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Sadistic Choice / Film

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  • Sophie's Choice, both film and novel. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, Sophie is told to choose which of her two children will go to the gas chamber immediately, and which will live for some time longer in the camp. Since the story is realistic, Take a Third Option doesn't come up. The movie was popular enough that the term "Sophie's Choice" is occasionally used to describe similar sadistic choices. This sort of thing did happen there, too, and before it, as described in the nonfiction book Treblinka. On leaving the ghetto, parents had to choose which road to send their children down, the left or the right. One of them led to another ghetto and hard labor; the other to the titular death camp. They were not told which was which. To make this even more awful, the first female and first Jewish Mayor of Pittsburgh, Sophie Masloff, spent money on trash cans with the words: "Sophie's Choice — A Clean City" on them. Seriously.
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  • The 1993 film The Good Son, starring young Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood, ends in a scene with both boys dangling over the edge of a cliff. The mom must pick between saving her evil son (played by Culkin) or kindhearted nephew (played by Elijah Wood.) She saves Frodo.
  • Mr Jones (2019): After being eventually caught by the Soviets during his unauthorized trip in Ukraine, Gareth is released by Soviet authorities who force him to remain silent by telling him they won't release six other prisoners (six British engineers working in Moscow and accused of espionage) if he reveals what he witnessed in Ukraine. In summary, he had a dilemma between choosing to save six people (some of which he personnally met), or save millions of people. Orwell convinces him of choosing the latter option.
  • Batman films seem to like this.
    • In Batman Forever, The Riddler gives Batman a choice to save Robin or Chase Meridian. He not only figures out it's a false choice and Riddler will kill both, he rescues both. He's the goddamn Batman.
      • A similar scene happened in the comics. Robin was given the choice to save either Batman or a judge from Two-Face. It's subverted when Robin chooses the judge, but forgets about Dent's obsession with the number two; there was a second trap in place and the judge was killed. Poor Robin never really had a chance.
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    • In Batman & Robin, Mr. Freeze sets Batman up with the choice to either thaw a frozen Robin or apprehend him. He seems to already know Batman is going go with the former though, being Batman and what not, and trots away merrily before Batman can even choose, sealing his exit behind him
    • Happens several times in The Dark Knight, since The Joker loves these: Reveal Batman's identity, or people will die. Kill the accountant or I blow up a hospital. Save Harvey or save Rachel. Blow up the other boat or be blown up by them (or me). And arguably the worst — Break your "one rule," or watch Gotham's finest kill a child. True to form, he seldom keeps his word; lying about which hostage is where, and not knowing or caring what they actually choose, and screwing them over anyway. Joker doesn't just do this out of raw sadism, though, but the added intention of showing people that anyone can become a monster like himself.
      • The boat scene is an example where the potential victims Take a Third Option. The Joker practically has a Villainous Breakdown when he realizes what's happening.
      • Robot Chicken deconstructs the above scene, making everyone on one of the boats either unable to get the gist, or acting realistically in response to a dangerous situation. The Joker ends up getting really frustrated explaining things and saying they can't make realistic choices, and then ends up getting knocked out by Batman while he's doing so.
      • By the end of the film, Two-Face has also bought into this trope, asking Gordon to choose which member of his family he loves the most, because that's the one whose survival he'll flip a coin over. Gordon notably doesn't choose, but his reaction when Two-Face points a gun at his son tips his hand anyway.
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    • In The Dark Knight Rises, Jonathan Crane presides over a Kangaroo Court that judges and condemns Gotham's elite. The condemned are offered a choice between either death or exile. If they choose "exile", they are sent to walk away from Gotham over its frozen river—they invariably fall through the ice and die. It turns out to be a false choice, however, as anyone who chooses death is condemned to "death by exile" (precisely the same punishment).
  • The first Spider-Man movie is where this trope gets its name. In a homage to "The Night Gwen Stacy Died", the Green Goblin kidnaps Spidey's perennial love interest Mary Jane...but instead of just killing her, he forces Spider-Man to choose between her and a cable car full of innocents. (He rescues both, but is forced to reject Mary Jane out of fear of his harsh superhero life. It all works out by the second one.) Although in this case, the only real challenge was the cable car's weight.
