An awareness campaign about child dyslexia showed a young boy sitting listlessly through a prizegiving ceremony at school, aware that he hasn't done well enough in any of his classes to receive a prize. Suddenly, his name is called, and he discovers he's won a prize for art and design (the only subject that involves little reading and writing) - then finds out his prize is a book token.
British charity St John Ambulance, which trains people in first aid and provides voluntary first-aiders in the community, ran an advert showing a father undergoing cancer treatment. He survives, but then at the party intended to welcome him home from the hospital, he chokes to death because no one knows how to do first aid. The intended message was that the death rate from cancer is only slightly higher than that for people who could have been saved by basic first aid knowledge.
Anime and Manga
Paranoia Agent. Just one example: was it really necessary to kill Kozuka just to prove he wasn't Shonen Bat/Lil' Slugger? Maybe, maybe not. But he would've committed suicide anyway. Have a nice day!
Despite being a really infamous hentai, the animated version of the eroguro visual novel Euphoria, ends with all the main characters actually surviving the game and finally getting out of the final room, but right after the credits the main protagonist is turned into a reasonless sex slave dog, alongside his now pregnant girlfriend, by the other lover of the protagonist, and to make things worse, she was actually the scientist that created the game all along. And not only that but, in the very last scene we see the corpses of the rest of the cast, that were killed off in nasty and horrible ways, from decapitation to getting crucified under water. Talk about a cruel ending.
Many episodes of Kino's Journey follow this. One episode where Kino helps a stranded group of people survive a harsh winter, we found out they were slave traders who had eaten their previous haul and look to enslave Kino to make up for it. Another episode has Kino visiting neighboring countries who used to constantly be at war. When Kino asks how they achieved peace, she finds the opposing countries have made their battles into a game in which both countries see who can slaughter the most inhabitants of an adjacent defenseless village. In another episode Kino finds a country so likable that Kino nearly breaks the three day rule of staying in one place, yet the townsfolk mysteriously refuse to let her stay longer. When Kino leaves, the next day she wakes up to find the country destroyed by a nearby erupted volcano.
The Naru Taru manga, ends with Shiina's mother being killed, her best friend killing herself, her boyfriend dying of cancer, her monster partner dying, and then Shiina fully realizes her God powers and decides to destroy the entire planet and reboot the world with her and another girl's children. And this is AFTER they've defeated the Big Bad.
The three-chapter manga School Mermaid ends with the protagonist watching in horror as her best friend eats their mermaid-ified classmate, and is then coolly informed that she, the protagonist, will be turned into a mindless mermaid herself, and is dragged screaming by the other mermaids through the floor—her last sight being her best friend smiling cruelly at her with blood dripping out the corner of her mouth. The final few pages, focusing on the best friend, reveal that in a few days time, she'll kill and eat the protagonist too.
Hell Girl: Midsummer Chart. The main character of this episode works at a food store and is depicted as a self centered jerk who gets angry at nearly everything, planning to send people who've aggravated him to hell for petty reasons (including one guy just for dating the girl he was lusting after). He draws violent comics about these people. Mid episode, he meets a girl who he seems to have chemistry with, and though he starts to draw self obsessed Wish Fulfillment comics about her as well he is shown to actually start caring about someone else's feelings. He enters these comics into a contest and actually wins. On a bike ride home he notices the girl who lusted after trying to jump off a bridge. In a Heel-Face Turn, he turns back around immediately to try to save her. She tells him her boyfriend played her and 3 other girls as well. He comforts her and walks her home, afterward he vows to send her ex to hell for what he did to her and the three other girls, feeling that it's wrong to break a girls heart. But he can't, because HE is being sent to hell by the girl who he just saved. She regrets telling him about what happened and fears that he'll tell everyone.
Another episode revolves around a girl about to use the Hell Correspondence to punish an evil old woman who's holding her dogs and the puppies one of them had hostage (and has already killed one of the dogs) in exchange for making the girl her slave. Meanwhile, Hajime tracks her down to try and stop her from doing so. In the end, the police storm the woman's house and arrest her, and it seems like Hajime succeeded...until the girl discovers that the killed the second dog and all of the puppies, and pulls the string on her curse doll anyway, damning both the old woman and herself to Hell.
Shoujo horror anthology Zekkyou Gakkyuu makes heavy use of these as well. One of the earlier examples being The Kind Mama's house, in which the child protagonist discovers her online-friend, "Mama," is apparently stalking her and plans to kill her mother so she can be the protagonist's "real" mother. She manages to rescue her mother and demands Mama go away, and she does...Only to show up in the protagonist's house days later, having decided to simply kidnap the girl, just like she did numerous others before her.
The post-apoc manga Meteor ends like this. Throughout the entire series, characters try to find food, shelter, locate their families...and most die before they can achieve this. Then the few survivors left reach a village, but everyone there starts to go insane. Then some government officials arrive and say there was no end of the world, but the town and the village were used as experiment-grounds for new weapons and drugs, and that the seemingly-insane people will be given proper treatment in their hospital. But the protagonist wants to take the sweet little boy, who went insane and ran off earlier, with them, and she and The Libby go to find him. But in trying to catch him, the protagonist and the little boy fall off a cliff, becoming gravely-injured. The protagonist calls up at The Libby to help them...only for the girl to run back to the rescue-helicopters and lie that both the protagonist and the boy went crazy and died. The manga ends with the protagonist screaming and crying for help as the last of the rescuers leave before sadly accepting her and the boy's fates as they slowly bleed to death,
Viewers of Saikano often comment that if you want a happy ending to the series you should stop after Shuji and Chise skip town and go on the run from the military, because the final three episodes go quickly, horribly and tragically downhill after that.
Tharg's Future Shocks from 2000 AD typically end with these twists. Some of the more interesting ones include:
In an issue of the Disney Adventure magazine, there's a Choose Your Own Adventure story that takes place during the voyage to Treasure Planet. The worst of three endings results in Flint's map being eaten by a space octopus, thereby putting the whole story of the movie to a grinding halt. Ouch.
One issue of Star Wars Tales featured the story of a Jedi Master who ignored her orders to return to Coruscant at the start of the Clone Wars, having become embroiled in the pursuit of a Dark Jedi named Kardem, a serial killer who targets Twi'lek women and also murdered her secret lover. Eventually she comes face to face with Kardem and engages him in a lightsaber duel. As it transpires, she is the real killer, having caught her lover in the arms of a Twi'lek woman and murdered them both in a secret rage. She created the Kardem personality to reconcile her actions with her breach of the Jedi code, but it takes control whenever she encounters a female Twi'lek. The "Dark Jedi" she encounters is actually a Jedi knight dispatched by the council to bring her in. As soon as she kills him, she regains consciousness, assuming that Kardem has struck again and killed a Jedi knight, and resolves never to stop until the killer is brought to justice.
This happens in X-Men: Messiah Complex. The heroes have the baby, Cable is going into the future to raise her and hopefully save mutants one day, and suddenly Bishop gets up and shoots Cable in the head! But wait, he already started travelling through time, meaning the bullet passes through him and hits Professor X right in the head instead. The comic ends with Scott Summers saying the X-Men are dead. However, this ends up being a subversion in another series shortly after where we find out his body disappeared in the last panel because of one of the other mutants there and his life is saved.
In Time Masters, a ragtag bunch of space travelers are thrown back in time 60 years by an Omniscient Council of Vagueness made up of space aliens. Turns out that the little boy, Piel, is actually one and the same with Silbad, the cheerful old man with them, and they just represent two different times in his life. Silbad has a Burial in Space all because the aliens felt it was right. Unnecessarily cruel?
One arc of You Got HaruhiRolled! ends with Emiri having joined the Anti-SOS Brigade, giving them enough strength to kill all of the good guys except for Kyon and his family, and dooming the entire world. And all because Kyon told Emiri to Be Herself. It's retconned away in the next chapter due to Negative Continuity, but still... ouch.
The Powerpuff Girls fic Immortality Relapse which actually gave two cruel twists, one for the first story Immortality Syndrome and one for its own The first comes midway though the story when Bubbles accidentally splashes some Antidote X on a revived Butch. This negates the murderous tendencies that came from being killed and revived when the Puffs were recreated. but Bubbles goes into shock when she realizes in the first story they managed to subdue Buttercup that way and Buttercup was trying to warn them before she was killed again in hopes of fixing the problem. But that pales in comparison to The ending when it looks like they had stopped Boomer from activating his doomsday machine. But he remains alive long enough to turn it on and kill everyone on the planet. Some last minute actions by the Professor allowed Bubble to be revived but she now the last living being alone on Earth.
