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The situation for the bad guys has gone so far sideways that the only way out is to trade hostages for transportation. This may be the true gauge of desperation, in that no degree of Genre Blindness can excuse the bad guys from knowing that this never, ever works. Ever.
In spite of this, most municipal police forces on TV employ a negotiator specializing in these situations who has the job of convincing the bad guys that this time it could all turn out differently, if they are only judicious and fair in the way they release hostages. The negotiator's primary assistance in perpetrating this lie will be a wild-eyed SWAT team leader who is panting for a chance to nuke the building from orbit.
There are a few additional required characters for this scenario. A hero-wannabe hostage, for instance, whose primary job is to try something stupid and get killed. This might be a case of death by Genre Blindness. A particularly noble hostage who tells the hero not to worry about them and kill the bad guy anyway. A hostage who decides to raise the stakes by calling the bad guy's bluff. There may also be a hostage who just completely panics and starts screaming and flailing about in a way that frightens a bad guy into shooting them.
Also see Die Hard on an X.
This trope is so ubiquitous that it would be far more convenient simply to list its...
Exceptions, subversions, and parodies:
Anime and Manga
- Cowboy Bebop: Faye is taken hostage by some of the Big Bad's goons. One puts a gun to her head and begins the standard "Put down your gun" speech, but promptly gets one between the eyes from Spike. Cue the Blast Out. Something similar happens at the beginning of the movie where a convenience store robbery goes sour and some random thug, previously unseen, takes an old lady hostage. Spike shoots the hostage taker, after somewhat cynically remarking that he's not a cop.
- Also subverted when Faye is taken hostage and sends a message to the guys assuming they will naturally ride to her rescue. Spike tells her to talk her own way out of it and shuts off the communicator.
- In an episode of Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu, Kaname Chidori is taken hostage. In order to rescue her, Sousuke Sagara the military nut tortures the messenger, identifies the ringleader of the group that has taken her (along with most of her lackeys), then takes the leader's little brother hostage, and somehow manages to tie him up in the rafters of the warehouse where Chidori was being held without anyone noticing, using remote-controlled explosives on the ropes so he could send the tyke plummeting to his death if big sis didn't cooperate. As if that wasn't insane enough, he also made elaborate and somewhat disturbing threats against the loved ones and prize possessions of several lackeys, including a little sister, a motorcycle, and a lovebird, thus sending the entire gang fleeing in terror. The only thing that made Sousuke look slightly less like a dangerous psychopath was that the kid knew the plan all along, and went along with it in exchange for a radio-controlled car and, presumably, just the fun of being a hostage (hey, many kids are like that). Note that Sousuke is the same guy who drew a REAL gun on a shooting videogame earlier in the same episode, so "normal" isn't really part of the program.
- In Astro City "Confession", a villain breaks into a nightclub frequented by heroes out of costume, and takes a busboy hostage. Keeping a wary eye on the heroes gives him no time to look at his hostage, who single-handedly takes him out.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, a train full of people are taken hostage, including an important government official and his family. When the hostage-takers attempt to negotiate with Mustang, he makes no serious attempt to negotiate, knowing that the Elric brothers are aboard and fully expecting them to take care of the situation.
- Also, in later manga chapters, to keep Ed and Mustang in line Bradley subtly threatens the safety of Winry and Hawkeye, making them both unable to (visibly) go against him.
- And then there's a big subversion in chapter 100 — when Roy refuses to perform human transmutation and open the Gate, one of the gold tooth alchemist's mooks immediately slits Hawkeye's throat without warning.
- In Ghost in the Shell:Stand Alone Complex Aramaki is taken in a hostage during a botched burglary. He soon realizes the burglars have been tricked by their employer and that the police outside doesn't actually intend to either rescue the hostages or capture the burglars alive. He then takes charge to get them all out of an government cover-up alive.
- The vampire Alucard rather brutally subverts this the first part of the manga/anime Hellsing by not only just shooting the hostage taker, but by shooting the hostage to do it. Through the chest, leaving a big gaping hole. The hostage (Seras Victoria) is however offered the choice of just dying, or dying but getting to be a vampire too.
