This trope happens when in between installments in a series, be it movie, TV, or video game, something changes and makes things worse to set up immediate drama for the next installment. Bad changes that happen at the very end
of a work do not count: they have to have happened offscreen, in the time between the events of the first and second installments.
Sometimes this is a symptom of the original work having been envisioned as a standalone story rather than a series, but Executive Meddling
happened. Other times the writer had this in mind to begin with, possibly to reinforce a Crapsack World
or make an intended Earned Happy Ending
Supertrope to Downtime Downgrade
, which is about relationships specifically, and Happy Ending Override
, which is where the offscreen downer is set after an ostensibly happy ending. See also Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome
, Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome
, and True Love Is Boring
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Anime and Manga
- The second season of Code Geass starts off a full year after the cliffhanger ending of the original, during which most of the Black Knights have been captured and are on death row, their leader Lelouch has been captured and has had his memories altered via his father's geass, the people of Japan are in an even worse state, and Britannia is conquering EU nations.
- Star Wars: Between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, the rebels have evacuated Yavin IV due to an Imperial counterattack, and are now being hunted by the Empire even more than before. Han Solo has also had his time to pay Jabba back run out, which messes things up in the long run in Cloud City. Worth remembering that A New Hope started as a standalone movie rather than the enormous multimedia franchise it is today, and it ends on a high note.
- Between the first and second National Treasure movies, the main character has randomly lost his girlfriend out of nowhere. Meanwhile Riley has (unknowingly) lost most of his share of the finders' fee for the Templar Treasure due to financial shenanigans by his accountant.
- Between the first and second Terminator movies, Sarah Connor has been placed in a mental hospital for trying to blow up a building, and John is stuck with bad foster parents. And between the second and third ones, Sarah has died of leukemia, and John is living a sad life alone and off the grid.
- Ghostbusters ends with the team successfully defeating Gozer the Gozerian and her giant Stay-Puft Man incarnation, preventing them from destroying New York City and the world. The sequel reveals that the citizens of the Big Apple decided the whole thing was a very elaborate show, and sued the team for damages to the city — to the point that the team has since broken up.
- From The Wizard of Oz to Return to Oz, Oz has turned from a happy dreamland full of singing munchkins, not to mention the recent death of the realm's only true villains (known to the audience at the time) and the departure of its trickster, to a barren wasteland full of belligerent Wheelies, a head-stealing witch (Mombi), and ruled by a monster (the Nome King) who turns people (already the case with Dorothy's friends there) into stone.
- Between Get Shorty and Be Cool (also in the original novels), Chili Palmer produced a hit movie Get Leo based on what happened to him in Get Shorty. Then the studio forced him to make a sequel, which flopped so badly Chili is considering leaving the movie industry. Also his girlfriend Karen Flores is nowhere to be seen in Be Cool.
- The Helmsman Saga has it prominently between books 2 and 3. The second book ends with a war won. The third begins with the protagonist long since discharged due to the Navy being dominated by a pacifist/Dirty Coward organization (funded by the enemy). The same organization also reduces the Navy into a nearly complete uselessness and disguises the enemies' efforts in rebuilding theirs.
- In Harry Potter, from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire forward, we see the wizarding world go further and further to hell in a handbasket. The Ministry actively covers up Voldemort's return between the fourth and fifth. Voldemort openly attacks wizards and muggles alike between the fifth and sixth. Things get so bad between the sixth and seventh that Harry's evacuating his foster family.
- Between The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: The Unbeliever and The Second Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, in Covenant's absence, the Land, while never a happy-go-lucky place, has degenerated from having a benevolent ruler and a healthy environment, to being ruled by the evil Clave and cursed with the environmentally intolerable Sunbane, among other things.
- In the Land of Oz books the downer is more gradual than in the movies, with the world degenerating from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz via introducing Mombi in The Marvelous Land of Oz, to finally introducing the Nome King and his wrath in Ozma Of Oz.
- Done repeatedly in The Chronicles of Narnia. Note that these are listed in in-universe chronological order, not publication order.
- Sherlock: Between series one and two, John loses his girlfriend Sarah despite there being no obvious reason why.
- Between seasons 1 and 2 of Falling Skies the Second Mass loses nearly half its members off screen.
- At the start of Season 3 of The Walking Dead it's clear that Rick and his group barely made it through the winter and are now close to starving. In addition, Andrea is deathly ill.
- Between seasons five and six of Red Dwarf, the titular ship has been stolen and the crew have been in stasis/offline for 200 years in the landing craft Starbug, while the android Kryten searched for the Dwarf's trail.
- The Dresden Files: Between "Changes" and "Ghost Story," while Harry takes a brief (to him) sojourn to the afterlife's waiting-room as a prologue, Chicago is wracked by months of violence, supernatural invasion, abductions and an unending winter.
- In The Legend of Spyro, in the three years separating The Eternal Night and Dawn of the Dragon, the Big Bad has taken over the Dragon Temple, destroyed the swamp, and is on the verge of destroying the entire world.
- Final Fantasy XIII has a Bittersweet Ending, but it is made an outright Downer Ending by the sequel's time travel-induced Cosmic Retcon: not only are Fang and Vanille turned into crystal for eternity, but Lighting is swallowed by a time rift just as Serah comes back to life.
- Things get pretty bad between Modern Warfare 1 and 2: the anti-Western Ultranationalist faction wins the civil war in Russia, Zakhaev's Dragon Ascendant is very, very angry at everyone who was responsible for the former's death, and the US and Russia are on the brink of war.
- Done three times in the X-Universe series. Between X3: Reunion and the expansion Terran Conflict, diplomatic relations between the Terrans and their long-lost brethren the Argon have severely deteriorated thanks to the Terrans' xenophobia and the Argons' fear of the Terrans' superior military. By the time of the second expansion Albion Prelude, the cold war has exploded into an all-out hot war. After Albion Prelude the jumpgate network is shut down by the Ancients, causing the collapse of all interstellar governments and setting the stage for X Rebirth.
- Between the two parts of Super Robot Wars Z 2, ZEXIS pretty much falls apart, Celestial Being gets destroyed, many ZUETH members end up joining OZ or MIA, Dr. Saotome causes immense havoc, and in general the world goes to pot.
- Star Wars games:
- The canonical ending of Knights of the Old Republic has the Jedi win, but in the five years between KOTOR 1 and 2 the Republic is falling apart from the costs of the war (both in money and lives). To make matters worse much of the Jedi Order was destroyed by a trio of Sith Lords and the survivors were forced into hiding.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic offers conclusion to several plotlines from the original Knights of the Old Republic games but said conclusions are revealed to be mostly tragic (the Exile was killed by the Emperor, Revan spent three centuries in mental torture, the people you led to the Promised Land survived the destruction of Taris only to slowly die out, etc.).
- One of the reasons Chrono Cross has one of the biggest Broken Bases in gaming is because of the sheer number of screwjobs done to the original cast of Chrono Trigger over the 20 years between the first game and the next. At one point in the sequel, we find out that the Power Trio was killed off five years after the original's conclusion, had their peaceful kingdom destroyed and taken over by a minor villain and small nation in the original game, had all of their accomplishments overwritten by the Big Bad to the point that in the end they only made the villain stronger, and we're also told that changing time (like you did in the last game) isn't actually possible, and that all you actually do is create a new Alternate Timeline that dooms the original one (and its inhabitants) to a dark oblivion. And if that was bad, you witness the deaths of a few characters from the first game with your own eyes through various means of Time Travel.