At the end of extremely cynical WWII movie Play Dirty, the two British spies, after narrowly escaping a botched sabotage mission against the Germans that got their entire unit killed, are trapped in a German house. Fortunately, they're saved when the Allies take over the city - except they're still disguised as German soldiers and promptly get shot by a trigger-happy Brit, who marches off into the sunset. The most jarring thing about it is how sudden it is. No buildup, no dramatic ending. Just cheery music, gunshots, more cheery music, roll credits.
Even worse: in Night of the Living Dead, it's deliberately left unclear whether the protagonist was actually mistaken for a zombie, or if the rednecks saving the day just saw a good opportunity to shoot a black guy without a fear of punishment.
And in the remake, the black guy really was a zombie, while the Jerk Ass who'd left the others to die spoke when the heroine found him, proving himself to be alive. She shot him anyway, as payback.
Screamers: The last survivor escapes the planet after a number of horrifying revelations (and gruesome deaths) and falls asleep, safe at last... turns out, the teddy bear he kept as a souvenir is also a Screamer.
The movie was based off of Philip K. Dick's "Second Variety", where the girl the protagonist saved was actually one of the Second Variety robots, but that story straddles the line between Cruel Twist Ending and Karmic Twist Ending, with its closing revelation that the robots, once they destroy humanity, are already preparing to destroy one another.
The sequel reveals that the last survivor deliberately caused his ship to burn up in Earth's atmosphere. Possibly a case of Heroic Sacrifice, although the true cause is not revealed. Plus, he fails to tell anyone about the new varieties of screamers. And the sequels ends with our heroine (the daughter of the hero from the original), leading a really advanced, humanlike screamer to Earth. And she's pregnant with his bladed robot offspring.
Time Bandits You think it's all over with a nice Was It All a Dream? The Wizard of Oz type ending- then the parents open the microwave "Mum, Dad! It's Evil, Don't Touch It!" So of course they touch it- BOOM!! smoke rises from two black spots where the kid's parents used to be. End film.
In The Orphanage, it turns out at the end that the protagonist's child, who vanished early in the film and inspired a long and arduous search effort, was accidentally locked in a secret room in the basement and died there. Then again, the protagonist seems relatively happy when she kills herself and becomes matron of an orphanage of ghost children.
In The Mist the main characters leave the doomed grocery store in a car. When the car runs out of gas, the father takes a pistol, and shoots everyone in the car, including his own son. Out of bullets and unable to kill himself, he notices the mist dissipating, and hears a strange noise which turns out to be the military, destroying the monsters. So, if he had waited literally one minute before killing everyone, they all would have survived.
What makes it worse was the realization that one of the objects in the background of the reveal scene is army-standard temporary housing. They weren't being followed by the military, they were driving through a military outpost!
In the original novel, it ends with the dad, son and some extras having fled the grocery store to an uncertain fate.
One film critic was so bothered by the ending that he spoiled it (with ample warning) in his review to keep people from being blindsided by it.
Canyon is a similar example. The female protagonist performs a mercy killing on her dying husband, only to have a rescue chopper appear seconds after he dies.
And in the Our Werewolves Are Different flick Mulberry Street, the protagonists discover that the infected rat-people become human again at sunrise just minutes after they finish killing off their own rabid-rodent loved ones in self-defense.
In Right at Your Door, the main character spends the entire film scrupulously keeping his home sealed from the toxic ash outside his house, only to be told by The Government that actually, this just incubated the virus, making him doomed to Death by Irony. Then they cart away his wife, hit him on the head, and suffocate him.
In Fallen, Denzel Washington's character sacrifices his life to destroy the eponymous villain. The villain escapes at the last minute; this was foreshadowed in the opening of the movie. Not to mention that Denzel's reputation is completely destroyed, he'll be remembered as a psychotic cop killer who murdered his own friend. It's also implied heavily that Azazel will spend the rest of his son's life hunting him in order to visit the same fate upon him.
The ending twist in Murder by Numbers seems a heckuva lot like one of these. Yay! The evil villain who reminded Cassie of her abusive husband has met his richly deserved death! Justin's turned to the side of good! He was just a misunderstood and lonely teenaged boy! PSYCH. It was him all along, sorry. Have fun in prison. (Though it's not exactly a twist at all if you have enough knowledge of foreshadowing and/or the Leopold and Loeb case. Which, sadly, did not end in a shootout in an abandoned cabin.)
The Count Yorga series loved these in its movies despite all the heroes' efforts and killing the title character. Endings are as followed...
In the first movie Two of the male protagonists are dead and the last one finds the damsel with Yorga. He manages to stake Yorga (albeit accidentally) and saves the girl. However even with Yorga dead, his victims don't go back to normal. Meaning a female friend who was turned by Yorga is stuck forever as a vampire. She and another vampire bride come after the two but the protagonist chases them off with a cross. No sooner then when he turns around however, the girl he saved reveals she's now a vampire and lunges at him. The last shot of the movie is the bloodied face of the protagonist from the aftermath of the feeding.
The sequel once again had nearly all the rescuers dead and a number of their female friends vampires and under Yorga's command. The last rescuer is able to find the girl and they try to escape. Only to be cornered by Yorga, he takes the girl and leaves his vampire brides to finish the rescuer. Just as Yorga is about to bite the girl, the rescuer escapes and chases the two to the balcony. A fight ensues where Yorga is staked and killed. All seems well and the girl hugs her rescuer, however she pulls back and sees that he's deathly pale and has bite marks on his face (apparently having been bitten by the brides and the vampirism just now taking hold). Instantly he forgets about rescuing her and goes for her neck, dooming her to become a vampire, what he was trying keep Yorga from doing not seconds ago.
Carnosaur. The protagonists manage to defeat all the dinosaurs threatening their town and kill the Mad Scientist who unleashed them. Government agents and soldiers burst in, execute them all, and burn the town to the ground to prevent news of the incident from spreading.
Return of the Living Dead. The protagonists evade the zombies and send a message to the military, asking for help. The town gets nuked in response.
Worse yet, it's implied that the zombie infection is now going to spread via the nuclear fallout. That's right: even nukes can't stop it.
The UK Ending to The Descent. Sarah merely hallucinated escaping the cave; there is no exit. All along the characters have only been descending further down, without any way out. Waking up right where she lost consciousness, Sarah goes on to imagine her dead daughter sitting in front of her with a birthday cake, as the crawlers are homing in on Sarah to eat her alive.
The Descent: Part 2. One character escapes the caves alive, but then out of nowhere, a minor character appears, knocks her out with a shovel, and drags her back to the cave. The best explanation critics have come up with for this Shocking Swerve is that it's a Sequel Hook.
The Cavern. The two remaining survivors find a leaf, which they try to use to get out of the cave and call for help, only for them to be dragged back in by Petr, and later towards the end of the film, he brutally kills one of them and rapes the other, with the film ending right there.
The Crazies. By the time the movie's over, the two surviving residents of Ogden Marsh have been through hell and back just to survive the events of the movie, watching every single one of their family and friends die. The movie ends with the two finally making their way to an adjacent town free of infection, only for it to be revealed that a military satellite has been watching their every move, and now the military is going to repeat the exact same "containment protocol" all over again. It's even worse than if the movie had ended with Kill 'em All.
The Bruno Mattei killer rat movie Rats: A night of Terror. It seems the protagonists have been rescued at the last moment by other people who survived the nuclear holocaust Then one removes his gas-mask revealing they're Rat-People.
The French black comedy The Red Inn is about a family of 19th century innkeepers that kill their guests to steal their money. The only guest that knows the truth is a priest that can tell nothing because he got the information during a confession he was tricked to perform. The plot devolves in a series of progressively wackier shenanigans as the priest tries to get the other guests out of the inn alive, leading said guests to think first that the priest is crazy, then that he is the serial killer. The police are called and they arrest the priest. Thankfully, they discover an older body, free the priest and arrest the innkeepers instead. In the final scene, the guests pack and leave the inn, only to fall down a ravine to their deaths when they cross a bridge the innkeepers had sabotaged earlier just in case their planned victims managed to escape.
The ending of Troll 2 was probably trying for this, but it ended up not really making any sense.
Final Destination 5. So the movie sets up the main couple overcoming a breakup and surviving Death's design and coming through stronger than ever... until it's revealed the movie is a stealth prequel to the first Final Destination and the couple dies horribly in the first movie's plane crash accident. Pretty much all the films end this way, but this one burned, considering it was a Surprisingly Improved Sequel.
