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Michael: My father made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

Kay: What was that?

Michael: Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract.

Sometimes a bad guy wants something done, something none of his own men are up to the task of doing for some reason (too well known, too incompetent, whatever), and he's not about to risk his own hide in order to do it. So what's a bad guy to do?

He gets in touch with a good guy and makes him an Offer He Can't Refuse.

There are a number of reasons that the offer Can't Be Refused, of course:

Either way, it's clear That Wasn't a Request. It usually turns out that by taking up the offer, the hero has been advancing some form of Evil Plan orchestrated by the Big Bad, and there's at least a fifty-fifty chance that the bad guy will double-cross the hero at some point along the way, usually in a You Have Outlived Your Usefulness moment. This often leads to the hero launching an all-guns-blazing assault on the bad guy, either to get revenge on him, rescue the loved one, or both. May not work on Heroic Sociopaths or The Unfettered, who probably don't care about the fallout in the process of kicking your ass.

The trope name comes from the movie The Godfather where the titular mafia boss was always making people offers (such as letting one of his favorites star in a movie or signing a business over to him) with dire consequences attached if they were refused (like, say, a bullet in the head, getting put in the hospital, or having the head of the person's prize horse being delivered to his bed).

Actually the line was borrowed by Mario Puzo from the earlier novel Le Père Goriot (1835), by Honoré de Balzac, when Vautrin tells Eugène that he is "making him an offer that he cannot refuse". Namely, that he [Vautrin] will make Eugène rich, profiting off the death of a man who he has never met. This concept, in turn, was Balzac's bringing-to-life of a theoretical concept by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, of "Rousseau's Chinaman" (the root of disinterested evil).

Compare Enemy Mine, in which the bad guy accompanies the hero, and Screw the Rules, I Have a Nuke, where having greater violent power puts one in a better position.

In real life, this was sometimes known as "Plata o Plomo?", literally, "Silver or Lead?" Your choice is between accepting a bribe or getting shot.

Examples of An Offer You Can't Refuse include:

Anime and Manga

  • Inoue Orihime from Bleach was forced to work for the Big Bad after he held her friends hostage, without them even knowing about it.
  • Essentially the basis of Alucard's role as a Sociopathic Hero in Hellsing. Although the audience isn't given all the details, it's revealed in a crucial flashback that much of the story of Dracula really did happen, right up until Van Helsing had Dracula defeated and at his mercy. From here, it seems the heroes made Dracula an offer he couldn't refuse, and so the Hellsing organization's ultimate weapon was born.
  • This is essentially how the contracts are made in Mai-HiME. Set up a situation where the HiME-to be faces a lethal threat from an Orphan, then offer her the power to fight it along with a vaguely defined price to be paid in future. None of them refuse.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Dr Marcoh was forced into cooperating with a plan to destroy the whole country because the homunculi(Lust and Envy) promised ot wipe out his whole village if he didn't.
    • Edward in episode 29 is forced to remain a state alchemist, even after he announces his resignation, due to the homunculi (mainly Bradley) threatening to harm Winry. This is used in a similar fashion against Mustang, who has the wellbeing of his whole team (Hawkeye most of all) resting on his willingness to comply, though he never threatens resignation.
      • In time this is subverted since Ed and Mustang are able to secretly plot against the homunculi while feigning cooperation. This troper has to tip her hat to the genius ways they're able to do this.
    • Similar to above, Ed was forced to cooperate with Kimblee's attempts to hunt down Scar and Marcoh, using Winry as a leverage point. Kimblee even offered Ed a philosopher's stone in exchange for committing mass murder on the Briggs frontier, though Kimblee was unaware at the time that Ed and Al vowed to never use a philosopher' stone due to its grisly nature.
      • Subverted again in a similar manner, as Winry is able to fake her own kidnapping and get away to safety. A few episodes later Ed (unintentionally) fakes his own death and is able to disappear off the map for a couple months.
  • Averted during Part 4 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, when Highway Star orders him to call Josuke in order to lure him in the Stand's trap, otherwise it'll suck him empty of his nutrients, he replies:

 I refuse. What I like to do the most is saying NO to people who consider themselves extremely good.

