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Bad guys have a lot of problems keeping a Nebulous Evil Organisation running. High turnover due to heroic raids, lack of professionalism in the Evil Minions, and motivating the surviving personnel. This last one is especially difficult because just as Evil Cannot Comprehend Good, it also can't understand positive reinforcement.

When a minion or even their Number Two (The Dragon) performs well, they won't so much praise their effort or reward their good results as warn them "do not outlive your usefulness". Kind of hard to go to work with a smile with that hanging over your head.

Another demotivator is the Big Bad's reaction when their minion(s) lose to the hero. Assuming they don't shoot the fellow then and there (which is, again, not exactly good for morale no matter what Machiavelli said) they will likely yell "You Have Failed Me!" and use their Agony Beam on the poor sap. After the poor minion is done screaming his guts out (hopefully not literally) their boss will say "Do not fail me again! For I shall not show you such mercy a second time." Whether they actually follow through depends on how dark the show is. In animation, even Team Rocket or the Quirky Miniboss Squad will get off with minimal verbal abuse, but others... not so much.

The Villainous Demotivator can be any threat that a Big Bad or The Dragon makes towards a lower ranking minion that they will be hurt or killed if they fail to perform their job. Assuming their skills will always be needed in his plots (and thus he would need to take the trouble of finding a replacement if he kills the Evil Minion), this makes sense as a negative motivational tool, and a nice little Kick the Dog that can fuel a Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal or a Mook Face Turn. Other instances of this trope can happen without the villain ever meaning to demotivate their minions. He might do something so vile it reminds them of their ethics, or admit his plan will kill one of their loved ones.

May come back to haunt him as an explanation why a minion won't Give Me a Sword. Often results in Screw This, I'm Outta Here or The Dog Bites Back.

Examples of Villainous Demotivator include:


  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Lordgenome treats his Quirky Miniboss Squad in this manner. Most blatantly, when Adiane withdraws from a battle with the heroes to avoid harming Lordgenome's own daughter, he scolds her because said daughter had been abandoned - and when Adiane remarks that she was never TOLD that, he responds with even more threats. In fact, the only one of the Miniboss Squad who doesn't seem to be effected by this is Guame, who is assumed to be Lordgenome's Non-Human Sidekick from his time as a Spiral Warrior. Guame was Lordgenome's Boota!
  • We don't see him threaten them, but Kimblee of Fullmetal Alchemist seems to have taken this approach with his chimeras. In fact, one of them claims there's no point in the heroes showing them mercy because of this. Doing so anyway works out rather well, since another of these chimeras is eventually responsible for Kimblee's death.

Comic Books

  • In Bone, the Lord of Locusts says this to the Hooded One.
  • In Black Panther: the Man Without Fear, Big Bad Vlad the Impaler tries to avert this, treating his minions fairly and giving even the ones that betray him second chance (just the one, mind - if they betray him again, their ass is toast). It works pretty well for a while, but after Black Panther's interference with his business starts getting on his nerves, his patience for failure grows markedly shorter, hinting at his evental Villainous Breakdown.


  • Star Wars
    • In Return of the Jedi, Vader tells a subordinate, "I hope so Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am." This from a guy prone to to crushing windpipes for minor irritation.
    • In The Empire Strikes Back:, Darth Vader says, "I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further." According to the DVD commentary, it's implied it'll just keeping getting worse and worse if Lando continues working under him.
    • In A New Hope, Darth Vader says, "I find your lack of faith disturbing."


  • Star Wars Expanded Universe
    • We find out exactly what the Emperor does to people who displease him, and it's no idle threat. He had Bevel Lemelisk, one of the original designers of the Death Star, killed horribly, resurrected in a clone body, and killed again each time he screwed up after that (for a total of 6), always ensuring that each clone remembers the experience of the last death. Horribly as in:
      • Eaten by piranha beetles, and then the clone was shown the remains.
      • Blown out an airlock
      • Lowered inch by inch into a vat of molten copper ("It was what the smelter used that day.")
      • Chained in a drive tube while the engine was slowly powered up
      • Among others. When the New Republic finally got a hold of him and sentenced him to death his request to the firing squad was that they "do it right this time."
    • Beautifully subverted in the third Star Wars Expanded Universe novel, The Last Command. Grand Admiral Thrawn confronts the officer who failed to stop Luke Skywalker from escaping, and the poor sap expects a Vader-style execution like the ones quoted above. Indeed, an officer who'd failed in the same thing and then tried to pass the blame had been killed, so everyone believes this one is out of luck. Instead, Thrawn promotes him, praising his creative attempt even though it failed.

