All for Nothing

"I looked at everything done on earth and saw that it is all useless, like chasing the wind." (NCV)
Ecclesiastes 1:14, the theme of King Solomon's final book

Alice sacrifices everything she cared for — her home, her reputation, the love of her family and friends — in order to save the world. In Alice 2: Back For More, the police clear her and her family forgives her.

Bob spends months of agonizing time and effort to kick booze. He manages to become sober... and then, five episodes later, he's off the wagon again.

Chris spends a whole season learning to trust his rival at the agency. Then it turns out the rival was The Mole all along, and every single thing Chris learned in this season was a chump's lesson.

Why did we have the first half of each story again? It was All for Nothing.

Sometimes, a Story Arc completely destroys the point of an earlier arc in the same story. It could contradict the early story's message, or it could reveal that the events we cared about never happened or weren't what they seemed. A hero's decisions don't seem so heroic if it turns out that they were manipulated every step of the way. And if a character goes through a Face–Heel Turn or Heel–Face Turn, their earlier stories might seem irrelevant when we know they'll disavow it all.

This trope can be used to set a story on the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism — nothing lasts forever, and something that seems so important may be just a passing moment. Yes, the farm boy may have risen to become king and gotten the girl, but his life doesn't end there, and things can still go downhill. Another use for this is to deliberately shock the audience — a Face–Heel Turn hurts so much when the character we cheered for six seasons turns on us.

In general, it's more forgivable when it's done as an event, rather than as a Retcon. If a hero's efforts are undone, that's not as frustrating as if it turns out that they never mattered in the first place. The audience is also more likely to forgive it if we're shown the change, rather than it being done with Second-Hand Storytelling.

A storyline that is All For Nothing is not always a happy thing ruined by bad events. A tragic scene of people losing everything can feel very cheapened if things get better too easily.

Remember, Tropes Are Not Bad, and when done properly, this can have a large impact on the audience, invoking things like Bait-and-Switch, Hope Spot, and Despair Event Horizon.

Common forms include Shoot the Shaggy Dog, Yank the Dog's Chain and Worthless Treasure Twist. If done too often, leads to the Broken Aesop, Lost Aesop, and Yo Yo Plot Point.

Distinct from Status Quo Is God in that it doesn't always bring things back to where they started - it often leads to genuine change.

The story of the first three Jewish kings in the Bible (Saul, David, Solomon) make this trope Older Than Feudalism

