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"Remember, men, take him alive... so there's something left to kill."
Zapp Brannigan, Futurama

"I will not tell my Legions of Terror 'And he must be taken alive!' The command will be 'And try to take him alive if it is reasonably practical.'"

Maybe the villain wants the satisfaction of killing the hero himself, especially if he considers himself The Only One Allowed To Defeat Him. Maybe he needs the hero in order to finish a magic ritual. Maybe he wants someone to take hostage. Maybe the villain wants the hero to join him, or just wants the hero. Or, perhaps, he may need information that only the hero has. He announces to his minions, "I want them alive!"

Usually sets up an increased amount of urgency with the scene. After all, you can only be killed once, but if the Big Bad wants you alive, then you know you're in for a really bad time.

For extra sadism, he might instead ask for only the protagonist to be taken alive, and everyone else to be killed.

Less menacingly, this is a standard line for a Noble Demon who would genuinely prefer to keep the body count as low as possible while carrying out his nefarious scheme - a sentiment his minions may or may not share. If the villain is a Worthy Opponent or Friendly Enemy, expect an Antagonist in Mourning scene if his henchmen choose to ignore this stipulation. (It's okay, though, because they probably Never Found the Body and just assumed that No One Could Survive That).

If the minion who receives this order is Genre Savvy, they may respond with Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?

Justified if they have important information and the Big Bad wants them alive for interrogation.

Sometimes used on the heroic side, especially if the hero is a Technical Pacifist or, conversely, if killing the villain is Something He's Got To Do Himself. The Kid with the Leash may need to add this injunction to all his orders.

A variant of Leave Him to Me.

Examples of I Want Them Alive include:

Anime and Manga

  • Akatsuki want all the Jinchuuriki alive because killing them would kill the Biiju sealed inside them, which is what they're after. In something of a subversion, this doesn't stop them from trying to cripple them (Kisame suggested cutting off Naruto's legs to keep him from running away, and later tried to actually do it to Killer Bee).
    • Well, in Naruto's case it would kill the fox; not all the seals work like that, but having a free bijuu rampaging around is...inconvenient.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist- Father and the Homunculi want Ed and Al alive. So that they can be used as sacrifices, of course.
    • And Roy and Hohenheim and Izumi. Ed gets the most profit out of this, followed by Roy. If anyone else had walked into the middle of the Ancient Conspiracy the way he did, they would have been quietly offed.
    • Riza survived. Even after her coded message was intercepted. But then, she was being used as a leash on Roy, and Pride seemed to enjoy messing with her.

Comic Books

  • In an early issue of Daredevil, the Masked Marauder tells his men to capture "Daredevil" (in reality Foggy Nelson, whom the world is convinced is old Hornhead), but makes especial note that "Once you have him helpless, leave him for me! The Masked Marauder must have the honor of actually finishing him!"
  • A more reasonable variant in a 1950s or '60s newspaper comic, when the villain told his troops to take Tarzan "alive if you can — dead if you must!"
  • Parasite is one of the few members of Superman's Rogues Gallery that doesn't want to kill the Man of Steel. No, he wants to keep Superman alive so he can keep feeding off of him for his powers.



 "You are free to use any methods necessary, but I Want Them Alive. [Vader points at Boba Fett] No disintegrations."
"As you wish."

  • In Dragonheart, the villain wants the dragon captured alive, because killing the dragon means killing the villain.
  • Averted in The Three Musketeers 1993, with Tim Curry's Cardinal Richelieu declaring a bounty on the titular Musketeers: "One thousand gold pieces on each of their heads, dead or alive!" (Steps away, then returns) "...I prefer dead!"
  • Lord Cutler Beckett, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End to Davy Jones: "We need prisoners to interrogate, which tends to work best when they're alive."
  • In The Film of the Book The Wizard of Oz, The Wicked Witch Of The West takes the "extra sadism" route: "Do what you want with the others, but I want [Dorothy] alive and unharmed!"
  • In Hudson Hawk, the villains berate one of their henchmen for threatening to kill a captured Bruce Willis, remarking that they need him alive to steal a MacGuffin for them. Realizing that they can't kill him, Bruce takes the opportunity to begin acting outrageously (singing a silly song, slapping the henchmen around, and grabbing the villainess and dancing lewdly with her) until The Dragon threatens Bruce with a Groin Attack, and the villainess remarks there's one body part that he won't be needing to steal the MacGuffin later on.
  • In The Mask, Dorian Tyrell offers fifty thousand dollars to anyone who can find the titular Mask character...and bring him in the next day alive, so Tyrell can find out where The Mask took the money from a bank robbery.
  • Cade gives the order to capture Shua alive at the start of Sky Blue.
  • Subverted in Braveheart with Edward Longshanks. "Bring me Wallace. Alive if possible. Dead...just as good."
  • In The Warriors, Masai bellows, "I want ALL the warriors, alive is possible, dead if not!"
  • The opening scene of Banlieue 13, thus allowing for a cool scene of Le Parkour.
  • Gambol's response to the Joker flouting the Mob's authority in The Dark Knight: "I'm puttin' the word out. Five hundred grand for this clown dead. A million alive, so I can teach him some manners first."
    • Also used by Gordon, except from a heroic rather than villainous perspective. "I want Lau alive. The Joker, either way."
  • In the Disney version of HoND, after the "feast of fools" sequence wherein Esmeralda humiliates Frollo and his troops, Frollo says to Phoebus, "find her, captain. I want her alive."
    • It's good to know that Frollo is, at least, not a necrophiliac.
  • In the first Blade movie, after spending the entire movie trying to kill Blade, Frost realizes he needs him alive for his plan.

