WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic

Neo: Morpheus. The Oracle... she told me I-

Morpheus: She told you exactly what you needed to hear. That's all.

Sometimes, the good guys get into a real jam where nothing seems like it's going to save them. Maybe The Hero is getting his butt kicked by The Rival or the Big Bad. Maybe there's some kind of impassable barrier between the hero and his objective, or some kind of mind bending riddle has bogged them down. Whatever the case may be, it doesn't look good.

Then someone Genre Savvy like a friend who's a Guile Hero, the Cynical Mentor or The Lancer comes along, and tells the hero a lie that gets them fired up with a fresh batch of Heroic Resolve. Maybe he tells the hero that the Big Bad killed the hero's parents, despite the fact the bad guy wasn't even in the country that night. (Or pushes a Berserk Button, for example telling The Napoleon that his opponent called him a shrimp.) Maybe you say that the Femme Fatale is waiting naked on the other side of the obstacle if the hero can just get through it, or that the world's greatest chef will make the hero's Trademark Favorite Food if he figures out the puzzle.

Wouldn't you know it, the hero suddenly manages to turn the tide and start kicking ass.

Although the person telling the lie usually isn't thinking beyond the short term goal of overcoming an immediate problem, sometimes (especially in the hands of a prophet) this is done with a long term goal in mind, such as forcing Character Development or some other change in behavior or nature. In these cases the lie may even become a form of Prophecy Twist.

A Motivational Lie can also be a deadly weapon in the hands of a cunning villain, who can use it to either manipulate the heroes or turn others against them, such as in a Let's You and Him Fight scenario. As such it can be a favorite weapon of the Manipulative Bastard, Magnificent Bastard, and The Chessmaster.

Compare and contrast with tropes such as Magic Feather, Blatant Lies, Wounded Gazelle Gambit, Unreliable Expositor, From a Certain Point of View.

Examples of Motivational Lie include:


  • In a memorable McDonald's commercial from the 90s, a boxer is being badly beaten until his father/coach reminds him of how one of his childhood birthday parties at McDonald's was ruined when someone stole his fries. Dad points to the boxer's opponent and says "It was him". Cue a Gory Discretion Shot as the boxer beats the crap out of his opponent. Link for the curious.

Anime and Manga

  • In Samurai Champloo Mugen and a highly attractive ninja girl are in a room surrounded by more than 20 highly trained ninjas that want to kill them both for stumbling onto a counterfeiting operation. The girl, who has already used sex to motivate Mugen before, promises to do something too perverted to be spoken aloud if Mugen helps her. Mugen curb stomps the armed ninjas barehanded.
  • Right at the beginning of Love Hina, Keitaro tells Shinobu that she'd be able to get into Tokyo University because he got accepted. Almost immediately, he realized in his head that he just helped further the misunderstanding everyone had at the time of thinking he goes to Tokyo University.
  • During Ranma and Ryoga's first battle in Ranma ½, Ranma gains the upper hand until Nabiki gives him "steroids". They're later revealed to be mere vitamins, but that doesn't stop Ryoga from proceeding to RIP A TELEPHONE POLE OUT OF THE GROUND AND CHASE RANMA DOWN WITH IT.


  • Frank Castle aka The Punisher was at one point tricked into believing that the death of his family was set up by Nick Fury of Shield, so that Castle would focus his unquenchable wrath on killing Fury.
  • In Fifty Two, Lobo's space dolphin interpret "translates" Lady Styx's three words-sentence into an eloquent derogatory speech designed to insult the Main Man in every way possible. It works and Lobo rips Styx to pieces.
  • In the fifth Scott Pilgrim book, Scott goes to fight the twins and rescue his friend Kim who is being held hostage, but struggles because he's demoralized due to the serious argument he just had with his girlfriend Ramona and the fact that their relationship seems to be on the edge of a breakup. As the twins mock him about this, Kim's phone beeps because the battery is dying, but Kim tells Scott that it was Ramona calling, and that she's cheering him on and waiting for him to get back so they can patch things up. Scott immediately kicks the crap out of the twins.


  • In Die Hard With a Vengeance, John McClane only gets Zeus Carver to help him investigate a spate of bombings by telling him that one bomb was discovered in a black neighborhood. Towards the end of the movie he admits that it wasn't anyplace close to where he'd claimed it was found.
  • The Oracle from The Matrix does a long term version of this to Neo, and it's hinted that she does this regularly to help people unlock their potential and think differently.
  • During one scene in A Knight's Tale, Roland tells William (who is a peasant pretending to be a knight) that his jousting opponent is cruel to his peasants. After William angrily charges off to thrash the opponent, Roland remarks that it's probably true.
  • In The Blues Brothers, while Jake is in prison, Elwood lies about keeping in touch with the rest of the band so that Jake doesn't lose hope.

 Elwood: What was I gonna do? Take away your only hope? Take away the very thing that kept you going in there? I took the liberty of bullshitting you.

Jake: You lied to me.

Elwood: Wasn't lies, it was just... bullshit.

  • The famous Star Wars scene where Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke that Vader killed Luke's father, then later justifies it by saying From a Certain Point of View can easily be seen as this.
  • While he's mostly just trying to save his own skin, Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High makes it look like a rival high school wrecked Charles Jefferson's car, instead of Spicoli himself. Jefferson winds up taking that school's team apart in the next football game.
  • In The Avengers, after Coulson dies at Loki's hands, Fury tosses a small pile of bloodstained vintage Captain America trading cards (Mint Condition!) at Cap, as part of his attempt to use Coulson's death to galvanize the Avengers. The cards were not on Coulson's person at the time, but in his locker. There are also WMG theories abound that Coulson's death itself was a motivational lie and that everyone's favorite Unfazed Everyman is still alive.


