Sudden Downer Ending
"Imagine that Nintendo made a game where Mario defeats Bowser, and he finds Princess Peach, poisoned, lying on a bed, telling Mario with her last breath that she loves him...and then the game ends. This is sort of devious plot that child psychologists must concoct in order to increase their clientele."
A Sudden Downer Ending is a series finale in which an otherwise completely upbeat, accessible series ends on an unimaginably bleak note. Can also apply to self-contained movies, books, video games or etcetera with such endings.
The 3-way baby of Mood Whiplash, Cerebus Syndrome and Downer Ending. See also The End of the World as We Know It, The Bad Guy Wins, Gainax Ending, Cruel Twist Ending, and Kill'Em All. Can be a result of Creator Breakdown. Can result in major Ending Aversion and cries of Ruined FOREVER.
As an Ending Trope, expect spoilers.
If a work was dark or serious to begin with, it does not qualify for this trope and is simply a Downer Ending.
Anime and Manga
- Excel Saga parodies this, like everything else, in one late-run episode, which is very dark and humorless compared to the other episodes and ends with Excel being shot and left to die. It's actually around episode 23 of 25; the actual final episode (#26) was unaired due to crossing the line way too many times. In fact, it was created with the intention to never be aired, and is not considered part of the actual story anyway.
- Mahoromatic. It's a Foregone Conclusion that Mahoro would die; it's the whole premise. The ending is still ridiculously dark. And confusing.
- The last few episodes of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi turn what was a series of parodies of video games and anime into a serious fable about dealing with grief.
- Then again, the series was from Gainax...
- Sonic the Hedgehog The Movie. Most of the story strikes the same balance that the Genesis games did, with a Saving The World plot that's still light-hearted. However, the "lighthearted" suddenly disappears near the end, with Metal Sonic making a Heel Face Turn, falling into a lava pit, and brushing off Sonic's attempt to save him. Afterwards, Sonic is a bit shaken up over it—then the story switches back to comedy for the final minutes before the credits roll.
- Fairy Tail. The S-class/Tenrou Island arc ends with the main cast and semi-main cast being blasted by Acnologia and presumably dead.
- Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt takes it Up to Eleven. In the very last minute of the series, Stocking turns out to be evil, slices Panty into 666 pieces and walks into sunset with the revived Big Bad.
- Master of Martial Hearts: The first 4 out of 5 episodes will make you think that this OVA is just a silly, goofy, mushy comedy with some brutal fights between the main character Aya and her opponents in a tournament. Then the 5th episode comes in. To wit: Aya ends up killing her opponent in a Berserker Rage. Then she finds out that every one of her friends was a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who had manipulated her right from the beginning. They mentally broke all the losers of the tournament, making them into "perfect women" to be sold into sexual slavery. Aya's "friends" did this because her parents did the same thing to their parents, and they want to kill her to get back at her mother. Then Aya's mother shows up and kills them off, revealing to her that this is a Cycle of Revenge going back to their grandparents. So Kill'Em All ensues, with Aya limping away from the blown up building. Then her so-called best friend's mother gets a visit from someone that she is very scared to see.... There had been very few hints that something like this was going to happen. Yikes!
- The 1975 anime adaptation of A Dog of Flanders, true to the original material, has the main character freeze to death in the last episode. The series is quite positive and upbeat (and looks like Heidi) otherwise, so to many children this came as quite a shock.
- Marley and Me. The film actually ends with the titular dog being put to sleep because of old age.
- Roller Boogie, a light-hearted roller-disco film, inexplicably ends on a downbeat note, with the main characters tearfully separating to pursue their futures in different cities.
- Notoriously, the original ending to Clerks would have ended with this. A lighthearted comedy about two lazy store clerks wasting a day shift? The original version ended with a robber entering the store and shooting the main character, killing him instantly.
- The original ending to Dodgeball had the Globo Gym Cobras, the main antagonists, winning in the final round. Fortunately, this ending tested so poorly that a much, much better ending was devised.
- This Island Earth: Sure, the earth is saved, but the entire Metalunan race is wiped out by the Zagons. The Metalunans weren't really bad, just desparate. And the movie ends with Exeter's ship crashing into the ocean in flames.
- The silent film Exit Smiling is a zany comedy about a terrible actress in a traveling theater troupe trying to save the man she loves from going to jail. She succeeds. But he never finds out she was the one who saved him, and he's so happy about being able to stay in town with some other girl he likes that she simply doesn't tell him. The movie ends with her crying quietly as he steps off the train.
