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Save the Villain

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"This is the bizarre thing about being a superhero — you've even got to save the bad guys."

The hero and bad guy have had a big fight on the top of a building, which has resulted in the bad guy being knocked over the edge. He hangs there by his fingers, helplessly.

The hero is then motivated (or, more cynically, contractually obliged) to attempt to save the villain's life, even putting himself in mortal danger in the attempt. This is presumably done so that the hero can be shown once again to be noble and just. Maybe they feel sympathy for the villain in question due to some past connection they may have had. Sometimes they may strongly wrestle with the notion; the temptation is not just to let him die, but consider himself blameless for not directly causing the death. If no one will realize that the hero could have saved him, What You Are in the Dark may come into play. While some heroes take the philosophy of If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him very seriously, many take it even further, thinking that letting someone die via inaction on their part is almost as bad.


A notable part of this trope is that, often, the villain refuses the hero's help because he can't bear owing his life to the hero, or would rather cause his own death, presumably out of ego or "honor".

Sometimes this happens when the villain is facing a cruel fate at the hands of a greater evil who disgusts the hero even more, leading him to shout "Even he doesn't deserve that!" or something of the type. If the villain does accept the hero's help — even if they begged for it — more often than not, they will be complete ingrates and keep trying to kill the hero, sometimes even immediately. In fact, sometimes the villain will use the opportunity to try to kill the hero — leaving both the hero and villain in mortal danger. This generally results in Karmic Death. Other times, the villain may be utterly bewildered as to why anyone would try to save an enemy.


On other occasions, the villain will continue pursuing their overall evil goal, but will now refuse to harm the hero out of grudging recognition of their debt. They may even return the life-saving favor at a later point, although this may wipe the slate clean in their eyes (saying that they're "even" at that point) and make it okay for them to resume their attempts on the hero's life.

In between, the hero may say Think Nothing of It in the knowledge that the villain will indeed think nothing of it. On the villain part, a more upright antagonist (usually an Anti-Villain) may leave the hero be for the moment but warn him explicitly that "it doesn't change anything!" In the worst of cases, the villain turns out to be an Ungrateful Bastard which leaves the hero (and the viewers) wondering why he bothered. Some villains (mostly Card Carrying Villains) even use things like this as "proof" that Good Is Dumb.

In more serious situations, the hero may be unable to save the villain's life but will still not let them suffer Dying Alone.

Usually a moment of Genre Savvy (with just a touch of Lampshade Hanging); the heroes are fully aware that this is the ugliest part of their job. An Anti-Hero may specifically not do this, just to emphasize their difference from a "true" hero. On the other hand, if a character whose position was formally on the villain/Anti-Hero fence does this, it can establish them as less of a villain.