- Cromartie High School: a couple of hijackers give up on jacking a plane due to the students of Cromartie being all menacing-looking. Yutaka Takenouchi, who gets motion sickness, accidentally persuades the hijackers to get everyone else off the plane and then carry out the hijacking, resulting in him being stranded in America and one of the hijackers impersonating him back at Cromartie.
- In Fairy Tail, Evergreen retorts: "If you don't surrender and undo your armor, then everyone who got petrified will be destroyed!!" Erza's answer? "If you think that winning or losing is more important than your life, so be it. I'll take your life to avenge those crumbled maidens". With her most menacing armor on, full intent to kill and Death Glare. No wonder Evergreen goes shit. The bonus? "And that's how you do a real bluff"
- In Deadman Wonderland, all of Scar Chain is taken hostage so that Genkaku can force Nagi to join Undertaker. Of course, the hostage plan fails miserably when Crow decides to come by.
- Happens several times in Mahou Sensei Negima, most obviously when Chigusa uses Konoka as a hostage and when Fate threatens to wipe out a crowd of people if Negi doesn't listen to him. The former backfires horribly, as hurting Konoka is Setsuna's berserk button, and in the latter, Negi ultimately decides to attack Fate anyway, relying on his partners to prevent collateral damage.
- School Shock has one to kick off the main plot, resulting in the main character first encounter. She saves his ass from being shot and dropped from a high building.
- Scaled up in Gundam Wing episode 10, where Lady Une threatens to attack the space colonies with self-defense missile satellites unless the Gundam Pilots surrender. Heero takes a third option and self-destructs his Gundam, which is what really kicks off the main plot by sparking the ideological divide within OZ between the noble soldiers and the ruthless and corrupt.
- A very cruel one happens in Air Gear, when Magnificent Bastard / Complete Monster Sora brainwashes his Retired Badass girlfriend, Rika Noyamano, into fighting Kilik and the Sleeping Forest team, which Rika used to be a member of. The kicker, and what makes this specially mean? Rika is pregnant, and HE is the baby's father. The subversion comes when Kilik manages to deploy a Batman Gambit to get Rika restrained without actually landing a hit on her, then unleashing his and the Sleeping Forest's Air Regalia. And then it's further suverted when Sora actually counterattacks with his own gambit and shoots back at them.
- The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird:
- Many episodes, especially in the first season, are about the enemies holding people hostage for one or another reason, principally to use the hostages as slaves or as "bargaining chips" to get different things said enemies need.
- One of the very few effective ways to actually stop a super Bad Ass All-Loving Hero like Katori/Fighbird from fighting the villains is to hold someone captive and threaten the victim's livelihood. Especially if this involves people in Katori's direct Protectorate like his fellow Space Police, the Amano family or his Implied Love Interest Dr. Yoshiko.
- In the finale of GoLion, the GoLion team's friend Ryou Shirogane storms Galra Castle to take down Prince Sincline, only to realize the one on the throne was a fake. The real Sincline then captures him, threatening to kill him if the team doesn't surrender GoLion. Ryou repeatedly tells them not to do it, despite their fear for his life. GoLion ends up being seriously damaged, but Ryou escapes with the help of a dagger that his companion and apparent love interest Amue gave him and manages to kill Sincline...at the cost of his own life. More or less the same happens in Lion Voltron, except that Sven and Lotor survive.
- One of Quantum and Woody's first cases as a superhero team was against a crazed gunman holding a woman hostage. After a brief shouting match, Cowboy Cop Woody shoots the hostage in the chest while Quantum tackles the gunman. Woody then helps the hostage to her feet, demonstrates his usage of paint pellets by shooting a few more at Quantum, and asks her what she's doing Friday night.
- An issue of Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog had Princess Sally Acorn kidnapped and held for ransom; at one point, she manages to trick her captors into lowering their guard and knocks them all unconscious.