Remember Me, if not for the ending, is a heartwarming tale about a man's path towards rekindling his connections to his family. What happened to him? Well, he was told by his father to go to his office one Tuesday morning. And he did. Said Tuesday was on September 11, 2001. Guess where his father's office was.
Das Boot, already a pretty horrific and depressing movie pulls a really bad case of this at the very end. The crew manages to escape from being trapped below crush depth, make it to their destination without too much trouble, and just when it seems that the nightmare is finally over, Allied bombers show up and everyone save Werner, the Chief, and one man who got rushed to the hospital just before is killed.
Identity, it appears that Ed has managed to kill Malcolm's murderous identity while sacrificing his own life and leaving only one survivor, making the movie seems like a Bitter Sweet Ending. But then it turns out that Ed had killed the wrong person, his sacrifice was in vain, and the murderous identity was still alive and he killed the Final Girl while causing Malcolm to kill one of the psychiatrists.
Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood: Evil vampire queen is defeated and the film's love interest is rescued. Except it turns out she was vampirized and was living in sunlight using sunscreen lotion. Which makes no sense considering the evil vampire queen had set her up for some sort of ritual and her and her entire clan was wiped out, so if she was vampirized why did she stand there while all her brethren were being slaughtered? Probably one of the worst examples of this trope.
In The Rapture, Sharon, a former swinger who joined a Christian cult, has a vision of her dead husband beckoning her to the desert. This is interpreted as God asking for her to wait for Him there so she can be taken up to Heaven when the Rapture happens. She and her daughter go to a desert and wait for a couple weeks, but she starts to question if the Rapture will actually happen. When Sharon runs out of food and loses her patience, she shoots her daughter, is arrested, and loses total faith in God. The twist is that the Rapture actually happens; when she and the officer who arrested her are in Purgatory, the daughter shows up and says they can get into Heaven if they love God. The officer states his love for God and goes to Heaven, but Sharon refuses to love God after what has happened to her. Her daughter then fades away asking if she knows how long she'll stay in Purgatory, and she replies "Yes... forever." Then it slowly fades to black with no music playing over the credits. The feeling you get after watching this movie is similar to getting slapped in the face.
The first movie has the main male protagonist, Josh, save his son, Dalton, who was trapped in a Dark World known as The Further. After finding their way back and Dalton returns to his body (they were astral projecting), Josh is faced by a lady ghost he had once met as a child. Josh then confronts her, affirming that he is unafraid of her. Cut to Josh's family having dinner in the kitchen while he has a conversation with the lady who had helped them. As the lady feels something amiss and grabs a camera, she is strangled to death by Josh. Josh's wife then enters the room to find the dead lady and the camera. She picks up the camera and is shocked when she sees, not a picture of Josh, but of the lady ghost. And then "Josh" grabs her by the shoulder...
Subverted by the sequel: it turns out that Josh doesn't kill Renai at the end of the first film. Elise's spirit not only forgives him for murdering her (since he was possessed by an evil spirit and was trapped in the Further), but helps him break free of his possession by killing the movie's Big Bad.
These show up in the similar Nintendo Adventure Books as well. In one particular ending, you can have Mario knock down a brick wall with a hammer you found earlier in the quest (collecting certain items is necessary in all of these books)... after reading an entire page, the wall collapses on him in the very last sentence.
Ray Nelson's short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning" (loosely adapted into the movie They Live!!) tells the story of a man who singlehandedly saves Earth from a huge alien conspiracy. Then he drops dead at eight o'clock the next morning thanks to an implanted hypnotic suggestion by the aliens.
However, the guy did manage to save the world from an extraterrestrial conspiracy on his own. Takes a bit of the sting out of it, and it was set up everywhere in the story, and obviously by the title.
Hans Christian Andersen's The Shadow. Probably not the best example since there is no huge twist in the story, only a series of small ones as it's heading towards the Downer Ending, but it definitely belongs to the Cruel Twist Ending school of storytelling.
Many of the volumes of the Vampire Hunter D novels have Downer Endings, but the end of the longest story, the 4-part Pale Fallen Angels was downright sick. Although many died, D has slain the evil vampire lord, the children are safe from the evil Guide, Taki is safe from being sacrificed and the good, evolved vampire Baron Byron Balazs is planning on forging the first links of friendship between the Nobility and mankind. Then, with no warning or preamble, a hypnotic suggestion planted in Taki causes her to attack Byron, he rips out her throat instinctively while defending himself and in his shame he hires D to kill him, which D does without hesitation. Apparently you just can't have a happy ending in this series.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, almost. The Gentleman with Thistle-down Hair intended to curse Lady Pole to die shortly after being released from his enchantment, as it is "very traditional." She gets lucky.
Never Let Me Go ends with all the efforts of both the clone protagonists and the clone-rights activists who had been working behind the scenes since before the book began being nullified and reversed after a Mad Doctor uses illegal means to create genetically perfect children, a scandal that turns the general population against cloning. This is never foreshadowed at all prior to The Reveal, and thus could qualify for Shocking Swerve as well as this.
In the short story collection, The Dark Side of the Earth, every single story except for the last one ends with a Cruel Twist Ending. The story Silent Pursuit easily takes the cake: The lead detective rides the subway one night and, out of sheer luck, sees the murderer knocking a woman unconscious on the last train. He races to get there before he can get off and a fistfight ensues, culminating in the detective throwing the murderer out of the window and into the river. He helps the victim up and, when they get off the train, they are surrounded by policemen pointing their guns at him and ordering him to let her go. Because the real murderer is dead in the river, the woman is unconscious, and he can provide no genuine alibis for the dates of the other murders, all present evidence points to him being the real murderer; and he will never be able to prove otherwise.
In Jeff Long's The Descent, capsules containing a deadly bioweapon are seeded through the sub-Pacific underground world by a genocidal Corrupt Corporate Executive. Just as it appears the capsules will remain unactivated, averting the annihilation of both the hadal natives and their defenseless human captives, their contents are unwittingly released by the only two human characters in the novel who want to spare hadal civilization.
Very common in the short stories of Charles Birkin. Examples:
The Lesson: A couple leave their young son with his uncle while they are hosting a party. The child ties up his uncle (who is drunk) and puts a plastic bag over the man's head to pretend he is an astronaut. When the parents find him, they are angry that he got drunk while taking care of their son. They decide to "teach him a lesson" by leaving him tied up while they go out - but then they get into a car accident. The badly wounded mother tries to tell hospital staff that the uncle needs help, but can only manage to say the word "bag", making the nurses think that she wants something from her handbag. Meanwhile, at home, the little boy is wondering why his uncle doesn't want to play any more ...
Marjorie's On Starlight features orphan Marjorie going horseriding with her adoptive sister, who is a cruel bully. It's hinted that something bad will happen to the sister - but instead she torments Marjorie about her dead parents, causing Marjorie to react, her horse to bolt, and throw Marjorie straight into the path of a steamroller that runs over her head.
The Mouse Hole: In occupied France during WWII, an incompetent Resistance fighter known as "The Mouse" causes an innocent man to get shot by Nazis. The Nazis soon arrive at the man's door, and his mother is forced to hide her wounded son inside the oven. However, the soldiers think she is actually hiding The Mouse in there, and light the fire. The Mouse doesn't care and just chalks it up as another death for the cause.
Hard to Get begins as a comedic story about an army officer trying and failing to seduce a beautiful woman in a restaurant. Then it's revealed they belong to a race of bloodsucking aliens that have taken over the earth, and their meal is a still-living human woman who has been tortured and trussed up to be served at the table.
T-I-M: A woman collapses in an accident at home and begs her young son to call for medical help. However, he gives the operator the wrong name, and ends up being connected to the speaking clock (a recorded service). He doesn't realize who he is talking to, and his mother lies dying on the floor unaware of what's really happening.
Spawn of Satan: A woman moves to a town where gangs have been stirring up racial hatred. There's an initial twist when we discover that her husband, who soon arrives to join her, is black. The real Cruel Twist Ending is when the woman suffers a fatal heart attack while driving, causing her to run over and kill a white child. Her husband is brutally and gruesomely lynched in revenge by the gangs.
Fairy Dust appears to be a sweet little tale about a woman reading Peter Pan to her young stepson. At the end, she convinces him that he can fly like Peter Pan, and lures him into jumping off an 80-foot balcony so that her own child can inherit the family estate.
