Follow TV Tropes

Following

Revenge Is Not Justice

Go To

"Remember, Arthas, we are paladins. Vengeance cannot be a part of what we must do. If we allow our passions to turn to bloodlust, then we will become as vile as the orcs."
Uther The Lightbringer to his student, prior to battle, Warcraft III

This trope is a standard Deconstruction of Pay Evil unto Evil and the Well-Intentioned Extremist. Sometimes, characters that have gone through something horrible believe that they have the moral high ground or that they are in the right for their actions, no matter how evil those actions are or who the targets are. This trope comes into play when a character (possibly even the character with the excuse themselves, if they're going through Character Development) acknowledges that their actions are wrong; no matter what they have been put through, one bad action won't justify another.

Advertisement:

This trope only happens when there's an in-universe acknowledgement of this. A character has to receive a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, a Kirk Summation, see that someone's Disappointed by the Motive, or some other kind of speech on why they're wrong. Whoever gives the rebuke, there needs to be a voiced acknowledgement that the character's vengeful drive doesn't justify how they've hurt others. At the very least, an explicit statement must be made by the omniscient Narrator. One way to accomplish this is a small round of Misery Poker, specifically by pointing out others who have suffered just the same, if not more, and still chose not to commit the same misdeeds as the accused. (Bonus points if that very suffering is caused, directly or otherwise, by the accused's wrongdoings.)

Sins of the Father is one of the biggest motivators of this, a character wants revenge but targets the child of the aggressor because they either resemble them in some way or they are desperately looking for closure by any means necessary even if the child did nothing to deserve it.

Advertisement:

This trope is often accompanied by a Pyrrhic Victory for the one seeking revenge as it can cost everything dear to them. They can be arrested, killed in a cycle of revenge, they can lose their personal freedom, or they can become guilt-ridden for only perpetuating the cycle of violence. Their loved ones can also abandon them for being a threat or for ignoring their pleas to move on and let go.

A Sub-Trope of Revenge Before Reason, where revenge is depicted as an amoral decision done in the name of justice, only to be told afterwards that it's no excuse for hurting people.

Compare and Contrast Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse where someone uses their childhood as an excuse, only to be told that it doesn't give them the right to hurt others. Revenge is not justice is about someone using experience outside of their childhood to hurt someone, despite being told that they have no right to do this. Not to be confused with Was It Really Worth It? and Vengeance Feels Empty where a character is asked if their revenge brought them any peace or justice in the end, but it is a common question at the end of their revenge plots.

Advertisement:

It may overlap with If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him! where a character is discouraged from murdering their enemy because they will become just as bad as them, if not worse. It may also overlap with Cycle of Revenge where revenge begets revenge. He Who Fights Monsters also correlates with this since revenge makes someone just as bad as their aggressor or a new brand of evil. For characters getting called out for holding grudges, but not necessarily taking revenge, see No Sympathy for Grudgeholders. See Fighting Back Is Wrong where this can be a reason why characters get punished for getting back against their bullies, while their bullies usually get off scot-free.

Vigilante Injustice can correlate with this when victims of a criminal choose to enact vigilante justice under the belief that the law enforcement officers aren't going to believe them or won't make the villain suffer enough. Only find out that the vigilante had just killed an innocent person or had just contaminated evidence that could have had the villain imprisoned.

This trope is the opposite of The Villain Must Be Punished, where characters acknowledge that retribution is justified. Contrast with more positive instances where Revenge Is Sweet, when Revenge and Justice come off as one in the same.

In-Universe examples only. Examples of the audience feeling this way usually go under Unintentionally Unsympathetic.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: When the series starts out, Scar is a Vigilante Man/Serial Killer who targets State Alchemists because many of them participated in the genocide of his people. While Roy Mustang, one of the participants in said genocide, views it as justice that one of the surviving Ishvalans would seek revenge, Ed rebukes it, stating outright that regardless of his reasons, Scar is still involving innocent people in his rampage and candy-coating it by acting self-righteous and calling himself "an instrument of God". Several of Scar's fellow Ishvalan survivors, including his master, also tell Scar point-blank that no matter what happened to their people, what he's doing is wrong.
  • Moriarty the Patriot: For all that the Moriarty family is portrayed sympathetically, their actions are not portrayed as acceptable or forgivable. They were evil and they all commit to devoting the rest of their lives to atoning for their crimes. William even outright states that he's never thought of his actions as justice, nor that he has any right to have done what he has. This trope is the entire theme of the series.
  • My Hero Academia: Tenya "Ingenium" Iida became a hero after he became his brother's successor when he was attacked by Stain and forced to retire. When Iida finally met Stain face to face, he ignored an injured hero and tried to attack him. During their fight, Stain chews Iida out for his need for vengeance and then drives in the nail further by stating that Iida's actions are the furthest thing from being a hero. In an inversion of the trope, when Ida actually admits to these criticisms, Stain seemed unable to accept that he had really had gotten through to him.
  • Psycho-Pass: When Shinya Kougami finally confronts Shogo Makishima, who is responsible for the death of his Enforcer partner Mitsuru Sasayama and his demotion as a latent criminal, he tries to kill him only to be beaten like a pulp until Akane saves him. When he learns that Chief Kasei wants Makishima alive instead of arresting or killing him, Kougami chooses to leave the bureau to go after him much to Akane's grief. Kougami is aware of this which he mentions in his letter to her. When he eventually kills Makishima, Kougami is forced to escape Japan leaving everything behind. As seen in Psycho-Pass: Sinners of the System Case 3 - Beyond Love and Hate, Kougami is on a path of atonement after he realizes killing Makishima to avenge Sasayama's death costs him everything and is haunted by Makishima's ghost wherever he goes. That's why he warns Tenzing, whose parents were murdered by guerillas, that avenging their deaths wouldn't give her justice.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • Cinders and Ashes: the Chronicles of Kamen Rider Dante has this as a Central Theme, especially for the first half. Hoshi was briefly on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge through writing stories of his OC fighting caricatures of cyberbullies that drove his friend to suicide. However, Hoshi eventually realizes this and the climax of his character arc in the first quarter is to rationalize that what he did wasn't justice, something he would later teach Yuichi during his introductiory arc.
  • Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail: Parker Cerise has been reeling over the trauma of his sister running away from home, learning how she was bullied by her class with little to no adult help at all, her Childhood Friend abandoned her, Ash takes their father's attention away and the implications that Chloe could go back to the Train if no one changes their act. This, combined with Professor Hale delivering the Unown box at a very bad time, has him use the Unown to unleash justice in his sister's name with disastrous results. It takes a long time for others to tell him that what he wants is the satisfaction of crushing those who have hurt his sister even though the mistakes were either very small due to them being Innocently Insensitive, the fact that his targets have already had their lives ruined and also revealing that he and Chloe were also as much at fault than everyone else who caused her to be a near-suicidal wreck.