See also Sword over Head, where the hero saves the villain by not doing anything, and Villains Want Mercy, where the villain begs for this trope. Contrast Villainous Rescue, which is the opposite situation. Heavily contrasts Refuse to Rescue the Disliked seeing if the villains too despicable to save. When this is combined with a chance to repent, it's also a Last-Second Chance.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • At the end of volume 22 of A Certain Magical Index, Touma puts Fiamma of the Right into the last working escape pod on the falling Star of Bethlehem. This is a 50 km structure very high into the atmosphere that lost more of its floatation power. Though partially justified since Touma wanted to stay behind and make sure it didn't crash on land, since that would have caused immense damage.
    • Touma in general has a habit of doing this more often than not: he will punch someone's lights out for doing bad things, then turn right around and offer to help them with whatever problem was motivating their villainy. Accelerator believes this is what makes Touma truly heroic: he saves everyone in a situation, not just the victims. Queen Elizard after Touma decides to save the Magic God Othinus and become the world's enemy to do so notes that while the saints of old would slay dragons to save innocents, Touma is the type who would save the people and the dragon.
  • In Attack on Titan, the villains are left to face a Zerg Rush of Titans as the surviving soldiers ride away to safety. However, Ymir in Titan form hesitates upon hearing Bertolt screaming and makes the decision to go back to help. When asked about it later, they admit to having acted out of a sense of gratitude as well sympathy for their situation. The villains, being Anti Villains, express their gratitude for the rescue and suggest their rescuer flee in order to avoid capture by their forces.
  • A bizarre inversion in Baki the Grappler After Retsu is knocked out before he can finish Doyle, a death-row criminal, off, Doyle starts walking away...and then returns to ward off a pair of thieving mobsters and a dog from Retsu's unconscious body. He eventually ends up standing watch to the point of bleeding out... Which leads Retsu to play this trope straight and rush him to hospital to repay him for his kindness.
  • Train from Black Cat does this after his final battle with Creed. After successfully knocking Creed out, Creed starts falling off the roof they were fighting on. Train manages to grab onto his hand but starts slipping himself. His reason being that he can't let Creed die now, since Creed must live and repent for his sins - especially after Train has gone through the trouble not to kill him during the fight. Leon eventually saves them both by using manipulating the wind to allow them to stay afloat.
  • Bleach:
    • In the Soul Society Arc, Orihime saves Makizou Aramaki from being blown up by some Squad 12 members who have been turned into living bombs, prompting him to wonder why she did it and why she is crying over the detonated Shinigami.
    • After defeating Ikkaku Madarame, Ichigo uses the ointment Ikkaku keeps in his sword to heal them both (much to Ikkaku's anger).
    • Shortly after defeating Grimmjow, Ichigo protects him from being finished off by Nnoitra, and Nnoitra notes that Grimmjow is quite pathetic for letting an enemy save him.
    • In the Zanpaktou filler, Muramasa enters Ichigo's soul and fights his inner Hollow. When he's about to win, Ichigo jumps in and saves his Hollow. Ichigo didn't really have a choice in the matter. His Hollow is still part of his soul and makes up a large portion of his power. Not only that, but Zangetsu was working for Muramasa at that point and wouldn't allow Ichigo to use bankai and was using it himself against Ichigo. He'd've been screwed without his Hollow.
    • Ichigo later saves Muramasa from drowning. Muramasa dies a few minutes later because his wielder Koga died, but at least he was able to die at peace with a friend by his side.
  • During a sequence in The Daughter of Twenty Faces, a villain attempts to kill Chiko with an axe while atop a speeding train. She overextends, stumbles, and is hanging on for dear life against the wind. Chiko attempts to save her, but...
  • Denpa Teki na Kanojo: Idiot Hero Juu will try to save the Big Bad of the first OVA with an epic You Are Not Alone speech after the Big Bad wounded him with a razor. This noble act maybe brings back the Big Bad from the Despair Event Horizon, maybe…
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Goku does this, or at least tries to, constantly. Sometimes it works (like with Vegeta), other times it doesn't, as Frieza proved.
    • This is actually a major story point in Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ as both Whis and Beerus tell Goku that his mercy allowed Frieza to detonate the planet. They give Goku a second chance by going back in time, and this time Goku rushes a weakened Frieza and kills him immediately. It is kept from being a villainous moment for Goku as he knows that all of Earth will be annihilated if he doesn't do this.. Vegeta wasn't showing mercy but was so busy posturing after Goku handed the fight off to him that he didn't kill him fast enough.
    • Dragon Ball Super: Broly: Gogeta saves Frieza from a berserk Super Saiyan Broly in his entrance and ultimately, despite being stopped from hitting him with a big ki blast, Gogeta doesn't seriously hurt Broly, smiles in a satisfied manner when Broly is transported offworld to a safe spot, and even stops Frieza from killing Cheelai and Lemo, who staged Broly's aforementioned escape with the Dragon Balls. Then he takes it a step further by sparing Frieza and simply telling him to scram and not try anything again. At the end of the film, Goku also brings house-capsules and food to help Broly survive on the Death World of planetoid Vampa.
  • In Freezing, Satelizer saves Louis after he falls off a cliff into the ocean, ruining his death and turning him into a Karma Houdini.
  • Subverted in Fullmetal Alchemist. When Mustang is about to finally kill Envy, Hawkeye, Ed, and Scar intervene before he can land the final blow. However, this was not because they wanted to save Envy, but because they didn't want Roy to give in to his rage. They had every intention of taking out Envy themselves.
    • In the 2003 anime version, Ed desperately tries to prevent the younger Slicer brother from committing suicide, but fails. He later yells at Lust not to kill the older brother, stating that "he's still a human being", but his pleas fall on deaf ears.
  • Jack and the Witch: Jack immediately nurses Allegra back to health when she's injured trying to kidnap him and his friends... again. His friends immediately lampshade this, pointing out just how stupid it is, given how many times she's tried to capture them, and suspect he's falling for her.
  • In Kämpfer, Natsuru saves Shizuku from Akane since he's not a sociopath. He demands that Shizuku leave Kaede alone.
  • In Karakuridouji Ultimo, a corrupt politician named Iruma is killed by his own douji, Jealous the Envious, while the heroic Yamato can do nothing but watch in shock. Later in the series, Yamato hits the Reset Button, sending everything back to the first chapter. The second time around, Yamato knows Jealous's attack is coming and prevents Iruma's death.
  • This is usually how Kimba from Kimba the White Lion deals with villains once they're down or about to be killed; this even extends to saving the man who killed Kimba's father before he was born. Most of the time, however, the character's rescue causes him or her to do a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha does a traditional villain saving with Fate Testarossa, helping her fly out of a collapsing lair. To be fair, Fate was more The Dragon than the Big Bad. Other seasons are mostly saving via Defeat Means Friendship.
    • Earlier on, Nanoha intervenes to help Fate while she is performing a highly dangerous attempt to seal the Jewel Seeds that fell into the ocean, splitting the seeds with her and telling her that she wants to be friends with her.
    • In A's, Fate intervenes during a fight to save Signum from a desert monster, causing Amy to tell her that her job is to capture her. Signum notes that she won't thank Fate because she destroyed the monster and prevented her from getting its Linker Core, but Fate takes it in stride, noting that she has to interfere with the "bad guys".
  • Kenzo Tenma of Monster, given that he's perhaps the best example of Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help, does this a lot. There is more than one scene where he takes an antagonist to the hospital at gunpoint. This turns out better for him than it does for most of the people on this page, too. With one probable exception.
  • Done beautifully in Monster Rancher. In Episode 35, Naga, one of the chief villains, is blasted through a wall by Mocchi and is now hanging onto the edge of his castle above a deep canyon. Holly reaches her hand out to him and tells him to take her hand. Genki and Mocchi do the same. Suezo is reluctant because Naga destroyed his village, but eventually extends his tongue with the others' hands. However, instead of taking their hands, Naga says "So that's why you're all so strong" and lets go, falling to his death.
  • In My Hero Academia, superheroes are officially sanctioned by the government, thus they have the same rules on lethal force as the police and have to hold back in their fights. Though if the need to prevent greater collateral damage and save civilian lives outweighs trying to bring down a villain non-lethally, then they can use lethal force.
  • In My-HiME, Natsuki stops Shizuru from finishing off a Child-less Nao, having come to realize that she and Nao are Not So Different.
  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: Nausicaä rescues Kushana when their ship is going down. This turns out to have serious consequences later on.
  • One Piece:
    • Luffy carries Robin out of the collapsing tomb, despite her being resigned to death after her last lead on the Rio Poneglyph turned out to be useless. She reasons that as he forced her to live when she wanted to die, and she has no place to go or return, he should let her in his crew, and he does.
    • Earlier, Luffy had Zoro rescue Smoker before the lot of them drowned. Luffy says he doesn't think Smoker's a bad guy despite the fact that he is ruthlessly hunting down the entire Straw Hat crew across the Grand Line.
      • Indeed, Smoker is actually the good guy since the Strawhats are pirate and as a marine, it is Smoker's job to hunt them down. As for Robin, she did save Luffy's life twice before he saves her from the tomb, so they were technically not enemies since she has been undermining Crocodile nearly the entire time.
    • A straight example occurs in "Whole Cake Island Arc" with the Vinsmoke, the abusive family of Sanji. Despite loathing his father and brothers, Sanji doesn't want his family to be executed at the wedding, especially his sister Reiju, whom he truly cares about. He ultimately requests Luffy's help in saving them.
  • Pokémon:
  • In Prétear, instead of killing Takako/Fenrir, Himeno tries to redeem and save her in the Grand Finale. She succeeds.
  • Played with during the Terrorist Requiem arc of Psychometrer Eiji it involved a grandpa going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge on the people who gang-raped his granddaughter and the hero’s trying to stop him, even going so far as Taking the Bullet for the final culprit. Ultimately however they couldn’t care less about the rapist they were just fully aware this was a Murder-Suicide and was trying to prevent that.
  • It's done once... no twice... no, in every other fight in Rave Master, starting with Haru trying to stop Shuda from falling which he has to do again later on after a Face–Heel Turn from Shuda and leading up to opting not to save the world about 15 volumes early by not killing Lucia and going to great lengths to keep Hardner alive after Lucia comes up from behind and skewers him (Haru really should have finished him off the first time he got the chance)
    • Haru likes to attempt this in Rave Master. It works once, but it usually fails. Reasons for this vary. Once the villain has already bled too much and there's just no way he could live. One time the man he's trying to save from a huge fall inverts the Life-or-Limb Decision and cuts his arm off so he'll fall anyway. It's a mystery whether Lucia chose not to be saved or was doomed anyway, or even if he really died, actually.
  • In Sailor Moon, the titular heroine saves several enemies, including the greatest foe she ever fought, Galaxia. In the manga, not so much (though she does still save Galaxia, even though Galaxia dies anyway shortly afterward).
  • Saint Seiya Omega: Souma does this to Sonia in Episode 26. He claims it's because he's the only one allowed to defeat her... probably because 'I felt sorry for you after seeing you kill my dad' would sound really awkward. He tries it again during their final battle, but even awakening to the Seventh Sense isn't enough.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie, the final fight scene culminates in Metal Sonic falling into lava after saving the Old Man and the President, upon which Sonic jumps down, much to everyone else's protests. With Knuckles trying to hold Sonic back (fearing Metal would drag Sonic down with him), Sonic offers his hand to Metal to try and pull him out. Metal reaches... then smacks Sonic's hand away, uttering one last sentence before sinking down under: "There is only one Sonic."
  • Thumbelina: A Magical Story: Maya grabs Cassandra's hand to prevent her from falling to her death, which leads her to decide that Maya has learned her lesson and reveals that, as stated elsewhere on this page, she was good all along.
  • Transformers Armada had a few of these. The most notable one being Optimus holding onto Galvatron's remaining tread to survive the pull of Unicron's gaping maw. Galvatron eventually cuts himself loose, letting himself die to destroy Unicron's only source of nourishment at the moment.
  • Vash The Stampede, in Trigun, has done this on many occasions due to his Thou Shalt Not Kill mantra, often giving foes that he's injured first aid. This culminated in him saving his twin brother, Knives Millions, even after vowing revenge on him for his entire life after he killed thousands of people and, more importantly to Vash, his maternal figure Rem.
  • Played with in an early episode of Yu-Gi-Oh!: Kaiba and Yami Yugi are dueling on a castle turret when Kaiba threatens to jump if he doesn't win. Yami, a Knight Templar, has no intention of losing and is perfectly willing to let him jump, and Yugi has to fight for control to stop him. That makes Yugi go into quite the Heroic BSoD, as he had never realized Yami would go THAT far to win.
    • Hilariously played with in the abridged version, where the only thing stopping them is Tea's revelation that Kaiba might survive.
    • In the manga, Yami saves Mokuba Kaiba from a torturous fate via his older brother after Mokuba had nearly succeeded in murdering him and Jounouchi a few chapters earlier.
  • In Yu Yu Hakusho, Kuwabara fights one of the seven psychics, called "Sea Man". He fights the villain, barely escaping death, and manages to land a nice slash on him at the last minute. Instead of leaving him to die (like he said he wanted to), he saves Sea Man's life and brings him back to his allies to be patched up. Sea Man is baffled as to why Kuwabara would do this when he had stated his intension to kill Kuwabara and his friends. He proceeds to become The Woobie and makes a Heel–Face Turn.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman, himself, has taken this trope to ridiculous extremes - to the point of once performing CPR on The Joker. Considering how CPR actually is, it's kind of a win-win situation: Joker lives to keep Batsy all heroic and stuff, and Batman gets to ensure this by more or less beating the shit out of him again. And in that case, it was less saving the Joker than saving Nightwing from the knowledge that he killed a man in cold blood.
    • In Batman: Devil's Advocate, Batman saved the Joker from the death penalty. He went out of his way and against the advice of everybody to prove Joker innocent of the crime he was scheduled to be executed for. It ended with Batman saying something like "And from now on, whatever you do, you'll know that you only live because of me. What's the matter? Don't you appreciate the joke?" Seeing as this also means that the Joker is free to carry on murdering people due to Batman's intervention, the joke may be on him.
    • In Batman: Cacophony, the Serial Killer Onomatopoeia (who targets superheroes, though he doesn't mind killing other people for fun either) stabbed The Joker in the heart after their villain team-up failed and prepared to flee — but waited a few seconds because he wanted to see whether Batman would save the Joker or let him die to pursue Onomatopoeia. Batman chooses the first option despite strong protests from Jim Gordon whose wife and daughter were murdered and crippled by the Joker respectively. When the Joker asks him why he did it, Batman explains that due to One Bad Day he can't bear to see anyone die in front of him if he has the power to stop it.
    • Played with multiple times in The Batman Adventures. In "With a Price on His Head," a grieving father puts a fifty-million-dollar bounty on the Joker's head. Suddenly, EVERYONE in Gotham wants to kill Joker. Batman ends up taking him to the Batcave for protection... and horrific hilarity ensues. Similarly, the "No Asylum" storyline deals with Ra's Al-Ghul's attempts to murder his entire Rogues Gallery as a gesture of good-will towards Batman, his daughter's 'beloved' and Batman's attempts to save the villains.
    • In a Detective issue called "The Executioner Wore Stiletto Heels," Batman risked his life to save an escaped prisoner who was condemned to death. He almost died in the process, but the criminal saved him.
    • This trope is subverted in Knightfall. During the Knightquest portion, replacement Batman Jean-Paul Valley has Abattoir hanging by a chain with a vat of molten metal underneath him. Jean-Paul is haunted by the spirits of Saint Dumas (who demands the man be killed) and his father (who demands the man be spared). Jean-Paul's solution? Walk away from it all and let them duke it out. Abattoir is killed, so is his prisoner and Bruce Wayne decides to take back the mantle.
    • When Jason Todd, second short-lived Robin, returns as the Red Hood, he puts Batman in a situation that fits this trope intentionally: he takes the Joker hostage and uses him as a human shield, leaving Batman with only a kill-shot on Todd himself, then demands that Batman either kill Joker right then and there or save the villain by killing his former sidekick. Batman takes a third option and uses a ricochet to disarm Todd with a batarang, SAVING BOTH VILLAINS.
      The Joker: (Laughs maniacally) I can't believe you got 'im! You expert, rootin' tootin', eagle-eyed, Goth-lovin' marksman. I love it! You managed to find a way to win. And everybody still loses!
    • The third Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, takes this to an impressive extreme, being willing to run straight into the line of fire of an automatic weapon to prevent a nameless Mook from getting hit with friendly fire. That's how much she sticks to Thou Shalt Not Kill.
    • JLA/Avengers: Batman saves drug dealers from The Punisher. This should come as no surprise to anyone who read Deadly Knights, wherein Frank becomes yet another person Bruce has prevented from killing The Joker.
  • Subverted in Catwoman at the end of the "Relentless" arc, where Black Mask begs her to save him from falling off the balcony of his penthouse, despite the horrific and irrevocable acts he has spent the arc performing on her family and friends. She stands back and watches him fall, apparently to his death.
  • Captain America to Baron Zemo, lord knows how many times: "Your HAND, man! Give me your hand!" Astonishingly, this eventually pays off when Zemo surprisingly returns the favor at the cost of his face becoming scarred in a battle with Moonstone. He's still a villain though or more like an Anti-Villain.
  • Played straight in Daredevil when Daredevil dragged the sociopathic Bullseye out of the path of a subway train, and then subverted in a later story when (under severe provocation) he let go of Bullseye's hand when he was dangling over a long drop. Joker Immunity preserved Bullseye's life, but he wound up in a hospital bed, completely paralyzed. (...for a while.) Daredevil also desperately tried to save maniacal Super Soldier Nuke after he realized that he wasn't even aware of his surroundings and needed all the help he could get.
  • Green Lantern: Blackest Night: In the end, the day is saved by Black Hand being brought back to life (although since Black Hand killed himself in the first place, this was very definitely an unwanted 'rescue').
  • Mouse Guard: Gwendolyn saves Midnight from decapitation by Black Axe in the climax of Fall. Notably not due to any kindness on her part:
    Gwendolyn: If he dies, he becomes a martyr.
  • This happened twice with the Spoiler in separate partnerships.
    • Played straight in Huntress/Spoiler: Blunt Trauma when the Spoiler helps her father, the Cluemaster, escape when he tells that her temporary partner, the Huntress, is "not like that overgrown ferret and his brat. She's gonna kill your old man if she gets the chance."
    • In a Robin story, she and Robin are put in a building about to be demolished by the Baffler. Except he knocks himself out, so he ends up there as well. The two manage to save themselves but Robin points out they need to save the villain as well, much to Steph's dismay. Yet when the Baffler says they could become a team, the duo beat him up and leave him for the police.
  • In Disney Ducks Comic Universe comics:
    • In Carl Barks' "Uncle Scrooge" comic "The Horseradish Story," the villain who has attempted to swindle Scrooge McDuck out of all of his billions and then kill all of the ducks is about to drown in the ocean after his unsuccessful attempt of drowning his helper. Scrooge at first acts as if he is not going to help, but gives in at the last minute and rescues the guy.
    • Another notable case, in the comic "The Great Wig Mystery", was of a villain who tried to use a Frivolous Lawsuit to get Scrooge's fortune. In that story, Scrooge explained to his family he never expects any kind of gratitude from the villains he saves. He simply doesn't want their deaths to make a weight on his conscience.
    • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: When Glomgold runs into the lion Scrooge rode into town, Scrooge laments, "Drat the luck! Now I gotta save his hide rather than tan it!"
  • Not a physical fight that led to it, but in the first ElfQuest graphic novel there's a dramatic moment when Rayek falls off a stone bridge and is dangling by his fingertips... Cutter thinks what will soon become a Catchphrase of his ("No elf must die!") and crawls out to help him. Rayek isn't grateful, but blasts Cutter with the full fury of his hate before backing off the bridge, leaving the acrophobic Cutter there to figure his own way off. (It gives Cutter the resolve to pass the test he'd been unable to do before, winning the final battle between him and Rayek. Way to go, Rayek.)
  • Subversion: Marshal Law, seeing the thoroughly horrible Batman parody Private Eye dangling over a meat grinder, deliberately walks too slowly to save him and calls out from several meters away, "Here, take my hand." Then he pretends (very briefly) to be sorry when the villain gets ground. Marshal Law is the very model (or, depending on your interpretation, parody) of a '90s Anti-Hero. Although he does this after realizing that his hero worship of Private Eye got his partner and only real friend killed and that Private Eye was much worse than any real criminal.
  • Superman:
    • There have been several stories like Bizarrogirl about the Superman Family saving Bizarro World from destruction, even though that planet is dangerously insane. They just can't stand seeing anyone lose their homeworld, no matter how bad it is.
    • Superman has also saved Lex Luthor's life on several occasions, even though Luthor's ultimate goal in life is to kill him.
    • War World: Superman tries to rescue Mongul before his weapon-satellite blows up, but he's unable to find him in time.
    • Who is Superwoman?: The titular villain's power suit breaks down during a fight with Supergirl, unleashing energies which tear Superwoman's body apart. Supergirl still tries to help the villain who has just attempted to kill her, but she can't do anything to stop Superwoman's suit from exploding.
    • In Superman Smashes the Klan, this happens quite a few times thanks to the Klan being filled with wannabe martyrs who happily try to kill themselves to accomplish their goals. Matt Riggs tries not once but twice to kill Superman in a situation where doing so would end his life as well.
  • Averted in at least the early arcs of Judge Dredd. Dredd has no problem with killing when the situation calls for it, and deliberately lets members of the Angel Gang die when he could have saved them.
  • A discussion of this concept is held between Chuck and the freedom fighters in Archie Sonic issue #74:
    Chuck: Of all the actions I regret most, it's saving Robotnik from his own kind that haunts me above all the others! And yet even if I knew then what I know now, I'd still save his miserable neck!
    Tails and Amy: You would?
    Chuck: Of course! I consider all life to be sacred! Just because my enemies lack character is not excuse enough for me to stoop to their level!
  • Empowered once saved a Punch-Clock Villain who was guarding her. She saw with her X-ray vision that he had an aneurysm and was in mortal danger.
  • Subverted and dissected ruthlessly by Mr. A.
  • According to The Invaders, this is how Hitler died. The Golden Age Human Torch broke into Hitler's bunker during the Seige of Berlin, offering to let Hitler surrender to the Americans rather than the Russians — as in our reality, the Red Army had earned a reputation for Pay Evil unto Evil. Hitler refused and attacked the Torch, prompting the Torch to kill Hitler in self-defense.
  • Subverted in Bookhunter. Agent Bay is pursuing a book thief (in possession of a priceless antique Bible) across rooftops. The thief misses a jump, and Bay shoots a power line in order to swing down on the cable... but he catches the book and lets the thief fall.
  • Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four saved the life of Galactus, even after the latter had almost killed him and tried to drain the lifeforce of the earth. This prompted Galactus to (temporarily) declare that he would not attack Earth again, out of gratitude. However, Reed later wound up on trial before an interstellar court and nearly executed for his actions after Galactus consumed the Skrulls' home planet, killing billions.
  • Spider-Man:
    • In Untold Tales of Spider-Man #15, Spidey saves his long-time antagonist J. Jonah Jameson from being framed by the mob. And was neither the first nor last time. Spidey has saved Jonah's behind so many times - with absolutely no gratitude from Jonah after all of it - you have to wonder why he bothers.
    • Shortly before the Gathering of Five arc in the Spider-Man comics, Spidey actually had to rescue Norman Osborn, and this Trope can be combined with What You Are in the Dark for that occasion. The Kingpin sent Nitro the Living Bomb to assassinate Osborn, which resulted in him, Spidey (in his civilian identity as Peter Parker) and Norman's little grandson Normie trapped in an elevator that was about to collapse, both of them pinned. Norman, being the Magnificent Bastard he is, actually took this time to gloat a little, telling Peter that he had no idea whether or not the security cameras were still working, and telling him that any displays of Super Strength by Peter could possibly give him away to anyone who was watching. Of course, Norman was just as strong but claimed he was unwilling for that very reason. (Or maybe he was waiting until the last second, or was actually unable to free himself, just too proud to ask for help. We may never know.) Eventually, Peter had to take the chance to save Normie (and found out quickly that the security cameras had been quite broken by the explosion) and might have considered leaving his enemy to fall. But when Normie begged him to save his grandfather, he relented and helped get Norman out. Even then, Norman couldn't help but goad him a little, telling him that if he had done nothing he would have been victorious in their feud. (And this would be a very large turning point in it; Norman would perform the Gathering of Five to gain more power to prevent things like this again, would be driven far more insane, his identity of the Goblin would be revealed, and his enmity with Spider-Man would become much deadlier than before.)
  • Discussed with Marvel villain The Hood, whose hood and shoes gave him superpowers through increasing amounts of Demonic Possession. He was sent to murder Doctor Strange, who realized at once what was going on and tried to talk him down. Later, when it was obvious that the demon was more than Hood could handle, his associate tried to send him to Strange for help due to this trope. "I bet he'll help you. Even after everything. He has to, right?"
  • In the Archie Comics Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, the titular foursome are forced to save Shredder from being possessed by Krang. Shredder is PISSED that he now owes his life to the Turtles. He disappears for a long time (both in-universe and in real life), and when he re-appears to kidnap Splinter, Leonardo passionately reminds Shredder that he owes the Turtles his life. Shredder relents and releases Splinter, warning that they're now even...
  • In the Archie Comics version of Mega Man, Mega Man saves Wily, and the rest of the world, from Ra Moon after he caused a massive global blackout. Even as far back as the first story arc, Mega Man saved Wily from being crushed by his own machine after he defeated him. Mega Man's tendency of saving Wily from himself is actually lampshaded in the Sonic/Mega Man crossover by Dr. Light.
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: In Issue 34 an Autobot Scout team of First Aid, Trailcutter, Mainframe, and Bluestreak regard a battle scene, and find a single survivor with no marking. They're left wondering if he's an Autobot, Decepticon, or other robotic life-form, but they endeavor to save him by each donating four vials of Energon. The sentiment goes away when Bluestreak finds that the person has a removable face with spikes on the underside, seemingly confirming him to be a Decepticon, making him and Mainframe pull out and leaving Trailcutter and First Aid to compensate and revive the bot. First Aid's refusal to let him die is immediately drained when he finds that he's Vos of the Decepticon Justice Division, vicious killer and sadist, leaving Trailcutter to revive him on his own. Upon doing so, Vos attacks him, and while Trailcutter manages to fend him off and send First-Aid off to help, a second DJD member reveals himself. The Autobots return to find Trailcutter in messy pieces and Kaon laughing in their faces for such compassion.
    • Much later, despite Rodimus having vowed to kill Getaway for leading a mutiny against him, he proves unable to go through with it and rescues Getaway from a fire. For bonus symbolism points, the Spectralist paint job he was wearing - symbolic of his vow of revenge - gets burned away, dramatically exposing his true colours. Getaway doesn't get to enjoy it for long, though; the scraplet swarm that Whirl had befriended kills him.
  • The Transformers: Drift: Drift elects to save Grit, a low ranking con he'd beaten up and imprisoned, from being executed by other Decepticons for being mistaken as a snitch.
  • Issue #58 of The Powerpuff Girls (DC run) had "Weather Vain", in which Townsville is set upon by strange bad weather. A series of panels has the girls coming to the aid of Mojo Jojo, the Gangreen Gang, and Fuzzy Lumpkins.
  • Before being turned Darker and Edgier, Wonder Woman felt very strongly about the sanctity of life:
    • Sensation Comics: Diana listening to one of her most vile opponents and saving her and her daughter led to Paula von Gunther switching sides and becoming one of Diana's most stalwart allies.
    • Wonder Woman (1942): Diana had to rescue a compromised submarine full of villains who'd just twice tried to kill her and the woman who was the rightful inheritor of the sunken treasure they were attempting to abscond with.
    • Wonder Woman (1987):
      • A police officer chewed Diana out for this tendency after being injured when Diana chose to save both her and the addict shooting at her. She later apologised after that same addict died saving her from a hit while she was still in the hospital.
      • When Hades suddenly went off the deep end and turned God of Evil after having been one of the most reasonable and easy-going of the Greek pantheon Diana tried to warn him that Ares was only pretending to go along with his plot in order to kill him. It didn't work, and Ares' murder of his uncle saved Diana, Ferdinand, and Cassie's lives.
    • The Legend of Wonder Woman (2016) gives a good example of why Di has been able to save villains without regret for years when she uses her lasso of truth to force the Duke of Deception to face what he's become and how he was duped into it, allowing her to convince him to stop fighting her without her having to beat him into submission.
  • A three-issue arc in The Mighty Thor 2015 has Thor and Agent Roz Solomon rescuing evil executive Dario Agger from a pair of fellow villains, as his kidnapping had launched a failsafe that would cause his floating base Roxxon Island to fall and destroy New York. He is not at all grateful, probably because Roz still arrests him afterwards.