    Goblin: Make your choice, Spider-Man, and see how a hero is rewarded.
    Spider-Man: Don't do it, Goblin!
    Goblin: We are who we choose to be. Now CHOOSE!
  • The Proposition is based entirely around this principle. In order to convince The Sheriff to spare the life of his younger, mentally handicapped brother, the protagonist must seek out and kill his older, violently insane brother. He tries to Take a Third Option by getting his older brother to help rescue the younger one, but it doesn't work, and by the end, he's the only one left.
  • The Saw series is full with them, especially the sixth movie, where William is forced to make these twice. The first time, he has to choose between a diabetic, middle aged mother and a healthy loner. He chooses the mother. The second time, he has to choose which two of his six junior associates will get off a deadly carousel and live. He saves a single mother and, inexplicably, another woman.
  • Although no kidnapping was involved, the choice faced by Princess Leia in A New Hope of giving up the location of the Rebel base or watching her home planet of Alderaan be destroyed by the Death Star was a perfect example. Especially since, in a notorious Kick the Dog moment that kicked Grand Moff Tarkin across the Moral Event Horizon, he ordered the planet destroyed anyway after Leia gave a false location in hopes of keeping the Rebellion alive. Tarkin's reasoning? "Dantooine is too remote to give an effective demonstration."note  Alderaan, on the other hand, was a core world.
    • There's also Lando Calrissian's deal with Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. Things in the EU like the radio dramatization and an Infinities comic that involves him refusing make his line about "I had no choice. They arrived before you did." much clearer. He was Baron Administrator of a city of people, and to save it and get The Empire to leave, he had to betray a friend. Vader never mentioned the torture, or that Boba Fett would get Solo, and he lied about leaving Solo's friends on Cloud City. At some point during this Lando protested strongly enough that his city was explicitly threatened, and eventually he tried to Take a Third Option, which was... marginally successful. Things worked out well enough in the end.
  • Cars 2 features a rare example of the hero giving the villain a Sadistic Choice. At the climax of the film, Mater, having had a Time Bomb strapped to him that only the Big Bad can deactivate, quickly works out that said Big Bad is Miles Axelrod and publicly confronts him. Miles is thus forced to choose between deactivating the bomb and outing himself as the villain, or being blown to bits by his own bomb. He chooses the former option (at the last second, naturally), and is arrested.
  • In Punisher: War Zone, Jigsaw and his Ax-Crazy brother Loony Bin Jim give the eponymous protagonist a literal Sadistic Choice in the form of a Shoot the Dog scenario: if Frank chooses between killing either the Donatellis or Micro, the brothers release the ones who were spared, otherwise they just kill all three hostages. Although Micro offers himself to Frank to spare the Donatellis, the latter instead elects to Take a Third Option. He kills Loony Bin Jim instead, and Jigsaw retaliates by killing Micro. Although given Frank's last words to Micro ("You won't feel a thing, Micro") coupled with Micro's nod to Frank, it seems as if they both understood that no matter who Frank choose, all of the hostages would have been killed anyway; by eliminating Jim, it gave Frank a brief window of time to save the Donatellis. Once they are out of harms way, he then brutally makes sure that Jigsaw pays for Micro's death.
  • In the end of Mad Max, one of the people who killed Max's wife is trapped under a burning car. Max gives him a choice - sever his leg to escape, or die in the explosion. The choice is made off-camera.
  • The end of The Box. James Marsden's character can either shoot and kill his wife, or let their son live the rest of his life deaf and blind.
    • This tends towards Heroic Sacrifice as well. The husband is too distraught to make a decision, so the wife insists that she die so their son can have a better life.
    • This also appears to happen over and over again and appears to serve to show that Humans Are Bastards. When Cameron Diaz's character presses the button, another woman is shot by her husband for the exact same reason as above. When she dies, yet another woman is shown pressing the button.
  • Funny Games is made of these, including making a wife decide if the antagonists kill her husband quickly by gunshot, or slowly by knife.
