Barely Missed Cushion

Pillows? Closed Dumpster.
A common animated gag, based on subverting expectations.

A character is falling from a large height; this is going to hurt. Luckily, there's a soft object that will break his fall.

Unluckily, the character then falls right next to the object, onto something hard. Usually, the camera will initially show the cushion in the center of the screen and then pan to the side as soon as the unlucky person falls.

In a variant, there's another person waiting to catch the falling person, and the catcher misses.

Examples:

Comic Books
  • In one Iznogoud story, the titular great vizier and the Caliph both wind up on a sled, descending a slope at high speed towards a building.
    Narrator: Fortunately, there is a door. And fortunately, it is open.
    Next panel: Sled crashes to the right of the door, Iznogoud cushioning for the Caliph
    Narrator: Unfortunately, it's a little to the left.

Film
  • In the Get Smart movie, when about to land after a big skydiving scene, Max tells Agent 99 to aim for the haystack because it's softer. She ignores him and they land on the ground next to it.
  • In Freaked, Stewie Gluck falls out an airplane and smacks into the ground a few feet from a giant hay pile.
  • The Great Race - Professor Fate flees a high-up boardroom by arranging for his flunky Max to be waiting below in a car with a trampoline fixed to it. He lands perfectly, but bounces high, Max takes off at that point, and...

Live-Action TV
  • Mac has a variation of this in one of his Project Badass clips in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He actually does land on the mattress. He just bounces off and lands on the street a couple of feet below, still managing to hurt himself.
  • A trailer for a BBC sketch show showed a man falling off a roof, with a lorry below marked "Soft and Fluffy". Then it pulled away, and another one marked "Sharp Porcelain Objects Inc." took its place.
  • Stevie from Malcolm in the Middle hits a massive ramp and gets launched into the air. Quick cut to a man raking a huge pile of leaves in his yard, and then Stevie crashes into a tree trunk in the background.
  • Get Smart: A KAOS agent fell victim of this trope at the end of a Courtroom Episode when he jumped off a window after his plan to discredit key witness Maxwell Smart was foiled. Notably this is the first time Max used his "missed it by that much" Catch Phrase.

Web Comics
  • In Sluggy Freelance :: 4U City Red, Riff and alt-Rammer fall onto a dumpster of pillows. A closed dumpster. With a metal lid. Alt-Torg later lampshades this trope.

Web Original
  • Subverted in the Homestar Runner cartoon "A Death-Defying Decemberween". Homestar declares he's going to sled down the Steep Deep, not so much a hill as a vertical cliff face, but Strong Bad catches him burying a mattress at the foot of it, apparently to cushion his fall. Strong Bad naturally removes the mattress in the hopes of Homestar getting hilariously maimed on impact, but to everyone's amazement - Homestar's included - he makes it to the bottom without a scratch. As it turns out, the mattress was filled with "hammers, broken glass, and candy canes sucked down 'til they're all pointy," and Homestar was banking on getting hilariously maimed so he wouldn't have to spend Decemberween visiting Marzipan's parents.

Western Animation
  • The Johnny Bravo episode "A Star is Bruised":. Johnny the stuntman falls right next to the big air-cushion (after it seemed like this would be the end of his series of painful accidents).
  • Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, episode "A Plain Shortage of Planes": Seeing Dick Dastardly fall, Muttley quickly sets up a water-filled inflatable pool, then snickers as this trope happens to Dastardly.
  • Used as a Running Gag in The Fairly OddParents whenever Crocker (or Timmy) enters the "Crocker Cave". Each time he ends up missing the mattress he was supposed to land on and moves it over to where he was.
  • This happens to Yosemite Sam in the Looney Tunes short High Diving Hare. It's especially playing with expectations because throughout the skit he usually lands in the water.
  • There's at least one Goofy cartoon where he keeps trying to open his parachute as he falls, but it pops out after he's already hit the ground.
  • The Simpsons:
    • When sneaking out of work to go on the Duff Brewery tour, Homer perfectly hits the mattress attached to the top of his car... or at least he would have, if Barney hadn't driven forward about 8 feet to look at something he thought was Diana, Princess of Wales.
    • In one episode, Barney is subject to a series of three or four nasty injuries based on an industry of soft items - e.g., falling onto the roof of a mattress company, then being run over by a truck carrying pillows, etc.
    • When Krusty faked his death to escape the Intimidating Revenue Service, he jumped off a plane to fall on a net. He hit one of the rocks the net was tied to before hitting the net.
    • Played with in "Homer the Heretic" with Ned, trying to help the unconscious Homer out of his burning house, tosses his mattress out the window so he can throw the man down to the ground safely. Homer does hit the mattress, only to have it spring him back up and into the burning house.
  • Played with in the Futurama episode "Bendin' in the Wind". As Bender is falling, he cries, "Someone fat get in my way!" The camera is focused on a fat guy on the bottom, but Bender lands instead on the skinny woman next to him.
  • In one of the Wile E Coyote And The Roadrunner cartoons, Wile E. decides to be Crazy-Prepared and put a trampoline at the bottom of a cliff so that he lands safely when he falls. Sometimes he misses. Sometimes he hits the trampoline but simply rips through the canvas and hits the ground. Sometimes the canvas separates from the frame and wraps around him. Once, the trampoline worked perfectly, only for him to hit his head on an overhang, fall on the ground next to the trampoline, then get hit again when the dislodged overhang fell on him.
  • One Dexter's Laboratory episode begins with Dexter entering his lab by dropping in through a tube and landing next to a chair. He drags it into its proper place, muttering about Dee Dee moving it again.