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Destiny has cheated me,Or the hands of an automaton.
By forcing me to decide upon,
The woman that I idolize,
Something the hero has quested for intently is now within his grasp.
It could be a valuable treasure, personal knowledge about his unknown past, a chance to avenge an old wrong, or maybe the very thing needed to finally get off the island and negate Failure Is the Only Option.
But at the same time, a friend or ally who has helped him is lying unconscious on the floor, about to be crushed by a collapsing ceiling, eaten by monsters, or murdered by the Big Bad and his minions.
There's only enough time to save one -- which one is it going to be?
Of course, a true hero will choose to save his friend over taking the treasure every single time. (Besides, it wouldn't be wise to resolve a whole major ongoing plotline right in the middle of the season, now would it? Or to lose any of the regulars, either.) It's very rare that the hero manages to Take a Third Option and do both; that's usually reserved for situations where a villain forces a hero to make a sadistic choice.
Whether villains know this and deliberately set up such situations to prevent their own capture (or to ensure that they can get the heroes later) is left as an exercise to the reader.
If employed too often, can start to try the audience's patience and make them wonder why they don't Just Eat Gilligan. They won't, of course. Who knew being good could suck so much? (Conversely, under some circumstances, the very fact that the hero hesitates can make us suspicious about his moral instincts.)
- A Burger King's viral marketing scheme tried to be a parody of this concept. With the "Whopper Sacrifice" facebook app, you can get a free Whopper. The real cost? You must un-friend 10 people. As most could probably expect though, all this resulted in were thousands more free whoppers given away than expected as just about everyone has some pruning they could do on their friends list, and, for that matter, had nothing stopping them from refriending once they got the friggin' burger.
Anime & Manga
- In the Ranma ½ movie Nihao My Concubine, Ranma and Akane find themselves falling through open air toward a magical pool whose water will turn anyone permanently into a man, even overriding the Gender Bender Jusenkyo curse Ranma had spent the whole series trying to cure. In an unusually elegant variation of the Friend or Idol Decision, Ranma realizes that if he dives right in, Akane will fall into the water as well, and will become afflicted with the very curse he seeks to cure in himself! And of course, since they are the Official Couple, and Status Quo Is God, it naturally follows that Failure Is the Only Option, and so Ranma must use his tremendous chi powers to destroy the fountain before they touch the water, so that Akane will be spared.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima, Negi is forced to either stay behind and fight a giant monster so his students can escape with a magical book that can make them smarter (for the big exams) or dump the book so they can all escape safely. Subverted in that Negi ends up trying to stay behind, but Asuna decides to make the "right" choice for him anyway.
- Ahiru/Duck in Princess Tutu is given this sort of dilema at the end of the series when she finds out that the pendant that allows her to be a girl is Mytho's final missing heart shard, meaning that she has to choose between saving the boy she loves (who, to make it worse, has decided he's in love with another girl, who just pulled an Heroic Sacrifice for him) and her ability to be human. The way this is resolved is one of the most touching moments in the series.
- In Baccano! it's revealed in the 1933/The Slash arc that, once she informally hooks up with Claire Stanfield, Chane's greatest fear is that she'll be forced to choose between him and her loyalty to her father should Huey ever order her to kill him (particularly since Claire is proving to be a serious Spanner in the Works of his more recent plans). Claire's response is exactly what you think it might be:
Claire: "Feel free to try. I'll just dodge them and stay in love... Hey, that's even more like true love, now that I think of it!"
- In the Record of Lodoss War OVA there is a great example of this trope starring the villains. When Black Knight Ashram is given the chance to take the Scepter of Domination before the good guys can or save the life of dark elf Pirotess he actually picks saving her over the scepter. She dies anyway, unfortunately.
- In Transformers Robots in Disguise, the Autobots enter a race to find SkidZ, in which Megatron and Sky-Byte also enter. Megatron manages to trap the other Autobots under a rock, forcing SkidZ to choose between winning and saving his friends. He manages to get both.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, during a chaotic fight, Mei Chan has to choose between going for the Philosopher's Stone, which she needs to complete her quest to save her clan, or stop Hawkeye from bleeding to death, someone who she barely knows. She chooses the latter, only to see that Wrath has seized the stone.
- One chapter later, Al faces a similar decision -- reunite with his body or leave it to join the fight against Father. When he sees the bad shape his body's in, it's an easy choice.
- Yet perhaps the wrong choice. Father needed Al's soul to return to the armor to make his Evil Plan work.
