Follow TV Tropes


Punch Clock Villain / Live-Action Films

Go To

  • In The Aggression Scale, Lloyd's henchman are a bunch of blue-collar guys just doing a job. They are looking forward to killing the last of suspects and going back home to families.
  • In Apocalypse Now, Kurtz gets a monologue on the subject:
    "And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that these were not monsters. These were men... trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love... but they had the strength... the strength... to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling..."
  • Advertisement:
  • The Assistant: A major point of the film is that everyone in Jane's office, ultimately including Jane herself, is complicit in the actions of their predatory Bad Boss by doing nothing about it for the sake of their careers.
  • A couple of Regional Bonus scenes from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery show Dr. Evil's security mooks to be family men with normal social lives, and explore the tragic results of their death. These scenes appeared in North America as DVD Bonus Content.
  • Played straight and subverted in Akira Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well.
    • Played straight: Wada. He proposed the kickback scheme and was one of the men who encouraged Nishi's father Furuya to commit suicide. Everything we see of him, though, suggests that Wada is otherwise a genuinely decent, even sentimental man who believes in The Power of Love.
    • Subverted: Iwabuchi. Both his son and daughter agree that he's a very loving father. But at the end of the film, given the choice between his children and Public Corporation, Iwabuchi chooses the business without a second thought.
  • Advertisement:
  • Arthur Brooks, the social worker in Big Daddy, probably qualifies as this — until the climactic scene, where he (along with everyone else in the courtroom) gets a Pet the Dog moment when he pays a call to his father.
  • In Blade, as the eponymous hero is killing the Faceless Mooks, one of them tries to save his life by saying "No... please! I just work for them!" If "they" hadn't killed the hero's mentor, it might have worked.
  • Bloodshot (2020): RST has Eric and a bunch of other unnamed support staff who have no outright malice for Ray, but they don't have any moral objections to what Harting's up to either. Eric in particular is in on the whole editing memories thing.
  • In the film Bon Cop, Bad Cop, Officer David Bouchard recounts killing a houseful of criminals, but sparing the vicious attack dog because it was "just doing its job."
  • Advertisement:
  • All the hitmen that go after Jason Bourne in The Bourne Series are just doing their job. When off the job, they hang out with their kids, meet up with executives of their company or just travel around the world. Certainly not played for laugh, considering how the series completely abstained from any comedic relief.
  • This is the point of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, where the primary villain isn't so much individual cruelty (although there's plenty of that going around) as the collective effect of simple apathy from a society of bureaucratic jobsworths. Jack (Michael Palin's character) is an extremely good example.
  • In The Cabin in the Woods, all the people working at the facility. An example of the darker side of this trope, as the fact that it's just a job means they set up a betting pool, pride themselves on good work, and have a party once it's over. They don't do it out of malice, but they don't care or regret it either.
  • Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca, who makes it clear he's happy to cooperate with the Nazis as long as they remain in power, without caring about their ideology one way or another. At least, that's how he acts at the beginning...
  • Circus has Moose, a Scary Black Man who is really an affable family man whose job just happens to be breaking legs for a London Gangster. Best demonstrated when he calmly breaks Don's finger, and then helps him up. Don thanks him and the two have a pleasant conversation as Moose escorts him off the premises.
  • A discussed trope in Clerks, Dante and Randal debate the ethics of the Rebels blowing up the Death Star in Return of the Jedi, given that many of the workers building it were probably independent contractors with no particular allegiance to the Empire. The current customer overhears and just happens to be a contractor himself. He shares a story about how he turned down a job for a mafia boss despite the lucrative paycheck. His buddy took the job instead and ended up getting hit by a stray bullet and dying during a drive-by attack on the mobster's house. The moral being that even a punch-clock villain has to accept the risks and moral cost of the job, and anyone who willingly took a job on the Death Star has themselves to blame.
  • In the Holocaust drama Conspiracy (2001), this trope is taken to its most terrifying extreme. The Nazis in the film are debating the planning of a genocide of millions as matter-of-factly as they would if it were a business meeting between the heads of a major company. In the end it's simply an administrative job for them, discussed over lunch, as they're all part of a larger machine with only Heydrich having any real authority.
  • The Cube trilogy:
    • Although there are no direct examples, the film Cube implies the builders of the eponymous Death Course were of this nature.
      "Who do you think the establishment is? It's just guys like me. Their desks are bigger, but their jobs aren't. They don't conspire, they buy boats."
    • In Cube Zero, the Cube technicians are tasked with running a giant death maze as part of their permanent jobs. Their affection varies: one is sickened by everything he sees and questions their authorities while the other one is paranoid about ending up in there himself and keeps his head down. Quite literally in fact — Dodd actually clocks out when he signs off and goes to sleep.