  • Brisingr from Inheritance Cycle had Elva lie to Nasuada before the Trial of the Long Knives, in order for her to win the trial. She told Nasuada that she would win, and that gave her the confidence to endure longer, but if she had let things be, Nasuada would have lost.
  • Attempted by Teatime in Hogfather: when Psychopathic Manchild Banjo demands to know if Teatime hurt the Tooth Fairy, Teatime says Susan did it so as to get Banjo to attack her. Unfortunately for him, Banjo Would Not Hit a Girl.
  • The Dark Tower series has an example of this being used as a training method. Roland just can't get Susannah to focus on her gunslinger training until he resorts to reminding her of the traumas she suffered at the hands of racists before and during the black Civil Rights Movement. He goes so in depth that she practically gets lost in the memories. Then he suddenly points at the targets and shouts "There they are, shoot them!" Susannah does, but when she calms down she calls Roland out for manipulating her that way.

Live Action TV

  • At the end of the Battlestar Galactica Reimagined pilot, Adama tells the fleet of a legendary thirteenth colony called "Earth", that he knew actually existed, and that they could flee there. President Roslin quickly calls him out on it in private. Later on they do discover that Earth is real, and start trying to find it.

 Laura Roslin: There's no Earth. You made it all up. President Adar and I once talked about the legends surrounding Earth. He knew nothing about a secret location regarding Earth, and if the President knew nothing about it, what are the chances that you do?

Adama: You're right. There's no Earth. It's all a legend.

Laura Roslin: Then why?

Adama: Because it's not enough to just live. You have to have something to live for. Let it be Earth.

Laura Roslin: They'll never forgive you.

Adama: Maybe. But in the meantime I've given all of us a fighting chance to survive. And isn't that what you said was the most important thing, the survival of the human race?

  • Done in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine during the Dominion War arc, when Sisko and Garak form a plan to trick the Romulans, (who are neutral in the war) into thinking that the Dominion/Cardassian alliance is about to betray and attack them instead of settling for the "I'll kill you last" version of You Will Be Spared.
  • In the Season 4 finale of Breaking Bad Walt convinces Jesse that Gus tried to poison a child with Ricin. Really, Walt poisoned the kid and told Jesse about it in order to get Jesse on his side.
  • On the American edition of Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay calls Moe, one of the brother co-owners of the "Oceana" restaurant, "a busy idiot", being involved in all the wrong areas. Moe was about to pick a fight with Ramsay until Rami, his more level-headed co-owner brother, defused the situation by telling Moe that "busy idiot" is actually a compliment in British English.

Web Comics

  • In The Last Days of Foxhound, the spirit of Big Boss claims to have been responsible for telling Liquid that he was the inferior clone to Solid Snake and filling Liquid's head with completely erroneous ideas about genetics so that Liquid would be motivated to excel rather than just relying on natural ability.
  • In The Order of the Stick Elan gets Thog, who serves as The Brute/Dumb Muscle for his Evil Twin Nale's Five-Bad Band, to break them out of jail by convincing Thog that Nale was in danger.

Web Original

  • Dragon Ball Abridged uses this several times:
    • In the first case, Gohan has been transformed into a giant ape and is destroying everything in sight as a result. Goku gets him to concentrate on Vegeta by saying that Vegeta was responsible for killing Gohan's pet dragon. As Vegeta wasn't even on the planet when it happened, he gets rather pissed by this.

 Vegeta: Oh, this is bullshit! I haven't killed a damn thing since I got to this godforsaken planet! Not for lack of trying, mind you...

    • In the parody of the Lord Slug movie, Goku is knocked out and awakens to find the planet frozen. Because he's Goku, he assumes that because it's snowing it's Christmas, and that the Villains of the movie are looking to wreck Christmas like a different group of bad guys Goku had fought before. When Goku is losing the fight to Lord Slug, King Kai reminds Goku that he's fighting to keep Christmas from being wiped out, which sends Goku straight into Unstoppable Rage.

Western Animation

  • Present in the South Park Season 1 episode "Damien", in which Jesus is losing to a boxing match against Satan. Stan encourages Jesus with an inspirational quote, claiming that it was something Jesus said. After Jesus gets back into the fight, Stan reveals the quote is actually from Star Trek.
  • In the "My Three Suns" episode of Futurama, Fry accidentally drinks a planetary Emperor with a liquid body, which results in a You Kill It, You Bought It situation. That is, until it gets revealed that the Emperor is still alive in Fry's body and the Emperor's subjects start trying to get the Emperor out. Violently. As an alternative to letting the watery beings kill Fry, the gang tells Fry that Leela is dead to get him to cry the Emperor out instead.
  • Similar to the above, on The Simpsons Dr. Hibbert tells Bart & Marge that the only way to get some superglue off his face is with several painful injections into his spine. This makes Bart sweat with nervousness, which makes the glue come off.

 Marge: What happened? You didn't do anything!

Dr. Hibbert: Oh, didn't I? [laughs] Nothing dissolves glue better than human sweat. I knew Bart would panic and start perspiring at the sight of this button applicator!

Bart: Couldn't you have just turned the heat up a little?

Dr. Hibbert: [sinister] Oh, heavens no! It had to be terror sweat!

  • David Xanatos from Gargoyles used several such lies to trick Derek Maza into holding a grudge against Goliath and remaining loyal to Xanatos.