Films — Live-Action
- Similarly subverted for comic effect in Mel Brooks' movie Blazing Saddles: When the entire town of Rock Ridge draws its guns on Bart, he draws his own gun, holds it to his head, and plays both the hostage and the hostage-taker using two different voices. As the townspeople immediately fall for this trick, he drags himself off to the town jail, where, in an inspired bit of mime, he yanks himself inside by the neck just as he's making another plea for help.
"Oh baby, you're so talented. And they're so dumb!"
- When an impromptu hostage situation breaks out in the movie Airheads, the protagonists make a series of increasingly bizarre demands, including nude photos of Bea Arthur, which the negotiators successfully supply them with.
- In The Fifth Element the mooks' leader takes Father Cornelius hostage and demands that negotiations start. Bruce Willis agrees, walks into the room, puts one right through the leader's forehead, and politely asks if anyone else wants to negotiate.
- Subverted in the film The Negotiator, where the man who's holding the hostages is the movie's protagonist and is a police negotiator (who has been framed), so he knows all of the tactics the police would try to use against him. The other protagonist of the film is another negotiator, who must help the protagonist prove his innocence. Which he does.
- In Iron Man, when the hero begins unstoppably cleaning house and freeing a village from terrorists, they finally respond by taking a group of civilians hostage. At this, he relents, shuts down his suit's weapons... and then targets the hostage-takers, activates a group of smaller shoulder-mounted guns and takes them all out at once with surgical precision in a fraction of a second.
- In The Dark Knight, the Joker creates several of these. Normal procedures would be completely ineffective because the Joker is so unhinged he is entirely willing to kill hostages just for fun. Given a twist where the Mooks were dressed as the hostages and the hostages are dressed as the mooks. Had Batman not interfered, the police would have shot the hostages with snipers.
- Subverted in Speed when Keanu Reeves says he would shoot the hostage during some banter with a fellow cop. When that same cop is taken hostage, Keanu actually does shoot him.
- Subverted in Die Hard, where the entire hostage situation is choreographed to provide cover for the real crime, a massive robbery. The FBI's response, to shut down the power, is exactly what they wanted.
- And Subverted again in the fourth movie, when the Big Bad makes the mistake of taking Lucy McClane hostage. It backfires.
- RoboCop manages to get around this, with all the supercomputer targeting skills that one might expect in an awesome cyborg police officer. In the first movie, a man was holding a woman as a meat shield, but Robocop targeted him through the woman's dress, which happens to hit the testicles. In the second, a hostage-taker holding a baby gets it in the head when Robocop points his gun away from the guy, but calculates a ricochet shot off a metal wall.
- Subverted to hell and back in Inside Man, when the masked bank robbers stage confrontations with "hostages" (really the other robbers out of their disguise) such that when the robbers release the hostages, the robbers join them and no one is able to tell who is who.
- In Winning London, a made-for-TV Olsen twins vehicle, terrorists invade a Model UN conference and kidnap a handful of delegates, including one of the twins. It's actually a surprise event for the competition, as the remaining delegates must now debate whether or not to comply with the terrorists' demands for nuclear disarmament. In the meantime, the "hostages" get to kick back in a hotel suite with pizza and TV. The situation is resolved when the other sister decides to Take a Third Option and leads a "rescue party" to sneak the hostages out of the suite while the terrorists are distracted.
- In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, after the shoot out/brawl in Dorian's house, the last remaining Mook tries to take Mina Murray hostage, bad idea.
- Parodied in several ways in Loaded Weapon 1:
Jigsaw: [Holding Colt hostage] Drop your gun, Mr. Luger!
- Blake taking a hostage and Styles saving her is what kicks off the main conflict in Ricochet.
- In a rare case of the victim taking a hostage to coerce the villain, the senator's daughter in The Silence of the Lambs gets ahold of Buffalo Bill's poodle and threatens to break its neck if he doesn't let her phone for help.
- Subverted in Terry Pratchett's Discworld City Watch novels, where Angua is taken hostage on at least two occasions, neither of which are taken seriously by the rest of the Watch (one constable actually laughed during the first one). And with good reason: taking a werewolf hostage is a classic example of a Very Bad Idea™.