- Well Father would have still been unstoppable had his Evil Plan not worked then due to Hohenhiem's trap not being able to work unless Father succeeded even if it would only be temporary. Plus Al returning period would have given Father what he wanted as he only needed a soul who was capable of returning from the gate. It really didn't matter which form he returned in. Plus his choice did save Ed's life because it enabled him to make a Heroic Sacrifice later.
- One chapter later, Al faces a similar decision -- reunite with his body or leave it to join the fight against Father. When he sees the bad shape his body's in, it's an easy choice.
- In Ojamajo Doremi Dokkan, the girls are asked if they want to become full time witches or return to being regular humans. They choose the latter, which Sixth Ranger Hana doesn't take well.
- Before the Naruto timeline begins, Sakumo Hatake faced a choice between his comrades or a mission. He abandoned the mission, saved their lives and was ostracised by his entire country. Eventually he committed Seppuku, and his son got the wrong message and spent the next few years of his life turning himself into an emotionless and successful weapon. Life can be stupid.
- THE iDOLM@STER - Played literally with Miki in episode 24 when she has a chance to become the solo MC of the show to be aired in the timeslot that would succeed the "Are we live?" show.
- Played with in the Tower of Heaven arc of Fairy Tail. Simon sacrifices himself to shield Erza from Jellal's attack; after Natsu defeats Jellal and passes out, the Tower of Heaven begins to collapse. Erza briefly sees Simon's body sliding slowly into a crevasse, but she turns away and escapes with the unconscious Natsu rather than retrieving him.
- In the Pretty Sammy storyline in the No Need for Tenchi manga series, Pixy Misa had set things up for Tenchi to learn Sasami was Pretty Sammy, then turned him into a monster during a school play about Pretty Sammy (with Sasami as the heroine, natch). Pixy Misa forced Sasami to chose between revealing her identity and stopping the monster or letting the monster go on its rampage and maintain her identity (either way, Rumia would end up winning). Tsunami, then, steps in, disguised as Pretty Sammy, disguised as Pretty Sammy, allowing Sasami to swap up and save the day.
- The first story in Bucky O Hare and The Toad Wars twists the trope a bit. There is a moment when the human boy, Willy Dewitt, tries to save his imprisoned friends by threatening to destroy vital code records. The villain turns it into a hostage situation, threatening to jettison Willy's friends into the hard vacuum of space. Willy agonizes over what to do, then cedes to his friends' urging to destroy the records, rather than save them. The villain immediately receives a copy of the records, rendering Willy's decision meaningless.
- In Doctor Strange: The Oath, Strange has the last drop of a magic potion that can cure anything, and must choose between using it to save his friend's life, or using it to make enough potion for everyone in the world.
- Batman: Harley Quinn had to decide between saving a girl's eyesight or getting codes that give her lots of money. She chooses the money. But hey, at least she feels guilty.
- Considering that you can restore someone's eyesight for 25$, that doesn't sound like a hard decision.
- The central conflict of Scion: Does Ethan choose loyalty to his family and kingdom in the war against the Raven Kingdom, or loyalty to Ashleigh in her quest to liberate the Lesser Races? And can he live with the consequences?
- In Darkman III, a villain shoots a floppy with the main character's accumulated research on skin substitutes, and a fire during the climactic fight leaves one girl severely burnt. Darkman had been intending to use the flask of liquid skin he kept on himself, since it had shown promising results... but he ends the series still faceless, as the flask goes to the burn victim instead.
- In the climax of Star Wars Episode II, Count Dooku destroys a pillar to escape. Two Jedi are underneath the pillar, and would be killed if it fell. But Yoda needs to kill Dooku to end the war. Of course, Yoda saves the two Jedi. Though it's possible he missed the trick of throwing the pillar at Dooku's ship.
- Yoda was a bit tired by that point, given his own infirmity and all the Anakin drama going on.
- In the 1995 movie adaptation of Casper, the titular ghost makes just such a decision at the end of the film, choosing to give up the last bottle of fuel for his father's life-restoring "Lazarus Machine" in order to bring back Cat's newly-deceased dad.
- This happens twice in the James Bond movie Goldeneye. During the second, the Big Bad even says "So, what's the choice James? Two targets; time enough for one shot: the girl or the mission?" The game uses the same scenario, but with a possible subversion; if the player stands at exactly the right angle, it is possible to kill the person holding the girl hostage, and shoot The Dragon before they get the shield down. This buys you more time in the escape scene.