    Comic Strips 
  • Captain Easy: In the "Jonah" storyline, Slugg murders the captain, abuses the crew and beats many of them within an inch of their life (including Easy and Wash). Yet Easy tries to save him from the burning ship anyway.
  • In Luann, Brad is menaced by Dirk, his new girlfriend Toni's ex-boyfriend. At one point, he tries to run Brad off the road, resulting in Dirk himself being involved in a serious accident. Brad uses his EMT training to save Dirk's life, but Dirk's attitude towards him does not change.

  • In Pedestal, the narrator tries to pull one of these on Nick as he's falling into lava. He doesn't succeed and ends up falling as well until Arceus shows up.
  • At the end of the Rise of the Guardians fic Guardian of Light, the main character Helen has Pitch at arrow point with the chance to kill him. She instead chooses to let him live, thus saving him. She also earlier prevented the Guardians from beating the crap out of him.
  • In Mega Man Reawakened, Megaman saves Bass when the latter starts to overload.
    • He tries to save Bubble Man later, but it doesn't work.
    • Megaman later has to save Wily from Quentin Emerald, who repays the favor.
  • In Shadowchasers: Power Primordial, after Ember defeats the aboleth, she rescues Iggwiliv from her cage before escaping the pocket dimension that they were in. Later Iggwiliv scoffs at her heroic act, contributing the "all life is precious" attitude" to the flaw of human morality. Ember coldly responds that she would value Iggwiliv's life about as much as a bag of fertilizer (but that would be insulting people who sell fertilizer) and claims that the reason she rescued her was so that she could answer for her crimes and also because if she left her there, she might have found a way to escape herself eventually.
  • In Origin Story, Alex Harris actually averts this trope several times. She's got plenty of time, for example, to fly Songbird to the hospital in time to keep her from dying, but simply doesn't, allowing Songbird to bleed out. Likewise, she displays a casual disregard about whether or not Reed Richards is going to be permanently injured when she freezes him in place with her super-breath. Mostly this is because she believes that people who attack her or Louise (something both Songbird and Richards did) deserve what comes to them.
  • In the Worm fanfic Intrepid, to her own surprise, Sophia stops Seraph from killing some random Merchant thug in 6.09. Even she doesn't know why.
  • In the Jackie Chan Adventures fanfic The Ultimate Evil, Shendu (who's possessing Valmont's body at the time) is close to drowning at one point, but Valerie Payne dives in and reinvigorates him by transferring oxygen into his system through mouth, allowing them to reach the surface. She does this because Shendu has saved her life multiple times by that point and she feels that she needs to return the favor.
  • Queen of All Oni: During their fight in the Hall of Ice, Jackie saves Hebi from a potential Disney Villain Death by falling into the pit at the center of the chamber, much to her confusion. Though this is an especially justified case since, as Jackie points out, Hebi is really a brainwashed Viper, so her evil isn't her fault.
  • Hope for the Heartless: After the Horned King rescues his escaped prisoner Avalina from the Mad Pack and collapses, she takes him back to his castle to be tended even though she wants to be free of him and is aware how sinful he is, knowing in her heart that she could never leave someone to die willingly and live with it.
  • Not quite a villain, but during the attack on the parade in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, all the Angels there are paralyzed because they have conflicting imperatives—they must attack Animals and they must heal hurt people, and if they're outnumbered by both sets of people, they simply freeze in place. John, who loathes Angels and blames them for his massive attack of claustrophobia that ruined the four's Cloud Horn Plan A, nevertheless ends up protecting a couple of them from some Animals. He gets nothing out of it but some praise from Quill, his Circle companion.
  • In the ThunderCats (1985) fanfic Dirges of Discord, Mumm-Ra is captured by an alien race who want to use him as a power source. The Thundercats initially don't want to rescue him, but upon learning that the aliens will have the power to destroy the entire universe if they don't, they set out to do so.
  • Roommates: Memoirs of the Hairless Ape: As Nisha turns out to not be the mastermind, but simply a common criminal being manipulated by Jeremy, the gang rescues her from a gruesome demise at the animatronic's hands. She is, to her credit, extremely grateful and remorseful.
  • After That Fateful Night: Soon after being captured, Twilight decides she doesn't want anypony to die if she can help it and tries to keep Nightmare Moon alive, tending to her injuries and shielding her from assassins.
  • Zigzagged in Hellsister Trilogy: During "The Apokolips Agenda", Lex Luthor and Dr. Shivana ask Superman and Supergirl to save them from Darkseid. Superman agrees to rescue them as long as they help them out. Sivana believes Superman is bluffing because heroes feel compelled to save everyone, including villains, but Supergirl retorts that, given the stakes, she's willing to leave them to their devices. At the end, Luthor and Sivana agree to cooperate and are rescued.
    Supergirl: "This place is being monitored. That's not surprising. But I'll bet we only have a short time here before Darkseid sees us and destroys it."
    Lex Luthor: (sighing) "Exactly. Can you save us?"
    Superman: "We could do a quid pro quo. Your lives in return for information and help."
    Dr. Sivana: "Oh, balderdash. Everyone knows you heroes don't let anybody die. You're just like the Big Red Cheese in that respect. You'll save us in the final reel."
  • Black Crayons: In My First Decepticon, when Barricade shows up, Annabelle serves as a distraction so that bullyish thug Carl can escape.
  • In BURN THE WITCH (Miraculous Ladybug), Marinette repeatedly attempts to protect Lila after all her lies are revealed and Rose is akumatised into Witch Hunter, who along with everyone who falls under her spell wants to burn Lila at the stake for what she's done, despite herself having plenty of motivation to let them and even Cat Noir and Tikki falling under the spell and urging her to let Lila have it. Lila herself doesn't provide much incentive to do otherwise by not only sabotaging Marinette's genuine attempts to help her, seeing them more as self-righteous and self-serving ego strokes to make the other girl look and feel better about herself, but persistently lying and slandering her, taking advantage of her parents' kindness when they let her into the bakery to snoop around Marinette's room for blackmail material and gleefully admitting to her willing alliance with Hawk Moth. Even after transforming into Ladybug and hearing that Lila tried to manipulate Oni-Chan into killing her, Marinette does not give in. Once Lila is out of imminent danger and Rose is de-akumatised, however, Ladybug makes it clear that she will be keeping a very close eye on Lila and ensuring that she can't interfere with the heroes during akuma attacks by seeking her out and dumping her in uncomfortable and humiliating places to "keep her safe" during said attacks.
  • In Funeral For A Flash, Wally West must save the Weather Wizard, who has been kidnapped by someone who is willing to kill him if he doesn't give up his secrets of weather control.