    Films — Animated 
  • Over the course of Batman vs. Robin, Bruce Wayne often reminds his son Damian of the words "Justice, not vengeance" so he gives up the ways drilled into him by the League of Assassins. By the time of Batman: Bad Blood, Damian has finally taken it to heart.
  • Paranorman: The witch, Agatha, was persecuted for her supernatural powers and eventually executed. During her trial, she cursed her accusers to return as zombies, subjecting them to the same torment she felt at their hands. However, this does not come to pass until Norman fails to keep her spirit asleep and Agatha exacts vengeance by wreaking havoc on the town. Eventually, Norman points out that as awful as everyone was to her, that does not give her the right to cause suffering and she's no better than the townsfolk.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Batman Begins: Discussed. Seven years after Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered, he returns to Gotham City to attend the public trial of Joe Chill, who agreed to cooperate with Gotham's DA in taking down the Falcone crime family in exchange for early release from prison. When Rachel Dawes, Bruce's childhood friend and the DA's assistant, tries to dissuade Bruce from going (as she was the one who was going to drive him to the trial), Bruce firmly insists on going, as unbeknownst to Rachel, Bruce had fully intended on killing Joe Chill himself. Shortly after the trial's conclusion, one of Falcone's hitmen gets to Joe and kills him before Bruce could. Frustrated that Falcone had escaped justice again, Rachel and Bruce later discuss how Falcone managed to pull it off, which Bruce noted that he should thank Falcone for it, only for Rachel to point out that what he wanted was revenge, not justice, and imported the importance of an impartial judicial system, which Bruce complains as being broken. Disgusted, Rachel drives Bruce up to a diner that Falcone frequents, making sure to drive him by the countless homeless encampments along the way to show Bruce just how bad Gotham's crime families have been making things for Gotham citizens and how much they're destroying everything Bruce's parents have fought for and pointing out that Joe Chill himself was a victim of Falcone's criminal empire, despite his crime. She then promptly slaps Bruce after he reveals the revolver he planned to kill Joe Chill with, and tells him how ashamed his parents would be of him. Bruce ultimately takes the lecture to heart, and it's the starting point on his journey to becoming the Dark Knight.
  • Batman Forever: After Two-Face kills Dick Grayson's family, he immediately plans to kill him for revenge and Batman spends the film trying to talk him out of it. When Dick finds out Bruce's secret, he wants to join so he'd find Two-Face but Bruce rejects him because he knows from personal experience that revenge won't undo the damage done to him. Dick does eventually take this to heart and eventually saves Two-Face, only for the latter to betray him immediately afterwards. In the climax, Bruce causes Two-Face's death by throwing coins in the air as Two-Face is flipping his own coin, which causes him to lose balance when he tries to catch the original and tumble to his death.
  • Cape Fear: In the 1992 adaptation, Max Cady wants revenge because his lawyer, Sam Bowden, buried evidence that could have saved Max 14 years in prison (where it's implied that he sexually assaulted there and he felt especially vulnerable due to his illiteracy). However, in the climax, it's revealed that the evidence that could have saved Max was that his victim was promiscuous, something Sam points out as ridiculous and evil. Max doesn't accept this and prepares to murder him for violating his oath as a lawyer.
    Sam: Just because she was promiscuous didn't give you the right to rape her! You bragged to me that you beat two prior aggravated rapes. You were a menace.
    Max: You were my lawyer! You were my lawyer, that report could have saved me fourteen years!
    Sam: You're probably right.
    Max: You self-righteous fuck!
  • In Clash of the Titans (1981), Calibos begs his mother Thetis to convince Poseidon to unleash the Kraken on Joppa to punish Perseus for chopping off his hand. When he calls it "justice", his mother responds with "Justice, or revenge?" Thetis does heseuas he asks eventually, but only after Queen Cassiopeia carelessly commits blasphemy against Thetis herself.
  • Falling Down: Deconstructed. Foster's rampage is caused by stress revolving around the loss of his job, marriage, and access to his child, and the general degradation of modern society. It gradually gets more dangerous and destructive. He busts up a shop because the owner was rude to him and all his merchandise was offensively overpriced, he attacks some thugs for trying to rob him and subsequently drive-by-shoot him, he lets an angry old man die from a heart attack after trying to hit him with a golf ball just because he was passing through the golf course, destroys a road to give a wasteful construction crew something to really fix, he kills a man for breaking his daughter's birthday gift and trying to turn him into the police, and Prendergast believes he might be planning to kill his ex-wife, daughter, and himself. Sergeant Prendergast empathizes with him because he lost his daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but he rejects Foster's excuse because none of these things gave him the right to go on a rampage.
    Serg. Pendergast: Let's meet a couple of police officers. They're all good guys.
    Bill Foster: I'm the bad guy?
    Serg. Pendergast: ...Yeah.
    Bill Foster: How did that happen? I did everything they told me to. Did you know I build missiles?
    Serg. Pendergast: Yeah.
    Bill Foster: I help to protect America. You should be rewarded for that. Then they give it to the plastic surgeon. You know, they lied to me.
    Serg. Pendergast: Is that what this is about? You're angry because you got lied to? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven? Hey, they lie to everybody. They lie to the fish! But that doesn't give you any special right to do what you did today.
  • Gran Torino: In a deconstruction of vigilante justice, Walt's attempt to help the Vang Lor family by assaulting a gang member leads to a drive-by shooting, the injuring of Thao, and the kidnapping and rape of Sue. While Thao desires revenge, Walt imprisons him so he can't take revenge since Walt knows from experience that killing others isn't as glorious as Thao thinks. Walt instead orchestrates his own death, sacrificing himself so that Spider and the gang can be arrested.
  • Hot Fuzz: Frank Butterman is the chief of police in Sandford whose wife committed suicide after Sandford lost Village of the Year 20 years ago because of travellers. After her death, Frank convinced the Neighbourhood Watch Association to punish all crimes and imperfections with the death penalty (ranging from stealing from the shops to simply having an annoying laugh) and brainwashed the police force into rationalising these deaths as accidents. When Nicholas Angel heard of these crimes, he assumed it was all part of a grand money-making scheme and is absolutely horrified by their pettiness and sheer ruthlessness.
    Nicholas Angel: How can this be for the greater good?
    Neighbourhood Watch Association: The Greater Good
    Nicholas Angel: SHUT IT! These people died for no reason, no reason whatsoever!
  • Saw: John Kramer was a civil engineer who was obsessed with control until a series of tragedies put him on death's door. After surviving a suicide attempt, he decided to help people reform by putting them through various death traps that would make them "appreciate life". However, as the series goes on, the victims he targets aren't random, and they tend to be people who did him a great wrong (from denying him treatment for his cancer or denying him insurance that would support his wife when he dies). His reasoning becomes especially petty since he starts sacrificing innocent people to prove a point to his victim (one such example being sacrificing a chain-smoking janitor in Saw VI to motivate William and make it easier for him to pass his first trap).
  • This is a running theme in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
    • The Maximoff twins (Wanda and Pietro, otherwise known as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver) are mad at Tony because a Stark missile killed their parents. Fair enough- part of Tony's own character arc has been learning about the consequences of his weapons dealing. But when they go after the Avengers for it, not only are they attacking a man who's been The Atoner for years and has already suffered horribly for his mistakes, Scarlet Witch exacerbating Tony's PTSD results in the creation of Ultron, who then goes on to destroy their home country of Sovokia. They wise up by the end of the movie, though it costs Pietro his life.
    • Unlike in the comic event, the conflict in Captain America: Civil War is about this trope. Bucky Barnes has done some terrible things as the Winter Soldier, but he was also brainwashed into them and, when in his right mind, is Steve's friend. Steve forgives him and tries to get him help for his brainwashing problem, while Tony fails the test by attacking Bucky and Steve after he's shown evidence that Bucky, as the Winter Soldier, killed his parents. T'Challa almost falls into this trope (Zemo assassinated his father), but stops himself when he sees what revenge has cost the others. Baron Zemo also falls into this, as he successfully destroys the Avengers for their role in Sovokia's destruction... but not only was that manipulated by outside causes, the Avengers not being together means that Earth doesn't have a coherent defense force when Thanos comes calling.
    • The reason that Erik Stevens/Killmonger is unworthy of Wakanda's throne in Black Panther is because of his obsession with revenge against everyone; the world in general for racism existing, Wakanda for not helping, and T'Challa in particular for T'Chaka killing Erik's father. He has genuinely good points about the problems Wakanda's isolationism has caused, but it's made clear that his methods (essentially, start a hi-tech worldwide race war) are just going to make everything worse, and it's up to T'Challa to open Wakanda to the world the responsible way.
    • Spider-Man: No Way Home has this with Spider-Man vs the Green Goblin. Peter-2 has to stop Spidey from murdering the Goblin in his rage over Aunt May's death, both to stop Peter from becoming a murderer and because while the Goblin is an irredeemable monster, Norman Osborn can still be saved by administering an antidote, and the Goblin getting killed would take Norman with him. Notably, the final fight takes place on a giant statue of Captain America's shield... on the inverse side, showing how Peter's motivation is the opposite of the justice Cap championed.

