"We can't hold out forever, Kup, but we can give them one humongous repair bill!"We are witnessing a Curb-Stomp Battle. Maybe the Imperial Japanese Navy has caught the American giant sleeping. Perhaps Skynet's forces are ripping the TechCom troops a structurally superfluous new behind. Whatever the case, the losing side is getting it hard. How do we show that it's not hopeless, or that the losing side isn't utterly incompetent? Give them some small victory to help counterbalance the stomping they're getting. A Curb Stomp Cushion is kind of like a Hope Spot, except that it doesn't necessarily give the impression that the good guys are gonna win, just that they're still capable of taking a few bad guys down with them. This can also serve to foreshadow that the until-now nigh-invincible enemies may not truly be as invincible as they seem. If it is the villain at the losing end, this is likely to avoid Invincible Hero shades overcoming the winning hero, or even worse, nulling out the notion they are the defending side. Possibly also combined with Not-So-Harmless Villain.
— Hot Rod, Transformers: The Movie
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Anime & Manga
- Really, pick just about any shounen manga in the past 30 years where a side-character has gone toe to toe with a Big Bad or The Rival. This trope will apply for every second or third fight before The Hero gets involved. Dragon Ball had it happen once or more per saga until the end, and more recent series like Naruto and Bleach have whole years of this stuff used to build up how insanely powerful the current villain is while still reminding readers that he can be beaten.
- In Black Lagoon, the anime-only version of Roberta's Blood Trail. Roberta's battle with the Grey Fox unit in the manga was a straight-up massacre, the OVA adaptation evens the score significantly: while she still manages to kill almost all of Caxton's men, she suffers significantly in the process, losing several limbs, an eye, and several fingers on her remaining hand, and is confined to the use of a wheelchair afterwards. No matter how much of an invincible Terminator you are, going up a heavily armored Special Forces unit with access to automatic weapons while using only a smooth-bore musket and absolutely no protection for yourself is not going to end well for you.
- Dragon Ball:
- Dragon Ball Z:
- This happens a couple of times during the fight with Freeza. Gohan manages to get in a barrage of shots during Freeza's second form, and Krillin manages to cut off part of Freeza's tail. In Freeza's final form, Goku manages to score a few good blows before Freeza powers up. And even after Freeza does, Goku's Spirit Bomb still does some damage.
- This is later inverted when Freeza powers up against Super Saiyan Goku. Though Freeza gets in some good blows (even managing to nearly kill Goku right before the dragon revives everyone), he's still ultimately outdone, as Freeza loses power much too quickly to be a serious threat to Goku for very long.
- It happens later on in the Cell Saga, too. The most notable occasion comes with Tien using his Tri-Beam attack to keep Semi-Perfect Cell at bay so that Android 18 could escape; though the Tri-Beam doesn't actually harm Cell, he's pinned down by it and can't move until Tien stops the attack. Made all the more astonishing because Cell's previous form had been shown effortlessly taking down a Kami-fused Piccolo and Android 17, and the Semi-Perfect form made quick work out of Android 16.
- Cell gets hit with it a second time after becoming perfect and effortlessly slapping Vegeta, who easily outmatched his Semi-Perfect form, around. Vegeta breaks out the Final Flash, which blows off one of Cell's arms and a good chunk of his torso, and had he not dodged at the last second, it would have killed him.
- It happens again during Dragon Ball GT, in the Shadow Dragon Saga. Syn Shenron has just absorbed all the Dragon Balls and acquired the combined powers of all seven Shadow Dragons, becoming Omega Shenron, against whom Goku is completely outmatched. Then Goku breaks out his Dragon Fist, which not only makes Omega scream in pain, but also managed to blast him to pieces. Though Omega shortly after regenerates From a Single Cell, he nonetheless admits that the Dragon Fist was a very painful attack, even if it wasn't enough to finish him.
- Dragon Ball Super introduces Jiren.
- His fight with Goku. He easily thrashes Goku - while the latter is using the Super Saiyan Blue / Kaioken X20 combo - across the battlefield, but Goku did manage to (barely) keep up with him, get a small hit in, and his Kaio-Ken boosted Kamehameha actually gave Jiren a minor Oh, Crap!. Of course, during all this Jiren never bothers to get really serious. Goku seems to have made it even when he gains his new form, but at this point Jiren uses more of his full power and simply pushes him back, whereafter the form gives out.
- His fight with Hit similarly has Jiren utterly dominating most of the battle, but Hit still manages to get some painful hits in after he adapts to Jiren's fighting style. The fact Jiren even bothered to take the offensive is already a testament to Hit's prowess, the fact Hit actually lasted against Jiren's assault is flat-out amazing. Hit actually manages to almost knock him out of bounds and use his time skip to paralyze Jiren, with Jiren having to put serious effort into escaping.
- Likewise, his fight with Vegeta at first has Jiren dominating the fight at first, but once Vegeta manages to see through his Rapid-Fire Fisticuffs, he quickly turns the tables and even manages to land a solid blow on Jiren, something only Goku in his Ultra Instinct form has managed to do. note However, Jiren quickly regains the upper hand and nearly rings Vegeta out with his Power Impact. Vegeta tries to finish Jiren with the Final Flash, but Jiren survives and blasts Vegeta away once again.
