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"You Could Have Used Your Powers For Good / Evil" is a sentiment often expressed to the Worthy Opponent. Hero Bob wonders why Villain Alice, with her immense power, chose to do evil rather than good. If the evildoer is a recurring character, rather than a one-shot, this usually comes followed by a conversation about how they're Not So Different and a Heel Face Turn would make her feel much better about her life.
Of course, the reverse can also occur, with Alice questioning why Bob bothers to protect these ungrateful weaklings when he could just use his powers to take whatever he wants. If Alice succeeds in convincing him that Evil Feels Good, Bob may become a Fallen Hero.
As the page quote illustrates, this is more appropriate for some villains than others. Usually they need to have "good" powers yet use them for evil. Of course it's not impossible for a Bob to try to convince Alice that even with "bad" powers she has a great responsibility and she can be a good person. If Alice is a Mad Scientist, cutting her a check while commenting how all her evil inventions are useless can have this effect.
Contrast: Then Let Me Be Evil, where villains attempt to use their powers for good, only for their treatment by others to cause them to turn to evil. Comes Great Responsibility, Comes Great Insanity and Comes Great Perks, where power changes a character's disposition all by itself.
Anime and Manga
- In Gundam ZZ, Judau Ashta says this almost word-for-word about the dying Haman Karn: "Why didn't you use your power in a better way?!"
- In Tiger and Bunny, this is why Jake Martinez has contempt for the NEXT heroes of HeroTV despite being a NEXT supremacist: in his eyes, they've turned themselves into dancing monkeys for the people that used to subjugate them, and are thus no better.
- After Superman returns in the aftermath of 52, he chides Lex Luthor that, despite having said he could solve all the worlds problems if (supes) weren't around, he spent the year he was absent doing little of worth.
- This has been a recurring theme in Superman's ongoing feud with Luthor, even back when Luthor's motivation for opposing Superman was kind of stupid:
Superman: My arch-enemy, Luthor, might have been the world's greatest benefactor! But he lost his hair in an accidental explosion and blamed me for his baldness! In his bitterness he became Earth's most evil criminal scientist!
- The most extreme version of this might be in the climax of The Black Ring. Luther gains the powers of a God and manages to create a state of temporary world peace...with the caveat that he cannot use them to harm people. Superman is standing right there, telling him how good of a thing this is, and that if Luther just gave up his vendetta against him, Luther could be the greatest hero of all time. Guess what happens. No, go on. I'll wait.
- In "The Reign of the Superman," Jerry Siegel's and Joe Shuster's illustrated short story (Science Fiction, January 1933), the depowered villain--an early version of what became the familiar heroic Superman--says at the end:
I see, now, how wrong I was. If I had worked for the good of humanity, my name would have gone down in history with a blessing--instead of a curse.
- In one issue of Spider-Man, Spidey tells Green Goblin that with his intelligence he "could have cured cancer by now if [he] hadn't been wasting time with this Green Goblin crap!". Gobby's response? "I don't give a rat's ass."
- In Star Wars Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan laments Anakin's turn to The Dark Side with "You were the Chosen One!"
- Megamind is outraged when he finds out that Titan has turned to petty crime after being granted the power of a superhero. The Irony is lost on him.
Megamind: I can't believe you. All your gifts, all your powers and you squander them for your own personal gain!
- In Scanners 2, David Kellum says this to evil psychic Peter Drak at one point.
[Drak is mentally attacking David]
- Near the end of Die Hard, after so much banter between "Mr. Cowboy" John McClane and the mastermind terrorist Hans Gruber, McClane tosses out there that Gruber could've made "a good cowboy".
- There's a possible variant of this in the Harry Potter series, where Voldemort can't understand why Dumbledore chose to use his powers for good. He considers Dumbledore to be weak and a fool for not 'taking what was his'.
- This can also apply to Draco Malfoy, but regarding Harry -- and at first not regarding magical power, but regarding potential social status, which the Malfoy family tradition dictated should be used for putting others down to highlight one's own supposed excellence. In regards to magic, this is a stereotypical Slytherin's like Malfoy's attitude towards the school, which only teaches Defence Against the Dark Arts.
- What Jesus pretty much tells the Antichrist in His "The Reason You Suck" Speech to him in the Left Behind book Glorious Appearing. This was a point of contention by certain readers since Jesus pretty much berated him for being what God destined him to function as.
- Sherlock Holmes doesn't say it to his face, but he makes such a comment about ruthless (and wealthy) blackmailer Charles Augustus Milverton. However, this is also a story where Holmes himself, in his campaign against the man, ends up putting his own considerable skill towards what he admits are, themselves, criminal ends.
"With a smiling face and a heart of marble, he will squeeze and squeeze until he has drained them dry. The fellow is a genius in his way, and would have made his mark in some more savoury trade."
Live Action TV
- Doctor Who uses this a lot. The Doctor's most common target is probably The Master, but The Rani and any number of villains of the week get it as well.
"You're a genius, you are, I swear, you really are. But you could be so much more. You could be beautiful."
- Get Smart used this explicitly a time or two, often as part of The Stinger. "If only he would have used his [whatever] for niceness, instead of rottenness."
- As the page quote shows, this is attempted in No Heroics, although the recipient, Lightkiller, seems to be a believer in Bad Powers, Bad People.
- One of the Breakout Kings is Lloyd, a Living Lie Detector behaviorist who despite his talent, has poor people skills. After accepting a deal to become a Boxed Crook, he calls his mother to explain the deal to her. Her only response is a sigh and "You could have been so much more..."
- In an early episode of Farscape, upon witnessing a particularly impressive example of Peacekeeper engineering, Crichton expresses regret that the Peacekeepers couldn't have used their knowledge to do good instead of mercenary service- or, as Aeryn puts it, "To fulfill your vision of who we should be?" Of course, by the time Aeryn and the other members of the crew are inclined to listen to a word he says, Crichton's idealism has well and truly disappeared.
- Often found in Light Side vs. Dark Side fights in Star Wars, such as in Knights of the Old Republic, when Light Side Revan apologizes to Darth Malak for leading him down the Dark Side path, but reminds that it was Malak who chose to follow that path to the end.
- And Kreia delivers a somewhat twisted version of this trope to a Dark Side Exile during the climax, in a combination with You Have Failed Me, What the Hell, Hero? and "The Reason You Suck" Speech. Notably, it's not so much because you could have followed the Light Side instead of the dark side so much as the whole part that you have severed yourself from the Force, made a comeback, and still not realized any of the implications behind it. If the Exile is Light Side the speech gets delivered to the Jedi Council instead -- just before she kills them all for sticking to their outdated dogmas even in the face of evidence that life without the Force is possible and they are wrong.
- In Saga Frontier, after the final battle with Metal Black, Alkaiser says to the defeated villain that he could have used his powers for good.
- In Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes, Henry Pym says this to Graviton upon his defeat. Made ironic because Graviton is a possible case of Then Let Me Be Evil.
- In The Spectacular Spider-Man, Spidey asks The Sandman why he chooses to do evil when he could just as easily be a superhero. At the end of the episode, Sandman ends up changing sides and making a Heroic Sacrifice.
- He Man: When He-Man and Skeletor are forced to work together, He-Man asks Skeletor if he's ever considered using his great power for good. Skeletor retaliates by asking him if he's ever considered using his great power for evil.
- (Mind the Redemption Equals Death)