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The Sadistic Choice

The Sadistic Choice


Spider-Man. This is why only fools are heroes - because you never know when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice. Let die the woman you love... or suffer the little children? Make your choice, Spider-Man, and see how a hero is rewarded! We are who we choose to be...now, CHOOSE!
~ Green Goblin to Spider-Man in Spider Man (2002).

The "Sadistic Choice" is an extremely common theme in media concerning villains, especially those involving "good versus evil" scenarios such as superhero fiction or adventure - though it can be found in almost any media that has at least one active villain.

The concept is simple yet often strikingly effective, it is when a villain gives a protagonist (or hero) an extremely cruel choice - such as preventing the suffering of one individual at the cost of another or the chance to defeat them, only to reveal that should they do so they'd cause more damage.

It is an extremely effective tool when used right and often the villain taunts the protagonist as the "Sadistic Choice" forces them to rethink their morality and can pose a great challenge, especially to characters with strong ethical codes (such as superheroes).

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Examples

  • Green Goblin: Gives Spider-Man a "Sadistic Choice" in the first Spider-Man movie, by holding Mary Jane in one arm and a bunch of school-children in the other: dropping both in order to try and force Spider-Man into saving one and allowing the other to die, ultimately Spider-Man saves both (as is usual in superhero fiction). However, this only infuriated Green Goblin in process.
  • Jigsaw (Saw): The entire Saw series revolves around the "Sadistic Choice", where Jigsaw (and later copycat killers) forced victims to make terrifying choices as part of a cruel torture-murder "game".
  • Count Olaf: He gives the Baudelaires many, many sadistic choices (sometimes without even knowing they are the Baudelaires). For instance, the first sadistic choice he gives the Baudelaires is when Sunny is chained up in his bird cage on top of his tower, and he says to Violet that she can marry him then he will let Sunny go. The sadism is that he will kill the children as soon as he is done with their fortune. Other examples of his choices are when he asks the Baudelaires, at the Village of Fowl Devotees, whether they want to live with him, or be executed at the stake, in a fire (the very thing they are afraid of). He says "I'll be back at lunchtime for your decision." Also, at Caligari Carnival, he has the disguised Baudelaires choose between leaving the carnival or be fed to the lions in his sadistic new attraction. The Baudelaires choose the lions, but escape at the last minute.
  • Riddler: Gives Batman a "Sadistic Choice" in the movie Batman Forever when he, along with Two-Face, had Chase Meridian and Robin captured and suspended on top of a long drop to the spiked rocks in the water. Riddler gives Batman a choice to save either Bruce Wayne's love or Batman's partner. As usual in superhero fiction, Batman saves them both.
  • Sir Michael Marsh: Gives Matt a "sadistic choice" when he has Richard Cole chained to a post and is about to kill Matt. Matt can either use his neutralized power to save him and Richard, or choose to doom the world and die. However, Matt realizes his true power and frees him and Richard from burning to death.
  • Ursula: In The Little Mermaid, she makes use of an already valid contract she had made with Ariel to get King Triton to change places with her. Triton ultimately accepted, showing his care for his daughter. Ursula gained Triton's power with this but was ultimately defeated.
  • Hades: Made Hercules choose between losing his godly strength for a day or harm would befall Meg. He had to make his choice even when knowing that he would use this chance to hurt many.
  • The Joker: revolved around giving "Sadistic Choices" to Batman and the citizens in Gotham City in the movie The Dark Knight. From getting Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes captured, giving a choice to save only one, to have the citizens kill the mayor or he'll blow up a hospital, to rigging two ships with bombs. One ship with escaping citizens and the other filled with prisoners. Detonators for the opposite ship were placed inside the ships and the Joker offered a choice to blow up the opposite ship or he'll blow both of them up at midnight. Ultimately, the people on both ships have refused, and Joker tried to blow both of them up, but Batman stopped him.
  • Kessler: Captured Cole McGrath's girlfriend Trish and hung her off a building adjacent to one with six doctors about to die In the game, InFamous. Either Cole can choose to save the doctors, or try to save Trish, only to reveal that Kessler placed her with the doctors. Either way, Trish dies. However, Kessler was actually trying to train Cole to fight a more dangerous threat.
  • Mephisto: In the videogame Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, he had Jean Grey and Nightcrawler captured and placed in two cages within his Realm. The heroes can only save one of them while letting the other get dropped into the abyss. Whoever you rescue decides the outcome of the ending. If Jean Grey is rescued, Mystique kills Professor Xavier (who would lie in coma for months before dying after Mystique's assault) out of vengeance for the death of her son, eventually having the X-Men disband. If Nightcrawler is rescued, it is revealed that Jean Grey was not killed in the Infinity Vortex within Mephisto's Realm and that she has returned as the Dark Phoenix to take revenge upon those who did not save her.
  • D.A.V.E.: In the TV show The Batman, D.A.V.E. captured Alfred after he found out Batman's identity. He then strapped Alfred onto a death trap, and place two devised. When Batman entered the Batcave, D.A.V.E. forced Batman to pick a button. He told Batman that one button would spar Alfred's life, but at the cost of everyone in Gotham would learn about Batman's identity. The other button would prevent Gotham form learning Batman's identity, but at the cost of Alfred's life.

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