- His final battle against Mastered Ultra Instinct Goku has the situation reversed for the first time. After breaking even with and overpowering the incomplete Ultra Instinct once his initial surprise wears off, Jiren finds himself completely overwhelmed by the new depths of power Goku has achieved and gets thrashed like never before. It's so bad that it triggers his memories of his childhood trauma, which causes him to unleash his full unrestrained power at long last. Surprisingly, it lets him break even with Goku again, even push him back at several points, but his own rage hinders his original efficiency and prevents him from taking down Goku. When Jiren finally snaps and attacks Goku's friends and family in the stand after learning that Goku draws his newfound resolve and strength from The Power of Friendship, Goku finally has enough and finally beats him down. The only thing that spares Jiren from eliminated is the fact that the Mastered Ultra Instinct times out and leaves Goku barely able to move and the only thing that spares Goku from retaliation is when Frieza and 17 jump in for the save.
- Dragon Ball Z:
- The anime version of Eyeshield21 hands cushion to every team that got destroyed in the manga. Aside one case of Adaptational Badass none of them make much sense.
- Zokugaku Chameleon able to stop one offense against Poseidon thanks to their only important player Habashira stopping a bland receiver, in the manga he can't stop anything since the Poseidon has their tall lineman block him.
- The Yuuhi Guts all-star team (aces of different sport's clubs mashed together) score one touchdown against Devilbats until Hiruma decides to use combination play to beat a team that don't know enough about football to counter it, in the manga Hiruma goes with this plan right away and the all-star exchange their place with the regular starter after a forty points gap.
- The Scorpions get some Adaptational Villainy where they kidnap Hiruma leaving Devilbats without their quarterback and strategist, they even break the replacement quarterback when they realize they are still losing. Suddenly out of nowhere Hiruma shows up and secure the win (really not clear if he shot his way out of the kidnapping or the Scorpion's captain just assume he was gone). In the original game Hiruma is never "kidnapped" so they win without letting the Scorpion score a single touchdown
- Taiyou's Sphinx shows their new line formation during their match with Hakushu's Dinosaurs that make them a great offensive and defensive team before the Dinosaurs have Gaou (strongest highschooler/possibly man in Japan) send them all to the hospital. Again in the manga Gaou crushes the line in the first play because he didn't suddenly stop existing for the first minutes of the match.
- The Masaki Wolves is a joke in the manga while in the anime their captain become an Adaptational Badass who can become stronger and faster if he hunts the ball, he then lose against Seibu's team when the runningback remembers he is the second fastest character in the series at the time and simply dodges him.
- In Fairy Tail, the second time Acnologia shows up, he's confronted by Igneel. Acnologia tears him apart and it's obvious he's just stalling for time, but Igneel uses his last attack to tear Acnologia's arm off. And no, he doesn't regrow it.
- The final battle in Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer is shown like this: it's pretty clear the ELS are winning the overall battle, and the human forces are getting overwhelmed. But, there are lots of scenes of individual human forces destroying truckloads of ELS, and not just the Gundam-piloting main characters. The ELS may be winning, but humanity is putting up one hell of a fight.
- In Holyland, the first Masaki vs Yuu fight is clearly one-sided, but Yuu still manages to get in a few hits, including a solid kick that the other thinks might have cost a rib.
- A few instances of this happening in Hunter × Hunter get more powerful characters interested in Gon and Killua. Gon actually landing a blow (and later successfully stealing his badge) impress Hisoka, despite Hisoka being far more powerful and skilled. On the airship, Netero invites Gon and Killua to try to take a ball away from him. They have no chance since he's one of the most powerful beings alive, but Gon is satisfied when he forces Netero to use his other arm. When they run afoul of the Genei Ryodan they are once again totally outclassed. They put up a good enough fight to impress the Spiders, to the point that one of them even wants the two to join them.
- In Kill la Kill, episode 12, the seemingly invincible Nui Harime is completely trouncing Isshin Matoi, Ryuko's father, and ultimately kills him. However, before he dies, Isshin manages to slice one of Nui's eyes out while she's distracted by Ryuko's voice. This is the first time Nui drops her Stepford Smiler act, with her screaming in bloody agony. Even to this day she is very sore about this and Satsuki theorises that Nui wants to fight Ryuko largely out of revenge.
- The fans of Signum, who has been curb-stomped in Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force, find a little solace in the fact that she managed to chop her attacker's right arm off in the process.
- One Piece:
- Luffy is easily defeated by Crocodile in their first fight, but right before being left to die Luffy manages to grab Crocodile's arm with a wet hand, establishing a weakness that would be exploited in later fights.
- Although Whitebeard manages to curbstomp Akainu with a few attacks, Akainu shows that he's no pushover by blowing off half of Whitebeard's face. Later, it's shown that Akainu is even capable to fighting off the rest of Whitebeard's crew by himself.
- Zigzagged with Law on Dressrosa. For the most part, he's outmatched by Doflamingo, though he manages to get a few licks in by rupturing Doflamingo's organs with Gamma Knife. Initially, this only seems to serve to make Doflamingo look stronger as he survives what should have been a killing blow, but the damage certainly helped Luffy as he stepped in to defeat the Warlord.
- Ash/Satoshi manages to be the first person ever to knock out Tobias's/Tokuto's Darkrai, who up until that point, swept every foe away singlehandedly, including all the Gym Leaders. Unfortunately, half his team has already been knocked out. Furthermore, Tobias sends out a Latios. While Ash ultimately loses, last Pokemon remaining Pikachu manages to take Latios down with it.
