The Bad Guy Wins
Garth: From that day on, the assassination attempts stopped. Some say it was because the sheik was afraid Hub would return, others say it was because Hub had spared his life twice and did the honorable thing in letting him go. But I say it's because years later, the sheik struck oil in his kingdom and became one of the five richest men in the world.
We're all used to heroes winning out over the bad guys. The bad guys get theirs, justice is done, and the heroes walk away happy. Sometimes things are a little more bittersweet, but we at least expect the villain to lose in the end. One can even get away with a Downer Ending where it ends badly for the heroes, but many of these kinds of endings are "nobody wins" affairs where everybody pays the price (fatally or not). Even if the villain wins in these kinds of endings, it's usually at great enough personal cost to the villain that he or she is utterly ruined as a result.
Not so with this ultimate of Downer Endings. The Bad Guy Wins is Exactly What It Says on the Tin: complete and ultimate triumph for the villain, and complete and utter devastation (frequently with death or worse) for the hero or heroes who dared to oppose them. A bad guy who wins is a Karma Houdini by definition, and such endings can frequently be depressing as all get out—even more so than your regular Downer Ending, especially if the villain in question is a Complete Monster.
History has plenty of examples of this trope, especially in stories of failed rebellions against a powerful empire or recountings of real life tragedies. But in Fictionland, when this kind of ending shows up, it's often used either as a hook for a sequel that will give the hero (or a new hero) the chance to succeed where they failed in the first one, or as a way of showing how much of an utter, hopeless Crapsack World that the characters live in—particularly in the case of Dystopias, where it serves as a warning to those living in the here and now not to let this kind of thing happen for real. There can be any number of other reasons for the bad guy winning: simply for the sake of a twist ending (especially in horror stories, which are often most effective if they leave the audience with a hugely emotionally negative final shock); out of the writer's desire to be original or to throw in a new twist to keep things fresh or unpredictable; or just because the writer couldn't find any other way to end the story which suited them. Sometimes it may all just be part of a Black Comedy anyway.
Real Life is probably the ultimate example of this. If in real life the good guys won more often than not, we wouldn't need fiction to make it all bearable. Sure, sometimes peace and justice prevail and the guy with the handicap gets the prom queen, but on a scale of probability the big mean jerk is going to get the hot girl because he has lots of money and a nice car. Bunnies get eaten because they are prey and nice people die. It's the way it is.
Doomed by Canon often requires this trope. If the Big Bad's Backstory involves the Big Bad attaining all kinds of success to get him or her into the position that started the story, the Prequel requires him or her to win—and kill off any major characters, no matter how sympathetic, who do not make it to the sequel. More generally, Villain Protagonists will benefit from this trope, particularly in video games where the player takes on the role of a bad guy.
Some stories may attempt to use this trope, yet still try to soften the blow. Perhaps the villain's goal is ultimately a good thing. Or the heroes are really Not So Different after all (especially true if they're Villain Protagonist characters up against a 'good' villain). Another variant is for the villain to create a Villain World that the heroes must topple in a future story.
In cases when the hero was particularly well-liked or the villain particularly hated, the audience may call for a sequel in which the villain gets a proper comeuppance. Or lacking that, they may decide to write their own.
Doing this too often or having this happen almost inevitably will result in Invincible Villain.
See also: Downer Ending, Karma Houdini, Industrialized Evil and Shoot the Shaggy Dog. Compare Team Rocket Wins. Contrast The Good Guys Always Win. Can overlap with Godwin's Law of Time Travel. May be considered a form of You Can't Thwart Stage One if it happens in a serial work. Also compare Pound of Flesh Twist, in which The Bad Guy Wins, but the victory is rendered hollow or meaningless or actually becomes a defeat due to some technicality or unforeseen chance.
Anime and Manga
- The one true constant in Black Lagoon, since everybody is a villain, and in Rock's case, becomes one.
- That said, the show's antagonists seldom win. Although the crew is villainous, they usually do the job they're hired to do without fail.
- An episode in the Hoenn arc of the Pokémon had this with a Team Magma agent named Brodie, who is notorious for his many disguises. He disguises himself as a researcher at the Weather Institute named Millie (think Millibar) to steal data on Groudon, and succeeds. Should we mention that his Ditto is formidable?
- As of the Best Wishes arc, the Team Rocket trio has become this when they got promoted, succeeding in several of the missions given to them by Giovanni.
- In the fourteenth movie's two versions, Pokemon the Movie: White - Victini and Zekrom and Pokemon the Movie: Black - Victini and Reshiram, Damon, despite his Heel Face Turn, wins. At the end of the films, the Sword of the Vale has been moved, the People of the Vale have reunited to rebuild, and the credits hint that their once-ruined homeland can be restored.
- Silent Möbius — episode 20 of the anime concludes with the total victory for the villain, Ganossa Maximillian. First, Ganossa beautifully forces Katsumi Liqueur to admit her love for Roy Device. Then, the morning after they get engaged and spend their first night together, he kills Roy in a bloody way while Katsumi is showering. When Katsumi discovers the dying Roy covered in blood, she goes insane with grief, unleashing a flood of power and vaporising her apartment building. It ends with Ganossa standing in the ruins, bowing to the viewer...
- Berserk's anime adaptation does not end well at all for anyone except the bad guys. Griffith goes evil in a big way and becomes the fifth member of the Godhand, Femto. He throws his former friends, the Band of the Hawk, to the wolves as they get eaten by monsters straight out of nightmares, and then, as his very first act upon becoming Femto, rapes Casca to insanity right in front of Guts, with Guts losing a hand and eye to demons and being powerless to do anything about any of the above. The manga continues on from that point, and the point where the anime ends is just before the Skull Knight shows up to pull Guts and Casca out of the fire before Griffith and the others can finish them off.
- In another anime example where the demons win, Devilman. It ends with Hell coming to earth, humanity being annihilated, and the hero, his love interest, and her little brother all dying.
- Debatable, since Lucifer/Ryou is the only one left, sitting all alone next to Devilman's corpse lamenting the way things turned out. He succeeded, but certainly did not triumph in any way, since Devilman himself massacred the demons.
- Later related series reveal the true winner of the manga (warning: BIG spoiler, although not that surprising in hindsight): It's God.
- Debatable, since Lucifer/Ryou is the only one left, sitting all alone next to Devilman's corpse lamenting the way things turned out. He succeeded, but certainly did not triumph in any way, since Devilman himself massacred the demons.
- Doubt, and how. Even after the good guys have escaped, Rei finds a way to get rid of them without lifting a finger.
- Asura Cryin': although the heroes successfully foiled Kagakagari's evil schemes, the Big Bad took a Villain Exit Stage Left, and got away scot-free while leaving our heroes bereft of their most valuable asset.
- In Yu Yu Hakusho, Sensui's known goal is to open the portal to the Demon World, allowing the demons to destroy humanity. However, his true goal is to go to the Demon World in order to find a demon stronger than himself to kill him, to atone for all the innocent demons he's killed in the past. He achieves his true goal because of Yusuke, revived as a demon and possessed by his ancestor, Raizen. In addition, in the end of the series, it turns out that the Demon World portal is kept open, and humans and demons are actually living in peace with each other, not violently. This is even lampshaded by Yusuke, who says that Sensui really did win in the end.
- Similarly, even though Doctor Gero could only watch his victory from Hell, he is the only villain in the entire Dragon Ball franchise to get exactly what he wanted; the death of Goku at the hands of his mightiest creation, Cell.
- The ending of the first season of Code Geass, the finale ends with a Britannian victory, though a Pyrrhic one, and the deaths of several Black Knights, including main members, and the incarceration of the survivors, and with the main hero, as revealed in the Oddly-Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo, captured, having his memories erased.
- The Tower of Paradise arc of Fairy Tail. The true objective of Ultear was completely accomplished: the dissolution of the Magic Council, which also gave the Dark Guild Grimoire Heart the chance to acquire one of the keys to Zeref's seal. And only the readers know about any of this.
- I'd consider this less of The Bad Guy Wins, and more of You Can't Thwart Stage One. Afterall, at this point in the manga, the two guilds are duking it out, and given the fact that this is a Shonen series, they're ultimately going to fail.
- Part I of Naruto ends with Naruto failing to bring back Sasuke, with the latter joining Big Bad Orochimaru to be strong enough to kill Itachi in his mission for revenge.
- Likewise, the Sasuke and Sai arc: the next attempt to bring him back and kill Orochimaru fails miserably, and the team sent after them only survives because Orochimaru agree with Kabuto that it was more advantageous for them. Not a complete Downer Ending though, as at least Sai's character arc had a happy resolution.
- The anime of Elfen Lied ends with Lucy's fate ambiguous, Kurama blown up, and Big Bad Kakuzawa laughing manically after declaring his victory. The manga features a more traditional Bittersweet Ending, as Lucy dies but is reincarnated as two human girls, Nana and Kurama live together happily, Kouta and Yuka have children, Nozomi starts to get her voice back, and it is implied that Lucy's childhood friend actually survived being shot.
- That last implied possibility may in fact be a scanlation error. Most sources I've seen say the poster Wanta passes is for Aiko's mother.
- The anime version of Chrono Crusade, arguably. The major characters, except Azmaria, all die and the villain survives and partially realizes his evil plan.
- The Marineford arc of One Piece. The marines succeed in executing Ace, Blackbeard kills Whitebeard and steals his powers, Luffy has sustained a massive amount of damage and sacrificed part of his lifespan in vain, and several villains from previous arcs have now been freed from prison (by Luffy himself, no less). Whitebeard did manage to win, in a way, by using his death to start a new age of piracy, but Luffy lost his brother despite all the sacrifices he made.
- In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, every possible world except one ends in a victory for the leader of the conspiracy Miyo Takano: Tomitake is killed, Rika is dissected, Hinamizawa is sterilized, the leader escapes, and no one ever discovers the truth about what happened. The only exceptions (besides the Happy Ending) are the Watanagashi and Meakashi chapters, but even those are an incredible Downer Ending. Hinamizawa is unsterilized, but only because Rika was killed by Shion; the infamy of Shion's murder-spree shrouds Hinamizawa and the few characters that did survive either move away or are missing in action.
- Wolf's Rain - after everything the wolves and Cheza went through, Paradise starts to form, but because Darcia's freaking eye is in the water, Paradise is tainted, and it turns into the modern world filled with humans and hate and war all over again.
- May be mitigated by the last few moments when we see Kiba, reincarnated in the modern world, starting to run, implying that the search for Paradise has just begun anew.
- Dai Mahou Touge. The main character, Punie Tanaka, is a Villain Protagonist who is sent to Earth from an alternate dimension as a test to check if she is adequate to be the heir to her parents' despotic and dystopian kingdom. During the course of the series, rebels and jealous sisters try to eliminate her. They all fail horribly, and Punie passes the test with flying colors.
- Suitengu of Speed Grapher succeeds in his ultimate goal. He gathers all of the yen in Japan in a skyscraper, and burns it all, plunging Japan into an economic crisis, kills all the members of the Ropongi club, and his main rival goes blind from overuse of his powers. Suitengu dies, but he dies the winner.
- Even though he gives up on his plan of creating a shaman-only world, Hao becomes the Shaman King at the end.
- In Hellsing, the Major succeeds in defeating Alucard, even though Integra kills him in the end.
- Legato Bluesummers death IS his victory. His goal was to make Vash suffer and forcing Vash to kill him causes Vash to break down afterwards and it takes months for him to recover. His boss wasn't nearly as successful.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion ends with Seele successfully starting the Human Instrumentality Project/Third Impact. Although it's arguable if the end result is what they wanted.
- Emperor Dornkirk/Isaac Newton gets everything he sets out to get in The Vision of Escaflowne. It takes him a while but he does eventually activate the Atlantean machine that creates the Zone of Absolute Fortune where everyone's wishes are granted. Of course it turns out badly and threatens to destroy Gaea just as it did Atlantis, forcing Van to destroy it, but who didn't see that coming?
- Snake of the Festival Sakai Yuuji in Shakugan no Shana. The result is, strangely, a happy ending.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica ends with the eponymous character finally making a contract with Kyubey, which he made his goal from the start. Or so he thinks. Sure, he wins... but on Madoka's terms.
- Death Note, following the Yotsuba arc. L is killed along with Watari, having been successfully tricked into thinking of the Kira as someone other than Yagami Light. Yagami Light, now with all the nuisance out of the way, begins to rule the entire world with his iron fist - until the introduction of Mello and Near, the latter of who later successfully brings about the downfall of the evil Kira after a Time Skip in the final arc.
- Fate/Zero basically ends with Gilgamesh and Kotomine riding off into the sunset after causing immense destruction to the city of Fuyuki.
- Dr.Doom with well....
- Batman: War Games. A Batfamily member and an ally die along with hundreds and cops and civilians. Black Mask becomes the leader of the unified gangs of Gotham. And it is entirely the Batfamily's fault, to the extent that that incarnation disbands.
- In the Civil War arc of the Marvel Universe, the Pro Registration side won. Though it's not so much as villains but heroes whose view on the matter made them look evil. Oh, and they had bad guys on their ranks, too.
- Possibly Ozymandias in Watchmen. "Possibly" because his Character Alignment is highly debatable, and whether he really "won" in the end is a matter of debate. He did, indeed, accomplish his planned actions, but whether the result will be as he intended—or if what he "prevented" was as inevitable as he believed—is an unknowable "might have been."
- The Joker has succeeded at committing several deliberate atrocities against the morale of the Batman and/or Commissioner Gordon which they failed to prevent, including the murders of Jason Todd (the second Robin) and Sarah Gordon and the crippling of Barbara Gordon. He also succeeded at conquering the world once with the help of Mr. Mxyzptlk. "Emperor Joker" proceeded to make the earth cube-shaped.
- The backstory of Wanted is that this happened 20 years ago. Also, the outcome of the series itself no matter which side wins.
- Surprising as hell for The Silver Age of Comic Books, but this and a side order of Heroic Sacrifice was the fate of the original Doom Patrol. The bad guys gave them a chance of saving their own lives or 14 lives in a fishing village, and the Patrol pretty much told them "Bring it on!"