- In the final chapters of Tottie: The Story of a Doll's House, one of the dolls is burned to death.
- In the final episode of Dinosaurs, the main character accidentally triggers an ice-age by over-industrializing the world. He then has to explain why they're all going to die to his youngest child. Cut to the outside of the house, where snow is piling over the entire house. In the final shot, a newscaster solemnly states that the snow is getting harsher, the days are getting darker, and there's no end in sight. He issues a formal "Good night". He reconsiders for a moment, then looks straight in to the camera with weary, uncertain eyes, and solidly states, "Good bye". Fade to Black. This show was supposed to be FUNNY, goddammit!
- In terms of individual seasons, Power Rangers Turbo ends rather sadly. Turbo, being based on a parody sentai, was written as light-hearted (even compared to Power Rangers in general). However, the ending is downright depressing. It is, so far, the only season to end with the Big Bad actually winning. The ending of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers came close, but the start of Zeo reversed most of its more serious consequences back to the status quo, whereas the start of Power Rangers in Space took the Sudden Downer Ending and ran with it.
- The finale of Blackadder Goes Forth. Made all the more sad because the same trope (Kill'Em All) was played in two previous series...for laughs.
- Justified in that playing the events of the finale for laughs this time would not have produced the best reaction given what they concerned.
- Also because for anyone with any emotional investment in WW 1 (read: everyone in Britain above a certain age), the ending is actually incredibly touching, respectful and appropriate. Writer Ben Elton's uncle, an eminent historian specialising in the period, was outraged when he first saw Blackadder Goes Forth and practically disowned him for what he saw as trivialisation of the war. After seeing the final episode, he wrote his nephew a letter apologizing and praising him for the way it was handled.
- Justified in that playing the events of the finale for laughs this time would not have produced the best reaction given what they concerned.
- The finale of Roseanne, where it's revealed that the entire last season was fictional, and that Roseanne wrote it to cope with the death of Dan.
- In the last episode of ALF our wise-cracking alien protagonist is captured by the Alien Task Force presumably never to be seen again by the Tanners. The producers were told they'd get a TV Movie to Wrap It Up, but it wasn't until years later that it actually happened, and the tone of it was distinctly darker than the series.
- This trope began a season early in the BBC's version of Robin Hood. At the end of season two, Maid Marian was brutally murdered at Guy of Gisborne's hands, changing an upbeat family show into something unimaginably bleak, and without any hope for a happy ending. Bizarrely, season three tried to regain its reputation as a family show, but the fed-up actors left for greener pastures, ensuring that the show ended with the deaths of Robin Hood, Allan-a-Dale, Guy of Gisborne, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Despite the gutted cast, there was an attempt to introduce a Legacy Character for Robin Hood, but the show was not commissioned for a forth series. The show ended with the remaining outlaws vowing to continue the fight against Prince John, but anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of English history knows how well that would have turned out.
- Publicity for the last ever episode of largely light-hearted series Lovejoy focused on the return of Will They or Won't They? love interest Lady Jane and Lovejoy's wedding to Replacement Love Interest Charlotte. Instead, the Villain of the Week kidnaps Lovejoy on the way to the wedding as revenge for foiling his plot and Charlotte refuses to believe it, thinks she's been jilted and takes a job away from the area. What's more, Lovejoy's other two friends also take jobs away from the area and he's effectively evicted from his home/shop. The final scene of him packing his things into the back of his truck and driving off alone is actually quite depressing.
- Seinfeld's two-part series finale is arguably an subversion. The show itself was about selfish, horrible people coasting through life, and the finale showed them finally getting their comeuppance. Still, it divided fans of the show, who thought that it was a very dark way to send off one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.
- Although Medium dealt with many bad things, it's overall ethos was generally that the bad guys always got caught and everything turned out well in the end. Which made the series finale in which Alison's husband Joe is killed in a plane crash, most of the episode is taken up with a bizarre soap opera tale of it all being a ghastly mistake and an amnesiastic Joe is living in Mexico which turns out to be a dream and then Alison spending the next 40+ years of her life without the one person who has kept her sane throughout her psychic travails and who she has repeatedly been shown to depend on utterly and all alone because she never finds someone else or remarries all the more difficult to take. Even more so when the producers apparently thought it was a happy ending because, well, those forty years don't matter when you get reunited when you eventually die. Right?