- Also, whenever Ash battles an Elite Four member or Champion, you can expect him to get a hit in or at the very least adapt his strategy to better combat his foe, but ultimately he will lose and it will be obvious he never stood much of a chance. Averted during his battle against Lorelei (Prima in the dub), where Ash was completely beaten.
- Finally averted when Ash battles Diantha with Greninja. It starts off as if it's going to play out this way, with her Gardevoir nonchalantly dodging Greninja's attacks... but Greninja keeps doing better and better, and after completing it's Ash-Greninja Forme even takes the upper hand for a bit until the Power-Strain Blackout knocks out Ash and Greninja.
- During the battle between Paul and Cynthia, Cynthia wins four-zero. Pauls first three Pokémon are easily swept aside by Cynthia's Garchomp, but Torterra actually manages to bring Garchomp to it's knees with Giga Drain. Of course, Garchomp then proceeds to block Torterra's Secret Art and knock it out in one hit, but that's still more than most would manage.
- During Paul's battle with Brandon, all of his Pokémon are beaten in one or two hits without getting any damage in, but Paul's Nidoking actually does rather decently against Registeel, eating a few attacks and getting a few supereffective hits in on it's own. Even Brandon noted that Nidoking was strong.
- In Pokemon 3 The Movie while Charizard is actually able to mostly outmaneuver and even land some strong hits against Entei, it's clear that Entei doesn't feel the attacks and they do little more than slow him down. Still there is one point where Entei roars in surprise after Charizard hits it with enough fire to engulf the entire tower!
- During Alain's battle with Siebold, Alain's Mega Charizard X is handily beaten by Siebold's Mega Blastoise. However, Charizard gets a couple of decent hits in and does enough to impress Siebold.
- The trend continues during Alain's battle with Ash. Ash's Greninja can't even hit base form Charizard, but is fast and powerful enough to keep him on his toes. Once both transform, Ash-Greninja actually gets a rather painful hit in and matches Mega Charizard's power, but still gets beaten.
- When Ash finally battles Giovanni in Best Wishes, Pikachu uses a painful looking Iron Tail to counter Persian's Shadow Claw. Then Persian swats him with Power Gem.
- When the Sun and Moon gang travel to Kanto for an extracurricular class (a Gym battle, which they can't have in Alola) Kiawe, The Ace of the group, battles Brock. Although Kiawe's Tortunator initially holds its own against Steelix,repelling and countering it, the latter eventually assumes control of the battle, and one Mega Evolution later not even Kiawe's Z-Move puts much of a dent in Steelix (though as Brock even notes, that doesn't mean it didn't damn well hurt).
- Team Rocket's Meowth is usually depicted as a pitiful battler and falls quickly. Odd times however he gets in a good offence before the inevitable beatdown occurs.
- In "Jumping Rocket Ship" he lunges and uses Fury Swipes on Barry's Empoleon (a Steel type who was blocking at that). Empoleon actually falls down in pain, before shortly getting back up and blasting him off with Hydro Pump.
- In "Frenzied Factory Fiasco" Meowth challenges Pikachu to a Single-Stroke Battle. After an attempted dupe to capture Pikachu in his stolen Pokeball mid air fails, he quickly improvises a Fury Swipes. After landing, Pikachu staggers to one knee visibly hurt...while Meowth faints inelegantly from Pikachu's Iron Tail. Note that this is thus far the only battle they've had throughout the entire anime series where Meowth actually managed to injure Pikachu.
- The Team Rocket trio as a whole returned to their standard Goldfish Poop Gang status midway through the Black and White series after a long run having Took a Level in Badass. To maintain a Character Check however, they maintained this setup most of the time, getting beaten quickly by the twerps, but often still getting in the odd hit against them or being crafty or persistent enough to force them to improvise. XY similarly often kept up this trend early on, though after a while, full Villain Decay ensued and they went back to full on Curbstomp Battles.
- The Team Skull trio have a similar track record in Sun and Moon and regularly get their asses kicked. Tupp is left ecstatic when his Salandit gets in a hit against Ilima's Eevee however. One. Single. Hit. Eventually Ilima has to politely point out that Eevee has already gotten back up, and blasts them all off with it's signature Z-Move.
- In The Vision of Escaflowne when young pup Van and experienced knight Allen duel in their Humongous Mecha for the first time, everyone expects Allen to curb stomp Van, and he does. But as he's standing over Van, he's shocked to suddenly notice a gash in the side of his own mech.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! has this in the form of Jounouchi's duel with Dark Marik during the semi-finals of Battle City. Now since this is the semi-finals and Jounouchi is facing off against the Big Bad of the arc, it's a Foregone Conclusion that he will lose, but the story has Jounouchi come within one move of actually beating him before collapse from physical exhaustion. The duel also showed that it took a massive physical toll on Dark Marik as well.
- Similarly, the first time Yugi duels Pegasus, the latter's mind reading powers make him almost invincible, especially when he takes control of Dark Magician. However, Yugi does deduce that the way he did it made another monster vulnerable, and he almost takes it out before the timer reached zero, even though he was reduced to just playing the top card of his deck without looking at it.
- Cronos in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX has a couple of these, especially after his Heel–Face Turn began in earnest. In both his duels with Pegasus and Camula, his opponent kept control of the Duel all the way, but he was able to get in some pretty heavy hits with his powerhouse Ancient Gears in the meantime.
- In Marvel Zombies, Magneto and later the Silver Surfer face off against dozens of superheroes. While both are eventually killed and eaten, they both inflict a fair amount of damage and take a couple of them out.