- Mister Fear in the "To The Devil, His Due" and "Without Fear" arcs of Daredevil: Not only does he does cause irreparable damage to the hero's life, but his powers only make life in prison a veritable paradise that he can leave at his leisure to once again torment the hero.
- Minor example in a Transformers Energon toy pack-in comic. Normally mini-comics packaged with toys are a page or two to advertise the rest of the line. Good guys are minding their own business when the bad guys show. Good guys show off their features while driving bad guys back. The end. In this case, though: Inferno, Prowl, and Landmine find some energon. Megatron shows up. Inferno dramatically combines with Prowl to form... Powerlinx Inferno! Landmine dramatically combines with the parts of his vehicle mode that aren't normally part of his robot mode and becomes... Landmine Brute Mode! And together they... get curbstomped by Megs and his new Terrorcons and are sent scurrying away with their tailpipes between their legs while Megatron laughs at them. The Decepticons take all the energon. The end!
- Sin City short stories often end with the bad guys winning. The most well-known example of this is in Daddy's Little Girl where an incestuous father-daughter couple kill the protagonist as a means of foreplay. The main stories play with this trope. Even when the heroes die or their lives are destroyed, the villains suffer great losses as a result or even die themselves.
- The short-lived DC comic Ninja Boy ends this way. It sets things up like a typical hero's journey story, with protagonist Nakio trying to become a full ninja and defeat an evil lord. Over the course of the series, he gathers a group of companions and sets out on his quest. But he never even gets close to his goal, and the final issue consists of a showdown between the heroes and a group of henchmen. It's a complete bloodbath, and the heroes all die horrible deaths. The last panel of the series shows a villain kicking Nakio's head off a cliff.
- DC had Earth-3 where an evil Justice League called the Crime Syndicate ruled the Earth. But Grant Morrison's JLA Earth-2 version of the Crime Syndicate took this a step further, evil always wins in this universe and the Justice League of our earth along with their heroic Lex Luthor are doomed to failure just as bad guys are doomed to failure in the normal DCU.
- Jonathan Hickman's The Nightly News has this. The group responsible have just got away with orchestrating the mass murder of people connected with the news media by manipulating people damaged by media lies and framing an undercover journalist. The next thing they plan to do is kill all the lawyers.
- Spider-Man villain The Vulture (Adrian Toomes) has had an astonishingly high success rate in accomplishing various goals over his career:
- Willed himself to health to defeat an usurper who tried to kill him in prison? Check.
- Eventually killing the man who betrayed/ruined him financially? Check.
- Rid his body of cancer? Check.
- Regain his youth? For a while, Check.
- Final Crisis is all about this. It was even advertised as "The day evil won". Of course, thanks to Status Quo Is God, only one super hero died, and even he came back pretty quickly.
- Discussed in Calvin and Hobbes: The Series:
Dr. Brainstorm: Because I want to be the heroic villain, okay? There's got to be at least one time where I'm the one who has a victory!
- The entire Saw franchise. If you think you have won, think again!
- Summerisle in The Wicker Man, although Howie predicts that the crops will fail again, and Summerisle will be the next sacrifice, making this victory entirely pointless.
- Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men not only kills the hero's wife, but also escapes town through a massive shootout and only gets a broken arm for his trouble. Plus, a bad guy kills the hero unseen, and on top of it all the cop fails to find Chigurh and retires.
- The prequel trilogy of Star Wars is one of these for Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine. Anakin, not so much. However, by the end of the mainline trilogy, the good guys win in the end, so this is one of the Doomed by Canon examples explained above.
- Ditto goes for The Empire Strikes Back. The good guys are successfully trapped and barely escape with their lives; Darth Vader wins the light saber duel with Luke, mangling, psychologically wrecking, and almost killing him in the process; Han Solo is captured and taken by Boba Fett to Jaba the Hutt. A Sequel Hook for the victory in Return of the Jedi.
- Funny Games - To put it shortly, Paul and Tubby ultimately won their bet.
- "Forget it, Jake...it's Chinatown."
- Se7en - Technically a Pyrrhic Villainy for the villain considering that he ends up dead at the hero's hands, but still a true victory nonetheless, since that was exactly what the villain wanted, and that the hero, as a result, is ruined and corrupted.
- In the Final Destination series, Death is never seen as a physical entity, but it is implied to be a force with intelligence or sentience, or perhaps even God. It spends the movie trying to kill the protagonists who try to evade their death, and in the end, it succeeds. It is even seemingly implied at the end of the fourth film that it was the Death/Fate/Whatever/Force/Spirit-Thing itself giving the protagonists in all of the films their premonitions, just to toy with them in a little game it was playing, which they never had any way of winning from the start.
- The Usual Suspects - Agent Dave Kujan realizes all too late who the Big Bad is, and when he goes to get him, the guy's already gone, like he was never there to begin with.
And like that, he's gone.
- Repo! The Genetic Opera. It manages to be slightly Bittersweet Ending, as Shilo gets her long-awaited freedom, but Rotti murders Mag and Nathan and then dies, leaving Rich Bitch Amber Sweet to take over Geneco with the support of her two psychotic brothers, meaning that its stranglehold on the planet will continue for the foreseeable future.
- Arlington Road.
- Shuttle—though his partner in crime (who he didn't even like) dies in the process, the main villain succeeds at selling the kidnapped protagonist into sex slavery.
- The Great Silence: In a rare twist for a western, the hero gunslinger is outgunned by the bad guys, who kill him, the girl, and all the townsfolk they were trying to protect.
- Storm of the Century. Linoge does "get what he wants" and "goes away" and the town is all the worse for it, and by the time the main character finds his son, Linoge has corrupted the kid to the point where it makes no difference.
- The film version of Little Shop of Horrors was originally going to end the same way as the stage show: Audrey II would have eaten Audrey and Seymour and its plans to conquer Earth continue, eventually leading to The End of the World as We Know It. However, focus groups found the ending disturbing, so a happier ending was written.
- Cecile and Justify in The Skeleton Key end up possessing Caroline and Luke respectively, leaving them both stuck in the bodies of elderly stroke victims, with no means of communicating what happened.
- It is also strongly implied that their friend is next.
- In Swordfish, John Travolta and Halle Berry's characters fake their own deaths and get away rich, evading justice.
- Although in the alternate ending on the DVD it becomes Pyrrhic Villainy, after the bad guys fake their deaths, Hugh Jackman's character is shown in a cafe with his daughter and using a laptop to steal all their money and donate it to charity, so the bad guys end up having to leave the country completely broke.
- Invasion USA ends with "The Enemy" gaining complete control of America, and all the main characters getting killed off.
- Of course it was all just an illusion created by a world famous hypnotist.
- The original Dutch version of The Vanishing uses this to chilling effect. At the end of the movie, the protagonist is buried alive by the villain, who gets away scot free.
- Perfume: The Villain Protagonist kills enough nubile girls to make his perfect perfume, which is powerful enough to allow him to rule the world. He decides against it, however, and kills himself instead.
- In Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, the titular Villain Protagonist gets away with murdering literally every other major character in the film, and almost all of the minor ones as well. Granted, there are only two other major characters, but still...
- An arguable example is Curse of the Golden Flower, in which the mad Emperor, played by Chow Yun Fat, defeats the usurpation attempts by his sons, who all die, and continues to have his wife slowly poisoned. However, it's arguable that the Emperor doesn't really "win." However, the Emperor isn't quite the Magnificent Bastard he at first appears to be: judging by his reactions, he didn't want all of his sons to die.
- The "original" ending to DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story (included in the special features as a practical joke on DVD watchers) shows Goodman narrowly defeating LaFleur, then enthusiastically celebrating his victory as the movie comes to an abrupt end.
- In Fallen, the righteous man fails to destroy the fallen angel. I wanna tell you about the time I almost died...
- Played with in Wayne's World, which features two fake endings as part of its climax. The first fake ending has Wayne's house burning down and Garth dying in the fire while the villain gets the girl and smirks to the camera "you didn't really think she'd end up with Wayne, did you?" Wayne and Garth suddenly jump into the scene to Break the Fourth Wall and complain that the movie can't seriously end that way, and they move onto a Scooby Doo ending before finally settling on the real Happy Ending.
- In The Midnight Meat Train, although Leon overcomes and kills the Butcher, he is also overcome, muted by having his tongue ripped out, and turned into the new Butcher. Maya is killed. The monsters continue to feed and the villains continue to feed them.
- In Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Dr. Challis apparently fails to a large degree to stop the Silver Shamrock cult from succeeding at their scheme to kill who knows how many children.
- The novelization of the film even implies Conal Cochran didn't actually die.
- In Halloween: Resurrection, Michael finally succeeds in killing Laurie at the very beginning, and even after the massive amount of damage he takes over the course of the film, is still alive in the end.
- A double subversion in Damnatus where the daemon G'guor kills the heroes, but then realises that the delay caused by an Eldar farseer acting as Nira's Amplifier Artifact has allowed the Inquisition to arrive and initiate Exterminatus. And then he just smiles and reflects that although the farseer is taking him with him, "defeat is not factored into the plans of the Ever-Changing."
- Rosemary's Baby. The future success or failure of the young antichrist isn't established, since the film ends while the tyke is still a baby, but in the events that we see the bad guys succeed at their scheme of spawning him and they apparently take Rosemary somewhat into their ranks as well.
- Paranormal Activity: The demon possesses Katie and, using her body, kills and mutilates Micah, and then disappears. According to Wikipedia, there were two alternate endings, both of them also involving the demonic apparition winning. The original cut of the film, which was sent to potential distributors and has since been circulating on the internet", "featured Katie returning to the bedroom after the struggle heard downstairs, wielding a knife with blood on her tank top. She then sits next to the bed and rocks back and forth in a catatonic state throughout the remainder of the following day. Her friend Amber calls the house, and later arrives, discovering Micah's body downstairs. When police officers arrive, Katie comes out of her catatonic state and approaches them. The officers instruct her to drop the knife, but shoot her after being startled by a door suddenly slamming behind them. The movie ends with audio of the police discovering the camera as the credits roll." The Wikipedia entry also mentions "a third version of the film" which was "shown at only one public viewing", which "featured Katie returning to the bedroom with the knife and slitting her own throat in view of the camera."
- The second film shows a brief but questionable victory in which Dan expels the demon from Kristi to Katie... before Demon-Katie returns to their home (after the events of the first film) and murders Dan and Kristi, leaving with baby Hunter.
- Paranormal Activity 3 continues the trend with Dennis being murdered by a coven of witches, who take in Kristi and Katie in what sparks the hauntings of the first two films. Being prequels, the second and third installments are somewhat forced to abide by this trope.
- In Drag Me to Hell, the protagonist fails to stop the Gypsy Curse and the demon it summoned and is, you guessed it, dragged to Hell.
- Slightly the case in The Great Escape, and the true story it was based on. A few of the escapees do manage not to get captured again but most of them are re-apprehended and the majority of the re-apprehended ones are killed.
- Also, the Worthy Opponent Luftwaffe Kommandant Von Luger is arrested for failing to prevent the break out, leaving the camp in control of the SS.
- Debatable, since the escapees' plan was to either escape, or harm the German war effort by forcing them to divert personnel, materiel, and attention from the war effort at the front to running down the escapees. So even though most of the escapees get recaptured or killed, they do succeed in their plan to harm the German war effort. Also, in the Real Life events the movie was based on, the good guys do win in the end.
- At the end of Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Phibes (Vincent Price) achieves Immortality Seeker and brings his dead wife Back from the Dead, while singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz. However, there's a hint that now that he has what he wants, he probably won't have reason to kill anyone anymore.
- In Manos: The Hands of Fate, The Master gets the protagonists Michael and Debbie—and their little dog too. There is a question mark after the title "The End" but there never was a sequel. In fact, the film was entirely forgotten about (for good reason) until Mystery Science Theater 3000 revived it.
- Memento, arguably. It turns out Leonard has been killing crooks named John G. or James G. for at least a year. He keeps killing John G.s because it gives his life meaning, as every time he does kill John G. he feels that he avenged his wife's death. He intentionally disassembles his wife's police report because it continues to give him something to solve.
- Somewhat inverted in Murder on the Orient Express, in which Poirot allows the murderer to go free because the murder victim really deserved it. In this case, the murderous "bad guy" is arguably an avenging "good guy." See the entry on the Zig-Zagging Trope page.
- In The Omen, Damien Thorn escapes his father's attempts to kill him; indeed, it is the father who ends up dead instead.
- Damien: Omen II ends similarly.
- Though technically not the main villain in the French film The Immortal, Horus gets away with doing stereotypically godly things and escapes major punishment by accomplishing the goals set before him. Which include rape.
- Both of the Count Yorga films did this as they're ending despite the title character dying. In the first film He bites the damsel just before the protagonists show up. When the last remaining one reaches her, kills Yorga, and chases off his other two female vampires. The damsel turns, bites and kills the protagonist. In the second film, the protagonist manages to kill Yorga and save the damsel. But while on his way to do so was trapped and bitten by Yorga's harem. Dooming the damsel to be bitten by him and joining the undead anyway.
- The Strangers get away with it, and without much difficulty either.
- Partially subverted in Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. in which Godzilla (the villain) ultimately defeats and kills the three guardian monsters (IE: Baragon, Mothra, and Ghidorah). Sure he, Explodes at the end due to one of the main human characters drilling a hole in his chest but his heart is still intact and beating at the bottom of the ocean indicating he will rise again.
- An interesting variation occurs in Gamera 3: The Revenge Of Irys. It's implied by one of the characters that Gamera is actually the bad guy and that humanity might end up with a worse future than being hunted to extinction by the Gyaos. Unusual, considering Gamera is supposed to be the protector of humanity against the Gyaos within the films. Of course, it's never really made clear whether or not this is the case.
- Debatable in Fight Club. Project Mayhem's ultimate attack goes through. However, Tyler Durden getting the back of his imaginary head blown out presumably wasn't part of the plan, and the movie ends before we can see just how "successful" he really was.
- Basic Instinct. The villainess succeeds in falsely leading the police and the anti-hero into believing Beth as the killer - and the anti-hero killed her, too. The villainess? She successfully escapes the law and proceeds to have sex with the anti-hero.