  • Happens a lot in Yu-Gi-Oh!
    • Implied by Kaiba's goons when Yugi's grandpa asks what would happen if he should refuse Kaiba's offer to duel.
    • Pegasus does it twice; once by stealing Grandpa's soul, forcing Yugi to enter the Duelist Kingdom tournament, and again by stealing Mokuba's soul in order to get to Kaiba.
    • In Battle City, Marik takes control of Tea and Joey so he can force Yugi into a duel for the Millennium Puzzle and his Slifer the Sky Dragon Card. Before that, he, via Bandit Keith, stole the puzzle and chained it to a duel arena, where Yugi could get it back if he won.
    • The Big Five. Once, right after the Duelist Kingdom arc and again in the Noah arc.
  • Mami Tomoe from Puella Magi Madoka Magica was faced with this at one point: either she had to become a Magical Girl Warrior, or she would die.
  • In the Ouran anime, Eclaire gives one to Tamaki: "If you accept to marry me, I will gladly give you the chance to reunite with your Missing Mom"

Comic Books

  • In Invincible, Thragg the Viltrumite Regent—one of the most powerful beings in the universe and definitely the strongest Viltrumite—offers a cease-fire arrangement with Mark and Omni-man. Thragg and the other Viltrumites will settle down on Earth and breed with humans to produce more human-Viltrumite hybrids like Mark to repopulate the Viltrumite empire over thousands of years. In return, the Viltrumites will hold off on the whole "kill everyone on Earth" thing. Thragg makes it clear to Mark that there is no way he could stop Thragg from destroying the Earth if he refuses this deal. Mark accepts.

Fan Works

  • In An Entry With a Bang!, the Buron Cavalry joined Vorax's expedition to "Motherload" partly because Vorax had promised harm to their dependents if they refused.
  • In the Firefly fic Forward, Womack forces Mal and his crew into one of these; either they sabotage a former business partner's organ smuggling operation, or Womack will frame and then have them arrested for smuggling instead.
  • In the Harry Potter fic My Immortal, Voldemort threatens to kill Draco if Ebony does not kill Harry "Vampire" Potter.
  • In Aeon Entelechy Evangelion Gendo tells Shinji that by refusing to pilot the EVA he also drops the protection provided by the Ashcroft Foundation from the Intelligence services, especially their R&D staff who wish to cut him open to see what exactly makes him a viable EVA-pilot.


  • This trope is subverted by Commando, in which the villains attempt to coerce John Matrix into assassinating someone by holding his daughter ransom... And Schwarzenegger's character just ignores the mission and kills them all to rescue her.
  • The Godfather is the trope namer.
  • Indiana Jones has been forced by Communists and Nazis to find a number of artifacts (and circumvent the dangerous traps before them), typically with the life of someone else on the line.
  • In The Empire Strikes Back, Lando Calrissian is forced to betray his friends in exchange for the safety of Cloud City. Unfortunately, the offer was given by Darth Vader, so naturally Lando gets double crossed.
  • The gang gets back together in Oceans 13 to avenge Reuben, after Al Pacino screws him out of his half of his casino by offering one of these.
  • In Sin City, Marv and John Hartigan are both made to plead guilty for the villains' crimes, using threats against loved ones.
  • Saving his younger brother from Calitri is the only reason Memphis Raines comes out of carjacking retirement in Gone in Sixty Seconds.
  • In From Russia with Love, Rosa Klebb gives Tatiana two options: Either participate in a plot to sexually entrap James Bond, or get shot.
  • The film 30 Minutes or Less is about two idiots who want to rob a bank getting a very unlucky pizza delivery boy to do it for them, by strapping a bomb to his chest (effectively giving him a time limit as well).
  • In the second Bad Boys movie, big bad Tapia convinces his business associate to sign over his business to him by having his bodyguard brought back to him chopped up in pieces in a drumcan, with the implied threat that he can either sign the paper or be next.