  • Dark Waters: Phil Donnelly has a few moments where he might look disgusted or disturbed with revelations about his clients, but still defends them despite the enormous harm they're causing.
  • Lampshaded in Deadpool by the title anti-hero before The Final Battle.
    Wade Wilson: You only work for that shit-spackled muppet fart! So, I'mma give you a chance for y'all to lay down your firearms...''
  • Administrative Assistant Bob from Demolition Man simply sees it as his duty to serve whoever is in charge, which is how he goes from helping Dr. Raymond Cocteau to Simon Phoenix to Edgar Friendly without so much as batting an eye.
  • Bluntly stated by Captain Jack Ross in A Few Good Men:
    Ross: "I’m your friend and I’m telling you, I don’t think your clients belong in jail but I don’t get to make that call! I represent the government of the United States without passion or prejudice and my client has a case! Now I want you to acknowledge that the Judge Advocate has made you aware of the possible consequences of accusing a Marine officer of a felony without proper evidence."
  • In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the villain does evil during his leisure time. In the climax when Greg and Rowley get captured by 3 bullies who want to torture them, the bully who looks to be Southeast Asian begs to his leader to hurry it up as he's running out of time to be a villain and his shift at Cinnabon is in less than 30 minutes.
  • In District 9, Wikus (pre-Character Development) and most of the other non-military workers can be seen as these. Wikus is himself a pretty doofy office drone and loving husband who tries to avoid violent confrontation with the prawns as much as possible, but is still perfectly happy to threaten stealing the prawns' kids and euthanizing their larva in the course of his duty.
  • Petrov appears to be this for the Bolsheviks in Doctor Zhivago; however he bends the rules for family members.
  • Jackson, who presides over the highest security wing of the prison in Felon is a violent, fouled mouthed and intimidating man inside the prison, but a highly personable family man outside. He fears for his life and decided that the only way to control the toughest criminals in the prison is to make them fear him by outplaying them at their own game.
  • Forrest Warrior: Many of Thorne’s loggers, who pause logging to dance and such to rock music blaring over their walkie talkies.
  • Freejack: Vacendak (Mick Jagger), the bounty hunter pursuing Alex Furlong, actually helps out Furlong once he's no longer being paid to capture him.
  • In the original version of Game of Death all of Bruce Lee's enemies in the pagoda are this. This doubles up with Allegorical Character.
  • Played straight in Get Shorty with mobster Ray Barbone's bodyguard/muscle brought in to intimidate Chili Palmer in his Miami barbershop. They have a whispered exchange out of earshot of Barbone as the mook holds a blade to Chili's throat:
    Chili Palmer: Come on, you can do better than him.
    Mook: Not these days. Not unless you speak Spanish.
  • Implied to be common in the Get Smart movie.
    • The hired thug going after Max and Agent 99 is actually dealing with marital problems. Max, having stated early in the movie that evil is what villains do, not who they are, uses this information to save both himself and 99, and inspire this villain to become The Mole for him later on.
    • After putting up with yet more verbal abuse, Shtarker at one point gripes that he wants to quit, but can't because Siegfried is married to his sister.
  • The Godfather films:
    • The first and third films have organized crime bosses say "it's not personal... it's strictly business" (or some variation thereof) regarding their business affairs. The one scene from the novel sadly not in the movie had Michael comment on this and call it rubbish. He then goes on to describe his father as never treating his affairs as "just business" and speculate this is what had made him great.
    • In the second film, Michael makes Tom the Don in his absence because he believes that his capos, Neri and Lampone, are loyal only so long as it profits them.
  • In High Lifes and Low Lifes, Barry seems to be fairly pleasant working class guy whose job happens to be acting as muscle for London Gangster Mason.
  • Inglourious Basterds plays with this trope in full. While the Basterds view the German army as a bunch of Jew-killing monsters, many Nazis outside of Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and Landa seem like decent, loyal soldiers. One German officer refuses to give information that would get some men killed. In one scene, several Basterds infiltrate a bar where a group of soldiers are celebrating one's new baby boy. On the other hand, when dealing with enemies of the Party and the chips are down, they abandon all pretenses of civility and show how much they believe in its cause, by calling traitors any Germans who were on the other side and the Jews dogs. They wouldn't have a high rank if they were unwilling conscripts after all...Even the officer's denial could be interpreted as a twisted form of zealotry and fanaticism.
  • In The Island (2005), the mercenary who pursued the heroes throughout the movie helps them the moment his job is technically finished.
  • James Bond:
  • The Kunoichi: Ninja Girl: Unlike his partner the sadistic Higetsu, Shimotsuki regards abducting and, if necessary, hurting women as just his job. He takes no pleasure in it, but does want to do it well.
  • The Little Rascals 1933 short "Bedtime Worries" has Spanky encounter a burglar as he's in bed. He tries to warn his parents, but they don't believe him as he's been constantly calling out to them through the night. The burglar is actually nice enough to give Spanky a glass of water and then tuck him back into bed before robbing the house!