Not to be confused with All or Nothing. Possibly related to Hard Work Hardly Works.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • A somewhat more comedic version of this. In School Rumble, class 2-C was divided between whether they should do a play or cafe for the School Festival. They then devoted the next mini-arc to a dramatic war game held in the school between the two groups using fake guns. The very next day, while being punished for the game, their teacher Kooriyama suggests they just do both.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion:
    • Zig-Zagged in the final episodes of the series. Despite all the efforts he made at connecting with others, Shinji comes to feel betrayed and abandoned by everyone. Despite all their efforts at preventing Third Impact, the pilots failed because their superiors wanted them to fail in order to trigger their own, somewhat better version and turn the entire planet into a barren wasteland with humanity all but extinct. However, it was Shinji's efforts at connecting with others that led to Rei rejecting his father and instead turning the reins of Third Impact over to him, and it was Shinji's desire to see those people again that led him to stop the instrumentality of humanity. End result: the world ends up as a twisted wasteland; it's left with the hope of recovery as Shinji and Asuka return, giving a tiny step to reach each other out, and all humans can choose to re-embody if they really want to, but it's implied that the only ones who can resist the temptation have to be as fucked up as Shinji and Asuka. They may not have even had that much if Gendo's or SEELE's plans had gone through.
    • The Reboot Rebuild of Evangelion is even WORSE. In this version, Shinji manages to hold onto his determination and saves Rei... only to reveal that he just triggered Third Impact by doing that and that she disappeared without a trace, killing the better half of the world. Nobody's amused. Shinji teams up with Kaworu because he's the only one who still show him kindness, and tries to fix everything. He loses him too and partially triggers Fourth Impact. So now Shinji has destroyed the world, lost Rei, only saved Asuka (whose every second in existence is sheer suffering and hatred towards Shinji) and another step in Gendo's hidden agenda is completed. At this rate, you can expect Shinji to rip apart what is left of his dignity and sanity and eventually destroy the entire universe.
  • During the finale of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Homura begs Madoka to not make her wish because of all of the pain she went through to protect her. She even says "Everything I fought for... it will all be for nothing!" Madoka still makes her wish, and while this may have benefited everyone else the biggest side effect was that Madoka had to be retconned out of existence. Madoka seems fine with this though and assures Homura she'll always remember her sacrifice, so it's not all bad.
    • In the Rebellion movie, it appears it didn't take from Madoka's point of view. Homura makes the decision to usurp Madoka's goddess powers and rewrite the universe again so as to be able to look out for Madoka's interests, even if it goes against her original wish. Time will tell if this will be just a Subverted Trope for Homura (and a Double Subverted Trope for Madoka, at least from the standpoint of ethics) or a Zig-Zagging one).
  • During the Grand Finale of Sailor Moon, Sailors Neptune and Uranus pull off a desperate Fake Defector act in order to get close enough to Galaxia to finish her off, going to such lengths as killing Pluto and Saturn (depriving Sailor Moon of two valuable allies right after the death of Princess Kakyuu and the Heroic Sacrifices of the Inners) and attacking Moon herself and her remaining allies, the Starlights (so she wouldn't suspect them, but also weakening her physically and devastating her emotionally) before finally attacking Galaxia with her own bracelets. Unfortunately, due to no longer having a Sailor Seed, Galaxia is unaffected by the sneak attack before retaliating against the conspirators, and Neptune and Uranus die right in front of Moon and the Starlights without accomplishing a thing.
  • One Piece:
    • Impel Down and Marineford I make up an entire All For Nothing arc. Luffy breaks into Impel Down to rescue his brother Ace upon learning he had been captured and sentenced to death. He fights his way down to the bottom level, surviving only due to luck and Heroic Willpower, only to find that Ace had already been removed for execution. Luffy then starts a Prison Riot to escape, letting hundreds of the world's worst convicts out in the process, and travels to the giant Pirates vs. Marines battle taking forth. Fighting past thousands of soldiers, including the Marines' top fighters, the Admirals, Luffy manages to free Ace from his Power Limiter handcuffs, and they begin to leave. Until Ace turns around in response to one of the Admiral's taunts, gets into a fight, loses, and dies to protect Luffy. If Luffy's reaction of going into a Heroic Blue Screen of Death isn't sad enough, the realization that the past 51 chapters were all for naught makes it so much worse.
    • The Marines don't get off that easily either as they suffered massive casualties, lose Sengoku, Garp, and Aokiji all via resignation due to, respectively, trying to cover up the escape of Impel Down's worst inmates, having had to fight two members of his own family and losing one in the process, and refusing to serve under the man chosen to replace Sengoku after being unable to prevent his ascension. On top of all that, the death and final words of Whitebeard cause a new era of piracy and the Marines now have to deal with a level of piracy worse than ever before. They may have killed Whitebeard and killed off Gold Roger's bloodline, but their victory was hollow.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • During the Buu Saga, Vegeta becomes so obsessed with topping Goku that he makes a Deal with the Devil with Babidi, allowing Babidi to turn him into a Majin and bring forth his inner evil to do so. As it turns out, Goku had unlocked Super Saiyan 3 and had been holding back against Majin Vegeta the whole time, so Vegeta sold his soul to Babidi, forsook his family, friends, and own convictions, and helped unleash Majin Buu upon the world for nothing. More than that, the very thing he did all of the above actions for, his pride, was utterly and completely destroyed. Not only were his sacrifices meaningless, he once again has to deal with the fact that Goku made a huge leap ahead of him by unlocking Super Saiyan 3, to say nothing of the insult of being allowed to think he could win. As a result, Vegeta is pretty damn pissed with Goku when King Yemma brings him back to fight Buu after he gave his life in a failed effort to make amends.
      Vegeta: I sent myself into a cold oblivion, and I did it on a lie!
    • This is not the first time this happened to Vegeta. In the Freeza arc, he spent the majority of the arc avoiding a direct conflict with the titular tyrant, while using subterfuge and quick action to take the Namekian Dragon Balls for himself and pick off his men, reaching the brink of death more than once, so that he can use the Dragon Balls to wish for immortality, and so that he can finally challenge him. Unfortunately, the Grand Elder, whose life sustains the usage of the magical orbs dies, and Freeza confronts him and his erstwhile allies, Krillin and Gohan. Seeing no other choice, they battle him head-on, but it's not enough. Piccolo is revived and on Namek so that turns the tables against Freeza, but it quickly becomes clear that the battle is still a losing one. So Vegeta in an attempt to become a Super Saiyan has Krillin put him to the brink of death, and Dende revive him giving him a dramatic power boost. It works, but Freeza still toys with him, and he loses all hope when he realizes he's not a Super Saiyan, leading to a savage beatdown by Freeza's hands before he executes him. Everything he did in that arc was to free himself from the yoke of Freeza, and it all it earned him was a pitiful death. At least he got better by the arc's end.
    • Said word-for-word in Dragon Ball Z Kai by Piccolo in regards to all the training he did with King Kai and everything Gohan and Krillan went through to get Namek's dragon balls to revive him upon seeing how powerful Freeza's true form is.
    • Dragon Ball Super has an "All For Nothing Saga" in the form of Future Trunks Saga. Basically, the entire reason the events happened is because the heroes try to fight off this new threat in the form of Goku Black and Future Zamasu and saved Future Trunk's timeline and survivors of their attack. So after 20 episodes of mystery-solving and fighting what happens? Merged Zamasu becomes a bodiless form who ended up killing off every single survivors that the heroes fought so hard to protect and is now in the process of spreading across the entire multiverse and timelines, forcing them to summon Future Zen'O who ended up blowing up Trunk's entire timeline to finish off Zamasu once and for all with only him, Future Trunks and Mai being the Sole Survivors of that timeline. That's right, all their efforts they worked so hard to protect the timeline ended up being completely meaningless and they couldn't even meet their friends in the afterlife because it's also blown up. The only compensation for all this is the fact that Zamasu is stopped before he managed to spread to other timelines and Whis can send Trunks and Mai back to just before Goku Black came into being and allow Trunks to prevent it all from happening in the first place.
    • On the flip-side, this also applies to Zamasu himself in that he has finally succeeded in killing of all the mortals in the timeline and managed to have a whole universe shaped in his vision upon gaining a bodiless form, but by that time, he has completely lost his mind, which means that he will never be able to enjoy it. His victory is also negated when Future Zen'O appears and blows up the timeline he resides in, with the knowledge that he couldn't kill the people who caused him the most grief.
  • Transformers Energon: Alpha Quintesson spends the entire show manipulating Autobots and Decepticons in order to recreate the planets Unicron had devoured in a new universe outside regular space. By using the weakened Unicron as a newborn sun, the plan suceeds... until the sun collapses into a black hole that consumes the young universe and sets the stage for Transformers Cybertron.
  • My Hero Academia: Endeavor, the #2 ranked hero, spent almost his entire superhero career attempting to one-up the #1 hero, All Might. He even goes so far as to marry a woman (who decidedly does not like him) solely to produce children who could be more powerful than All Might. He eventually gains the #1 spot... because All Might retires, giving him the #1 position on a technicality rather than actually earning it by surpassing All Might. What's worse, All Might retires after defeating the Big Bad in battle by using up the last of his power, ending his career in such a way that Endeavor is never going to be able to get out of his shadow.
  • Your Name: The side novel Another Side: Earthbound reveals that, after his wife Futaba's death, Toshiki had set out to become mayor of Itomori in order to modernise the town, spending 2 years preparing and then getting elected into a 4-year term. As he's standing for reelection at the start of the film proper, though, comet Tiamat crashes into it one month later, rendering all his efforts pointless.
  • Though this is far more often the rule than an exception for antagonists, Fullmetal Alchemist deserves a special mention due to its ties to one of the show’s themes. Big Bad Dante at one point gives Ed a Breaking Speech that equivalent exchange is a falsehood made up to make people feel better about themselves, and that no amount of Ed’s efforts mean the universe owes him a Happy Ending. Considering Dante orchestrated multiple genocides, manipulated the homunculi and has been body hopping for centuries to create a new Philosopher’s Stone, her ultimate failure and demise shows just how right she is.
  • Naruto: Madara Uchiha orchestrated the entire plot of Naruto for the sake of his own idea of "peace", even going as far as training a successor (Tobi/Obito) to continue his work when he could not stave off death any longer, with specific instructions to eventually revive him to complete the plan. All of this was to prove his ideology was better than his former best friend and rival Hashirama Senju's. Well, he succeeds...only to be stabbed in the back by his Enigmatic Minion Black Zetsu, who reveals that Madara, much like everyone else, was an Unwitting Pawn in a much larger game, right before his body is used as a vessel to revive the true Big Bad of Naruto, Princess Kaguya. After Kaguya is defeated, Madara is left powerless and on the verge of death, forced to confront the fact that all his plans and efforts were based on a lie, and that his ideology will die with him, while Hashirama's will endure and live on. The sole comfort he has is that, despite everything, Hashirama still sees him as his friend.

    Comic Books 
  • Subverted in Green Lantern with the origin of GL Sodam Yat. As a boy, he grew disgusted with his planet's murderous xenophobia, including when his fellows murdered an alien astronaut whose ship crashes on his planet. In response, he labored for years to repair the alien's ship and leave, but just as he was finished, a power ring arrived to induct him into the Green Lantern Corps. While that meant that now he didn't need the ship to leave the planet, the fact that he worked with that much determination to repair a ship he didn't know, nor how to pilot it or even where he could have gone after he launched, all for the sake of leaving a place and its evil is an incredible display of courage worthy of the Corps.
  • Explicitly averted, or for the moment very explicitly attempted, by Kieron Gillen on his run in Journey into Mystery. Major Spoilers ahead. Well aware that there was no way Loki could be left good when he was the major villain of the third biggest film of all time, having his run end with Kid!Loki triumphing and changing "for good" would really just become "for the next week or so until the next writer comes along." In order to avoid his story losing any of its impact, he didn't just kill Kid!Loki, he erased him from existence utterly to be replaced by his older version.
  • The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye: The Shadowplay arc becomes this, thanks to the Foregone Conclusion of being a flashback. The villains are trying to make the Decepticon Registration Act mandatory, via a circuitous scheme involving murdering the current Prime and putting a massive bomb in his corpse. Orion Pax and his allies foil this plot, though at the cost of one of the few truly good members of the Senate, and Pax's friend. Then, some years later said friend's student Zeta will become Prime and make the Act mandatory anyway, pushing Cybertron right over the edge into full-scale war.
    • And that Senator? Just happens to be Shockwave.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Vance Astrovik volunteers to be sent on a mission to Centauri IV, which is a thousand year-long journey. He has to be sealed inside a special suit to prevent him dying of old age on the way there, and cryogenically frozen, with the occasional while spent making sure the ship's still on course. He Goes Mad From The Isolation, but his Mutant powers kick in as a result. ... and when he finally gets there, it turns out mankind figured out how to go faster than light a few centuries after he left, making his entire mission superfluous.
    • And then, a few minutes after he's unfrozen, the Badoon appear and try to wipe out mankind, and do a damn thorough job of it, making Vance one of the last humans alive.
  • Uncanny X-Men Vol 3: Cyclops begins the mutant revolution — a peaceful demonstration that shows that mutants can co-exist with regular humans. After the 8 month Time Skip following Secret Wars (2015), mutants are going extinct because of Terrigenesis and are hated more than ever.