  • A rare example of a villain finding himself having to make a Sadistic Choice happens in Minority Report: Anderton confronts Burgess, the inventor of Pre-Crime, about his role in the movie's events (including several murders) the day before Pre-Crime is scheduled to go nationwide, prompting him to pull a gun on Anderton. Anderton points out that the Pre-Cogs must have predicted his murder by now (they did) and that Burgess is now faced with a choice: if he kills Anderton, he gets halo'd for life but Pre-Crime goes national as planned. If he doesn't kill Anderton, he remains free but Pre-Crime is revealed as a fraud and Burgess' life's work is thus destroyed. Burgess takes a third option and shoots himself.
  • In The Pink Panther 2, the real Big Bad tries to escape by threatening to destroy the Pink Panther Diamond unless Clousteau lets her escape. Unlike most examples, however, he didn't need to Take a Third Option, as the "Pink Panther diamond" she was threatening to destroy, and thus had stolen earlier, was actually a decoy, something she didn't know.
  • Herod, villain of The Quick and the Dead, enjoys giving people a choice between killing someone they love, or dying at his hand.
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, the HYDRA spy attempts to make Steve Rogers choose between going after him or saving a little boy he's held hostage. Before Steve can do anything, the spy tosses the kid into the water. As it turns out, the kid's a good swimmer, as he then encourages Steve to go get the spy.
  • In P2, Thomas, the kidnapper, gives Angela two choices in dealing with Jim, a drunken coworker who hit on Angela after a Christmas party: she can beat him to a bloody pulp or Thomas can ram Jim with his car.
  • Wreck-It Ralph has to make this choice at the request of King Candy: either destroy "Glitch" character Vanellope Von Schweetz's car, along with Ralph's friendship with her, or allow Vanellope to race, get on the roster, glitch, and have the game get pulled from the plug, which would kill her since she cannot escape to Game Central Station because she's a glitch. Only after he made his choice did he find out that King Candy wasn't entirely truthful and wanted Vanellope out for ulterior motives.
    • Plays with the trope in that King Candy only asked Ralph "to talk a little sense into her." Destroying the cart was a conclusion Ralph came to on his own.
  • in Se7en the unseen perpetrator of a number of grisly murders, disfigures a beautiful but vain woman, then gives her the choice: sleeping pills to kill herself or a phone to call for an ambuance. We figure out what choice she made as the police are examining her corpse.
  • In The Hobbit, the trolls tell the dwarves to surrender or else they will rip Bilbo's arms out. The dwarves surrendered.
  • An interesting case occurs during The Cabin in the Woods. The two main characters have to end up deciding between obeying an organization which sends dozens of people to their violent, miserable deaths every year via a cache of inhuman monsters, or disobeying the organization and bringing about The End of the World as We Know It via the real villains of the movie, The Ancient Ones. The characters end up choosing oblivion.
  • In the backstory of Pacific Rim, Hercules Hansen faced this choice. During Scissure's attack on Sydney, he only had time to rescue either his wife or his son before they dropped the nuke. He chose his son, Chuck, who later became his copilot. They both hate him for it, although they usually take their anger out on the Kaiju.
  • Pitch Black: As part of Riddick's attempt to corrupt Fry and win her over, he presents her with an impossible choice. She can only convince him to go with her willingly to rescue the two others she left behind. Riddick however offers her to leave them to die and take off with him in the skiff instead. She can either die along with them, knowing that she's a good person but save no one or come with Riddick and live with the guilt for the rest of her life. What makes this worse is that as Riddick points out, there is no one to blame Fry for choosing self-preservation. She eventually does make a moral stand and convinces Riddick to help her, as her moral actions intrigue him.
  • Give 'Em Hell, Malone: The gunmen who killed Malone's family forced him to decide if his wife or his son would die. On top of that, once he chose his wife, they killed both of them anyway. Then again, his family never died.
  • In Two Days One Night, a factory offers its employees a 1,000-Euro bonus... if they agree to fire a co-worker who's fallen behind on productivity due to struggling with depression. Said co-worker is thus forced to go around to all of her co-workers and beg them to vote against firing her, with it being made very clear that most of them desperately need the money.