    Film — Animated 
  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • In The Fox and the Hound, as Amos Slade and Copper pursue Tod, they get cornered and almost killed by a gigantic bear. Tod, seeing his childhood friend Copper in danger, turns back to fight the bear, also saving Slade from it during the process.
    • At the climax of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where Frollo knocks Quasimodo over the edge of the cathedral but is pulled along with him. Despite having just found out that Frollo killed his mother, Quasi doesn't let go of the cloak by which Frollo hangs. As Esmeralda desperately tries to pull Quasimodo back up, Frollo (who refuses to drop his sword, even to save himself), manages to swing himself to a handhold before attempting to finish them both off, at which point karma kicks in.
      • Very pointedly averted, however, in the novel. Not only does Quasimodo deliberately push Frollo off of the cathedral (and not even in self-defense): when Frollo manages to cling to the building briefly and attempts to pull himself back up, the narration points out that Quasimodo could easily have reached out and helped him. Instead, he just stands there and watches him fall.
    • Attempted in Tarzan. Tarzan had only meant to incapacitate Clayton, tying him up in vines. Clayton, however, is in an Unstoppable Rage and starts slashing through them...except for the one around his neck. Tarzan sees the problem before Clayton does and tries to warn him: "Clayton! Clayton, don't!" He doesn't listen, plummets downwards, and Tarzan zips after him. Unfortunately, he's not fast enough, and by the time he reaches Clayton, he's already hanged himself. One look at Tarzan's face and you know he really did hope to save him...
    • Frozen provides an interesting subversion because while Anna sacrifices herself to save Elsa, who struck her in the heart, Elsa is not really evil, and Anna continued to always love Elsa because she was her sister. Furthermore, Anna had Undying Loyalty towards Elsa and refused to see her as a villain. Anna only saw Elsa as a young woman who was persecuted because of her powers and needed Anna to get over her fears. This Act of True Love also saves Anna from Elsa's curse and leads to Elsa gaining control of her powers and becoming The High Queen.
  • In the sequel Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Aladdin seems to try to save Sa'luk from falling off a cliff at the end of their duel to the death but fails. Sa'luk proves to be Not Quite Dead and later returns to menace the protagonists further.
  • The Lion King II: Simba's Pride. Kiara does this to Zira when she's trying to pull herself up. Kiara offers a hand (paw?) to Zira to pull her back up, but she swipes at her and falls to her death in the raging flood below.
    • Early drafts of The Lion King (1994) had Simba toss Scar over Pride Rock, only for Scar to grab hold of the cliff and beg Simba to save him. Simba, not wanting to prove he's as cold-blooded as Scar, helps him up... and is rewarded with Scar throwing him downward as Pride Rock is engulfed in flames.
  • Woody and Buzz save Lotso in Toy Story 3 from a shredder without hesitation, even though it was Lotso's fault in the first place that any of them was in a life-threatening situation. Lotso doesn't return the favor.
  • In The Princess Twins of Legendale, Eve tries to save Queen Dume from falling to her death despite knowing how evil she is now. Dume jumps over the tower edge and attempts to take Eve with her, though Eve survives with Dawn's help.
  • In The Boxtrolls, Eggs tries to stop Snatcher from eating one last bite of cheese that will almost certainly kill him due to his food allergies despite everything Snatcher did to him and his loved ones. He fails.
  • Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation has an odd variant of this: the villain, Dark Heart, spends the movie blackmailing a girl named Christy into helping him, mostly interacting with her in the form of a boy about her age. About halfway through the movie, he hits his head, falls into a river and almost drowns, except that Christy dives into the water to save him. He's naturally a bit stunned that she would do this. This winds up being the first step toward a Heel–Face Turn that turns him into an actual child.
    Christy: Good or bad, you're still a person.
    Dark Heart: ...If you knew what was good for you, you would have left me.
  • In Smurfs: The Lost Village, Hefty insists on saving Gargamel and Azrael from drowning after the river chase. Smurfette backs him up despite Brainy's objections and despite her own history with him. Gargamel feigns gratitude at first, only to sweep them all off their raft and steal it.
  • In My Little Pony: The Movie (2017), Tempest Shadow is betrayed by The Storm King when he refuses to repair her horn, even after she keeps her end of their deal and gives him the magic of all four alicorn princesses. Tempest ends up clinging on to the railing of the balcony and is almost sucked into the hurricane created by The Storm King, but Twilight grabs her and pulls her to safety, prompting a Heel–Face Turn from her.
  • In Incredibles 2, during the climax, Helen saves the Big Bad from a fatal fall from a plane by acting as a parachute. Helen persists even as said Big Bad is still fighting her and trying to thwart Helen's rescue attempt.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy:
    • Batman Begins:
      • Bruce Wayne is trained by the League of Shadows, and for his initiation is ordered to kill a captive criminal, with the implication that refusal would have permanent consequences. He refuses nevertheless (especially on discovering their Evil Plan for Gotham) and ends up blowing up the building killing who knows how many Faceless Goons in the process. However, he saves the life of his mentor Ducard, perhaps because he's come to see him as a surrogate father figure. Sure enough, he comes to regret the decision.
        Bruce: I saved your life.
        Ducard: I warned you about compassion, Bruce.
      • Later in the movie, this trope is subverted as the train Batman and Ra's are on heads swiftly to a very deadly crash, Batman declares, "I won't kill you... but I don't have to save you," and escapes the train alone. Fans are sharply divided over this, with some thinking it's way out of character for him, while others seeing it as simple, pragmatic, and heroic (that Batman is responsible for the train being about to crash also complicates matters of responsibility for the death).
    • In The Dark Knight, it's played straight with the Joker. Not so much with Two-Face, but that was accidental; Batman was trying to save a child's life more than trying to kill Two-Face.
  • Batman Forever, with Robin saving Two-Face, the man who killed his parents. Deconstructed as it turns out saving the bad guy might be a bad idea, as he gets captured and used in a Sadistic Choice by The Riddler. When Two-Face falls to his death later, he doesn't get saved.
    Two-Face: Good boy. The Bat's taught you well. Noble. [draws a gun] Stupid, but noble.
  • Indiana Jones:
    • Subverted in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At the climax, Indy tries to pull Schneider out of the crevice, but she's so obsessed with reaching the Grail that she refuses to give him her other hand, and eventually slips and falls to her doom anyway. The exact same thing almost happens to Indy a few minutes later when his father tries to pull him out, but common sense wins over, and he abandons it.
    • Also subverted in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when the Giant Mook's sash is caught in a rock crusher. Indy grabs onto a rope to escape and reaches out to try and save the dude, but the pull in both directions is too great and he's dragged under anyway. Even for a child-whipping brute who'd just been trying to kill him, Indy must have decided it was just too nasty a way to go to not at least make an effort.
  • This also happens in the film adaptation of Thunderbirds, with Alan saving The Hood from falling into the Mole's rotating blades.
  • Star Trek:
    • In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk attempts to save the Klingon commander, Kruge from falling into a crevasse after the same officer ordered the death of Kirk's son David. Kruge tries to drag Kirk down with him; Kirk then quits trying to save him and starts kicking him loose.
    • Offered to Nero in Star Trek (2009). His response is pure Card-Carrying Villain.
      Nero: I would rather suffer the end of Romulus a thousand times. I would rather die in agony than accept assistance from you!
      • This is possibly the only example that doubles as a What the Hell, Hero? moment, given Nero's status.
        Spock: Captain, what are you doing?
        Kirk: Showing them compassion. It may be the only way to earn peace with Romulus. It's logic, Spock, I thought you'd like that.
        Spock: No, not really. Not this time.
      • Although Kirk knew what Nero's response would be. And he's all too happy to oblige him.
  • Inverted in Blade Runner, in which Roy Batty saves Richard Deckard. Deckard is an anti-hero and Batty is an anti-villain.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: After Angelica is accidentally poisoned, Jack is determined to save her with the Foutain's healing powers. This shows that even though they are on opposite sides, he still loves her too much to let her die.
  • Subverted in the trope-heavy GoldenEye. James Bond catches his friend-turned-Arch-Enemy Alec Trevelyan/006 by the ankles just before he falls to his death (from his own superweapon, no less). "For England, James?" "No, for me" and he lets go. The villain survives the fall long enough to also die in a spectacular explosion.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Iron Man: Subverted in a deleted scene that shows Tony trying to save Obadiah after both their suits have been disabled, but Obadiah grapples the wrist of Tony's suit to drag Tony down as well, and Tony is forced to eject his glove so he doesn't die.
    • Thor:
      • Subverted during the climactic battle between Loki and Thor. When they crash through the wall of the Observatory and onto the Bifrost, Loki rolls over the edge and is left clinging to it by his fingertips. As they are brothers, Thor only hesitates briefly and reaches down to help him, but it turns out to be one of Loki's illusions.
      • Defied when Odin tries to save both of his sons from falling into the abyss after the explosion of the Bifrost, but Loki lets go and allows himself to fall.
      • Played straight in relation to the Frost Giants, the deadly enemies of Asgard. The whole point of the battle was to prevent Loki from exterminating them.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy: Defied when Nebula is hanging on her cybernetic hand, and Gamora reaches out to help her only for Nebula to cut off the hand and fall down. She successfully lands on the windshield of the ship below.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Nebula hunts down and attacks Gamora on Ego's planet once she gains a ship for herself. Gamora is able to hold her own against her sister, however, and blasts Nebula's ship. Before the ship goes up in flames, she drags Nebula out. The two reconcile later.
    • Spider-Man: Homecoming: Peter saves Vulture when the villain becomes trapped under flaming rubble. Vulture is grateful for this and returns the favor by refusing to reveal his identity to Mac Gargan a.k.a. Scorpion.
  • At the end of In the Line of Fire, Horrigan tries to save the assassin Leary from falling off an elevator, noting when Leary asks him that he doesn't want to, but it's his job.
  • Averted in Race for the Yankee Zephyr (1981). The villain and his chief henchman are squabbling over the aircraft and its cargo of gold bullion, even as it sinks beneath a lake. Disgusted by their behaviour, the hero refuses to save them from drowning despite the Damsel Scrappy imploring him to do so. In The Stinger though the villain surfaces again clutching a lifevest, shouting for his henchmen to come and rescue him.
  • Memorably averted in Darkman, where the final Climbing Climax ends with Westlake catching the villain (by his ankle, for a change) just before the latter can fall to his death from a half-built skyscraper. Hanging helplessly, the Big Bad confidently points out that Westlake can't possibly drop him, because then he wouldn't be able to live with himself. But unfortunately for him, this hero's been learning to live with even worse things, all through the film...
  • Inadvertently in Horrible Bosses. Dale gives Harken his epiphenine medication when Harken was suffering from a peanut allergy reaction. In Dale's defense, he didn't know it was Harken.
  • Butch does this for Marsellus Wallace, the man who wants him dead for not throwing a major boxing match, from Pulp Fiction. Pulp Fiction being what it is, though the two of them do fight, Butch then saves Marsellus from even worse guys.
  • It is somewhat jarring when it is used in Daredevil. After he kills nearly every enemy he goes up against, and even going so far as to throw a helpless Bullseye out a several story building, he decides to let the Kingpin live. It really feels like the director wanted to keep the Kingpin alive in case a sequel was made.
    • That's not even the half of it. The director himself notes this was out of character:
      Mark Johnson: I don't really think it makes sense from a character perspective so much as from a story perspective.
      Avi Arad: Whatever you say, Mark...
      Mark Johnson: [laughs] I'm still trying to convince myself.
  • Double subverted...kind of, in a Russian movie Lions' Share. The hero kicks the villain off a roof and, while the villain is falling, shoots him straight in the forehead, explaining "So that it doesn't hurt when you land."
  • Father Cornelius saves Zorg from choking on a cherry in The Fifth Element, prompting the "You saved my life, so I'll spare yours" line.
  • The Untouchables both affirms and subverts the trope when Elliot Ness first assists Big Bad mob hitman Frank Nitti, whom he had cornered dangling from a rope off the edge of a building and then after enduring some Evil Gloating Ness reappraises the situation and casually throws him off the roof.
  • In the climax of Sherlock Holmes (2009), Holmes saves Lord Blackwood from being dragged off the bridge, if only so he can be properly hanged this time around. After Blackwood tries to kill him again, though, Holmes lets the hanging take place sooner than Blackwood had hoped.
  • In the movie Safety Patrol, Mrs. Day, one of the two robbers, nearly falls into a Hades crater, and Scout and the other kids try to save her. They succeed, and she is arrested shortly after along with her son Bert Miller.
  • In The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, one of the punk gunslingers loses his balance as he makes his way down to a rail (to kill our hero, Ford Fairlane). Zuzu tries to save him... by grabbing the gun in his mouth to pull him back up. Guess what happens next.
  • The Mummy Trilogy:
    • In The Mummy (1999), Rick tries to pull Beni from out of the Collapsing Lair, but doesn't make it. He's not too upset about it, though.
      Rick: Goodbye, Beni.
    • Happens in the novelization of the sequel, The Mummy Returns, if not in the film outright. When Imhotep is hanging over a literal gateway to Hell and his lover abandons him to his fate, Rick actually feels sorry for him and attempts to pull him up, but a heartbroken Imhotep instead accepts his fate and lets go willingly.
  • In the Spider-Man movies, both the original trilogy and reboot, Peter Parker frequently tries to talk the villain down, since most of them are actually friends of his, so he desperately doesn't want to have to fight them.
  • Under Siege 2: Dark Territory: Averted when Ryback shuts a helicopter door on the helplessly dangling villain, cutting his fingers off and letting him fall to a fiery death.
  • Jackie Chan tends to do this in many of his films.
    • In Rush Hour 3, where Chan plays Inspector Lee, this proves to be annoying to watch because after throwing Kenji into holding onto a net for life he chose to save Kenji which meant spending time and effort that could have been used to save the cute damsel-in-distress instead (Soo Yung).
  • In Kick-Ass 2, Kick-Ass grabs the Motherfucker's hand as he's dangling over a shark tank. They argue about it, and the Motherfucker repeatedly swats at Kick-Ass's hand until he can't hold on and Motherfucker drops. The Stinger reveals that he did survive, at the loss of his limbs and dick.
  • This is actually the heroes' main objective in X-Men: Days of Future Past because if Mystique kills Trask, it will trigger the awakening of Sentinels which will bring about the apocalypse. Although they succeed, Trask doesn't get off a Karma Houdini as he is arrested for selling military secrets.
  • In Casino Royale (2006), James Bond saves Le Chiffre from Obanno, the African freedom fighter who'd lost money from the attempted terrorist attack in Miami, which was foiled by Bond. Not out of any compassion, but because Bond's mission was to bring Le Chiffre in alive so that MI6 could get him to inform on his terrorist clients.
  • In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman blocks a punch that Doomsday throws at Lex Luthor, even after Luthor had endangered Lois Lane and Martha Kent and had dedicated his life to destroying him. Given Doomsday's strength, if the punch had landed, Luthor would have been Ludicrous Gibs.
  • Deadpool (2016):
  • Shark Attack: In the climax both the hero and the bad guy fall out of a helicopter over a shark-infested lake. While they struggle to climb on top of a nearby buoy as the sharks close in, the hero actually tries to help the bad guy up but is unsuccessful.
  • In Suicide Squad (2016), after the Joker's car falls into a river, Batman pulls Harley Quinn out and revives her with CPR before arresting her. Judging by the look on his face, he really didn't want to.
  • In Once Upon a Time in the West, Harmonica kills the members of Frank's gang when they betray him for Morton and try to kill him. But unlike other examples of this trope, he's not doing this to save his life, as Jill accuses him of doing, but because Harmonica hates Frank enough to consider himself the only one allowed to kill him.
  • Fortress (1992): At the end of Brennick and Maddox's fight to the death, Brennick tries to save Maddox from falling to his death but Maddox is then gorily eliminated by the prison security system on the Warden's orders.
  • Barbarella: The gentle angel Pygar chooses to save the evil Black Queen from being consumed by the Mathmos at the end, despite the fact that she had tried to kill him by the same method earlier. His reason to do so amounts to "Turn the Other Cheek".
  • Bullshot. A flashback to World War One shows the hero Bullshot Crummond was about to shoot down Otto von Bruno's Fokker fighter plane but refused on seeing his gun had jammed. The narrator notes that the events the audience are about to see would never have happened if he'd just shot the Fokker.
  • Slipstream (1989). After his girlfriend is killed, the android Byron forgoes his Thou Shalt Not Kill inclinations and rips his way into Tasker's airplane as he's taking off and starts to choke him. Tasker does a Meaningful Echo of the poem High Flight that Byron quoted at the beginning of the movie: "I reach out my hand and touch the face of God." Messianic Archetype that he is, this snaps Byron out of his rage and he tries to regain control of the crashing airplane to no avail — only the Made of Iron android survives the crash.
    Byron: In the end, he thought I could save him. I'm too dangerous to be human.
  • Aliens. Ripley stops Hicks from killing Burke on the spot once his betrayal is exposed, saying "No, we need to take him back!" Presumably she hopes a public trial will expose the Company's role in the deaths of her crewmates on the Nostromo in the first film. However, the aliens attack at that point, rendering the whole question moot when they get Burke instead.
  • Subverted in Revenge of the Sith. After Anakin defeats Count Dooku in a lightsaber duel, cutting off both his hands and taking his weapon, he knows he should take Dooku into custody. However, Palpatine goads him into killing Dooku instead. Both to get rid of a now useless minion, and to start Anakin down the path towards the Dark Side.