    Fan Works 
  • In Death Note fanfic Apples Equals Cyanide Equals Light Near thinks everything he did to defeat Kira might have been for nothing, seeing how he became an almost immortal shinigami, pretty much unstoppable now.
  • Doing It Right This Time: When Rei meets Gendo for first time after travelling to the past she slaps him and informs him all of his planning was for nothing because he would fail. Gendo was pretty... shaken afterwards.
    Shinji: Figures. How much did you actually tell my father, anyway?
    Rei: Few details. Only that everything he had worked towards and everything he had put myself and his only son through had been for nothing, and that he would die alone and unmourned, rejected by the only person he had ever truly loved. [...] It was... cathartic.
  • Ghosts of Evangelion: After Shinji explains why Yui left, Gendo comes to the realization that his whole plan was for nothing.
    Gendo leaned back in his chair. "All for nothing," he whispered. He looked at Shinji, a hint of regret in his eyes, then looked away.
  • The One I Love Is: In one of the side-stories Gendo admits all he has done, all lives he has ruined -including his son and daughter's- and all blood he has shed... has been for nothing, since he has failed: he has been unable to free his wife and they will never be together again.
  • Scar Tissue: After returning from Instrumentality, Gendo reflects all he did to reunite with his wife -which includes abusing and torturing his children emotionally and ending the world- was completely useless and meaningless, since Yui chose to remain inside Unit 01 rather merging with everyone into Instrumentality.
  • In With Strings Attached, the entire quest is bullshit. The original motive for sending the four after the Vasyn pieces was simply Jeft giving them something to do; the curse that the Vasyn was supposed to remove didn't really exist; and while change was accidentally effected by the restoration of the Vasyn, there's no guarantee that it was actually good. However, the four were never told any of this (except the curse part), so they didn't complain.
  • In Mean Time To Breakdown after struggling to remain positive and adapt to her new life, Iwanako finds herself back in the hospital three days later even more depressed than when she left.
  • In Shatterheart R!Syaoran attempts to reach out to others, endure his friends' apathy, learn not to isolate himself in his room and find some happiness for himself. Then he backslides when Kurogane ends their relationship when he becomes too attached and Syaoran is more miserable than before.
  • In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, the Citadel Council cooks up a plan to fortify Council space against an Alien Invasion (specifically, the Flood) by having Aria T'Loak's pirates hold the line in the Terminus without risking Council assets. Between attacks by a seeming Physical God Sarah a Force-sensitive Siren and the aliens' ability to crash through everything, the plan fails miserably. Hundreds of millions die in non-Council, non-Terminus space, and Council space ultimately falls, though an unlikely savior gets most of the heroes out alive...
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness:
    • Throughout Act III, Akua and Kahlua willingly work for Kiria and aid him in his plan to rewrite history with the Chrono Displacement spell, going to such lengths as stealing said spell from their father's secret archive, turning themselves into hybrids with Alucard's blood, and killing numerous innocents, because they hoped to make Issa one of the top rulers of the new world that Kiria intended to create. They're naturally horrified when they discover that they were nothing but Kiria's Unwitting Pawns and that part of his Evil Plan would have involved having the two infected with Blackheart and sent back in time to destroy Issa's empire from within so he would be the strongest monster of them all, which is anything but what they wanted: they spend the entirety of Act IV trying to atone for their actions. To further drive the nail in, Kiria's plan was doomed to fail from the start, as if Tsukune and the others had fallen, Luna would have killed Kiria herself and then let the Chrono Displacement spell go critical and destroy everything in a fit of madness.
    • During the final chapters of Act V, the actions of Babylon's minions lead the HDA to declare war on monsters, leading them to arrest and quarantine any monster they can find and drive the dark lords out of the human world. After some events, however, they realize by Act VI chapter 52 that their efforts were in vain; Babylon had been targeting the monster world all along, and the humans were unfortunate enough to get caught in the crossfire.
  • In With This Ring Paul merges with the Ophidian to save his surviving friends and Earth from an Alien Invasion during its Darkest Hour, only to find it was never real and no one was in danger.
  • In The Second Try, when Gendo interrogates his son, Shinji warns him that all his scheming and planning would be for nothing since everyone will die and Yui will never come back to him. Gendo refuses to believe it, but when he realizes that Shinji is right, he tries to kill himself.
  • In A Brief History of Equestria, Princess Platinum does everything in her power—up to and including orchestrating her own death—to rid Equestria of the monarchy. Her efforts will ultimately be for naught when Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are crowned co-rulers of Equestria.