- Rat-Man's battle against The Dragon (who has been brought to the Arena specifically to kill him, with the owners of the Arena telling him Rat-Man insulted his mother to make sure he'll kill him and make him suffer) is extremely one-sided, but Rat-Man, differently from everyone else before him, first dodges an attack with a Doppelgänger Spin, then takes a terrifying beating with a rock until the rock begs him for mercy because it's hurt from hitting Rat-Man's face so many times, and finally punches him square on the nose, leading the Man in the Spider Costume to recover hope and pull a suicide attack on The Dragon.
- In the Tamers Forever Series: Although ChaosGallantmon dominates the Tamers for almost the entirety of their fight, he is still on the receiving end of an effective Dual Force attack from Sakuyamon and SaberLeomon, even though he still manages to keep fighting, it still proves more effective than anything even the Sovereigns could do to him.
- Also, despite being completely outclassed in their fight against Daemon, The Tamers still manage to get a few decent hits in..
- The Immortal Game: The Royals' attack on the Loyalists' base — the Loyalists take losses, but for the most part they escape, and Twilight Sparkle recovers from her Split Personalities in the process, so that's a bonus.
- The second Battle of Ponyville looks like one of these, as even though Terra takes out Luna and wipes the floor with the Mane Six, they refuse to give up, and get in plenty of hits of their own. It ends up as a subversion, as they actually manage to win, thanks to reigniting the Elements of Harmony and stripping Terra's power.
- Ace Combat: The Equestrian War: The ponies successfully recapture Cloudsdale in chapter 14, defeating a griffin army group roughly twice their size. They've lost at least ten fliers in the process.
- In Power Games, Vita demolishes Nanoha in their first encounter. Despite this, Nanoha manages to break Vita's jaw, at the cost of breaking her own hand.
- Zoro's duel with Mihawk in The Boy With Haki still ends with Zoro being defeated with ease. Unlike canon however, he's unlocked haki and a result his ultimate attack manages to cut Mihawk's cheek.
- This is how the war with the martians started in Strike Witches Quest. The aliens opened the invasion with attacks on major cities and battlefields all over the globe, taking every nation on Earth by near-complete surprise and inflicting heavy damage on most of their civilian targets. But the battlefields they attacked mostly turned into Enemy Mine situations between the Axis and Allied powers, particularly at Stalingrad and Pearl Harbor. Moreover, the alien attacks on civilian targets were too successful — they killed off Hitler and Mussolini and gave Admiral Yamamoto an opening to wrest control of Japan from the maniacs in the IJA, paving the way for an early end to World War II.
- In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, the Stardroids' initial invasion is prevented from being a complete rout when Pluto takes damage from the Land Blazer and Bass is able to fight them on equal footing.
- In Direction, Applejack is unable to get in any effective hits on Red Hoof due to his extremely dense musculature and unexpected speed (Trixie having hired him for exactly this purpose), but a fortunately-placed pair of scissors allows her to momentarily escape his grip, and only her hesitation to shed blood prevents her from pressing the advantage.
- In The Bridge, the recently transformed Monster X is able to land a few powerful hits that stagger Grand King Ghidorah, thanks to the Xilian military distracting the latter. He still fails to do any lasting damage, loses outright and is overpowered entirely, until the second phase of the fight when X transforms into Kaizer Ghidorah to even the field.
- In the Zootopia Bronze Age Alternate Universe fic A Rabbit Clan's Fox, while the bulk of the Hopps clan (including Judy) is battling a skirmish on the outside of the burrow, a small warband sneaks into the burrow in an effort to kill or take away the kits into thralldom. Nick, who is Judy's thrallnote , is hiding with the children to keep them calm, since they're fond of him. The warband is composed of five for five rabbit warriors and a stoatnote mercenary; Nick is an adult male red foxnote and as such a VERY strong, tough and frightening enemy to face. In a panicked frenzy that involves completely ignoring sword slashes and bludgeoning straight through weapons raised in defense (and the foes behind them as well), Nick manages to annihilate the entire warband, but due in no small part to catching them by surprise and immediately disabling one warriornote , and not without receiving grievous injuries+ .
- During the Darkest Hour of Child of the Storm, HYDRA launches a massive strike against Hogwarts, the British Ministry of Magic, SHIELD, and governments worldwide. While they overall are very successful, their attack on Hogwarts is a complete disaster thanks to Harry waking up and warning the staff (and unleashing the Phoenix), they lose quite a few of their forces across the globe, the SHIELD Helicarrier is crippled but doesn't explode, and while Zemo does curb-stomp T'Challa, the latter does get a few good licks in, with Zemo calling him a decent sparring opponent. Meanwhile, their attack on the Muggle Prime Minister of Britain goes awry thanks to Agent 13, aka Sharon Carter's, badassery and her boss' Crazy-Prepared nature, while MI13 dispatched those HYDRA agents going after them and MI-5, and the agents who attacked the Red Room never came out.
- During the Bloody Hell arc of the sequel, Ghosts of the Past, Harry goes up against Dracula. And while the Vampire Monarch maintains the upper hand throughout the fight, Harry still manages to get several good hits in. In fact, if he'd been up against any other vampire, with less power or experience, he would have won.
Films — Animated
- The final confrontation of Corpse Bride has Barkis keeping Victor, who only has a fork, on the ropes with a saber. Nonetheless, Victor manages to jab his attacker with a fork a few times before he is completely overpowered.