Old Mrs Strathers: An elderly woman is paralysed and unable to speak following a severe stroke. She discovers that her son is about to be murdered by his wife, who is cheating on him. The son is poisoned, and the old lady struggles to her feet. There's a brief Hope Spot ... then she falls head-first into the fireplace. The wife and her boyfriend get away with the murder, while Mrs Strathers is horribly mutilated and is sent to a work house because there's no one left to take care of her.
In the short story Coffee by Simon Bestwick, an overworked employee is Driven to Suicide through sleep deprivation caused by drinking too much coffee and then being unable to sleep at night. However, the employee (never given a name or gender) is forced to stay at the company as a zombie, because they are not allowed to leave without an appropriate notice period. They're also disciplined for spending too much time at the coffee machine, and can't have any more coffee.
"Slowly" by Fay Woolf: A six-year-old boy has been trapped under the wreckage of a collapsed fairground ride, and rescue workers fight to free him. They do manage to get the machinery off him, but then they discover it's cut him into a pile of severed body parts, which rain down onto the rescuers.
"Megan's Law" by Jack Ketchum has this ending. The story revolves around a concerned father turning vigilante when a convicted rapist/child molester moves to the town. Eventually, the father murders the guy - and then we discover the father himself is abusing his own daughter, he just didn't want any "competition" for her.
Through Darkest America by Neil Barrett, Jr. goes over the top with this one. In this After the End scenario, large animals have gone extinct leading most meat to come from "stock" semi-feral (possessing no language skills) humans who are implied to be mentally deficient. Early in the story, the protagonist's sister is sent to "Silver Island," a government-run facility dedicated to having the best and brightest restore the wonders of the pre-catastrophic world—the thought of her flourishing there helps the protagonists to weather a series of tragedies. It is revealed at the end of the novel that the story for Silver Island is a cover—it's actual use to force those selected to breed with stock, preventing inbreeding.
Tana French's novel In the Woods. Main character homicide detective Robb and his partner Cassie have figured out who the killer is but don't have enough evidence to prove it. They set up a trap to get the killer to confess to Cassie. The trap works perfectly, Cassie plays her part brilliantly, even working the Irish equivalent of a Miranda Warning into the conversation, and they get a full confession of the entire plot on tape. Then the twist comes... the killer was the victim's teenage sister, and she's only 17, not 18 as the detectives had initially believed. This means everything she said outside the presence of her parents is inadmissible. She gets away with the murder, and the case destroys not only Robb and Cassie's careers, but their friendship as well. The book ends with Robb alone and miserable.
Once Upon a Time: "The Queen is Dead": Snow and Charming spend the whole episode searching for Rumple's Dagger before Regina and Cora Find it. They do, but then Regina and Cora appear with Snow's maid, Johanna, captive, demanding they hand over the dagger or Regina will crush Johanna's Heart. Snow gives them the dagger, and Regina put's Johanna's heart back into her body. but then Cora throws Johanna out the window, killing her anyway. Is it any wonder why snow finally retaliated and cursed Cora's Heart and tricked Regina into putting it back in, thus killing her the very next episode?
The 90s revival of The Outer Limits was so fond of this ending that the viewer could assume it would it end this way. Some notable examples: (Depressing spoilers ahead!)
"Tempests": In order to save a space colony, a man must figure out which of the two realities he's switching between are real, the seemingly perfect one or the darker one. He makes the "right" choice - and we find out that both worlds are Lotus Eater Machines. His real situation is much worse, he's cocooned by giant spiders and slowly being eaten, and as a result of his failure everyone presumably dies.
"Hearts And Minds": A group of soldiers fight the good fight against bizarre invading insectoid beasts, only to find that the "medication" given to them by their leaders is making them see their actually-human enemies as bugs. They lay down their weapons and try to talk to the enemies... who promptly kill them all, being under the influence of similar drugs and seeing our protagonists as monsters.
"Straight And Narrow": An exclusive private school brainwashes its students for use as mercenaries, similar to the movie Disturbing Behavior, which it predates. The one student who is immune to the process manages to escape and tell authorities — who prove to be alumni, and drag him back to undergo the procedure (now corrected to work on the likes of him) as the assassination he'd tried to prevent is successfully carried out.
"Quality of Mercy": A captured space pilot comforts the girl he's imprisoned with when the aliens start turning her into one of them. To give her hope, he says there's a secret reserve force waiting to strike at the aliens. Just what she wanted to hear, because she was a spy, and they're changing her back into an alien.
Apparently that wasn't enough of a Cruel Twist Ending for the writers, so they continued it in a later episode just to squash any hope the viewers had. Due to the aforementioned episode, the aliens begin winning the war. In a last-ditch effort, humanity tries to surprise attack the alien homeworld with a planet-killing WMD. The fleet is ambushed and the ship carrying the device is crippled, and everyone is killed immediately or knocked unconscious and given a fatal dose of radiation which will kill them soon. The hero manages to unmask a traitor, get to the destination and drop the bomb before his ship can be boarded. Unfortunately, the ship had been turned around whilst everyone was unconscious - the hero has just heroically ensured that the bomb was dropped on Earth! (In a bit of possibly-intentional irony, the actor playing this poor sap was Wil "Wesley Crusher" Wheaton.)
The sequel's title should also be noted - "The Light Brigade". Quite the Meaningful Name, isn't it?
"Dead Man's Switch": A fleet of alien spaceships are seen heading toward Earth. Being Genre Savvy and knowing they might be evil, a Doomsday plan with a Dead Man Switch is prepared, with 5 people in individual bunkers sharing the responsibility to prevent the doomsday plan from being enacted (should it become unnecessary) by regularly pressing a button to keep the doomsday device from turning on. The 5 people in bunkers are slowly dying because of how poorly the bunkers were made. The brief hope for peace is extinguished when a second fleet of colonization ships is found and the button pressers lose all contact. They die in their separate bunkers one by one until the last one remains. He finally decides to let it happen when he gets a message from his commander telling him they defeated the aliens with a new weapon. He stops the Doomsday Device at the last second and is told to keep pushing the button until they can disarm it. The last scene shows the aliens who used the commander as a puppet eating his brains over the glowing red ruins of DC.
"Mind Over Matter": A man creates an AI machine to reach into a female coma patient's mind to help wake her up. It's a living dream and he falls in love with her cute avatar in the dream. Occasionally during this therapy they are attacked by a grimy evil looking version of the woman he believes is the AI attempting to take over. In the end he strangles the evil woman. The patient then dies because the cute avatar was the AI all along.
This could be a justified but depressing Aesop about not assuming that physical beauty extends to spirit and personality.
"In Our Own Image": An android programmed to be a soldier who wants to live a life of peace escapes from the lab and gets a ride from a random lady he carjacks. She helps him escape and attempt to get the items he needs to remove his safeguards and be free. At the last second before he's truly free, she reveals she was one of his programmers and shuts him down. She wanted to see what he could do before she stopped him. Unfortunately for her and humanity, he had identified her beforehand, turns himself back on, kills her, and starts a robot uprising.
"Nightmare": A team for special mission is captured and interrogated on their mission to place a Doomsday Device on their foe's home planet. The aliens are interrogating them about the mission and the device and attempting to reverse engineer the device. The creator is one of the persons being interrogated, and in going over how the device is triggered activates it with an override to prevent it from being disarmed. At this point it's revealed it's all been an elaborate simulation to see how they would stand up under stress and they've been on Earth the entire time. Since they've trained so hard with the bomb they had to use the real bomb with an inactive trigger to simulate it correctly. The creator noticed and fixed it as part of her manual override. Earth-Shattering Kaboom.
This example shows the contrast between the original series and the revival. "Nightmare" is a remake of an episode from the original series which had a similar plot with the "it was a simulation" twist at the end, but didn't have the whole thing with the bomb.
"The Surrogate": A woman becomes a surrogate to a family via a private medical facility. She joins a support group for surrogate mothers there and becomes suspicious. Standard Town with a Dark Secret plot, right? Suspecting her baby will be a monster or something else she contacts an FBI agent who at first thinks she's crazy. The actual babies are never seen, and the surrogate mothers don't like to talk about them afterwards. When the big day comes and the FBI agent busts in to stop the evil birth... Only to discover the entire thing was a breeding operation for aliens. The alien's birth occurs when the alien growing in her womb eats all of her except her skin. And it's still hungry for more, ending with the FBI agent getting eaten too.