    Films — Animation 
  • A Goofy Movie has Max learning to accept his dad, faults and all, for who he is. In the sequel, An Extremely Goofy Movie, Max's first line of dialogue shows that Max has regressing to being often annoyed with his dad. On the other hand, it has been a few years and the circumstances are quite different (with the first being based in lack of communication and the second on lack of purpose). In fact, one can view the first movie being the focus on Max and the sequel on Goofy.
  • At the end of Frozen, where despite everything Elsa did to prevent it, she not only accidentally turned Arendelle into a frozen wasteland but also saw Anna frozen solid literally inches away from her, something she so desperately tried to prevent after she struck Anna as a child. She shut herself away from everyone for thirteen years and tried as hard as possible to suppress her powers in hopes that she would not hurt Anna with her powers, but on Coronation Night, things go south very quickly, and in short order, Elsa exiles herself to an icy mountaintop and does exactly what she feared she would do when Anna comes to take her back under the naïve belief that she automatically has perfect control of her powers.
    • Fortunately for Elsa, Hans' plans fall under this as well. His scheme to marry and kill Anna, and blame it on Elsa, giving him the perceived moral high ground to kill her, too, comes to naught when his sword shatters against Anna's newly frozen body, and Elsa's grief-stricken tears thaw her moments later, leaving Hans in trouble with both of them and the knowledge that his twelve big brothers will be told of his treachery.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Horror movie franchises are infamous for this, such as killing off the Final Girl of the previous film (Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome) in the first two minutes of the sequel, often at the hands of the very same villain that she went through hell to defeat last time, who always comes back because he's too popular to be put down for good.
  • Alien³ kills off two characters who Ripley spent the whole second film protecting... in the first few minutes... off camera.
  • Similarly, Terminator 2: Judgment Day has the characters Screw Destiny... but the third film reveals that You Can't Fight Fate, and all the efforts in the second film to stop apocalypse were pre-destined to fail.
  • In the Director's Cut of Das Boot, the German submarine crew survives many dangerous encounters to make it home—only to be killed by an Allied air raid on their port.
  • In Reservoir Dogs, Mr. Orange was a cop, after all. Additionally, Mr. Orange reveals to the audience that he's undercover when he kills off Mr. Blonde to stop the latter from hacking a fellow cop to death. This comes at the expense of risking potentially blowing his cover when the rest of the crew comes back to the hideout, and indeed, his bosses are so unwilling to believe his cover story for killing Blonde that it leads to the film's infamous Kill 'em All Mexican Standoff. The real clincher? As soon as the crew returns, Nice Guy Eddie looks around at the carnage and pops a few slugs into Orange's fellow cop, killing him instantly. So not only was Orange's intervention all for nothing, it ended up dooming everyone else, as well.
  • In Dirty Dancing, Baby says this when her efforts to get Johnny cleared of theft charges get him fired anyway for having a relationship with a guest.
  • Most heist movies end this way: The money blows away (The Killing), gets burned up (original Ocean's 11), or comes loose (The Lavender Hill Mob). Others include a mentally challenged boy collecting license plate numbers in The League of Gentlemen or the brains behind the operation staring at a young girl so long the cops catch up with him in The Asphalt Jungle. It's usually a way of showing that You Can't Fight Fate (and that Crime Doesn't Pay).
  • Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith Anakin turned to the Dark Side because Palpatine promised him a way to keep Padme from dying, but when she learns what Anakin has done in pursuit of this, she confronts him, leading to him Force Choke her. In the end, he became Darth Vader, murdered an unknown number of innocent children, helped create The Empire, and ultimately caused the death of his wife. He lost the love of his life, his friends, and everything else he risked his life for in pursuit of a way to keep from losing his wife like he did his mother.
  • In Nine Days of One Year, the hero, a nuclear research scientist, winds up absorbing fatal doses of radiation while running experiments designed to produce a fusion reaction. While he's in the hospital awaiting a long-shot bone marrow transplant that might save his life, he finds out that the effect he'd observed in his experiments wasn't fusion after all, and he hasn't found a new energy source.
  • In Black Hawk Down, a couple of Delta Force snipers go to rescue one of the pilots of one of the downed helicopters, Durant, and after placing him in a nearby building, they go back to defend the chopper, drawing the militia fighters away from Durant by using themselves as bait. Unfortunately, after the two are killed off, Durant ends up being captured by the Somali militia anyway.
  • The Life of David Gale: The governor had promised if evidence if an innocent person executed ever surfaced he'd call a moratorium on capital punishment. Gale's death is set up as exactly this. However, the governor refuses to call the moratorium, saying the state can't be blamed for a plot by someone else.
  • I Shot Jesse James: Despite being his best friend, Robert Ford murders outlaw Jesse James in order to escape his outlaw life and be with his Love Interest. However, it all backfires. He’s stiffed with the reward, he’s considered a coward instead of a hero, and he loses the girl to another suitor.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: The Reveal that HYDRA is alive and bigger, more seclusive and dangerous than ever, which rendered everything Captain America and his friends did to wipe them out in World War 2 meaningless. Black Widow even lampshades this later in the movie.
  • The World Of Kanako: In the end, after being beaten, shot, betrayed and kidnapped by the Yakuza (and after dealing out a lot of punishment too), Akikazu still cannot find Kanako. As far as we know, she's dead and buried in the snow but he refuses to accept this and keeps searching for her.
  • Wonder Woman (2017); Diana single-handedly liberates the town of Veld from the Germans on her quest to stop Ares. The next day, General Ludendorff uses it as ground zero to demonstrate his new gas weapon, killing every civilian Diana and her team saved.
  • X-Men Film Series: All the struggling that the Professor Xavier and his X-Men went through to protect mutantkind in the previous movies—especially in X-Men: Days of Future Past—come across as a moot point in Logan, given the fact that most mutants died out anyway, along with several of the X-Men themselves, not due to some big final battle, but thanks to one of Xavier's telepathic seizures and the birth of future mutants has been stopped thanks to crops being genetically modified to suppress the mutant gene. Pretty much the whole saga, including any future installments, is ultimately for nothing and comes to a horrible end.
  • Police Academy had a subplot which ended this way. The night before the driving test, Hightower comes to Mahoney and tells him that he hasn't driven a car in a long time and Harris told him he'd flunk out if he didn't pass. So, Mahoney takes him out for a driving lesson in Blanks' car and badly damages it in the process. Hightower ends up passing the test, but Hooks goes after him. At the end of her test, she runs over Blanks' foot. He calls her a racial slur as a result, inciting Hightower to go after him. After Hightower flips over the test car with Blanks in it, Harris expels him. Furthermore, Blanks sees the damage to his car and gets into a fight with Mahoney and Barbara. Mahoney ends up getting expelled as well after he takes the blame for the fight.
  • The Longest Day: On D-Day, the U.S. Army Rangers launch a costly assault on Pointe du Hoc to take out several artillery batteries that could have threatened the main landings. However, after finally making it up the cliff and securing the bunkers, the Rangers find out the guns were never even installed and the entire assault was a waste of time. This is subverted if you know that, in real life, the Rangers later succeeded in locating and destroying the guns.