  • During the climax of Spectre, Ernst Stavro Blofeld forces James Bond into this when he lures 007 into the ruined MI6 building and informs him that he's abducted the Bond Girl and imprisoned her somewhere inside. He offers him two choices: he can escape the detonation that is to happen in 3 minutes (and presumably catch and arrest/kill Blofeld), but live forever with the guilt and pain of the fact that he chose to leave the girl to die, or he can try to rescue her and risk dying in the explosion. Bond chooses a 3rd option — and he not only manages to rescue the Bond Girl, but also steals a boat and escapes the exploding building to give chase to Blofeld.
  • In Self Less, Damien is faced with one of these once he learns that the medicine he's been taking is all that stands between his continued existence and Mark Bitwell, the original owner of the body Damien's in, returning. If Damien continues to take the medicine, he'll live but Mark will fade away forever. If he stops taking the medicine, he'll fade away but Mark can return to his family. In the end, Damien chooses the latter.
  • In the Swedish film of Let the Right One In, Oskar is ambushed in the school swimming pool and given the "choice" to drown himself, or to have his eyeball gouged out. He is twelve years old. When Eli shows up and saves Oskar, there is no mercy for the bully responsible.
  • X-Men: First Class: After being psychicly paralyzed by Charles Xavier, the Big Bad Shaw is at the mercy of Magneto. Despite Xavier's pleas, Magneto decides to murder Shaw. This leaves Charles with a choice - he can release Shaw from his grip, but then the villain will definitely kill Magneto, and there's a high risk he will regain his anti-psychic helmet Magneto stole, murder all the x-men and start world war 3. Or he can keep Shaw paralyzed and let Magneto drive a coin through his brain, which, due to the psychic link, Charles will feel every second of him doing. He chooses the latter.
  • X-Men: Apocalypse: The eponymous villain offers Professor X one: if Charles immediately surrenders (which would fulfill Apocalypse's plan for world domination), then the lives of the "weaklings" (Mystique and Quicksilver) will be spared, or if he continues to hide, then Apocalypse will murder both mutants, and it's only matter of time before Apocalypse finds out where Xavier is. Professor X decides to Take a Third Option: he initiates a Battle in the Center of the Mind instead, which distracts Apocalypse, and thus Mystique's and Quicksilver's executions are delayed.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000-featured film, The Undead, female protagonist Helene is faced with such a choice: Run away with Pendragon, avoiding her fated wrongful execution for witchcraft, and none of her future reincarnations will ever come to be. Go back and accept an unjust death, the cycle is restored and the future "hers" live on. Helene chooses to go back.
  • In Man of Steel Clark Kent is left with three options: Kill the rampaging General Zod, let Zod carry out his promise to kill everyone else on Earth in front of Clark or let Zod kill him, leaving Earth in his hands? After a prolonged fight (against a better fighter quickly learning to use his superpowers) and failing to keep Zod away from the increasingly damaged Metropolis Clark chooses the first option.
  • In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Lex Luthor offers Clark one. Kill Batman, or Martha Kent dies. Clark decides to Take a Third Option by asking Batman to help him save his mother, but since Lex has been manipulating and secretly feeding Bruce's paranoia about Superman, Bruce isn't about to listen to reason.
  • The last race of Stroker Ace presents Stroker with a self-inflicted sadistic choice. If he wins the final race, he becomes a NASCAR champion for the fourth time, but Clyde Torkle will refuse to fire him so that he can cash in on Stroker's success. If he loses the race, Torkle will fire him so that he can sell his franchise to Miller (a scam arranged by one of Stroker's friends) but Stroker will have to live with throwing away the championship to do it. Circumstances behind the fake Miller deal and the race itself finally force Torkle to make the decision to fire Stroker. Once word gets back, Stroker floors it and pulls out a last minute victory (although he had already decided to win in the first place due to The Rival getting on his last nerve).
  • Assassin's Creed (2016): Toward the end of the film Aguilar has Torquemada at Hidden Blade-point, but his enforcer Ojeda has Maria, warning him to let the Templar go if he wants Maria to live. Despite Maria's pleas, Aguilar chooses to let him go, Maria dies anyway. It's implied that she used Ojeda's blade to Shoot the Hostage but he could have killed her personally.
  • In the 1916 film Snow White, Queen Brangomar tells Berthold that he must kill Snow White and give her the girl's heart or she will throw his children into a dungeon and starve them to death.