 Frost: Bring me Blade--alive.

Quinn: Wait, what?



  • Big Bad Lord Hong from the Discworld book Interesting Times orders his army to capture Cohen and the Silver Horde alive, so he can spend months or years torturing them.
  • Saruman does this "off screen" with the Uruk-Hai in the Lord of the Rings saga. He wants the hobbits that they capture alive because he believes that one of them is carrying the One Ring that Saruman wants.
    • And in case you wonder why alive, he fears that if the orcs killed the hobbits and searched the corpses, one of them might realize just how powerful item they have in their hands and try to claim it for their own rather than bringing it back to their master. That, and carrying the Ringbearer doesn't have the general negative psychological effects that carrying the Ring has.
      • The hobbits are also wanted alive so they can be interrogated. The leaders of both Saruman's and Sauron's orcs say as much.
    • In both the books and The Movie, the orcs have orders to bring them back "Alive and as captured; no spoiling."
    • It is interesting to note that both Saruman's orcs and Sauron's orcs were under orders not to search the prisoners.
      • Strange how the orcs didn't find this at least a bit odd. Then again, they aren't particularly smart.
      • Actually, one of them does find it sufficiently suspicious that he picks them up and carries them away from the scene of a battle in order to steal whatever it is. Pippin takes advantage of this, and it's what leads to everybody winding up in Fangorn.
    • In The Silmarillion, Morgoth and his then minion Sauron order for several characters to be taken alive, although in these cases it's because they either act as hostages for their allies or know very classified information.
  • Lord Voldemort consistently orders this where Harry Potter is concerned, although in a slight subversion, some of his mooks (of the Psycho for Hire type) reason that he would be equally happy with a brain-dead and badly injured Harry so long as he was able to deliver the Coup De Grace (of course, they never get an opportunity to test this plan out).
    • A handful of Deatheaters figure out a way to do this without personal risk (which is common in Harry Potter kidnap attempts). They call Dementors to eat Harry's soul. He'd technically be alive, but wouldn't fight back. Brilliant though it was, the plan didn't work.
  • The titular Villain Protagonist of Artemis Fowl uses the Noble Demon variant as his Battle Butler leaves to deal with the Redshirt Army:

 Artemis: I prefer scared to dead. If possible.

  • In Stephen King's The Stand, Randell Flagg's second-in-command Lloyd Henreid issues this order to the people belatedly chasing after escaping spy Tom Cullen. Although in this case it's more Flagg will want him alive, and if he isn't, everyone's gonna be very sorry...
  • Both used and averted in The Executioner novels by Don Pendleton. The hero Mack Bolan is a One-Man Army conducting his personal war against the Mafia. On one occasion a mob boss demands that Bolan be taken alive and unharmed so he can torture him to death. The button man assigned to the task retorts that from what he's heard of Bolan's reputation, the boss had better be happy with getting him in any condition whatsoever. On another occasion a hitman who's discovered Bolan holed up in a motel tells his mooks that if they find Bolan "in bed with his pants down" they're to capture him, if not just blast him on sight.
  • Subverted a couple of times in the Star Wars Expanded Universe:
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian novel The Hour of the Dragon, Valerius inverts it:

 You all know the Countess Albiona. Search for her, and if you find her, kill her and her companion instantly. Do not try to take them alive.

    • In "A Witch Shall Be Born" Constantius orders it for Conan.
  • A big part of the reason why Galbatorix was ultimately defeated by Eragon and Saphira in The Inheritance Cycle. Had he wanted to, he could have easily had them snuffed out like candles, or done so himself, well before the fourth book. But no, he was hoping to break their will and turn them to his side, hoping to use Saphira (whom he believed to be the last female dragon), to establish a new line of Riders.