- In Pixar's movie Cars, Lightning McQueen gives up first place in the Piston Cup race to help The King cross the finish line after Chick Hicks causes him to wreck out. Hicks still wins the cup, but everyone knows that Lightning would have won, and Hicks' dishonorable tactics lose him any regard the win would have brought. In a mild Double Subversion and An Aesop, McQueen gains the adulation he had desired but discovers that he doesn't really need it anymore -- the events of the movie have taught him that there are more important things than fame.
- In The Emperors New Groove Kuzco, who starts the movie as a spoiled brat, gives up the potion he needs to change back into a human in order to rescue Pacha. In a subversion, the pair uses The Power of Friendship to get it back not two minutes later.
- At the end of The Last Crusade, Indy had to choose between getting the Holy Grail or taking his father's hand, thus allowing Indy to survive. He chooses to "let it go". The Nazi-lady doesn't.
- This happens in the climax of Treasure Planet; the movie's resident Anti-Villain has to choose between saving a boatload of gold that's about to drift into a laser beam or his surrogate son Jim who's holding on for dear life over a raging inferno. He chooses to save Jim, saying that he'll get over giving up his lifelong obsession.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At the end of the malestrom battle in At World's End, Jack has a shot at his long dreamt of immortality and the most dangerous ship in the Caribbean -- not to mention supernatural powers and revenge on all of his enemies -- but gives it up to save Will.
- The scenes with Jack pondering whether being the Dutchman's captain would be all it's cracked up to be, and the one with Tia Dalma telling all about Davey Jones' purpose (and how he's corrupted it) do give a lead-up to Jack deciding not to take the heart for himself. Besides, he has the map to the Fountain of Youth, at the end of the movie; he hasn't exactly given up on immortality (and he denies access to the map to the Pearl's crew - how's that for revenge?) And, when you get down to it, "being Captain Jack Sparrow" practically is a supernatural power.
- Of course, if he'd just stabbed Davy Jones' heart right away instead of wasting time threatening to do so, Jack could've achieved immortality and saved his...friend...simultaneously.
- In National Treasure, Ben the hero chooses the idol, dropping the Love Interest in order to save the Declaration of Independance. She later reassures him that she would have done exactly the same thing.
- And he drops her someplace safer than where he is at the moment.
- Riley: I would have dropped you both! (mutters:) Freaks.
- In The Road to El Dorado, Tulio is forced to sacrifice almost all of the enormous pile of gold that he and Miguel acquire by posing as gods in El Dorado in order to save the city's people from advancing Spanish soldiers. Though he is very choked up about the decision.
- In The Wild Thornberrys Movie, Eliza has to make a Sister or Idol decision when the Big Bad has Debbie and wants to know how Eliza could have known about his plans. She saves Debbie by revealing the thing she cannot tell: she can talk to animals. It costs her the power. she gets it back later with a heroic sacrifice.
- Toward the end of Tower of Terror, Buzzy has to decide between helping the ghosts or getting his newspaper career back. In the end, he gets both.
- This happens twice in Despicable Me. First time, Gru has to make the decision of choosing between the girls' ballet recital and taking the moon, which was his lifelong dream. Originally, he wanted to push back the date for taking the moon but Nefario called Miss Hattie so she could take the kids back to the orphanage and Gru could focus back on task. The second time, Vector kidnaps the girls and demands that Gru gives him the moon. Gru gave up the moon, but Vector didn't hold his side of the bargain.
- Near the end of All Dogs Go to Heaven, Charlie is forced to choose between saving Anne Marie from drowning or his watch from sinking. Keep in mind he's literally living on borrowed time -- he stole the watch from heaven to ressurect himself after being killed by a car, and if the watch stops, as watches tend to do in water, he will die.
- Terry Pratchett subverts this in his Discworld novel Thief of Time, where Lu-Tze, after injuring himself, yells at his apprentice Lobsang to choose the Idol (stopping the "perfect clock" that will cause all of time to come to a halt) over the Friend (the injured Lu-Tze). The fact he even hesitates in saving the world for Lu-Tze's sake prompts Susan Sto Helit to call him a "hero"... in a tone that implies it's synonymous with "idiot".
- In the first book in The Dark Tower series, the Man in Black forces Roland to either save Jake from certain death, and never again catch up to him, or let Jake die, and gain the information he needs to continue his quest for the Dark Tower. Roland chooses to let Jake fall, establishing his character for the rest of the series.