"Gettysburg": A time traveler sends three young men at a Battle of Gettysburg reenactment back to the actual battle. One of the young men was a Southern fanatic who thought the South should have won and the battle was glorious. Being in the real battle under an insane commander dying of meningitis disabuses him of the notion. The time traveler sought to teach him that Aesop, because otherwise he would shoot the first black U.S. President in 2013 when the president spoke at Gettysburg due to his Southern sympathies. The time traveler, however, dropped his device and the insane commander accidentally activated it, causing him to be transported to the future where he then shoots the president while he attempts to shoot the Lincoln reenactor.
"A New Life": This episode's premise may remind some readers of Shaymalan's The Village. Two married couples join a cult that resembles Puritanism, because their lives have become unfulfilling. The problem is, no one remembered how they reached the forest they were brought to, because the cult leader knocked everyone unconscious en route. At first, the protagonist seemed okay with his new life until the cult leader borrows his child and brands him. After the protagonist gets his son back, he panics and convinces his wife to flee from the village with him. Soon, they realize the forest's edge is blocked by a force field, and stay on the run, but their branded child was used as a tracking device. As a result, the couple was discovered by the cult leader and captured. For fleeing, the protagonist would be executed, so he helped convince his male friend (played by Jeremy Sisto) to help him escape and de-activate the force field. The plan goes well at first until the two of them find a teleporter. The protagonist's volunteers to enter, while his friend protects his wife. After entering the teleporter, the protagonist was transported to a dark room with several robed people. The people in robes? Oh they're aliens. They also claim that the forest is inside a spaceship, they've already left Earth, and they plan to use religion to encourage people to breed for the next 500 years...which is when they'll reach their destination and use the humans as slave labor. Of course, the protagonist gets killed for knowing too much, though his partner met a grisly end. The cult leader burns him at the stake to urge people not to rebel. Even better? His wife watches him get roasted.
"Breaking Point": A guy makes a time machine and travels a few days into the future, but finds out his wife is dead. Horrified, he returns to the present and tries to protect and warn her. His wife refuses to believe his stories of time travel, and eventually, he loses his temper and accidentally kills her. Anguished, declaring himself a monster, he decides she would have been better off without him, so he travels back to the day they met and kills his past self before he met her, erasing himself from existence. It was all for nothing. In the new timeline, it turned out that his wife had been contemplating suicide and meeting him that fateful day had saved her.
"First Anniversary": Two best friends are both married to kind, loving women who look like supermodels, so they think life is good. But one day, one of them goes nuts, claims that the women are monsters, then commits suicide. After the funeral, his friend is baffled, until he starts to feel revulsion whenever he's around the girls (when he tries to kiss his wife, he smells and tastes something nasty). He fears that he's losing his mind, until the girls feel they have no choice but to confess. They are really aliens that crash landed on Earth. Since they can't leave, they decided to blend in and live the rest of their lives peacefully as human women. The reason his friend called them monsters and that he's feeling disgusted by them is that prolonged contact with them causes the person to develop an immunity to their Glamour. His wife tries to persuade him that no matter what they look like, they are still the nice women they befriended and fell in love with. Sadly, when he becomes completely immune to the illusion, their true form is so hideous that he suffers a complete mental breakdown. The women move on and seduce two new guys, meaning the cycle will repeat itself roughly once a year.
"The Grid": A man on a roadtrip stops at another city and finds that an evil organization has installed the buildings with antennas that emit a mind-controlling signal as a sort of Take Over the World plot. Since the protagonist is immune, the brainwashed citizens are ordered to kill him. He escapes and returns to his hometown, intending to call the cops, only to find more antennas. His brainwashed wife shoots him.
"The Human Factor": On the first ever colony on Ganymede, a robot suddenly rigs the reactor to blow up. The robot explains that since Humans Are the Real Monsters, its logical course of action is to destroy the colony and prevent humanity from expanding beyond Earth. The crew manages to deactivate the robot and save the reactor, though all but one die in the process. The survivor receives a message from Earth. World War III broke out, and nukes have wiped out a lot of the planet (including the survivor's family). A shuttle carrying the President and other officials is heading for Ganymede and will arrive in a few months. In despair, the survivor re-rigs the reactor to blow and turns the robot back on. He tells the robot it was right, then offers to play chess to pass the time until the colony is blown to kingdom come (though this one skirts Karmic Twist Ending a bit).
It turns into an outright Cruel Twist Ending if you accept it as a true sequel to "Phobos Rising" instead of just another Clip Show episode attempting to Arc Weld unrelated episodes. Said previous episode had a true Karmic Twist Ending, as the Martian colonies destroyed each other thanks to rampant paranoia in the wake of a catastrophic event that ended up with the two factions declaring a truce, and just to twist the knife in further, the general giving the news to the sole survivors of each colony tells them that all of Earth is looking to Martian colonies as a symbol and example of cooperation and solidarity.
"Ripper": In Victorian London, a man goes on the trail of notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper. He eventually discovers that the Ripper is actually an evil Body Surfing alien. While it is in the body of an old woman, he fights and stabs it, only for the alien to exit the body and escape. The police arrive and arrest the protagonist, assuming that he is the Ripper. The alien, in a new body, visits the protagonist in the asylum and promises to find his family and kill them before leaving.
"Blank Slate": A man with amnesia is pursued by mysterious agents for the device he's carrying. A woman is caught up in the events and teams up with the man. While on the run, they slowly fall in love. Unfortunately, when his memories come back, it turns out that he was working with the bad guys before. Reverting to his original evil personality, he betrays the woman and returns the device.
"Birthright": The protagonist believes he has thwarted an alien invasion... only for the taxi driver to reveal himself as one of them and capture him. The infiltration was more widespread than he thought.
"The Voice of Reason": A man appears before a government committee to warn them about alien infiltrators. They dismiss him as a nut. Suspecting the official who opposes him the loudest is an infiltrator, the man shoots and kills him, hoping to expose his alien nature. The official was human and a complete muggle, and the man is arrested. Nearly everyone else in the committee is an alien, and they silently thank the man for getting rid of that guy, allowing them to take full control and further their invasion plans. (And this was the Clip Show. Even the clip show has a nasty ending.)
Just to twist the knife a bit further: It turns out the protagonist had managed to convince the human official that aliens could be a legitimate threat.
"A Special Edition": A guy appears on a talk show to present evidence that the government is performing illegal cloning experiments. The government cuts off their signal and sends armed thugs into the studio. The guy, cast, and crew try to escape, but are eventually captured. A clone of the guy appears and gives a fraudulent report that "disproves" the guy's evidence. The clone mocks the protagonists, claiming that the masses are stupid sheep who believe anything they hear, so his fraudulent report is already making them forget the truth. The guy, cast, and crew are all shot to death by the clone.
"Human Trials": A group of soldiers sign up for a top secret mission. To "weed out the wimps", the soldiers are placed in virtual reality simulations (the kind where you can feel everything) of battles, natural disasters, etc. Those who die, crack, or give up in the simulations are eliminated and sent home. In the end, only one soldier makes it. After the round of congratulations, he eagerly asks what his mission is. He is then informed that there was no mission; For Science!, they were looking for someone really tough so that they could use him as a guinea pig to test the limits of human endurance and willpower. He is forcibly plugged back into virtual reality and subjected to nightmarish tortures as the technicians and military officials look on with Lack of Empathy.
"Manifest Destiny": A spaceship investigates a distress call from an abandoned spaceship. While exploring it, the crew begins to grow paranoid and insane, one by one. The doctor tries to figure out what is going on, but is too late and succumbs as well. The alien virus that caused this is unknowingly sent to Earth.
Perhaps the best illustration of the difference between the two twists are two episodes of The Twilight Zone with virtually the same plot: a man manages to apparently become the last man on Earth, and finds he finally has time to read all the books he wants — until he breaks his glasses. It's the same twist in both episodes, but in one, the man is a general misanthrope who wills everyone else away, making his eventual fate karmic justice and a Karmic Twist Ending. In "Time Enough at Last", however, the man is a timid man who is ridiculed by his wife and boss for reading books, and who only survives a nuclear holocaust because he locked himself in a bank vault as the only way he could get some peace. In this case, the world just screws him over to be mean, making it a Cruel Twist Ending.
Futurama specifically references how cruel "Time Enough At Last" is by taking a parody of the episode to comically extreme lengths (e.g. his head eventually falls off) after which Bender comments that he was "cursed by his own hubris".
In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Mirror, Mirror", Kirk convinces the Spock of an alternate universe (in which the Federation is The Empire) to work for peace. In Deep Space Nine, that world is revisited, and it turns out that Spock took Kirk's advice, and succeeded... leading to the destruction of the Empire by its enemies. Humans, and presumably Vulcans, are now slaves. Later canon about the time in between the two episodes, however, explains that Spock fully expected his empire to crumble and for Vulcans and Humans to become slaves. It was all part of the plan, because he knew that Humans needed to be reminded of what it was like to be slaves, so that when they inevitably led a successful rebellion, they would become more benevolent, like the Federation he was told about.
