In fiction, most villains are used to dealing with the Damsel in Distress. They scream, they're easily subdued by grasping their Standard Female Grab Area, they're generally easy to dominate. This can get rather dull if it goes on for long enough.
As a result, the villain tends to be pleasantly surprised when he captures an Action Girl and she puts up a fight. Oh, he'll still hold her hostage. He'll still kill her when the time comes. But when she spits in his face, kicks him in the crotch, and insults him with a witty rejoinder, he can't help but shake his head (perhaps smirking as he does so) and say, "I'll give you this. You got spunk."
That last word tends to vary, since "spunk" is nowadays used as slang for... a certain substance, and unless the line is a build-up for a cheesy joke ("And you're about to have even more in you! Hoy-oh!") the double-meaning is just distracting. "Moxie" is a good substitute, as are "fight" and "spirit". This is meant to be a compliment, because hey, we all "love a woman with spirit," but it usually comes off as a condescending Stock Phrase.
This is no longer strictly a man-to-woman trope. Man-to-man examples are not uncommon, where they can either be examples of Ho Yay or genuine respect. It has a much darker and creepier connotation when used in the middle of a rape scene. It may also be used in less extreme situations by someone who's not a villain, merely a Grumpy Bear, in which case they'll make it a backhanded compliment by adding "I hate spunk." Not that real villains can't hate spunk, too.
For the non-rapey version, please see "I Love You Because I Can't Control You". "You got spunk" is more "I will love you because it is hard to control you", and unsurprisingly, has the less pleasant implications. Compare Will Not Be A Victim (for the Action Girl's perspective) and I Have You Now, My Pretty (for the villain's perspective). Compare Amazon Chaser for when "spunk" is an attractive quality in a girlfriend. Also compare Defiant Captive. Contrast No Guy Wants an Amazon and No Guy Wants to Be Chased for when it is a deterrent. When meant sincerely and in non-rapey terms, it overlaps with Sympathy for the Hero. See also You Got Guts.
- Shikamaru in Naruto when commenting on Temari: "I forgot: this girl is a spunky one. I hate spunky."
- Higurashi: When They Cry:
- Shmion to Rika: "Oh you still got some strength left? Well, it would be no fun if you didn't!"
- Oryou also has this view of Keiichi when he threatens her.
- At some point late in the Gravitation manga, Mr. K says to Yaoi Fangirl Rage as they have each other at gunpoint: "Heh. I like your spirit... spattered across the pavement!" His wife stops him from hurting anybody by hurting him. She's that kind of woman.
- The Hentai series Spunky Knight manages to use both definitions of spunky for its main character.
- Ranma ½: Ranma and Akane already fights a lot for their first meeting. She asks female Ranma for a short sparring when she learns he's a martial artist too. Then she tries to crush him with a stone lantern when she first sees his male form in the bath. Then she knocks him out with a table when he comments that his female body looks better then Akane's. Finally she slaps him hard when he, as a naked female this time, enters the bathroom to see Akane's naked body again. Ranma's father says Akane has spunk.
- Yuureitou: Marube likes how Tetsuo tries to fight back against his seductions and he looks forward to break his will.
- Ho Yay example in chapter 46 of Seraph of the End. Ferid is delighted by how Yuu goes into demon mode on him. He later approaches Yuu and blushes saying "Wow! Haven't you grown into the cute one! Your demon is on the verge of rampage yet you still have such clear and beautiful eyes. No wonder you are the extra special guinea pig." He then lifts Yuu's face by his chin and gets close saying "Perhaps before I heal you I'll take a little sip of your blood." Yuu asks if there's something in it for him if he allows Ferid to suck his blood. Ferid says he got the curse suppresent from Guren and it's the same one he takes. Yuu then demands Ferid tells him everything he knows and tries to regain control of the situation by grabbing the hand Ferid has the cure in. Ferid smiles when Yuu fights back, covers Yuu's mouth with his hand, says "Oh, you are cute" and bites him while gripping his shoulder and hand. He then "cures" Yuu of his advancing demon curse while holding him close and leaning his head on Yuu's shoulder.