- In the short story If You Can Fill the Unforgiving Minute by David Andreissen (David Poyer), an teenage human is representing the Earth in a marathon race against an alien teen. When the alien is injured during the race, the human must make a choice: continue running and win the race, or help the alien and lose. He decides to help the alien and loses. Afterwards, he is told that the aliens consider honor to be more important than winning and that as far as they're concerned, he won the race.
- ... thereby proving that they are an alien race, utterly different from humanity.
- In Robert E. Howard's "Jewels of Gwahlur", Conan the Barbarian faces it:
Either was within arm's length; for the fraction of a split second the chest teetered on the edge of the bridge, and Muriela clung by one arm, her face turned desperately toward Conan, her eyes dilated with the fear of death and her lips parted in a haunting cry of despair.
Conan did not hesitate, nor did he even glance toward the chest that held the wealth of an epoch.
- Kathi Peterson's Stone Traveler has Tag trapped in the past( 34 AD Meso America, to be exact), and his only way home is to use a blessed stone- which was stolen by the bad guys. when he is about to retrieve it, during a huge natural disaster explosion( storms, quakes,volcanoes, you name it) one of his friends, Rasha, falls through the ground. He only has time to save the stone or the girl( who isn't his love interest). He chooses to save her, meets Jesus, and gets a free ride home( turns out there was more than on magic stone.)
Live Action TV
- Mulder has to choose between saving Scully or finding his Abducted Little Sister several times over the course of The X-Files. He always chooses Scully, but it's a close thing in the first few seasons.
- The entire "lost in space" element of Star Trek: Voyager was borne of such a decision in the pilot. (And that wasn't even a friend, being as Voyager had just arrived there.)
- Stargate SG-1, "Thor's Hammer": The team finds a cave created by the Asgard with an egress that can remove the possession of the Goa'uld... but Teal'c is trapped within when the device mistakenly identifies his symbiote, and if it is removed, he'll die.
- Clarification: a Goa'uld is an alien whose human host body is being controlled against his or her will. The exit contains a device that kills this symbiote, freeing the host. The team intends to free several of their friends that are now Goa'uld hosts in this way. Unforunately Teal'c has a different relationship with his symbiote and needs it to survive, so SG-1 must either destroy the device to save one of their own, or abandon him so they can use it free unwilling hosts. They destroy the device, and when we next see that planet, it's been conquered by a Goa'uld and his army. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero. Fortunately they're able to contact the creator of the device, who promptly wipes out the invading army.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Choices" the gang is faced with just such a decision. Buffy and Xander immediately and very vocally choose to trade the Big Bad's evil artifact back to him in exchange for Willow, while Wesley wants to continue with the plan to destroy it. While they're arguing, Willow's boyfriend smashes the mystic urn that was necessary for the artifact's destruction.
- Herman's Head: Herman is out to set a world record for continuous working at one sitting. He discovers that one of his colleagues is planning to sing at a night club, and leaving work to watch her would preclude him breaking the record. He watches her anyway. The next day, the record book authorities come in, and Herman wonders why. Turns out that he broke a record: eating the most sunflower seeds in one sitting-- he'd been eating them the entire time.
- Heartbeat, Constable Rowan is chasing a trio of crooks and when their car stalls, the one male criminal runs away on foot. Rowan catches up to the two female accomplices who note that he can take in them, or let them go to catch the ringleader. Unfortunately, at that moment, a police K-9 unit arrives to have the police dog continue the chase and Rowan, with some satisfaction, notes in so many words that he can now do both.
- On Land of the Lost 1991 (1991), the Porters had the chance to drive through a portal back to their 20th-century home, but Tasha and Stink needed help evading Scarface. Unlike in most of the examples on this page, they expected to retain some chance of accomplishing both. But the portal closed a second before they would've made it.
- Quantum Leap has this when Sam and Al switch places due to a lightning strike/electroshock therapy combo. Sam must save Al by entering the Quantum Leap Accelerator again, thus switching places with Al again and forgoing his chance to remain in his present with his wife.
- When Sam leaps into the middle of the Vietnam War, he has the chance to save his brother, Tom. Things come to a head during a mission to rescue some American prisoners-of-war. Just as there's a chance of rescuing them, Sam learns the exact cause of Tom's death and needs to cross dangerous terrain to find him to prevent it. Al decides to help Sam save Tom, which embodies this trope. As Sam learns in the end, Al was one of those prisoners and won't be freed for another five years.