  • One of the bad guy's guards in Machete decides that the best course of action when confronted with the title character holding a bladed weed-whacker is to promptly turn the gun over, raise his hands, and walk off.
  • The teen protagonist of The Manhattan Project is hunted by gun-toting government agents that repeatedly threaten to kill him if he does not turn over his homemade nuclear weapon. One of these agents assures him it was nothing personal later in the film just before they may all die in an unintended detonation. They were government agents acting legally to protect the public from an unauthorized Plutonium-Bomb.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • A henchman in Iron Man 3 surrenders in the face of Tony's attack almost immediately:
      Henchman: Honestly, I hate working here. They are so weird.
    • This applies to Iron Man 2 as well, when Black Widow (and Happy) are fighting through Hammer Industries security guards to reach a room they’ve been told Ivan Vanko is hiding in. Technically, they broke in, and Nat didn’t identify herself as a federal agent. The guards are just doing their job.
  • The Mexican has a cute one: James Gandolfini playing Winston Baldry abducts Julia Roberts because "it's my job", then the two of them start a girly friend relationship (turns out this punch clock villain is also gay).
  • A Most Violent Year: Servidio, the bearded hijacker. He robs Abel's trucks and assaults Julian, but when Julian's firing a gun sends them both running form the police he gives Julian some brief advice about how to avoid them, and he later tells Abel who he sold the last load to in gratitude for Abel sparing his life even as Abel was walking away and making no further threats to him.
  • The Police Inspector in Carol Reed's Odd Man Out (1947). He shows no disdain for the IRA or protagonist Johnny McQueen (James Mason) particularly; he's just a cop doing his job, and even acknowledged as such in universe.
  • Paul has the ineffective and affable Men in Black Haggard and O'Reilly, who're chasing the main characters because they were told to and have no idea that they're after an alien refugee. Deconstructed once they do find out, because they figure that they can get a promotion and start getting a lot more ruthless and determined, if not more effective. Especially Haggard, who goes from a friendly Nerd to shooting Ruth's father.
  • The East India Trading Company marines in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End can fall into this trope — they are not faceless mooks, but soldiers, and throughout the film, you can see groups of them get genuinely disturbed or upset by the ensuing weirdness that doesn't seem to affect their employer or other characters (particularly when they find a macabre 'breadcrumb' trail of marine bodies). They have, by far, the highest body count of any group of people in all four films to date. Emphasized by having now-Admiral Norrington and Murtogg and Mullroy, erstwhile sympathetic characters, among their ranks.
  • Francisco and Dr. Huesos in The Pit and the Pendulum (1991), who are torturing people simply because it is their job (unlike Mendoza to whom it is a holy calling, and Gomez who is a sadist). When Esmeralda offers to confess to whatever they want, Francisco patiently explains that they cannot just accept her confession, because she might be confessing just to avoid being tortured. Only confessions obtained under torture are considered legitimate evidence of heresy.
  • In The President's Analyst, an American and a Soviet agent are old pals who place a friendly wager on who'll catch their common target first, going so far as promising to leak info so the other guy would get stationed to where the loser would buy the winner dinner. Another agent puts off assassinating the title character because his bullets are inconveniently far away and he told the wife he wouldn't work late.
  • Inigo Montoya and Fezzik are punchclock villains while working as goons for Vizzini in The Princess Bride. Inigo even states outright, "I only work for Vizzini to pay the bills." Vizzini also reminds Gentle Giant Fezzik of his former status: "unemployed in Greenland."
  • Vincent and Jules from Pulp Fiction relate to this trope. One minute they're chatting jovially about mayonnaise on fries. The next, they're pulling off the hits they're paid for. It's subtly lampshaded in an early scene: arriving at an apartment for a hit, they check their watches, find out it's not time to go on the clock yet, and hang back a few minutes to finish a conversation they were having. When it does get to be time, Jules instructs that they "get into character", underlining the fact that they're in essence playing the role of menacing gangsters.
  • This is understood to be how America expects The Purge will go, with the country taking time to be muderers and rapists for 12 hours before things go back to normal. The films' plots are understandably critical of the idea.
  • In Real Men, the heroes are pinned down by Soviet agents inside a house when suddenly the shooting stops. The CIA agent explains to The Load that it's lunchtime.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera has the Genterns, sexy sadistic nurses who put up with an awful lot for their well-paying jobs (including occasionally being raped or murdered by a Largo child). There's also the Repo Men, sociopathic organ retrieval experts armed with very large scalpels. One of the Repo Men is a protagonist — he's shown as being a sweet, slightly campy, doting family man when not on the job.
