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"The true interest of an absolute monarch generally coincides with that of his people. Their numbers, their wealth, their order, and their security, are the best and only foundations of his real greatness; and were he totally devoid of virtue, prudence might supply its place, and would dictate the same rule of conduct."
Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter V

A subversion of the Even Evil Has Standards trope, when a villain refuses to do something abhorrent not because it is too horrible, but rather because it is too inefficient or ineffective, or there isn't much to be gained from it. He's tried kicking the dog or at least studied those who have. No matter the combination of dogs and boots, and he's investigated thoroughly, there just isn't any profit and one's toes tend to hurt after a while. Also, dogs sometimes manage to sink their teeth into their tormentors. In some ways, the pragmatic villain can actually be more dangerous than a typical Card-Carrying Villain because he is almost invariably resolute in his determination not to carry the Villain Ball. What he does all depends on which option would serve his purposes best. Being evil for these types just means that they have all the illegal and immoral options available to them in addition to the more legitimate (or at least socially respectable) tactics they usually prefer.

Virtually any Villain with Good Publicity tends to be a master of this trope, especially one who is also Dangerously Genre Savvy. Villains With Good Publicity almost always have years of experience in earning the trust of their supporters, and are well aware that angering dog-lovers (among others) will not advance their cause and may hinder it. Even for those who don't happen to be Affably Evil, if any dog-kicking is deemed necessary, they will keep these acts of cruelty out of the public eye, or when they can't do that, they'll make it look like they're Kicking a Son of a Bitch; how evil they truly are under cover of darkness must remain shrouded in darkness.

An obvious foil to Evil Is Stylish abiding villains (who will do the evil deed anyway), though some do manage to pair the two. Not to be confused with Do Wrong Right, where an evil act is decried for being poorly executed. Compare and contrast Shoot the Dog, where a hero or anti-hero does a morally questionable act for pragmatic reasons. See also Cut Lex Luthor a Check, Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat, Stupid Evil, where a villain defaults to evil for its own sake, even when it's counterintuitive, Sanity Has Advantages, and Bread and Circuses. Compare Evil Virtues, where a villain has good traits. The Noble Demon will probably attempt to justify his nobility this way, with varying degrees of believability.

Examples of Pragmatic Villainy include:


  • Of all things, a commercial tie-in to The Matrix depicts an Agent as condescendingly encouraging the audience to drink more of the sports-drink beverage that was on the table, with the stated intent of making them more healthy, vigorous living batteries.

Anime and Manga

  • In Code Geass, Cornelia tries to fight the drug trade because the drugs hurt productivity among the conquered Japanese.
  • Dutch from Black Lagoon runs illegal booze, slaves, guns and drugs. He does piracy when the delivery business goes slow. He does not, however, condone his employees running off Ax Crazy and taking out their issues by shooting at noncombatants when he's in a combat zone. Not because he gives a crap about their lives, but because he wants to know that his backup can be relied upon and stay professional.
    • Most of the cast of Black Lagoon act out of this trope almost all of the time: People who don't seldom last long (except Revy, who has a tendency to run off Ax Crazy when she has a bad day but is also a main character). Balalaika averts it once when she declares personal war on Hansel and Gretel for killing one of her men, though she also had a pragmatic reason since the pair were destabilising Roanapur by their presence.
    • Dutch also said in the manga that he doesn’t want to risk himself in an operation that could make him a lot of money, (dooming himself to work for significant less money that other operators) because he knows that is the best way to get himself killed).
  • The Gandor Family in Baccano stays steadfastly out of the drug trade, sticking with relatively less objectionable crimes like bootlegging and gambling. This is due to actual moral objections on the part of Keith Gandor, but the other two Gandor brothers, Luck especially, recognize that it's also because their relatively small organization is not equipped to compete with the larger organized crime families currently running drugs.
  • The Maou in the light novel/manga, Maoyuu Maou Yuusha is an example of this, although she is more pragmatic than evil.
  • Moo in the Monster Rancher anime captured Holly to use the Magic Stone to locate his original body, figuring he could destroy the heroes with it. They rescued her, but by that time he had gotten what he needed to know. Rather than let them find out where he was going or try and stop him in his humanoid form, he simply left them behind so they had no idea where he was.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Nappa and Vegeta (of the Saiyan race) are surprised that a Half-Saiyan/Half-Human Hybrid creates a much stronger warrior than either the Saiyans or humans alone. Nappa suggests that the two go to Earth conquer it, and use their women to breed an army of extremely powerful warriors. Vegeta shoots him down immediately--not because he was against the plan itself, but because it would be ridiculously stupid to breed a race of beings that would one day be far more powerful than you are yourself. Instead, he suggests they just go blow the planet up.
    • When they do make it to Earth, one of the first things the brutish, superpowered Nappa does is blow up a large part of the city in which their space pods landed. Vegeta is unhappy about this, but less out of the senseless waste of human life (changed unconvincingly in the Saban dub to the population having apparently evacuated the city in a few seconds) than because their goal was to collect Earth's Dragon Balls, and for all they knew, one of them could have been in there.
      • Something similar occurs during the Namek Saga with Frieza of all people (at least in the anime). After Orlen found a survivor of the village that Vegeta attacked earlier and reported it to Frieza, and then let slip that he killed the villager, Frieza ends up angry with Orlen and executes him, not because of any genuine concern for the villager (he and his army were slaughtering several of the Namekians themselves to get the Dragon Balls), but because Orlen did so before asking him where Vegeta went (as Vegeta stole that village's Dragon Ball). Incidentally, this also was around the time he was scolding Zarbon for seemingly killing Vegeta, mostly because he needed Vegeta alive to extract the location of said Dragon Ball, and in fact used Orlen's execution as "motivation" for Zarbon to recover Vegeta fast, especially if he's still alive.
  • This is the reason why Ginjo from Bleach told Tsukishima to stop Mind Raping Chad and Orihime. He has no moral objection to it, but destroying your hostages' minds means you can't use them as pawns. It's easier to just stick to Mind Control.
    • Mayuri has shades of this too. He's outright worse than most of the actual villains, but he sticks to being the Token Evil Teammate because of this. Working for the Soul Society gets him: an officer position, funding, minions, supplies, etc. Working freelance gets you.. execution by the Soul Society. He's still committing all sorts of atrocities in the name of science, but at least this way, he gets paid for it.
  • In Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force, Arnage and Veyron take on two other Eclipse infectees. The latter's willy-nilly attacks on innocents will be blamed on the Huckebein, who don't want the added attention.
  • Death Note has Villain Protagonist Light Yagami who was willing to kill tens of thousands of criminals and other undesirables to further his ambitions. But he doesn't approve when his Bumbling Sidekick Teru Mikami, announced that Kira was going to kill lazy people as well. Light doesn't object to killing the lazy, he just hasn't decided yet if it's an effective method of imposing his reign.
    • Although it's implied Light's only real objection to it was that he considered the move premature. Once all the criminals were bumped off and Kira was God, Light fully intended to prune out other undesirable elements from "his" world.
  • While not an actual villain in Mewtwo Returns, the titular character saves a bus full of people telekinetically from its cave, which it then explains to a cloned Pikachu and Meowth that it did so largely to remove any potential chance of being discovered by any news choppers that were to come by via the crash (it and the other clones were in hiding at Mt. Quena at the time), though it is implied in the Japanese version that a growing soft spot for humans was at least part of the motivation.

Comic Books

  • Crime Boss Wallenquist from Sin City refuses to seek revenge on Wallace, who almost singlehandedly dismantled his human slavery market, because there's no benefit to him.

 "Revenge is a loser's game. There's no percentage in it. All that matters is profit and power."