- In SD Gundam Force, One of the Lacroa Triplets tries to barter with Talgeese by threatening to destroy the MacGuffin if he doesn't stop his attack on the Gundam Force. Talgeese remarks, "You know what, kid? You've got spunk. And it just so happens that I absolutely loathe spunk!"
- When Rei first comes to Mamiya's village in Fist of the North Star, he witnesses the Fang clan of bandits executing a young boy from the village and Mamiya stoically overseeing the retrieval of the body. Rei remarks that he's impressed to see such a cold-hearted woman and that it is appropriate for her to be in charge of the village in such harsh times. Then he's told that the boy was actually her little brother and that she's really devastated. Seeing her tears reminds Rei of his own losses and restores his empathy for others, so then he becomes overly protective of her, insisting that she should re-embrace her womanhood.
- Old West: In both of his encounters with Grace Glossy, Henry exhibits lecherous liking of her partly due to her defiance. When he reveals her where Dufayel is keeping her son, he says that he's doing that because he has always liked her spunk.
Grace: I want you out.
Henry: Ooh, this one's got bite. I like her.
- In Disney's Hercules, a centaur tells a captured Megara, "I like 'em fiery."
- In The Jungle Book, Shere Khan says to Mowgli, "You have spirit for one so small."
- In Aladdin: The Return of Jafar, Jafar tells a captured Jasmine who's face he has grabbed: "Mmmm such spirit." In response Jasmine tries to bite him.
Jafar: Perhaps after a few days in chains, you'll be more kindly disposed toward me. Especially if you want your father to remain healthy!
- Disney's Tarzan 2 has Zugor parody the Trope Namer quote. "Kid, you got pluck. I hate pluck."
- The Dark Knight
- In Batman Begins, a young Bruce Wayne was told this by mob boss Falcone.
- Happens near the end of Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood; while trapped in an elevator with the Leprechaun the Final Girl smashes him with a dislodged light fixture and proceeds to electrocute him with one of the cables. Afterward the Leprechaun, pretty much unfazed, states "I like her" while she flees the scene.
- Though not specifically voiced, the villain in Live Free or Die Hard is obviously impressed by Lucy when she uses the phone call to her father to calmly inform him how many men he has left to kill.
- In Stuart Little 2:
Snowbell: (to Stuart) You've got guts, kid! Guts, and... and spunk! Not to mention moxy! You got guts, spunk and moxy!
- Ever After: Le Peu, as he tells Danielle more than once, likes a girl with spirit.
- In The Sting Kid Twist is interviewing people to be in on the con that they are pulling when the guy he talking to is one that he saw get beat up by a cop for keeping his mouth shut. Twist asks him if he got the banged-up nose from the cop, when he says yes, Twist says, "You got Moxie, Kid" and hires him.
- In The Shawshank Redemption , the leader of the "sisters" (homosexual prison gang) is encouraged by the spurn resistance of Andy Dufresne, the protagonist : "Hard to get, I like that"
- In Black Swan, this is the reason why Natalie Portman's character is given the lead role in Swan Lake.
- Played for laughs in Johnny Dangerously, where the eponymous character is humorously direct with it.
Lil: You realize your last name is an adverb?Johnny: You got spunk, kid, I like that. [points to her breasts] You've got those. I like those.
- In Thor: The Dark World, Jane walks up to Loki and flat-out slaps him. He smiles in response.
Jane: That was for New York.Loki: I like her.
- In the Walking with Dinosaurs film, Scowler says something like this during his argument with Patchi.
Scowler: You stole my herd, you stole my girl, and now you're gonna get it. You crossed the line.
Patchi: YOU crossed the line when you nearly got everyone killed!
Scowler: Tough words for a little guy. Let's see if you can back 'em up!
- The Hunger Games: When Katniss Everdeen was volunteering for her sister at the reaping, Haymitch announces drunkenly that he likes how she's got lots of spunk.
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Lex Luthor to Lois Lane.
Lex: Well, you're fiesty!... Unfortunately that will blow away... like sand in the desert.
- Hawk the Slayer. When a slaver backchats him, Voltan says he likes a man with spirit, then has his tongue cut out.