  • Discussed in a Babylon 5 novel, when John Sheridan, the newly appointed head of Rangers, gives a speech to the new recruits. He stresses that Rangers dedicate themselves to saving life, all life, even Shadows', in that they'll fight them as necessary, but they will keep looking to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, so if some of the recruits came looking for a chance at revenge or a Guilt-Free Extermination War, understandable as it may be, they're better off looking for another outfit.
  • Played with in Dragon Bones: Ward saves a villain without even thinking about it - there's a danger, and he protects the person standing beside him, who happens to be the villain. He later feels a bit guilty about that, and about not having used the moment to kill the villain - the villain did some pretty evil things and is going to do more of them, and Ward doesn't consider Honor Before Reason a virtue.
  • In "Grandpa's Great Escape" by David Walliams, the matron accidentally sets her (corrupt) entire old folk's home on fire (which Grandpa thinks is a Prisoner of War camp due to his dementia). When the Matron gets trapped behind a wall of fire, Grandpa goes back to save the 'commandant' (matron). She ends up betraying him, unsurprisingly.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Harry does this twice for Draco Malfoy. Malfoy's mother proceeds to return the favor to Harry.
    • Lampshaded by Ron's utter disgust at the fact that they saved Malfoy. After the second save, Ron punches out Malfoy for immediately running over to Death Eaters for support.
    • Harry's saving of Peter Pettigrew, back in Prisoner of Azkaban comes back, when Peter hesitates when he's attacking Harry.
    • Harry makes a bold but futile attempt to save Lord Voldemort in the final confrontation. At this point, Harry is aware that Voldemort's soul is so badly damaged that if he dies (which is a very likely outcome at this point) he'll be stranded in Limbo for all eternity. Harry tries to suggest to Voldemort to feel remorse for everything he's done, as it's his last chance to repair some of the damage done to his soul. Voldemort is shocked and offended at this suggestion.
  • The Star Wars novel Sacrifice has a subversion. During Lumiya's duel with Luke Skywalker, she falls off a ledge. Luke (who decades earlier was romantically involved with Lumiya before she became a Sith, and thinks she's the one who murdered his wife) grabs her hand, saying "I'd never let you fall." Then he decapitates her.
    "Come with us. We can have you reprogrammed."
    "No. If they can find a way around my brainblock, if somehow my memory was downloaded, it would be fatal for me – and my master. We have much to answer for. Better to kill me now."
    "It’s not your fault. You didn’t program yourself."
    "I am what I am, Jedi. I don’t think there can be any salvation for me."
    "There’s been enough killing. I’m not adding to it today."
  • Tash tries this with Gog in Galaxy of Fear, first saying he's too hurt to escape by climbing a ladder, then lunging and trying to grab him when he falls, but she fails. He lives anyway.
  • Older Than Radio: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins plays this fairly straight.
  • Les Misérables: Valjean saves his nemesis, Javert, from execution at the barricades. It backfired spectacularly.
  • The Batman novel "Fear Itself" double subverts this when it has Batman try this with The Scarecrow when Batman, the Love Interest of the week, Scarecrow, a henchman, and the body of a guy Scarecrow had just killed are trapped in a burning house. Initially, Batman does leave Scarecrow to die in the mess he created ... But after he rescues the Love Interest and the Henchman, as well as carrying out the dead victim's body, he goes back for Scarecrow. He apparently doesn't succeed, but they Never Found the Body and we all know what kind of record the Bat Rogues have with death. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we love Batman.
  • Discworld:
    • In Small Gods, Brutha cares for and carries a comatose Vorbis through the desert after they are shipwrecked there. When Vorbis regains consciousness just before they reach civilization, he hits Brutha over the head with a rock, tries to murder his God, and then takes credit for saving Brutha. And again at the end of the novel, when they are both dead, Brutha finds him in the desert, paralyzed with doubt. Even Death, who tends to be objective, points out that Vorbis is pure evil. Brutha replies: "But I'm me." and leads him through the afterlife.
    • In Night Watch, Vimes has already set fire to the HQ of the Cable Street Particulars when he remembers that one of them is still inside, strapped to a chair in their own Torture Cellar. Vimes runs back in, deciding to at least give the man a chance to escape. He's already dead, and Vimes ends up in a swordfight with his boss.
  • In Dark Life, Ty saves the outlaw Shade from being hanged by angry settlers—despite the fact that he still has broken ribs from his last encounter, AND the fact that only way to get the settlers to listen was by telling them all his most dangerous secret.
    • In Rip Tide, it's a little different. At the beginning, the Drift surfs are the villains, but by the time he saves them at the end, Ty's realized that they were never actually the bad guys.
  • There's a version in the Beka Cooper book Bloodhound; having finally caught, outfought, and subdued the Big Bad in a flooding sewer, our protagonists have to keep her from drowning and later have her healed of her injuries, despite the fact that open wounds that then got tainted with sewage are extremely difficult to treat. However, this is not a second chance: they want her put properly on trial for her crimes so she can be executed in good time.
  • In Darke, Septimus has to rescue his opponent Merrin Meredith after the Dragon Duel.
  • Combined with Conflicting Loyalty in The Granite Shield when a Shield Knight attacks her Royal charge to save his brother (an implacable enemy but also her own cousin).
  • In the Rainbow Magic series, Rachel and Kirsty have had to save the goblins from being hurt by their own stupidity many times.
  • In Pact, after Blake Thorburn's chronomancer enemy Laird Behaim triggers his Rage Breaking Point by forcing him to relive his greatest traumas using the ghosts the trauma created, he forces a small splinter into his throat, and then, horrified at himself, tries and fails to prevent Laird from choking to death on his own blood.
  • Relativity starts In Medias Res (sort of) with Black Torrent rescuing a villain whose plans had gone awry. In a later story they don't so much save the villain directly as escape from his deathtrap (which he's trapped in as well) and invite him along:
    Black Torrent: We’re leaving. You can come with if you want to live.
  • In The Revenge of Seven, John Smith actively, knowingly, and willingly saves Setrakus Ra's life when his best friend and a few government agents try to shoot him. The shots would have killed Ella instead of Setrakus thanks to Setrakus Ra's twisted version of the Loric charm.
  • In the first novel of the Heroes "R" Us series Soldiers of Barrabas, Nile Barrabas encounters his ex-CIA nemesis Karl Heiss, who appeals for help when Barrabas' mercenary team escapes on the last plane out after a revolution has taken over an African country. He assumes Nile is the Honor Before Reason type, but Niles figures a Hellhole Prison is exactly what Heiss deserves, and leaves him there. This backfires badly when Heiss escapes and seeks his revenge, becoming a recurring villain in the series.
  • In the Doctor Who novel "Engines of War", even though Karlax tried to kill him, when his TARDIS is wrecked by the Daleks the Doctor saves him. Subverted later. After Karlax kills Cinder, the Doctor dematerialises the TARDIS around him, leaving Karlax surrounded by Daleks. He is quickly exterminated.
  • During The Eugenics Wars, even knowing full well how dangerous the children of Chrysalis are, Gary Seven draws the line at murder. He'll play them against each other but will not murder them in cold blood.
  • The Stormlight Archive: The Third Ideal of the Windrunners is "I will protect even those that I hate, if it is right." It doesn't go quite as far as saving actual villains; the point is that just because a Windrunner personally dislikes someone doesn't mean that person deserves to die—or even deserves not to be saved.
  • Warrior Cats: In one of the stories in Code of the Clans, the ShadowClan leader Ripplestar orders his Clan to attack the other four Clans at the Gathering. During the battle, he and the ThunderClan leader, Finchstar, are left on the Great Rock. Ripplestar slips, and Finchstar tries to save him despite what Ripplestar had done, but he falls off and dies.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Used several times in 24: Jack Bauer has to save the life of Nina Meyers during Day 2 because she knows where the nuclear bomb is being held, on Day 4 Jack tries to stop Marwan from committing suicide so he can tell them where the warhead's target is ( though Marwan falls to his death anyway), Jack and Renee Walker have to prevent Tony Almeida from murdering Alan Wilson in Day 7, and Jack himself has to be stopped from murdering Big Bad Yuri Suvarov during Day 8.
  • Clarke from The 100 will kill people if she thinks she has to, but will otherwise try to keep everyone alive, even her enemies. When the person she thinks killed her best friend is about to be executed, she tries to convince the angry mob to spare his life. And when Clarke and Anya escape from Mount Weather, Clarke refuses to let Anya be captured or killed, despite Anya's repeated attempts to either kill Clarke or take her as a prisoner of war.
  • Angel:
    • Subverted in the episode "Shells": Knox murders Fred, and tries to bring about the reign of an Eldritch Abomination. When the heroes arrive to stop him, Angel makes a big speech about rescuing Knox. But Wesley, filled with grief over Fred's death, guns down Knox in cold blood. Angel angrily says to Wesley "Were you even listening?"
    • Angel being Angel, and the whole message of the show is "everyone is capable of, and deserves, a chance at redemption, this is played straight sometimes, as Angel often tries to save villains. In Season Two, when he refuses to do this at a critical moment letting a load of Wolfram and Hart lawyers be killed by Darla and Drusilla, his friends make it clear that he's at the brink of the Moral Event Horizon.
  • In Blake's 7, Avon is forced to rescue Servalan from the Sarrans because he needs her to tell him where she's hidden Orac.
  • In one episode of Bones, Booth tries desperately to save a serial killer who doesn't want to be saved. His failure sends him into a deep depression until he is forced to see a psychiatrist.
  • The Boys (2019): Ultimately, when Hughie and A-Train finally come face to face for their final confrontation, A-Train has a heart attack and collapses. Rather than let him die, Hughie, remembering what Mallory told him, starts giving A-Train CPR and insists on calling an ambulance until Starlight tells Hughie to run and let her do it herself.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: When Willow turned evil, Buffy and the others went to great lengths to save her intended victims, Jonathan and Andrew (who were minor villains at the time). As she explained, it was only for their sake indirectly:
    "I'm not protecting you, Jonathan. None of us are. We're doing this for Willow. The only reason it happens to be your lucky day? Is because Willow kills you, she crosses a line, I lose a friend."
  • The Cape: In "Dice", the titular hero had to save the villain, Chess, from a woman named Dice. Atypically for this trope, however, The Cape's motives for doing so are purely selfish; he needs Chess to live long enough so that his name can be cleared.
  • Subverted in the Chuck episode "Chuck vs the First Kill". Chuck tries to save a Fulcrum agent from falling off a fifteen-story building, thinking it an awful way to die (although he also does this because the agent might be the only informant of his father's whereabouts). However, the sleeves on the agent's suit rip from Chuck's grip, sending the man falling to his death.
  • In the TV-movie for Nickelodeon's Cousin Skeeter, the villain is about to fall into what looks like an incinerator. The protagonists make a run for it, except Skeeter, who runs back for him while yelling "I got a conscience, man, I'm sorry!" and tells the villain to take his hand. The other characters go back to help pull when it looks like Skeeter isn't strong enough. And in this case, the villain is so astonished/moved that they would bother to help him, that he immediately pulls a Heel–Face Turn and helps the protagonists return home. (After giving Skeeter an alien medal as thanks.)
  • Criminal Minds:
    • In one episode, "Elephant's Memory", Reid goes against orders to try to save a serial killer with whom he sympathises.
    • In the season 3 episode "Tabula Rasa", a serial killer is chased by the team to the top of his apartment building. He tries to jump across to the building opposite and ends up hanging off the edge of the roof. Morgan jumps after him, makes it onto the roof of that building, and then the serial killer loses his grip. And falls several stories. And ends up in a coma for about four years.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Generally, the Doctor will want to find a peaceful solution for everyone. "I can help you!" is probably the first thing he says to any enemy (including Cybermen and Daleks). His plan generally boils down to having the enemy stop doing whatever horrible things they're doing, and letting him transport them back home or to a planet where they can live in peace, or possibly enter a mutually beneficial diplomatic relationship with the humans or other dominant species on the planet they're visiting. Sadly, very few take the offer.
    • In "The Underwater Menace", the Second Doctor has just escaped from a sinking underwater civilisation along with his companions and then announces that he's going back in, because he can't leave the Mad Scientist Professor Zaroff (who caused this mess, and who had been trying to blow up the Earth just because he could) to die. Justified in that the Doctor apparently knew and admired him before the mess, and the fact that Zaroff's evil was apparently down to madness rather than actual malevolence — with a bit of help, he might have changed his mind about wanting to kill everyone on the planet. Maybe.
    • In "The Time Monster", an entity Above Good and Evil that the Master has enslaved and the Doctor has released decides to let the Doctor go and torture the Master for all eternity. The Doctor pleads for mercy, intending to take the Master back to stand trial, and the entity agrees... at which point the Master quickly pushes the Doctor over, dashes to his TARDIS, and gets the heck out of there.
    • Subverted in "Planet of Fire", in which the Master is burning in a volcano. He holds out a hand to be rescued, and the Doctor refuses. Twelve years later, the same characters played the trope straight, with the Doctor extending his hand and the Master refusing and then falling into a black hole, making him Deader Than Dead ...until he comes back in "Utopia", proceeds to take over the world, gets shot, and then enjoys the satisfaction of dying just to spite the Doctor, who is pleading with him to regenerate and live on. After a thorough cremation, the Master is now Deader Than Dead. Again... well maybe. Probably not. Definitely not.
    • In "Journey's End" he tries again, this time with Davros. He mentions that he tried to save him even during the Time War when something called the "Nightmare Child" swallowed his ship. He does it again after stopping his plan, perhaps in response to Davros' big Not So Different speech earlier (or because he knows Davros's track record for surviving explosions anyway).
    • In "The End of Time" this trope is invoked yet again when the Doctor repeatedly pleads with the newly-returned Master to let him help with the drumming in his head. For once, the Master seems to be on the verge of accepting the Doctor's offer, but subsequent events drive him to follow the other doomed Time Lords back into the Time War. Who knows what attitude he'll have the next time he's alive again.
    • In "Flesh and Stone", the Weeping Angels beg — or demand, even — that the Doctor do this for them by throwing himself into a crack in time to spare their lives. Unfortunately for the Angels, they hadn't actually given him much of a reason to do so; he refuses, they fall in and cease to have ever existed.
    • Subverted in "The Wedding of River Song". Madame Kovarian, the woman who kidnapped Amy and Rory’s baby daughter, believes Amy Pond will save her from The Silence because it is what The Doctor would do. Instead, a still rightfully pissed Amy goes full Mama Bear, replacing Kovarian’s malfunctioning eye-drive to ensure she dies.
    • "Asylum of the Daleks" has the main Dalek Parliament capturing the Doctor so that he can save them from an army of insane Daleks.
    • Subverted in "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship". At first it looks like the Doctor will save the murderous Space Pirate Solomon, but when he tries to bribe his way out the Doctor leaves him on his ship before it is hit by missiles.
    • In the denouement/Cliffhanger of "Face the Raven", the Doctor — about to be teleported into the clutches of an unknown enemy — tells the Anti-Villain Ashildr/Me that Clara ordering him not to seek Revenge over her death, which Ashildr and (as it turns out later) the Time Lords inadvertently had a hand in is her way of doing this rather than trying to save his already-lost soul, and warns them that though he will do his best to honour her order, he better never see them again because This Is Unforgivable!
    • "Extremis": When Missy is facing execution, she Ain't Too Proud to Beg to the Doctor, the person designated as her executioner. She appeals to their former friendship and even promises to learn to be good. However, it takes a postmortem What You Are in the Dark appeal to the Doctor's better side by his deceased wife River Song to convince the Doctor to spare Missy, which in turn causes its own problems — usually when the Doctor decides to save the villain they run for it. What do you do when you're stuck guarding the villain for the next thousand years?
  • Happens lots of times in The Dukes of Hazzard. Boss Hogg is often double-crossed by whatever thugs he hires for his latest scheme, and who comes to his rescue? The Duke brothers, of course.
  • Farscape has an interesting subversion - Moya's crew launch a dangerous, risky mission to save Scorpius. Until they reach him and John asks him what he told his captors - when Scorpius swears he said nothing, John cheerfully says to a shocked Aeryn "Kill him and let's go." They then get distracted squabbling about who ought to kill him and he survives.
  • The Fugitive had the necessity of this as part of its plot: the one-armed man has to live or there's no evidence that Richard Kimble is innocent. He also saved Inspector Javert Phillip Gerard quite a few times, which paid off in the finale when Gerard finally catches him, but in exchange gives him 24 hours to search for the real killer.
  • Gotham: In the fourth season of Gotham, there's a scene where Bruce Wayne decides to save Jerome Valeska, one of the show's two main takes on the Joker. Despite all that Jerome has done to Bruce up to this point, Bruce has already firmly decided that he doesn't believe in killing criminals to bring them to justice, partially because of his experiences with Jerome. Besides, the situation he saves him from is being murdered by his own uncle and an accomplice, and the uncle previously featured heavily in Jerome's horrifically abusive childhood. This leads to a rare (and brief) moment of sincere gratitude on Jerome's part, and it actually looks like he might try to save Bruce in return for a moment before Bruce tells him not to kill his uncle's accomplice, even though he's strangling Bruce at the time because he believes that strongly in not killing criminals. Needless to say, Jerome finds this hilarious and decides that it would be funnier to watch Bruce get strangled to death because his honor is preventing him from accepting help. Still, before he starts laughing at Bruce, being saved by someone he tried to kill multiple times before shocks him enough to lead to this moment:
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • In "Annihilated", Elliot Stabler is the first to learn that a man killed his wife and kids and staged it to make his wife look like the killer. When Elliot finds him on the hospital roof as if he's preparing to jump, he plays along and talks him down as if he still thinks he's a victim on the verge of suicide. As soon the guy comes down from the ledge, Elliot cuffs him. When the perp asks what he's doing, Elliot responds, "I don't know. I should've thrown you off the roof."
    • In "Redemption" Elliot and "Hawk" chase a particular horrific serial killer across rooftops. Elliot then finds Hawk standing and watching as the serial killer desperately clings to a ledge (Hawk may or may not have pushed him). Elliot has to convince him to save the killer, citing If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him. It works.
  • LazyTown's Sportacus will usually do it for Robbie Rotten. In at least one episode, "LazyTown's New Superhero", Robbie then betrays that help by trying to leave Sportacus stranded on top of the billboard hiding the entrance to his lair, the same one that he was trapped on top of.
  • Luke Cage (2016):
    • The sixth episode of season 1 sees Luke and Claire spend most of the episode frantically trying to save a mortally wounded Detective Scarfe, but he still dies despite their hours of operating on him.
    • In the 12th episode of season 1, Luke finds Domingo just barely clinging onto life after stumbling upon the aftermath of a shootout between Domingo's gang and Diamondback's gang. He carries Domingo out of the warehouse when he finds Diamondback has set a bomb to explode. Domingo dies seconds after the bomb goes off, but not before warning Luke about the new powered armor Diamondback is wearing.
    • Luke saves Mariah Dillard's life when Bushmaster tries to kill her by burning down her brownstone, even though Mariah despises Luke for causing problems for her criminal enterprises, and even spent part of season 1 painting Luke as a murderer in the press.
  • Quite a few villains are saved in Person of Interest. Mafia Dons, Corrupt Corporate Executives, shadowy government officials - they all appear as numbers, many of them after having caused another number. One of the most direct instances was the end of season two, where Team Machine takes the almost-catatonic Root with them because she'd otherwise be killed during the government clean-up of the site.
  • In season 3, episode 3 of Primeval, villainess Helen Cutter is trapped in the burning ARC building (caused by an explosion in her failed takeover attempt). Nick Cutter, being the hero as well as Helen's husband, rushes into the building and frees her. As thanks, Helen shoots Nick, killing him for real.
  • In Prison Break, both Michael and Sara keep others from killing the villains, and sometimes even help them.
  • Sebastian Monroe gets a lot of this in Revolution. Also, Tom Neville uses it as a gambit, setting up an attempt on an enemy's life so that he can thwart it and gain their trust.
  • Played straight in 1960 Robin Hood: Robin wades through a sea of Mook blood and insists we must not kill the Sheriff, because that would make us as bad as him. Technical Pacifist * A Million Is a Statistic.
  • Justified in the 2000 Robin Hood: Prince John promised that if the Sheriff dies, then the entire town will be nuked.
  • Smallville:
    • The conceit of the show is that Clark Kent unwittingly saves his archenemy's life when he rescues Lex Luthor from drowning. The novelty later wore out as Clark saved Lex about a hundred other times over the course of the show, even after he officially becomes evil.
    • He sometimes also tries to save other villains, but convenient Karmic Death usually is his friend.
    • Chloe Sullivan once died saving Lex (after he went evil). Luckily, she doesn't stay dead, although Clark was seriously worried and actually refused to let her do that at first, but Chloe decides to save Lex anyway once Clark is unconscious. This is important because this event triggers both his Heel–Face Turn and Protagonist Journey to Villain, although his exact alignment and motives are always kept very ambiguous except at the very end.
    • Chloe also brought Tess Mercer back from the dead after she had to stop her heart to get government agents to stop tracking them. It's notable because Chloe clearly considered letting her stay dead, but her conscience got the best of her. Seeing as how Tess would go on to succeed Chloe as the team's Mission Control, the choice paid off.
  • Subverted in the Stargate Atlantis episode "The Prodigal": Michael teeters on the brink of falling off the top of Atlantis to his awful demise. Teyla not only doesn't pull him up, she actually kicks his hands to hasten his death. This is what happens when you mess with Mama Bear.
  • In The Walking Dead episode "Conquer", Glenn saves Nicholas despite the fact that he lured him out into the woods so he could kill him. Even though Glenn had him at his mercy, he knew that'd make him just like his enemy. Glenn ends up carrying him back to Alexandria after giving him a serious beat down.
  • It happens quite a few times in Wicked Science where Toby has to help Elizabeth when her experiments gave her unexpected results.
  • Averted big time in Xena: Warrior Princess during the second appearance of her archenemy, Callisto. After Callisto murders Gabrielle's husband in cold blood, then almost burns Gabrielle at the stake, Xena finally catches up with her in a furious chariot chase which culminates with the both of them stuck in a quicksand pit. Xena uses her whip and chakram to pull herself to safety, then simply stands there and watches as Callisto is pulled under, screaming. Callisto eventually comes back, though. "Strike me down and I shall arise mightier than before." The next four seasons are Xena wangsting and paying off infinite karmic punishments.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Sesame Street: In the "Superhero" episode of Elmo: The Musical, Baddy McBad uses a giant robot to block off the entrance to a playground with an anvil too heavy for even Mighty Elmo to push out of the way. After Baddy taunts Elmo, her giant robot loses its balance and falls over, and she is unable to get back up. Elmo saves Baddy, and this leads to Baddy undergoing a Heel–Face Turn.