  • The Shocker, one of Spider-Man's enemies, is almost unique among the wall-crawler's enemies in that he's rarely concerned with taking revenge on our hero and prefers to only commmit crimes that are actually profitable. Of course, superhero comics being what they are, Spider-Man is almost always the one to interfere with the Shocker's robberies.
  • He needed Wonder Woman to point it out, but no, Ares does not support nuclear and biological war. If everyone died, there would be no one left to fight wars anymore.
  • Darkseid will never try to conquer the universe through Time Travel on the grounds that it is far too reckless.
  • Christu Bulat from The Punisher MAX, in total contrast to his father. The relationship between the two is rather strained because Christu views human trafficking as a business and raping girls as just part of the business. He also berates his father for using his bare hands instead of a gun to kill a gang member, as well as for shooting the whole gang. As you could guess from his profession, though, he's still a heartless, raping bastard.
    • His pragmatism is best demonstrated by his willingness to kill his own father. It doesn't work out, both because he underestimated his father and because he gets disemboweled.
  • In the Watchmen universe, this is what happens with some of the bad guys just stopped wearing flashy costumes and went on to do mundane crime.
  • The Joker explained that he doesn't place Joker Venom on post office stamps because it was too ludicrous crime even for him, preferring instead to operate on a much smarter level in regards to such matters. This was also when he was framed for placing Joker Venom on postage stamps and nearly executed as a result.
    • He himself also invokes the trope, whenever the bad guys do a Villain Team-Up, they RARELY (If ever) invite the Joker in. While most of them were genuinely afraid of him, some of him didn't like The Joker because he's not exactly a team player and is considered unprofessional and untrustworthy even from his fellow villains. The exception is Lex Luthor, who does invite him if he's in charge of the villain team ups on the basis that it's safer to have an unpredictable Joker on your team than it is to have an unpredictable Joker who's offended you snubbed him.
  • You're Dracula. The series is Requiem Chevalier Vampire. Six million lemures, the souls of those who were mistreated and murdered in life and can only be stopped by killing their tormentor in death, are swarming your ship. Do you fight them all one on one? Or do you step into your back room and break Hitler's neck, wiping out all six million in a stroke?
  • The Red Skull may indulge in petty wasteful sadistic villainy often, but he does not appreciate anyone on his payroll doing the same. Villainy committed on his dime has to have some kind of profit for him.
    • One comic showed him foiling a plan by Madam Hydra, her subordinate at the time, that wanted to blind every american who was watching a television set at some point. He said he was called a lot of things, but never a Nihilist anarchist.
  • Disney's post-2015 run of Star Wars comics:
    • Grand Moff Tarkin in Darth Vader (2017)'s "The Burning Seas" arc. Namely, when confronted with the decision to possibly destroy Mon Cala, he gives a lecture on how the power of an Empire is in what it controls, not in what it destroys, and cites that Mon Cala is still very much useful in regards to the Empire, not just in technology, but even in regards to some cultural aspects while implicitly stating they are not to destroy Mon Cala, not unless something were to happen that made that required. Of course he forget that attitude when Alderaan was in his sights.
    • Emperor Palpatine in both the 2015 and 2017 Darth Vader comic. He does not seek to rule over the dead, spares anyone whom he still needs; taking issue with Vader's tendency to respond to failures with Force chokes and/or a lightsaber; and being willing to hear out valid and well thought alternatives to his plans. He began ditching this attitude in the 2020 comics as he needed to up the cruelty when Vader had begun plotting against him and started to work out what had really happended when Padmé died.
    • Cassio Tagge was a long practioner of this, fighting using mathematics rather than showmanship. After his worries about the Death Star in A New Hope proved valid, Palpatine promotes him above Vader as a way to punish his apprentice for not saving the Death Star, Tagge forcing his pragmatic worldview onto Vader's operations.
  • From Marvel's The Transformers, Shockwave. Essentially a poor man's Soundwave in the cartoon, he was ruthless warrior in the comics, winning beacuse he always calculated the most efficient option and avoided getting dragged into petty vendettas like Megatron.


  • Pale Rider: "I want that preacher with a rope around him. No, wait, if we get too rough we'll make a martyr of him, last thing we want to give them is a martyr to fight for."
  • In The Godfather, Vito Corleone defends his refusal to involve his family with the drug trade by claiming that his friends in the criminal justice system would quickly turn against him if they found out his business was drugs, as opposed to "harmless vices" like gambling or prostitution. This is a reflection of the real-life decline of the mafia, as one of the lynchpins in its downfall (That is, assuming it really has "fallen") was the greater involvement of federal forces in the "War on Crime" resulting from anti-drug legislation and the demonisation of drug dealing.
  • The Villain Protagonist of Lord of War, Ukranian-American Yuri Orlov, at one point reveals he has never done business with Osama Bin Laden..."not on any moral grounds" but because "back then he was always bouncing checks". In fact, he even shipped cargo to Afghanistan while they were fighting the Soviets.
    • At the end of the film, when Yuri is delivering two trucks of weapons for a pile of conflict-diamonds to a warlord, Yuri's brother's guilt gets the better of him, and grabs a grenade and destroys one of the trucks before being gunned down. The warlord gives Yuri a long stare...before simply halving the pile of diamonds and handing them over.
    • The rival, Simeon Weisz, would only sell weapons to those whom he wanted to see fulfill their goals. In the case of the Iran/Iraq War, he supplied both sides in hopes that they would both lose.
  • In The Ten Commandments, Moses is given charge of using slave labor to build Pharaoh's new treasure city. When he takes charge, he improves the slaves' food ration and gives them a day off to rest. When Rameses protests that he's being wasteful, Moses replies, "Cities are made of bricks. The strong make many, the weak make few, the dead make none," and then shows Pharaoh that the city is being built faster than before.
  • In Star Trek: Insurrection the Federation engages in a complicated plot to remove the Baku from their planet in order to use the radiation produced by it's rings to save billions of lives. They plan to construct a "holo-ship" and transport the Baku to a holographic recreation of their village while they sleep and take them to a new planet, reasoning that forcibly relocating them would be a PR nightmare. They don't really seem to consider that the Baku are just going to realize what's happened anyway after they notice they've been...forcibly relocated to a new planet.
  • In Avatar, the mining corporation uses the Avatar program as a tool of diplomacy to try to peacefully negotiate with the natives for their land and to research the planet. The company executive points out this was done because killing an entire tribe for their land would cause public relations problems.
    • More than one viewer has realized that the heroes discover that the entire planet is one giant distributed neural network, which is incomprehensibly valuable. The executive, however, fails to realize that (or possibly even to take it seriously) and continues going after the Unobtainium. He only thinks he's being pragmatic.
    • This is because he sees the mineral as (relatively) instant profit, while research into some "neural network" takes time and proper specialists. He also has shareholders to think about, who probably prefer "short-term" investments (relatively, given the travel times between stars) rather than long-term, which would likely require decades, maybe even centuries.
      • Also, the mineral is a stable room temperature super conductor which would be infinitely more usable than obscure research into the mind of a larger planetary neural network. The neural network can't be sold but the rocks can.
    • As for Quaritch himself, he would rather get the Na'vi to leave Hometree voluntarily, but if he can't, he plans to forcibly evict them in the most humane way possible. After that, he goes after the Tree of Souls only because he's worried about being overrun, and wants to spiritually cripple the Na'vi.
  • On CSA: Confederate States of America, the Confederacy rejects Hitler's Final Solution because they consider it "a waste of human livestock".
  • The Prophecy featured a pragmatic Lucifer (played by Viggo Mortensen) who has the angelic habit of perching atop things like a bird. Satan saves the main cast from an evil Gabriel, who was on a rampage against mankind. His own selfish motives being "we don't need another hell up there".
    • Which is almost repeated in Constantine, down to the name of the rebel angel. However, The Prophecy could have been based on or inspired by Hellblazer series.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Barbossa requires the blood of Elizabeth Swann to remove the curse of undeath plaguing him and his crew (or at least he believes so, not realizing it's Will Turner's blood he needs), and seems prepared to kill her for it, until revealing he only needs a few drops of her blood.

 Elizabeth: [after Barbossa has cut her hand slightly] That's it?

Barbossa: Waste not...