- True Life "I Don't Trust My Partner" had two couples talking about their trust issues. The audience sees Nikki and Shawny, the second couple interviewed, fighting for the extent of the episode, thanks to Shawny flirting with girls behind his girlfriend's back, and eventually going to couple's therapy to see whether they should move in together. Fast forward some months later, the show pans over to the new apartment the couple talked about renting, with their stuff inside. Problem is, shortly after they moved in together, Shawny suddenly died, because of a hernia problem, and Nikki went through a period of overwhelming grief. For a show that usually goes no further than a Bittersweet Ending, this depressing conclusion came out of nowhere.
- The true ending of Braid. Open to interpretation, but it would appear that the princess was trying to escape from the protagonist to the antagonist, not the other way around. Or she's an atomic bomb.
- Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter for the DS. Basically, all of the adorable animal characters in the village are killed, G-Rated style (they fade away). One of the characters, named Mike, fades away last. The voice of Mike's sister Heather is heard asking the Creator, the god-like figure in the game to bring her brother back, which at first seems like a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming. Then, her message changes and she was really trying to say, "God, just bring back my little brother to me." It is now revealed that Mike and Heather are actually humans, and the whole story with the village of cute animal things was all just a dream that Mike was having. It wasn't a regular dream either, It turns out that Mike and his family were in a car crash, which killed his parents, injured his sister, and put him in a coma. Damn.
- Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. You die. Admittedly the game is one of the darkest in the franchise (if not the darkest), but it's typically quite happy.
- BIT.TRIP FATE is a pretty dark game compared to the other games in the series, but the ending takes the cake. Upon defeating the Final Boss, CommanderVideo Turns Red, gets into position... and rams himself into the boss, destroying it and killing himself. After the final point tally, CommandgirlVideo arrives at the site of the final battle, realises what just happened, and sheds a Single Tear.
- Sam and Max Freelance Police: The Devil's Playhouse is a comedy Lovecraft Lite that, while Darker and Edgier than the previous games, is still very lighthearted and playful. The ending involves Max being Killed Off for Real.
- Conkers Bad Fur Day. After a humorous South Park styled adventure, Conker becomes King Of All The Lands.... but at a price: the people in his kingdom are all morons and to make matters worse, his girlfriend, Berri, is dead. As for Conker himself, it's highly implied that he's spiraling towards a booze filled self-destruction.
- In the original ending, things were a bit less... subtle. In the bar scene at the end, Conker was supposed to shoot himself in the head. The only reason this was changed was because the creators were planning on a sequel.
- Death Spank is a comedic hack and slash rpg that prides itself in its wacky, lighthearted Monkey Island-esque humor. Then, at the end of the sequel, DeathSpank's closest ally and possible love interest goes batshit insane due to the Thongs of Power's corrupting power, and he must either let himself be killed to fuel her delusions of godhood or cut her down himself, which greatly troubles him as he mourns and buries her. Unlike literally the entire rest of the series, this is all treated as somber and tragic as possible. And the canonical choice? He kills her.
- This isn't the ending of The Reconstruction as a whole, but it is the ending of chapter 3, "Life and Debt". Up until that point, the story reads like a fairly typical Heroic Fantasy adventure story, with a few hints of a greater, overarching plot and only a few very serious moments. You'll probably think that it'll maintain the fairly carefree, happy-go-lucky vibe the heroes have going on. Well, at least, until Metzino gets thrown off the Faithall Tower, you fight your first boss fight with a human character (who dies bloodily), and at the end of the day, it's revealing that the characters were Unwitting Pawns the whole chapter and their efforts were meaningless. It's also immediately followed by interlude 3, which is filled to the brim with Tear Jerker.
- However, since it only happens in the middle of the story, it's more the game's way of saying that it's done pretending it's lighthearted, and things are going to get serious from now on.
- Doobl. What appears to be a normal family-friendly web comic for a fair number of strips, then has the protagonist go crazy and slaughter the cast before killing himself. Meanwhile, in the news posts, the author's mother dies. He spends the remaining posts increasingly lashing out against the world. It ends with a newspaper clipping covering the author's suicide. It turned out to be a hoax.
- Concerned, the Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman, is mostly a gag strip that ends with... oh, guess. Of course, it's still funny while doing so.
- The Last Days of Foxhound has everyone Doomed by Canon. As such, the last chapter is just a montage of their bodies. It's emphasized by how sudden it is—cutting straight from the "preparing for battle" montage to the death montage. At least the ghosts of the dead characters show up to joke about their ineptitude, providing a relieving comical note.
- It's All Been Done ended with the main character and his wacky group of talking toys about to have an adventure when he realizes the entire thing was an attempt to avoid dealing with his wife's death.
- The original Jerry short.
- The final Jerry short was also quite dark compared to the others.