- In Ator III: The Iron Warrior (one of the sequel movies to Mystery Science Theater 3000's Cave Dwellers,) the climactic end battle features the hero battling a shape-shifting sorceress by the edge of a cliff while his girlfriend is tied up waiting to be sacrificed. After burning the witch and tossing her off of a cliff, the hero rescues and embraces his girlfriend, only for her to open her eyes and reveal that they are the same color as the witches'...
- In The Collector, Freddie is stalking his next victim at a nursing school.
- The Villain, unsurprisingly, ends with the titular individual getting the girl (of her own free will.).
- The 1963 Cold War paranoia film The Day Mars Invaded the Earth shows us a scene where the brother of the main character (a scientist who has stumbled upon the Martian invasion plot) is disintegrated by the aliens and replaced by a doppelganger. Said doppelganger then cheerfully rounds up the hero and his entire family on the pretense of escorting them to a safe hiding place. We then abruptly segue into a shot showing all of their disintegrated outlines (kids included) on the ground, which are swiftly washed away. Roll credits!
- An early version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake ended like this. Erin (who was originally conceived as pregnant) makes it to the Blair Meat Company, and while hiding, gives bloody birth. The newborn's cries attract Leatherface, and the film would've cut to black as he begins moving in on Erin and the baby, revving his chainsaw.
- The Beginning plays this straight up.
- The first Rocky—though Apollo wins on a technicality, he's not really a bad guy, and Rocky's stated goal is to go 15 rounds with Apollo which he does. Probably the least depressing example of this trope in cinema history.
- The villain of Prom Night II, is a bitchy prom queen who was accidentally killed by her boyfriend after being caught cheating on him. 30 years later she comes back and ultimately gets subdued by the same boyfriend by putting her prom crown on her head, which presumably satisfies the conditions of her revenge. He also decides to steal a kiss from her as a form of trying to make right what happened 30 years ago. Cue romantic flash back to the original prom. What is actually happening is that the prom queen is using the opportunity to Body Surf into the guy, who then goes on to kill his children off-camera. Then she comes back in a sequel and kills even more people. Oops.
- Played with in Oldboy. At the end, every event in the movie is revealed to have gone entirely according to Lee Woo-jin's plan; but he's struck by the realization that getting his revenge on Oh Dae-su will not bring his sister back from the dead and that he no longer has anything left to live for. So he shoots himself in the head soon after achieving his victory.
- The Shape of Things: After Adam has told Evelyn that he will literally do anything she says to make their relationship work, he cuts things off with his only 2 friends (at her request) right before going into a gallery presentation that turns out to be Evelyn announcement that her master's thesis was a human sculpture. From the beginning, she was only feigning interest in Adam in order to attempt to manipulate him into the person she wanted him to be to prove a point. He exits the gymnasium, heart-broken to find an entire public gallery set up of objects "important" to their relationship, including a television in the corner that plays a sex tape of the two of them, to show his inadequacy in bed. Adam gets an opportunity to tell an utterly remorseless Evelyn what he really thinks of her, but she has already won, and she tells him that she's not going to give him any of his stuff back (including his grandmother's engagement ring) until she gets her grade.
- Megamind is completely based around this trope and what might follow with the villain suddenly not having an arch rival.
- At the end of Cars, villain Chick Hicks wins the final race of the season. Subverted because Chick would never have won fairly; he had to run one of the racers off the road, totaling him, and McQueen deliberately lost the race to help said guy. Chick is booed off the stage for being a dirty cheater, and doesn't get the sponsorship contract that normally goes along with victory.
- G.I. Joe the Rise of Cobra ends with this trope and the good guys don't even know it.
- The Big Bad from Last Action Hero openly crows about this trope being far more possible in the real world than in the world of film, although it's ultimately averted in his case.
- Played excruciatingly straight in the film adaptation of Clive Barker's Dread. The bad guy corrupts the hero so much that he goes completely Ax Crazy. The hero attacks the villain, and gets killed for his trouble. Then we see that the villain still has the hero's love interest (thought to be dead) and plans on slowly starving and torturing her until she dies. Oh, and he sticks the hero's corpse in the small room he has her locked in. Then tells her to eat, and locks the door indefinitely.
- Arguably occurs in No Way Out with Kevin Costner as the Russian spy Yuri. As the movie ends, he has gotten away with his lifetime of spying and has a chance to return to the Soviet Union a hero but walks away. However, his cover IS blown at the Pentagon at least in terms of him being Sean Young's lover whom the CIA feels is the spy. So it is unlikely he can defect completely and return to his assumed life as Tom Farrell.
- In The Princess Bride, discussed in the Framing Story:
Grandson: Who kills Prince Humperdinck? At the end. Somebody's got to do it. Is it Inigo, who?
- Naturally, though, Grandpa didn't say that Humperdinck won, just that he doesn't die. He just allows his grandson to think that The Bad Guy Wins.
- Glory. In this movie, the Confederates were the villains, and they held the fort while the 54th got slaughtered.
- Welcome to The Dollhouse: Missy, definitely.
- Jobe in The Lawnmower Man wants to enter cyberspace where he can control all governments and people in the world. Because Dr Angelo is distracted saving Peter he succeeds. In the end he announces his victory by making every telephone in the world ring at once.
- In Brazil, the protagonist wins by going insane and becoming untouchable by torture. The bad guys win through the more normal method of not losing and crushing all their enemies until they no longer present a threat.
- In Cube 2: Hypercube, the overseers of the Hypercube kill everyone they set out to get rid of by throwing them into the highly dangerous environment, and retrieve Alex Trusk's device. And they kill Kate, their own employee, probably because she knew too much or because it was a suicide mission from the start.
- In Cube Zero Jax and the other villains win. Wynn is lobotomized and thrown back in the cube, and Rains is on the run until she'll be recaptured. Everybody else dies.
- The ending of Ils (aka Them) has both Clémentine and Lucas dying at the hands of the killers who have terrorised them throughout the night. The killers do get arrested after the events of the film, however.
- At the end of Jeepers Creepers, Trish and Darry are unable to escape the Creeper, who corners them and snatches Darry away, later devouring his eyes and killing him in the process. Trish survives, but with considerable emotional trauma at the loss of her brother.
- The sequel to The Exorcist, Legion, Pazuzu scores a shutout win, undoing everything from the first book.
- In The Silmarillion, after the fifth battle in the Wars of Beleriand Morgoth has completely devastated the armies of the elves, and shortly crushes all of their kingdoms into dust, reducing their domain to a tiny island off the coast and becoming the undisputed lord of all of Arda east of Valinor. It takes the intervention of the god-like Valar in the War of Wrath to even achieve a bittersweet ending.
- It's worse in The Children of Húrin, even if the reader knows about the eventual intervention of the Valar.
- As mentioned before, Dystopian fiction tends to end things on a colossal downer with the evil government/corporation/cult/soul-sucking monstrosities winning.
- As mentioned in the Film example above, No Country for Old Men.
- Ditto with American Psycho and the disclaimer in its own film example above.
- In Graham McNeill's Storm of Iron, the Imperial Guard not only lose and are slaughtered, their last ditch effort to prevent the Chaos forces from claiming what they were seeking failed—and they knew it.
There was no way they could destroy it all before the Iron Warriors came to kill them. But they would try. It was all they had left.
- See his Dead Sky Black Sun for reappearance of some characters and things from this work.
- In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Galaxy In Flames, the betrayed Space Marines manage to survive the first bombardment. Which means they get brutally hammered by an assault, and then bombarded again, wiping them out. Their only consolation is having hurt Horus's forces and not Dying Alone—and the assault, Horus points out, was a Shoot Your Mate that ensured that his forces were all committed.
- This happens in many Stephen King novels:
- Pet Sematary.
- The end of the first The Dark Tower book, The Dark Tower. Roland is forced to choose between saving Jake or catching the man in black. Roland chooses to drop Jake. While he does catch the bad guy, one can argue that he destroyed himself doing so. Especially if you read it when it was released originally and did not know there would be sequels.
- And the bad guy still ends up getting away soon afterward anyway before the book ends.
- 'Salem's Lot ends badly: though the Count has been destroyed, the entire population of 'Salem's Lot has been vampirized, while the hero and the only other survivor, a child, live new lives in Mexico. There's an epilogue which suggests hope, but later short stories by King reveal that the attempt to destroy the town didn't work, and the vampire population is slowly growing as lost travelers fall prey to them.
- Cujo basically fits the trope. Although it is somewhat of a Pyrrhic Villainy in that the mad dog dies as well as the child (who lives in the movie version), it is strongly implied that the dog was possessed by the ghost of Frank Dodd (the serial killer from King's novel "The Dead Zone") who was apparently just coming back from the dead for one more murderous rampage.
- This happens in some of Stephen King's short stories as well.
- In Gramma, the child realizes all too late what's going on and fails to escape being possessed by his recently deceased witch of a grandmother, who rises, possesses him, and lives again through his young body, apparently to harass or wreak revenge on her hated family anew.
- In The Bogeyman (published in the collection Night Shift) the protagonist tries for years to escape the bogeyman who killed his offspring and stalked him endlessly. At the end of the story it turns out that the therapist he's been telling the tale to was the bogeyman in disguise, who evidently gets him.
- In The Road Virus Heads North, the main character fails to destroy the magical picture or evade the murderous entity it brought to life who's been stalking him, and he dies a bloody death as a result.
- The entire point of Steve Stirling's Draka Trilogy.
- Animal Farm ended with Napoleon securing rule over the farm, with the other animals being treated worse than they were by the human farmer at the start of the novel. Unsurprising, since the whole thing is a metaphor for the Russian Revolution.
- Madame Bovary, the title character Emma kills herself thanks to huge debts and several failed adulterous flings, her moronic husband dies of exhaustion while putting on a needlessly elaborate funeral, and her little girl gets sent to a mill. Meanwhile, Monsieur Homais, the living form of everything to be hated in provincial life loses a threat to his pharmacy business and later fulfills a dream of joining the Legion d'honneur. Monsieur Lheureux, the man who drove Emma into such debt through clever manipulations and blackmail probably made a pretty penny too.
- The heroic personal injury lawyer in the (non-fiction!) book and film A Civil Action basically loses the lawsuit against the two companies that had dumped toxic chemicals into the local water supply, settles the case for far less than his expenses in pursuing it, and ends up declaring bankruptcy.
- Outbound Flight. Put simply, of the three sides - Chiss, Jedi, and Separatist - Chiss beat Separatist and used its remains and a different enemy to kill Jedi. But the book's major players have Grey and Gray Morality. Jedi were not all virtuous, there was honor among some of the Separatists, and the most prominent Chiss was Thrawn, who despite coming out on top was visibly unhappy to have indirectly killed fifty thousand innocents. The only real winner there was Palpatine, who sent Jedi and Separatist out in the first place. He got rid of the Jedi on Outbound Flight, and a single Separatist force was sacrificed, except for his agent, but in the process he was able to start encouraging one of the galaxy's greatest strategists to work for him.
- Hannibal has rather a half-subverted, half-employed use of the trope. In a sense the antagonist of the story is Mason Verger and boy does he lose, but Lecter is kind of a Villain Protagonist as a counterpoint to the genuinely heroic protagonist Clarice, and Lecter seduces Clarice to the dark side and, so far as we know, escapes justice forever.
- Somewhat subverted in Animorphs. The Yeerk Empire is defeated and the leader of the split faction, Tom, is killed, but because of some meddling from Chaotic Neutral/Lawful Neutral Erek, the rest of the split factions escapes as planned and Rachel dies in vain.
- Her sacrifice did save all of her teammates and allowed the Andalites to capture the Pool Ship which led to the end of the war. So not really senseless at all.
- Played depressingly straight with the John Grisham novel The Appeal. The small town lawyers are rendered bankrupt, the sympathetic banker loses everything, the evil company that ruined the town and the lives of those "trailer park peasants" within its limits walks free with zero punishment, and the Corrupt Corporate Executive Carl Trudeau becomes even wealthier than before (the book ends with him wanting to make even more). All because the verdict led to the executive falling off the Forbes' coveted list of richest Americans.
- Played straight and then subverted in Mistborn. The premise is that one thousand years ago, a man set out on a heroic journey. Long story short, The Bad Guy Won. Said Bad Guy, the "Lord Ruler," has ruled as a tyrant for a millennium in a Crapsack World. The events of the book are mainly concerned with finding a way to kill the Lord Ruler and undo a thousand years of damage. The subversion comes when they succeed in killing the Lord Ruler, only to find out that he was keeping an infinitely greater evil at bay for all that time.
- Also the end of the second book in the trilogy where the Sealed Evil in a Can that the Lord Ruler defeated successfully tricks the heroine into unleashing it.
- While it isn't clear yet what kind of ending the overall A Song of Ice and Fire saga will have (it will be bittersweet at best), the "War of the Five Kings" arc ended with the bad guys winning.
- Well, the antagonists at least.
- Burmese Days U Po Kyin's plan to humiliate Flory and ruin his reputation with the other English in Burma succeeds spectacularly when Flory decides to commit suicide. Without Flory, the only other competition to join the European club as a native, Dr. Veraswami, disappears from lack of support. U Po Kyin joins the European club. (Though in a bit of retribution, he dies very suddenly before he could work off the bad karma his evil deeds would have accumulated.)
- In Codex Alera the Vord overrun Canea and the only thing our heroes can do is flee to fight the other Vord back home.
- R.A. Salvatore's The Pirate King, The Crow becomes king of Luskan and Jarlaxle, who set the whole thing in motion at the cost of thousands of innocent lives, gets to become rich as the power behind the throne.
- Collection of short stories "Villians Victorious" is based on this trope.
- China Mieville's Bas Lag novels tended to have a healthy helping of this, since Bas-Lag is a Crapsack World.
- Perdido Street Station ends with the trade union movement crushed, the city's largest subversive newspaper shut down, and the surviving protagonists miserable and fleeing for their lives from both the Orwellian government and a ruthless crime boss.
- The Scar ends with Armada's corruption exposed, but with no possible way to clean it up. The city was almost destroyed by both a civil and regular war, and the protagonist is beaten and cowed. The grand orchestrator of all this strife is free and still in a position of power over Armada.