    Religion and Mythology 
  • In The Bible, when God tells Abraham that He plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham pleads for mercy, and God agrees that He'll spare the cities if His angels can find ten righteous people living there. They can't.

  • In Les Misérables, owing his life twice to Jean Valjean causes a Villanous BSOD in Inspector Javert. His Black-and-White Morality worldview utterly subverted, Javert breaks out into a version of his Villain Song and then takes his own life.
  • In Wicked, Elphaba spends quite a lot of time trying to save her increasingly unstable sister Nessarose, despite the fact that said sister has always hated Elphaba. Madame Morrible eventually takes advantage of her protectiveness of Nessarose by murdering the latter with Dorothy's falling house to bring Elphaba out of hiding. In "No Good Deed", after her sister's brutal death, Elphaba realizes how pointless her attempts to save her have been.
  • In a Screen-to-Stage Adaptation of The Pink Panther Strikes Again, the climax to changed so that the scientist activates a self-destruct on the doomsday machine, and Dreyfus is prepared to go down with it. However, due to his morals, Inspector Clouseau is determined to either save him...or die with him. Faced with the prospect of going into and spending eternity with the man he absolutely hates, Dreyfus agrees to flee and be taken in.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the epic module Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, the Player Characters might inadvertently rescue one of the most notorious villains in the history of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Sometime prior to the events of this module, Zuggtmoy, the Big Bad of the original Temple of Elemental Evil module, was captured by the villains in this one, transformed into an altar, and forced to serve as a shrine in the Tabernacle of Utter Darkness, a location in the Temple of All Consumption. This nightmarish, evil room is usually one of the most dangerous places in the Temple, and the PCs risk their souls being imprisoned for eternity if they lose the battle that will likely take place here. However, if they first visit the actual Temple of Elemental Evil, there's one place where one of them hears Zuggtmoy's voice pleading to be released, telling him a way to do it, and promising three wishes if he does. (She does not reveal who she is.) If the character does this when he does get to the room, and Zuggtmoy is freed, the biggest danger of the place is eliminated, and he does indeed get the three wishes. (However, Zuggtmoy does leave a giant Violet Fungus behind to attack him and his friends, although given the monsters they'd have to defeat to get there, it's doubtful one like that would be a problem.)

    Video Games 
  • If you play through Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia properly, you'll find out that Big Bad Mir is trying to destroy the world because she is abused by humans too much as a Reyvateil, so the party change their objective from killing the Big Bad into saving her instead. You still have to destroy her killer barrier, though.
  • In The Awakened Fate Ultimatum, if you get the true ending, Shin chooses to spare Letecia from the final blow because he knows that even though she wanted to destroy everyone in the world, deep down, what she really wanted was to make the world better. He discovered friends, but she never had anyone, and he wants to show her this.
  • In the final stage of Bastion, The Kid comes across Zulf being nearly beaten to death by his fellow Ura. He then has the option of giving up his Infinity +1 Sword for Zulf's body, who he'll be forced to lug back while the Ura continually attack him. Eventually, however, they'll be so impressed by your courage and tenacity that they'll all stop, with the one who decides to attack you getting killed by his comrades.
  • Batman: Arkham Series:
    • Batman: Arkham City ends with The Joker invoking this trope and demanding Batman give him the cure needed to save him from TITAN poisoning. This is after he's poisoned 2000 people and killed Talia A-Ghul, on top of his comic-book track-record, and yet he points out Batman'll follow the trope and save him anyway. Batman hesitates, so Joker stabs him in the arm, causing him to drop and smash the cure. Turns out Batman would have saved him anyway.
    • Batman does, however, try to save Hugo Strange after he gets stabbed. He also actually manages to save Harley Quinn from an exploding building in the DLC. She's not grateful.
    • Even for a minor example, Batman encounters a surprisingly loyal Two-Face Mook who refuses to join the Joker's henchmen, who in turn decide to lower him into acid and watch him die. Batman swoops in, beats up the two, and saves Two-Face's henchman... who immediately attacks Batman from behind with not so much as a thanks. Ungrateful Bastard.
    • The prequel, Batman: Arkham Origins, shows that is what sparked the Joker's fascination with Batman in the first place, shifting him from a gangster with a clown theme to Batman's self-proclaimed Arch-Enemy.
  • In BioShock 2, if Delta continually demonstrates mercy to others and saves little sisters, when Sofia Lamb is drowning in the end, Eleanor states that while her mother believes that people are beyond redemption, Eleanor has decided from the player's actions that anyone can be redeemed if given a chance, and saves Sofia's life.
    • In the ending where you harvest the little sisters but still show mercy, Eleanor still saves her, but cites Cruel Mercy as her reason for doing so.
  • Attempted in Chrono Trigger after the party defeats Azala and her Black Tyrano. Ayla offers to rescue her, but being a supreme fatalist Azala refuses to be rescued as she's accepted it's the fate of her and her kind to die there.
  • At the conclusion of Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening, Dante attempts the Take My Hand version of this. A quick sword slash to the palm tells him what his would-be-rescuee thinks of the idea. However, it's more about the villain in question being his twin brother than being noble and just, and the rescue was refused as his brother specifically wanted to go to the demon dimension that the fall was taking him to.
  • At the end of Digital Devil Saga, Gale runs back to save Angel, the Final Boss, when the entire world is being deleted. He even tries to save her before his leader, Serph The reason for the rescue is hinted at, and revealed in the sequel: Gale is the reincarnation of Angel's husband, and he has vague memories of her.
  • Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten plays with this trope. After Nemo realizes that Artina was alive as an angel, he realizes the error of his ways and plans to disappear along with Fear the Great. Valvatorez goes off to stop that, but he argues that he's not saving Nemo, he says that just disappearing is too good for him and that he can only repent for his sins if he stays alive.
  • In the backstory of Evolve, Parnell and his crew go to rescue the crew of an enemy warship that they drove into the gravity well of a sun. And then said ship explodes, destroying its would-be rescuers, killing its own crew, reducing Parnell's crew to a measly two, and putting him into a coma. And then to top it all off, he gets blamed for the whole thing.
  • Geese Howard from Fatal Fury dies this way. Terry (the hero) tries to save him yet Geese simply smiles and lets go. It isn't until much later on that we figure out why: Geese knows that Terry will be racked with guilt for the rest of his life, because with Geese's death, Terry will have orphaned Geese's son Rock the same way Geese orphaned Terry and Andy.
  • The ending of Final Fantasy IX... except, not so much "save," as "don't let him die alone."
    • There's a similar situation in Advent Children.
  • Deconstructed twice over in Steven Universe fangame Flawed Crystals.
    • Steven's attempt to argue for this in the opening is utterly rejected by the gems, leading to strife and divisions before they ultimately decide his naivete makes him too much of a liability to take with them.
    • The knowledge that Rose really shattered Pink Diamond, the final nail in the coffin against the possibility she could be saved, drove Steven into a Freak Out that led him to use Rose's room to create a wish-fulfillment fantasy where he could save everyone: the canon ending. The final arc of the game explains why this desire was selfish: He valued saving the diamonds more than he valued justice for their victims. When dealing with villains as evil as the diamonds, attempting to save them will only create more harm; there comes a point where you have to be willing to pull the trigger.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko is ordered by Vlad to kill Ivan. After following him up the rooftops, Ivan will slip and barely hang on to the edge. The player may choose to invoke this trope and allow him to go into hiding, or let him fall and finish the job.
  • In one of Heavy Rain's possible finales, Jayden gets the opportunity to do this for Shelby, right down to the villain hanging off the edge of a tall building by his fingertips and continuing to attack the hero if he decides to save him.
  • More "Save the Hero Antagonist", but, in Immortal Souls, John saves Desmond from being killed by a booby-trapped artifact, even though Desmond's been trying to kill him up to that point and though it potentially endangers John's Love Interest. When Desmond asks why, John explains that not all vampires are bad, which causes Desmond to Heroic BSoD with a Jerkass Realization, and take off without so much as a thank you. Which John then complains about.
  • Justified in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep: Aqua saves the life of Master Xehanort. The thing is, Xehanort was possessing the body of her friend Terra, and letting Xehanort die would kill Terra as well. Aqua was out to save Terra from the beginning, so this (combined with the fact that Terra is Fighting from the Inside) was the logical choice. Unfortunately, this turns into a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!, as Terra can't break free, Xehanort's backup plan is in effect, and Aqua can't do anything to stop it.
    • In coded, Data-Riku saves Maleficent and Pete.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic you get a chance to either see a young Sith college entrant and already a major jerk being tortured to death or save him at the expense of being tortured yourself. Here we face the better version of the trope as he repays his debt to you straight away by freeing you from the torture and siding with you in a battling the torturer.
  • This happens in Last Scenario when Hilbert decides to save Big Bad Castor after the final boss fight of the game. He wouldn't have done it (he even says so) if he wasn't convinced by Ethan and Zawu.
  • In the Mass Effect series, a Paragon Shepard will attempt this several times before the final showdown with Saren in 1 and the Illusive Man in 3, before being forced to convince them they are heavily indoctrinated, which causes them to commit suicide. In the first game, a Renegade Shepard can also pull off this feat.
    • In the Citadel DLC, Paragon Shepard will attempt to Take My Hand of her/his evil clone.
  • Mega Man 10: After defeating him, Mega Man discovers that Dr. Wily has fallen dangerously ill and unhesitatingly decides to take him to a hospital to get treatment. It pays off, as Dr. Wily leaves behind a big stockpile of Roboenza antidotes when he makes his escape.
  • Ni no Kuni does this combined with a plan that's way complicated. The Great Sage Alicia (Allie), after finding out that her savior became The Dragon Shadar, decides that she'll go to an alternate timeline, absorb one of Shadar's souls, and become his mom. Said son then becomes the protagonist Oliver.
  • A variation occurs in SUDA 51's No More Heroes. In this case, our Anti-Hero, up-and-coming assassin Travis Touchdown, has already dealt a fatal wound to his opponent Destroyman by impaling him through the chest with his beam katana. Nevertheless, Destroyman begs Travis to help him. Travis, who has already fallen for Destroyman's tricks a couple of times before, rips the weapon violently out of his chest. As his final vindictive act, Destroyman whips around and opens fire on Travis with his nipple-mounted machine guns (yes, really); he suffers his Karmic Death immediately thereafter, however, as Travis simply cleaves Destroyman from crotch to skull while bullets whiz past on either side of him. The death is also subverted in that, for entirely unexplained reasons, each half of Destroyman was preserved and outfitted with a robotic other half, resulting in two Destroymen.
  • Persona 5: The heroes attempt to save The Heavy for the villains, "Black Mask" after the Shadows turn against him in the Big Bad's Mental World. Black Mask instead shoots out a bulkhead door, trapping him with the monsters so the heroes can escape.
    • In the Updated Re-release Persona 5 Royal, at the end after defeating the True Final Boss, a part of the platform under him collapses and Joker desperately grabs his hand to prevent him from falling to his death. Helicopter Morgana shortly arrives just in time to save them both.
  • Subverted in Primal after the defeat of Iblis.
    Iblis: Please, help me.
    Jen: Well, my head says no, but my heart... says also no! Sorry, buddy, but this is not your day.
    • It ends up a bit different, though.
  • Shantae: Shantae has saved Risky Boots twice.
    • In Pirate's Curse, the Pirate Master forces Shantae into a Sadistic Choice, either give up the Dark Magic she has been collecting, which he will then use to destroy her, or he kills Risky. Despite the fact the Risky has been nothing but trouble to her and is the reason she lost her magic in the first place, Shantae chooses to save Risky.
    • In Seven Sirens, despite Risky announcing her intent to destroy Arena Town and everyone on it, Shantae saved her anyways after she was backstabbed by the Siren Empress, much to Sky's chagrin.
  • In Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Le Paradox get's knocked over the edge of his blimp when fighting Sly and is holding on for dear life. He asks Sly to help him to which he responds "Why should I?". He then says "I do not wish to die!" Sly decides to help him thinking he'll be sent to jail all secure when he tricks him by stealing his parachute, shoving him away, and flying off only to get knocked down by an airplane into the water and arrested by Interpol.
  • In Sonic Generations, right after Classic Sonic defeats the Death Egg Robot, a time portal opens up behind the Death Egg Robot and starts pulling it in with Dr. Eggman still inside. Eggman immediately begs for Sonic to save him, and Sonic makes an attempt but is too late, backing out before he gets sucked in too. This was part of Eggman's plan from the start—or rather, Modern Eggman's plan with Classic Eggman in the know, getting taken into the portal on purpose so the two could join up in person.
  • StarCraft II is broken into three main campaigns (and an unrelated DLC campaign focusing on Nova). The main goal of Jim Raynor in Wings of Liberty (the first campaign) is to somehow rescue Sarah Kerrigan aka "The Queen of Blades", who, at this point, has been on a planet-destroying spree causing the deaths of billions (although this isn't entirely her fault as most of her actions are being controlled by Amon. Jim succeeds, and in the final mission of Legacy of the Void, Kerrigan becomes a Xel'naga and destroys Amon, effectively saving the entirety of the universe from absolute destruction.
  • Time Hollow. It fails, and the villain's hand slips out of our protagonist's and he falls down a cliff. However, he survives and comes back to try and kill the protagonist and his parents later - he only manages to stab Kori.
  • Undertale features this during the True Ending. After Flowey absorbs the souls of all the monsters in the underground and reveals his true identity as Asriel Dreemurr, the player eventually manages to get the souls of all of their friends to come to their senses from within Asriel, only to realize that there's still one last soul that needs saving: Asriel himself.
  • In the ending of Zone of the Enders, Leo and Aida consider rescuing Viola, only for Viola to interrupt, saying that rescuing her would be adding insult to injury.