- Doctor Horrible's Sing-along Blog seems like a silly musical about super heroes and villains, even if it does have a Villain Protagonist. Then you hit the point where the "evil scheme" starts to unfurl, and things start happening, and suddenly you start crying.
- The 100th episode of Weebl and Bob actually ends with the death of Donkey, Chris the Ninja Pirate's wife.
- Inverted in the following episode, which revolves around Weebl, Bob, and Chris attending Donkey's funeral. Cue Mr. Teeth.
Mr. Teeth: It's time to put the donkey into the asshole!
- Tales From the Table started off very comedic and ends in a surprising and depressing way.
- The flash series "My Little Pony: Thinking With Portals, is a lighthearted comedy crossover between MLP and Portal, and features each of the Mane Cast (and the Princesses) having lighthearted hijinks with portal guns. The final episode, which will involve Twilight getting her revenge for being the Butt Monkey for the entire series, is stated to be much more serious than the rest of the series, the author admitting some of it may end up veering into Grimdark territory. However, the author has personally leaked that in the end, everpony lives.
- The finale of Codename: Kids Next Door. Teary goodbyes and heartwarming moments abound, yes, but then Numbah One leaves earth, forever, and never sees his friends or his parents again. The end of the episode consists of live action actors portraying the remaining four members of Sector V as elders. Numbah 2 is nearly blind. It does, however, end in a five-second Hope Spot with Numbah 5 getting a call from Numbah One.
- Camp Lazlo - Lumpus was never really the scoutmaster, he was a literally insane man who had locked the real scoutmaster away, presumably for the duration of the entire show, to steal his life. He is sent to an asylum. This twist is so dark and downright shocking that the entire cast except Lazlo can do nothing but stand in silence for a moment. Word of God claims that Jane Doe busted him out afterward and married him but it's still a Shocking Swerve.
- The Classic Disney Shorts "Chicken Little" plays like a normal Cat-and-Mouse cartoon... until the end, where despite the Narrator's assurance to the audience that everything turns out alright, Foxy Loxy catches and eats all the chickens, turkeys and ducks, smiling smugly all the while. "Hey, wait a minute!" the Narrator exclaims. "This isn't right! That's not the way it ends in my book!" Foxy, leaning against his "Psychology" book, responds, "Oh, yeah? Don't believe everything ya read, brother!" Yeah.
- The Snowman, which remains upbeat Sweet Dreams Fuel until the final moments, which reveals first that the Snowman has melted and died, then that it definitely wasn't a dream. The main character breaks down and cries. Cue credits.
- Appreciate your happier moments while you can as they don't last forever. Presumably, even kids have to learn that at some point.
- Actually ended up subverted in a rather off-hand way in a cartoon based loosely on another children's graphic novel by Raymond Briggs, which takes place in the same universe.
Father Christmas: Glad you could make it again! The party, I mean, not the snowman.
- The classic Looney Tunes short "What's Opera, Doc?" is mostly a goofy parody of opera tropes combined with Bugs Bunny's typical slapstick and Attractive Bent Gender gags. Then Elmer kills him. Bugs does revive long enough to deliver the last line though:
"Well what did ya expect in an opera — a happy ending?"
- The infamous (within its fandom, at least) "Holly Jolly Secrets" Christmas Special of Adventure Time. It is about the heroes Finn and Jake watching a bunch of videotapes made by their arch-enemy and Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, the Ice King. The whole time, Finn and Jake continue because they believe the Ice King has hidden "evil secrets" in the tapes. Once the Ice King finds out that they are watching his tapes, he tries to stop them, but fails to prevent them from putting the last tape in their VCR. At that point all he can do is watch in horror as Finn and Jake discover that he used to wear glasses, but more importantly that he used to be a normal human being who was driven insane and transformed by a supernatural artifact that he'd bought. They watch the young Ice King lose his mind. Before this, the Ice King had almost always been a funny character, and plenty of things that were Played for Laughs in the past were made tragic by this revelation. The writers seem to understand this and have given the character a break so far. Or possibly they don't know what to do with him. In addition, the other tapes before the last one are usually the Ice King saying or doing hilarious things, but some of them show him sitting around his house, crying, although that still seems to be Played for Laughs.
- If any episode of The Simpsons has a character change in a positive way, or gain something nice, and they keep it near the end of the episode, expect it be suddenly yanked away. The Status Quo must be preserved. That said, there were two notable exceptions: Barney recovering from his alcoholism (although the writers eventually undid this) and Millhouse's parents remarrying in the 19th season (whether the writers will undo this remains to be seen).