    • Of course, considering how long the Cursed Pirates went without having felt the pleasures of the flesh, they might've been saving her for other reasons. Which is villainous, yet pragmatic.
    • Subverted later on, when they actually capture Will. They proclaim they're going to spill all his blood into the chest, just in case a cut on the hand doesn't do the trick (and also because most of the crew probably didn't want to "savor" him). They also decide to do this to Elizabeth, after seeing her blood didn't work at first.
  • In Reservoir Dogs, Mr. White and Mr. Pink disapprove of Mr. Blonde's killing spree...not because they have any qualms whatsoever about killing someone (they don't) but because they need a reason, even if that reason is "I'm fleeing the cops and you're standing in my way." Mr. Blonde appears to kill and torture For the Evulz.
  • Tangled: Mother Gothel acts as a loving mother figure to Rapunzel so that she will never leave her, as she needs her magical hair to sustain her beauty, and by extension her youth. However, she was not a loving mother figure to her biological daughter as shown in Tangled: The Series, as she treated Cassandra like she was her servant. And eventually, she decided that Rapunzel was more important to her than Cassandra she was. So she abandoned her actual daughter altogether. Luckily, Cassandra was adopted by the Royal Guard before some awful fate befell her.
  • Why does Lotso from Toy Story 3 allow his minions to play in the butterfly room (which, unlike the caterpillar room, is exactly where they want to be)? So that they’ll help him lock up toys, so he can continue subjecting said toys to horrid abuse.
  • Sonny in A Bronx Tale lives by this trope.
    • To specify, he was the only one to willing to work and deal with Black people while the more racist mobsters want nothing to do with them.
  • Subverted at the beginning of The Untouchables, where Al Capone jokes his way through an interview and a shave until one of the reporters asks an unwelcome question; he flinches, the razor nicks him, the whole place freezes and no one knows what's going to happen until he calms down and says that violence is "not good business". Around this time, a bomb goes off and kills a kid who was standing nearby.
  • The Hyenas were shown to undergo this trope in the time skip in The Lion King, where they voice their complaints to Scar about there not being any food or water, obviously out of feeling very hungry than out of any moral concerns for the pride land's survivability. Similarly, when Scar coldly motions to them to eat Zazu, their reactions indicate he really wasn't worth the trouble and decide against eating him (with Banzai even privately saying to his fellow Hyenas "And I thought things were bad under Mufasa" with the implication that Scar's rule turned out to be even WORSE for them.).
  • Principal Jindrake briefly uses this in Max Keeble's Big Move when revealing that he's the reason why the animal shelter is being closed down and demolished for the football stadium he planned to build as a bargaining chip to become superintendent. He sarcastically asks if he should instead tear down Max's house before laughing at his own "joke", and then stating he wouldn't consider it anyways since "there wouldn't be room."
  • The Agents in The Matrix, Smith in particular, give the order for the law enforcement bluepills to not confront Trinity until after they arrived in the opening, with Smith admitting upon discovering the police lieutenant they issued the order to had evidently ignored the order that he gave the order primarily for the police's protection due to Trinity easily killing two units of his police due to her status as a redpill. As the Agents are later revealed to be at best apathetic to humanity's overall state (and Smith in particular has borderline genocidal hatred of humans), it's likely they gave the order because they didn't want to deal with any more deaths than were deemed necessary to stop Trinity.



 He didn't administer a reign of terror. Just the occasional light shower.

    • In Jingo the D'regs have the same philosophy as Genghis Khan below regarding their treatment of merchants. Kill merchants, or steal too much, and they don't come back. Rob them just enough and your sons can rob them too. Vimes compares it to farming.
  • In the Draka series, the Draka are horrified at the Holocaust. Because the death camps were a massive waste of resources.
  • In The Hobbit, the three trolls don't want to eat Bilbo, simply because he wasn't big enough to go through the trouble of skinning and boning him.
    • A more serious example is in The Lord of the Rings, when the orcs don't torture Merry and Pippin and actually heal them, because they don't have time to linger in enemy territory (and some of the orcs have orders not to search or plunder them). Similarly, Sauron doesn't torment or question Pippin through the palantir - because "he wanted [Pippin], quickly, so he could deal with [him] in the Dark Tower, slowly."
    • That could go either way. Questioning him at the Dark Tower would allow more convenience.
  • Touched upon in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, when Dr Gonzo mentions the defence adopted by one of his Complete Monster clients: "Why would I fuck children? They're too small!"
  • Quoth Niccolo Machiavelli: "The prince can always avoid hatred if he abstains from the property of his subjects and citizens and from their women". The Prince is the textbook for Pragmatic Villainy. He also advised that a Prince was better off with popular support over the nobility. The nobles only want to oppress, and the people just want to not be oppressed. Support of the people is therefore the better and easier path.
  • The Thrawn Trilogy: Grand Admiral Thrawn will execute subordinates who failed and tried to pin the blame on others, but subordinates who failed at almost the exact same job who tried harder and took responsibility? Everyone braces for the order and the poor schlub sweats, but what happens? Promoted. It's a Career-Building Blunder. Thrawn explains to Pellaeon that this Tractor Beam operator tried a novel technique when faced with something he wasn't trained for, that it might have failed but still looked valid, and if the operator can perfect this technique and teach it to others, the Empire won't have a problem with people escaping tractor beams in this way. Pellaeon privately remarks that Thrawn's action also served to make everyone who saw it much more willing to give him their all.
    • And in a sort of very quiet Brick Joke, in the Hand of Thrawn duology Lando tries to escape an Imperial tractor beam in that same way, only to be countered. Pragmatism paid off.
    • In Tatooine Ghost, set a few months before the Thrawn trilogy, readers can infer that Thrawn put on stormtrooper armor and went dirtside with some of his soldiers, not telling them who he was but still making them aware that he was someone very important. A squad leader is rough while trying to get information out of someone, and when asked about it says he thought that brutal was the new doctrine. Thrawn hits the squad leader with his blaster, then asks the leader if he wants to do Thrawn any favors now, and orders him to tell the truth. The squad leader says no, and Thrawn pointedly says that someone who has been threatened is likely to give nothing more than what they need to survive. The new doctrine is efficiency.
    • Tarzen Tagge makes sure that the Tagge Company only builds the highest quality construction work. That way the customers have no reason to complain to law enforcement. An investigation would reveal Tarzen's smuggling operations.
    • For obvious reasons, when Corran Horn goes undercover as a pirate in I, Jedi, he prefers this sort of piracy, encouraging the gang to kill as few as possible to encourage cooperation in the future. While a few of the pirates are in it more For the Evulz, most of them recognize the potential of this racket and end up accepting a legitimate security contract at the end of the novel.
  • Carl Sagan, in a footnote in his nonfiction book Pale Blue Dot, says this about fears that aliens will ship us off Earth as food.

  "Put aside the profound biological differences that must exist between the hypothetical aliens and ourselves; imagine that we constitute an interstellar gastronomic delicacy. Why transport large numbers of us to alien restaurants? The freightage is enormous. Wouldn't it be better just to steal a few humans, sequence our amino acids or whatever else is the source of our delectability, and then just synthesize the identical food product from scratch?"