- Iron Council ends with a major uprising brutally put down, a violent revolutionary realising that he'd achieved nothing by killing the Mayor, and the largest and most hope-inspiring rebel group in the land being frozen in time.
- Lauren Myracle's YA novel Bliss ends with the power-hungry Sandy assimilating herself with a vengeful spirit and becoming popular, while the titular Bliss can only stand back and watch it happen.
- The most villainous character in Sarum, Walter Wilson, succeeds in ruining all three of the families he carries grudges against, exploits and abuses his own poorer relations shamelessly, and elevates his family from penniless peasants to rising business tycoons, without suffering any worse payback than his son talking back to him and being snickered at by the king. While the Black Death does kill most of his immediate family, he honestly doesn't seem to care, and even uses his own dying son to deliberately infect the Shockleys.
- In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort wins definitively at the end of Goblet of Fire. He seems to win at the end of Half-Blood Prince, but the next book reveals that he actually played into Dumbledore's Thanatos Gambit. In Order of the Phoenix, the good guys win overall, but at a terrible cost. Prisoner of Azkaban ends with Wormtail escaping, but also with him owing Harry a life debt and with Sirius avoiding the Dementor's Kiss. The first part of the movie of Deathly Hallows ends at a point where Voldemort has, for the moment, won.
- In Chimaera, the last book in the Well of Echoes quartet, almost all magic in the world is destroyed, and the big bad becomes the God-Emperor of pretty much everything. The next series begins ten years later, which the big bad has spent enslaving the entire continent, and the main character has spent in the very bottom level of a prison. Yeesh.
- In The Pendragon Adventure books, Saint Dane ends up victorious in several of the books; The Reality Bug, where Veelox falls, Black Water, where Bobby and co. end up saving Eelong but greatly weaken the flumes and also leads to Courtney's injuries in the next book and thus to Mark befriending Andy, which finally leads to the worlds becoming integrated, Earth getting overrun by Dados and run by the Ravinians, and most of the worlds collapsing. By the end of the 9th book, it seems pretty clear that Saint Dane has achieved his goal. But overall, this trope is averted, as Bobby manages to save the day once and for all in the last book.
- Played for black humor in Tom Sharpe's The Throwback, where one Lockhart Flawse, upon marrying a woman with a bit of real estate and discovering that the lease prices were set by her father years and years ago and that mass evictions and subsequent resale weren't legally permissible, decided to "encourage" the current residents to move out by any means possible. Including, but not limited to, sewage rerouting, oven cleaner-filled condoms and a bull-terrier tripped out on LSD.
- Further adding to Forgotten Realms, the sides that win the most in Elaine Cunningham's Starlight & Shadows series are the bad guys; Shakti Hunzrin and Lolth. In ascending order. The former wins a personal one by talking the protagonist into giving her the macguffin that's already served its purpose, the latter wins a landslide in that because of the protagonist, her people the drow can move about on the surface without their equipment being destroyed on the surface.
- BZRK ends with the AFGC successfully wiring several world leaders, including the President of the US, and BZRK crippled after everyone and their biots struggle to get out alive, let alone intact. The war's not over, but the bad guys absolutely dominated the battle.
Live Action TV
- Power Rangers RPM: Venjix, a sentient computer virus and the big bad of the season manages to pretty much conquer the entire world, forcing the remaining humans to take refuge inside a domed city, although he was seemingly destroyed in the end, he apparently remains a threat unbeknownst to everyone.
- Leverage: Sterling Always Wins.
- He's not always the bad guy. In his latest appearance, he is just a concerned father who wants his daughter back. And to prevent terrorists from developing nuclear weapons.
- Really, though, this trope doesn't apply to Sterling entirely because according to Word of God, Sterling is actually the good guy.
- Farscape: Season 2 ends with Scorpius stealing the part of Crichton's brain with the wormhole knowledge, after his neural clone has killed Aeryn, and Crichton is left to die on a slab on a barren planet. Even if it takes Scorpius another season to truly lose, he still ends up getting his way in the end, after a fashion.
- Blake's 7 is very close. The revolutionary leader, Blake, is killed by his ally Avon, it's very, very strongly implied that the other protagonists are killed, all their attempts to defeat the Federation have gone nowhere (except for a few pinpricks), and the Big Bad Servalan is still alive and undefeated. The only thing that makes it less than absolutely certain that this is a Bad Guys Win ending, is five of the protagonists might still be alive, and it's unknown how many rebels, or resistance movements, still exist.
- Mortal Kombat: Conquest ends with Shao Kahn killing everyone else.
- However, this was only because the show was canceled. The planned second season would have revealed that the final episode was, in fact, a dream. Of Shao Kahn's.
- Are You Afraid of the Dark? did this once in-episode, with "The Tale of the Midnight Madness". The episode was about a mad scientist type, Dr. Vink, who attempts to save a failing theater with a special version of the movie Nosferatu wherein the vampire wins. Of course, this being Are You Afraid of the Dark?, the vampire has the power to leave the film and terrorize the protagonists.
- And don't forget one of the more famous examples, "The Tale of the Chameleon." A chameleon impersonates one of the protagonists while the girl herself is slowly becoming a chameleon. If either of them get hit with water, they'll be a chameleon forever. The climax has a game of "Who's the real one" as the other protagonist has to decide who's the real human. She blasts one of them with water and throws the chameleon down a well, drowning it. All seems well, until the end of the episode where it's revealed the survivor is the chameleon-disguised-human, and plans to turn the other protagonist and both their families into chameleons as well.
- "The Tale of the Pinball Wizard". Ross seemingly wins the game, only to find that he's trapped and doomed to replay it forever.
- Also, "The Dangerous Soup".
- "The Tale of the Super Specs". "It was a battle between our universe and another universe, and the other universe won".
- Blackadder II ends with Hugh Laurie killing everyone. Blackadder the Third ends with the most ruthless and evil of Blackadders usurping the identity of Prince Regent.
- The first series starts with the bad guy, Henry Tudor having effectively won already. Although he loses the Battle of Bosworth Field in the first episode, he eventually ends up claiming the throne thirteen years later after Percy accidentally poisons the royal family to death, then for the real kicker he rewrites the history books to erase Richard IV's reign altogether.
- The League of Gentlemen: Hilary Briss escapes although he undergoes a Heel Face Turn in The Movie, and Redemption Equals Death. Also, Papa Lazarou finally completes his wife collection.
- Square One TV: In "Mathman", Mr. Glitch often won, devouring the titular protagonist.
- Star Trek: Enterprise did a Black and Gray Morality version of this for its Mirror Universe episode "In A Mirror Darkly" with pretty much everyone being villainous in one way or another. The "heroes" were the Vulcans T'Pol and Soval, made sympathetic in part by their being a conquered people, but T'Pol is shown being rather cruel and manipulative in her own way, and both Vulcans are initially working for The Empire against The Resistance in any case. To make a long story short, they lose to the megalomaniacal version of Jonathan Archer, who's shown laughing and partying with his "Captain's Woman" Hoshi Sato as he celebrates his victory and prepares to take over as Emperor. To keep the ending from being completely disgusting, however, Hoshi Sato gives him some poisoned champagne to drink, and then embraces Travis Mayweather as her new consort in front of Archer as he lies dying from the poison. Later, upon reaching Earth, she carries out what had been his plan, demanding that Starfleet surrender or be destroyed, and announcing that she is the new Empress.
- The "Queen of the Nile" episode of The Twilight Zone.
- Twin Peaks infamously ended with Dale Cooper trapped in the Red Room, and BOB in control of his body. Also, Pete Martell and Audrey Horne (in the bank when a bomb goes off), Ben Horne (has his head slammed against the fireplace mantle by Doc Hayward), and Leo (left under a cage full of tarantulas by Windom Earle) are all implied to be either dead or near dead.
- On Alfred Hitchcock Presents, someone would often end up getting away with a heinous deed. In a framing segment afterward, mostly to placate moral guardians and sponsors, Alfred would assure us they were eventually apprehended by the law and paid for their misdeeds. Of course.
- This would sometimes happen on Tales from the Darkside. For example, in one of the more notoriously terrifying episodes, "The Cutty Black Sow" the demon devours the little kid, soul and all.
- Hex: The main heroine dies at the beginning of season 2. In the end, the remaining heroines, having been quite useless throughout season 2, flee the city as the bad guy takes over completely.
- The Wire ends with two of the main police characters, McNulty and Freamon, who have been fighting the good fight for five seasons being forced to retire after being corrupted into faking evidence; a reporter from the newspaper who made up his stories out of thin air winning the Pulitzer whilst his honest boss gets demoted and his colleague who tried to blow the whistle gets transferred; two of the four kids from Season 4 ending up in dire straits, with one as a drug addict and the other in a foster home getting beaten up daily; the main drug kingpin Marlo surviving with all of his money, merely being forced to give up the game; and Mayor Carcetti, formerly idealistic and trying to do the right thing for the city, being reduced to getting the police to fiddle the stats and making up spin to avoid his failures as he chases the dream of becoming state governor. Just about the only positives in the ending are that McNulty's relationship with Beadie just about survives, Carver gets his promotion, Bunk and Kima become an effective homicide-investigating partnership and Bubbles finally goes clean and gains acceptance from his family.
- Marlo's fate isn't actually a Karma Houdini: His fate would sound good to most other people, but the only thing Marlo cares about is the game. He looks completely lost trying to be a legitimate businessman. And the fact that his name means nothing in comparison to how people are still talking about Omar proves that he has ultimately lost the game.
- Hell season 2 plays this straight up way before the series finale: The Greek and Spiros, the Big Bads of the season, escape the country after killing Frank Sobatka without the cops or the feds ever getting a good idea of who they really are (Spiros' name is an alias and The Greek isn't even Greek and the cops have no idea what he looks like. Their appearances in season 4 and 5 rub this in even harder by showing that once the investigation blew over they returned to the states to continue to supply Proposition Joe and Marlo. By the end of the finale the cops haven't shown any further interest in them and its business as usual for them.
- Veronica Mars ends with the title character giving up her investigation, only to have it (probably) cost her father the election for sheriff.
- House of Cards ends with Francis Urquhart killing Mattie and covering up all of his crimes while becoming Prime Minister. To Play The King ends with the King being forced to abdicate after Urquhart wins a general election. Averted in The Final Cut, as Ian Richardson only agreed to return for a final sequel if the character would get his comeuppance in the end.
- The BBC's Robin Hood ends with Robin Hood and Maid Marian dead (though Together in Death), Prince John still in power, and King Richard held for ransom in Austria. Of course, history tells us that Richard eventually returns...only for him to die in Normandy and for Prince John to assume the throne anyway.
- Happens occasionally in Night Gallery as well. One case happens in the episode "Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay", which deals with a husband coming to believe his wife's aunt is actually a witch bent on taking her body as her own. At the end of the show, he thinks he killed the witch before she could take his wife's body, but the final shot shows that the witch may have won after all.
- Happens in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, of all places. At the end of the Alien Rangers miniarc, the Rangers have gathered together all the pieces of the Zeo Crystal and are about to regain their powers. But as they've been gathering the pieces, Goldar and Rito have been making their way through the forgotten tunnels beneath the Rangers' Command Center. As the last of the Rangers arrives and the Crystal is fully assembled, Goldar and Rito find the tunnel center directly beneath the Command Center and plant a bomb. They then use their location to circumvent the transport barrier surrounding it, teleporting directly into the Command Center. Before the Rangers can react, they grab the Zeo Crystal and teleport away. Seconds later, the bomb they've planted explodes. The Rangers are teleported to safety, but the Command Center itself, along with Zordon and Alpha, are seemingly destroyed. Only an Author's Saving Throw of Goldar having dropped the Zeo Crystal on his way out, revealed in the first episode of the following season, lets the Rangers fight another day.
- Which is positively uplifting compared to the finale of Power Rangers Turbo. Zordon had gone home, and was captured by villains. His replacement went after him with the Sixth Ranger, and is MIA. The last Monster of the Week a mercenary destroys both of their Megazords, and T.J. sacrifices their weapons in order to defeat it. The main villains attack their base and blow it up completely, destroying their powers and capture the two allies they had left. Since all of the veteran rangers retired a few months ago, the only guys left have a total of six months on-the-job training apiece, a year in the case of the thirteen year old- their powers are gone permanently. Since they have no experience or knowledge, they have little to no idea of how to get new ones, either, and don't know any of the magical forces left on Earth or how to contact them. With no wizards left to repair it, or plasma tube for one of the mentors to come back to help. The four least experienced ones borrow a space shuttle to go off on a futile Suicide Mission to try and rescue Zordon, despite their utter lack of powers, directions, advice, experience, or FTL drive. Fortunately, they find a more experienced and equipped ranger with four new morphers first episode of the next season to keep them from immediately dying horribly, but still... wow.
- Venjix wipes out the freaking world except for
BostonCorinth. Though the Rangers do beat him in the end...
- Power Rangers Operation Overdrive could do this sometimes due to Linked-List Clue Methodology. When evil plans are more often "get the MacGuffin that'll lead us to the MacGuffin that'll lead us to the real MacGuffin" than "destroy the universe and outlying suburbs," it's possible for the Rangers to lose a round now and again, and it did happen.
- Doctor Who: "Victory of the Daleks" is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. The Daleks lured the Doctor to World War Two England on purpose because they needed him, he inadvertently helped them restore their race, and then they escaped by threatening to blow up the Earth.
- The villains also come out on top in "A Good Man Goes to War".
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6 episode "Once More, With Feeling" the Monster of the Week Sweet gets away without any retribution after causing dozens (if not hundreds) of deaths and forcing the protagonists to reveal various personal secrets and feelings through musical numbers. Although he didn't get a bride or a dead Slayer he still seemed quite happy with the end result.
- In Glee, New Directions not only fails to beat Vocal Adrenaline at regionals, but they don't even finish in second place as they get beat out by the other team, Aural Intensity, most likely because their song choice was a blatant act of pandering towards two of the celebrity judges in Olivia Newton-John and Josh Groban (which, in the case of Newton-John, was clearly shown to have been her entire basis for supporting them). The worst part? Sue Sylvester, whom everyone had assumed would have screwed New Directions over as one of the judges, actually ended up ranking them at first and they still suffered a total defeat.