Live Action TV

  • In Farscape, John Crichton knows his buried knowledge is invaluable to his enemies, uses it, and abuses it to the point of strapping himself with a bomb to blow up an enemy base and getting away with it. Twice.
    • Scorpius himself, who was at the wrong end of this prior to his more-or-less Heel Face Turn, acknowledged the tactical genius of this move before ordering the evacuation of his doomed base.
    • Not to mention also facing down heavily armed troops once using this: after being captured by Scorpius' right hand man Braca, Crichton is subjected to a bit of gloating by radio from Scorpy, who in the process mentions that Crichton's wormhole physics knowledge is possibly unique in the universe. This leads Crichton to realize that Braca's threat to shoot him, even in a non-vital limb, is a bluff, since the human tendency to bleed out (something Sebaceans don't share) would make it impossible for Braca to seriously harm him without endangering the information he carries. Crichton has no such reservations about hurting Braca, though.
  • In the sesaon one finale of Burn Notice, Michael uses the knowledge that his pursuers need him alive to take himself hostage and force them to let his family go.
  • Used in an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. In an earlier episode, Captain Archer had escaped from Rura Penthe and a bounty was placed on him. He is turned in to the Klingons by a bounty hunter, but then manages to escape in an escape pod. One of the Klingons asks if he can charge weapons, but the Klingon captain responds, "No, I want him alive." Later, in the first "In a Mirror, Darkly" episode, the Dark Malcolm Reed offers to kill the Dark Admiral Forrest and Dark Jonathan Archer replies "I want him alive."

Video Games

  • A variation of this trope occurs in Pokémon. To catch a Pokémon, you must first weaken it, than throw a Pokeball at it. The catch is, if you go too far and hurt the Pokémon too much, it will faint and you will not be able to catch it. It it very frustrating trying to catch a shiny/legendary Pokémon, and hurt it too much. You might have another chance to catch a legendary, but a shiny is almost impossible to find, making them rarer than legendarys.
  • A Genre Savvy variation of this trope occurs in Mass Effect - "Spare the asari if you can. If not, it doesn't matter."
    • A second even more Genre Savvy one comes from the second game - "I want his body recovered, if possible."
  • In the video game No One Lives Forever, Magnus Armstrong regularly orders mooks to tie up and take the protagonist Cate Archer alive. The minions appear to be Genre Savvy, as they regularly ask why they don't just kill her.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II, crime boss Goto has posted a substantial bounty on Jedi, with an I Want Them Alive stipulation attached. This causes a legion of bounty hunters to pursue the protagonist in order to collect on the bounty... and almost none of them bother even trying for a "live capture".
    • The irony here is that Goto actually wants a Jedi brought to him so they can work for him, which deadness kind of precludes.
      • He really doesn't care though: as he puts it, "A true Jedi would have no trouble surviving such attacks...and if you could not then would be useless to me."
  • Rare hero example: in Jak II after you defeat Krew, you discover that the latter sent Sig on an assignment to open a door in the Underport. When you get there, you see him fighting for his life and claiming Krew set him up to open the door and let hundreds of Metal Heads into the city.

 Jak: Krew is dead.

Sig: Then he's lucky! Because he sure wouldn't want me to catch him alive!

  • The Mercenaries series encourages this. While your contacts don't have a problem with you killing high value targets, they pay you double if you manage to capture them alive.
    • Which only makes sense, as your targets are high-value military personnel who most likely have information wanted by the guys paying you to capture them.
  • In Mischief Makers, the Beastector are told to bring in Marina and the Prof alive. They misinterpret this as dead.
  • The bounty the Komato put on Iji's head has three conditions: a low bounty for total destruction, a bounty more than an order of magnitude higher for preserving her equipment (as her Nanogun is an example of technology they don't have and want), and a bounty fifty times that for taking her alive. Asha, while an arrogant bastard, will settle for dead.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Zelda herself does a mild variation of this late in the game.
  • The Player in X-COM often finds himself in the position of issuing this order whenever the squad identifies an alien with useful knowledge.



 Rayner: "Bring him in, dead or alive, whatever. It would be cool if I could kill him myself, but you know... whatever."


 Commander Schaefer: Yes. And the doctors say that if he ever wakes up, he might just have enough of his brain left to answer our questions.

Lothar: There, you see? I don't know what you're all bitching at me for.


Western Animation

  • In Star Wars Rebels, Season One Episode "Gathering Forces", when entering the Old Republic base, the Grand Inquisitor tells his squad of stormtroopers "Keep them contained. I want them alive."
  • Justified in ~Avatar: The Last Airbender~, where killing Aang would just lead to some other Avatar being reincarnated and the hunt having to start all over again. However, the series is big on Fight Scenes so this often led to jarring circumstances where Aang is nearly killed by the same people who explicitly stated that they wanted him alive moments beforehand. This up and down went on until the season 3 where the notion is dropped altogether. Even if he does reincarnate that still buys them probably a decade without worrying about him, and the Fire Nation could probably conquer the rest of the world then (especially after taking down the Earth Kingdom).
    • Toph's dad puts out a reward for finding her, but Xin Fu seems to misunderstand the mission.

 Xin Fu: She's wanted - dead or alive.

Master Yu: No she's not! I'm certain her father wants her alive!


Real Life

  • Police forces prefer to capture rather than kill suspects and fugitives, generally only resorting to killing to prevent other people from dying.
    • The fact is that police forces in countries with Rule of Law have no authority to use deadly force except in situations where bystanders would have that same right.