- Gaston in Beauty and the Beast is clearly on the losing end of the battle once the Beast snaps out of his Heroic B.S.O.D. and actually fights back, but he still manages to put up a decent fight during several minutes.
Films — Live-Action
- In the opening of A New Hope, at least two Stormtroopers are shot dead by lucky Rebels, keeping the skirmish in the Tantive IV hallway from otherwise being an outright massacre by the Empire. Leia also manages to kill one before she's captured, which was just a distraction from her real mission, helping C-3PO and R2-D2 to escape with the Death Star plans.
- The Empire Strikes Back: Yes, their entire base is destroyed, but 3 of the 5 AT-ATs (one by Wedge, one by Luke, and one by Hobbie who crashed his airspeeder into the bridge) are taken down in the process, and many of the transports escape the Imperial fleet.
- Most Star Wars battles, even curb-stomp ones, tend to follow this pattern. At least one Republic AT-TE Walker is shown exploding during the Battle of Geonosis, for instance, and a number of rebel ships are destroyed even in the closing stages of the Battle of Endor.
- The prequel trilogy ends with a canon-mandated cushion; although the Jedi are about 99% wiped out, Anakin Skywalker has become Darth Vader, and Chancellor Palpatine has gained more or less absolute power, Yoda and Obi-Wan are alive, Qui-Gon Jin has managed to contact Yoda from the Force afterlife, and together they're going to be able to train Anakin's son Luke as a new hope for the galaxy.
- The Force Awakens: Finn is an ordinary Stormtrooper turned Resistance fighter whose only experience with a lightsaber ended with him getting his ass kicked by a nameless Stormtrooper. Kylo Ren is a trained Dark Side warrior who slaughtered most of the New Jedi Order and has a customized lightsaber built for duels. Finn loses as badly as you'd expect but still manages to get a stab in (though it helps that Kylo was already injured.
- Pretty much every battle in The Last Jedi goes like this. In the opening battle, all the Resistance bombers are destroyed, but not before taking out the First Order Dreadnaught. The First Order manages to blow up most of the escape ships fleeing to Crait and all their heavy cruisers, but Admiral Holdo makes them pay for it by ramming the Raddus into Snoke's flagship, the Supremacy, at light speed, bifurcating the sixty-kilometer-wide First Order flagship in half, along with many of the Star Destroyers flying near it.
- Rogue One: The Rebels are wiped out to a man , but they manage to successfully transmit the Death Star plans to the rebellion. It then becomes a moot point when Tarkin orders the Death Star to fire on his own base, killing the last two rebels (Jyn and Cassian) along with presumably every Imperial troop left on the base, though even that is a Curb-Stomp Cushion since the Death Star's days are numbered.
- Occurs in Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack!. Baragon managed to catch Godzilla off-guard few times. However, it's all in vain since Godzilla still manages to roast him alive.
- Both of the fights between Rocky Balboa and Clubber Lang in Rocky III have elements of this. In the first bout Rocky starts strong, and at one point seems to have Lang in trouble, but Lang manages to cover up and then comes back to crush Rocky. In the rematch Rocky outclasses Lang in round 1 by using Hit-and-Run Tactics, and later knocks Lang out in round 3, but during the second round Lang seemed to be on the edge of winning and managed to knock Rocky down twice.
- The fight between Mal and the Operative in Serenity starts off as a Curb-Stomp Battle, but once Mal gets the opportunity to fight dirty, he lands a few good hits. It doesn't do much, and it's only Inara's flashbang disguised as incense going off in the nick of time that stops the Operative from killing them.
- Spider-Man 3:
- During the fight with a symbiote-fueled Peter, Harry gets a few hits and got very bloody and was almost killed by one of his own pumpkin bombs with Peter getting off without a single scratch.
- Before that, Sandman is able to hold himself against the symbiote-fueled Spider-Man until Peter gets pissed off and pummels him.
- The opening scene in Terminator 2: Judgment Day shows many of the human forces being helplessly overrun and slaughtered by Skynet's machines. Shift to a mangled and helpless Terminator lying on the ground as a human trooper stands above it, taking aim to finish him off. Later in the same scene, there's a flying Hunter Killer that gets taken out with a rocket launcher.
- Tora! Tora! Tora!: Amidst all the carnage the Japanese forces are wreaking on the surprised Americans, there are a few bright spots for the Yanks. Two fighters manage to make it into the air and engage some of the attacking bombers. Truth in Television, as seven American fighters on the island managed to get into the air during the attack to engage the enemy.
- In The Two Towers, after the Ents are awakened and attack Saruman's fortress of Orthanc, they lay waste to his Uruk-Hai army. The Uruk-Hai do, however, manage to kill a couple Ents by pulling them over with hooks and chains. They also set one on fire, but he's saved by a well timed dam break and flood.
- The opening battle in We Were Soldiers between the French army and the Vietminh. Despite being outnumbered and ambushed, the French troops inflict heavy casualties and seem to be holding their own, until the Vietminh kill their commanding officer. The battle ends shortly afterwards with a massacre.
- Letters from Iwo Jima has the Japanese garrison on Iwo Jima hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned by a superior American invasion force. However, thanks to the defense-in-depth planned by General Kuribayashi, the Japanese manage to inflict higher casualties than they take for the first time in the war, and make them pay in taking the island.
- The 1 on 1 T. rex vs I. rex battle in Jurassic World. The T. rex, well past her prime, draws first blood, shakes the Indominus around a bit and actually makes her scream in pain, but when the Indominus pins her down, she suffers a savage mauling, and would've been killed if Blue the Velociraptor hadn't shown up.