- In Power Rangers RPM, a device that will only work once can be used to shut down Dillon's brainwashed cyborg sister. Unfortunately, the Monster of the Week is too strong, and Dillon chooses to shut it down instead and save the city.
- In Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Rita had created a special candle that, when completely melted, would rob Tommy of the Green Ranger powers. Since Tommy is unable to get it as it speeds up the process in his presence, Jason goes after it instead. However, the Monster of the Week appears and Tommy attempts to fight it alone. As Jason's close to getting it, Zack appears and tells Jason to forget it and save Tommy instead.
Jason: But if I don't get the candle in time, he'll lose his powers!
Zack: If we don't get to him in time, he'll lose his life!.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Worf lets a Cardassian defector get caught to save his wife. The defector is caught and killed; tactical information that could help turn the tide of the war dies with him.
- In the very first episode of Forever Knight, Nick Knight has a split second to decide whether to save an innocent woman from his maker, or catch a falling cup that is the key to his cure for vampirism. He picks the woman, but since she's dead before the episode ends, it's kind of a Shoot the Shaggy Dog Story.
- In The War at Home, Larry should choose between Kenny or the poem he got from him which he claims it was made by himself which had gotten a reward.
- In the Angel episode "Hell Bound", Spike gives up his chance to become corporeal in order to save Fred.
- This is the basic premise of the series finale of Hannah Montana, as Miley must choose between starring in a big-budget movie in Paris co-starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg, and going to a California University with her BFF Lilly. She tries one last Zany Scheme of trying to convince Lilly she'd be too troublesome to room with her, getting into an argument with Lilly that nearly ends their long friendship. Miley then tries to convince Lilly to abandon college for a year to go join her in Paris,but a comment to Lilly from Oliver at the airport convinces Lilly to stay and tearfully and reluctantly let Miley go shoot her movie without her. After Miley stays in her hotel, lonely, guilty, and greatly missing Lilly. Miley is next seen knocking on the door on Lilly's dorm, extending her hand, introducing herself as Lilly's "new neighbor", and telling her that there'll be millions of chances to make a movie or do a tour, but only one chance to go to college with her best friend. The two hug, and the episode ends. Awwwwwww.
- Seen in Lost in Oz, with the heroes choosing to either save Ozma and Oz, or use a bottled tornado to return home without saving the land.
- In a somewhat gruesome example, in Twisted Metal Black, Dollface is offered the key to her mask, but taking it will close her former boss (who put the damn thing on her in the first place) in an Iron Maiden. She takes it, then decides that she didn't really want it anyway.
- At the end of the Baldur's Gate series, you can choose: become a god, or stay mortal. This choice is particularly poignant if you have a romance going at the time. (Interestingly, one of your possible romantic partners actually tries to convince you to take godhood when it's offered.)
- The funny thing is, for this certain partner, actually doing as she asks you to do will give her the happier ending than staying with her.
- At the end of Ultima VII: The Black Gate, the Avatar can choose between entering the titular Moongate, returning to Earth but leaving Britannia in the clutches of Big Bad the Guardian, or destroy it but forever be prevented from returning. The choice is the player's, but the next game in the series naturally assumes the Avatar made the Friend choice.
- In the finale of Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Sam (having infiltrated a terrorist group as one of their members) is given the choice of either shooting his NSA boss (a series regular, who's been captured by the terrorists) to maintain his cover, or shooting the terrorist standing guard over them (which instantly blows his cover and causes everyone in the base to come and try to kill him).
- Pops up in Final Fantasy VI. At one point, an NPC thief and a moogle are left hanging over a ledge, and the group can choose to save one. Saving the thief nets them a Golden Hairpin, a rare, but by no means unique, relic that halves MP consumption when equipped. This causes the moogle to plummet to his (apparent) doom. Saving the moogle nets the party Mog, an optional party member with fairly useful abilities and arguably the best character-specific relic in the game, which eliminates random encounters. He can be recruited later in the game regardless of choice, but choosing the Gold Hairpin will make Mog unable to learn his Water Rondo dance.
- In Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction, Emperor Percival Tachyon gives Ratchet (the Lombax protagonist) the option to either go to the new homeworld that the Lombaxes have created and discover the mysteries of his origins or stay and attempt to save the Polaris galaxy from him.
- Spelunky has this in the endgame areas: When a level is generated with the "I hear prayers to Kali!" feeling, the player will be presented with a damsel and a solid-gold Idol suspended over a pit filled with traps and a lava pool at the bottom. Of course, canny players can rescue both.