  • At the climax of Frozen, Anna is trying to run to Kristoff in hoping that a True Love's Kiss would thaw a frozen heart but then she heard the sound of a clanging sword and saw Hans about to murder Elsa. Anna has to choose to either get a kiss from Kristoff that would possibly thaw her out of the curse but will lose her sister's life in the process, or save her estranged sister from being slain by Hans at the cost of her own life. She unhesitatingly chose the latter.
  • In the made for TV movie Hercules, this is forced upon the lead character during the climax: Eurystheus has him at arrow point and orders him to surrender while a soldier keeps his son Hylus hostage, threatening to kill him if he doesn't comply. Hercules knows that if he stands down, Eurystheus will kill them both anyways so he has a choice: either shoot Eurystheus and having his son killed, or shoot the soldier holding Hylus and be killed by Eurystheus himself. He takes a third option when he chooses the latter, and deflects Eurystheus' arrow with his snake armband while Hylus kills the Big Bad by throwing a knife at his chest after being freed.
  • Avengers: Infinity War: Six characters are forced to choose between saving one person important to them and (by obtaining or not giving in an Infinity Stone) saving half the universe. Three of them choose the former: Loki and Gamora refuse to sacrifice their siblings (Thor and Nebula) as an Act of True Love, and Doctor Strange won't let his ally Tony Stark die as a part of a Batman Gambit. All the chosen persons are spared by Thanos and survive the Snap. Other three characters decide to Kill the Ones They Love: Peter Quill and Wanda attempt to kill their romantic partners at their request, but it is All for Nothing because Thanos won't let them proceed and murders the victims anyway, and Thanos himself tosses his daughter off a cliff to get the Soul Stone.
  • In The Final, Bridget is told that she can go free if she is willing to cut off all Bradley's fingers. She refuses. Bradley does not hesitate when the same deal is offered to him.
  • In Unfriended: Dark Web, Serena is given a choice by the hackers: the life of her lover Nari, or her bedridden mother. She instead chooses to Take a Third Option and defy them by choosing neither. For her effort, both of them are killed before her eyes, then she goes with them.
  • At the end of Escape Room (2017), Tyler and Christen are each presented with a pair of buttons. One of them will save themselves, the other one will save their partner.
  • This is what kicks off the plot of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels; Protagonist Eddie and his friends have raised 100 grand to buy into a high stakes poker game hosted by Hatchet Harry, a notorious Loan Shark. What Eddie doesn't know is that the game is rigged, with Harry being fed the other players' hands. When it's down to just him and Eddie and he finds out Eddie's hand is worse than his, Harry makes a bet he can't match, then offers to loan him 500 grand to stay in the game, giving Eddie a week to pay it back if he loses. Eddie can either fold, losing the money he and his friends worked so hard to get, or take the loan and possibly lose, knowing full well he'd never be able to pay it back in time and that there would be consequences. Eddie opts to take the loan since he's so confident he'll win, and doesn't take it too well when he loses.
  • In How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Grimmel presents a bound and helpless Toothless with a choice: the life of his new love interest, the Light Fury, or order his flock of dragons into slavery. He chooses the Light Fury, and in a rare display for this trope, the narrative never calls his leadership skills into question for this and there are no consequences.
  • Replicas: Bionyne only has three cloning pods, meaning that William cannot save all four members of his family and is forced to choose one to sacrifice.
  • In the prologue of Firestorm (1998), a crew of smokejumpers are trapped by a forest fire while attempting to evacuate a group of tourists. The main group are trapped on the road, while Jesse and Wynt are cut off from the others at a cabin where they had gone to rescue a young girl. Monica radios for air support and asks for a double hit: one on the cabin and one on the road. However, the water bomber only has a quarter load left: enough to hit one target, but not both. After a few agonizing seconds, Monica orders the bomber to dump its load on the larger group: the one on the road. After being doused, Monica looks into the smoke and realizes she made the right call, as Jesse emerges carrying the wounded Wynt and the girl.
  • In Let Me In Owen is given the choice by his three bullys of either standing underwater for three minutes or they would poke his eye out. However, it is implied that they just wanted to drown him. But Owens vampire lover Abby takes the third option by giving the bullys what they deserve.


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