- A deleted scene in Watchmen shows Hollis Mason attacked by a group of thugs on Halloween night. While he still loses, he puts up a good fight and gets several hits in before being overwhelmed by multiple opponents. Notable for perhaps making the fight even more of a Tear Jerker.
- In the opening beachfront battle of Wonder Woman (2017), none of the German soldiers survive, but neither do all of the Amazons (including, notably, General Antiope.)
- Harry Potter has plenty of examples.
- Though Dumbledore has the advantage throughout his duel with Voldemort, the latter still is able to dish out plenty of powerful spells and even keep Dumbledore somewhat on his toes, though it's heavily implied that Dumbledore is just holding him long enough for the Ministry to arrive, and given his Dissonant Serenity, probably could have wiped the floor with Voldemort if he'd wanted to.note
- Earlier, Dumbledore is able to disable the remaining fighting Death Eaters easily enough, except Bellatrix Lestrange who is able to casually deflect his spell (he does catch up to her and quickly disable her however).
- Though Harry's duel with Bellatrix goes about the way you'd expect it to, he does get in one hit that knocks her down. This seems to amuse her more than anything however.
- Though Voldemort murders ministry witch Amelia Bones, we are told that she went down fighting a good fight.
- In HG Wells' novel The War of the Worlds the human military is almost helpless against the invaders, but there are two small successes.
- An artillery crew takes down a tripod but is incinerated afterward.
- The torpedo ram HMS Thunder Child destroys two tripods and possibly a third before being destroyed itself. The crew's Heroic Sacrifice allows a fleet of small ships carrying refugees to escape.
- In the opening scenes of the World War series, human troops get annihilated all over the world by the alien invaders. Then a plucky German Panzer squad ambush an alien tank column. In exchange for losing the last 4 tanks the main character is in command of, they kill a single enemy personnel carrier and a single enemy tank by exploiting the aliens poor tactics. This is considered the most successful action against them of any kind, of the entire human-alien war so far. Obviously as the story goes on things get better for the humans as they develop innovative tactics such as the Russian dog bombs. Eventually the curb-stomping just plain ends and it becomes a more even war with lots of Rock Beats Laser.
- J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion is full of these, as the Elves and their allies are doomed to lose against Morgoth. During the Battle of Sudden Flame the breaking of the Siege of Angband is cushioned by Barahir's rescue of Finrod's host; the utter defeat at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears is cushioned by the Men of Hador's Last Stand protecting Turgon's escape; the Fall of Gondolin is cushioned by Tuor and Idril escaping with the remnant of its people; and the Kinslayings at Doriath and the Havens of Sirion are cushioned both times by Elwing escaping with the Silmaril. In all cases these cushions come at the hands of Men.
- This is actually something of a recurring theme among Morgoth and Sauron, his greatest servant. Men are constantly seen as being weak and useless, but often end up saving the day or at least cushioning horrific defeats. Even Sauron's final defeat is given to him by Men, who end the series by rising to ascension as the elves leave to head across the sea to Valinor, their time in the mortal world over.
- Several of the Yuuzhan Vong's more overwhelming victories in the New Jedi Order novels are tempered by these sorts of actions. In most cases, the mitigating factor comes from the Vong's Attack! Attack! Attack! style and We Have Reserves mentality leading to huge casualties, such as during the Fall of Coruscant; it's easy to miss amidst the heroes' desperate flight from their home planet, but three waves of Yuuzhan Vong ground troops are totally obliterated, along with similar numbers of their warships. Other specific examples:
- Edge of Victory: Conquest: The Jedi Academy has fallen, and Talon Karrde's smuggler fleet has taken heavy losses getting the students out — but they do get the students out alive, inflicting heavy damage in the process, and inadvertently spark the Jedi Heresy among the Vong's worker caste to boot.
- Star By Star: Even though Coruscant has fallen and the strike team to Myrkr is devastated, their mission was successful, destroying the Hero Killer voxyn, and delivering the team a Yuuzhan Vong frigate which will help them take advantage of the growing heresy by impersonating a goddess.
- Force Heretic: Remnant: The eponymous Imperial Remnant has suffered a devastating sneak attack to their capital, Bastion. The only relief comes when Luke Skywalker's small expedition accidentally jumps into the conflict, giving Pellaeon tactical advice that allows his damaged ships to obliterate a small Vong flotilla. On its own, this is a minor loss for the Vong, but it foreshadows how deadly the Remnant can be, even wounded, with a combination of Imperial pride and discipline and Jedi military intelligence.
- In the third novel of Mistborn: The Original Trilogy, the Big Bad is at the brink of victory right from the word go, and everything the heroes do seems to play into his hands. However, we are told several times of things that he has not succeeded in doing despite trying to - usually minor goals that would have sped up plans that were already advancing at a steady pace, but all the same, it hints that he's not infallible and that there might yet be some way to beat him.
- Felix the Scout in Armor. He knows that those bastards (the mass of alien Ants charging his position) are going to get him, but not this bastard (blam) or this one (pow)... Turns out he's wrong...
Live Action TV
- Several battle scenes in Babylon 5 have this element.
- Most notably, the Season 2 episode The Long, Twilight Struggle features a fleet of ships being ambushed by a large Shadow fleet. Amidst the ships getting cut apart left and right, you do see two of the ships concentrating their fire to wound a single Shadow Battlecrab - the first time one of these ships is seen damaged in battle.