- The Assassins of Tamurin: Lale gets a response of this nature when someone tries to rob her at knife point. He's so amused, he practically jokes he would like to rape her after all, as she originally thought. The results are not pretty... for him.
- A minor Running Gag in Discworld involves generically villainous thugs claiming to like "a girl with spirit", with footnotes informing us that these men will very shortly prove to be mistaken.
- Happens in The Good Guy by Dean Koontz when the hitman, Krait, kidnaps Tim's mother, who spites him, hides her fear and despair as best she can, and generally does everything in her power to foil her captor's plan. Krait is very amused by this.
- The Darkest Powers trilogy
Liam: Don't worry. I forgive you for the leg. I like a little spirit in my fillies. Makes them more fun to break.
- A werewolf says this to Chloe when she asks about his leg, which she stabbed with a switchblade a few days earlier.
Liam: You do have spunk. We're gonna have fun, just as soon as I take care of your boyfriend.
- And reiterates, when she tries to block him from finding (and killing) her friend Derek, who is currently completely defenseless.
- Mariel of Redwall: The title character is cornered by three searats and kicks one in the throat, killing him. The others don't use the exact usual words of this trope, but they come close. "A warrior maid, eh?"
- In the second Percy Jackson and the Olympians book, Polyphemus says this to Clarisse, before trying to force her to marry him.
- Shards of Honor: Ges Vorryter mentioned that women with spirit (meaning Cordelia) should be more fun to break. Fortunately for her, he never got to test that.
- The goblin kings of the Hollow Kingdom Trilogy admire a kidnapped bride who utterly detests them and tries her best to escape, because it shows that she has the strength of spirit to carry a strong king for the next generation.
- In the first book, Kate manages to one-up them all by outwitting Marak repeatedly, agreeing to marry him on her own terms (a previously unheard-of occurrence), and then getting past the heavy enchantments to keep the King's Wife bound to the kingdom in the second half. Marak is of course delighted, and not just because she did the last to rescue him.
- Averted in Belisarius Series. Venandekatra the Vile was to cowardly to like spunk. He had no idea that Shakuntala would have killed him if he had been allowed to try to rape her.
- In Warrior Cats: Into The Wild, after Yellowfang insult's Firepaw's kittypet blood, Firepaw snaps at her and says that she just finds being helped humiliating, and calls her a spiteful old bone bag. Yellowfang chokes a bit, worrying Firepaw... but she was actually laughing and says she likes his bravery. Firepaw had no reply.
- The Hunger Games: When volunteering for her sister at the reaping, Haymitch announces drunkenly that he likes how Katniss has got lots of spunk.
- The most famous usage is arguably Ed Asner in the pilot for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, when his character, Lou Grant, gives Mary the aforementioned compliment, only to follow it up by saying, "I hate spunk." This exchange was also used when Asner appeared on The Colbert Report.
- Star Trek: Enterprise ("Borderland"). T'Pol and other crew members are captured by Orion slave traders, one of whom is played by enormous wrestler Paul "Big Show" Wight.
Orion Slaver: (with his hand around T'Pol's neck) You've got spirit. I might just keep you for myself.
(T'Pol delivers a well-aimed kick to a sensitive area)
T'Pol: I'm not for sale. (she's beamed away)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Ken: That... was not permitted.
Buffy: Yeah, but it was fun.
Ken: You've got guts. I'd like to slice you open and play with them.
Mayor: [to Giles] Oh, that's one spunky little girl you've raised. [beat] I'm gonna eat her.
Glory: (grinning) Ooh, I like her. She's sassy! (pauses, tone turns serious) And I'll kill her.
- Maggie Walsh's response to Buffy telling her off in "The Initiative" is "I like her".
- Similarly, the Mayor's assessment of Buffy, albeit made in the middle of his crashing Scoobie HQ and threatening everyone.
- Angel. Angelus re Winifred Burkle in "Calvary".
Angelus: Ooh, she really has put on spunk, hasn't she, Wes? Not the same, shy, bitchcow we pulled out of Pylea.Winifred: There's only one bitch here, and I'm looking at him.
- In an episode of Fawlty Towers, the incompetent builder O'Reilly speaks of Sybil Fawlty, "I love a woman with spirit! I do! I do!" She beats the shit out of him.