  • In The Hunger Games this is what Katniss feels like after Prim, the sister she went through all of the hell of the Hunger Games for, dies in the final portion of Mockingjay.
  • Harry Potter:
    • There's a different sort of example in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Most of the drama for the first 3/4 (at least) of the book surrounds Harry's performance in the three Tasks of the Triwizard Tournament. The drama is removed from this on all rereadings, when you know that Harry was aided, manipulated and guided through all 3 challenges by the villain, and the villain's entire plan hinged on Harry winning the Tournament.
    • In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Harry and Dumbledore fight through all of Voldemort's protections on his locket Horcrux, only for Harry to later discover that it was a fake.
    • The Distant Epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows shows that Harry Earned His Happy Ending—the world is at peace, he no longer has soul pains, and he has a warm relationship with his son Albus; when Albus worries about his Sorting, Harry assures him that he won't be placed in Slytherin if he doesn't want to be. Then Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out, and we find out a new evil is rising, Harry's scar hurts again, his relationship with Albus is and has apparently always been strained, and Albus was put in Slytherin and is miserable there.
  • A disappointing example occurs in the Sword of Truth series, in which the dramatic climax of the (relatively good) first book turns out to have been all for naught. Umpteen books later, in the final book of the series, we discover that Darken Rahl would have died no matter what box he opened. So much for The Power of Love.
  • Essentially the entire plot of The First Law turns out to have been this, in the sense that nothing truly changed and the protagonists were only tools. Certainly all of Logen's and Jezal's quest in the second book qualifies, as does, to an extent, Glokta's defense of...Ah, hell, like I said, the entire plot.
  • Stephen Donaldson does this all but nonstop in his Thomas Covenant books, thanks to the absolute cunning of Lord Foul the Despiser, to the point that one character outright advises the protagonist: "It boots nothing to avoid his snares, for they are always set about with other snares". It's a very, very standard part of his fiction.
    • Kevin Landwaster, a lofty and wise ancient lord, who, after brutally battling Lord Foul for years, fell into despair, eventually resorting to The Ritual of Desecration, that snuffed out almost all life there for centuries. The hope was that the land could regrow while Lord Foul would surely die. He didn't. Kevin using the ritual was Lord Foul's idea in the first place.
    • The Unhomed Giants, subject to a lengthy rescue campaign by the Lords - who were wiped out in a genocide brought about by the very omen they thought would save them, all unwilling to run or raise even a single hand in self-defense. They were told that their troubles - dwindling numbers, declining birthrates, slow death - would all be over when their race gave birth to triplets. They did. All three of them were soon possessed by staggeringly evil spirits.
    • Whatshername - we never hear her name - who tried to warn the Lords about a nasty Ur-Vile ambush, and who was bewitched to be unable to speak at all, so that her very attempts to warn the Lords would delay them long enough for the ambush to be sprung in the first place.
    • The story of Sunder and Hollian, who accompany the heroes throughout the journey, and both die and are resurrected in extremely unlikely circumstances and their son Anele, who is entrusted with the Staff of Law - and who outright loses it.
    • Convenant's daughter Elena, who locates all the MacGuffins needed to get to the Earthblood, which grants one wish to the drinker, granted unconditionally so long as it's within natural power , and then completely screws it up when she does drink it, sending the spirit of the aforementioned already despair-broken High Lord Kevin after Lord Foul. He is swiftly overpowered and enslaved and turned on her, and just as swiftly kills her. The summoning also breaks the natural Law of Death, allowing Lord Foul to raise the dead from this point forward.
    • Drool Rockworm, who tried to win freedom for the Cavewights from Lord Foul, and who was just being led along by Lord Foul to recover the Illearth Stone.
  • The now-non-canon Star Wars Legends expanded universe reveals that Emperor Palpatine came back to life after the events of the Original Trilogy. though it should be noted he's destroyed again by the end of the Dark Empire stories. This is a notable source of Fanon Discontinuity for many, despite the fact that Lucas actually liked it more than most of the EU book series. As of April 2014, it is considered non-canon, and even the emperor's actor, Ian McDiarmid stated that Palpatine is now Killed Off for Real.
  • Both the book and the film version of The Neverending Story play with this: Atreyu has risked his life and lost people important to him on a quest to find out the cause of the Empress's illness and what had to be done to cure her, only to have her reveal that she'd known both of these things all along. Atreyu is understandably furious about this, until the Empress explains that his quest was important and did have a purpose, even if it wasn't the one stated up front.
  • In The Divergent Trilogy, Tori's Roaring Rampage of Revenge to avenge her brother George’s death in Insurgent and death in Allegiant amount to this, after The Reveal that her brother George is alive and outside the fence.
  • The Running Man: Richards joins the Running Man contest, being pursued by groups of 'Hunters' and receiving money for every hour he stays alive, in order to provide for his wife and his sick daughter. He makes it further than any previous contestant in the history of the show, eluding the Hunters for almost two weeks and managing to escape on a plane after he publicly threatens to blow up the airfield (which is a bluff). Killian then offers him a job, but reveals that Richards' family had been killed in a home invasion only two days after the start of the contest. With nothing left to live for, he hijacks the plane and flies it right into the Games Tower.
  • In prologue of the first The Machineries of Empire book, Kel Cheris' unit takes tremendous losses and she herself is forced to commit heresty to secure the enemy infrastructure intact - only for her superiors to pull her and her people out and bomb the entire area into oblivion.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Degrassi Junior High
    • L.D. has to deal with trauma from her mother's dying of cancer. She finally learns not to fear and distrust all things relating to health — and in Degrassi High, L.D. gets leukemia.
    • Much of Degrassi Junior High is Big Ego, Hidden Depths for Joey, who learns not to be such a lazy ass. In Degrassi High, all that talk about getting off his butt and working hard is rendered meaningless when it turns out he has dysgraphia. (It still fits his character arc, since he still has to cope with feelings of inadequacy, but it's a huge shift.)
    • The Do They Know It's Christmas Time? episode of Degrassi Junior High is about Arthur and Yick learning to stay friends even though Arthur is richer and Yick is more rebellious. The lesson sticks for the whole series. But in Degrassi High, they almost stop being friends completely for those same reasons.
    • As the resident Anti-Hero, Wheels is always getting shoved through the Heel–Face Revolving Door. More than once, he turns heel off-screen, with no warning until we're suddenly told that he's been acting this way for weeks. Second-Hand Storytelling makes the perfect tool for manipulatng the audience.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Jorah's plan to regain Daenerys' favour by presenting her with Tyrion. All he gets out of the whole adventure is a case of greyscale.
    • After sacrificing his daughter so he can resume his advance, Stannis loses everyone and everything including the battle.
    • Despite an entire season worth of effort, Myrcella dies anyway.
  • How I Met Your Mother ends this way: Barney and Robin get divorced after three years of marriage, Ted finally meets the Mother and is blissfully happy for eleven years until she comes down with an illness and dies in 2024, six years before he started telling the story, and the kids have realized that the story was really a way to ask them for approval to chase Robin AGAIN.
  • On Hawaii Five-0 a girl is seemingly kidnapped by her boyfriend who killed her father. The team find evidence the girl was abused by her dad and the boyfriend was trying to help her. But as they dig deeper, they realize the evidence is fake and the girl was using the man to kill her father so she could inherit his million-dollar life insurance policy. The girl arranges for her dupe "boyfriend" to be killed by the cops and talks of him as a madman attacking her family. But not only does the team know the truth but in interrogation, they drop the bomb: Wanting to make sure her college education was paid for, her father stopped payments on his life insurance so the policy had lapsed. Kono openly snaps "you've got nothing" as they leave the girl to spend her life in prison.
  • 24's second season had Jack recover some of his ordinary life by the end. The third season reveals that he has completely screwed it up between seasons, becoming (among other things) a heroin addict.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Omega Glory" Captain Ronald Tracey blatantly violates the Prime Directive and gets involved on a primitive planet's war, takes Kirk and his landing party prisoner, murders their Red Shirt in cold blood and throws Kirk in with savages to die, all for the sake of getting a serum that supposedly can extend a humanoid's lifespan by centuries. Needless to say, he doesn't take it very well when Dr. McCoy discovers that the natives simply evolved that way and thus there is no serum to isolate.