    Literature 
  • Aesop's Fables: In The Horse and The Stag, a horse is in a feud with a stag and the vengeful horse makes an arrangement with a hunter to kill the stag. The hunter attaches a bit and bridle to the horse and the two successfully hunt the stag. Satisfied with its revenge, the horse asks for its freedom but the hunter refuses to take off the bit and bridle and instead enslaves the horse since it's too useful for him to release. The moral of the story is that revenge isn't worth it since the price of revenge outweighs the benefits.
  • The Dresden Files: Battle Ground (2020): After Rudolph accidentally shoots and kills Karrin Murphy due to his Reckless Gun Usage, Dresden goes into a cold rage and attempts to murder Rudolph with magic (which is important, because you can't use magic for anything you don't truly believe in) in revenge. His close friends Sanya and Butters attempt to talk him down, but Dresden ignores them and attacks them when they attempt to get between him and Rudolph. So confident is Dresden in his actions that he attempts a Barehanded Blade Block on the holy sword Fidelacchius, believing the weapon cannot hurt him because his actions are righteous. It is only after his hand is burned by Fidelacchius that Dresden comes to his senses and realizes how close he came to crossing a line he could never come back from.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: When Princess Elia Martell and her two children were brutally killed by two of the Lannisters bannermen during Tywin Lannister's sacking of King's Landing, her brothers, Doran and Oberyn, plotted to avenge their deaths where they plan to destroy House Lannister and restore House Targaryen back into power by having Doran's eldest daughter, Arianne, to marry Viserys Targaryen. However, their plan hit a few snags where Viserys was killed by Khal Drogo for insulting him, meaning Quentyn, Doran's eldest son, had to be the one to forge an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen which leads him to his death after he failed to tame one of Daenerys' dragons. Then, Oberyn volunteers to be Tyrion Lannister's champion during the Trial by Combat because Elia's killer, Ser Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane, happens to be his opponent which also leads to his own death via Mutual Kill. In turn, Oberyn's three eldest bastard daughters, the Sand Snakes, demand "justice" for his death. But at that point, Tywin Lannister is killed by Tyrion who escaped to Essos. Despite the deaths of the people responsible for the death of their relatives, Doran and the Sand Snakes still want vengeance much to the grief of Oberyn's paramour, Ellaria Sand, who points out that the destruction of House Lannister will not bring back Elia and Oberyn.
  • Kaladin Stormblessed from The Stormlight Archive has to learn this twice; both experiencing it for himself and watching someone else. Having been branded a slave as part of an elaborate plot by Meridas Amaram, the man who allowed his kid-brother to die on the frontlines, he spends the majority of book 1 and 2 brooding over exacting his revenge. Little does he know that doing so would break his oath as a Surgebinder to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Later he finds that the reason he and his brother were sent to war in the first place was the responsibility of King Elhokar, who also allowed the deaths of fellow-slave Moash's grandparents. Kaladin has to decide for himself if he should let Moash get his revenge, get involved for his own ends, or keep his oaths.
    • He later learns the hard way how badly this can turn out. Not only does he end up befriending Elhokar, but finds out that Elhokar is both technically innocent and actually a pretty stand-up guy when he wants to be - especially after considering that Dalinar, uncle to the king and the man who gave Kaladin and Moash their freedom back, genuinely loves his nephew for all the guys faults. Then Moash gets his hands on Elhokar. It's shown in gruesome detail how revenge doesn't only hurt the people you hate; it can destroy the lives of everyone around them, too, with Kaladin as the prime example.
  • Discussed in Revenge of the Sith, though it should be noted that one of the speakers is actively trying to corrupt the other person:
    Anakin: "Revenge is never just. It can't be..."
    Palpatine: "Don't be childish, Anakin. Revenge is the foundation of justice. Justice began with revenge, and revenge is still the only justice some beings can ever hope for."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blue Bloods: In "Sins of the Father", an aggrieved father targets the crew of a porn studio after his daughter apparently committed suicide after being fired from it, and justifies himself by quoting from the Bible.
    Jerry Phillips: "For if there was harm, you shall appoint as penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth." Exodus 21:23.
    Danny Reagan: (angrily) "Do not take vengeance against evil, but wait for the Lord and He will avenge you." Proverbs 20:22.
  • Bones: When the woman who stole Cam's identity was caught, she had to decide whether to press additional charges. Arastoo gave her a speech about revenge possibly making her a monster and she ultimately didn't approve the additional charges.
  • In The Boys (2019), the Villain with Good Publicity Blue Hawk cripples A-Train's brother Nathan, leading A-Train to brutally murder him in retaliation. When Nathan finds out what he's done he's disgusted, telling him that justice would've been putting him behind bars and that he refuses to have a murderer around his kids, yelling at him to Get Out!
  • The edict against using powers for personal gain in Charmed (1998) applies to revenge, and is thus punished by swift karmic retribution. Good witches are intended to protect the innocent, not punish the guilty. Played for laughs at one point when Paige's use of a spell to punish a serial harasser backfires into giving her Gag Boobs. Played much more drastically in an earlier episode where a far pettier act of revenge resulted in a Bad Future where the merely inconvenienced "victim" led a genocidal witch hunt and all the Charmed Ones were a lot more selfish.
