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

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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.

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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.

Subtrope of Save the Jerk.


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    Asian Animation 
  • The goats in Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf will occasionally save the wolves even though they try to eat them. This usually results in the wolves trying to capture the goats anyway.

    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.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Demon Awakens, Thomas proves that he has conquered his inner demon by standing between a vengeful Henry and the trucks that caused Emily's accident, protecting them from the bigger engine's wrath.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kingdom Hearts: The Antipode: Prior to the climax of The Year Between, a wounded Aqua saves Xemnas's life. Justified due to her seeing a glimmer of Terra within 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 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Discord directly invokes this trope in A Hollow in Equestria when Twilight is veering dangerously close towards Despair Event Horizon territory as the belief Ulquiorra has rendered her and her friends obsolete.
    Discord: "Yes, Ulquiorra could potentially save many lives by killing a threat and being done with them. But you and your friends have the potential to save many more lives than he ever could, because you can actually reach the heart of a villain and make them turn away from their wicked ways. Just like you did with Luna when she was possessed by evil and her own hatred. Just like you did with me."
  • In All Mixed Up!, Oprah decides to resurrect Mariana Mag and turn her back to normal from her personalized anagrammed object form — a small maroon rug with designs of four figs and a design of a pitcher of lemonade on it — after her defeat at the hands of Otto, instead of simply destroying her Anagram-inator and leaving her in that form forever. Oprah's reasoning for this is due to a Heel Realization that she was in the wrong and Mariana, known as Maggie following her resurrection, was in the right when Maggie was an agent of Odd Squad.

    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 in the novel.
    • 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 paw to Zira to pull her back up, but she swipes at her and falls to her death in the raging flood below.
    • 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.
  • Planet 51 has a climax where the Absolute Xenophobe of a General almost succumbs to the explosion he caused to try and kill Token Human Chuck, u til Chuck saves his life, because “We can’t just leave him here”. This causes the General to have a Heel–Face Turn and realise that Chuck is as friendly as his friends on the planet have been saying.
  • 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.
  • The Rugrats Movie: The Shadow of Scar Snout: Eliza sees Scar Snout fall off the bridge with Spike and wants to help Scar Snout as his possibly just unconscious body briefly floats in the water. But he goes over the waterfall before she can do anything; Eliza is told by Anura the frog that he couldn’t be saved either way.
  • PAW Patrol: The Movie sees Ryder having to rescue recurring villain Mayor Humdinger again...but this time, Ryder drops his professional front a little and lets him freefall down the elevator shaft (he's still okay when he hits the bottom). Ryder comments how satisfying it is to be able to do that after all the trouble he's caused throughout the series.
  • Spies in Disguise: In the climax, Walter and Killian are airborne by way of drone when the former finally cracks through the drone's software. Killian points out that activating the kill code would doom the both of them and Walter's not a killer. After a few moments of deliberation, Walter agrees, then slaps one of his inflatable hug devices onto Killian to ensure he'll survive, and hits the kill code as he enters a freefall.

    Literature 
  • 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.
    • The life debt Peter Pettigrew owes Harry thanks to Harry saving him from werewolf Lupin 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. One of the villains is trapped in a fire as a result of his own actions, and the hero is immediately moved to try and rescue him, just as he would have if it had been anyone else.
  • 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.
  • Bounders: During the Youli's attack on the Gulagan space dock in The Tundra Trials, Regis tries to cross a bridge that collapses, leaving him stranded on a support column. Jasper and Mira fly over with their blast packs to save him, spending precious seconds that cause them to miss the Space Elevator, meaning they're still on the space dock when the elevator shaft is destroyed.

    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.

    Theatre 
  • 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.)

    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.

    Webcomics 
  • 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.
  • 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.
    I will spare someone who saved my life sometime in the past. This is only reasonable as it encourages others to do so. However, the offer is good one time only. If they want me to spare them again, they'd better save my life again.
  • 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.

    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.

 
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Woody and Buzz save Lotso

Woody and Buzz save Lotso from a shredder without hesitation, even though it was Lotso's fault in the first place that any of them were in a life-threatening situation. Unfortunately, Lotso wouldn't return the favor soon after.

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Main / SaveTheVillain

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