  • At the beginning of The Dresden Files novel Dead Beat, Black Court vampire Mavra strong-arms Harry Dresden into finding a book of black magic for her, by threatening his friend Karrin Murphy. He takes the job, but at the end of the book tells her if she ever, ever tries anything like that again he'll do whatever is necessary to kill her, and to hell with the cost.
    • Mavra has not appeared since
  • In the Dale Brown novel Warrior Class, Big Bad Pavel Kazakov plans to ask Balkan nations to let him build an oil pipeline through their territory or get bombed by his stealth aircraft. He pulls this on a Russian Army Captain later, advising the man's silence lest his girlfriend and child come to harm.
  • Early in the Belisarius Series, we see the wife of the titular general fleeing assassins through the streets of Constantinople and ducking into a small eatery. She confronts the owners and slams a heavy purse on the table (her husband is quite wealthy) offering it insistently as rent for the shop, then pulls out a dagger (she grew up on the streets of Alexandria) and tells them "or take the knife, in your fucking guts!"
  • In The Guardians, this is a tactic demons commonly take to entice humans into a Deal with the Devil. They'll take a vulnerable loved one hostage or hire another human to kill them if they refuse.
  • A favoured tactic of the Daemon in recruiting its human agents. As just one example, it springs a prisoner from jail by cleaning his record, then warns him when he starts getting cold feet that it can easily put him back as a child molester.
  • In A Series of Unfortunate Events Count Olaf makes various offers like this to the Baudelaires. The most notable being in the first book when Violet has to marry Olaf or Sunny dies. She finds a third way....
  • In the Simon Scarrow novel The Eagle's Prophecy (one book in a series) the Imperial Secretary, Narcissus, gives the centurions Macro and Cato a job retrieving three ancient prophecy scrolls from pirates, not even bothering to phrase it as an offer, saying, "I won't insult your intelligence by offering you the job. You will do it, or you will die." Narcissus says that he doesn't need a reason to have them killed, but in the previous book, Cato's cohort was sentenced to decimation (1/10 of the men, picked randomly, are killed; Cato was one of the ones selected to be killed), but the men that were chosen escaped, and Macro was implicated in the death of his cohort's commander.

Live Action Television

  • Burn Notice: Carla pulls this with Michael, he also manipulates some of the villains into doing this to his cover ID at the time.
    • This happens pretty much all the time in the series. Michael is often given this when he is to help the bad guy, or does this himself when he gets the bad guy to do what he wants.
  • Lost: Ben gets Jack to do his spinal surgery by also kidnapping Kate and Sawyer (Kate to control Jack, and Sawyer to control Kate, apparently.)
  • Prison Break: The plot of the entire third season has the villainous Company kidnapping Michael Scofield's girlfriend and Lincoln Burrows' son, and threatening to kill them unless the brothers break an inmate out of a Panamanian prison.
  • Inverted in the Doctor Who episode "Journey's End", where two groups of heroes attempt to keep the Daleks from carrying out their plan by threatening the destruction of Earth and the Crucible respectively.
  • In the ninth season of Spooks, Lucas North is blackmailed by a man who threatens to reveal that he isn't really Lucas North — he stole another man's identity to escape justice after being involved in an embassy bombing.
  • In Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, a group of villains are auctioning off the Pink Ranger's quasar saber. Astronema (actually, Karone) interrupts by making a Whammy Bid, which she immediately raises to "all of you get to live".


  • "Stop Talking About Comic Books Or I'll Kill You", by Ookla The Mok.
  • The Jon and Vangelis song/salute to the golden age of movies, "Friends of Mr. Cairo" has a mock scene from The Maltese Falcon that has the Peter Lorre imitator ask Sam Spade, "You going to make us an offer we can't refuse?" It actually works.

Religion and Mythology

  • In The Bible, Judges 14, when some Philistines find that they are unable to answer a riddle Samson has asked them, they threaten his wife in order to get the answer.