  • Subverted with a vengeance in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "In the Pale Moonlight" where Sisko himself notes in his log that after violating one moral principle after another in a scheme with Garak to bring the Romulans into the Dominion war, the whole thing blew up in his face and it seemed all his moral compromises were wasted. Garak, however, refused to let his Xanatos Gambit go to waste that easily and managed to salvage it with one thoroughly brilliant and utterly criminal act of treachery.
  • On Lost, Jacob has become the Island's protector reluctantly, almost against his wish. He wants it to be different for his replacement, so he sets up an elaborate system of candidates that last for at least a few dozens if not hundred years, affecting and ending the lives of hundreds different people. Near the end it appears to pay off, as Jack takes on the job consciously and willingly. However, he then performs a Heroic Sacrifice within the following day and passes the job to Hurley, who is extremely reluctant to take it from him and even went as far as saying "Just glad it's not me" when Jack himself volunteered for the job. Jacob's entire plan eventually resulted in nothing. (though Jack's sacrifice was to stop the Big Bad that Jacob tried to keep from leaving the Island, so it did pay off... at the cost of both Jacob and Jack's lives)
    • Another example: The Oceanic 6 spend 3 years lying about the time they spend on the Island and the fates of people that they left behind, believing themselves to be protecting their friends from Charles Widmore. This causes most of them some serious guilt issues. However, it is later revealed that Widmore performed an off-screen Heel–Face Turn and, while still a big jerk, was actually on the same side as our heroes. Even then, he couldn't have possibly harmed any of the people left on the Island, as those were stuck in a completely different time period. Sorry, Hurley, the Lie was All For Nothing.
    • Could be argued that most of the characters' storylines became All For Nothing at various points through season 6, the writers just killing them off seemingly without a care for any kind of subplot they still had going on. Probably worst of all when Sun spends almost a season and a half returning to the island and finding Jin so they can return to their daughter before both simply drown.
    • John Locke's entire story arc also seemingly turned out to be All For Nothing, as he was simply a pawn in The Man In Black's game all along. However, Locke's life and death did had one major consequence: he had finally managed to convince Jack of the truth of his beliefs, thus allowing all the events of the last two seasons to happen.
  • The Mythbusters have made several very complicated myth setups, only for them to completely blow up in their faces.
    • A giant Lego ball that took hours of work of about a dozen people to make, after getting both all the blocks from Lego Land and the largest private collector, completely broke apart before it even made it halfway down the setup track.
      • This was actually a huge success as it proved that the video was a fake.
    • When they attempted to retest the JATO Rocket Car myth from their pilot episode, they wanted to give it the best possible chance of actually getting airborne, so they pulled out all the stops: spending a lot of money on a "real" rocket (instead of their original homemade version), building and reinforcing a massive ramp, installing remote controls and elaborate tow-lines so it could be launched safely. After all that effort and expense, their professionally-built rocket engine exploded when it was ignited. This was perhaps the only time since the first season that they couldn't give a verdict of "busted", "plausible", or "confirmed". As this was the "Supersized Special", they ended up calling the myth "appropriately supersized"; after all, they'd still gotten a consolatory fireball.
  • In the episode "Adam's Ribs" of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye and Trapper go through great lengths to get an order of ribs delivered from Chicago to their outfit in Korea. The moment the ribs are served and the cast is about to have dinner, casualties are arriving and they're all off to the O.R.
    • Well, they have the ribs, they'll just need to be reheated. So this is more like delayed gratification.
      • Also they forgot the cole slaw
    • There was another episode where they were so desperate for real food that they spent months growing corn. And then the cook creamed all of it.
    • In one ep, Potter was delighted by an accidentally-delivered can of tomato juice, something he hasn't had in a long while. Radar wants to get him a whole case, so he, Hawkeye and BJ engage in a load of horse-trading and just plain grief to acquire it. When they get their goods, Potter reveals that he remembered why he had gone so long without tomato juice - he's horribly allergic.
  • Merlin. Oh God, Merlin. At the inception of the series, a teenaged Merlin comes to Camelot and is made Arthur's manservant, being told repeatedly by a prophetic dragon that the two of them have a great destiny together: to unite Albion, to legalize magic, and to usher in the Golden Age. It never comes to pass. After five seasons, which amounts to ten in-show years, Arthur dies at Mordred's hands before any of this can occur. Unless you count the brief three years of Arthur and Guinevere's reign that happened entirely off-screen in the Time Skip between series 4 and 5 (in which Merlin is still a lowly servant and the druids and other magic-users still have to live in hiding), everything that Merlin ever worked, waited and hoped for comes to naught. Though given that the Distant Finale shows that Merlin is still around, and Arthur is traditionally the King in the Mountain...
  • Red Dwarf: In "Waiting for God", Lister discovers that during the 3 million years he was in stasis, the race of beings that evolved from his cat founded a religion worshipping him as "Cloister the Stupid." They then proceeded to have a holy war over whether the sacred cardboard hats at his hot dog stand were supposed to be red or blue. What makes it this trope is that according to Lister, the hats were supposed to be green.
  • This was a big part of Power Rangers Samurai. Throughout the entire season, it has been stated that the sealing symbol of the Red Ranger was the only thing that could seal Master Xandred away forever. However, when the big moment comes for it to be used, Master Xandred shrugs it off, having gained an immunity to it earlier. It's not just the build up for the sealing power that's for nothing, but the fact that Jayden kept his sister's existence hidden from his friends, as well as all of Lauren's hard work to master the sealing symbol, not to mention their father's plan that started it all. It was even lampshaded.
  • Law & Order has a case where a Jewish woman killed a man thought to have her grandfather's Nazi-confiscated coin collection. Eventually, after several false starts, red herrings, and wild goose chases, the prosecutors find out that said murder victim never possessed the collection in the first place; he said he did as a financial pretense on which to back his fortune and only knew of the collection from an old auction catalog he'd read. The murderer breaks down in tears and horror as she realizes she killed a man for nothing but a memory.
    • Played for Black Comedy in "Couples," which opens with a man dying of a heart attack while jogging with his husband. It later turns out he was poisoned and the cops go to his spouse. To their surprise, the man immediately confesses to the murder, assuming the cops already figured it out. He then starts moaning over how his lawyer just broke it to him that the state of New York refuses to acknowledge the marriage as legal and since everything was in his husband's name, he's about to lose their home and not able to inherit any money or even access accounts.
  • In the Pilot Movie of Emergency!, the thing that convinces John Gage to become a paramedic is when he rescues an electrocuted line man and because the lineman didn't get any life saving treatment to stabilize him before transport to the hospital, he was hopelessly terminal by the time he arrived. As John remarks, "Rescue, Hell. All we rescued was a corpse."
  • Doctor Who gives us "The Caves of Androzani", in which almost every action and event is rendered pointless by almost everyone dying. What's more, the only thing the Doctor was able to accomplish was saving Peri's life; meanwhile, he caused a gigantic power collapse on Androzani Major and managed to destroy one of the planet's most valuable resources.
  • Jessica Jones had the main plot deal with the protagonists trying to clear a young woman's name, who was mind-controlled by Kilgrave into murdering her parents. Jessica Jones and her allies go through dangerous lengths in order to capture him alive just to prove his powers and therefore, the girl's innocence. In the end however, he evades all their traps and the girl kills herself so Jessica can focus on killing him instead of bringing Kilgrave to justice.
  • The Wire ends like for this for Jimmy, whose fake serial killer scheme finally wrecks his police career. It did get a ruthless crime lord off the streets but it's implied it's temporary and in the greater scheme of things, it didn't make Baltimore a better place.