- And in season 2 our Ragtag Bunch of Misfits make it to Nationals - and come in 12th. Vocal Adrenaline finished in the top 10.
- In Lexx, Mantrid succeeds in his goal of destroying the universe (the protagonists survive only by fleeing into a second parallel universe), and Prince ultimately succeeds in destroying Planet Water and freeing himself from Planet Fire and later Planet Earth, allowing him to roam the second universe.
- There is also one in Tales from the Crypt, considering it was the series finale, where the Big Bad Wolf had, in a shocking twist from the usual endings of each episode of Tales from the Crypt, had escaped the dead Frankenswine and devours Dudley!
- An earlier episode in that season, "Confession", has a police officer who moonlights as a decapitating serial killer successfully intimidate an innocent man into confessing to his murders. The actual murderer gets to go home free and stash another severed head in his fridge with no one the wiser.
- Season 1 of Warehouse 13. MacPherson escapes, frames Claudia, and kills Artie..
- If you take a sampling of any Hong Kong/China/Taiwan TV drama series, this always seems to be the case. However, often the series end with a Pyrrhic Victory instead, with both the villain and everyone the hero cares for dead, if the hero didn't also get himself killed in a Taking You with Me case instead.
- Several Stargate SG-1 episodes ended like this, probably the most shocking example being The Worf Barrage that happened in the Battle of P 3 Y-229, where the Ori rape the Milky Way fleet without so much as a scratch to any of their own ships. The Prometheus was also destroyed in a moment like this, in a bit of Foreshadowing to the Ori appearing. The ship's crew only got back to Earth safely due to a last-minute beaming down to a friendly nation on the planet where they were then gated back to Earth as the Prometheus was destroyed in orbit while the enemy was forced into a ceasefire.
- The V-2009 series, on account of being canceled, ends like this. Anna gets to use her Bliss on the entire planet, the resistance is effectively crushed, Tyler, Ryan, and Diana all die, Chad and Lisa are imprisoned, and the rest of the main cast is either Blissed or missing. The only ray of hope is Erica getting recruited into the much-better organized Project Aries.
- An episode of Bones featured the soon-to-be-executed Howard Epps convinced the heroes to look for evidence of his alleged innocence. They not only learned that he was guilty of that but also of other murders but, the law required the execution to be delayed because of the recently discovered crimes.
- In another episode, Dr. Brennan and Special Agent Booth find out a man had been poisoned by his stepmother, who admitted having done it so her own son would inherit his share of the inheritance. She didn't mind being discovered since she had few days left anyway as a consequence of sacrificing her medicine to poison her stepson. Despite the fact her son didn't like getting the money like that, the evil stepmother technically won.
- In Shark, there's an episode featuring a serial killer who outmaneuvered prosecution and got a Not Guilty verdict. Sebastian Stark, the prosecutor, would later have him convicted for the "murder" of a woman who actually killed herself.
- The Shadow Line ends like this, as Gatehouse and his allies end the series far more powerful than they started, ready to start up a new version of Counterpoint with no one left to stop them.
- Pretty much any episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent with Nicole Wallace, aka Elizabeth Hitchens. You can pretty much assume a 50/50 chance of someone else being the villain just because the odds of catching her are so slim.
- Dexter still hasn't been caught and presumably won't be for as long as the show continues.
- The League: Ruxin wins season 2. Granted, everyone is a bit of a bastard but he's probably the most villainous of the main cast.
- Wrestlemania 2000 was the first time in the history of the WWE that a heel won the main event at Wrestlemania (which culminates and, so far as is possible for such an on-going melodrama, finalizes the plotlines of the whole year leading up to it) and didn't immediately lose the title. Furthermore, the heel in question (Triple H) won over three other top contenders in the biz (Mick Foley, The Rock, and The Big Show). In fact, Triple H has had long, extended victories over fan favorites as champion time and again, despite frequently being a heel during many of these periods. For example, he once won a "six-pack" championship match over five other opponents, all of whom were either faces at the time, or effectively faces by circumstance of being current enemies of his.
- Even when he is in heel mode, The Undertaker never loses at Wrestlemania. (As a matter of fact, most of the time he doesn't lose much at all, regardless of whether or not he's a heel.)
- A common tradition in professional wrestling has often been to have a new superstar of whom great things are expected get off to a great and usually long unbroken winning streak, and this is at least as common for heels as it is for faces. To cite the Undertaker again, he was a heel for a long time after joining up at the WWE/WWF, yet had a starting undefeated streak for something like his first year-and-a-half during which he beat such legends as Jimmy Snuka and Hulk Hogan. It didn't end until Hogan was able to beat him—only in a rematch and only by cheating. And given that Hogan's own gimmick involved practically never losing, the fact that he needed to cheat just made 'Taker look even stronger.
- One laced with Unfortunate Implications from Wrestlemania XIX - Triple H was due to defend the World Heavyweight Championship against Booker T. The central arc of the feud centered around the fact that Booker is black - Trips would say things like that people like Booker aren't good enough to be champion and do things like offer to pay Booker to carry his bags, he showed Booker's mugshot from when he was younger and robbed a Wendy's, and things of that nature. In a promo before the match, Trips went for an Author's Saving Throw by saying that when he said all of those things about Booker, he wasn't talking about him being black, but that didn't do much to deter the implications. When the match ultimately came around, Hunter won fairly easily, including waiting about a full minute after hitting his finisher to pin Booker.
- The "Full minute to pin" thing was a result of Triple H botching the finish, resulting in Booker legitimately being injured.
- At TNA Bound For Glory "10.10.10.", Abyss's prophecy of "They" coming to take over TNA came true in the form of "Immortal." Led by Hulk Hogan, who now has complete control of TNA.
- Probably the biggest example is Vince McMahon in 2003. While a few of the examples above refer to simply PPVs (e.g. after Wrestlemania 2000, the storyline continued, ending with Rock pinning Vince at King of the Ring to win the title), Vince not only won an overall feud in 2003, but all of them. He lost to Hogan at Wrestlemania XIX, but ultimately fired Hogan, defeated a one legged wrestler he had a grudge against, manipulated Brock Lesnar into turning against Kurt Angle which led to Lesnar winning the WWE title (and throwing said one legged wrestler down the stairs), beat up his own daughter on PPV which resulted in her losing her job, and later buried The Undertaker alive with help from Kane. The entire year was setting up his comeuppance, but Vince never got his and simply pulled a Heel Face Turn at Wrestlemania XX. Vince being an all-time Complete Monster throughout it all just makes it more jarring.
- Arguably, Vince pulled a real life one with the Montreal Screwjob. Vince screwed over a popular longtime wrestler and managed to spin it into a renewed surge of popularity.
- Happened at Wrestlemania X-7 where Stone Cold Steve Austin turned heel and sided with Vince McMahon in order to beat the Rock for the championship.
- Wrestlemania XXVII brought the long awaited showdown between Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole. Cole had previously been both a Smug Snake Karma Houdini, so most fans were looking forward to him finally getting his ass kicked. While he did get a beat down, the Raw GM reversed the decision of the match and Cole won by technicality.
- (Heel) CM Punk at Money In The Bank 2011 defeats John Cena for the WWE title and leaves the company with it, the way he promised he would. When Alberto Del Rio comes down to try a cash in the briefcase, Punk just kicks him in the head and leaves the building, and the company, through the crowd with the title. Then again, he was massively popular, and the PPV was in his hometown of Chicago, so many were happy with the result anyway.
- The Goon Show loves this trope. In "The Phantom Head Shaver of Brighton" the title character appears to get away scot-free after balding all the good guys and apparently blowing most of them up. In "Lurgi Strikes Britain" Neddy goes mad after realising how completely Grytpype and Moriarty have fooled him. In "Dishonoured (Again)" Neddy dies in battle fighting troops raised by Grytpype and Moriarty. The list goes on. Of course it's all for Rule of Funny, and they'll all be back next week to rue another day.
- Warhammer 40,000: Any of the factions winning would be this. Let's run through the list. (And no, none of them are good in any way.)
- Humanity will have to defeat the unimaginably vast and powerful forces of the Orks, Tyranids, Necrons & Chaos, defeat the Eldar & Dark Eldar, crush the Tau and then seal off the Warp for good. And without the Warp, their interstellar travel system—and therefore the Imperium—falls apart. They're barely holding their ground as it is. Oh, and they're fascists & religious zealots.
- Orks care only about violence, but on the other hand like a good piss up too. They're one of the closest options to a "good" ending.
- The Eldar will die out anyway. Ditto for the Dark Eldar. On the other hand, when they all die, they release their new God of the Dead, Ynnead, and it will destroy Slaanesh.
- The 'Nids scarf down everything in sight and just make billions more of themselves before moving on.
- Chaos merges the Immaterium with the real and rape/torment/destroy the entirety of existence for all of time.
- The Tau become a beacon of progress, but employ methods like genocide & mass sterilisation to control the unruly, non-Tau masses.
- The Necrons seal off the warp, and turn the universe into a smorgasbord of souls for their masters, the C'tan.
- That being said, whenever Games Workshop starts a campaign (series of tabletop battles, reported in the White Dwarf magazine), you know right from the start the Imperium (Imperial Guard, Space Marines, Demon Hunters, Witch Hunters and so on) will ALWAYS win the overall plot, even if they get absolutely thrashed in every single battle (Space Marine players being roughly 60% of all WH40K players, they couldn't make them lose without affecting cash flow, can they?).
- Deadlands features an Evil Plan by a quartet of malevolent beings known as the Reckoners, who gain power—and even sustenance—from negative emotions, especially fear. Their ultimate goal is to bring about The End of the World as We Know It, thereby transforming most of the world into one huge Deadland (that is, a place that is saturated with fear to the point of becoming warped into something straight out of a nightmare), and becoming able to manifest physically on Earth to finish what they'd tricked humanity into starting. The Deadlands sister campaign setting, Hell On Earth, is set in a future where the Reckoners have succeeded. However, the sidebar notes in the HoE rulebook make it clear that it's merely a possible future; ergo, PCs in the original Deadlands game aren't necessarily Doomed by Canon.
- This arguably happens in the classic Dungeons & Dragons Against The Giants module series, which first introduced the world to the dark elves, AKA the drow. Originally hired to stop a series of organized giant raids, the PCs are also tasked with discovering who is actually behind the attacks. In their investigations, the PCs can find that a group of drow led by a priestess named Eclavdra organized the raids. The second set of modules traces the PCs' following the drow back to their underground city, and possibly leading them to attack the temple of Lolth, the demoness who is apparently behind the raids. However, what most people don't realize is that Lolth is not responsible for the raids. The giant raids were actually organized by a rogue drow house who were seeking to use the giants to create a puppet kingdom on the surface world, and then use the power they gained from it to challenge the priesthood of Lolth for rulership of the entire drow vault. It's implied that the means for the PCs to follow the drow back to their homeland was in fact done by Eclavdra, head of the rogue drow house, to fool them into thinking that the priestesses of Lolth were responsible for the attacks and hopefully lead them to retaliate. The beauty of this backup plan is that Eclavdra really has nothing to lose either way—even if the PCs decide not to follow her back to the drow vault, or are slaughtered in their attack, then she's lost nothing. But if they succeed in banishing Lolth and destroying her temple, they've set up the perfect conditions for her rogue house to seize power over the entire vault, thus accomplishing what she'd initially hoped to do in setting up the giant raids to begin with...
- The GURPS Reign of Steel supplement features a setting where AIs Turned Against Their Masters and won decisively, leaving the last remnants of humanity as rats within their walls to be exterminated at their leisure. Most of the remaining conflict is between the AIs themselves, each of which has claimed its own territory and has different ideas of what to do with it.
- In Magic: The Gathering, we have the Shards of Alara and Zendikar blocks. Everything goes almost as Nicol Bolas plans: in Alara, he absorbs the maelstrom and is restored to his previous godlike state. In Zendikar, he succeeds in releasing the Eldrazi without any of the protagonists even realizing that he did it.
- The final set of Scars of Mirrodin is called "New Phyrexia". From the title alone, this is really bad news for everyone living on Mirrodin and a lot of other people elsewhere.
- The brains behind Magic: The Gathering ran a several month-long publicity stunt involving a conflict between two factions, the native Mirrans and the invasive Phyrexians. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the unquestionably evil, parasitic, invasive side won and renamed the realm of Mirrodin into New Phyrexia.
- And in the Shards of Alara block, the dragon planeswalker Nicol Bolas succeeds in bringing about the Conflux and merging the five shards of the plane. And immediately after that, in the Zendikar block, Bolas manages to get the Eldrazi released from their prison. And he was instrumental in bringing about the rise of Phyrexia as well. So far, he's on a three-block winning streak.
- ...Except that the Alara block ends with Ajani stopping Nicol Bolas from absorbing all of the Maelstrom's energy (Bolas' actual goal), then defeating Bolas and banishing him from Alara. To his credit, Bolas does at least get most of said energy.
- This is pretty much par for the course if the players end up getting killed or otherwise failing in their mission...unless they're playing evil characters themselves, in which case this trope may result from the players succeeding.
- Nintendo has (finally!) released an Official Timeline for the Zelda series, in which there are no less then three canonical timeline splits resulting from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: one of them is where Link is defeated by Ganondorf, although that's also the only timeline in which the royal family of Hyrule eventually gets the whole Triforce. (the first four games released in the series, along with the Oracle games, fall within this timeline)
- The terrifying thing is that this timeline may have happened due to Link's own actions. The text of the timeline says the hero was defeated, but not how. The sealing of the Door of Time in the past after Ganon's defeat means the hero never emerged to stop the villain, instead trapped forever in the Temple of Time.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, it's impossible to save everybody and beat the antagonist all in one go. You are forced to leave somebody suffering before the final battle. Though the bad guy doesn't really "Win" in the typical sense, seeing as how The mask's goal was to cause as much pain and suffering as possible for kicks and giggles...
- Also, it's impossible to prevent the moons fall until you are ready to fight the final battle, so in a way, Majora's Mask does win, as many times as you have to go back in time.
- In Transformers: The Game, Megatron succeeds in killing off Optimus Prime and using the All Spark to conquer Earth.
- If we have learned one thing from Blizzard-games in the past two decades, than it's that Evil almost always wins. Any victory for the heroes is always only temporary and things will get much worse.