    • Then again, why do humans pay more for wild-caught fish and free-range animals than farm-raised fish and meat? Part of the appeal of many delicacies is that it's rare/brought from far away/really expensive.
      • Part of the reason is taste. Many people insist that corporate mass produced fish/wine/beef has less flavor since people are being paid mimimum wage and do not have to show pride in a reputation.
  • An interesting variation is presented by David Weber's Safehold novels-Pragmatic Heroism. The good guys are clearly good anyhow, but they justify and present their actions and motivations as purely pragmatic moves. Better to be merciful and honorable to defeated enemies so future foes will be more willing to surrender rather than fight to the last, better to treat your people well so they'll be loyal to you in turn, and so on.
  • How to Succeed In Evil: Central character Edwin Windsor makes a lucrative, if frustrating, living counselling would-be supervillains to turn their efforts away from wanton destruction and towards more profitable strategies.
  • Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers is stated to have given up such petty things as vengeance, since they end up in the way of getting and keeping power.
  • They're both complete monsters, but both Darken Rahl and Emperor Jagang in the Sword of Truth series show shades of this. In the first book, you'd expect Rahl to pull a You Have Failed Me when it turns out Richard broke through Denna's training. Hell, she certainly expect it. Instead Rahl reasons that her failure was no fault of her own, and shrugs it off. In the same scene, Richard plans to get Rahl angry enough to kill him, so that he can't use Richard's knowledge of the Book of Counted Shadows. Rahl calmly listens to Richard, then, after verifying his knowledge, shrugs, and gives him two options, amounting to, "Help me open the right box, or don't. I've got a 50-50 chance of getting it right either way, and if I end the world, no skin off my nose."
    • Jagang perhaps manages to be a bigger monster, but he's still smart enough to gather intelligence and listen to his advisors, especially when they're experts in magic and he's not. In Phantom, for instance, he and the Sisters of the Dark are looking for the Book of Counted Shadows. On finding what appears to be a copy, he thinks it's fake, while the Sisters insist it could be real. You might expect him to simply overrule them considering they're essentially slaves. Instead, they have a pretty civil debate about it.
  • From Dune: "A pogrom? That's not like the Harkonnens. A pogrom is wasteful."
    • Which is why the Baron doesn't much like Rabban, who is just a brute, which is why the Baron is more than willing to sacrifice Rabban for his smarter younger brother Feyd-Rautha. On the other hand, putting Rabban in charge for a while, then deposing him in favor of Feyd-Rautha makes the latter look much better by comparison. So putting a Complete Monster in charge is ultimately quite pragmatic.
  • Zig Zagged in Animorphs with Visser One, who claims she wants Earth to be conquered slowly and secretly because it's more pragmatic than Visser Three's plans of open war and genocide. In reality, she's worried that an open war could coincidentally kill two children she gave birth to through a previous human host. However, since the whole point of going after Earth was because there are enough people to give every Yeerk a host, the whole thing would have been pointless if Visser Three killed a large percentage of humans.
  • The government in Nineteen Eighty-Four outlaws the death penalty, preferring torture and brainwashing potential rebels into model citizens, rather than killing them and risk them becoming martyrs for the next generations rebels.
    • Or, rather, they will kill you. Not immediately, though. First, they'll torture and Mind Rape you until you accept you were wrong and that you love Big Brother. Then they let you go, give you a fairly cushy job doing things of absolutely no importance and generally leave you alone until one day you just disappear, long after everyone has forgotten about you anyway.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire, when Joffrey acts Stupid Evil and wants to totally wipe out surrendering enemies and their families, his grandfather, the powerful and cunning Tywin, counsels him: "When your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you." Underscoring that this is pragmatism rather than mercy is the fact that Tywin famously had no qualms utterly wiping out families that wouldn't go to their knees, namely Robb and Catelyn Stark.
    • Roose Bolton is also extremely pragmatic, with his preference for a quiet land and quiet people. This leads to some annoyance with his son's open and increasingly inconvenient sadism. Unlike Roose, Ramsay will commit evil actions simply for the thrill for it.
  • Sandra Arminger of the Novels of the Change is the voice of reason to her husband's pure sadism. His vainglory, too; there are times when she exhorts him to make a kill that he perceives as damaging to his reputation. Once her husband is dead and there's a firm peace between Portland and the other nearby nations, she becomes so bloodlessly pragmatic that she comes off as a particularly intrigue-oriented good guy.
  • In the Night Watch series, the Dark Others tend toward this when declining more villainous actions:
    • In one scene, a Dark Other manifests a cat to torture a mouse and his cohorts are disgusted with him because it would waste less energy to just kill the mouse himself, and he's distracted from his job of guarding their headquarters. To an exent, he's also considered to be acting Stupid Evil.
    • The Dark Other Edgar is shown not using magic to steal from a store because he wouldn't want to be caught by the other side and because since humans are the "resources" of his side, it's foolish to hurt them needlessly. Edgar also decides to do a light Charm Person on an attractive woman rather than brainwashing her, because (more or less) consensual sex is more fun than rape.
    • Zabulon/Zavulon, despite being an obvious Big Bad, is generally in the role of helping the Night Watch stop some apocalyptic scenario, since if they are allowed to happen, he won't have any victims. However, his help is always done to further some other, hidden scheme, and he's quite happy about massive casualties to the extent they help his side.
  • Gentleman Johnny Marcone of The Dresden Files is practically this trope incarnate. He mercilessly crushes gang violence in Chicago and cuts down civilian casualties, imposing order in the criminal underworld, making it so that his presence is by far preferable to the anarchy that would follow, should he be taken down. He fights on the side of the good guys more often than not, if only because the villain of whatever book he's in is a greater threat to Marcone's business than Dresden is. And to top it all off, he provides Harry Dresden, a man notorious for "having problems with buildings," a lifetime membership to all of Marcone's exclusive clubs to ensure that Harry doesn't smash them to pieces breaking in all the time.
  • In Death: Alex Ricker in Promises In Death demonstrates this in his conversation with Roarke. Alex reveals that the men who robbed his store and were found floating in the river all carved up were killed off by his father, Max Ricker. Max did this because the thieves embarrassed Alex and embarrassment is apparently unacceptable. Alex didn't have them killed and didn't want the problem handled that way, and that he doesn't do murder...because it's just not practical.
  • In Tony Hillerman's People of Darkness, the hit man Colton Wolf kills as few people as he can manage (aside from his assigned targets), because the fewer people that are killed, the shorter the resulting manhunt is.
  • This is one of the defining traits of the Lady in the Black Company novels- she's almost entirely devoid of compassion and mercy, and totally devoid of remorsely, but neither is she cruel for the sake of cruelty- everything she does is to get some kind of advantage, and her empire is designed to be stable and enduring. She's deliberately contrasted with her psychotic rival and sister Soulcatcher, who is pretty much pure chaos, and her ex-husband, the Dominator, whose empire, rather than being opressive but stable and organized was almost literal Hell on Earth.
  • In a flashback in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort refrains from murdering a kid who tried to talk to him simply because it was quite unnecessary to do so.
    • A more downplayed example, but he was shown to prefer killing victims before feeding them to Nagini in the same book. It's heavily implied he does this because feeding them while they're still alive would risk harm to his pet snake.

Live-Action TV

  • The Ferengi from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are a Planet of Hats based on greed. They'd never practice mass slavery or genocide-because people who are enslaved and/or dead can't buy things.
    • Which doesn't actually stop one of them (working for a non-Ferengi) from selling weapons that they know will be used for genocide, though another Ferengi prevented it.
    • It does bring their treatment of women into question as a bit of a contradiction. Of course, women's lib in their culture came immediately after someone pointed this out.
      • Also completely Truth in Television. Just watch Mad Men. Businesses that market to women have been doing so since way before they had any power and even today they seem to have an even worse image of women than everybody else (at the very least, they think they're dumb enough to buy [insert cosmetic product] because it has some sciencey-sounding stuff in it). Nobody looks good under a microscope and the marketing department looks at its prospective customers very, very closely. When you get right down to it, women are just as selfish, vain and stupid as men are.
    • One of their first appearances even uses this to invoke the "what profit vengeance" Aesop, with one revenge-consumed DaiMon's crew deposing him for wasting their resources and, thus, depriving them of profit in an attempt to get revenge on Picard.
    • The Female Changeling gets an instance of this near the end of the series. The Dominion have just gained the Breen as allies, who have a weapon that totally disables any ship it hits. This decisive advantage allows the Breen to defeat a combined Federation/Klingon/Romulan armada, including the Defiant. Once everyone's stuck in escape pods, the Changeling orders them spared. Not because she cared, but because their effect on morale to their enemies was worth far more than their deaths. Then again, given Sisko was among those in the pods, she might not that thought that through entirely.
    • Star Trek: Voyager uses this trope as a Take That against the Kazon villain race from the first season. When an off-hand comment about them is made in front of Seven, she recalls how the Borg ran into one of their colonies. They refused to assimilate the colony because it would detract from their perfection. They didn't even have desirable physical qualities. Even the Talaxians got praise for that.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A humorous version of this comes up in season 6, when a vampire refuses to drink Buffy's blood because she's been eating a lot at a crappy fast food joint. Eating her at that point would likely make him feel sick.
    • An earlier episode had someone spared because the taste of steroids in his blood disgusted the vampire. Also, they were special steroids that were slowly turning him into a fish, so it's understandable.
    • Mayor Willikins was equal parts Affably Evil and this trope.
  • While the Xenomorph in Alien is more instinctual than evil, it's remarkably patient with dealing with the crew of Nostromo. It doesn't simply rush at them screaming (much like Parker does due to him not being afraid of the alien) or try to ambush them while they're all together. Instead, it waits for a member of the group to separate...and then waits for an opportunity to strike. In Dallas's case, he gave the Xenomorph a golden opportunity to strike.
  • The Wire plays this straight in Season 2 when The Greek and Vondas contemplate killing Frank Sobotka, not out of genuine malice but rather because police are using damning evidence of his corruption in order to turn him for the prosecution against them. Vondas convinces The Greek it would be more pragmatic just to buy Frank's loyalty (and silence) by manipulating Frank's son Ziggy's murder trial and preventing a conviction. Unfortunately, Frank had already made a deal with the FBI by then, and both The Greek and Vondas find out from a "friend" in the FBI while Frank is on his way to meet with them. Frank is shown with his throat sliced open in the beginning of the next episode.

 The Greek: "Your way... It won't work."

    • Similarly, in Season 3, once Stringer Bell took over Avon Barksdale's drug empire, he negotiated with other Baltimore players to create a co-op; his period of control marking what was almost certainly a low point in violent drug-crime, since it wasn't in the best interests of any of the dealers.
      • Stringer had also been taking economics courses, and so this pragmatic course of action was a solid application of coordinated action to avoid the "tragedy of the commons". Unfortunately for them, Marlo's refusal to join their cartel and continued use of violence also solidly illustrated the free-rider problem and "prisoner's dilemma".
  • Scorpius from Farscape is incredibly goal-oriented, and rarely lets petty things like "emotions" get in the way of his mission. Thus, even when John Crichton has utterly demolished his base, ruining his plans for revenge against the Scarrens, he states the following when John asks if he is considering following through on his earlier threat to glass Earth.

 Scorpius: To what purpose? Vengeance against you? The only vengeance I cared about is no longer within my grasp!