- Only one of them actually triggers it anyway.
- This trope seems to be the only thing that can make Shirou give up on his dream of being a superhero. Of course, not just any friend. A semi-possessed friend. That he loves. Plus Ilya and all his other friends, to judge by the bad end that results if you don't do this, which implies Shirou wins by killing every other Master. At the end of that route, though, it's implied that may still be trying for his 'idol' here as he is still training in magic, especially his reality marble. But he'll always know he knowingly turned against that path and got about half of his town killed off and nearly destroyed the world.
- A straighter example is Kotomine offering Saber the Grail... if she kills Shirou, already mostly dead. Unless you've done some very bad choices throughout the path and basically pissed her off at every juncture (Practically a Press X to Die affair), Saber declines.
"Do you not understand, knave? I want Shirou more than such a thing."
- In Tales of Symphonia, after breaking all the seals and thinking you finished the game you get a Your Princess Is in Another Castle moment at the Tower of Salvation when you find out the purpose of the Worldregeneration Journey is for the Chosen to die. During that scene Idiot Hero Lloyd gets asked if he'd rather have the entire world die than sacrifice one life to save it. He doesn't answer, but shortly afterward you learn in a skit that for a moment he chose to save the world rather than the Chosen.
- Dino Crisis: Regina must choose between assisting a severely wounded Gail, her commanding officer, in completing their mission objective of capturing renegade scientist Dr. Kirk, causing Gail to die in the process; or force Gail to give up to the chase and leave the island with her and Rick, allowing Dr. Kirk to escape, thus ending the mission in failure. However, Regina can also Take a Third Option by leaving Gail with Rick and going after Dr. Kirk by herself, allowing her to complete the mission without Gail dying.
- Employed in the first Overlord game where you face the dilemma of either rescuing teh last surviving females of the elven race, thus ensuring the race continues... or getting a dwarven king's stockpile of gold. Needless to say, with the game's overall theme you're encouraged to pursue the latter option.
- The ending of Dubloon. You can either save the True Companions you formed throughout the game or the Chest you have been racing for the entire game.
- The ending of the adventure game Return to Mysterious Island 2: The player character discovers that her deactivation of the shield surrounding the island as part of her aborted escape attempt in the ending of the previous game has caused the island's ecosystem to start dying from foreign microorganisms. She then must choose between escaping and causing the entire island to die or reactivating the shield, saving the island but trapping her there for the rest of her life.
- Alpha Protocol likes these just a bit too much. At least thrice does your opponent put a contact (preferably a Romance Sidequest character) in one room, himself and/or your mission objective in the other room, and then announces this to the player.
- In Marvel Ultimate Alliance, you enter Mephisto's lair, where he has Nightcrawler and Phoenix held hostage and rescuing one or the other alters the game's end: rescuing Nightcrawler means Phoenix dies, but she comes back as the Dark Phoenix, looking for revenge. Rescuing Phoenix has Mystique killing Professor X in revenge for Nightcrawler's death.
- In the album the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis, Rael is ultimately confronted with a situation where he can either escape from the mad dream he has been caught in, back to his normal life in New York City, or risk dangerous rapids to rescue his drowning brother, John (who has repeatedly refused to help Rael in his times of need). He decides to save John from the rapids, but during the confusion and peril of the struggle, the mad dream takes another turn and Rael finds that he has rescued not John, but himself. The coherent narrative leaves us on this enigmatic approximation of an Aesop.
- Happens several times in Homestar Runner. In the original children's book that started the concept, Homestar gives up the chance to win the Strongest Man In The World Contest in order to expose Strong Bad's cheating. As a result, Pom Pom shares the victory trophy with him. The same thing happens in the remade cartoon version of it, only Pom Pom refuses to share the trophy. And in "A Jumping Jack Contest", it's Pom Pom who exposes the cheating, and Homestar who ends up winning and sharing the trophy with Pom Pom.
- In Starslip Crisis, Zillion tries to invoke this trope after he twists his ankle...and fails. His big mistake was making sure the other person didn't want him dead. Whoops.
- In The Order of the Stick, Elan uses his Genre Savvy to correctly predict that such a decision will occur. Partial subversion when he finds out he will be the hostage, or as he puts it: "Awwww, man! I didn't know * I* was going to be the girl."
- This Penny Arcade strip suggests that such a decision happens at the end of Blood on the Sand, then subverts it.