    Web Animation 
  • DC Super Hero Girls:
    • In the Hits and Myths trade paperback when the "Birds of Prey,"—here a band made of Black Canary, Black Condor and Magpie—steal the Batplane, but run out of fuel in mid-air and are about to crash-land onto the farm of Ma and Pa Kent.
    • In Intergalactic Games Wonder Woman saves Lena Luthor from a fiery Disney Death. She doesn't appreciate it, though.
  • Elements of Justice: The defendant of a murder case Coco Pommel regains her memory and realizes that another suspected witness, Suri Polomare, cannot have committed the murder, so she interrupts the final verdict to testify in Suri's favor. Defense attorney Phoenix Wright (along with everyone else in the courtroom) is shocked, but ultimately decides to defend both.
  • Turnabout Storm: The antagonist confesses to the crime, creating a straightforward road for Phoenix to get a Not Guilty verdict. But he feels something's not right about the confession, and following his Crusading Lawyer ideals, he stops the Not Guilty verdict in order to further question her and uncover the truth: That she is also completely innocent of the murder.

  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Seen in strip #68. Elan has some internal conflict about saving his evil twin, Nale, but ultimately does it because, as he says in the next strip, "I'm the Good twin, not the Neutral twin."
    • Subverted much later, in a Call-Back to the above scene, when his father invokes this trope to get his son to pull him up. Elan explains quickly that he has several Genre Savvy reasons why he isn't going to this time: he cites his previous explanation but notes that he isn't a "twin" anymore (since Tarquin had just murdered Nale), his dad isn't even the real main villain (so the trope isn't required by narrative convention), and Elan knows that his dad is strong enough to survive the fall anyway.
  • Girl Genius: Gil saves Zola from Tarvek mostly on impulse, walking into a room and seeing someone he doesn't trust beating an old friend to death was a bit much for him even though he knew she was incredibly dangerous. Zola comes back to be a major thorn in Gil's side as the Queen of Dawn.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Subverted humorously (via Imagine Spot) in this strip.
    • Played straight later when Elliot hesitatingly defends Jerk Jock and school bully Tony from a supernatural attacker despite a great deal of animosity between them.
  • Lampshaded in Digger, during the troll bridge story, when Digger saves the at-the-time antagonistic Grim Eyes from falling off said bridge.
    Digger: Now, I could probably work up a good explanation for why I caught the hyena, who had, after all, been trying to kill me for a while now. I could tell you that I was hoping to earn her gratitude or point out that Surka was still attached to her ankle. These are all good and valid reasons. The fact is, though, that when people fall off cliffs, you grab for them. It's just a reflex.
  • Utterly subverted in Sam & Fuzzy, when Mr. Blank ends up dangling from the edge of a skyscraper after a last-ditch attempt to kill Sam, and states openly that he knows that Sam hasn't got it in him to let him fall to his death. Sam replies that he is utterly correct... And then stands aside and lets Fuzzy punt him off instead, stating that "but I bet he's ok with it".
  • In Everyday Heroes, Mr. Mighty has to stop Jane from caving in her former boss' skull with a hammer.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, Bob has shown kindness to Dean Martin (who grew Golly in his lab), Golly herself, and Big Bad Fructose Riboflavin.
    • Very nearly killed himself saving Slick Simmons's life, after the latter had spent half the story arc trying to kill him.
  • In Kevin & Kell, Rudy tricks the bacteria possessing his long-time nemesis Vin into entering his body (he had mouthwash on hand to kill them when they entered his mouth), and shortly afterward helps Vin fake his death and enter The Wild for good.
  • Misho saves Nova in Keychain of Creation here.
    • Turns out that she wasn't really in danger and she's not really all that much of a villain. It didn't have to come to a fight, anyway. Both parties sort of did that to themselves.
  • In Waterworks, the protagonist, in a fit of rage, almost throws Jose down from a railing, but she has a change of heart at the last moment and saves him. (And at that moment Jose's partner, who has just arrived to save him, kicks her away.)
  • Done in The Young Protectors during Kyle's date with Duncan - better known as "The Annihilator". The two are attacked during a lunch date in Hong Kong by two vigilante heroes targeting the Annihilator, and Kyle winds up beating the crap out of one of them after said vigilante causes plenty of destruction to civilian property and recklessly endangers said civilians in his pursuit of Anni.
  • In Guilded Age, when the Peacemakers find two of the World's Rebellion's champions fighting the beast the cultists let into the world, they soon decide that not only is it too dangerous to let the monster get stronger by consuming more people, they can't stand by and let these people die like that.

    Web Original 
  • The Evil Overlord List states that a villain should be grateful if the hero saves his life and should the hero fall into his power, the Evil Overlord should make it clear that he will square the debt by sparing the hero just this once, a life for a life. This not only encourages heroes to save his life but also prevents the Evil Overlord from being bound by a perpetual oath not to harm the hero.
  • This Tumblr post. Lex Luthor dresses as Superman at a Halloween party as a joke, then gets drunk and tries to fly by jumping off the roof. Guess who saves him?
  • In RWBY, Ghira jumps under a collapsing balcony to keep it from falling on Ilia; this becomes a Karmic Death for Fennec when he tries to take advantage, only for Blake to pull Ghira out, killing Fennec.