    • There's also the fact that Earth is pretty far away from Peacekeeper territories, and it would take years even at FTL to get there. Scorpius isn't crazy enough to divert resources for this, not when he needs all he can get for the coming war with the Scarrans.
  • In Game of Thrones, Cersei is clearly appalled by Joffrey's decision to have Eddard executed, knowing that leaving him alive is the only way to prevent war with the North.
    • Later on, her father, Tywin Lannister, saves a group of prisoners including Arya Stark, although he doesn't seem to have realized it, from torture and death. Not because the whole torture thing bothers him, but because, hey, why waste free laborers?
  • In the words of Jimmy Darmody from Boardwalk Empire "You can't kill everyone, Manny. It's not good business." Of course, Jimmy's temper and ruthlessness sometimes means that he takes steps that make everyone else think he is going too far and being impractical himself...
    • Both Arnold Rothstein and his Bastard Understudy Meyer Lansky are tremendous examples of this.
  • Super Sentai:
    • Choujin Sentai Jetman: This is primarily Radiguet's modus operandi. While Juuza and Tranza are at the helm of the Vyram hierarchy, he forms an Enemy Mine with the Jetmen, not just because they share a common enemy with the aforementioned two, that's because Radiguet uses the Jetmen as stepping stones to remove both Juuza and Tranza from power so he can reclaim his right to lead the Vyram.
    • In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, Basco ta Jolokia is perfectly fine with letting kids die, blowing up schools, and even killing his own Morality Pet to get what he wants. However, he decides to spare (and in one case, save) the Gokaigers because they're all after the same treasure and it's easier to let them do the heavy lifting for him[1].

Newspaper Comics

  • In Dick Tracy, the final Big Boy Caprice story by Max Allan Collins has him trying to kill Tracy with a million dollar open contract on the detective. Eventually, the organized crime ruling committee, The Apparatus, confront Caprice and tell him that the contract must be canceled. In this case, this is not motivated by moral considerations, but as a matter of professionalism considering the fact that Tracy has learned about the mob contract on him and has taken personal control of the department's Organized Crime Unit to retaliate. The Apparatus knows that they can't afford to let Tracy come at them full bore and so they must take action.

Role Play

  • Velor Vedevix of Cerberus Daily News was a pirate and slaver before the Reaper invasion. Once the true magnitude of the threat was revealed, he began focusing his efforts on fighting the Reapers, gathering other pirates to fight, scavenging in the Terminus systems, even openly delivering needed supplies to Alliance warships that would have happily blown him out of space a month earlier.

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40000 has the Tau, who are (besides the Card-Carrying Villain that is Chaos) the only faction that do not have "All the aliens must die, sooner or later" as policy, and are willing to incorporate other species into the Empire - sometimes at gunpoint, but other times a species will willingly join the Tau.
    • The Dark Eldar was made into this to explain how a bunch of Neutral Evil backstabbers were still alive after 20,000 years.
    • Indeed, every faction in 40k are pragmatic villains; Dan Abnett pointed out that if Chaos really was a "nail a baby to your helmet" society as some claim they would simply collapse in on themselves and be destroyed within a week. As such, even the most villainous 40k factions must, by definition, have a functioning society. Since they can all threaten the Imperium to a greater or lesser degree, that means there must be people who can engage in pragmatic villainy. Any examples (from any race) that contradicts this can therefore be dismissed on the grounds of "every sufficiently large organisation has a bloody twit in a position of power."
  • Blue and or black villains in Magic: The Gathering tend to abide by this.
  • Illithids in Dungeons and Dragons have to be pragmatic since their powerbase is a mere shadow of what it was in their glory days. Illithids would like nothing better than to gorge themselves on humanoid brains, but most of them are smart enough to realize that indulging their appetites too frequently would bring the wrath of every other humanoid race upon their tentacled heads. So the Illithids limit themselves to one or two brains a month while engaging in backroom deals, slave trading, and subtly aiming for power in the shadows.



  • In Heroes of Might and Magic IV, after founding his own kingdom, the necromancer Gauldoth the Half-Dead gains a once-in-a-lifetime chance to invade his neighbouring nation while their armies are elsewhere and become the most powerful ruler in the world. Instead of doing this, he sends the invasion plans to the queen of said nation, telling his Number Two that whenever a necromancer gets too greedy, every living thing in the world allies against them. Instead, he's content on ruling his own little nation for all eternity, overlooked by everyone else.
  • Bowser. At times he helps the Mario Brothers and other people, only because he wants to be the only one to take over the Mushroom Kingdom. Also, since his goal is conquest and not destruction, he'll assist the Mario Brothers so that others can't destroy what he wants to conquer.
    • Dr. Eggman has similar actions occur in the Sonic franchise regarding helping his usual enemies. Although most times it's to bail himself out of the mess he got himself in in the first place, Shadow the Hedgehog does have a more straight use of the trope where Eggman decides to help Sonic and the others, particularly Shadow, fend off the Black Arms invaders, NOT out of any real concern for the planet, but because he realized that, to quote Eggman, "How can I conquer the city for my Eggman Empire if there is no city!?"
      • Speaking of Eggman, in the Master System version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2's first level, just before the boss, Sonic at one point ends up falling into a lava pit, only for Eggman to swoop in and rescue him and then drop him near an antlion-based robot. It is to be noted that his saving Sonic that time was more out of concern for the Chaos Emeralds, as he had previously abducted Sonic's friend Tails and demanded the Chaos Emeralds as ransom, and thus had every reason to need Sonic alive in order to get them.
        • Something similar would later occur in Sonic Adventure 2 with Shadow. After Shadow learned that Rouge got herself pinned down inside a soon-to-self-destruct Prison Island, he then rushed off to save her and succeeded via the use of Chaos Control. This was less out of concern for her, but more because her dying would ruin his agenda of avenging Maria's death, especially considering four of the Chaos Emeralds were with her (as they formed a key ingredient for the Eclipse Cannon). Though Rouge suspects there was in fact more to it than that.
          • Earlier in the same game, Eggman was about to deal with Amy Rose when she stumbled upon him by accident due to mistaking Shadow for Sonic when planning to bust him out in order to get him to marry her only for Tails to interfere, with it being implied in later cutscenes that he ultimately let them leave without incident after fighting to a presumed standstill. However, it wasn't out of the goodness of his heart that he did so and more because he was forced to let them escape due to needing to steal the Chaos Emeralds and blow up Prison Island afterwards, and having already wasted enough time against Tails as it was, and even made sure to threaten Tails that he won't hold back the next time they encounter each other before leaving.
  • Caster in Fate/stay night refrains from actually outright killing the victims she drains because that would draw even more attention, too much to cover up with a story about gas leaks.
  • Shin Megami Tensei V: Hayataro questions why Lahmu and his minions would suddenly return to the Netherworld when they could continue attacking Tokyo. But based on Lahmu wanting to merge with Sahori to become a Nahobino, he was going to take a break from the invasion so that he can groom Sahori for the merging, and when he was done, he and his followers would head back to Tokyo in order to burn it to the ground.
    • This trope is also why Lahmu doesn’t immediately merge with Sahori so he can regain his power. He knows that if Sahori rebels against him, it could end up leading to his death. So he uses his power to seemingly help Sahori with her problems and make it so that she’ll live a wonderful life. He does this so that she will love him, cherish him, and never think about disobeying him. But it ultimately doesn’t work.
    • As a side note, this is hinted to be why Lahmu managed to gather many followers. They figured that if they helped him destroy the barrier separating the Netherworld from Tokyo, they would be free to feast on as many humans as they wanted. But the Nahobino ended up killing most of the demons that entered Jouin High School.
  • The Illusive Man from Mass Effect goes out of his way to ensure his employees are kept comfortable for a long as they are able to serve him. Of course he'll still gladly sacrifice any of them if he thinks the potential gain from doing so is large enough. He also has no problem with Shepard recruiting a number of non-humans despite being the head of a human-supremacist organization, because he recognizes the simple fact that the Reapers are too great a threat for humanity to defeat on its own.
    • This is also likely the reason Morinth wants to help Shepard stop the Collectors and Reapers.
      • Commander Shepard can be played this way, as well. Although Shepard performs very few truly "evil" acts, a Renegade Shepard is ultimately concerned only with furthering his/her own goals. Thus, decisions such as stopping Saren, investigating human disappearances, saving Morinth (as opposed to Samara) and fighting the Reapers can be seen as pragmatic steps to his/her agenda. The myriad Renegade options available in Mass Effect 2 tend to ease an upcoming battle, even they're ruthless as all hell.
    • Some of the Renegade events are Pragmatic Villainy (such as electrocuting Sergeant Cathca) others are simply common sense (and morally neutral, seeing as the people will die in the ensuing fight anyway).
    • Aria T'Loak helps Shepard gain support of the Terminus mercs for the fight with the Reapers in Mass Effect 3 because she wouldn't be able to enjoy the benefits of ruling Omega if the Reapers wiped out galactic civilization.
  • The Agency of Hitman normally go after criminals and the like due to the fact that people pay more for world stability. Also, Agent 47 prefers not to kill anyone not his target, since collateral damage isn't professional and it creates the risk of more witnesses.
  • Crash Bandicoot’’: Neo Cortex can’t kill his past self as that would kill him as well. Which is unfortunate for him, given that would prevent Crash Bandicoot from being born. So, he decides to kill present Crash Bandicoot instead to prevent past Neo Cortex from being rescued.
  • This is the reason why "professional" pirates in Eve Online hate the more Griefer-like rat bastard ones. A professional pirate will trap your ship and make you a simple offer - pay them or your ship and capsule will be destroyed. If you pay up, they'll let you go, otherwise they blow you up and loot your wreck. The rat bastards will do the same thing, except if you pay up they destroy you and loot your wreck anyway. The professionals hate the bastards because they make people far less likely to pay up, which is far more reliable profit than looting wrecks (as what survives a wreck is random). Quite a lot of people in Eve refuse to ever pay ransoms for their ships simply because they don't believe in "honest" pirates any more.
  • "The Practical Incarnation" is the name for the most evil of your previous selves you encounter in Planescape: Torment. Everything he did had a practical use, even if it ultimately resulted in horrible things like convincing a woman he loved her so her very soul would stick around and act as an oracle for him. He even leaves you with some very good, easy-to-follow instructions, so much the better to make sure you can carry on his work even after his death.
  • Mr. House of Fallout: New Vegas is not a nice man and freely says that he desires to become the region's dictator (he prefers "autocrat"), but he has no interest in power without a purpose and his plans for the Mojave would certainly benefit mankind as a whole. Likewise, he's merciless in dealing with people who have earned his ire or even have a chance of standing in his way, but in personal interactions he's usually just sort of condescending, not showing any overt malice.
    • Father Elijah, a fanatic whose behavior edges pretty close to Complete Monster territory, actually had some pretty sensible policies during his time as the leader of the Brotherhood of Steel, including obtaining beneficial technology such as farming equipment and trading such technology with wastelanders in order to gain their support. Elijah doesn't care about wastelanders and is happy to sacrifice them if needed, but was smart enough to recognize that the Brotherhood was too small and insular to survive without support from their wastelander neighbors (a fact which even his much more moral successor completely missed). Or not. His successor can be made to admit that the Brotherhood is doomed, but he's not willing to break the Codex like Elijah was. Elijah breaks the rules for what he sees as the greater purpose of his organisation... both the ones that keep the Brotherhood from being outright evil, and the ones that have long lost their purpose in the modern wasteland.
    • The Khans, a group of raiders act more the "professional" pirates of the Eve Online example above.
    • In the final battle, Legate Lanius will only consider retreat if he's properly convinced/bluffed that it is the better decision either due to the fact that the Legion lacks the ability to properly sustain itself that far, that he is secretly being set up for a trap much like his predecessor Joshua Graham or some other reason that would make sense to him.
      • On the other hand, if you are not quite that good at convincing people, you can get him to fight you one-on-one by appealing to his non-pragmatic side. He is still a Blood Knight, after all.
    • Colonel Moore is this. She is willing to put up with anything the Courier does because it will lead to winning the war, but she makes sure to slander the Courier and gets Ambassador Crocker fired for doing things their way instead of hers.
  • "Good" choices in Overlord are often framed as this. For instance, after retrieving a village's stolen food supply, you're given the option to take it to feed your horde--but giving it back to the villagers instead increases their productivity (represented in-game by a higher respawn rate for the sheep you kill to feed your basic troops.)
  • In Portal 2, GLaDOS ends up thinking like this at the end of the single-player campaign.