  • Two of Linkin Park's songs qualify: "In The End" from Hybrid Theory kind of describes this trope in the chorus through a first-person point of view; ditto with the trope's namesake from The Hunting Party.

  • Both The Fantasticks and Into the Woods do this deliberately as a Deconstruction of fairy tales. The first act is a mythic tale with beginning and end, and the second act is life going on and not ending so neatly.
  • In Henry V the titular king, unhindered by civil war, takes his "noblest English" into France and, despite overwhelming odds, defeats the French at Agincourt. Not only does he win the country (or a big chunk of it) he charmingly woos the French Princess Katherine to seal the deal and the last action has the two of them getting ready to be wed. Then the Chorus reminds the audience that, like in real life, Henry would be dead a few short years later, and his son's reign would see all those French territories lost and the country of England plunged into one of its famous and bloody civil wars.

    Video Games 
  • This trope sums up the net gain of any MMO that has shut down. Spent all that time grinding characters, farming loot, hunting achievements and making nerdy friends who you have no actual contact information with? Too bad, the servers are shut down and scrapped (or even sold on the black market as stolen personal information) and all your hard-earned progress is gone forever!
  • In The Bard's Tale Trilogy, the first two games are about saving the town of Skara Brae, while in the third game, the town is destroyed.
  • Batman: Arkham Knight has a subplot in which Batman and Robin are trying to find a cure to an infection caused by the Joker's blood, which mutates those infected into clones of the Joker, which Joker himself sent to hospitals before his death in Arkham City. One such infectee, Henry Adams, is apparently immune, and Batman believes him to be the key to a cure... but as it turns out, Henry was Evil All Along and in fact faking his immunity, and he subsequently kills the other infectees. Ultimately, there is no cure for the infection, and Batman kept Robin working on a "Shaggy Dog" Story rather than serve as an effective ally in the field; the Joker hallucination that plagues Batman throughout the game gleefully rubs in Batman's face that he went through all that trouble for nothing.
  • Call of Duty: World at War multiplayer matches often end this way:
    Sgt. Roebuck: A lot of good men died today - all for nothing!
  • In Betrayal at Krondor, the renegade moredhel Gorath goes to insane lengths to prevent his people from starting another suicidal war with the humans and by extension achieving peace between the two nations. These "insane lengths" include giving up leadership of the clan he's led for over two centuries and defecting to the humans, thus getting branded traitor and earning his people's hatred and his wife's contempt. In short, he gives up everything. By the end of the story, it is revealed that his efforts mostly only forwarded the villain's plan to get his hands on an Artifact of Doom. He lays down his life to prevent said artifact from destroying the world. Any success towards achieving peace or making his nation less war-crazed? Nada.
    • Though this was a Foregone Conclusion, since the game takes place in between two books that had already been published, with no major change to the political landscape between them.
    • There is one very delayed benefit in the last arc of the novels: Gorath's sacrifice makes it possible for the heroes to trust a delegation of Moredhel led by Gorath's youngest (And only living) son who volunteer to help keep the Dread from breaking into their universe and destroying it two centuries after his death.
  • In Dragon Quest II, most of the towns on the main continent have been destroyed, there are tougher monsters roaming the land, and there is a worse Big Bad threatening the world.
  • In Fire Emblem Fates, Hinoka pretty much voices this trope aloud during the Conquest route in which their sibling, the player-character, elects to return to the adoptive family whose patriarch murdered their father and kidnapped them from their homeland and birth family, effectively rendering her years of training to rescue them utterly pointless. On top of that, she didn't even get the satisfaction of being the one to bring you back home before you left again - you got stranded and brought back by sheer luck, only to depart of your own accord afterword for the people that stole you from her. Ouch.
    Hinoka: How could this happen?! What have I been fighting for all this time...?
  • Taken at a different angle in Grand Theft Auto V, where Trevor gets Michael and Franklin to help him steal an object of his interest from Merryweather and they succeed in the heist... only for Lester to drop in and tell them that they stole a superweapon and that Trevor intended to sell it to the Chinese. Needless to say, regardless of which approach you choose the steal the thing, Trevor gets chewed out for it pretty bad. What really drives the salt in the wound was that completing the heist without Lester's intervention would have granted the crew 20 million dollars. But looking back on it, it was probably a good idea to leave it amongst the wreckage. Doesn't make the sting less apparent, though.
    Franklin: So you mean to tell me this shit was all for nothin'? Man, it's the hood all over again. Fuck!
  • At the beginning of Knights of the Old Republic, you are on a planet trying to get past the Sith fleet that has the entire planet blockaded. Along the way, you are given chances to help people or hurt people (generally, being good costs a lot of money, while being bad gets you money, and this is the only place in the game where credits don't grow on trees). At the end of the sequence, the Sith carpet-turbolaser the entire planet, killing effectively every person you helped or hurt or didn't help or hurt in the first quarter of the game, making your decisions moot.
    • In Star Wars: The Old Republic you find out that your efforts actually helped a small group survive the orbital bombardment and they form a new society. However, as you progress in the quest line, you discover recordings that recount how the new tribe was ultimately wiped out due to radiation poisoning and constant attacks by monsters created by a plague.
    • In the sequel of the first game, the light side path has you traveling across the galaxy to locate the surviving Jedi Masters so you can recruit their aid in fighting the new Sith menace. But when you finally gather them all together, they promptly declare you to be a bigger threat than the Sith (due to your status as a Force Wound) and try to cut you off from the Force—at which point they are interrupted by Kreia who proceeds to kill them all, making your original quest completely pointless.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines becomes this in a meta example. Due to its place in the Old World of Darkness timeline, Gehenna is literally right around the corner when the game ends. Then again, White Wolf's official stance on their canon is that if we don't like an aspect of the lore, we're free to ignore it...
  • Halo:
    • The Forerunners built seven "Halo" rings, which were galactic WMDs, in order to use them as an absolute last resort against the Flood, who had conquered pretty much the entire galaxy and foiled every advanced weapon or strategy the Forerunners had tried against them. When the Forerunners fought their last stand, they activated the Halo rings and wiped out the Flood throughout the galaxy, stopping them from taking over it...the problem was that when they did it, they not only wiped out the Flood but themselves and any intelligent species remaining in the galaxy as well, making it lifeless. Fortunately, the Forerunners had planned ahead and stored as many species as they could into a safe spot located outside the galaxy, returning them to their homeworlds after the Halos were fired. 100,000 years later, some of the Flood specimens the Forerunners had kept in storage began to break out of containment, and it took a desperate gamble by the good guys to prevent the Forerunners' sacrifice from becoming all for nothing.
    • Halo 4's terminals reveal that the Ur-Didact was sealed into a Cryptum in the hopes that prolonged meditation would restore his sanity. However, as detailed in The Forerunner Saga, he would need access to the Domain during his slumber to help heal his mind; instead, the Domain ended up being destroyed when the Halos were fired. The result? The guy had nothing but his madness to dwell on for 100,000 years, which meant that he was still insane when he was finally released.
  • Deponia Doomsday, the fourth installment in the Deponia series, could very well be a textbook example. After spending the whole game trying to undo what happened in the end of Goodbye Deponia, all he did not only was undone, it might have even made things worse for him and others.
  • Mass Effect 3:
    • James Vega's backstory; he sacrificed a colony to get crucial information that might help defeat the Collectors, only for Commander Shepard to do it him/herself, and make the sacrifice meaningless. This story got expanded into a fully fledged animated movie, Mass Effect: Paragon Lost, which shows just what Vega went through during that incident.
      • Ironically, it's not that pointless; DLC reveals that some of the Collectors were stranded from their base when it exploded, and it's implied that the intel helped them integrate with the alliance. But then they proceed to murder everyone in their last stands and die alone, since they're all loveless mutants anyway. Yay.
    • The Geth being largely peaceful makes the entire Quarian-Geth war completely pointless. Unusually, getting the Quarians to realize this trope is actually the best thing that can happen, as it means peace is an option.
      • Additionally, forcing the two groups to make peace (essentially allowing them to rebuild the Quarian homeworld together) is essentially rendered moot if one picks the "Destroy" option at the game's end (as all of the geth are destroyed, anyway).
      • You can go further and wipe out both civilizations, turning Rannoch into a wasteland. Symbolically, this means that Shepard's final solution to the entire reaper conflict is for all sentient beings to just accept death and stop all the suffering. You Bastard.
    • A lot of angst for all characters comes from the knowledge that everything the Protheans did to win their war ultimately failed to prevent their extinction, and that there is every chance the same thing would happen in their cycle. One of the characters actually prepares knowledge for the next cycle in case they fail, and in one of the endings, it is the next cycle, not the present one, which ends up ending the threat of the Reapers.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition: In the Trespasser DLC, after saving both Ferelden (basically Medieval England) and Orlais (Medieval France) from smaller machinations of the main villain as well as saving the world twice and now finding out that the means by which the main character did all this is also killing them, both royal houses, which owe their continued existence to you, decide you're too powerful to be left alone and want to disband the Inquisition. The Precision F-Strike by the main character describes how futile their efforts were.
    Inquisitor: DAMN IT! We save Ferelden, and they're angry. We save Orlais, and they're angry! We close the Breach twice, and my own hand wants to kill me! Could one thing in this FUCKING world just stay fixed?!
    • Made even worse when you discover that the god who erected the barrier between the real world and the dream world where all the magical creatures exist now means to tear it down and basically wreck everything all three protagonists from the last three games have worked so hard, some even dying, to save.
  • Four examples in the God of War Series:
    • The original game and its prequel Chains of Olympus have Kratos doing various tasks for the gods in exchange for freedom from the nightmares caused by him murdering his wife and child in blind rage. As it turns out, they never explicitly said they would do that, only that he would be forgiven for his sins, making ten years of servitude completely pointless.
    • Another in the first game; while fighting Ares, the God of War traps Kratos in a separate dimension where his family is attacked by dopplegangers of him. He succeeds in defending his family, only for Ares to rip his weapons out of his forearms and kill his wife and child again. Although, it is possible that Lysandra and Calliope were just magic duplicates and thus had no chance of living at all, but the effort is still in vain.
    • In Chains of Olympus, Kratos spends most of it chasing after his daughter in the Underworld, even going so far as to give up his weapons, magic, and appearance. Then Persephone comes along and reveals that the world is about to end, and the only way for Kratos to save it is to sacrifice being with the child he fought so hard to be reunited with. Also, the game doesn't do this in a cutscene. You must take control and drive Kratos away from his beloved daughter. Talk about cruel.
    • In God of War III, Athena tells Kratos he must open Pandora's Box to destroy Zeus and spends the game trying to get to it and extinguishing the lethal flame guarding it. He rescues its namesake with the intention of offering her to the flame, but he has a change of heart and cannot go through with it. Then Zeus appears, and after the first of three final boss fights, Pandora runs to the flames. Kratos catches her and tries to prevent her from getting sucked in, but Zeus pisses him off so much he releases Pandora to tackle Zeus. The flames are gone, Pandora is dust, and Kratos opens the box to reveal... Nothing. It's empty, rendering pretty much the entire game and the Pandora plotline moot. The soundtrack for this moment is even called "All for Nothing".
  • Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number: no matter what you did, in the end nothing matters as Miami gets nuked by Russia.
  • Sums up the whole story arc of Litchi Faye-Ling up to BlazBlue Central Fiction. This lady did everything she could to save her dear friend Lotte Carmine. Up including leaving her potential position as a prestigious scientist in Sector Seven for a position of a lowly doctor in a normal town (that she came to love genuinely), inflict herself with the same corruption inflicting him that it's doing a number to her body, go join two Obviously Evil people that she didn't even trust for the sake of more information of how to save him (even when her other friends call her foolish for pursuing such ideals) and by that game, somehow she managed to find that one method to do it safely and reunited with him while being lucid and sane... and then Lotte himself revealed that he was one step ahead, already knew that method and chose by his own will not to get cured, then told Litchi to do what she should have done in the beginning: Kill his corrupted form Arakune. Which means all those risky decisions and getting herself being known as a reckless, selfish idiot by others were all for nothing.
  • Persona 5: Haru joins the Phantom Thieves because she wants to atone for her father's actions and redeem him. This ends up for naught as her father is murdered by The Conspiracy and Haru spends the rest of the game having to cope with the guilt.
  • Tales of Berseria has its Wham Episode cause one of the main characters to think this way. Velvet learns that her brother Laphicet was a willing sacrifice instead of being murdered by Artorius. And throughout the game, Velvet was remorselessly killing people and leveling cities in order to avenge him, which has now been rendered pointless. This realization causes Velvet to completely lose it.
  • In Ultima VI, the Avatar prevents the complete fulfillment of the False Prophet prophecy, as the Gargoyle world is not destroyed, and peace is established between Britannia and the Gargoyles. In Ultima IX, the Avatar destroys the Gargoyle colony Ambrosia, fulfilling the prophecy anyway.