- The first Warcraft apparently ended with the orcs winning and burning down the human city. (There were two possible endings, the canon is the orc victory).
- In the human campaign of StarCraft, Jim Raynor joins the rebel leader Mengsk and becomes a close friend with Mengsk Lieutenant Sarah Kerrigan. When victory over the Confederacy is at hand, Mengst simply abandons Karrigan to the Zerg, almost manages to have Raynor killed, and creates his new evil empire.
- Things get worse as the story continues in Brood War. By the end, Kerrigan has all her goals accomplished and her enemies destroyed.
Kerrigan: At this point, I'm pretty much the Queen Bitch of the Universe! And not all your little soldiers and spaceships can stop me!
- In fact, out of the 6 story campaigns of the original Starcraft, only 2 of them end well for the heroes.
- The Warcraft 3 add-on Frozen Throne ends similar to Brood War. The final showdown is a fight between the games two main villains, Arthas and Illidan, who race for the Frozen Throne to either save or destroy the Lich King. The game ends with Arthas claiming the helmet of the Lich King and merging its soul with his own, becoming the most powerful being in the entire world and ruling over not one, but two kingdoms of undead.
- Diablo ends with the Big Bad successfully convincing the hero to make a Heroic Sacrifice and become the can to seal the evil in, which in Diablo II proves to be a Senseless Sacrifice. Diablo II ends with the successful Evil Plan of the Bigger Bad. In the expansion, the new Big Bad manages to corrupt the Cosmic Keystone enough to force the protagonists to destroy it. However, this paves the way for Diablo III because the keystone was the only thing preventing a full-scale demonic invasion. Notice a pattern yet?
- In Halo: Reach, pretty much everyone on the planet is Doomed by Canon and the Covenant completely overruns the planet without encountering any meaningful resistance, turning it into a smoldering wasteland. At the end, you do achieve the primary mission objective but "getting a data package safely off the planet" barely counts as a victory when a world of one billion people is completely annihilated and the rest of the war consists of the enemy cleaning up the last few scattered remnants of the human military.
- Nyarlathotep gets to make the Moral Event Horizon his bitch in Persona 2: Innocent Sin when everything on Earth save for Sumaru City is put through Class 6 Apocalypse How after Maya Amano is killed by Maya Okamura. Persona 2: Eternal Punishment is all about trying to stop him from doing it all over again.
- Robotron: 2084: Aside from the fact the game itself is not winnable, the game's sequel, Blaster, reveals that you have failed to save the last human family. According to its opening demo, "The year is 2085 and the Robotrons have destroyed the human race. You escape in a stolen space shuttle. Your destination: Paradise. A remote outpost 20 million light years away. Does paradise exist? Can civilization be started again? These questions will be answered at the end of your journey. But first, you must BLAST... OR BE BLASTED!"
- In the original Double Dragon arcade game, brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee must rescue their common love interest Marian from gang leader Machine Gun Willy. Regardless of whether the player succeeds in rescuing her or not, she ends up being killed anyway in the arcade sequel, Double Dragon II: The Revenge, by none other than Willy himself. The NES version doesn't count in this example, since the main bad guy from the first game isn't involved in her death during the NES sequel and she gets better in the end.
- Velvet Assassin, Violette fails to kill her target, gets wounded in the process and hospitalized. While the villagers protect her, her location is eventually revealed to the Nazis. When she escapes the hospital, she finds the Nazis exacting horrific punishment on the village that protected her by rounding up the villagers, locking them into a church, and setting it on fire. Violette attempts to rescue them but fails and the leader of the attack was the guy Violette failed to kill.
- Xenosaga: Wilhelm technically won, having brought to an evolution of the collective subconscious.
- However, subverted because this can be considered a good thing for everyone overall since Wilhelm himself exists solely as a protector of humanity. Not to mention his massive Gambit Roulette would've made him win no matter the outcome. He's just that good.
- Any video game ever that allows you to take on the role of a Villain Protagonist.
- Especially a game like Overlord, where no matter where on the moral compass you end up, the bad guy (you) wins.
- Holds true for Streets of Rage where in 2 player mode, if one player accepts the offer from the Big Bad to join him and the other player refuses, both players then have to fight to the death. From there, the surviving player is made the offer one more time. If the player says no and succeeds in defeating the Final Boss, the player becomes the new criminal overlord.
- Both the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat series frequently give you the choice of playing an evil character, with an appropriately nasty ending if you beat the game.
- In fact, this is true of the vast majority of fighting games in general.
- In the Nonstandard Game Over before the Final Boss in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Mario chooses to become the Shadow Queen's servant and the world is lost. Cue Game Over screen.
- Jade Empire has two such endings. One is the expected Closed Fist ending. The other is a Nonstandard Game Over where you surrender to the Big Bad instead of fighting him.
- Albert Wesker, almost every time. Except in Resident Evil 5, where he finally goes down.
- Dreamfall. The Empire hunts down La Résistance to its secret base and wipes everyone out. The heroine gets impaled on a spear and left for dead. The Knight Templar who's just undergone a Heel Face Turn gets arrested for treason. All prominent members of La Résistance are seen either unveiled as The Mole or charging into a Bolivian Army Ending. Meanwhile, while the other heroine is busy saving the world via astral projection, a miscellaneous villain takes advantage of her helpless physical state to inject her with a lethal amount of a coma-inducing drug. WATI Corp unveils the brain-sucking product, which you've spent the entire game trying to destroy, to great public acclaim, and the last shot shows the enormous evil villainous tower surrounded by ominous lightning. The end.
- At least she stopped The Static, and is still astrally projecting somewhere. There will be a sequel, someday.
- According to the beginning of Mortal Kombat: Deception, the ending to Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance had the eponymous Enemy Mine between Shang Tsung and Quan Chi actually succeed in killing our heroes. Unfortunately, they don't get to revel in the fruits of their labor, as they immediately turn on each other, then get wiped out trying to defend against the UnSealed Evil in a Can Onaga.
Raiden: "Our story has ended. Centuries of battle, meaningless. Shao Kahn has consumed Earthrealm."
- Downplayed a little in Mortal Kombat 11. There are three endings (depending on whether Liu Kang wins or loses the Final Battle and how well he does) but Kronika will succeed in her goal of resetting the timeline no matter what happens. However, in the Good Ending (achieved by Liu Kang winning the battle without losing a round) Kronika is killed in the process, meaning she will no longer be able to do so, and Liu Kang and Kitana can build a new - hopefully benevolent - future.
- In the Aftermath DLC, however, it is up to the player whether the ultimate victor is Shang Tsung (which would play this Trope strait) or Liu Kang (which inverts it).
- One of the possible endings in Cave Story has the protagonist and Kazuma get away and spend the rest of their lives hiding out in the mountains while the bad guy completes his plan and all that stands in his way is the military powers of the world.
- Two words: Project Origin. Alma succeeds in getting pregnant by you with "the Antichrist". Sequel: confirmed.
- This seems to be becoming more common in video games now. It seems game designers have become cynics and see the world as a World Half Empty, or are suffering from Creator Breakdown.
- Odin Sphere if you get the bad ending. Everyone dies, but the antagonist sought that in the first place.
- Tenchu 4.
- In the Neo Geo game Cyber Lip, the main characters are ordered by the President to destroy a supercomputer that has turned against its masters. The twist comes in when the supercomputer has been acting against its will and the true mastermind was none other than the President himself, who is actually an alien invader in disguise.
- In Soul Nomad and The World Eaters, Revya achieves this in the Demon Path. Well if you call killing two gods and destroying all reality "winning".
- While he's not exactly the bad guy, [[The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall ends in this way if you give the Mantella to Mannimarco. And it's your own damn fault. Also, even if you go with another ending, Mannimarco still achieves apotheosis because everyone got the Mantella in the end. It's a long story...
- But you do get to kill him in Oblivion so that kinda makes up for it.
- But you only get to destroy the mortal Mannimarco, the apotheosis one still exists...
- But you do get to kill him in Oblivion so that kinda makes up for it.
- The Chzo Mythos ends in Chzo granting immortality to Theo DeCabe as his New Prince, who then proceeds to overthrow Cabadath and prevent him from sabotaging Chzo's plans. Then again, Chzo had been preparing for this for a long time.
- The endings for the campaigns in the Dawn of War expansions Winter Assault, Dark Crusade and Soulstorm, depending on which faction is chosen, include indiscriminate slaughter by the tides of an Ork WAAAGH!, the systematic extermination of all life, or the collapse of reality as the Warp crosses into Real Space. The other endings aren't that much better.
- Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness. After you overcome the final boss you find out that he was a decoy, the whole thing was a set-up, and you've played into Dracula's hands and only aided him. A Doomed by Canon form of the trope (as explained at the top of the page) since this a prequel to the original Nintendo 64 Castlevania.
- In Final Fantasy Tactics, the anti-hero Delita becomes king and the hero is banished from society or potentially dead.
- Perhaps not so much so in the long run, a la Watchmen above.
- Any Endless Game, including almost every "classic" video game ever made. Missile Command? No matter how many incoming missiles you stop, eventually your cities get nuked. Donkey Kong? Save your girlfriend? Fine, there's always another level, and eventually you run out of lives and Kong keeps the girl. Frogger? Eventually, a car is going to run you over. Early video games didn't tend to have formal endings and simply kept repeating the same gameplay over and over again. At some point, you die, and the villain in question still is out there, waiting for you to feed in another quarter.
- In these sorts of games (which were not, even at the time, the only sorts of games) there often was a clear possible goal which really was tantamount to winning, such as to max out the score (which usually would happen at or around a million points), or to reach a level where the programming simply gave out, either messing up the game or automatically resetting it (often at or around the 255th level or screen). Activision's Atari 2600 games actually addressed the infinite cycle problems clearly, specifically, and directly by giving you (sometimes multiple or even ranked) goals for scores to attain, often with specific guidelines for difficulty settings and all, for which you'd get things like patches and t-shirts as rewards for having "beaten" them, and the company's own recognition as being among the world's best gamers for having maxed out the scores.
- In at least one or two cases, though, these games might deliberately work with the premise in an intentionally prearranged, plot-oriented "bad guy wins" scenario. One example which comes to mind is Imagic's Atari 2600 game "Atlantis," which had what may well have been the first ever video game Sequel Hook. After the inevitable defeat in which the city of Atlantis finally falls to the Gorgons when the last of it is destroyed by one of the Gorgons' waves of "Space Invaders-crossed-with-"Missile Command"-like attacks, the Cosmic Ark rises from the rubble and takes off, creating a hook for Imagic's follow-up game in which the remaining Atleanteans roam the galaxy finding the remnants of other dying civilizations to add to their own small remaining numbers aboard the Cosmic Ark.
- Many of these games, eg Donkey Kong and Dig Dug, had a Kill Screen which was literally impossible to beat and thus the bad guy would win there.
- The real Big Bad of .hack//GU, Ovan, ultimately accomplishes everything he wanted. However, considering that his real goal was to make Haseo powerful enough to defeat him so that he could purge the Internet of AIDA, this isn't really a Downer Ending. And Ovan doesn't get away unscathed for his crimes either.
- Live a Live has a possible one. After the Medieval Chapter, you can choose its protagonist Oersted, now known as Odio, as the final protagonist. Unlike with the rest of the characters, his version of this chapter is different in that you play as the Demon King through all his incarnations in a subverted Boss Rush in where you kill the main characters of the rest of the chapters. Ultimately ending all existence, and giving you the Sad End. This isn't a Nonstandard Game Over, it's an actual ending. Did I mention the rest of the game probably had made you cry many times before?
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 reveals that while the first game's Big Bad was killed, his Ultranationalist soldiers won the 21st-century Russian civil war anyway (with the Loyalists nowhere to be found afterward), and he's being hailed as a martyr, making the already pretty bleak ending of the first game even more bleak.
- The Big Bad also pretty much wins, despite being killed at the end by the player character, in that he got the Russo-American War he'd been wanting, while the Big Bad's erstwhile ally Vladimir Makarov was allowed to escape in return for intel on Shepard's location.
- An in-universe TIME magazine cover given out with GameStop preorders of Modern Warfare 3 declares "General Shepard Laid to Rest in Arlington," implying that his conspiracy remains a secret known only to Soap and Price—now international fugitives—and on top of that, the Russian president's daughter has vanished, causing him to stall peace talks, with Russian forces already fighting in lower Manhattan, New York City...
- Ultimately Zig Zagged. Shepherd dies, causing a new supreme commander for the American forces to be appointed. Shepherd's main plan was to usher in a new age of American dominance, which included invading Russia and reducing it to rubble after Russia wastes all its soldiers on offensive campaigns in Europe and the US. The new commander, "Overlord", does not share this view, and ultimately when offered peace the United States takes it instead of launch a counter invasion. However, Shepherd remains a war hero revered by millions, and due to Russia's aggression the United States is very likely to be a more militaristic nation involved with more foreign affairs, which presumambly includes watching Russia very closely and increasing the levels of forces in Europe.
- The Big Bad also pretty much wins, despite being killed at the end by the player character, in that he got the Russo-American War he'd been wanting, while the Big Bad's erstwhile ally Vladimir Makarov was allowed to escape in return for intel on Shepard's location.
- Walter Sullivan wins in the "21 Sacraments" ending of Silent Hill 4: The Room.
- In Touhou Project 12: Undefined Fantastic Object, the antagonists are a group of Youkai trying to free a powerful magician who has been sealed away in the Demon Realm for centuries. Despite (or perhaps because of) the protagonist's interference, they succeed...except their mistress turns out to be a really nice person who just wants to live out her life in peace.
- Touhou 8: Imperishable Night might also count, as while Kaguya and Eirin were defeated by the protagonists and the moon was restored, they still succeeded in their primary goal of evading the Lunarian envoys.
- Suika, the Final Boss of Touhou 7.5: Immaterial and Missing Power, did canonically defeat the main character in the end. But then again, no one in Gensokyo is really evil...except maybe that cherry tree.