  • Criminal Minds: Unsubs who kill for revenge are ultimately treated the same as any other killer. There's a good reason for this: On more than one occasion, the unsubs actually succeeded in killing the primary target of their rage, only to find that this didn't actually fix their internal traumas or improve their life for very long, so they attempt to relive that excitement by killing people who only slightly resemble their initial targets. And in the end, they are still killing to make themselves feel better, not for actual justice.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Christmas Invasion", after asking the Tenth Doctor about other alien invaders, Harriet Jones orders the destruction of the Sycorax spaceship and the Tenth Doctor calls her out on this because the Sycorax were retreating at this point. However, Harriet Jones justifies her decision by pointing that the sycorax have killed two people while he was unconcious and very nearly killed one third of the human race by using blood control to force them to commit suicide. However, the Doctor ignores her excuses and causes her lose her position as prime minister. When Harriet returns, she still stands by her decision and sees the Dalek invasion as further proof of her method.
    • The Thirteenth Doctor has a black and white take on morality and forbids revenge killing, however, very few people actually agree with her on this since the enemy hasn't done anything to deserve this kind of clemency. In "Arachnids in the UK", she shames Jack Robertson for killing the Spider Mother despite the creature already dying a slow and painful death by suffocation. In "The Woman Who Fell to Earth" and "The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos", she shames Graham and Karl for taking revenge despite having legitimate reasons to hate Tim Shaw (he tried to kill Karl and he killed Grace, Graham's wife and Ryan's grandmother). In "War Of The Sontarans", she shames the General for blowing up the sontarans because they were retreating, however, the Sontaran General pretty much told her that he and his army will return once they restock their supplies and those same sontarans are the ones who gleefully massacred the British army.
  • The Flash (2014): In Season 7, Joe agrees to help new police detective Kristen Kramer track down her brother Adam, who was responsible for luring Kramer's unit into an ambush. However, he clearly states that he only does so to bring Adam to justice and that if Kramer's hunt for him turns into revenge, she's on her own.
  • Game of Thrones: Unlike her book counterpart, Ellaria Sand demands justice for Oberyn's death which was rejected by Doran because Oberyn volunteered in the Trial by Combat and Ellaria should have known that because she witnessed it. When Ellaria tells Doran to use Myrcella Baratheon, who is engaged to his son Trystane, as a hostage because she's Cersei's daughter despite that she has no connection to Oberyn's death, Doran is appalled by this and tells her that they don't hurt little girls. However, Ellaria is still determined to get revenge by enlisting Oberyn's bastard daughters, the Sand Snakes, who share the same cause as hers. After failing to abduct Myrcella and receiving a pardon from Doran for her actions, Ellaria poisons her instead. Then, she and Sand Snakes murder Doran and Trystane because they don't support their revenge plans and take control of Dorne so they can forge an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen and Olenna Tyrell. However, these actions led to their downfall where two of the Sand Snakes are killed during Euron Greyjoy's ship raid. Ellaria and her daughter are captured and brought to Cersei, who gives them her own brand of justice by forcing Ellaria to watch her own daughter die with the same poison used to kill Myrcella. In the end, not only Ellaria's quest for vengeance led to the demise of her family but also left Dorne without a leader until an unnamed Martell prince took over Dorne in Season 8 and supported Daenerys.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Battle" has Ferengi Captain Daimon Bok gift the derelict Federation ship Stargazer to the Enterprise. The captain's underlings murmur that gifting a prize is "bad business." The Captain has plans to avenge his son's death by creating in-fighting between the Stargazer and the Enterprise via Mind Control. The scheme unravels, and Captain Bok is relieved of command by his First Officer for "conducting an unprofitable venture."
  • They Them 2022: When Molly tempts Jordan to help her target more conversion camps, they turn their back on her, wanting nothing more than to leave with their friends and make a new life with them.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible gives mixed messages on this (from a Doylist perspective, not all of the scripture was written at the same time or by the same people). The books of Mosaic law, beginning with the Book of Exodus, echo the Code of Hammurabi that one who causes harm to another should suffer equal (but not greater) harm in return (Ex. 21:22-25, Lev. 24:17-22, Deut. 19:16-21). The later Book of Proverbs, however, commands the reader to not take vengeance but let God handle it (Prov. 20:22). In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus repudiates the eye for an eye commandment, saying that one is not to resist an evil person: "if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also" (Matt. 5:38-40).
  • In the seven deadly sins wrath is seen as the 3rd deadliest sin with the other two being Envy and Pride. To avoid the sin of wrath, people are encouraged to forgive their abusers or move on from their rage by allowing God to sort out their grievances or sense of injustice.
    Romans 12:19: Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves but rather give place unto wrath for it is written "Vengeance is mine, I will repay" sayeth the Lord.
    1 Samuel 24:12: May the Lord judge between you and me, and may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me but my hand will not touch you.

