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"That is exactly what the harboring of hate and resentment against others is - a biting of oneself. We think we are harming others in holding these spites and hates, but the deeper harm is to ourselves.”
—E. Stanley Jones
"Put the army in the face of death where there is no escape and they will not flee or be afraid - there is nothing they cannot achieve"
—Sun Tzu adressing this trope

The "Cornered Rattlesnake" is when a character or a faction is pressured to the breaking point. Another group or the 'big bad' will bully or threaten the weaker 'rattlesnake' until the weaker person fights back. Sometimes the 'weaker' group is actually surprisingly powerful, but the bully underestimated their abillities. Having the rattlesnake 'bite back' is something the big bad normally didn't intend or anticipate, and so he will face the consequences.

Sometimes a Cornered Rattlesnake will be given assistance from the enemies of the 'big bad bullies', and so will begin to be able to defend itself. The 'big bad's' cruel actions could actually make their allies turn towards the 'rattlesnake's' side.

The phrase refers to the real life scenario of if a person were to corner a rattlesnake. The human can easily choose to retreat, but instead tries to kill the rattlesnake. Cornered, the rattlesnake would defend itself. This trope doesn't require the rattlesnake to win, as it is possible to kill the snake, but being bitten is highly likely.

Sometimes this is a response to a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, Hopeless Boss Fight or Curb Stomp Battle.

This isn't Bullying a Dragon, as the cornered rattlesnake appears, at first, to be physically weaker or a huge coward and only reacts in self defense.



  • A common situation of the cornered rattlesnakes is that the hero is forced to use a risky move or a Heroric Sacrifice to defeat his enemy.

Live Film

  • In the Dark Knight, the gangs of Gotham are forced to hire the Joker as the police and Batman are overwelming their gangs. This leads to Joker blowing up many buildings and threatening or massacring dozens of people.

Animated Film

  • In Toy Story, Sid's toys have been brutalized by Sid, who sadistically enjoys destroying, damaging and disfiguring his toys. The toys risk being exposed as living creatures, but are able to scare Sid into respecting his toys.
  • In Iron Giant, The Giant is attacked by the US milliary. This leads the robot to engage into a 'battle mode' where he uses giant alien weapons to destroy almost everything in sight. The millitary itself becomes the Cornered Rattlesnake now and arms a nuclear missle to destroy The Giant, even at the risk of killing everyone in town.

Western Animation

  • In the first episode of Batman Beyond, Bruce's Batman is too old to fight against the goons. One of them is about to beat Batman with a pipe, forcing Batman to use a gun to win. Batman, who hates guns, decides he needs to retire in his old age so he wouldn't be in this situation again.
  • MLPFIM. Fluttershy protects her friends by actually stares down a gorgon and defends them from a giant dragon, which normally she is terrified of.

Fan Fic

NRSY: In this Naruto/RWBY crossover fanfic Cardin ends up being on the receiving end of a brutal beatdown after he repeatedly insults Jaune (who is her teammate in this fanfic) in front of Hinata's face. Before Hinata was getting clobbered.


  • Painwheel from Skullgirls has been experimented on, brainwashed and mutilated by Valentine's labs. Her scarred and deformed body makes it impossible to live a normal life, even her family cannot recognize her and mistake her as a murderous monster. Painwheel was once a normal girly teenager, but now is a feral and violent fighter. Valentine's greatest weapon is now her biggest threat.
  • Chell, from Portal, is forced to destroy G La DOS, who is forcing Chell to go through dangerous test chambers and even attempted to kill Chell by dragging her into a fire. Otherwise Chell is just a normal person, while G La DOS is a giant robot that can fire rockets, summon turrets and poison rooms with neurotoxin.

Web Original

SMG4: After Mario is caught stealing from Bowser (specifically, his Nintendo Switch), his first response is to try to flee from Bowser's Castle. However, Bowser anticipates this and puts the castle on lockdown, thus preventing Mario from escaping and by extension pulling off his heist. Thus, he proceeds to fight Bowser a lightsaber battle.

    • There's also Luigi when SMG3 attempts to capture him. Despite being averse to fighting, he manages to hold off SMG3's forces pretty well...well, until Shrek sits on him.

Real Life

  • Vietnam durring the Vietnam War.
  • Many revolutions were formed by militias of citizens, who were too preasured by their governments to survive without rebelling.
  • Unfortunately, there are many examples of people who are driven to suicide, murder or a combination of the two from bullying, threats and other things.
  • Carpenter ants can self-destruct, spreading their poisonous guts over their enemies.
  • Rattlesnakes may be venomous, but they'll only attack if they feel frightened. This of course is the trope namer.
  • Skunks are normally peaceful creatures, but will spray predators (and humans) with a smelly liquid if threatened.

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