- In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel First & Only, Flense captures Gaunt's medic, Dorden, and a wounded trooper to get Gaunt to where he could kill him. (Getting him there worked. Killing him didn't. Indeed, at one point, when Flense threatens to shoot Dorden if Gaunt mocks him, Dorden urges Gaunt to mock him, so Flense will shoot him and he won't have to listen.)
- In His Last Command, when a commissiar is trying to execute him and his men out of hand, Gaunt takes him hostage; he attempts to reason, pointing out that he didn't just kill him, but then he uses him to force his junior to contact higher-ups. When he and his team are transported in a cargo pod, they escape, and Gaunt takes a general hostage to get him to give his word for their safety.
- In Lee Lightner's Warhammer 40000 Space Wolf novel Sons of Fenris, Commander Cadmus takes Gabriella hostage, in order to compel the Space Wolves to fight the Dark Angels. What do they do? Join forces.
- Averted in the fifth Honor Harrington novel where the titular protagonist hands herself over to be the hostage. However much to the hostage-takers eventual surprise she has not one but three plants in the works and kills all but one of the hostage-takers in the process.
- From Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones.
Tanith: Here's how it really works. Both sides start out playing fair. Then one side double-crosses the other. Then the other side springs their double-cross. Then the first side reacts accordingly.
- Vorkosigan Saga: Hostage rescues are one of Miles Vorkosigan's specialties.
- Especially noteworthy in The Vor Game where Miles rescues Emperor Gregor by taking him hostage.
- Handled regularly by the elite counter-terrorist unit Rainbow in the Tom Clancy novels.
- Richard does this in the Sword of Truth to himself when he's in the care of the Sisters of the Light, by going into a forest that's enchanted to kill people and refusing to come out until they meet his demands. (Nobody has ever survived being in there after sunset.) On his first day living in the Palace of the Prophets. He likes to make impressions, and doesn't do things by halves.
- Subverted in Firefly: When Agent Dobson takes River hostage in the pilot episode, Mal simply shoots him in the head as he boards the ship, without even breaking stride.
- The Doctor Who Made for TV Movie, in a way that showed the main character's role as The Messiah. Stopped by a cop, the Doctor manages to get his gun away and point it at... himself, and says, "Now, would you stand aside before I shoot myself?"
- In the Deep Space Nine episode "Resurrection," the mirror universe counterpart of Kira's deceased lover shows up on the station and takes Kira hostage with a nonfunctional disruptor pistol. She goes all the way from ops to the landing pad with him before pointing it out.
- Inverted in Stargate SG-1, "Bad Guys"; a misunderstanding leaves the heroes trapped in a museum with a room full of hostages. They have to deal with both the hero-wannabe and the screamer, while stalling the negotiator until help can arrive.
- A really unique version appears in Stargate Atlantis: alien consciousnesses take over Weir and Sheppard, hell-bent on killing each other. Weir/Phoebus a real bloodthirsty one and demanded that Sheppard/Thaelin be turned over to her or she'll flood the city's living quarters with halon, killing everyone (she wasn't bluffing). When they tried to talk her out of it, she retorted that she can always kill Weir via suicide. When Teyla managed to incapacitate Sheppard/Thaelin, Weir/Phoebus ordered her to kill him but at the absolute last moment, Rodney managed to hack into the system and remotely sealed the halon valves. Weir/Phoebus attempted to finish the task herself but got stunned by Sheppard who meanwhile regained control and was feigning unconsciousness. When asked why did she give him a stunner without knowing if he really was himself again, Teyla answered "you would have shot her anyway".
- Another, much earlier instance was when the Genii briefly took over Atlantis, taking Weir and Rodney as hostages. When Sheppard proved uncooperative, Kolya tricked him into believing that his defiance got Weir executed. It backfired however, as Sheppard had gone on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. When the two finally confronted in the control room with Kolya using Weir as a human shield and attempting to escape, he asked Sheppard why is he risking hitting Weir. Sheppard calmly answered "I'm not aiming at her" and shot Kolya in the shoulder, making him release her and fall backwards through the wormhole.