- In one Dragon Tails arc, Enigma begins to question his heritage, and decides to undergo a test to determine whether he is really related to his brothers. By the end of the arc (in which it turns out a giant bug creature with maybe-psychic powers had been influencing Engima in order to draw him away from his brothers), he receives the results of the test. His reaction...can be seen here.
- A subversion occurs in Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy, "Don't Rain On My Ed": with less than a minute before the candy store closes and the Eds miss Customer Appreciation Day, Eddy must choose between free jawbreakers and rescuing Edd from an unexpected chicken stampede. Eddy, being the greedy jerk of the trope, goes for the jawbreakers, but by the time he stops hesitating, the store's closed.
- Gargoyles had Lexington locked-on to the escaping bad guys' hovercraft with a laser cannon, but he gives up the sure shot to rescue Brooklyn.
- Samurai Jack had several of these moments where he refused to jump into the time portal until the current battle was won. By the time it was, the portal had closed or been destroyed. Technically, these portals would have let him defeat Aku in the distant past and made the battle unimportant. But ancient Samurai are renowned for their rigourous adherence to a code of honour, and not fortheir intricate understanding of Temporal Paradox.
- The cast of Dungeons and Dragons would refuse to take a portal home until the people who had helped them were safe.
- Code Lyoko, "Cruel Dilemma": Somehow, Jérémie has stumbled on a solution to Aelita's materialization he's been working on for the past 8 eps... however, Yumi falls through a pit into the Digital Sea on her latest mission against XANA, and Jérémie has to use it to bail her out instead.
- In the Karate Kid cartoon, anytime they got near the idol (it was even called that) they would inevitably have to give it up to save somebody. It's nature meant that it would inevitably be gone by the time they got back to it.
- In Super Mario Bros Super Show, the group finds another plumber that got stranded in the Mushroom Kingdom. He had finished building a machine that could get back to Brooklyn, but it had a short window of use. The Mario brothers have to choose between going back home or saving Princess Toadstool and Toad from King Koopa (who's theme of the week was Genghis Koopa). Here's a hint on what they chose: this isn't the series finale.
- And another episode has them actually get back to Brooklyn... only to find out that King Koopa and his Koopa Pack had followed them and were taking over the city. They end up having to lure Koopa and his minions back to the Mushroom Kingdom and destroy the pathway to Brooklyn, thus returning to the old status quo.
- In an episode of The Magic School Bus, Arnold forces his cousin Janet to make one of these, more or less so she won't end up dead on Pluto when her oxygen runs out, as she had refused to leave without the souvenirs she had collected from around the solar system; the bus couldn't hold everything she had taken. Bringing back only some of her interplanetary plunder and still most likely becoming famous apparently didn't occur to anyone.
- You try convincing Janet.
- Codename: Kids Next Door, "Caked Four": Numbuh 2 is out to win the Tube-A-Thon for his winless dad. He ends up saving other competitors from being baked into a cake instead.
- Rocket Power, "The Big Day": Otto is out to win a skating tourney, with a training trip with Shaun White as its top prize. He ends up having to convince his father's bride-to-be that he's ready for a new mother, even though he's been against it all this time, instead.
- Winx Club had Layla earning her Enchantix through such a decision. But considering how they are earned, perhaps there should have been more.
- Also in Rocket Power, "Race Across New Zealand": Otto decides to stop to help Twister, with his sprained knee, cross the finish line in a race, instead of racing for the finish line and winning the main title. Later, when it turns out that the 1st place winner cheated in the race, he is awarded the title in a tie with his sister Reggie.
- An episode of Taz-Mania had a dream sequence in which Taz, as a super hero, was forced to choose between rescuing his family or rescuing his comic book collection. He finally chooses his family and the time spent rescuing them leaves him unable to save the comics.
- On The Wild Thornberrys, Eliza had to make a Sister or Idol Decision during a volcanic eruption. Debbie needed help freeing a trapped foot, but Eliza had been hoping to make off with a chest of gold coins for herself. Three guesses.
- Another instance occurs in The Movie. Eliza has to choose between saving her sister or keeping her powers. She ends up saving Debbie by revealing the fact that she can talk to animals, and ends up losing her abilities. She gets them back in the end though.
- Used in The Simpsons episode "Three Men and a Comic Book", where Bart has to choose between rescuing Milhouse and rescuing the copy of Radioactive Man #1 that has caused them so much trouble. Given a particularly fine comedic twist with Martin Prince calmly pointing out "If you hadn't tied me up, I could be saving the comic book right now..."