- Played straight by the script and yet subverted by the performance in Robin Hood: Kate has been captured (again) and is flailing about in front of Prince John who comments that she's "fiesty". However, Prince John was played by Toby Stephens, and therefore he comes across as bored rather than impressed at Kate's "spunk".
- Pushing Daisies: Aunt Lily absolutely abhors the shady and manipulative Dwight Dixon. Dixon, on the other hand, is fairly amused by her hostility and refers to her as "my spicy cocktail."
- The West Wing: Senator Lloyd Russell is attempting to soothe his just-fired adviser, Mandy Hampton. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it doesn't help:
Russell: Youll bounce back. Youve got spunk.
Mandy: I could kill you with my shoe!
- Dinosaur King: Dr. Z says this to the heroes Max and Rex after they wreck his Alpha Bots.
- Doctor Who:
Doctor: Don't mess with Egyptian queens, Solomon. I hope you've learned that now.
- Done without a great deal of subtlety in "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship". Solomon, who's already kicked about five dogs in the space of one episode, takes Queen Nefertiti of Egypt hostage (go with it) and mentions that he likes his "cargo" to have spirit. It makes breaking them that much more fun. Naturally, he pays for this.
- It was done earlier in a slightly less sinister way. When Nefertiti is arguing with Riddell, a big game hunter from the early 1900s (keep going with it.) Since he has time-appropriate views on gender, during an argument, he threatens to put her over his knee and spank her. When she retorts that she'll snap his neck if he tries, he responds, with a lot of admiration, that Ancient Egyptian women were firecrackers.
- Game of Thrones. Bronn condescendingly praises Tyene Sand with the words "You fight pretty good for a little girl", and is visibly amused by her enraged reaction, which forces the guards to keep the two apart when she tries to attack him again.
- Bandito leader Don Diego says that he admires Namoi's spirit after she slaps him in the face during his I Have You Now, My Pretty scene in the Frontier Circus episode "Naomi Champagne".
- Possibly Lampshaded in Team America: World Police, where, after Gary Johnston stands up to a terrorist, the terrorist responds, "I like you. You have balls. I like balls."
- Cave Johnson compliments Chell this way in Portal 2, saying that she has grit, but "[her] hustle could use some work, though."
- Volgin from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater says about the captured EVA: "She's got spunk."
- There's also a woman-to-man example in Metal Gear Solid 1 from Wolf to Snake:
Wolf: Would you like to die now? Or after your female friend?
Snake: (resisting) I'll die after I kill you.
Wolf: Is that right? At least you've got spirit.
- Kingdom Hearts II: "I tell ya, Kairi, you got a lot of guts jumping straight into the darkness like that."
- In Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, after Guybrush completes the three pirate newsmaking tasks, Davey Nipperkin becomes impressed and says:
Davey Nipperkin: You know, Threepwood, you've got spunk. Pirate spunk.
- Togainu no Chi: Shiki becomes interested in Akira when he doesn't run, scream, or beg for his life like other participants. On his route, this doesn't end well for Akira.
- Wing Commander III: At the end of a mission briefing, after Blair enthusistically says to consider an enemy transport convoy destroyed and leaves to go to his fighter, Captain Eisen comments to "Radio" Rollins "God I love that boy's spunk!" The sound clip is also used for the sound test, when configuring the original DOS version of the game for digital sound.
- In Lollipop Chainsaw, right before Juliet faces rock 'n' roll zombie Lewis Legend:
Lewis: Ah, cocky little whore. I like that.
- In Episode Three of the second season of The Walking Dead, Clementine can tell Carver that she wishes that Kenny had killed him in the previous episode. Carver responds with this trope, noting that in his eyes, her resourcefulness and ruthlessness makes her just like him.
- In one of their pre-battle banters from Mortal Kombat 11, Shao Kahn gives this "compliment" to Cassie Cage.
Shao Kahn: You will join my concubines.
Cassie: One: EWW! Two: PISS OFF!
Shao Kahn: I like females with fire.
- This episode of Concession.
