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Anime and Manga
- In Fables book Peter and Max, Peter wants to leave to fight his evil (and extremely powerful) brother, while his wife Bo wants him to leave it to the better fighters. Bo lampshades this trope by saying that him promising her he would come back is useless to her; either he does return in which case the fulfilled Heroic Vow only serves to amplify his status as the big hero, or (more likely,) he gets himself pointlessly killed, and she wouldn't even be allowed to resent him for breaking his promise when he had "heroically" died trying to do the right thing. Either way, the promise would only serve to make him feel better about what he was doing, and would do absolutely nothing to help her, regardless of the outcome.
Films — Animated
- In Titan A.E., Cale's father's last words to him are "I will see you again. I promise," despite the fact that he must know it's likely that he won't. Sure enough, Cale later encounters a recorded message from his father confirming that if it was activated, he is dead. The message then asks Cale to forgive him for breaking his promise.
Films — Live-Action
- In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent promises to Rachel that she will get out of their predicament alive. He genuinely hopes for that, but has no way to influence it and no reason to expect it. Sure enough, she doesn't get out of it alive. Later on, after Dent has become Two-Face, he challenges Gordon to do the same with his son, while holding a gun to his son's head.
- In the original 1954 Gojira — which was a lot more serious than its camp successors — the mother of a family trapped in the monster's path soothes her children with the promise that they would be with their father soon. No prize for guessing their father's status.
- Dr. Loomis to Jamie, in the school, in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Subverted when she asks him if he really believes they'll make it out all right, and he gives a barely audible Little "No".
- Towards the end of The Way of Shadows, when Logan and Jenine have been assaulted on their wedding night, he holds her head and whispers to her that everything will be fine, she doesn't have to be afraid, it's all right... while she is bleeding to death.
- In the sixteenth-century text The Prince, author Niccolň Machiavelli explicitly states that at times it is necessary for a ruler to make empty promises for the sake of his country.
- In Stephen King's Firestarter, when Charlie finds out that her mother is dead, Andy tells her that everything will be all right, though he knows "as every adult knows in his secret heart that nothing is really all right, ever."
- In Spock's World, Kirk wants to tell T'Pau that they're not going to die, but he feels as though the sheer blatant falsehood of it, given said character's condition, would be insulting.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, during the second book Jon Snow goes on a ranging mission with Qhorin Halfhand and two other veteran rangers. After being spotted, they begin traveling back to the camp and are pursued by Wildlings. When it is only Qhorin Halfhand and Jon Snow left, Qhorin orders Jon Snow to pretend to defect to the Wildlings in order to gather intelligence. Jon Snow, torn by the idea of betraying his vows (even if it's a false betrayal) asks Qhorin if he will let their Lord Commander know that he did not break his oath. Qhorin, knowing that the Wildlings will kill him when they catch up to them, responds "When I see him next. I swear it.”
Live Action TV
- This happened in an episode of House, where the son got sick because of radioactive scrap metal. The team was able to help him a little, but he still had cancer and no immune system with which to fight it. The father still told him everything was going to be all right, even though the son was dying and there wasn't anything the doctors could do about it. Also happens on the episode "Euphoria", between Foreman and his dad, although Foreman called him on it.
- Happens a lot on Law & Order, when the police tell a witness that they can protect him or (usually) her. The amount of reassurance the police give a witness is directly proportional to the odds they'll end up getting kidnapped or killed later. Cue "I told her it would all be okay!"
- Pretty much happens every other episode in 24, with Jack promising to get someone out of an impossible situation. It usually doesn't work out.
- Helo from the new Battlestar Galactica loves this one, although other characters do their fair share as well.
- On Mad Men, it was Don's repeated empty assurances to Betty that everything would be all right after Kennedy was assassinated that finally drove her to end their marriage once and for all.
- In the series finale of Angel Illyria shapeshifts into Fred and comforts Wesley in this fashion as he dies, telling him in particular that they'll be together afterward. However, Illyria consumed Fred's soul during the resurrection process.
- It's implied by Illyria's changing attitudes and uncomfortable emotions that at least a fraction of Fred's soul survived, though it may have incorporated itself with Illyria's demonic essence. However, whatever may remain of it is certainly not waiting for him in the afterlife. That's okay, Wesley isn't moving on either.