- Teyla also became a hostage for a while. As Michael was escaping with her, they were confronted by Beckett's clone. Unfortunately, the clone was programmed to be psychologically incapable of harming Michael so as much as he wanted to shoot and stop the hybrid, he couldn't (Michael knew this all too well since he created him).
- Or when Kolya took Sheppard hostage and demanded Ladon in exchange. When the expedition tried to stall, he expedited by having a captive Wraith periodically feed on him. What he didn't expect is that Sheppard and the Wraith teamed up and escaped, "Todd" draining Genii soldiers and restoring Sheppard's life as a reward. It also proved to be an important plot point as when the Wraith factional crisis began, "Todd" was backed by the Tau'ri as an ally of convenience (no one except him and his closest allies knew about it).
- An interesting twist is in an early Highlander episode, where MacLeod is taken hostage. When the baddies get ready to kill a hostage, he goads the head baddie into selecting him as the first hostage to be killed. Which, of course, turns out to be a bad decision for the bad guys...
- Similar to Blazing Saddles, it was used in a unique way in Titus. After walking in on his girlfriends' niece, Amy, trying to kill herself, Titus tries to talk her out of it. Amy feigns listening to him long enough to lock him out of her room. Running to the outside window he keeps screaming at her not to commit suicide, asking to let him tell his own story of suicide. She gives him a few minutes but was primed with the noose around her neck, with him saying disbelievingly, "You're holding yourself hostage?"
- Shockingly subverted in Lost when Keamy takes Ben's "daughter" Alex hostage and threatens to shoot her if Ben does not come out of the house in 10 seconds and come with him. Ben refuses, bluffing that she means nothing to him and Keamy immediately shoots her in the head while only down to 7.
- An episode from the last season of Burn Notice had Michael and Agent Bly, who were blackmailing each other, trapped in a private bank during a robbery. Bly initially tried to steal a gun from one of the robbers but got shot, afterwards the two cooperated on Michael's usual combination of Batman Gambit and Indy Ploy to save the hostages.
- And next season, Sam and Michael get turned into the hostage takers, when a slightly deranged client takes a charity-robbing scumbag hostage while they're in the building. Naturally, the good guys aren't arrested, and the Scumbag of the Week gets framed for the deed.
- Happens too often in Flashpoint, where at least every episode has one of these.
- Mulder exchanges himself for hostages while pretending to be an EMT to get close to Duane Barry, who Mulder thinks is an alien abductee. This episode (aptly named "Duane Barry") kicks off the Scully Abduction arc.
- Leverage had an episode where Nate and Sophie are trapped in a bank when a robbery turns into a Hostage Situation. The rest of the team are trying to get them out while stalling the cops and figuring out why two otherwise upstanding citizens are robbing a bank. However, the Mark, a corrupt local judge, is in the bank with them and figures out that he is being conned. He disarms the robbers and takes everyone hostage himself in order to get his money back. In the end it turns out that everyone in the town, including the cops, hate the judge so much that they easily go along when the team frames him for the whole robbery and hostage taking.
- Hilarously subverted in an otherwise serious situation in Boom Town. After being outed, a corrupt cop takes an internal affairs investigator hostage. One of the detectives quips that "If Thumper (the IA investigator) gets shot during the firefight, the saddest thing to be heard will be "Oops!"".
- In a season five episode of House, House, Thirteen, and several clinic patients are taken hostage by a man who wants House to diagnose him. He also makes House give Thirteen all medications first causing her kidneys to shut down.
- Lie to Me did this in season two. Cal, Gillian, Loker, and Torres are taken hostage by someone who claims he was framed for his wife's murder and wants Cal to prove his innocence.
- Ari's first appearance is when he's taking Ducky, Gerald, and Kate hostage in the autopsy room in season one of NCIS.
- There are plenty of hostage situations and kidnappings on Criminal Minds and most of the main characters have been held hostage at one point or another (mostly Reid).
- In a season four episode of Castle, Castle and Martha are taken hostage during a bank robbery by a crew of robbers disguised as TV doctors. Beckett was on the outside negotiating. Of course it turned out to be a distraction from something much bigger.