- Though an outright example hasn't occurred in Girl Genius (yet) this fashion spread with accompanying speech bubbles shows that the Foglios are well aware of this trope and perfectly willing to inflict it on their paper dolls.
"AHAHAHAHAHA!! Oh, I do so love a defiant subject! What fun!"
- The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! Riboflavin says this to Molly when she threatens his BFG-toting mooks with her petite little claws.
- Joy To The World Joy herself is a spunky little girl who doesn't really conform to her role in life and is constantly fighting with everything taking no for an answer isn't always her thing
- Hudson, who was voiced by Asner, said the "I hate spunk" version once, as well. Asner said that while auditioning for the show, he knew he had the part as soon as he saw that the description included "Hates spunk."
- During a battle in Paris, Thailog grabs Angela by the back of her belt while commenting, "Well, aren't you spunky?"
- Darkwing Duck: Taurus Bulba mentions how full of "spirit" Gosalyn is both times he captures her.
- A bit of a running gag: In her first appearance in the pilot episode, Gosalyn chafes at being called a troublemaker: "I'm not a troublemaker, I'm just spirited!" Later when Darkwing saved her from Bulba's henchmen and brought her to his secret headquarters, he commented kindly on how "spirited" she was, which helped set up the father/daughter dynamic between the two of them.
- Negaduck does the same thing in the episode "Darkwing Doubloon", only to say "I hate that!" afterward (the second time, the Liquidator says it).
- Teen Titans: Adonis purrs at a pinned Raven, "You're feisty." She is not amused.
- Totally Spies! The video game-themed villain, Lady Dragon, says, "You girls have spunk. I hate spunk!"
- Codename: Kids Next Door:
- In the Mirror Universe episode "Operation: POOL", Negative Number 3 says this to Number 4 in her We Can Rule Together speech: "Listen up, shorty! I don't like you, but you've got spunk, so I'm gonna make you an offer you'd be stupid to refuse!"
- A similar offer for the same reason was made by Stickybeard towards Numbuh 5 the first time they met. Although she turned the offer down, he did seem to consider her a Worthy Opponent in future episodes.
- Lobo does this to Lois Lane in Superman: The Animated Series—since he's Nigh Invulnerable, he in fact encourages her to slap him. Superman obliges with a Megaton Punch on her behalf.
- In Disney's Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, a gangster mouse says this followed by "I hate spunk."
- The Batman, "Two of a Kind": The Joker brings Dr. Harleen "Harley" Quinzel back to his lair, were she proposes writing a tell-all book. He responds, "You've got moxy! I feed moxy to the hyenas." He sics the hyenas on her, only to have her yell "SIT!", causing them to... well, sit.
- On Batman: The Animated Series, the villain tells Zatanna, while holding her at knife point, "You are most engaging, my dear — beautiful, impetuous... I could be persuaded to spare you if properly implored..." CRUNCH Cut to Zatanna's heel crushing his foot.
- Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: When Captain Nemesis arrives to kidnap Julie, she (futilely) whacks him in the head with her tennis racket.
Captain Nemesis: That's good. Fight back. I like that.
- Angelica from Rugrats was told she had spunk from a mafia-esque restaurant owner.
Angelica: I got spunk? Is that good?
- Ed, Edd n Eddy: This is invoked by Eddy in the episode "They Call Him Mr. Ed" and by his brother in The Movie.
- One rhino in Babar had "You got spunk...I hate spunk!" as his Catch-Phrase.
- My Life as a Teenage Robot: In the episode "Puppet Bride" Little Acorn says about Jenny after falling in love with her and she attacks him "A women with spirit! I like that!"
- In The Legend of Korra episode "The Earth Queen," Korra and Asami find themselves surrounded by a gang of rough, muscular, tattooed bikers trying to steal a sack of gold they've been tasked with delivering to the queen. When they refuse to hand it over, the leader comments, "We love gals with spirit."
- Appears to be common for the dragon hunters of Dragons: Race to the Edge. When Ryker first meets Astrid in "Night of the Hunters," he tells her, "Oh, feisty one, aren't you? I like her spirit." One of the Mooks who kidnaps Ruffnut in "Edge of Disaster" also says, "Feisty, isn't she? I like it."