- An episode of Criminal Minds had Hotch questioning the only witness to an arson, a woman who'd lost her husband and son in the same fire, and at the end reassuring her they were both waiting for her outside. He'd been specifically told by the doctor he could tell her whatever he wanted because she'd not live long enough to know any different.
- In Haven Audrey will often tell someone that things will be okay as she tries to fix whatever damage the episode's Troubled person has caused. When the police chief is about to die she can't do anything to help him and says nothing. This infuriates Nathan who would have preferred that she at least gave an Empty Promise to comfort his father.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The "close your eyes" version happens in the Season 2 finale. Angel's soul has been restored, but Buffy can see over his shoulder the vortex that's about to pull them into the hell dimension. She kisses Angel and then runs him through with a sword, sealing the rift.
- Played straight then immediately inverted in Doctor Who, "Flesh and Stone"-
Amy Pond: So what's wrong with me?
River Song: Nothing, you're fine.
The Doctor: [Scans her status] Everything, you're dying.
River Song: Doctor!
The Doctor: Yes, you're right — If we lie to her she'll get all better!
The Doctor: You know how sometimes grown-ups will say "Everything's going to be fine." but you know they're lying to make you feel better?
- The Doctor Lampshades it in his first meeting with a (ten-year-old) Amy Pond:
Amy: *eyeroll* Yes.
The Doctor: Everything's going to be fine.
- This is the reason Adell holds Honor Before Reason in Disgaea 2: He became a victim of an empty promise when his parents went off to fight Overlord Zenon, promising to come back. They never did. It later turns out Zenon brainwashed them and turned them into his minions, and Adell is forced to kill them without ever learning their identities.
- Played for all its tear-jerking worth in Persona 3. Aigis tearfully promises that she'll devote her life to protecting the main character while, depending on your dialogue choices, he asks her not to cry and tells her it'll be okay. In reality, he's dying in her arms, and, though not outright said, it's likely they both know it.
- In You's route in Ever17, You and the Kid are discussing the Kid's apparent ability to predict the future when the Kid says they'll definitely be rescued. You asks if that's a premonition; the Kid says that it's a promise. If you get the Bad End, the Kid ends up lamenting his inability to keep his promise as they both die.
- Subverted in the same game: Takeshi promises Tsugumi he won't die as he launches himself out of their submarine so it will float to the surface. He drowns. However, in the True Ending, he manages to survive thanks to Hokuto/Blick Winkel.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon has a lot of this between the player character and his/her partner.
- Miles Edgeworth makes one of these in Ace Attorney Investigations every time he infers that the current confrontation with the Big Bad will be the final one.
- On Virmire in Mass Effect, Shepard can insist he/she'll be able to come back for whichever human squadmate you had to leave behind, when both know that's not going to happen.
- Robot Chicken uses it in a horrifically bleak, though still funny, Black Comedy way, as Voltron's Combining Mecha sequence is taking so long that the enemy's destroying the space station that had called for help. The general's young sidekick is dying in the wreckage, blind and crippled from his injuries, and asks if Voltron's arrived. The general lies and tells him yes, Voltron's here and it's all going to be okay now, before shooting him so he'll die painlessly.
- Actually the Voltron in question was actually Vehicle Voltron.
- In ReBoot, this trope is subverted. When Enzo appears to be losing a game against the User, AndrAIa promises Frisket everything will be ok and resets their icons. The Game Cube vanishes and the system announces "Game over, User wins," so it appears as though AndrAIa had made an empty promise, which is partly true: by resetting their icons to game sprite mode, she ensured the three of them would live even if they lost the game by leaving Mainframe with the Cube.
- In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode where Jet dies, he tells his friends he'll be fine. Unfortunately, Living Lie Detector Toph is nearby, and although she waits to be out of earshot of the other two...
Toph: He's lying.
- In the wake of World War II, the Soviet Union promised the Allies that they would allow free elections in the territories they occupied. Nobody was surprised when those "elections" put Communist parties in power that declared their allegiance to Moscow. Stalin managed to avert this at the same time by keeping his promise to leave Greece in the Allied sphere of influence by not actively supporting the communists in the Greek Civil War.