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Punch-Clock Villain

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"There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do."

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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.

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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.

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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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Examples

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    Asian Animation 
  • 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.

    Music 
  • 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.
  • Taken quite literally in "9 to 5 Barbarian" by Bill Sutton

    Podcasts 
  • 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.

 
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Alternative Title(s): Punch Clock Villains

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Ralph Wolf

Ralph & Sam have a punch-clock relationship with each other (even involving an actual clock). While Ralph will often steal sheep & Sam will pound him for it, outside of work they have a very strong friendship going, eating lunch & living in the same house together.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (17 votes)

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