- A few of the endings of Heavy Rain, to varying degrees. It's quite easy for Scott Shelby to merely make off as a Karma Houdini, if he kills whoever he fights in the final battle and also doesn't save Lauren. Quite possibly the biggest downer has all the heroes making it to the last confrontation, and dying, getting arrested, or otherwise failing, while the bad guy walks off into the rain, 100% ready and willing to kill again. You even get an achievement for it, called "So close..."
- In fact, there's a trophy called "Perfect Crime" for engineering the perfect The Bad Guy Wins scenario, where the Origami Killer gets off scot-free with no evidence and no one alive to link them to the crime.
- Arguably, Arc the Lad II. Even though the heroes win and defeat The Dark One, the titular Arc and his love interest both die, and most of the world is completely destroyed. One of the characters puts it "but at least there is something left!", but it does not change the fact that the bad guy managed to more or less wipe out 9/10 of the world's population.
- At the end of R-Type Command's first act, the human fleet gets assimilated by the Bydo, and you command the bad guys for the rest of the game, culminating in The End of the World as We Know It for the humans.
- Subverted actually. At the end of the Bydo campaign, you and your fleet realize what you've become and get chased off by the still very much active and numerous Space Corps.
- This is probably the best way to describe the ending of Sunset Over Imdahl. Hoess, at least, falls in battle, but he'd already planned to die, and his masters remain unharmed as everyone in Imdahl either dies of the plague, or is slaughtered and dumped in a mass grave. Lohn predicts that Hoess's cause is lost in the long term, but there's no way to know without a sequel.
- At the end of Red Dead Redemption, Edgar Ross betrays John, leading an attack by a US Army unit on his home, ultimately killing him. While Jack can take revenge and kill Ross in the Playable Epilogue, John ultimately goes down in history as a vicious outlaw and Ross as a hero who brought peace and justice to the Old West.
- All Arcade endings of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift have Terumi succeed in turning Noel Vermilion into Person of Mass Destruction Mu-12. Ready for the home console version to continue the story?
- The Story end is also this... Turns out Mu-12 is only a distraction for Terumi's primary goal: Takamagahara. The destruction of Takamagahara means that there will be no more Reset Button. Regardless, Ragna failed his goal in killing Terumi. There's still a sequel, though not necessarily the last, which means Terumi can still win.
- Divinity 2, big time. All throughout the game you have been manipulated by the Big Bad's girlfriend for his benefit, and after fighting and losing to him, he seals you in diamond and goes off with his girlfriend to conquer the world while you helplessly watch.
- Thankfully undone by the expansion, where you defeat the girlfriend and send the Big Bad running for the hills.
- Although it does happen at the halfway point of Final Fantasy VI and the heroes eventually win... sort of... Kefka does manage to kill the Emperor, obtain godlike powers, destroy most of the world and reign over what is left of it for an entire year. Not bad for a day's work.
- Haru's ending of G Senjou no Maou sees the antagonist succeeding in all of his plans: The main character's home city is destroyed, all of his family is dead, his foster father is dead, the yakuza clan he was part of has abandoned him, and his job, future and reputation is ruined. To top it off, the villain succeeds at a Thanatos Gambit that sees the main character serving eight years for said villain's murder. It's still something of a Bittersweet Ending because he got the girl in the end.
- Resistance, particularly 2. The Chimera have laid waste to America and the rest of the world, despite their fleet being nuked they have reserves, and Hale became one of them. Word of God promised that they would stamp out what is left of humanity in Resistance 3. Which made the actual ending of R3-in which Joseph Capelli foils the Chimeran plot to freeze Earth and in doing so turns the tide of the war in humanity's favor-both surprising and all the more awesome.
- At the end of Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant, the titular Dark Savant pulls a Hostage for Macguffin on your party. If you don't give him the MacGuffin, your party dies. If you do give it to him, well, now he has the Cosmic Keystone that is going to let him become all-powerful. Cue the Sequel Hook.
- Subverted in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. While Revolver Ocelot is the target for most of the game and does succeed in his plans, it's revealed that him succeeding in his plans have actually made the world a better place and that he was Good All Along.
- He wasn't Good All Along- he thought that destroying the Patriots would lead to global anarchy and chaos, or as he puts it "the Wild West all over again". Like Liquid and Big Boss before him, he wanted a world of perpetual conflict for soldiers to find meaning in, without the Patriots or anyone else pulling their strings. In that, he failed, even though his plan actually succeeded. It is a subversion, but not of that type.
- The Metal Gear Solid series actually hints a few times that in the ending of the game, the bad guys (or rather, the ones behind the scenes) are actually the ones who always win. In the first Metal Gear Solid game, Revolver Ocelot managed to retrieve the REX data for Solidus Snake. Metal Gear Solid 2 makes it a bit more apparent (as in, previously, as well as the later games, it was only revealed in The Stinger, with Metal Gear Solid 2 making it more apparent before the Stinger that the bad guys did indeed win), with the Patriots actually succeeding in their plans in regards to the S3 plan, the repercussions of which are made apparent in Metal Gear Solid 4, and the Patriots are heavily implied to be the true villains of the game, instead of Solidus.
- A somewhat notorious mission in Star Trek Online has the player captain and their officers played for suckers and ordered to commit war crimes by an Undine infiltrator, who gets away clean at the end. Despite numerous clues as to what's really going on, there's no way to stop or avoid this other than dropping the mission or not taking it in the first place.
- In Adventure Quest Worlds, Sek Duat "kills off" Zhoom and the hero and takes the lamp, afterwards blasting the ceiling of the Cave of Wanders and causing a cave-in just in case they were to miraculously climb back up... only for the Dreamdust to take effect and switch places between the lamp and a rock causing him to think he had won.
Hero: What's his deal?
- The Doomwood finale's Bad Ending goes like this; the hero betrays Artix by stabbing him in the back, and with that, Vordred takes his place as the Champion of Darkness and rewards him/her as a traitor deserves by turning him/her into his undead slave and unleashes a Zombie Apocalypse on Lore. Nice work, Nigh Invulnerable villain.
- Why are Defiant Ascended being sent back to the past in Rift? Because after having run riot over Telara, Regulos is about to snuff the last tiny corner that's still more-or-less habitable...and you have to stop that from happening.
- In Famous if played as an evil Cole. By the end of the game, Cole is the strongest one left alive in Empire City, the place has fallen further in to total chaos, he is at least partially allied with one of the City's main gangs and he announces that the remaining population are his playthings.
- And then came inFamous 2. Who cares about a little sociopathic fun and games when it turns out the Ray Plague can only be cured in supers by activating them explosively or cured in humanity by activating the super-killing Ray Sphere. Guess on which side Evil Cole falls in this Genocide Dilemma.
- The Shadow of Death expansion for Heroes of Might and Magic III ends with the Bad Guy losing, but only because the bad guy he was The Man Behind the Man for outwits him and puts him in prison and hijacks the evil plot. A case of Doomed by Canon, since the bad guy's evil plot consists of setting the stage for the war in the main game.
- Played with in that at the end of the sixth and 'final' campaign, the evil plot the Bad Guy had been spending three of the previous campaigns setting up is stopped. It is just that there is a seventh, 'secret' campaign, with the Bad Guy having come up with a new evil plot...
- At the end of Crackdown, the Agent has succeeded in dismantling the three gangs ruthlessly oppressing Pacific City, only for Mission Control to reveal that it was all a Government Conspiracy. They let the city deteriorate into anarchy and violence, for the express purpose of allowing them to establish a total control over the populace.
- On multiple occasions the hero of Fallout 1 is given the option to voluntarily surrender to the Master's army and reveal the location of Vault 13. At this point the "bad" ending immediately triggers, showing a cutscene of your character being dipped in FEV and the Vault being overrun by Super Mutants. It's implied that this would have eventually led to the obliteration of human civilization on the West Coast, at least until the arrival of the Enclave several decades later.
- The ending of Final Fantasy XIII-2 has the bad guy succeed in wiping out Time itself by engineering circumstances so no matter what, his plan succeeds. That said, it does end with the words To Be Continued...
- Momo's Muramasa blade ending of Muramasa: The Demon Blade has Jinkuro near death but now back in time before he ended up in Momohime's body. With the knowledge from his time during the game, he manages to pick a better time to take the body of her fiance and ends up becoming her husband. Granted this is debatable because of the Black and Gray Morality, but Jinkoru is still pretty self centered and will kill anyone who gets in his way, now he just has a Morality Chain.
- The World Ends With You is a strange example. Turns out that Joshua was the Composer and was planning to destroy Shibuya, possibly the world. Neku had ended up being Joshua's proxy in a game he had with the supposed Big Bad. Kitaniji was trying to save Shibuya through an Assimilation Plot while Neku was used to defeat him to win for Joshua. The interesting part is that Joshua has a Heel Face Turn. He taught Neku a lot about other people during their week together, but Neku taught him a lot as well, cemented when he couldn't pull the trigger on Joshua, despite knowing how he was used. As a result Neku is a better person and alive again with his friends while Joshua allows things to continue as they did before.
- Kinnikuman: Muscle Fight
- If Neptune King earns a perfect victory, he and the other Perfect Choujin wear the masks of the Choujin the Hell Missionaries have beaten.
- In Kinnikuman Super Phoenix's ending, he kills Kinnikuman, but his heart condition kills him. There's a shot of the Five Fated Princes' masks to show that they are dead forever. The Five Evil Gods have essentially used Super Phoenix as a pawn in their plan at stopping Kinnikuman before he got too powerful.
- Every game in the Violated Hero series. It's possible to prevent the villains from conquering/destroying the world, but they continue to remain in positions of power and make the hero into their sex slave.
- The prequel to The Order of the Stick, Start of Darkness, ends with Xykon's victory over Dorukan.
- And the third book, War and XPs, Xykon kills Roy, wipes out nearly all of the Sapphire Guard, conquers Azure City, and scatters the rest of the Order of the Stick.
- Sinfest on this:
Lil' E: You have something like that?
- Sabrina "Ultragirl" Mancini of Rival Angels joins a successful wrestling promotion (with real competition) and very shortly after qualifies to be in a tournament to crown a new champion. She advances all the way to the finals despite Chloe De Sade (the series' Big Bad) doing her best to ensure that she not only doesn't make it, but that she's injured too badly to ever wrestle again. In the last match, she's up against one of Chloe's Dragons. This Dragon, Kat Smith by name, had seemed like nothing more than a cheater and a Dirty Coward on prior occasions. Sabrina gives it everything she's got, and looks like she might win a number of times. However, Kat turns out to be more of a Badass than Sabrina thought; Sabrina is just not able to put her away, and after the two women beat the hell out of one another for a long time Kat finally gains and keeps the upper hand, hits her Finishing Move, and beats Sabrina to win the title. Up until then Sabrina seemed to be someting of an Invincible Hero, so it comes as quite a shock.
- At the end of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Villain Protagonist Dr. Horrible's Death Ray explodes, defeating his Arch Enemy Captain Hammer... but killing his Love Interest Penny, thus fulfilling the criteria (committing murder) for his entry into the Evil League of Evil and establishing him as a bona fide Super Villain. Of course, as the final montage makes clear, the price he paid was high... maybe too high.
- Slenderman ends up killing, enslaving, or inducing madness in almost every person he encounters. It's in his nature. Slender bloggers are basically Doomed by Canon. The best you can hope for is delaying him long enough to run and spending the rest of your days looking over your shoulder, waiting for him to catch up. The tradition was probably started by Just Another Fool, in which the Slender Man killed every single character involved in the blog.
- In Survival of the Fittest v3 local Ax Crazy J.R. Rizzolo is the one student remaining, aside from the people still currently alive in the escape attempt, which as of right now is on a Cliff Hanger.
- It all balances out in the end, though. Riz's family moves away and disowns him, and though he manages to make a decent living off of his fame, one of the escapees eventually tracks him down and kills him in his own home.
- In SOTF-TV, Karen Ruiz goes home safe and sound after killing 10 people.
- Due to the dozens of SCPs that spell absolutely certain doom for the Foundation, civilization, the human race, Earth, the galaxy, or reality itself, this is eventually going to happen... despite the Foundation's best efforts to avert it.
- The Nostalgia Critic's 2008 Halloween Special had Teddy Ruxpin come back from being beheaded, put a gun in the Critic's mouth, force him to do a positive review, and kill him when he screams for help.
- Sort of hard to believe if you haven't seen many of the shorts, but Tom and Jerry actually has a few episodes in which Tom wins. One example is the short "Southbound Duckling", which ends with Tom covering himself and the vulnerable mouse and duck while he does GOD KNOWS WHAT.
- The Bugs Bunny cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?". Not that the bad guy was all that happy about it however.
- Elmer beat Bugs in a few other cartoons and is happy about it. One cartoon has Elmer (who has gone crazy and thinks he's a rabbit) trick Bugs into switching places with him at a hospital. Bugs is then drugged into thinking he is Elmer and decides to go hunting for rabbits. Elmer is in a rabbit suit doing to Bugs what Bugs usually does to him. At the end Bugs is arrested because the police think he's Elmer, and Elmer owes a ton of back taxes. After Bugs is carried away Elmer dances off into the sunset. It's revealed to be a Batman Gambit and Elmer was only Obfuscating Insanity.
Elmer: I may be a scwewy wabbit, but I'm not going to Alcatwaz!
- The last cartoon in which Elmer beat Bugs is when Elmer controls Bugs in Rabbit Rampage in a way resembling how Bugs controlled Daffy in Duck Amuck.
- Also, in three cartoons Bugs raced a turtle called Cecil... and Cecil came out on top every time. He is the only person to go up against Bugs and always win!
- Maybe a case of Bugs being Evil All Along if you consider their characterizations.
- If Failure Hero Daffy Duck ever donned a hero gimmick and was without his Hypercompetent Sidekick Porky to pick up the pieces, it's likely to happen as well. Particular examples include "My Little Duckaroo", which ends with western convict Nasty Canasta brutally beating him off screen and "Golden Yeggs" where he is captured by Rocky the gangster and forced to lay endless golden eggs. Curiously both instances were before said villains were paired against Bugs, with them having a much more sinister presence compared to their later appearances.
- Special mention goes to the full version of Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24th and a Half Century, in which Marvin the Martian is finally able to activate his explosive space modulator. With the bumbling Dodgers distracted elsewhere and Earth's destruction imminent, Marvin is left to inform the viewers "It's only a cartoon". This was oddly cut from the shortened theatrical version.
