is literally their job, and it's not their fault that the police occasionally arrest and bring to court the wrong person. Outside of court, most prosecutors have cordial relationships with their defense counterparts. The only exceptions are Manfred von Karma (who takes winning his cases very seriously, to the point of murdering the only defense attorney to get him a penalty), Franziska von Karma during Justice for All (who seeks to prove herself against Phoenix specifically), and Godot (who has a personal vendetta against Phoenix).
- Fate/stay night: Assassin is the least villainous antagonist within the cast.
- Due to the nature of his summoning, he's bound to guard the Ryuudou Temple's gate and he is not even able to properly participate in the Holy Grail War, since his Master is the fellow Servant Caster and Assassin is literally unable to leave the temple grounds. All he can do is doing his job as a Gate Guardian and even then, he often lets enemies in whenever he feels like. He's only really interested in fighting a strong opponent and he's really honorable on top of that. Even when the enemy leaves the temple through the gate, he doesn't even attempt to assault them and just let them go. To go even further, during the Unlimited Blade Works route, he still keeps guarding the temple gate despite Caster being already killed and the only motivation he has left is keeping his honor by fulfilling the duty his contractor gave him and having one last epic duel against Saber before he runs out of mana and vanishes for good.
- Amusingly, True Assassin (Hassan of the Cursed Arm) in the Heaven's Feel route also qualifies. He seems, at first glance, to be a horrifying, monstrous servant, and he's working for the inarguable worst person in the entire visual novel... but, realistically speaking, he's not actually that bad of a guy. He didn't choose his master and doesn't particularly approve of him, he just does his bidding because it's his job, and has a noticeably melancholy attitude towards it.
- The Eiserne Jungefrauen in Umineko: When They Cry are magic-denying witch hunters, but only when they're on the job as Inquisitors. Otherwise, they don't mind innocent magic that is used as an embellishment, as long as it doesn't hide the results of what happens. Dlanor, in particular, has a discussion with Battler, explaining this over tea.
- Stolas from Helluva Boss seems, after the beginning of the second season, to be a sort of executive level version. He's a demon prince who's initially introduced as ordering a hit on a human politician to advance the cause of evil. And being a huge pervert towards Blitzo. However, after the first episode of the second season, he looks more like a Nice Guy who advances the cause of evil from a distance because it's the job his family expects him to do. And that pervert thing may just be a misunderstanding, because Blitzo had accidentally given him the impression he's into stuff like that.
Psycrow: And remember our motto:"The wages of sin is death. But the hours are good!