 The best solution to a problem is usually the easiest one. And I'll be honest. Killing you? Is hard.

  • In the Deus Ex Human Revolution "The Missing Link" DLC, you can find an email from the evil base commander where he claims he was informed that his subordinates are raping their female prisoners and demands that they stop or face harsh punishment...because this decreases the chance that they survive the horrific surgical procedure that turns them into Hyron Drones.
  • Flameth in Dragon Age, especially Dragon Age 2. Kidnapping and eating children? Like I don't have anything better to do with my time.
  • Not so much a matter of avoiding morally reprehensible actions, but Agatio parts with his dignity in Golden Sun: The Lost Age and consciously plays the part of a dumb brute being manipulated by Alex because he knows that will get the job done, though he makes it clear that he's actually a Dangerously Genre Savvy Genius Bruiser and not fond of Alex's attitude.
  • Killer Croc shows a bit of this in Arkham City in his cameo in the game. He initially considers fighting Batman, but after smelling the Titan poisoning in Batman, decides against it, thinking it more efficient to just wait out Batman's last days and then devour him.
  • Gene from Portable Ops shows a bit of this regarding Cunningham's proposal of using truth serum to interrogate Snake on the missing half of the Philosophers' Legacy, not because he was morally against it, but because, aside from the fact that FOX agents were trained to resist truth serum, any stronger doses will run the risk of leave Snake being too brain-damaged to supply any information at all. He does ultimately agree to it, but under the condition that he speak to Snake about himself first.
    • In The Phantom Pain, the target of one of the missions, a GRU captain, makes it clear he will not order the destruction of civilians, to the extent that if faced with the order himself, he'd rather shoot his commanding officer instead. His reasoning is less due to moral concerns and more because indiscriminately targeting civilians would obviously make their war in Afghanistan needlessly more difficult. this also foreshadows that Skull Face and XOF were the ones responsible for razing an entire village to the ground and not the Soviets.
    • The trope is discussed in an optional codec conversation with Doktor within the first Denver level in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance regarding a hypothetical scenario of Raiden deciding to Zandatsu any civilian cyborgs rather than the combat cyborgs he's been dealing with up to now, ignoring whether or not the act was in any way moral or part of the rules of engagement. They ultimately decided that it wouldn't have been worth it since unlike military cyborgs, civilian cyborgs didn't carry the electrolytes and/or components necessary for the function to restore much of Raiden's energy, if at all, being a generation behind the latter cybernetics-wise.
    • This trope is presumably the reason why Big Boss does not make any attempt at threatening to launch nukes despite obviously having access to them in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, unlike his sons Liquid and Solidus (sort of regarding the latter), as his dream of wanting total war and allowing soldiers to continue to remain useful obviously won't come to pass if he just nuked the entire planet to kingdom come.
      • Speaking of Liquid, Liquid himself engaged in this regarding who to launch against with Metal Gear REX. Specifically, he changed the target from an implied major settlement in Russia, Lopnor (a Snatcher reference) to a minor testing site in China. He rationalizes that, aside from obviously not wanting to offend Ocelot (or more accurately, his benefactor Sergei Gurlukovich), launching at Russia would mean "game over" for them, but if he launched at China, and at a testing site, it could still easily be covered up, and even implies it would make for a good way to market REX to sell to various third parties per his Outer Heaven goal. Solidus also engaged in this regarding Arsenal Gear. For his official main plan of launching a purified hydrogen bomb, he intended to launch it in the air so he could knock out Wall Street and allow for the Patriots to be crippled without too many casualties. It also was a separate plan from the Dead Cell members, since they were so obsessed with revenge against the Patriots that they intended to launch the bomb directly at New York regardless of casualties or whether it had any actual impact beyond immediate revenge. Due to edits made as a result of September 11, this particular bit of differing objectives was not made especially apparent. The other, true plan was to have Dead Cell draw the Patriots fire so he would just use whatever names he found in the AI and directly confront them. Vamp also was shown to engage in this regarding Fatman's actions, since it's implied his main reason for not approving of Fatman's actions on Big Shell had less to do with moral concerns and more because such obviously did not aid in their plans to avenge Colonel Jackson and/or their squad at all.


  • In the Order of the Stick prequel series Start of Darkness, Xykon says he will not do any scheme of kidnapping virgins because "it's like giving a guy who doesn't know how to hold a hammer and making him to build a house for you". He also thinks that destroying the world is a stupid idea, because if he did that, what would he have left to rule? "I like the world... I'm certainly not about to destroy it unless I get really, really bored."
    • His entire philosophy is when style fails, fall back on this trope.

 And now I see that planning doesn't matter. Strategy doesn't matter. Only two things matter: Force in as great a concentration as you can muster, and style. And in a pinch, style can slide.