- Also special mention for the manager of the Broken Arms Hotel in Porky Pig's Feat. One of the few characters to outsmart Porky, Daffy, and Bugs.
- However this may also be a case of Grey and Gray Morality. Granted the manager was willing to lock these guys up until they paid for a ridiculously large bill (one of its charges actually being issued for "Air: For Breathing") but it doesn't change that all three of them are trying to run off without paying a cent (largely due to Daffy losing their earnings via gambling).
- Also special mention for the manager of the Broken Arms Hotel in Porky Pig's Feat. One of the few characters to outsmart Porky, Daffy, and Bugs.
- Special mention goes to the full version of Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24th and a Half Century, in which Marvin the Martian is finally able to activate his explosive space modulator. With the bumbling Dodgers distracted elsewhere and Earth's destruction imminent, Marvin is left to inform the viewers "It's only a cartoon". This was oddly cut from the shortened theatrical version.
- In Yogi's Space Race, Phantom Phink and Sludge won most of the races (sometimes in their disguises).
- Subverted, actually, by the fact that the prizes for each race isn't as glamorous as it first appeared.
- Actually, almost every Hanna-Barbera cartoon do this to the villain if they win a race or some event. They'll either receive something useless to them, or receive their comeuppance from the prize or shortly after receiving the prize. Can't Get Away with Nuthin'? William Hanna and Joseph Barbera sure thinks so.
- Case in point: the Wacky Races comic book story "The Scavenger Scramble" (Gold Key #7, April 1972) has a big purse up as the top prize. Dick Dastardly wins the race and gets the prize: a flowery shoulder-strap women's purse.
- Likewise, the Really Rottens won at least twice on Laff-A-Lympics.
- In at least one of the instances, they weren't happy about it, because they wanted to win by cheating, instead of winning legitimately.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 has Well-Intentioned Extremist Bishop win in the episode "Aliens Among Us". Not only he has managed to get the president to respect him and declare the turtles as aliens, but also causes the outbreak of New York that turns people into mutants.
- The outbreak was not part of his plan.
- Transformers: Beast Wars. occasionally ended some conflicts in victory for the Predacons, and the Maximals lucky to get out alive. This was especially true in the Season Finales. The first season with Megatron sabotaging a makeshift spacecraft, thereby turning Optimus Primal's risky ploy into a suicide mission. The second season ends with Megatron shooting the original Optimus Prime in the face, causing time and space to warp so that the Decepticons won in the original series. This gets a hasty fix at the beginning of the third season, but there is probably nothing more bone-chilling than the Big Bad pointing at the camera and telling the heroes "YOU NO LONGER EXIST!", especially when the show could have easily been canceled afterward. Only the third finale, which also ended the series, ended with a Maximal victory.
- And even then, it was short lived. The sequel series Beast Machines sees the Maximals being graceless winners by chaining Megatron to the outside of their spaceship in the finale of Beast Wars biting them in the ass immediately. He gets free, gets through the time warp they were taking to return home first, and because of the Timey-Wimey Ball, he had all the time in Cybertron he needed to take over the planet with a virus from season 1 of Beast Wars, doing what no other Megatron could do in successfully winning it all alone.
- Subverted in the 10th anniversary episode of The Powerpuff Girls. Mojo Jojo finally achieves his goal of ruling the world and promptly goes about instituting world peace, giving everyone puppies, etc., leaving the Powerpuff Girls in shock. Mojo soon grows bored, though, and resumes his evil ways, thus enabling the Powerpuff Girls to, once again, save the day.
- The time-travel episode featuring HIM. Also, HIM once challenged the girls to solve a series of riddles they had to solve on time or Professor Utonium would have to "pay". They were a few seconds too late, which forced Professor Utonium to pay for... the pancakes he ate at HIM's diner. The narrator, who usually ended each episode by saying the day had been saved and told who saved it, was at a loss for words this time.
- This actually happened a few times on Codename: Kids Next Door, in episodes such as Operation: PRESIDENT, Operation: SLUMBER, and Operation: SIX.
- The season 2 finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Azula kills Aang before he can go into the Avatar State, then proceeds to conquer Ba Sing Sei with her recently face heel-turned brother Zuko. (Although, fortunately, before season three, Aang got better.)
- Later, in season 3, Hama wants to teach Katara bloodbending, regardless of whether or not she actually wants to learn. In the end, Katara is forced to use the technique, and Hama, despite being arrested, cackles madly at her success while Katara breaks into tears.
- Batman: The Animated Series pulled a rather clever twist on this one with the Riddler's first appearance in "If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?" Batman and Robin stop the Riddler from murdering Daniel Mockridge, the Corrupt Corporate Executive who cheated him, but one could argue that the Riddler still won anyway; the episode ends by showing us that Mockridge now lives in paranoid fear of the Riddler's return. While the Dynamic Duo kept the Riddler from taking Mockridge's life or his money, the Riddler managed to take something nearly as valuable: Mockridge's peace of mind.
Batman: How much is a good night's sleep worth? Now there's a riddle for you.
- Batman Beyond had at least two occasions of bad guys winning: in "Ascension", Paxton Powers tricked his father out of the way so he could take over Wayne-Powers Enterprises and; in "Inqueling", Inque's daughter steals her money albeit it's left unclear if Inque ever tried to extract a payback.
- As shown in the picture above, a Bond-style super villain takes over the East Coast during an episode of The Simpsons. The only "loss" for the "good guys" is that the titular family had to move back to Springfield because no one was happy in the "perfect" neighborhood they had set up in. To rub salt in the wound, Homer was given his life's dream: ownership of a football team... Sadly, that football team was shown to be the worst in the league.
- To be fair, it was the Denver Broncos, who would end up winning two consecutive Superbowls the year after that episode aired.
- The "Stanley's Cup" episode of South Park ended with the pee-wee hockey team Stan is coaching being savagely and utterly destroyed in their game against the Detroit Red Wings. The episode ends with the Red Wings excitedly celebrating (the Coach's father even tells his son he loves him in a parody of cliche sports movie endings) while the boy's friend Nelson dies from leukemia and "no hope".
- The Classic Disney short Chicken Little (not to be confused with their movie of the same name) ends with Foxy Loxy eating Chicken Little and all of the chicken of the farm, and collecting their bones. The Narrator laments "Hey, wait a minute, this isn't right. That's not the way it ends in my book!", and then Foxy, while playing with the now dead Chicken Little's Yo-Yo, taunts him "Oh yeah? Don't believe everything you read, brother!" Considering that this was a Wartime Cartoon acting as a parable to Adolf Hitler's tactics, the message is clear.
- There are at least two entries in the Disney Animated Canon with examples as well
- Pinocchio, averts this trope with Stromboli, Lampwick and Monstro, but plays it straight with "Honest" John Worthington Foulfellow, his sidekick Gideon, and the Coachmen, who all win (though in the Coachmen's case this is because nobody opposes him).
- In the Video Game however you actually fight the Coachman and throw it into a Disney Villain Death.
- One of the interesting aspects of Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers was the sheer number of times that the Rangers' "victory" was merely getting away with their skins. The pilot was especially brutal. Zach's kids get away, but only because of Eliza's Heroic Sacrifice. Zach is gravely wounded, the bad guys get away clean, and the Queen's raid on Kirwin has netted her several dozen humans.
- A few Private Snafu shorts end with Private Snafu being killed. At least one ends with him put in a Nazi prisoner of war camp under watch of a gloating German soldier. But since this is a Wartime Cartoon with the intent of showing American soldiers how NOT to act, it's justifiable.
- A few episodes of Jimmy Two Shoes end with Lucius having the upper hand, including "There Will be Chocolate" and "Catalog of Misery".
- ReBoot Season 2 ends with Megabyte sending Bob into the Web and beginning his real attack on the city. Later in Season 4 Megabyte also takes over the Principal Office and the series ends with a Bolivian Army Ending.
- Captain Planet and the Planeteers has the notorious "Whoo Gives a Hoot", which is noted for being the only time this happens. The Planeteers attempt to stop Looten Plunder with a court injunction against clear-cutting an old growth forest. Despite their success in finding what they need to stop the cutting, Looten's clumsy, stupid minions actually managed to succeed in stealing the evidence, leaving Plunder free to continue. The Planeteers and judge eventually discover Looten's deception, only to discover that Looten had already cut down all the trees. What makes it worse is that the episode ends on that note. In other words, Looten gets away with not only destroying a protected wildlife area, but he also manages to get away with defrauding the government. Not only that, he laughs in their faces about it and dares them to try and stop him again.
- Several episodes of Xiaolin Showdown end in the bad guys winning, such as Wuya getting all the Shen Gong Wu, getting all of them the very next episode too, Bigger Bads being released into the world, teammates turning to the dark side, etc.
- The first season of Titan Maximum ends with Gibbs succeeding in bringing down the solar shield around Mercury, with the team able to do nothing but stand there looking shocked.
- Total Drama World Tour ends with either the bad guy winning or the worse guy winning, depending on where you live. Though you could argue that Heather is just Designated Less-Evil.
- Well the reward money ends up lost either way. So yeah they win the competition but don't gain the spoils.
- Futurama likes this trope and has had allusions to complete monsters ruling for stretches of time in the future past. But a current continuity example has bitter, demented Nixon (yes, that Nixon) winning the presidential election at the last minute and storming into the White House in his giant robot body causing carnage and destruction to the tune of Hail to the Chief.
- The more recent "Attack of the Killer App" ends with Mom getting her army of between one and two million zombies. The heroes don't even realise what's going on. The end.
- "Less Than Hero" works the same way: the good guys are forced to steal the Quantum Gemerald for the Zookeeper to free Leela's parents, and since they're Brought Down to Normal, they can't go after him. Like the above example, they don't even really seem to care much.
- An episode of Godzilla the Series featured Corrupt Corporate Executive Cameron Winter breaking three criminals out of jail and giving each one of them a Humongous Mecha so they could hunt down Godzilla. When the three hunters were captured, Winter got off by accusing them of stealing their mechas and the Government even hired him to make them mechas of their own.
- The first episode of Hurricanes had the Garkos Gorgons sabotaging the Hispanola Hurricanes by having several of their players injured before their upcoming game. In order to have a full team, Amanda Carey, the Hurricanes' owner, disguised herself as a male so she could play at the game. The Hurricanes won 3-2 but her conscience led her to confess, which led to the Gorgons being granted official victory.
- In the Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones? episode "Cube Wars" the Yogman Twins cheat to win a competition and get away with it.
- American Dad had an episode involving an evil hot tub (voiced by Cee-Loo Green) which ends with said hot tub killing Principal Lewis, Francine and Stan. To make it even more blunt, Cee-Loo himself (in live-action) appears and tells the viewer that Stan is dead and that the show is over. What makes it even more shocking is how abrupt it is, and how it subverts the usual ending (the conflict is usually resolved by the end of most episodes).
- This episode was intended to be the season finale, as they weren't sure if they'd get brought back for another. When it was revealed American Dad would get another season, it became the premiere instead.
- Bat-Mite (who generally isn't a bad guy, but made a Face Heel Turn in one episode) from Batman: The Brave And The Bold comes to believe that the show has jumped the shark, and tries to get it cancelled so it can be replaced by a Darker and Edgier Batman cartoon. Since this happened during the series finale, he succeeds. While Bat-Mite does suffer for this by getting erased from existence (he's too silly a character to work in a dark and realistic cartoon, so he unintentionally dooms himself by destroying the show that actually suits him) he takes his fate surprisingly well. This even applies out of universe: Brave and the Bold was replaced by a Darker and Edgier Batman cartoon, at least by comparison.
- Subverted earlier in the episode "Joker: The Vile and the Villainous!" where Joker, wanting to help his mentor, the Weeper (who'd come close to destroying Fawcett City thirty years earlier, but was bested by Bulletman) regain his villainous touch. In this case, it was The Joker who was portrayed as heroic while Batman, who wanted to thwart them both, was seen as the villain.
- In Spider-Man: The Animated Series, the Vulture ultimately gets what he wanted for the entire series: his youth permanently restored.
- The season 2 opener of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is both Downer Ending and The Bad Guy Wins.
- Code Lyoko, similarly to Beast Wars, had several cases of the Lyoko-Warriors failing at their current goals and XANA actually emerging victorious : seasons 1 ends with XANA causing Aelita's materialisation to partially fail by keeping her dependent from the Supercomputer, thus preventing the heroes from defeating him. Seasons 2 ends with him actually succeeding in his goal to leave the Supercomputer he had been working on since the beginning of the season, with the Lyoko-Warriors being only saved from total failure by a Deus Ex Machina from Franz Hopper. And season 3 ends with XANA actually succeeding in destroying Lyoko (though Jeremy rebuilt it in the next season).
- The Legend of Korra's first season has Amon have a extremely progressive lead on the heroes in the first few episodes. Korra confronts him in the fourth episode but it doesn't end well. She's only spared because he wishes to save her for later. And in the 6th episode, he successfully raids a Pro-bending sporting event despite security being at its maximum.
- Actually, it's precisely because security is at its maximum that he's able to succeed. Rather than the cops coming in and surrounding him once he takes the arena, he's got them all right where he wants them and can have them quickly incapacitated. Just as planned.
- Zigzagged a little in the Harley Quinn series. Harley and her crew are clearly the victors at the end of Season 1, with Gotham in ruins, plunged into complete chaos. Both the Justice League and the Legion of Doom are M.I.A and Harley has finally rejected and triumphed over her abusive "Mistuh J". Still, seeing as the show is trying hard to portray Harley as a good person with a lot of inner depth - as far as villains go - it's hard for fans not to be cheering for her as she and her crew look upon the destruction they've wrought in the final scene.
- in a state where appellate and Supreme Court judges are elected, not appointed
- The best example is the one where Will goes undercover. By the end of the day, the Big Bad's out of his can, and he and his Dragon have the all-important bird-thing. The Rangers blew up the Monster of the Week as always, but it was only created to delay them, which it did. It's possibly the only episode in franchise history where the Rangers would be closer to their goals had they stayed in bed that day.
- In 8-bit systems the digits max out at 11111111, or 255