When a Downer Ending
does not mean that everything has been lost. Things might have gone bad for our heroes; they might have lost the base, have the villain remain victorious, or even have themselves killed
. But even amongst all that tragedy, there's still something that assures that it doesn't end there, that there might be a chance to make things better.
This is different from a Bittersweet Ending
, where the protagonists win but at a great cost, and is not simply a Downer Ending with a few happy tones either. This trope means that, despite the heroes being soundly defeated, physically and/or emotionally, there's still some hope left; a reassurement that things are not as bleak as they may look, and there could be a chance to turn the tides around, even if everything that has been lost can't ever be truly recovered.
Compare to A World Half Full
, which is a world that despite its broken state can still be turned for the better, Fling a Light into the Future
, which is a more deliberate hope establishment and usually happens at the start of the story, Hope Springs Eternal
, which is the very concept of hope always living on no matter the circumstances.
Contrast Surprisingly Happy Ending
, in which a seemingly bittersweet or downer ending turns into a happy ending thanks to a plot twist, and Esoteric Happy Ending
, where the creator thinks
they have ended things on a positive note, but the Audience Reaction
is Fridge Horror
Depending on the circumstances, this kind of ending may be (or become) a Sequel Hook
This is an Ending Trope, so beware of unmarked spoilers.
Anime and Manga
- Space Runaway Ideon: Be Invoked is infamous for its Kill 'em All ending, but the final moments are of the characters' souls happy and laughing as they go to be reincarnated. (Though after all the suffering they go through, one has to wonder whether just staying dead would be a better option.)
- Star Wars:
- The Empire Strikes Back: The Rebellion is on the run without a base, Han Solo's debt with Jabba the Hutt comes back to bite him and he has been frozen solid in carbonite, Luke gave up his Jedi Training to walk into Darth Vader's trap, lose his hand and finds his true parentage. But the main cast minus Han are able to escape the Empire at Cloud City and it ends on a high note with Luke's replacement hand and the team getting a lead on Han's whereabouts.
- Revenge of the Sith: Anakin Skywalker has fallen to evil. The Jedi have been all but destroyed. The Republic has fallen, and the Empire has risen to power. Obi-Wan and Yoda, the only survivors of the Order, are in hiding. But the Skywalker twins have been born, and we know from the original trilogy that they will be the ones to change the state of the galaxy for the better.
- The ending to the European film, Acla also known as Acla's Descent would almost be a Downer Ending, but it has a touch of hope since it's shown that in spite of everything, Acla can still dream of a better future.
- Twelve Monkeys: Protagonist James Cole, a time traveler from After the End, dies trying (and failing) to stop the villain from releasing the virus that triggers The End of the World as We Know It. But in the next scene, another time traveler appears in disguise to speak with the villain -- implying that, thanks to Cole's work, the scientists of the future will finally get a pure sample of the virus so they can make a vaccine. The past can't be changed, but the future can still be saved.
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World ends with the male characters ending up in the hospital after losing the $350,000 worth of money, but Captain Culpepper assures them with this line:
"I don't think any of you have anything to worry about. My wife is divorcing me, my daughter is applying to the courts to have her name changed, my pension has been revoked, and the only reason you 10 idiots will very likely get off lightly is because the judge will have me up there to throw the book at. I'd like to think that sometime, maybe 10 or 20 years from now, there will be something that I could laugh at, anything."
- The Lorax would have been a total Downer Ending, had the Once-Ler not given the child the last Trufula seed.
- 1984 concludes with an appendix about Newspeak which is phrased in the past tense and written in standard English. Some people have interpreted this to mean that the reign of Ingsoc was eventually broken.
- First King of Shannara ends this way. While the Second War of the Races is won and the Warlock Lord defeated, this Big Bad isn't permanently destroyed. In spite of this development and the destruction of the Druids, Allanon remains as the last Druid, the Sword of Shannara is still capable of destroying the Warlock Lord, and Jerle Shannara continues his bloodline -- leaving his descendants to eventually destroy the Warlock Lord.
- At the end of The Dark Tower, when Roland is sent back in a "Groundhog Day" Loop, he holds the horn of Eld, which implies that he could break the loop eventually.