     Web Comics 
  • In Girl Genius Lady Margarella Selnikov kidnaps a monk and forces him to lead her through the vaults of his monastery, which contain various confiscated mad science inventions. When what's in one vault does not match her guide book, she panics and begins opening all the vaults in an effort to find it, eventually releasing The Beast, which kills her. We later learn she wasn't even in the right vaults to begin with, rendering her death and the damage caused by The Beast all for nothing.

    Web Original 
  • The possibility is considerd by Gaea in Noob: La Quête Légendaire, where the Cliffhanger from the previous movie could cause a Game Over in the fictional MMORPG in which the story is set. Gaea has just recently accomplished something that took four years of preperation and is hence worried about having it all vanish in just a few days.
  • SCP Foundation: Despite everything The Foundation has done and will continue to do to keep humanity safe, there are some things that they simply can't do anything to stop. Sooner or later, something is going to cause The End of the World as We Know It.
  • PBG Hardcore:
    • Most series end with the cast failing to achieve their goal as the last men standing are killed off. The only exceptions to date are Minecraft #1, Diablo II, and Minecraft #4.
    • In Minecraft #5, Ray, Dean and McJones risk their lives finding Nether Wart, ultimately dying in the process. When Jeff, who eventually becomes the Sole Survivor, tries to make potions in episode 22, he doesn't know how to do so and is unwilling to look it up. So he decides not to bother, rendering the hunt for the Nether Wart pointless.

    Western Animation 
  • In Wakfu, Nox committed atrocities to collect wakfu to be able to turn back time and save his family, believing everything he had down would be undone by saving them and eliminating his reason and means to do so. He succeeds in turning back time, but only twenty minutes. Upon realizing how horrible he's been and that there isn't enough wakfu in the world to take him back two hundred years, he teleports away and dies.
  • In the final fourth of the second season of W.I.T.C.H., after Phobos defeats Narissa and regains his status as the Big Bad, he reconquers Meridian and begins planning to conquer Kandracar as well. This was all actually part of a complex Batman Gambit set up by Will. Knowing Phobos would betray them but still required his help to defeat Narissa (only a member of the royal family could forcibly take the Seal of Narissa from her), Will made him swear on the power of Kandracar to return the Hearts of Meridian and Dumbala upon getting the Seal from Narissa before releasing him. The vow acted as a mystic contract and if Phobos were to set foot on Kandracar with malicious designs, he would mystically forfeit everything he claimed since defeating Narissa. To accommodate the plan, the guardians deliberately allowed him to reconquer Meridian and even forfeited the battle for Kandracar (Phobos only willing to set foot on a conquered territory). However, just before the vow was broken, Lord Cedric pulled a Starscream and devoured Phobos, using Exact Words to claim all his powers and conquests (Phobos granted him a 'fraction' of his power for the battle, and Cedric used it to claim 4/4's, as in all of it). Since Cedric didn't make a vow, he gets to keep everything, meaning that not only did Will's plan fail, but the guardians had allowed Meridian and Kandracar to fall into enemy hands for nothing.
  • In The Adventures of Puss in Boots, the group spend a small arc trying to track down clues to lead them to an artifact known as the "Obelisk of Night". After helping out the person said to have it, they find that he just has a replica of it and points them to where the real obelisk is found; the group's home town of San Lorenzo.
  • In The Simpsons, Barney decides to sober up after becoming horrified when he sees a video of what he's like when he's drunk. He joins Alcoholics Anonymous, and actually stays sober for some time after that episode (usually drinking coffee rather than beer). He eventually relapsed, however.
    • Homer and Apu travel to India to meet the head of the Kwik-E Mart, only for Homer to accidentally ruin Apu's chance of getting his job back.
  • Samurai Jack: Played for laughs in season five. The High Priestess of Aku believes that Aku has abandoned her, and will do anything to hear his voice again. To that end, she births half a dozen daughters, raises them to be killing machines, and sends them to kill Samurai Jack and win Aku's favor again. Not only is Aku completely unaware of all this, but it's demonstrated throughout the season that it's very easy to contact Aku—dialing zero on any phone will get you an operator who will be happy to connect you to him in seconds. In the end, most of the Daughters are killed, and the last one ends up joining Jack and killing the High Priestess. Again, this all happens without Aku even noticing.
  • This tends to be a frequent twist in the theatrical Popeye cartoons.
    • "Clean Shaven Man" - Popeye and Bluto overhear Olive singing that she prefers a man who is nicely groomed, and go to the barbershop to fix themselves up. But with the barber out, they end up doing it themselves, but Bluto cheats, and sabotages Popeye's chances. After the inevitable fight, the find Olive is now going out with Geezil (a recurring character from the comics with a long, black beard).
    • "Females is Fickle" - Olive's pet goldfish jumps in the sea, and she makes Popeye go in after him. After he goes through a lot of trouble to get him back, Olive decides the fish would be happier freed and tosses him back in the sea. Enraged, Popeye throws her into the sea as well.
    • "Puttin on the Act" - Popeye and Olive read in the paper that vaudeville is making a comeback, so they decide to bring back their old act, and the rest of the cartoon is about their rehearsal. At the end, after the two perform a very dangerous act, Swee'pea notices something on their newspaper and shows it to them. The paper was dated for 1898!
  • In the Family Guy special "And Then There Were Fewer", Diana's plan for revenge was to kill James Woods, her ex, and frame it on Tom Tucker, her former co-anchor, with the deaths of a few side and recurring characters as by-products of the plan. In the end, the main goals of her scheme were for naught as Tom was cleared of the framing and it was revealed later on that James Woods was revived by top-secret Hollywood medicine, meaning the only things she accomplished were killing a few recurring characters, with her herself being killed by Stewie to saved Lois who learned about Diana's plot.