- In a season three episode of Psych, Gus is taken hostage during a bank robbery. Shawn tricks the hostage taker into letting him in. As it turns out, the guy was being forced to rob the bank to get back his wife, who had been kidnapped.
- In the season one finale of Rizzoli and Isles, Jane, Maura, and Frankie are taken hostage in the police station by a crew of guys who are looking for a piece of key evidence and an eye witness.
- CSI: NY had a hostage situation in the end of its third season. Included Disguised Hostage Gambit.
- Happened again later, in a case where Mac was taken prisoner inside a bank.
- Call of Duty Black Ops: At the end of the first level, you burst into Castro's bedroom to assassinate him. He takes his mistress hostage, which barely slows you down as you simply shoot him in the head. Then the mistress grabs his gun and opens fire herself. Then it turns out you killed a decoy.
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare:
- At the finale of the Bonus Level From Hell "Mile High Club," the terrorist leader takes a hostage and you must kill him with a pistol headshot (in slow motion) to save him.
- The real subversion comes in the beginning: You are the hostage, the deposed President of Qurac, and the game forces you to watch in first person as you are dragged across town and finally executed for an audience.
- Cyberswine: When Cyberswine finally confronts Vice-President Bryce Gets, Bryce has a gun pointed at Lieutenant Sarah Lee's head. Normally, Cyberswine would have been able to handle this, but the Cyberbird comes in and fights him.
- Hostages/Rescue: The Embassy Mission: The entire point of the game is to rescue a bunch of hostage kidnapped by generic terrorists at a generic embassy in Paris.
- Mass Effect:
- At the end of the Bring Down the Sky DLC, the leader of the Batarian terrorist group tells you he'll kill the hostages he's captured unless you let him go unharmed. Since this is Mass Effect, you have the option of sacrificing the hostages and capturing/killing him anyways.
- In the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, a character you're chasing takes a hostage and tells you to back off. In a Call Back moment, both Renegade or Paragon players can throw their rep in her face to intimidate her.
- Girl Genius: Gil tries to protect Agatha by putting himself in Heterodyne Castle, so his father will not attack. She rejects this as holding him hostage.
- The Dragon Doctors: A shapeshifting thief impersonating one of the main characters takes said character's girlfriend hostage at gunpoint. She even says she's holding a special gun modified to go off if she's disabled in any way. Sarin blasts the both of them with an "Equiment Failure" spell that disintegrates the gun (and all their clothing).
- The Dreamland Chronicles: Joey mentions he's related to Alex and things turn bad.
- Pibgorn Trying it with Nat Bustart
- In Nip and Tuck, the Show Within a Show Rebel Cry features a claim that our hero took a hostage.
- In episode 31 of Comic Shorts:Spriteoverse LE-37 tries to hold Label Buddy hostage, but his plan hits a snag: nobody even likes Label Buddy.
- In Sinfest, when Percy took Bally, and Pooch got Yarny, Percy threatens Bally.
- American Dad parodies this in "A Jones For A Smith" with everyone but the negotiator being realistic:
[Stan has hostages, a negotiator turns up and immediately phones him]
- Later, after Stan has clearly left the area completely:
- In the South Park episode "Fun With Veal", Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Butters steal 23 baby calves and hide them in Stan's room. An FBI negotiator treats it exactly like a hostage sistuation. However since the job of negotiating goes to Manipulative Bastard Cartman, the FBI guy does appallingly badly. Cartman bargains like a pro and the boys end up negotiating some heavy-duty weaponry, a ballistics missile and for eventual transportation, Michael Dorn playing Mr. Worf has to drive their truck.
- YMMV on just how bad the negotiator is; he does get the boys to come out without anybody being hurt. If the munitions they handed over were just replicas and he fooled the boys then he's pretty good. If they were real, he really is the worst negotiator ever. The weapons aren't shown tested; only assembled so that's inconclusive. Still, he doesn't get any calves out by playing straight and has to resort to a double-cross with the truck Cartman also negotiates, which is always risky.