Word of God is that the original Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode was specifically intended to mock Kirk by changing Kirk's triumph in the TOS episode "Mirror, Mirror" into a Cruel Twist Ending, thereby vilifying Kirk as the man singularly responsible for ruining the lives of all humanity in another universe. Later episodes in the mirror universe de-emphasized (or ignored altogether) this motive, making it more of a Karmic Twist Ending and then more of a standard rebellion-against-alien-oppressors situation.
Speaking of DS9, there is "Duet." Kira accuses a newly come Cardassian as a war criminal, because he has a condition linked to a particularly brutal labor camp. He tells Kira he was just a file clerk, and had nothing to do with the actual atrocities. After some investigating, they learn that he was really the camp commander, Gul Darhe'el, and the prisoner shifts into full-on space Nazi villainy. THEN the crew learn that Darhe'el is not only dead, but that he wasn't at the camp when the accident occurred, meaning he can't have that specific disease. The fake Darhe'el really was a filing clerk, who, wrought with guilt over his small part in the occupation and traumatized by what he'd seen and heard in the camp, surgically altered his appearance so that he could go on trial and force the Cardassians to admit to their crimes. Kira refuses to let him die for something he didn't do, and lets him out... just as a random Bajoran, who appeared for two minutes early in the episode, walks up and stabs him in the back. Not because he thought he was Darhe'el, but simply because he was a Cardassian. It served as harsh Character Development for Kira, who often let her resentment toward her former oppressors push her into a Knight Templar. She learns that even among a Planet of Hats of Smug Snakes, there are some who feel shame at their empire's horrendous actions. This would prove useful when she had to deal with the inner workings of Cardassian politics later in the series.
The Goosebumps episode "Calling All Creeps" plays with this. The main character flat out gives in to the villain's orders and turns his entire school into monsters because all throughout the story, he had been picked on by virtually everyone at school. Even as he was about to warn his classmates, they still made fun of him. The monsters had earlier promised he would be the kids' leader after the change, so he allows it to happenout of revenge, before turning himself into a monster. Still a Cruel Twist Ending for the main character's one friend and classmates, just not for him.
A notable exception is the Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode "The Tale of the Chameleon", featuring Tia and Tamera Mowry as the protagonist and her evil clone. The episode ends with the girl's friend being forced to decide which one is the real person - and choosing wrongly. The clone keeps her human body, while the girl is changed into a chameleon and left to drown at the bottom of a well. This episode always rates highly in fan polls.
Fear Itself heavily favored the Cruel Twist Ending route during its short run:
"The Sacrifice": A man manages to kill a vampire, freeing the last survivor of an isolated town whose inhabitants have been sacrificing their own happiness to keep the vampire at bay for centuries. Then at the last minute, it turns out that he was bitten. (This is perhaps foreshadowed, however, with the fight that shows the vampire's power to teleport and turn invisible — or, at the very least, move so fast that it might as well be — meaning that it could have bitten him at any time.)
"Family Man": An accident somehow switches the souls of an auditor and family man and a fleeing serial killer called "The Family Man", trapping them in each other's bodies. The protagonist finds himself staring down the death penalty and a world that despises him, while his family is in the hands of a monster (who, while he claims he wants to look after "his" family, is clearly a ticking time bomb from his psychosis). When the protagonist finally escapes, he makes his way to his house and engages in mortal combat with the impostor... And then he's shot dead by a policeman. But wait...! The auditor finds himself back in his own body: the process is reversed. He's saved! And then... it turns out the impostor has already murdered the protagonist's wife and son and assaulted (and probably raped) his daughter. The daughter survives and fingers him as he breaks down in sheer horror and despair. He's escaped one level of hell only to plunge headlong into an even crueler one, and there's no escape from this. One of the proposed titles of this trope was the "Family Man Twist", by the way.
Which one "New Year's Day" falls under is really up to the individual viewer. The twist: Our heroine, who has been spending the entire day trying to survive a zombie apocalypse and get to her friends' apartment, while being followed by her zombified boyfriend, turns out to have been a zombie all along. When she and her boyfriend get to her friends' apartment, they eat them.
At least "Community" gives us a warning at the start with an In Medias Res scene of the protagonist running away in fear. However, this doesn't even come close to justifying (let alone explaining) his legs being cut off by his inexplicably brainwashed wife!
"The Cutty Black Sow". A young boy's dying grandmother instructs him in a rite to ward off an evil Celtic demon that claims the souls of those who die on All Hallow's Eve. The boy obediently performs the rite, putting stones in a fire marked with the names of his family members. His Bratty Half-Pint little sister knocks the stone with his name out of the fire, which according to the myth, means that his soul will be taken by the Cutty Black Sow. The rest of the episode consists of him jumping at every sound and seeing a pair of yellow eyes through windows... until the end, where his parents come home from Grandma's funeral and his father comes up to tuck him into bed. Where's the twist? He embraces his father, relieved that it's over... and his father turns into the Cutty Black Sow. The boy is paralyzed with fear as the demon leans over him... Yeah, that's what you GET for trying to save your grandmother's soul, kid!
In another episode, an aging hippie with a broken leg and her boyfriend witness the world's chaotic nature coming to a head, with things spontaneously happening, appearing and disappearing at random. They're both amazed, but she is really excited to be seeing the nature of the very universe. So... what does the universe do? Spontaneously change around the furniture as she walks around, causing her to fall and land on her broken leg, spontaneously cause some events that make the cops come to her house, spontaneously turn on the gas on the stove, and cause the broken doorbell to cause a spark and blow up the house while she can't do anything but watch it all unfold. Pretty vindictive for random chaos.
The 2002 revival of The Twilight Zone was much more into Cruel Twist endings than Karmic Twist ones. The very first ep featured a rebel-lite teen girl destroyed by the above-mentioned sealed-off modern community with the obligatory nasty secret, and along the way helps her younger sibling become an accomplice to a fairly grisly act. There was no sci-fi in her fate, more Sopranos, and the sick twist is, in her depiction, she was no more a 'true' rebel than the oldsters in the original TZ's "Kick The Can" were really all that old. The would-be rebel many RL parents would be happy to get has some tattoos and some 'tude, and that's really about it.
There was the time travel episode where a woman decides to kill an evil dictator as an infant by posing as his nanny. The baby was Adolf Hitler, and she succeeds. However, another nanny who saw what happened replaces the baby with another child, the implication being that the new child is the Hitler we had to deal with. Which would have been a good episode, if it weren't for a very bad case of research failure. The baby Adolf is the cherished son of his proud and well-off father, who is able to afford a nanny in the first place. In fact, Hitler's father was the illegitimate son of a housemaid who may or may not have eventually married his father. In any event, Alois Schicklgruber, later Heidler, then Hitler, was not wealthy. Adolf was not his first-born (although he was the first to live past the age of three), and never had a nanny. He didn't grow up in a city, either. His father tried farming for several years, although he eventually failed.
The 1985-1987 Twilight Zone has "A Little Peace and Quiet", in which a woman finds a watch that can stop time, like in the old TZ, but uses it to stop time immediately before Soviet missiles impact her town, leaving her with a choice of being permanently stuck in a frozen world or starting time again only to be vaporized.
Tales from the Crypt. Elderly millionaire spends money to get a face transplant to look younger to attract a wife, from whom he's hiding his money to make sure she's not a Gold Digger. There are problems with this so he gets a full upper body transplant for more money. In the end he goes for the rest of them and now looks like a 22 year old bodybuilder at the cost of his wealth. Then the woman turns out to be a Gold Digger after all, and marries the bodybuilder who sold his body for the man's money.
This one has some problems. Nobody ever says that the old guy's heart or liver is bad or anything, or that his fresh new form will revert. He has a young Arnold-like body, (Arnold directed this as well), sure to open doors job-wise and never leave him wanting for companionship. His old fortune of 'only' a few million will be divided among three conspirators who can likely never trust each other. Also, the formerly old dude has learned a lesson about who to trust. I'd call his financial bilking more of an investment that paid off.