    Roleplay 
  • Dino Attack RPG: A major aspect of Talia Kaahs's character is her seeking revenge against Dr. Rex for abducting her and ruining her life. While this merely served as her personal motivations in the original RPG, the Expanded Universe stories Scars and Because Of You explored it in greater depth to show why her lust for revenge ultimately causes her to question whether she's a genuinely good person. In particular, George Ogel gives Talia Kaahs a major "The Reason You Suck" Speech when he finds out that she decided to assassinate Dr. Rex in an Alternate Timeline, ultimately forcing her to admit to herself that her selfish quest for revenge is not the same as seeking justice.
    Talia Kaahs: I'd say what I did was no different from self-defense.
    George Ogel: No, seeking revenge is not self-defense.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is the whole point of the Oath of Redemption Paladin in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. Redemption Paladins follow the ideal that justice means allowing everyone a chance to redeem themselves (often, Redemption Paladins are examples of this mindset working). Though anyone who thinks 'believes in second chances' equates to 'timid and weak' with any sort of Paladin absolutely deserves their upcoming righteous asskicking.
  • Pathfinder: While Shelyn, goddess of beauty and romantic love, and Sarenrae, goddess of healing and the sun, are on cordial terms with Calistria, goddess of lust, one source of disagreement between them is that Calistria is also goddess of revenge. Shelyn and Sarenrae, in contrast, command their followers to spare the lives of enemies who are willing to repent. The alignment system seems to side with Shelyn and Sarenrae: Calistria is Chaotic Neutral (meaning she can sponsor Chaotic Evil divine spellcasters), while Shelyn and Sarenrae are both Neutral Good.