- John Wyndham's novelette Out of the Deeps/The Kraken Wakes. At the end of the story the invading underwater aliens have melted the polar ice caps and caused worldwide flooding. However, the Japanese have developed an unmanned device that broadcasts ultrasonic waves lethal to the aliens. It has wiped out some of the aliens and might succeed in destroying all of them.
- The fourth book of A Series of Unfortunate Events ends this way, with the Baudelaires reflecting on the small blessings that allowed them to survive this latest attempt on their lives, and conclude maybe they do have some luck on their side after all.
- The Cut Short V-2009 ended on the big downer of the Visitors gaining the ability to bliss humans en-masse, which could very well be the backbreaker for the human race. Plus many key characters die, and a very hopeful-looking plot against Anna by her estranged mother fails utterly. But Erica is introduced to a deeper underground resistance involving members of the FBI, military and intelligence communities, which may, with some perseverance, cunning and luck, just have enough resources and high connections to succeed, should there ever be a continuation or sequel...
- The X-Files ends with half the main cast chased by the authorities, Mulder still being wanted and the revelation that an alien invasion will begin in December 2012. However Mulder expresses his belief to Scully that they have a force more powerful than the aliens on their side and that there's still hope to defeat them. And then the second movie happened.
- The fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ends with the Dominion invasion of the Alpha Quadrant, Deep Space 9 is quickly captured by the Dominion forces and the heroes retreat. The ray of hope comes in the form of the massed Federation-Klingon fleet ready to fight back and Captain Sisko leaving behind his baseball on the station, a message that he will return, and shove it up the Dominion's ass when he does.
- In the second part of Vacant Sky, it turns out Auria is really the Big Bad after all, one of the second heroes Serijala has made a pact with the Virad, and Mia is dead. Things are looking kinda grim. ...And then, we discover that the Virad are infected by demons, meaning demon-killing weapons have a chance of permanently killing them off, and also there is the hope that stopping Ejaro will put an end to the Virad.
- Spec Ops: The Line. In the best ending, it is implied that despite all the horrible things Walker did, he still has a chance at possible redemption. The achievement for getting this ending is even called "The Road Back".
- The Purple Clan's ending in Fahrenheit would be a downer ending, had it not been for Lucas and Carla's child who has potential to save humankind where his/her father failed.
- Infinity Blade: In the second game, Siris manages to defeat Radriar the God King for the second time and makes sure not to kill him. He takes Radriar to the Worker of Secret's cell, so that the Worker will be freed and Radriar will be imprisoned in his place. Unfortunately, Siris discovers too late that his "old friend" is a Consummate Liar and a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. The Worker takes the Infinity Blade with plans for world domination, and leaves Siris and Radriar to rot in his cell, as well as claim that Ausar/Siris was the one who imprisoned him there in the first place. By all accounts, this is a Downer Ending, but the last scene shows Isa approaching the castle.
- The third act of the FreeSpace 2 mod, Blue Planet: War In Heaven ends with the GTVA forces about to invade Earth, Noemi's revelation that the Vishnans have given up on preserving humanity because of the Sol-GTVA war and have ordered the Shivans to destroy humanity and Noemi is forced to fake her death to escape from the Elders' grasp. The ray of hope comes in the form of Ken saying that the Shivans have a plan to prevent humanity's end from happening but it will only come to pass if the war ends quickly and also in Noemi learning that Lorna is still alive and vowing to end the war no matter the cost.
- Halo: Reach: The Covenant conquer Reach and burn its entire surface to glass. Humanity's second most important planet is lost. The fleet's attempts to stem the invasion end in failure every time. Almost all of NOBLE Team is killed including the player. The only thing that keeps the story from being a complete tragedy is that the player manages to evacuate the ship Pillar of Autumn with Master Chief and Cortana aboard, who will turn around the course of the war in the subsequent games. In the final cutscene, Dr. Halsey gives your eulogy and assures you that your Heroic Sacrifice was worth it, as shown by Reach now being a green paradise being colonized again.
- The first Season Finale of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. The identity of the Creep of Crystal Cove is revealed to be Mayor Jones, Fred's father and the gang is separated and grounded by their parents. When things seem lost however Scooby Doo renews his resolve and vows to put the gang back together.