Tabletop Games

  • In Warhammer 40K, this is standard operating procedure for the Tau: "Join us or die". They still have the moral high ground, however, since every other major faction leaves off the "join us" part.
    • This trope happens every time an Inquisitor makes a "request". Unless you are very highly placed or connected death is the best thing that's going to happen if you refuse.

Video Games

  • Vladimir Lem from the first Max Payne makes Max one of these offers. Being a cop, Max isn't really inclined to deal with mob guys to start with, but since Max is on the run from the law for a crime he didn't commit and waging a one-man war on Punchinello's syndicate, Max accepts his offer to go after Boris Dime, a former Vladimir lieutenant who has joined Punchinello, in exchange for enough guns to go after Punchinello.
    • Technically, Max is under absolutely no obligation to accept Lem's deal: there's no implicit or explicit mention of a penalty for refusing. The reason Max goes along with the deal is three-fold: to get his hands on powerful weaponry, to piss off Punchinello, and to gain a potential ally.
    • Vlad lives up to the trope in the second game, using the good will he earned in the first game to advance his plans for a while longer before revealing himself as the true Big Bad.
  • The G-Man makes one of these to Gordon Freeman at the end of the original Half Life. Canon establishes that Gordon accepted the offer to work for him — refusing the G-Man results in Freeman being dumped into a horde of hostile alien monsters without a single weapon, which would make the odds of Half-Life 2 ever happening pretty much nil.
    • Or should it be "pretty much NIHILANTH!?" I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. I'll return to the All-In-One now.
  • Most of the plot in the video game Kane and Lynch. The main protagonist, Kane, is tracked down by his old mercenary partners and is forced to recover their lost fortune. In order to motivate Kane, the mercenaries take his wife and daughter hostage.
  • Fire Emblem: Genealogy of Holy War: One of the bosses in the battle with Thracia strong-arms General Hannibal into fighting Celice's army by taking his adoptive son Corple hostage.
    • And earlier, Ayra's nephew is used to coerce her to fight Sigurd's army.
  • This is the eventually-revealed backstory of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The Big Bad's representative invades Hyrule and slaughters anybody who gets in his way en route to Princess Zelda. When he finally reaches her, he gives her an ultimatum she can't possibly fight—surrender the kingdom or watch your people be massacred. She's already seen that her people can't stand up to the power he's brought with him, and drops her rapier in a gesture of submission.
  • Join me, Link, and I will make your face the greatest in Koridai! Or else you will die.
  • Mr. Wong from John Woo's Stranglehold makes Tequila one of these offers as well. This time, the offer is to rescue his daughter Billie and her daughter Teko from the Golden Kane and the Zakarovs. Given Tequila's relationship with Billie and the fact that Teko is his daughter as well, this is an offer Tequila can't afford to pass up. Unfortunately, Wong proves to be a ruthless son of a bitch and has Billie murdered the minute the Zakarovs are history, both to prevent her from testifying against him and out of pure spite against Tequila, who he absolutely despises, setting off Tequila's Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Midway through the first Baldur's Gate, you're given the option of joining the titular city's thieves guild. If you decide not to (whether because you're a good guy or just not interested), the guildmaster makes it perfectly clear that he runs on a "join or die" policy. Cue boss fight.
  • In Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, Leonardo da Vinci's Real Life cooperation with the Borgia, given his good leanings and the villainy of the Borgia, is explained away as his being forced to work for them.

Western Animation

  • In G.I. Joe: Renegades Cobra Commander calmly makes his weapons supplier, James McCullen, a counter-offer while the arms-dealer is being slowly swallowed by a giant cobra.
  • Played with in Jackie Chan Adventures where Chan is injected with a serum that will turn him to stone unless he exchanges the Talismans held in Section 13 for the antidote. While Chan is willing to suffer the consequences, Jade is not so thrilled about his decision.
  • In Teen Titans, Slade once threatened to kill Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy and Raven if Robin didn't become his apprentice.