    Theatre 
  • The Merchant of Venice: Shylock faced prejudice for being Jewish during a time period where he is belittled, shunned, and mocked for his faith, and several lines of his imply that he has given up on any further pretenses of amicability, stating that he wants a pound of Antonio's flesh to satisfy his need vengeance since Antonio ridicules him at every opportunity. Since Shylock chose to act on his lust for vengeance (even when offered triple the money that he'd originally wanted); he lost his wealth, his property, his daughter, and his faith because as the court points out, Shylock still tried to mutilate and even kill Antonio. Since Shylock made an attempt on his life, Antonio is owed half of Shylock's fortune as compensation. note 

    Video Games 
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has this as one of its major themes. The game opens up with Spider-Man hunting for his Uncle Ben's killer, only for a Serial-Killer Killer to beat him to it; shortly afterwards, Peter finds he feels no peace or satisfaction from it, and spends the rest of the game hunting for the killer. During the Final Boss, he counters the killer's "Not So Different" Remark by retorting that feeling anger and the desire for revenge is human; what's important is whether or not he acts on those feelings.
    Spider-Man: It's not wrong to feel emotions like that. It's wrong to act on them.
  • During Gunvolt's True Final Boss fight in Azure Striker Gunvolt 2, there's a part during the Boss Banter where Gunvolt tries to warn Copen that getting vengeance sucks, in reference to him killing Asimov to avenge Joule's death in the previous game and the Heroic BSoD he subsequently suffered from prior to the start of 2. Copen, who's not only already head-deep in vengeance but also (wrongly) believes that Gunvolt killed his sister Mytyl, is far too angry to listen.
  • Batman: Arkham Knight: Killer Croc is on a rampage in Season of Infamy, when Batman and Nightwing investigate the scene they find out Croc wants revenge because the prison staff tortured him through scientific experiments and worsened his condition as a result. Nightwing understands why Croc wants revenge but Batman points out that he still killed people and he needs to face justice for that.
    Batman: What happened to you was wrong. But you killed people. You have to pay for that.
  • Bully: Zig-Zagged, chapter 4, A Healthy Mind In a Healthy Body, and Other Lies, has Jimmy enlist the Nerds in his fight against the jocks because they have been bullying everyone since the start of the game and the Nerds want revenge as well for being bullied by them. In their revenge plot, Earnest makes Jimmy take illicit photos of Mandy, the head cheerleader and a bully herself, in order to rile up the Jocks (in actuality, Earnest was just being a creep and wanted those photos for himself). The nerds are attacked later on by the jocks for what happened and later on, Jimmy meets a distressed Mandy, who tells him that the photos have been printed all over town and she feels that her life has been ruined by it. In an inversion of the trope, Mandy accepts that she's been a terrible person and says she deserves it, while Jimmy volunteers to take the posters down after internally realizing that he and the Nerds have taken their revenge too far since they've effectively ruined Mandy's life and caused life long trauma. Since then, Mandy has been attracted to Jimmy and she becomes a lot nicer.
  • Dead Rising 3: Zhi is the first optional psychopath Nick faces and he's the embodiment of the deadly sin of wrath. After fighting Nick, Zhi laments about how life has dealt him more than few bad cards; he was fired, his wife left him for another man, his kids disrespect him and he's now suffering from a zombie outbreak. However, Nick responds to his self-pity by saying that none of these things gave him the right to kill others, especially when his victims had nothing to do with the tragedies that befell him or even realised how they offended him in the first place.
    Zhi: Spirit of universe has slaughtered my happiness and so I must slaughter too. All who disrupt my garden of peace shall die! [spits at corpses]
    Nick: Oh God. You did this! These people were just looking for safety, you had no right to kill them!
  • Devil Survivor: This is the party's, especially Midori's, argument against Keisuke going on a murderous rampage with Yama because the public treated demon tamers with prejudice and scorn.
  • Dynasty Warriors:
    • After his family was killed by Cao Cao, Ma Chao swears to bring justice to him. However, his quest for justice leads to collateral damage where Wang Yi's entire clan was killed. Because of this, Wang Yi swears vengeance on Ma Chao which makes the latter's goal for justice very hypocritical.
    • After Guan Yu was betrayed by Wu and slain at Fan Castle while Zhang Fei was murdered by his own men who fleed to Wu, Liu Bei swears to avenge the deaths of his sworn brothers by waging war against Wu despite the warning from Zhao Yun and to some extent, Zhuge Liang. However, this leads to his defeat where Lu Xun commenced a fire attack on the Shu's main camp, leading Liu Bei to realize that he ignored his ideals and virtues for vengeance. By then, he retreats back to Baidi Castle where he dies, leaving his son and Zhuge Liang to take care of his kingdom.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Twice during the Companions questline.
    • When Skjor is killed by the Silver Hand before Aela the Huntress and the Dragonborn could meet up with him. Aela vengefully directs the Dragonborn in fighting the Silver Hand and word of their assaults reach Kodlak Whitemane. Kodlak summons the Dragonborn and calls them out on their revenge quest, stating their revenge ended when they killed Skjor's slayers and their actions have kickstarted a cycle of revenge from the Silver Hand. Something Aela takes to heart when Kodlak is eventually killed by the Silver Hand.
    • When Kodlak is killed by the Silver Hand, Vilkas demands The Dragonborn to accompany him in wiping out the Silver Hand and recovering the fragments of Wuuthrad. When Vilkas returns and goes to the Underforge, Aela reprimands him for his desire for revenge. When the circle enters Ysgramor's Tomb, Vilkas refuses to go any further because he felt unworthy, he agrees that he took things too far and let vengeance rule his heart.
  • God of War:
    • Kratos wanted revenge against Ares for tricking him into murdering his wife and daughter. When he succeeds in killing Ares, Kratos doesn't feel any better and he resorts to killing himself but is saved by the Olympians who give him Ares' title as the God of War. In the sequel, he decides to kill Zeus and anyone who gets in his way. Hermes and Hera try to tell him that his crusade against the gods has only brought him more nightmares and thrown Greece into chaos, claims that Kratos ignores until he kills Zeus. Once Kratos killed Zeus, he realized that what he's done and he seemingly commits suicide, only for that to fail and for Kratos to spend the next 150 years regretting what he did and hating himself. This incident is what motivates Kratos trying to discipline his son to ensure that he doesn't go down the same path as he did. Centuries later, when encountering a man who similarly wanted revenge against his family for being wronged, Kratos tries to talk him out of it but said man brushed it off, forcing Kratos to Mercy Kill him just before he could kill his own mother.
      Hermes: I thought Spartans fought with honor, and yet, you seek to kill me when I have no way to defend myself? Not fair! ...But you have your own sense of honor. Right, Kratos? And what has that honor brought you? Nothing but nightmares of your failure! Today, you may defeat me. But in the end Kratos, in the end, you'll betray only yourself.