    • During a story arc in the main series, an imp suggests that Vaarsuvius use some virgin's blood as a spell component, to which Vaarsuvius replies that virgin's blood is difficult to acquire on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere.

  Vaarsuvius : This is reprehensible, depraved, and most importantly, highly impractical given our current location.

    • Tarquin, who claims to be Above Good and Evil, runs the Empire of Blood. His interaction with Heroes suggests he's so Dangerously Genre Savvy it hurts, including knowing world domination is rather hard to pull off if everyone knows you're doing it. He even offers help and magical rewards to prevent Xykon from doing so either.
    • Belkar, amazingly enough, manages an instance of this, after one of his shoulder demons convinces him that saving Hinjo's life will work out better for him in the long run than letting him be killed by an assassin.

  "It's for the Greater Me."

  • Exterminatus Now: The Cesspool mercenaries won't sell weapons to the Cultists of Darkness. Because they refuse to pay up front and try to weasel out of the bills.

Web Original

  • Pretty much the basis of the Evil Overlord List.
  • Dark General Cobalt of Sailor Nothing is this in contrast to his Card-Carrying Villain acquaintances. It's not that he has a moral objection to rape, torture, and murder, it's just that he finds it a colossal waste of time. He'd much rather focus on getting things done. Interestingly, his pragmatism actually results in his being the villain the heroes encounter the most--in the interests of actually getting his project off the ground, he decides to kill the girls who've been wiping out his underlings.
  • The very reason the Flanders Company was created in-universe.

Western Animation

  • Shere Kahn in Tale Spin once made certain that his workers were freed from a corrupt underling who was working them to death.

  Shere Khan: My dear, I desire only money and power. Unpresentable employees provide me with neither.

  • Batman: The Animated Series: This was the reason Ra's al Ghul deposed his son Arkady Duvall as a potential heir to his world-conquering empire; Ra's' entire shtick is his belief that Utopia Justifies the Means, which includes making sure The Trains Run On Time, so the prospect of using barbarous and inefficient tactics to ensure that (such as whipping hard workers for every little slip-up, or disposing of supposed interlopers by dunking them in molten lead, as Duvall does in the episode "Showdown") does not sit well with him, at all.
    • Joker showed a bit of this in Joker's Millions. After being tricked with inheriting millions of fake cash and owing a huge debt to the IRS with the choice of either facing jail time by the latter party or otherwise being forced to swallow his pride and admit he got tricked with fake money, he shoots down his #2's suggestion of robbing the IRS the usual way, NOT because he was against robbing the IRS, but because he knows Batman will get involved if he dared try to do so with his usual tricks. He ultimately settles on a third option by having said #2 pose as him at the Iceberg Lounge while he robs the IRS in a subdued manner.
  • Superman: The Animated Series: Lex Luthor demonstrates this trait twice.
    • The first time was with the episode "Target", where he denied any involvement in Lois Lane's attempted assassination, not because he didn't wish her harm, but because he would not have risked exposing himself by using a device that can be traced back to him if he wanted her dead.
    • The second time was with the episode "Solar Power", where he, aside from Even Evil Has Standards of not being willing to jeopardize the planet even with his hatred of Superman, makes it very clear that Luminous' actions with hijacking solar satellites would not have been approved of him even if he did consider doing it largely because such an action would have evidently caused a loss of at least several millions worth of communications revenue for Luthor.
  • Carmen Sandiego: In the penultimate episode of Season 2, Coach Brunt has the opportunity to kill Carmen Sandiego (which she unsuccessfully attempted to do reluctantly in the Season 1 finale, ironically enough), but she realized that she would be better off if instead of killing Carmen, she persuaded her to turn on Shadow-san instead. So she tells him that he had killed his father, which to her knowledge was actually true (but didn't really happen, as the Chief killed him because she thought he was about to fire a gun at her), It doesn't work.
  • Zordrak, of all villains, invokes this in The Dreamstone when Urpgor asks why he doesn't just kill his bumbling minions Blob, Frizz and Nug.
  • In South Park, "Fun With Veal"

 Kyle: Dude, how are we going to move 23 cows to your house?

Stan: I don't know.

Cartman: Guys, I've got it. We can kill Butters, and then float the cows on a river of his blood!

Kyle: Don't be stupid! Butters doesn't have that much blood in him!

    • Another example why Eric Cartman doesn't kill his mother is she is still useful to him.
  • The Kingpin was presented this way in the 90's Spider Man animated series, even occasionally teaming up with Spidey against more Omnicidal Maniac villains because "there's no profit to be had in the end of the world."
  • Xanatos from Gargoyles never carries the Villain Ball; his plans are pretty much designed so he HAS to win something. He also refuses to engage in revenge, because as he sees it, it's a "sucker's game" with no real benefit, and seems to want to remain friendly with his enemies, since he could easily need their help someday.
    • A good example of this trope is in "Enter Macbeth," when he's reluctant to kill the gargoyles during their stone sleep not because they're defenseless, but just because it "seems like a waste." The same episode has Macbeth calmly wait for them to wake up before trying to capture them, since that, after all, is the honorable thing to do.
      • Keep in mind that Macbeth is immortal, and the only thing that can kill him is a woman who's been avoiding him for centuries, so he can be as practical or reckless as he wants.
  • Agent Bishop in the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He had the goal of protecting humanity from aliens, and while he extremely ruthless, he had his priorities in line and didn't go and spend time trying to kill the turtles, who were ultimately more an aid to him then a hindrance.
  • Although he hates Darkwing Duck and would be happy to get rid of the interfering superhero once and for all, Megavolt has helped DW on one or two occasions when the city of St. Canard is destroyed. He justifies this by pointing out that if St. Canard is destroyed, there'll be nothing left for him to rob.
  • One of the lessons Megamind learns after apparently killing Metro Man. Part of the enjoyment of being a Super Villain is having a worthy superhero to do battle with.
  • In Kim Possible Monkey Fist explains he didn't kidnap Sensei because the old man was of no value to him.
  • Dracula from The Batman vs. Dracula doesn't like to kill his victims, but not because he doesn't like killing. He just hates wasting a life that could be better used as his undead servant.
  • Transformers:
    • The Tri-Predacus Council of Beast Wars, leaders of the Predacons, sends an agent to prehistoric Earth to aid the Maximals and capture Megatron, whom they declared a dangerous criminal. They, like Megatron himself, still want to take over Cybertron and spark a second interstellar war, but would prefer to do so through subtle manipulations and waiting for the opportune moment. That and Megatron's plan is too reckless even for them to consider. There is a possibility that it might have benefitted them, but given the risks of changing time so fundamentally, they refuse to risk losing their power base.
      • Megatron himself. Even he conceded that his plan was incredibly risky, lest it bring about a future where Unicron destroyed Cybertron, and only considered it as a last ditch option, preferring to gain power through amassing Energon.
    • Soundwave of Transformers Prime appears to be this, multiple times he has had characters (such as the kids and Wheeljack) at his mercy, only to fly off as soon as he completed his objective.
  • Imperiex of Legion of Super Heroes winds teaming up with his Arch Enemy Superman X in order to protect a young boy from some Contract Killers, if only because that young boy will be the one to invent the technology that would create Imperiex in the future.
  • Amon from The Legend of Korra is this to the point of Dangerously Genre Savvy. He specifically picks certain benders that are established monsters or jerks, refuses to debend the Avatar to avoid creating a martyr, and won't indulge in any Kick the Dog moments for the fun of it in order to build up a strong following.
  • Though some fans mistakingly believed Vilgax had suddenly become Lawful Evil in Ben 10: Alien Force due to his return episode portraying him as following a galactic code of conduct, it's strongly hinted (and confirmed by Word of God) that he was only following because it was more profitable for him, allowing him to conquer ten planets in a short amont of times without wasting massive ressources to it. In later episodes, after this strategy failed against Ben, he has no scrupple breaking said code several times.
  • The early ReBoot episode "The Crimson Binome" ends with Dot Matrix (by way of increasingly obscure words, but she makes her basic point at the beginning: "We don't attack our customers") breaking down how Captain Capacitor's existing life as a "software pirate" is inherently less profitable than other things he could be doing, on which grounds he gives it up altogether.