- The Earth-Minbari war was a generally one-sided stomping of humanity, with a single human victory being the destruction of the Minbari flagship Black Star in a minefield. Naturally, Sheridan was the one behind it. And the sore losers never let him forget it. However, the fluff implies that the Minbari did, in fact, sustain other casualties; it's just their casualties were significantly lower than that of the Earth Alliance. Depending on the source, the Battle of Vega, one of the first battles of the war, results in 1-3 destroyed Minbari ships, one of them being a Sharlin warcruiser being rammed by a prototype Nova-X battlecruiser (the future Omega destroyers).
- Implied in the Mini Series of the Battlestar Galactica remake. Boomer mentions that the only ships proving effective against the Cylons are either obsolete models or overdue for repairs. That means that amidst all the carnage shown during the invasions, at least a few Colonial warriors were getting their own punches in.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In "Tough Love," when Glory Mind Rapes Tara, Willow goes ballistic and attacks her in a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Though Willow ultimately goes down, she's nonetheless able to injure Glory and make her scream in pain, something not even Buffy was able to do.
- A lot of last-stand type scenarios in Warhammer Fantasy had this theme. Most notable was the Halting the Tide scenario, where the defending force was almost guaranteed to be slaughtered, and the "cushion" was additional time for the main defence to prepare for Archaon's arrival. (A lucky or skilled defending player could also, flavourfully speaking, claim additional cushions, such as shooting Archaon off his Cool Horse, killing his underlings in large numbers, or even forcing Archaon himself to spend some time recuperating from battlefield wounds.)
- Directly invoked by Enjolras and the other revolutionaries in Les Misérables; when they realize that no one is going to come to help them, and they are going to die, they promise to "make them bleed while we can". Given how quickly they go down shortly thereafter, it's unlikely they were very successful in this.
- Similar to the Tora! Tora! Tora! example above, Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault has Conlin, as well as several other sailors and Marines aboard the crippled USS West Virginia taking down at least a squadron of Japanese planes late into the attack. While it doesen't prevent the damage from being done, it does help to minimize said damage, and give the USS Nevada the chance to at least beach itself.
- This can be done in-universe by Alpha 1 in an early mission of FreeSpace: during an important escort mission, the known enemy is suddenly and unexpectedly taken out by untargetable ships nearly impervious to the primary weapons available, who then turn on you. It is rather hard to destroy the strange ships... but if one pulls it off, the debriefing hails it as proving that the new enemy rampaging unchecked through Terran and Vasudan space can be hurt.
- The player themselves serves as one in Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, when humanity meets the Scrin. The first mission introduces them in the process of utterly annihilating the city of Munich, and the entire defending GDI contingent along with it. Despite the defeat, however, the player does succeed in evacuating the local GDI council, and discovers the aliens' inherent weakness to directed sonic energy in the process.
- Mass Effect 3:
- Throughout the whole game, this is the best the races of the galaxy can do against the Reapers. They can score a victory here and there, but ultimately it's a delaying action until they finish building the Crucible.
- Palaven, the turian homeworld, is taking a heavy beating, but the description of the war includes how the Reapers actually lost a few ships in the opening. While the Codex initially refers to the Fall of Khar'shan and the Fall of Earth for the first two fronts in the Reaper War, once Shepard visits the Turian home system, the Codex is updated with a third entry: The Battle of Palaven.
- If you secure a krogan-turian alliance, it goes so far as to include The Miracle of Palaven. The joint forces manage to smuggle a bunch of WMDs into the Reaper processing ships. This gets millions of people killed, but they were doomed anyways and at least this way a large number of Reaper ships get to die with them.
- Reading through the Codex also shows that Earth had one. Knowing the Reapers were coming in force, one of Earth's admirals positioned his fleet to fire on them as they came out of FTL. They lacked the firepower to sustain the assault, but humans scored first blood in the Reaper ambush of the Sol system.
- In the backstory of the Halo series, this is the way the Human-Covenant war goes for about 30 years. The human military acquit themselves surprisingly well in ground battles due to their superior training and the Spartans. Heck, the Spartans are so feared by the Covenant that they call them "demons". But Covenant spaceships are much more advanced than human ships, so they win the space battles and glass the planet from orbit, rendering any human victory on the ground moot.
- Even a few space battles are this, with the Covenant achieving only a Pyrrhic Victory instead of delivering their usual curbstomp to humanity. The battle for Reach cost the Covenant dearly, even if they don't like to show it.
- Half-Life has one in the HECU, and it applies in two ways.
- Them against the invading Xen aliens. In general the HECU are being overwhelmed, but as far as Gordon can see, they tend to win individual battles, suggesting that the aliens are only winning overall due to their superior numbers (an entire alien army vs a single special forces batallion). It's true that the marines are also enemies to the player (and everyone else in Black Mesa) but it's still not hard to be rooting for the humans during an alien invasion. Even in their last ropes, the HECU are still quite well-equipped and threatening, which Black Mesa showcases best.
- Against Gordon, they also are one. Even if Dr. Freeman slaughters them in droves along his way, the first firefight is no cakewalk and it doesn't get any easier from there, even after more powerful hardware is acquired - they pull out their own big guns in the form of attack helicopters, armored fighting vehicles and a swarm of stationary turrets. And mines. Lots of mines.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's Dawnguard DLC, the Hall of the Vigilant is destroyed by Clan Volkiharnote after the player reaches level ten, with all residents killed. However, there are a few vampire and Death Hound corpses littered around the area, showing it wasn't a total massacre. The same later happens when the same group of vampires abduct a Moth Priest- one of his guards is found dead on the scene and the others are undead thralls in the cave where the Priest is held captive, but a few vampires died trying to seize him.