    • Inverted in God of War (PS4), during his journey to Jotunheim, he meets Mimir and takes him along for the rest of the journey with Atreus. After Atreus falls sick, Kratos and Mimir travel to Helheim and Mimir learns of Kratos's true identity as the Ghost of Sparta. While Kratos believes that his actions were wrong and he should still hide his past, Mimir believes the Olympians had it coming and that he should be honest with Atreus.
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us: After The Joker drugged Superman with Kryptonite-laced fear toxin and tricked him into killing his pregnant wife Lois Lane and detonating a nuclear weapon that destroys Metropolis, the Man of Steel not only kills the clown in revenge, he adopts a Knight Templar Well-Intentioned Extremist stance on crime. He even blames Batman for allowing the clown to run amok and putting him in Arkham Asylum, an infamous Cardboard Prison whose criminals don't reform. However, anyone can notice Superman was clearly motivated by revenge and not altruism when it comes to the post-Metropolis crimes he commits, such as brutally crushing any opposition to the One Earth Regime he established, and frequently gets condemned by the Insurgency for breaking the no-kill rule.
  • The Last of Us Part II: Abby wants revenge because Joel killed her father, the surgeon who was going to sacrifice Ellie to make a cure for the outbreak. Once Abby kills Joel, she gives Ellie a reason to want revenge and everyone in Abby's group believes she went too far in killing Joel. They understand her reasoning to kill Joel, but decree that she went too far in beating him to death. Abbey even agrees in the end by saying it didn't bring any peace or bring her father back. Ellie also realises that killing Abby won't undo the damage done to her or bring Joel back. She ultimately decides to spare Abby so she doesn't lose anything else in her life.
  • Mass Effect 2:
    • Garrus Vakarian's loyalty mission consists of him seeking revenge on a former comrade who betrayed his vigilante group on Omega to the gangs, getting all of them but Garrus killed. The Paragon route has Shepard interpose themself between Garrus and his target to block his shot; talking to him reveals that the man is wracked with guilt over his actions. Garrus lets him go, and he turns himself in to the authorities.
    • Discussed by Thane Krios, who spent years tracking and killing his wife's murderers, but became a Disappeared Dad to his son Kolyat as a consequence, which is the hook for his loyalty mission.
      Thane: Removing evil from the world is not the same as adding good.
  • Double Subverted in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. Travis Touchdown is trying to avenge Bishop after he was killed under Jasper Batt Jr's order, who ordered the hit out of revenge for Travis killing his family in the first game. In the fight against Margaret Moonlight, the lyrics to Philistine berate Travis and the player for thinking revenge makes them a better person than their enemies. It's not until he fights Alice Twilight that he finally absorbs the lesson that killing is wrong and violence is not as glorious as he once believed.
    "you act as though payback
    makes you a noble man is that a fact?
    Well, you're a goddamn philistine"
  • South Park: The Fractured but Whole plays this for laughs: Mitch Connor's backstory is that he walked in on his dad having sex and felt so traumatized that he spent most of his life looking for the person who did it. In the end, Mitch's mother turns up, reveals she was the one who fucked Mitch's dad and pleads with Mitch to forgive her. Mitch refuses to forgive her, despite a drunk Stephen Stotch saying he should, and the resulting fight between Mitch and his mother leads to their deaths.
  • Spider-Man (PS4): Dr. Octavius wants revenge because Norman Osborn ruined his career years ago and continues to cause trouble for him even after. When Octavius's tentacles begin to chip away his inhibitions, he becomes more and more desperate for revenge. At first, Peter assumes that it was the tentacles manipulating him until he discovers that Octavius was always in control and he knew all along that Peter was Spider-Man. Finally realizing that his friend and mentor was willing to sacrifice countless civilians to hurt Osborn and that their friendship meant nothing to him, Peter finally drops the special treatment and defeats him.
    Otto: You should be on my side!
    Peter: I WAS!
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic has Jun Seros, a Jedi who serves as the antagonist of the Bounty Hunter storyline who wants to bring the protagonist to justice because they killed a fellow Jedi of his. While this does actually make the Bounty Hunter a legitimate war criminal (especially considering that they also blew up said Jedi's ship, killing countless Republic soldiers) Seros is primarily motivated by vengeance as his actions to take them down leads him to sacrificing lives and resources (including his friend's Padawan if you spared her) as well as forcing the Hunter into serving a brutal Sith Lord who directs them towards the Republic war effort, culminating in potentially assassinating/capturing the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. After beating him you can point out that all his actions have only succeeded in undermining the Republic and dooming the Supreme Chancellor, much to his horror.
  • Until Dawn: Early in the game, the main characters unintentionally cause the deaths of Hannah and Beth Washington with a Deadly Prank, causing their brother to seek medical help to cope with the loss of his sisters. Josh decides to get revenge on his friends by playing a traumatising prank that involves; creating near-fatal traps, faking his murder, and creating a fake serial killer who forces them to turn against each other. When the group finds out about Josh's prank; they are rightly pissed off with him, and the psychological manifestation of Dr. Hill berates him for traumatising his friends over what was clearly an accident, something they unwittingly caused and deeply regretted.
    Dr. Alan Hill: You have gone too far now. Don't you see?! Huh?! Don't you see that this... torture porn has gone too far?! Now what gives you the right to play God, in these people's lives?! What makes you so special then?! Huh?! You're sick! You're a sick fuck! Now what the hell have you done to them?! Huh?! What the hell have you done to them, you psychopath?! Psychopath!
  • Warcraft and World of Warcraft:
    • One of the cornerstones of The Paladin is the acknowledgment that that "vengeance cannot be a part of what we must do". Warcraft III centers around The Wise Prince and Paladin, Arthas Menethil, Slowly Slipping Into Evil as more and more of his people die in plots by The Undead and his increasing frustration with always being too late to save them, until he decides to forego the paladin oaths and begin his descent into Fallen Hero territory, eventually becoming a servant of the very undead he swore to destroy as his obsession with vengeance led to him picking up Frostmourne which promptly stole his soul in exchange for a hollow victory, after which Arthas returns to his kingdom, murders his father, and brings his kingdom to ruin, raising everyone he can find as undead.
    • By the time of World Of Warcraft, Arthas has slain his mentor, Uther. When the Shadowlands expansion, centered around the afterlife, rolls around long after Arthas himself has been slain, we learn that Uther, now a Kyrian, with a bit of goading from a Forsworn, tossed Arthas' soul directly into The Maw without it receiving the Judgement of the Dead it was due under the guise of it being 'justice' for all the atrocities Arthas committed in life, and definitely not vengeance. This puts Uther in line with the rest of the Forsworn during a civil war between them and their Kyrian brethren, and when the Forsworn's connection to The Maw is revealed, Uther has a Heel Realization that no, what he did was very much vengeance, and his refusal to see that means he played a part in a plot that might have doomed the Shadowlands as a whole.

     Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Arthur episode "Arthur's Big Hit" tried to use this as a moral, but the lesson was so badly mishandled with an Idiot Plot that the audience believed DW had it coming. In the episode, Arthur punches DW after she destroyed a model plane after she threw it out of a window to make it fly. Their parents and Arthur's friends tell him off because Arthur should have known better than to hit his 4-year-old sister but Arthur doesn't understand the issue since he warned DW plenty of times not to touch the plane and she tried to shift the blame on to Arthur by saying he built it incorrectly as it was supposed to fly. So when Binky hits him for an unrelated reason, Arthur's parents call it karma by saying "Now you know how D.W. feels.", and Arthur finally apologizes for lashing out.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: In "The Southern Raiders", Zuko reveals to Katara that he can help her find the man who killed her mother. This prompts her to go off on a quest to find the killer and take his life, despite Aang's warnings nothing good ever comes from revenge and murder is never the solution. Later, when Katara finally finds the killer, she sees what a pathetic man he is and lets him live, giving up on her quest but making it clear that she does not, and will never, forgive him.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: In "Heart of Ice", this is the main reason Batman tries to stop Freeze from killing Ferris Boyle. Even though the man ruined his and his wife's lives, Batman still tries to save him out of principle. The caped crusader does give evidence of Boyle's wrongdoings and leaves him to be arrested.
    Freeze: It can't end this way... Vengeance...
    Batman: No. Justice.
  • Family Guy:
    • Subverted in "Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q". Quagmire suggests that he and the guys should kill Jeff (Brenda's violent boyfriend). Joe says he could easily arrest Quagmire just for saying that, and that no matter how awful Jeff is, it's still murder. However, Joe ends up changing his mind once he sees Jeff beating up Brenda, and allows Quagmire to murder Jeff so that Brenda can be free.
      Joe: Let's waste this dick.
    • In Baby Got Black, Jerome's disapproval of Chris stems from his wariness of white people due to facing years of racial prejudice. Peter witnessed this first hand while the pair are driving to Chris and Pam, as Jerome is stopped by a cop despite not committing any crimes and Jerome admits to Peter that he gets pulled over multiple times a day. When Jerome and Peter do finally reach Chris and Pam, Peter forbids him from ever interacting with black people per Jerome's wishes, something that shocks Jerome and makes him fully realise that he's encouraging segregation and similarly judging people because of the color of their skin.
  • The Ghost and Molly McGee: In "The Don't Gooder", Molly gets tired of Andrea hogging all the credit and glory for her charity work. After Andrea beats Molly in a nougat-selling drive, Molly becomes obsessed with proving Andrea is a phony to the point even the revenge- and mischief-loving Scratch has concerns. Molly starts to feel ashamed when she learns Andrea was only stealing the spotlight in a desperate attempt to get the approval of her neglectful parents.

Top