    Western Animation 
  • In American Dragon: Jake Long episode "The Ski Trip", Jake learns that Rose, his love interest, and Huntsgirl, his arch-enemy, are one and the same. As such, when Huntsgirl gets caught in an avalanche, Jake swoops in to save her, much to her confusion.
  • This was something of a hallmark of early Superman cartoons. The 1941 shorts "The Mad Scientist" and "Mechanical Monsters" each end with Superman grabbing Lois and the villain as the building blows up and leaping to safety.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • In "Day of the Samurai", Batman's second encounter with a villainous ninja, Kyodai Ken, ends with the ninja stranded on a rock in the middle of a lava flow. Despite all that has passed between them, Batman throws a line and offers to try and pull him to safety. The rescue is refused, and the ninja presumably dies seconds later.
    • In "The Underdwellers", Batman saves a villain called the Sewer King from being hit by a subway train. When the astonished villain asks why, Batman responds that he leaves judgment and execution to the courts. Batman is still sorely tempted to make an exception here, what with the nature of the otherwise silly-looking villain's crimes.
    • Another episode has Batman saving an unconscious Joker from an exploding building - probably unnecessary, given Joker's history with big explosions.
    • In "Love Is a Croc", when other villain Killer Croc drops Baby Doll (already a sympathetic character, anyway, though still insane) over a poorly designed ledge in the nuclear power plant, Batman catches her. She then knocks out Croc with a chemical, saving Batman in return.
    • Lampshaded in "The Last Laugh", where The Joker is hanging over a pit of molten metal.
      Joker: Batman! You wouldn't let me fry, would you?
      Joker: BATMAN! (Batman pulls him up)
    • In "Heart of Ice", Batman thaws out a mook who accidentally got hit with Mr. Freeze's cold gun. Later, Batman stops Mr. Freeze from murdering Ferris Boyle, but out of disgust for Boyle's crimes, he gives the reporter Summer Gleason evidence of them and leaves without unfreezing him.
  • Blaze and the Monster Machines had several situations where Blaze had to rescue Crusher.
  • An interesting subversion happens during the three-part "World's Finest" episodes in Superman: The Animated Series. The Joker has just accidentally set the huge flying wing he, Harley Quinn, Batman, and Lex Luthor are all on board to exploding; Superman turns up, Batman tells Superman to get Luthor, he's got Quinn... exeunt omnes through Superman's entrance hole... without making even the slightest effort to save The Joker, who's on the far side of what's functionally a minefield. Granted, it did give us the immortal lines after the plane had gone up in a fireball the size of a small city:
    Harley Quinn: PUDDIN'!
    Batman: At this point, he probably is.
  • A variation happens between Superman and Lobo in the Superman: The Animated Series episode "The Main Man". Lobo was in no danger of dying, but he had been captured by the Preserver along with Superman, and couldn't escape his cell on his own. Superman offered to help, so long as he promised never to bother the Earth again. Once Lobo agreed and told him that "the Main Man's word is as good as gold", Superman broke him out.
  • Justice League:
    • In the episode "Twilight", this is averted by Superman of all people. When Darkseid tells the League that Brainiac is trying to assimilate Apokolips, Superman refuses to help and the rest of the League has to convince him otherwise. After Darkseid's inevitable betrayal, Superman actually hunts him down to personally kill him, and is only prevented by Batman because the entire base was about to explode. That said, it does work in that they leave the tyrant to die in the explosion and it sticks — Darkseid remains dead all the way to the finale of Unlimited four seasons later.
    • Also subverted in the earlier episode "The Enemy Below." Orm ends up dangling off a ledge over a high drop, screaming for help, after trying to kill both his brother Aquaman and his infant son as well as untold numbers of people by melting the polar ice caps. Aquaman reaches down...and grabs his nearby trident instead, while Orm falls to his death.
      Aquaman: I believe this is mine.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Prince Zuko, an Anti-Villain, is fighting Admiral Zhao, a full-fledged villain, when the latter is suddenly seized by the Ocean Spirit. Even though Zuko hates Zhao's guts, he yells, "Take My Hand," because he's just honorable like that. Zhao refuses Zuko's help and suffers a Karmic Death. It isn't until the next series that we discover he suffered a Fate Worse than Death instead.
    • Naturally, Aang, the hero, has saved Prince Zuko on a number of occasions, including in the unaired pilot. His friends don't always approve.
      Aang: Wait — we can't just leave him here.
      Sokka: Sure we can...
    • Even MOMO saves enemies which wanted to eat him five minutes earlier.
  • Garfield and Friends: Garfield gets sent to Stonewall Obedience School in "School Daze" under the supervision of a totalitarian coach who was kicked out of the Marines for unnecessary roughness. After barely escaping her and being forced into an obstacle course, Garfield spares her from getting mauled by her own dogs.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Good-naturedly mocked. Korra and Mako just happen to come across the imprisoned Tarrlok while staking out Amon's headquarters. Tarrlok sarcastically quips, "I don't suppose you're here to rescue me?" They weren't the least bit interested in doing so. Korra does honestly consider freeing him, but Tarrlok warns her not to do so, in order to ensure that no one would know they had spoken.
    • In the climactic moment of the Grand Finale of the fourth season, it's played perfectly straight. Kuvira looks up to see her own overloading spirit energy supercannon about to blast her. Instead of letting her be hit, Korra leaps right in front of her and uses energybending to deflect the beam and ensuing superpowered explosion.
  • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop: In the episode "North Pole Peril", Penelope rescues the Hooded Claw after a yeti throws him off a cliff. Naturally, she regrets it later.
  • Audience-based subversion: There was once an Action Man advert where Dr. X was hanging off the edge of a building, about to fall to his death, and viewers voted whether Action Man should save him or not. They voted no, and Dr. X fell to his death.
  • Occasionally lampshaded on Captain Planet and the Planeteers:
    Dr. Blight: You've got to save me, Planet! It's in your hero's manual!
    Captain Planet: For once, she's right.
  • An episode of ReBoot had both Bob and Megabyte both fighting for survival in a glitched-up Game, which culminated in Megabyte being trapped by the User's character. Bob saves him, and later in the episode, successfully resolves a standoff by reminding Megabyte that he owes him. The indisputable highlight, though, is the way Megabyte finally asks for help...
  • In one episode of the X-Men animated series, Juggernaut starts an all-out attack on Xavier's mansion, but is stopped when somebody else steals his powers. Cain Marko then starts to die, requiring the X-Men to find the Ruby of Cyttorak to restore his power and save his life. They do, and Juggernaut repays them by stopping the attack and leaving.
    Cyclops: We're going to save the Juggernaut's sorry life. And don't bother telling me you don't like it.
    Wolverine: I don't like it.
  • The Super Mario Bros Super Show! features a subversion in its Christmas Episode. Bowser, who has taken Santa Claus captive at this point and is threatening to throw him into the icy water below, stupidly causes an avalanche. Mario uses his plumbers' snake to rescue St. Nick, but instead of doing the same for the Koopa King, he gestures to the reptile that he'll just have to jump into the water himself (which he surprisingly survives).
  • Kim Possible:
    • Lampshaded a bit in this exchange from "Gorilla Fist.":
      Ron: So you want to tell me again exactly why we're going back?
      Kim: 'Cause it is the right thing to do.
      Sensei: (wisely) A weed that never grows does not need to be cut down.
      Ron: Hmm, yeah, that's a good gardening tip. So why are we doing this again?
      Yori: What Sensei is saying is that even though Monkey Fist is bad, he has not done us wrong this day. It is our honor to save him.
      Ron: Oh, we're rescuing the bad guy!
      Kim: Yeah, but it sounds better the way he says it.
    • "Rewriting History" has Kim get Drakken and Shego away from an invention that would have probably killed them, with Drakken then saying "We never speak of this again!" She also dives in and saves Drakken from drowning in "Cap'n Drakken", proving she's that big a damn hero once and for all.
    • Averted when a crook robs the Senor Seniors. Rather than ignore their efforts against the con artist to regain what is rightfully theirs, Kim tries to capture them. Technically, she was trying to save the crook from Senior's revenge, so she did save a villain, just not the ones who for all intents and purposes had built their wealth legitimately and treat villainy as a hobby.
  • Aladdin: The Series:
    • In the episode "Black Sand", Aladdin tries to save Mozenrath from falling off the palace into his black sand trap. Obviously, Mozenrath attempts to pull Aladdin down with him but ends up falling into his own black sand.
    • In the episode "The Hunted," Genie has to save Mukhtar, a Genie Hunter, from a man-eating Venus flytrap in Mozenrath's citadel. He then says "Saving people we might not like. It's a good guy thing!" Afterwards, Mukhtar seems to be an Ungrateful Bastard and betray Genie to Mozenrath, but he lies to Mozenrath and tells him that Aladdin and his other hostages are dead, but lets them go once he leaves the palace, his way of repaying a debt in his eyes; and even yet, after reflecting on what Genie did for him for a while, comes back and helps save Genie and defeat Mozenrath.
    • In "The Vapor Chase" after Abis Mal tricks Jasmine into buying magic powder that he (disguised as a merchant) claimed to be a more efficient alternative to firewood but really released smoke demons to steal valuables for him when burned, Jasmine gets so angry that she was taken advantage of that Aladdin has to get Genie to stop her giving Abis Mal a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • On Phineas and Ferb, Perry the Platypus occasionally does this for Dr. Doofensmirtz, even though the doctor routinely manages to survive huge explosions and worse. In the episode "The Magnificent Few", Perry saves Dr. Doofenshmirtz from his exploding evil lair.
  • In an episode of Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes, Mr. Fantastic briefly considers leaving Mole Man to be eaten by the monsters he was trying to control, before concluding "I think they'd take away our superhero licenses".
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man:
    • In an episode Spidey finds himself saving Tombstone from the Green Goblin. He seriously resents this. Though to be fair, you could argue that he was more rescuing all the innocent people at Tombstone's party.
    • In "Shear Strength," Spidey has taken serious physical damage (including a Shout-Out to his famous "lifting a bridge" scene) and is about to escape with Gwen from the self-destructing villain lair...when Gwen points out that some members of the Sinister Six are unconscious in the rubble. After a brief "seriously?!" moment, he manages to swing over, drag them back to the submarine and then collapse into his seat, so drained that Gwen has to pilot them to safety.
  • In an episode of Spider-Man: The Animated Series SM rescues Jameson from the Scorpion (who, by the way, was created by Jameson to hunt down Spidey). Naturally, That Doesn't Change Anything, and SM later ruminates in amusement that "It's like Sherlock Holmes rescuing Moriarty".
    • In the 80s show, Jameson is in trouble at one point and begs Spider-Man to save him, promising to stop printing bad things about him. After he's rescued, he immediately tells Spider-Man that he was lying and gloats about it. Spider-Man says that he wasn't fooled. If Jameson had kept his promise, then he'd be surprised.
    • Back into Spider-Man: The Animated Series, the trope was occasionally subverted. Peter Parker (he didn't have time to change clothes) once saved Wilson Fisk from the Hobgoblin but Spidey didn't know back then Fisk was the Kingpin. In a later episode, he saved an old man he'd later learn was the mob boss Silvermane. Spidey even commented he'd give him back to Doctor Octopus if he knew the truth back then (considering how Spidey learned Silvermane's identity, who can blame him?). He once knowingly saved the Scorpion from danger, playing this trope straight, but he made it clear to Black Cat (and the viewers) he's only doing it because it was Spidey's own fault the Scorpion was in that danger in the first place.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog rescues his callous, mean and generally Jerkass owner Eustace on a regular basis. To his credit, he does this most reluctantly and only so as not to upset Eustace's cute and caring wife Muriel whom Courage adores. Every plunge into the maw of death to retrieve the Ungrateful Bastard is preacted with a mournful lament: "Things I do for love!"
  • In the fifth season of Samurai Jack, the titular character ends up trapped in the belly of a beast along with Ashi, the remaining member of the Daughters of Aku. He saves Ashi by tying her up in chains and carrying her on his back as they escape. This escalates into a Fire-Forged Friendship between the two.
  • In Moral Orel, Orel (reluctantly) shoots a bear in order to rescue Clay. This was after the latter had shot Orel in the leg and showed no remorse for it. Clay then asks Orel if he shot the bear, but Orel lies to Clay that he shot the bear to remove his satisfaction.
  • He-Man saves Skeletor's life a lot of times (or his henchmen and other villains) in both the 1983 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and the 2002 reboot. He even lampshades this once in one episode of the remake, saying, "I'm probably going to regret this later..." before he rescues Evil-Lyn (and he does). Still, what Skeletor was about to do to her was beyond cruel (he was going to offer her body and soul to an Eldritch Abomination) so you can't blame him.
    • Several episodes in the original series show that He-Man's willingness to save "the villain" terrifies Skeletor, which is why he gives up on his plans so quickly and runs away after He-Man saves him near the end of the episode.
  • In one of the final episodes of Storm Hawks, Stork attempts to save Repton from falling to his death. He fails.
  • In Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-Lot, the Care Bears are usually willing to do this for Grizzle.
  • The Smurfs end up doing this to Gargamel on various occasions, one reluctantly being when Gargamel accidentally turned himself into a statue while the Smurfs rejoice afterward, Papa Smurf being the exception.
  • Jake and/or the members of his team on Jake and the Never Land Pirates always offer this to Captain Hook when he inevitably gets into a sticky situation. Hook, however, always refuses, claiming that he doesn't need help. Jake and the others don't try to press the issue.
  • Subverted by Posey in Mission Hill when she's threatened by a pimp for taking away with her (unfortunately printed) "healthful release" massage. When he pulls his back out of place she uses her massage techniques to fix him, then pushes him off the building.
    Posey: I didn't want him to fall off the roof and not feel it.
  • Kong: The Animated Series:
    • Jason and the others save De La Porta a few times, and at one point he returns the favor, if only to make them even.
    • One episode also has Kong face an Evil Twin of himself who ultimately falls off a cliff only for Kong to save him. It turns out the battle is a Secret Test of Character and saving even his evil self is what it takes to pass.
  • The Transformers: In the season 2 episode "Masquerade", the Stunticon Breakdown catches fire when the Autobots are in the process of capturing him and Wild Rider. Inferno puts the fire out, but not before quipping:
    Inferno: I'll probably hate myself in the morning, but...
  • Transformers: Prime:
    • Subverted when both Bots and Cons get caught in a cave-in, the Autobots consider rescuing them. They choose not to, reasoning that not killing them in cold blood is good enough.
    • Played much straighter in "Operation: Breakdown." When the human terrorists MECH get their hands on Breakdown and start dissecting him, Optimus insists on a rescue mission, if only to keep MECH from acquiring dangerous tech. Bulkhead is initially reluctant to help his rival, but Miko convinces him to do it so he can beat Breakdown fair and square later.
  • In Transformers: Cyberverse, Starscream overruns the Nemesis with scraplets and has the Decepticons at his mercy, Megatron sends out a distress signal to the Autobots. While his subordinates are willing to leave the Decepticons to their fate, Optimus predictably assembles a strike force to save them.
  • Played in Hurricanes. Toro faced his fear of snakes to save Melinda Garkos.
  • In Young Justice, Superman tries to save Kroleteans about to be destroyed by a bomb hidden in their volcano base. They don't believe him and keep attacking, so he fails.
  • In The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes!, Captain America nearly sacrifices himself to save Madame Viper from the Super Skrull. When Henry Gyrich asks what he's doing, Mockingbird responds with "He's being Captain America!" Viper returns the favor by helping the Invisible Woman save Cap, though she's back to being a bonafide villain after the Skrull invasion is foiled.
  • Mike tries this toward "Red" in Motorcity, who refuses his help. Turns out he's still alive.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine saves Diesel from rolling off an unfinished bridge in Misty Island Rescue.
  • Ben 10: Alien Force:
    • Ben saves the Highbreed from extinction by changing their DNA with the Omnitrix.
    • Gwen and Kevin save Kraab from his exploding ship. Ben saves Albedo from Vilgax's sinking ship in the same episode.
    • Averted in one episode. When Kevin foils Ragnarok's plan to harvest the Sun's energy to sell on the alien market, he is left dangling from a platform and risks falling into the sun, and begs Kevin to save him, saying it's what his father would have done. Kevin acknowlegdes this. However, as said father was killed by Ragnarok, Kevin's not in the mood to save him, and lets him fall to his death.
  • In the Wacky Races episode "The Super Silly Swamp Sprint," Peter Perfect pulls Dick Dastardly and Muttley out of an alligator-filled swamp. The result of which puts the Mean Machine in first place.
  • In the Adventure Time episode "Fire and Ice", Finn rescues Ice King after Flame Princess almost kills him and leaves the Ice Kingdom falling down around him. Mostly because it was Finn's fault she was doing this.
  • One episode of Codename: Kids Next Door has the Delightful Children from Down the Lane beg Sector V for help lest they suffer the wrath of Father. Father had left the mansion in their care briefly to go get a spa treatment, and the DCFDTL attempted to take advantage of the situation to kiss up to the teenagers — only for them to accidentally start a TV-Y7 version of a Wild Teen Party. Since they are kids in distress, Sector V is honor-bound to help them in getting rid of the unwanted guests before Father returns. Once Father does come back, the entire mansion blows up from mashed potatoes, and the DCFDTL throw them under the bus by pointing fingers at Sector V.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: In "Get Back Jojo", Mojo uses a time portal created by the Professor to go back in time to Ret-Gone the Girls. The Girls follow him back in time and kick him into the volcano where he would later build his observatory. However, they realize they can't leave him like this and save him just as the Professor uses a claw to pull both the Girls and Mojo back to the present.
  • Happens twice in Tiny Toon Adventures with Montana Max, both examples involving a giant robot he uses to try to attack the protagonists but instead attacks him. Both examples also have a case of Laser-Guided Karma for Monty anyway at the end.
    • In the short, "Rent-A-Friend" from the episode, "Rainy Daze", Montana Max uses the Acme Bunny Basher robot to try to attack Buster, who is his rent-a-friend for the afternoon. Buster hides his ears and puts fake rabbit ears on Monty to trick the robot, who at this point, tries to drop Monty from the top of his mansion. Buster powers down the robot by taking a Durasmell Battery out of the robot's Achilles' Heel. The robot drops Monty anyway, but Buster saves Monty by calling the Acme Rescue Team, which cost $200,000, which he charged to Monty's account.
    • In the short, "C.L.I.D.E. and Prejudice" from the episode, "Elephant Issues", Monty orders an attack robot called S.N.I.D.E. note  to attack C.L.I.D.E. note . Specifically, programming S.N.I.D.E. to "Attack Nearest Geek". As a result, S.N.I.D.E. tries to attack Monty. C.L.I.D.E. transforms into a race car to catch up to them, then to an airplane to catch Monty and get him away from S.N.I.D.E.. Monty thanks C.L.I.D.E. for saving him, and tells him that he was wrong to judge him based on his looks, but C.L.I.D.E., aware of Monty's plan to destroy him, transforms into an anvil to flatten him.
  • One interesting variation of the theme happened on Jem, where a plane carrying both the Holograms and the Misfits crashed in the ocean several hundred feet from the shore of an island, and Jem had to rescue Stormer - who couldn't swim - from drowning. It wasn't that Stormer was ungrateful (indeed, probably the only member of the Misfits who would be) but the problem was, the water briefly interfered with Synergy's signal, and Stormer thought Jerrica had saved her. Big problem. With the whole cast now marooned on an island and several of them who didn't know about her dual identity thinking she was alive and missing, suffice to say it caused problems.
  • Steven Universe: Pearl attempts to save an unconscious Jasper from falling through a fissure in "Super Watermelon Island", but doesn't make it in time.
  • The Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa episode "Boom Town or Bust" has the C.O.W.-Boys having to save the corrupt Mayor Bulloney as well as his goons Saddle Sore and Boothill Buzzard from an incoming flood due to Saddle Sore and Boothill Buzzard having difficulty in getting Mayor Bulloney to leave behind the money he's made from selling overpriced mining equipment during the gold rush.
  • In the Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends pilot movie Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Kids, Spiderus tries to smoosh Holley and ends up taking a nasty fall for it. Miss Spider immediately declares that they have to help him.
  • In the Shazam episode "The Great Circus Plot", Captain Marvel saves Dr. Sivana and Mr. Mind when their ship is about to crash, much to Sivana's dismay.
  • Super Dinosaur: While infiltrating the Lair Leviathan with Derek and SD after Minimus' takeover, Squidious gets stung by several DynOre-mutated security jellyfish that render him unconscious... but SD swims in and saves him from falling.

    Real Life 
  • Many first world countries such as the USA teach their soldiers that saving enemy combatants from life-threatening injuries is the moral thing to do as long as it doesn't unnecessarily endanger allied combatants. Often, though, the injured will be captured and made a POW for a wide variety of pragmatic reasons including not wanting to risk them being an Ungrateful Bastard and jumping back into the fight later on down the road. POW's are also supposed to be treated humanely no matter how cruel or malicious they were before their capture. A driving reason behind this is to encourage enemy surrender which in turn saves lives on both ends: if the enemy knows they will be treated humanely as a prisoner they are far less likely to fight to the death or attempt to take the allied combatants with them.
  • Due to their Hippocratic Oath, doctors, surgeons, and all other medical personnel are obliged to treat to the best of their ability any patient brought to them, even if they're a criminal injured in the commission of a violent crime like a murder, bombing, or mass shooting.
  • Law enforcement officials such as police and security guards are bound by the duty to rescue, which means they must give it their all to save any person in danger (with the obvious exception of those sentenced to death by the courts), even if said person is a known criminal, up to and including one as bad as a rapist or murderer.


Video Example(s):


Let's End This Farcical Battle

Encountering two members of Team Rocket, Red informs Scyther about the large divide there is in the Pokemon World because there are no jobs or schools that teach things that have nothing to do with Pokemon.

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