- In The Last Remnant, Emma Honeywell is slain in a Curb-Stomp Battle by The Conqueror. However, she managed to draw First Blood against him, proving that he's not invincible.
- Monster Hunter: World: A turf war between a Bazelgeuse and a Deviljho ends with the Bazelgeuse taking a beating, just like most other monsters... but also giving the Deviljho a faceful of its exploding scales.
- During newbie Viole's and Veteran Urek's fight in Tower of God, the weaker Irregular gets a One-Hit KO… but while receiving it and protecting a little girl that somehow got into the fray, he actually managed to scratch Urek's cheek.
- During the Imperial Dalek invasion of Ziragalen in Second Empire, Anzollo engages the Imperial Fleet in space, all the way knowing he can't hope to win against the vast invading army. He still racks kill after kill and delays them long enough to allow Xenol to finish putting Ziragalen's main fortress on full lockdown and preparing for the assault.
- Epic Rap Battles of History: Justin Bieber is pretty much destroyed by Beethoven, but the kid still manages a few good hits; he even says that Beethoven's own music made him go deaf.
- Death Battle does its best to follow this trope. Even when dealing with the most one-sided victories, the hosts are able to draw up a script that makes the big fight last a third of the episode with a good number of passes with the Advantage Ball, with several episodes having the loser give one hell of a final showing before being overcome.
- Scrooge McDuck vs. Shovel Knight turns out to be a pretty huge one. From analysis, it appears that Scrooge's feats vastly outclass that of Shovel Knight's. Yet come the fight, and Shovel Knight nearly dominates the entire battle until Scrooge pulls out his Anti-Inertia Ray and Neutra-Friction Ray to seal the victory for Scrooge.
- Likewise, Jotaro Kujo vs Kenshiro also turns out to be a pretty big one. The analysis showed that the latter's offensive and defensive feats and fighting style gave him massive advantages over his opponent. During the fight, Kenshiro seemingly manages to gets only one glancing hit on Jotaro, while Jotaro holds the Advantage Ball throughout the fight as his Stand Star Platinum easily tanks or keeps Kenshiro at bay. That one hit was all it needed for Jojo to be already dead, thanks to hitting a pressure point that made him explode later.
- The AlternateHistory.com timeline New Deal Coalition Retained has a couple of examples once World War III breaks out:
- In the Middle East, communist forces from Iran and Syria overrun northern Iraq and northern Israel, but take heavy losses to do so. Plus, the defenders in both countries manage to fall back to heavily-prepared defensive lines, causing the advance of both invasions to grind to a halt.
- The Warsaw Pact manage to invade all of Germany east of the Rhine, but at the cost of almost double the number of casualties suffered by NATO. This allows NATO to counterattack and take back significant chunks of territory.
- Bugs Bunny often outsmarted his foes with sheer ease. Every now and again however a brief of wit would bestow the villain and take Bugs by surprise to make things a little more tense (and likely to prevent Bugs from becoming insufferably smug). Allegedly the creative team deliberately made Bugs' foes slightly more challenging so the audience wouldn't start to see him as the bully of the feud.
Bugs: Of course you realise that this means war...
- It was a common formula for the villain to always get in one slapstick blow on Bugs to start the feud at the beginning of the short, at which point a riled up Bugs would prepare to do his worst:
- Tom and Jerry would similarly usually end with Tom outsmarted and decimated by Jerry, but would usually get in the odd shot along the way (usually when Jerry was at risk of looking more relentless than Tom). He was even bestowed the odd Dark Horse Victory against Jerry to keep the formula that little more unpredictable. One example of Tom winning is the short where Tom can get a million dollars if he never hurt another animal with predictable results. Karma bites Jerry hard in the ass where Tom admits he's giving up all that money but, hey, he's happy beating on a very deserving mouse!
- During Wendy's brawl against Cartman in the climax of the South Park episode "Breast Cancer Show Ever", Cartman manages to get a few good hits in against Wendy, but still ends up with what he deserves. Granted this was likely as much to show Cartman Would Hit a Girl as to add tension to the fight.
- In Transformers Prime Wheeljack and Ultra Magnus ended up facing the freakishly powerful Predaking in his newly revealed robot form. In Predakings dragon form, absolutely nothing has proven to even damage him but merely slow him down, and while his robot form was a little easier to knock around he was still Nigh Invulnerable to their most powerful attacks. Utilizing Bash Brothers they gave him one hell of a fight, but in the end they were no match.
- Every fight Tai Lung gets into before Po in Kung Fu Panda establishes him as being great but not invincible. During the jailbreak he is almost stopped when the bridge is blown, The Furious Five all manage to land blows and Tigress and Viper go toe-to-toe with him for a short while before he pulls out his pressure point attack, and Master Shifu takes him on in a protracted battle.
- Early episodes of The Dreamstone followed a rather Golden Age-esque format with the Urpneys usually suffering a total runaround from the heroes. By the closing points of the series however, the Urpneys, while still often outsmarted very easily, managed to prove more evasive in several episodes, with the Noops Immunity To Slapstick downplayed so they often suffered one or two blows pursuing them. Similar to said Golden Age examples above, this was likely done so the Noops looked more provoked.