 [Pellaeon] stood there beside the newly minted lieutenant, feeling the stunned awe pervading the bridge as he watched Thrawn leave. Yesterday, the Chimaera's crew had trusted and respected the Grand Admiral. After today, they would be ready to die for him.

    • Darth Vader shows up several times in the novel Death Star; partly for this trope, partly to help ferret out actual saboteurs and discourage potential ones.
  • In 1984, anyone who spoke out against or betrayed The Party and Big Brother had a tendency to disappear without a trace, with all records that they ever existed erased.
  • Harry Potter: Voldermort because he can't understand compassion is very ungrateful and demeaning to even his most loyal follower Bellatrix, in fact it's because of this the Malfoys give him misinformation that Harry is dead which leads to his downfall because he kept treating them like crap.

Live Action TV

Newspaper Comics

  • The company in Dilbert. The strip has gone so far as to at times portray Catbert actually trying to lower morale on purpose, apparently just For the Evulz.

Tabletop Games

  • Commissars have a very Voltairian way of motivating their men. But surprisingly, in gameplay terms it tends to work. And there's never any shortage of troops, since one thing the Imperium has in abundance is manpower.
    • Unless said men are from Catachan. The old Catachan list actually had a rule where Commissars had a chance of getting inconveniently shanked before the battle.
    • Ciaphas Cain refrains from this manner of motivation, citing a number of suspicious Commisarial demises. He prefers to lead his men by making them think he leads by example, and let the old human instinct for showing off take over. It has proven very effective. Of course, a large chunk of the readership (and a few characters in on the secret) think it's a big lie and he's a genuine hero. He does seem to "retreat" screaming, straight at the biggest and nastiest thing in the battle, a lot.

Video Games


 "If you're more afraid of her than of ME, you're a traitor."

  • Used humorously in the game The Operative: No One Lives Forever. The Dragon has put a notice to the henchmen outside a minefield, asking them to please avoid crossing it, as finding suitable replacement henchmen is hard and annoying. He then mentions that he will personally execute any henchman that crosses the minefield and somehow survives as an example to the others on not disobeying orders.
  • Ishida Mitsunari in Sengoku Basara is so used to blind loyalty that he assumes the same from everyone else around him, and is rather poor at employee relations as a result. One of his attempts at reaffirming his stance with an ally (Saica Magoichi) involves baring a blade in her face and threatening her with a hundred curses should she betray him. And he likes her.
  • Skyward Sword example: During his ritual to release Demise from his seal 999 years early, Ghirahim summons a horde of Bokoblins and sends them screaming after Link, making it painfully obvious that he doesn't care if they bleed on the Master Sword so long as they slow him down. And then he caps it off with this line:

  "Don't fear him... fear my wrath if you fail me!!"


Western Animation

  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Azula has this problem with keeping Ty Lee and Mai loyal. She initially pressures Ty Lee into leaving the circus by setting loose all the animals and setting her trapeze net on fire! Later on, when Mai betrays her out of love for Zuko, it's explicitly because Mai loves Zuko more than she fears her. Of course, at this point Ty Lee also betrays her upon seeing Azula threaten Mai with lifelong imprisonment winding up to put a bolt of lightning into Mai for it. Is it any surprise Azula eventually has a Villainous Breakdown?
    • What gets worse is that this is how Azula treats people she likes.
  • In Storm Hawks, this happened pretty much every episode one of Master Cyclonis' minions failed in their missions. She did eventually fire one of them, and does have ample Agony Beams to use on the rest though.
  • In The Simpsons, Burns puts a literal Villainous Demotivator ("Don't Forget, You're Here Forever") in front of Homer's workstation. Turns into a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming when Homer selectively covers it with pictures of Maggie until what's left is "Do_i_t For___ Her".
  • In the Thundercats2011 episode "Ratilla's Curse," Ratar-O abuses his minions as badly as they in turn abuse the cats they've enslaved. This backfires spectacularly when his right-hand rat finally questions why he was treated better at Lion-O's hands than his own master's and not only deserts him in his time of need, but tosses Lion-O the Sword of Omens so he can take Ratar-O down.