Two brothers are doctors. The younger brother pranks the older brother with a scare, but the shock causes a heart-attack that paralyzes the older brother's arm, ruining his career. Years later the older brother, seething for revenge, attacks and injects the younger brother with a drug he claims can keep a brain functional after death. The younger brother awakens, only to find that he cannot move or feel anything. The older brother decides to use the younger brother for demonstrating anatomy to his class by extracting the younger brother's brain. Right as the procedure happens it's revealed to have been an elaborate prank on the older brother's part and the drug only paralyzed the younger brother for a short while, and he was never in any real danger. The prank causes the younger brother to have a heart-attack, which the older brother tries to stop by using a larger dose of the drug. The drug is then revealed to actually work; it DOES keep the brain alive after the body has been pronounced dead. Only now this time it's for real and the younger brother is now fully conscious, aware, and helpless as a pair of medical technicians are about to cut open his head to remove his brain. A kicker: it's revealed that the sense of touch is the LAST sense to go, not the first, as the older brother stated earlier on.
One episode is spent entirely on a man believing that his wife and best friend are having an affair, leading him to eventually murder the both of them in a drunken rage. And just as he attempts to get rid of her body, he stumbles right into a surprise party that she and the friend had planned for him. And the reason? All to announce that they were going to be parents. Let me reiterate: Thanks to a misunderstanding, the man has now murdered his wife, his best friend, and his unborn child.
Season three of Heroes ended such a note, with Angela's prophetic dream that Matt Parkman would save her son turning out to have a different meaning once they realize that Nathan is already dead. Then, to make things worse, the teaser for season four hints that their efforts to realize the prophecy through brainwashing Sylar into believing he's Nathan might not take.
R.L. Stine's made-for-TV-movie, The Haunting Hour, had this ending. The protagonist reads a poem out loud that, when done so, awakens a murderous, man-eating monster. After it captures a popular girl from school, a pizza man, and the protagonist's brother, she and her male friend pour blood on it, causing its multiple heads to kill each other in hunger, and free the victims. She and her brother then burn the poem in the fireplace before going up to her room to sleep. Later that night, the parents discover the poem, having reconstructed itself, in the ashes, and read it out loud. As they laugh about how silly the poem sounds, there's a creaking noise on the porch...the protagonist opens her eyes in terror...and all the lights in the house go out. Cut to black. Voiceover: "Happy Halloween..."
The TV series has these endings in nearly all of their episodes. The first example was in The Dead Body, in which the main character strikes a deal with a new kid in school to help him prank a couple of bullies. Afterwards, the new kid insists that the main character "owes him". It turns out, the new kid is a ghost, and the main character is sent back in time to prevent his death. The main character does so...only to die in the ghost's place, and the now living ghost returns to the present to live out the main character's life.
The Doctor Who episode "Journey's End" gives all but two of the protagonists a happy ending: The Doctor Did Not Get the Girl and loses his best friend, winding up alone again, and Donna's memory must be wiped to save her life, undoing all of her Character Development and self-confidence and causing her to lose even the memories of the best time of her life.
"The End of Time Part 2" has the Doctor trying to prevent a prophesy of his demise which will come at the hands of someone who will "knock four times". This seems to refer to the Master, who has a four-beat drumming sound (the heartbeat of a Time Lord) constantly in his head, and nearly ends all of creation when he uses it to resurrect the Time Lord race. After saving the day, the Doctor is overjoyed to have escaped his fate, only to hear four taps; his companion Wilfred has become trapped in a radiation venting chamber, and to save him the Doctor must take his place, accept his fate, and regenerate. His reaction shows that he's fully aware it's this trope.
"The Angels Take Manhattan" ends with Amy and Rory defeating the Weeping Angels...but then another Weeping Angel appears and sends them back in time, separating them from the Doctor forever.
"Exodus": The raft crew are found by a nearby boat. They've finally found rescue! Oh, wait. It turns out The Others are in fact REAL and "the boy" they were coming to take was Walt, not Aaron! Within the next few minutes, the raft is destroyed, Jin and Sawyer's fates are left unclear, Walt is taken, and Michael is left alone in the dark waters screaming for his son.
"Exposť": The episode begins with the deaths of Nikki and Paulo. As the other survivors try to discover what killed them, we are treated to flashbacks, gradually approaching the present day. It turns out that they're NOT dead, just in a severe state of paralysis from a spider bite. Their friends don't know this though, and bury their fellow castaways alive.
"Through The Looking Glass": The survivors have made contact with the approaching freighter, ten Others are dead and Charlie has avoided his predicted death. Then, one of the Others turns out to be Not Quite Dead, the freighter is revealed to have not been sent by who they think it was, Naomi is back-stabbed by Locke (literally!), and Charlie dies in a Heroic Sacrifice. On top of all that, the episode's Jack-centric flashbacks showing him broken and suicidal are actually flashforwards, showing that he does eventually do what he's been attempting for three seasons and escape from The Island ... only for it to be a poisoned chalice and completely destroy his life. So much so that he manically attempts to return! To say that the final scene completely changed the show for good is an understatement.
In "Saviors", after everything seems wrapped up, complete with music from Hugh Laurie, House hallucinates Amber telling him that he's not losing his mind.
In "Both Sides Now", House realizes that Cuddy helping him detox and then sleeping with him was another hallucination...and then both Amber and Kutner show up.
In "Fall from Grace", it turns out that the patient which the team has saved is actually a cannibal and a Serial Killer. He fled the hospital before the FBI agents who just arrived could catch him.
In a Farscape time travel episode, John & Co finally manage to Set Right What Once Went Wrong and return to the future. Unfortunately, the protagonists' actions led to a group of peaceful women and children being slaughtered.
Tessa Noel's death in Highlander: The Series. Saved by Duncan from an evil Watcher, only to be gunned down in a random act of street violence not even five minutes later.
Six Rules is a heartwarming historical fiction short story about two children from Feuding Families who met and became friends... And then bam. Just kidding.
Perhaps the most surprising ending in the history of video games due to its humorous and lighthearted mood throughout, near the end of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 you take part in a rather gruesome series of events where you have to destroy everyone your character holds dear with the game making you feel every horrifying action. Finally, when you approach the final boss, she simply laughs about how you've basically played into her hands all along as an Unwitting Pawn to the end of Gamindustri, which is the opposite of what you were trying to do in the first place, and now it doesn't even matter if you defeat her because the entire world's going to collapse and everyone's going to die. Roll credits. Fortunately, this is NOT the true end.
In the second part of Left 4 Dead'scomic for The Sacrifice, Zoey discovers that the carrier gene which has allowed her to avoid the infection is passed on by the father. She then recalls that at the start of the zombie ordeal, she killed her father after he was bitten, believing that he would turn into a zombie if she didn't kill him. However, her father actually had the same carrier and would have survived the infection if she hadn't killed him.
Aside from turning out to be an Eldritch Abomination all along, the good ending isn't really all that awful. You get the princess, after all.
Terranigma: After Ark has destroyed Dark Gaia, his light version tells him that since he was a creation of Dark Gaia, he is now doomed to vanish too, alongside his village and all his friends and family. The kicker: He only set out on his journey in the first place to keep them safe, and instead he's doomed them all.
Doom: The valiant space marine has just cleared both Phobos and Deimos of demons, before descending to the surface of Hell itself to battle almost insurmountable odds and kill the Spiderdemon who masterminded the whole invasion. He then takes a portal back to Earth, only to find his home city in flames - the forces of Hell have invaded Earth itself and killed his pet rabbit Daisy. It's arguably subverted, however, in that the above leads him to just continue kicking ass in Doom II.
Arguably, the whole Knights of the Old Republic arc is this. The True Sith set up the Mandalorians to go rampaging. Revan and Malak defy the Council's cowardice and inaction by trying to stop the invasion. He Who Fights Monsters kicks in, they start falling to the Dark Side, and whip out a Colony Drop weapon so horrific that even the Mandalorians are shocked by its brutality. The one Jedi who refused to go Sith with them is brutally cut off from the Force, and comes back to the Council to offer an olive branch, only to get spit on and told "get out." Revan goes on a rampage through known space, ostensibly to "unite it" against the bigger threat (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero), only for the Jedi to set up one hell of a plan in response. No matter how you play it, in the second game you're now playing that outcast Jedi. The Sith and the Republic are in complete ruins, Revan's vanished to force-knows-where, everyone either distrusts you or wants to use you for something, and no matter HOW Exile works the angles, the Council is still dead, the Republic is still a mess, and you're still about as popular as an X-Man at an anti-mutant rally. Kreia rubs it all in with her last speech. And the new game, 300 years later? The big threat Revan was trying to stop emerges from hiding, beats the crap out of the Republic...and it's stated "on panel" that Revan and Exile were never seen again after their respective games, meaning they likely died horribly and pointlessly.