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Traffic Cam Caper", Candace saves Phineas from falling off a bridge at the expense of a disc that would let her finally accomplish her goal of busting her brothers.
- In "The Lemonade Stand", Candace is forced to decide between busting her brothers or taking an opportunity to make up with best friend Stacy after an argument. She chose the latter.
- In the first episode of The Secret Saturdays, the main character, Zak, was forced to choose between saving the life of a cryptid he had befriended or stopping the villain from getting a piece of the Kur Stone. He saved the cryptid.
- In Brother Bear, Kenai finally achieves his goal of changing back into a human. However, when he learns he cannot talk to Koda, whose mother he killed, Kenai realizes his true responsibility. After all, given what he did to Koda and the options that are available, changing back into a bear to care for the bear cub is the only moral thing to do.
- In The Strawberry Shortcake Movie: Sky's the Limit, Strawberry has to rescue her friend Mr. Longface Caterpillar and The Great Geyser Stone (which will provide water for her town) after both fall over the side of a cliff, landing on a ledge. In order to do so, her friends lower her, using a rope, so she can grab the stone first, and then Mr. Caterpillar. However, as she's being lifted with the stone, the ledge that Mr. Caterpillar is standing on crumbles, and he starts to fall. She grabs hold of his hand with her free hand, but can't hold onto him with just one hand. She briefly considers which to give up, but drops the stone in favor of her friend.
- So, wait, she chooses to doom her water deprived hometown, to save a single person? Sounds like a bad decision to me...
- The Halloween episode of Pinky and The Brain has Brain give up not only the world domination he's been magically granted, but the possibility of trying to take it over again in the future (a big deal to someone whose entire purpose in the world revolves around trying to Take Over the World) to save Pinky's soul from
HellHades. Fortunately for Brain, there's a problem with the original contract, and Pinky is let off the hook anyway.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender; Zuko has a choice between going after the Avatar, whose capture would restore his honour, or saving his uncle Iroh who has been imprisoned by the Earth Kingdom. After much agonizing, he choices Iroh.
- It wasn't something he had been looking for, per se, but in Freakazoid, Cosgrove's girlfriend Mary Beth offers to share immortality with him, which, the secret being drinking the essence of a superhero, means Freakazoid will die. A chorus sings 'What will Cosgrove do?' as he ponders the decision, before he tells them to cut it out and turns Mary Beth down.
- Adventure Time: Finn, Jake, and four Hot Dog Knights go into a labyrinth searching for wishes, the first two hoping to get a psychic double-head war elephant. Jake stretches his body to have a lifeline back to the start and by the time they get a chance for a wish each two of the hot dogs had died and Jake was dying from overstretching himself. Finn was hoping to use his wish to bring Jake back to life while Jake wished for the elephant, but then the two hot dogs and Jake wished for a box, to blow up (he meant to get big but that didn't matter), and for a sandwich, respectively.
Faced with deciding whether to save his friend or get what they came for, Finn wishes for the elephant, by Jake's suggestion, then convinces the elephant to use ITS wish to revive everyone then fly out of there to the Labyrinth guardian's great frustration.
- A rather odd variation was used in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles's season, Back to the Sewers. As the goal of that season was to save Splinter from being lost in cyberspace the MacGuffin actually was a friend (to say the least). The episode "Hacking Stockman" featured a "Friend or Idol?" Decision in the sense that Donatello was forced to choose between the data bits he'd been tracking for the entirety of the episode and saving his brothers... which, naturally, made it a difficult decision. Hint: everyone's still alive and well at the end of the episode
- In the second part of the two part pilot for My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, Nightmare Moon tempts Rainbow Dash to abandon her friends for the chance to live her dream and lead the Shadow Bolts (dark versions of her idols, the Wonderbolts, but the idol part still plays in). Rainbow Dash quickly refuses and sides with her friends.
- In the ninth episode of the second season, Rarity gets put in this position, being forced to choose between maintaining some rather important upper-class connections, and hanging out with her lower-class friends. She ends up splitting the difference.
- Max Tennyson from Ben 10 experiences one of these in the episode Ultimate Weapon. The episode centers around Max chasing after the only object he failed to acquire during his time as a Plumber. Near the end he has the choice of grabbing it or saving Ben. Obviously he saves his grandson. The Artifact later is revealed to have aged to the point of crumbling into dust when the leader of the Forever Knights holds it.