Real Life

  • Generalisimo Franco. While he was not a nice person, he was competent as a dictator, was more instrumental about his atrocities, and avoided the type of "eccentricities" that Those Wacky Nazis are associated with. One contemporary said, "Franco made Spain safe. Not for Democracy, but for the people."
  • Benito Mussolini, Il Duce of Fascist Italy, killed far fewer political opponents than Hitler or Stalin (whole orders of magnitudes fewer) and remained fairly pragmatic (although unnecessarily showmanlike) about instituting Fascism in Italy and the world up till the point he started getting chummy with Hitler.
    • That may be more, Even Evil Has Standards. He was an incompetent tyrant, unlike Franco who whatever his faults was competent at least. Mussolini also devoted himself to a cult of conquest which Italy's military capability could really not support, and which brought no benefit to Italy. Franco did none of this; he was perfectly happy to remain neutral, and avoid tangling with the Royal Navy. And Franco didn't give a hoot about how ungrateful Adolf Hitler thought him.
      • Of course, Mussolini is the one who got himself messily lynched.
  • Genghis Khan famously mused over the idea of massacring the entire population of northern China to create pastureland for Mongol horses. He was dissuaded when it was realized living Chinese pay more in taxes than dead Chinese.
    • The story goes that he was convinced when one of his advisors, a Uighur, told him:

 Kill everyone, and you take a million bolts of silk all at once. Let the people live, and you can have 500,000 bolts of silk every year.

    • He also recognized the value of trade, even with nations whom you planned on conquering, and encouraged trade with other nations heavily. Gaining material goods from other lands is always a welcome asset, and sending your own merchants into foreign lands allowed them to gather crucial intelligence for when you finally moved in to conquer them.
  • The Nazis' racial ideology painted East Asians as untermenschen, which did not stop them forming alliances with Imperial Japan (and prior to switching sides, with the Republic of China).
    • While not considered as übermenschen, the Asian people was still held in high regard by the Nazis. They were regarded almost as the Aryan race's closest cousins.
    • Indeed, they had a battalion of Indian soldiers made up of POWs who were willing to fight the British, though they didn't do much, and they made deals with South Slavs to help hold the Balkans.
      • Which makes the South Slavic case an example of Pragmatic Villainy: Admittedly, Hitler had a rather complex relationship with South Slavs (as opposed to the West and East Slavs, whom he unequivocally hated).
    • Nazis are notable for their bizarre ideas about race. In general, nonwhite Aryans were considered such primarily for the purposes of this trope. The homeland of the Aryan race in Theosophy was Tibet, after all. (In linguistics, Müller placed the Aryan homeland farther west, in the region now known as Iran and Afghanistan; contemporary scholarship places the Indo-European Urheimat, the closest thing to an Aryan homeland that may have historically existed, in Ukraine, southern Russia, and the Caucasus). The Nazis considered the Sioux to be Aryans, in an attempt to develop a race of Sixth Ranger Traitors in the U.S. (a trope that was obviously Subverted Trope), and to show a case of Aryans being oppressed by Jews (as all governments save Germany's and its allies' were run by Jews in Nazi ideology). The Japanese were a good example of this trope as well.
  • In general, The Holocaust is notable for being a spectacular aversion of pragmatic villainy: As terrible as it is to force millions into slave labor camps, the fact that the labor they performed served no real purpose to Germany's larger war effort, and indeed diverted trains that could have otherwise distributed necessary supplies to Germans at the front, makes it as impractical as it was evil. Even the horrendous medical experiments performed on some prisoners were .000001% more justified than the slave labor, since, at the very least, some useful information about the effects of phosgene gas and cold on the human body is still used today... reluctantly.
    • A few of the more notorious Nazi "scientists" put out work so shoddily done even their peers threw it out. Their experiments had no purpose beyond cruelty.
    • Those Wacky Nazis and, to a lesser extent their Japanese Allies were the masters of screwing themselves over with this trope. As if the industrial might of Western Europe and the USA was not enough of an enemy, they had to so thoroughly antagonize some of the most useful allies that were available to them: the Jews, the East Slavs and the Chinese. Granted, the Chinese and Mother Russia would still need to be delivered of their current governments, but that has nothing to do with picking a fight with the much more valuable general populations. Oh, and the Jews? The Nazis really messed that one up, because they were very important in the running of pretty much every industrialized nation and some that were not, one example being Germany, which only managed its post-defeat comeback because the survivors took a massive level in Badass
      • Given that antisemitism was a cornerstone of Nazi ideology and one of its defining attributes, it makes perfect sense for them to have done what they did - remove Jews from society that is, not the Holocaust. The Nazis believed that Jews were the cause of all misery and that they had infiltrated all aspects of German society, diluting it and weakening it. So removing them, from that perspective, from whatever job they held, no matter how important, was perfectly rational with that basic belief in place. The Holocaust, though...that was just malice and cruelty with healthy dosage of utter stupidity.
        • Prejudice in itself isn't a logical or sensible goal. Of course the Holocaust was an aversion of Pragmatic Villainy.
        • They considered themselves pragmatic, in an especially disgusting way:

 Reinhard Heydrich: "We will not sterilize every Jew and wait for them to die, we will not sterilize every Jew and then exterminate the race; that's farcical. Dead men don't hump, dead women don't get pregnant - death is the most reliable form of sterilization, put it that way."

        • Killing them all and getting at least something out of their detention (at least in theory) was more efficient than the original plan to ship them to Madagascar. Unfortunately. So there is that aspect to it; they were at least trying to be pragmatic about their goal 'de-Jew Germany.' It just so happened that the merciful option was too expensive. Also, it relied upon a conquered British Navy doing the shipping, which the Nazis couldn't use after they lost the Battle of Britain.
      • The really odd thing in all this is that it may well have been the choice of Madagascar that did it, rather than the much-closer Palestine. The militant Zionist group Lehi, known to the British authorities in Mandate Palestine as the "Stern Gang," are reported to have sent a message to the Germans to the effect of "Ship all the Jews to the Middle East, and we'll be more than happy to carve out a little fascist empire here and not bother you guys ever again. Also, we'll help you beat Britain and the Commies." The Nazis, of course, rejected this out of hand, not least because Lehi was at that point a splinter group of a splinter group (Lehi broke off of the main Revisionist formation, the Irgun/Etzel, which broke off from the main Zionist formation, the Haganah), and further not all Lehi members were behind the proposal (meaning that the folks who sent the message were a splinter group of a splinter group of a splinter group).
  • Georgy Zhukov, while defending Leningrad in 1941, issued an order that if any man surrenders to the enemy, his family will be shot. Malenkov (a senior Politburo member who was in Leningrad at the time) cancelled the order immediately. After all, scaring your own army away from the battlelines is kind of counterproductive.
  • Josef Stalin disbanded his infamous "blocking detachments" - these were formed in 1942 and were deployed behind front lines with the sole purpose of shooting "cowards" and fleeing Soviet troops - after only three months. Of course, this wasn't because he cared for the lives of his soldiers, but because they had a detrimental effect on morale and wasted manpower by diverting troops to the rear.
    • Funny, considering that he executed his experienced officers and replaced them with incompetent rookies.
    • He also had a habit of executing or sending to Siberia any person smarter than him. He particularly hated scientists, believing them to be elitists wishing to exploit the hard-working people of the Soviet Union. In his mind, it's perfectly acceptable to threaten your best minds with death or exile in order to get them moving faster. Any delays (because science doesn't always produce results at the speed demanded) were seen as stalling and treated accordingly. Now imagine what Soviet science would be like had Stalin been a little smarter and a little less paranoid. Supposedly, there were plenty of ideas and designs which he rejected out of hand due to them not being immediately useful. These designs would later be re-developed by someone else and give someone else the advantage. That's not Pragmatic Villainy, that's just shortsightedness (from a guy famed for his 5-year plans).
    • Stalin was also highly pragmatic in his treatment of Christians and other religious people in the Soviet Union. Due to his Communist beliefs, Stalin brutally suppressed religious institutions. These institutions were viewed as greedy and corrupt by the laity, so their destruction did not greatly anger them. However, Stalin knew that antagonizing all Christians, which were a huge part of the Russian population, would be a waste of time and resources. This resulted in lay Christians being left alone. Stalin also revived the Russian church in order to stir up support for the war against the Nazis.
  • Vladimir Lenin is largely a subversion, as he repeatedly insists going all out in being merciless and adhering to lawlessness. That said, however, he did have one instance of pragmatism, where he implemented the New Economic Policy that sort-of brought back Capitalism in a limited form in Russia, largely because his prior attempts at War Communism ended up threatening to end Communism overall. Even there, however, he made it very clear that he still intended to inflict terror on his populace, including economic terror.
  • There's evidence to suggest that Nikita Khrushchev backing off of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis was partly due to this trope, especially regarding Che Guevara and Castro being fully ready to outright nuke the United States.
  • In this video a lion saves a baby rhinoceros from getting eaten by hyenas...because he wanted the hyenas to get away from a carcass.
  1. Especially since the last "key" to the treasure is held by a group of ninja who don't want Basco to find them but do want to help the Gokaiger