It gets worse in The Old Republic MMO-sequel. Lightside adventurers will rescue Revan from prison and mindrape, so that he can enact his black-ops mission to kill the majority of the empire. Darkside adventurers will find Revan losing to The Corruption, now on the verge of committing genocide (Ironically, this WOULD kill the empire but not the more important source) and has to be put down. Bonus points for having Revan's last words directed at Malak and him finally recognizing the fully-corrupted jedi as a friend. Also, the Exile was killed pointlessly by a Sith just to Kick the Dog and prove he's a bastard.
The first game has Starkiller killing Darth Vader but the emperor crushes Starkiller with the ship his love-interest is flying, while he sees all the corpses of the rebel leaders. Starkiller survives but is turned into a new servant of the Emperor much like Vader was with life-sustaining Sith Stalker armor. This leads to the DLC Alternate Timeline storyline, in which Lord Starkiller takes part in events seen in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, killing Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi and corrupting Luke Skywalker into joining The Dark Side, implying he's going to train him to kill the Emperor, much like Vader supposedly intended with him.
In the second game Starkiller is killed by a dark-side clone of himself who was apparently invisible and observing the battle with Vader all along. Juno Eclipse, Kota and most of the rebel fleet are killed while Vader orders the dark apprentice to find and destroy the rest of the alliance. This also leads into a differentAlternate Timeline storyline, in which Luke died on Hoth and the Dark Apprentice is sent to Endor, where he kills Han Solo and Chewbacca, and then confronts Leia, who due to her brother's death was the one who was trained as a Jedi instead. Despite this, she is killed too. And the Emperor reveals he is aware of Vader's secret attempts to train an apprentice of his own, uses Force Lightning on him, and sends an entire fleet of Imperial ships to Endor with the purpose of killing the Apprentice. Both storylines end on something of a Cliff Hanger though.
In 7 Days A Skeptic you survive the murderous rampage of an unstoppable killer, and get to reach the rescue ship in time. You reach them only to find that they have actually come to arrest you for murder as you have actually been an impostor of the character the entire time, and for convenience, they charge you with the rest of the murders as well.
The best part? 6 Days a Sacrifice implies you were the killer after all.
In Prince of Persia (2008), Elika is sworn to keep Eldritch Abomination Ahriman contained in his prison. Her father trades his soul for Elika's life and releases Ahriman, which you and Elika spend the entire game undoing. When Elika dies during the final boss fight, the Prince (read: YOU) resurrects her (sans deal with Ahriman, but still releasing him) after Elika explicitly told you not to.
Cyber-Lip, a Neo Geo sidescrolling shooter, has the time honored plotline of 'Humanity builds super-computer to fight evil aliens, super-computer itself turns evil and destroys Earth, one/two guy(s) must shoot everything including berserk computer.' In the rather sparse ending, it turns out that the super-computer was NOT evil, just reprogrammed. As the heroes fly back to their home base, their leader congratulates them on a job well done - and mentions how there are no more obstacles in their way just as he gives a nasty smirk while his eyes glow red. That's when it hits you that you've done just as the aliens wanted...
Congratulations, you've finished NieR, destroyed the Shadowlord and rescued your daughter. Even if it did turn out you're both Artificial Humans and the Shadowlord was the "real" Nier. Then you read Grimoire Nier and realize that the human race will go extinct in a generation without the Shadowlord. Oh, and Yonah is still dying of the Black Scrawl.
My Little Pegasus: Kizuna DoPonyPachi. Win against Angra Mainyu on 1st loop? TUTORIAL COMPLETE.
Clear the Tsuujou loop? It was all just a dream and Equestria is still in danger.
Clear the obscenely hard Ura loop and defeat the True Final Boss? All your friends are dead.
The Witch's House: It turns out that the player-character, Viola, is actually the witch, Ellen, who has stolen Viola's body. Everything Trying to Kill You in the house? That's Viola trying to stop Ellen and reclaim her body. In the end, Ellen-as-Viola escapes the house, gloats to the pursuing Viola-as-Ellen that she'll be Viola now, and then Viola's father shows up and shoots her-as-Ellen. Ellen then walks off with Viola's father, giggling as they leave her bloody corpse behind.
The worst part? Even if 'Viola' had managed to stop 'Ellen' reclaiming her body would have been impossible since the spell to swap bodies required consensual trust, trust which both lacked at that point.
In the Adrift game The Sisters, you play through the entire game only to find out that your character is a murderer, and the girl who kills you during the ending is actually the ghost of your victim getting revenge.
Mass Effect 3: So, you've built the Crucible, forced the arms of the Citadel open, and now you're ready to shut down the Reapers once and for all? Guess what, the Citadel is an ancient AI that built the Reapers/Is the first Reaper, and now you're going to have to sacrifice Shepard and destroy the mass relays to stop the Reapers, no matter what ending you choose and no matter what choices you made throughout the three games.
The ending of Grand Theft Auto IV. In the penultimate mission, the player is offered the choice of doing a drug deal with the Big Bad or taking revenge on him for all the things he's done. Niko's cousin Roman will lobby you for the former and Niko's girlfriend Kate will push for the latter. The cruel twist is that whichever path you take, the character who suggested it (ie the one the player listened to and is more invested in) will die at Roman's wedding.
The 1st Loop endings of DoDonPachi. Congratulations! You've been fighting and killing your allies this whole time! Sucker!
The final book of Odin Sphere, Armageddon, is just the whole story going completely and utterly pear-shaped after everybody's personal stories wrapped up nicely. Even if you win and get the Good Ending, it's still extremely bittersweet.
The ending of the side story 'Flower Knight' in Drowtales. A knight quested for years to find a flower beautiful enough to win the heart of his cities' queen. He succeeds in finding this flower and brings it back to the city, presents it to the queen and wins her heart. The two live Happily Ever After for decades, producing countless children and rule their city well. The flowers, which have bred, seeded and multiplied and are now owned by everyone in the city then drain the life out of their hosts, killing the entire Knight's family, wife and city, leaving him the single survivor of his entire kingdom. He sets out to find and destroy the being that gave him the flower and is never heard from again. The cruelest twist? The flowers are still around and threaten to begin their destructive cycle all over again.
In, Sluggy Freelance, Torg's "Greatest Comic Book of All Time" — Gunman Stan McKurt, the guy who shoots evil in the face, vows to kill anyone in order to keep the Gates to the City of the Damned shut. It turns out he's already inside the city and doesn't know it, because he can't read.
The Platypus Comix story "Vess MacMeal Starring in: The More You Know!" has an ending evoking those of cautionary stories written during the Cold War. The comic traces the introduction of an electronic tablet called, "The Kimwon". As the tale progresses, the Kimwon develops new apps that do everything from streaming movies and TV shows, to scanning groceries, to synthesizing food. These new apps eventually take over all the Americans' jobs. If that doesn't sound bad enough, it also turns out the Kimwon was invented by North Korean Dirty Communists as part of Kim Jong Il's plan to Take Over the World. If that doesn't sound bad enough, Kim Jong Il also reveals that the Kimwon is made of people!
South Park has several of these endings, but the most prominent:
The ending of "Stanley's Cup", where the child hockey team comes to play with another and are brutally beaten each, and finally lose the match. Then The Littlest Cancer Patient, who waited this whole time to see the success of his team, dies.
Moreover, the ending of the episode "The Return of Chef". At the end of this episode, Chef was convinced of being a pedophile and then dies horribly burned and skinned by wild animals. However, the Super Adventure Club revived him and is transformed into a Darth Vader-esque cyborg who remained a pedophile.
"Scott Tenorman Must Die" mixes this with Karmic Twist Ending and Disproportionate Retribution. Scott starts making a prank to Cartman with his own pubic hair, then Cartman tries to convince Scott to give him back his money. When that doesn't work, note Scott burns the money in front of Cartman's eyes Cartman attempts several plans to avenge the humiliation, but every time he gets Out-Gambitted by Scott. Finally, after a very complex plan that involves Stan and Kyle trying to betray Cartman by telling Scott about what he tries to do, the latter's parents are killed and Cartman made chili with their bodies. And Scott ate the chili without knowing.
Parodied in Cartman's Christmas story from Woodland Critter Christmas. "And they all lived happily ever after... Except for Kyle who died of AIDS two weeks later."
Several of The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror" segments end this way. Incredibly, this trope is inverted in the endings of each episode of The Simpsons, even for a Sadist Show with some black jokes. Most of the end of each episode are happy endings, and even poignant, seen especially in the older episodes from the 1-8 seasons.