  • The Rocketeer: Eddie Valentine and his crew are career criminals, sure, but they are only after the rocket pack for the money, and frequently butt heads with their employer, who is far more unscrupulous than they are. Finding out their employer is working for the Nazis is what eventually causes their Heel–Face Turn.
  • In Roger & Me, Deputy Fred Ross has the duty of evicting people who can't pay their rent, no matter how distasteful it is.
  • Shoah is a documentary about the Holocaust. Many of the people interviewed by the director were "just doing their job" or "following orders" when they participated in the organized extermination of Europe's Jews.
  • Shot Caller: Jacob joins the Aryan Brotherhood in prison for reasons of survival. While he assists in drug smuggling and carrying out hits on their enemies, at no point does Jacob display any racist views of his own. He even seems to be perturbed by Shotgun offering him a bunch of drunk girls at a party and doesn't take advantage of them.
  • The Show Must Go On 2007 has an interesting example of Kang In-goo. He's a gangster, but only to provide for his family. He lies to his daughter's teacher and bribes him with a 2,000 won coupon to a strip bar, but to save his own skin and make sure his daughter gets a good education. He's not a sociopath, but an overworked father who happens to have an unpleasant job.
  • Sin City: Josh Hartnett's version of The Salesman is a Professional Killer who chats up his victims before killing them. In the brief span we see him, he doesn't harbor any ill will towards his targets or derive pleasure from their deaths. After he kills the woman in red, he holds her in his arms, then casually notes that he'll cash her check the next morning.
  • The Mortuary Keeper in MST3K'ed film Space Mutiny. He's just there running the facility where failed Mooks are frozen until necessary. He may work for the villain but when the heroes arrive he asks if they need help or would like a cup of tea. He also answers all their questions about the Big Bad's Evil Plan. He doesn't really seem evil at all, and the look on his face while one of Kalgan's goons is getting roughed up by Lobster Boy suggests that he's being forced to work for the baddies against his will.
  • Star Wars:
    • In Revenge of the Sith, the clone troopers who turn against their Jedi commanders and slaughter them. However, they're not really evil, they're brainwashed war slaves only doing what they were literally programmed to do as Manchurian Agents. You can even hear how sad one of the clone pilots sounds when he's ordered to turn his fighter's guns on his Jedi squadron leader.
    • Bounty Hunter Boba Fett (yes, THAT Boba Fett) follows this trope to a tee: shortly after he got over with the thought of avenging his father Jango, he's now only into bounty hunting for profit.
    • While for the most part the Imperial leadership is evil through and through, the regular officers and the like mostly fall into this category, as they are just doing their jobs and trying not to get executed.
  • Dee Jay in the Street Fighter movie, who not only does his job only for the money, but clearly hates every single person in the organization, as he also doubles as the Deadpan Snarker. He ends up trying to escape with Bison's money only to find out that it's Bison dollars, which are worthless. Being an ex-employee of Microsoft, he even laments having left the legal sector for the much higher paying job of Bison's computer-savvy henchman once everything is blowing up and he's fleeing for his life.
  • Major Folly in Swashbuckler is really just a soldier trying to do his job of keeping order in the colony and obeying his superior's orders. Unfortunately, his superior is the Antagonistic Governor Lord Durant, so his actions are helping to spread oppression. He comes across as sympathetic and is even shown trying to become better at his job (e.g. studying the manual on executions after Nick's botched hanging). Captain Lynch and his crew seem to bear him no particular malice, and during the final showdown — after Folly demonstrates his courage and honour by preparing to face down Lynch and his entire pirate crew singlehanded, even though it means certain death — Lynch takes pity on him and has him knocked out instead of killed.
  • In Taken, Patrice Saint-Claire, a businessman who runs an underground sex slave market, tries to convince Bryan Mills he's this when Bryan kills his henchmen and has him at his mercy. It doesn't work.
  • Although they don't get paid per se, this trope sums up the entire point of the killer robots in the Terminator franchise. They hold absolutely no bloodthirst against their intended targets. It really just is a job to them, and it can't be anything else. Consider the classic scene from the second movie when the "hero" T-800 is about to kill some dumb jocks who were just screwing with John...
    John: You were going to kill them!!
    The Terminator: Of course. I'm a Terminator.
    • Subverted with later models of Terminator like the T-1000 or the T-X which, while still being as single-mindedly driven in their mission, clearly show levels of sadism and enjoyment of their "jobs." Especially the T-X which smirks with enjoyment when it knocks the T-800 off of its truck and has what appears to be a robo-orgasm when it first detects the presence of John Connor. Whether this is an attempt to make them more intelligent without risking them learning too much and going rogue, or just the result of better programming to mimic human emotion, is left ambiguous.
  • Max von Sydow's character in Three Days of the Condor. As he explains to the hero (Robert Redford), he doesn't care about the why of a situation, he only cares about the where and the when, and how much he'll get paid for the job.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: