Most dramatic tension in story-telling comes from the audience being ignorant of the work's ending. Audience members invest in characters and plots and want to know how they are treated and resolved, respectively.
Sometimes, however, authors choose to go a different route. They will make known to the audience how their story ends before they even begin telling it. Sometimes they'll do so with an explicit statement (such as in a Spoiler Opening), sometimes by writing a prequel that ends right where the original work begins. Whatever the case may be, the author has given himself quite a task. He must find some way to establish tension and doubt when everyone knows how the story is going to end.
This can be easily confused with several tropes. It Was His Sled deals with twists or endings that, thanks to their assimilation into popular culture, no longer surprise us although the author originally did not intend for everyone to know the ending. How We Got Here and In Medias Res are related, but not identical. And movies or shows which, by their predictable nature, indicate how the work ends don't count either: the audience already knows that the good guys will win, that Batman will survive to fight another day, same-bat-time-same-bat-channel, yes. But the ending isn't canonically established; theoretically, Adam West could die at the end of an episode, although realistically we know he won't.
Authors might cheat with this a bit (or a lot), either by having the "ending" shown be context-sensitive and open to an entirely different interpretation as the audience gets to know the set up, or with an outright Twist Ending by having the "end" shown in a How We Got Here like fashion be only the first 10 of 15 minutes, and ending much differently than is likely.
Or the whole thing isn't about what happens at the end, but how it happens. The Whodunnit becomes a Howdunnit, and so on.
Can also be used to crank Dramatic IronyUp to Eleven.
Historical Fiction is tied to this trope, since history ain't changing (unless the author pulls a Written by the Winners and claim that the events as portrayed in his work is what "really" happened).
Compare External Retcon, where the audience is expected to be familiar with an entire existing story.
Doomed by Canon is a subtrope of this, and deals with prequel characters and their attempts to either take out the main cast of the original story or survive to the end, attempts which we know are doomed because of the original story. Framing Device entails this to a certain extent, as any character alive to tell or hear the tale must have survived, and the setting may also hint.
In almost any story that has a narrator, you can safely assume the narrator will live. There are some deliberate subversions of course, including ones where a ghost is narrating.Oh, and X Dies and Did You Die? are also subtropes.
This is Older Than Feudalism. Everyone who heard Homer sing already knew that Troy falls and Achilles and Hector both die; nobody walked out of Sophocles's play saying, "Dude, he married his mom?" There's a long, long tradition of retelling the story everyone knows.
Historical In-Joke is sometimes like this, but sometimes subverts it.
As a warning, this entry contains spoilers both marked and unmarked. Since several tropes can twist into a Subverted example, tread carefully.
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Anime & Manga
Anatolia Story, as it is based in ancient Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), and ties in well with established history, anyone familiar with the Hittite Empire knows how certain events are going to play out.
Wolf's Rain begins as Kiba lies dying in the snow. The scene is repeated near the end (Episode 30), but it's not quite the end of the scene as Kiba then falls through the ice and drowns, and it's followed by a Distant Finale.
Rose of Versailles: Shoujo drama surrounding the court of Versailles on the eve of the Revolution. While the fates of the fictional characters are uncertain, everyone and his dog knows what happens to Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.
Since it's the Prequel to the adventures of their Reincarnations, it's a pretty good guess that Konzen, Kenren, and Tenpou are going to die in Saiyuki Gaiden, yes? Readers of both series know that Goku is going to lose all of his memories of these events and be trapped in a lonely mountain cave for several hundred years, that Nataku will choose permanent suspended animation, and it's a pretty educated guess that Goujun will die at some point, too (but not before writing an account of the events), seeing as Jeep/Hakuryu is probably his reincarnation. It's still surprising to learn exactly who the characters were in the heavenly bureaucracy and what their exile has to do with the main story, though.
Also, the prequel Saiyuki Ibun which details how Houmei became Koumyou Sanzo. Two of his fellow sanzo-candidates are Toudai (future Goudai Sanzo) and Tenkai (future Maten sutra sanzo). you know Goudai's eventual fate from the Burial plot arc and you know that Koumyou will be Tenkai's successor for the Maten sutra. The story is in how they get there.
The "Turn Back The Pendulum" flashback arc takes place 100 years before Chapter 1 and it's designed to show how the Vaizards and Urahara's group ended up hiding out in the World of the Living. Even though readers know exactly what the titular pendulum is counting down to, the backstories of the characters involved are still unknown so the arc can still insert some impressive reveals along the way.
The "Everything But the Rain" flashback arc takes place 20 years before Chapter 1. That Isshin winds up hiding out in the World of the Living, stripped of his shinigami power and married to Masaki, is a foregone conclusion, but how that happens is explored for the first time. This also allowed Kubo to hit the fandom with more impressive reveals since it had been expecting a fun, ditzy Meet Cute story and instead got a dark, brooding tale centred on the Ishida family that climaxes with the utter ruination of Ryuuken's Quincy future, casts Ichigo's entire personal history in a new light, and sets up some dark implications for Uryuu's own personal history.
Pluto is based on an arc of Astro Boy, so naturally there are quite a few events that are expected to come to pass for anyone familiar with the original. Gesicht, for example? Dead.
Baccano! does this by showing the very spoileriffic aftermath of the two main plots (i.e. Firo and Luck becoming immortal, Ladd losing an arm and being thrown off the train, most of the focus characters surviving the Flying Pussyfoot massacre, Chane accepting Claire's proposal) in the very first episode. The trick is that it's entirely out of context and makes no sense until you get through the series at least once, and that the real wham moments (such as the Rail Tracer being Claire) are left for the rest of the show.
Unless you read the first episode credits, of course.
The Ga-Rei Zero- anime does this as part of its three starting Wham Episodes. In the first episode that entire squad is revealed to be made entirely of Dead Stars Walking, which sets the tone but doesn't actually invoke this trope. In the second we meet the real cast, including familiar faces from Ga-Rei... whom Yomi proceeds to kill. Finally, with the third we flashback to the first time Yomi and Kagura meet, at the latter's mother's funeral, and the anime continues from there, leading up to Yomi's Start of Darkness. The viewer knows it's going to happen, knows it's going to be very painful (and it is), and the tension is derived in three ways: firstly, seeing how Yomi went insane, secondly, a desire to see which of the many sympathetic characters we see manage to live to the end of it and thirdly, whether or not Yomi can overcome the More Than Mind Control once the series catches up to the second episode. It's one hell of a ride.
Akagi having never lost was clearly established in the author's earlier manga Ten. So in the Akagi it was obvious that he would have to win every single game making him an Invincible Hero
Shaman King practically revolves around one of these, given that Hiroyuki Takei practically tells the audience Hao will become the Shaman King. There is no one in the series capable of standing up to him. He still does an amazing job of revealing backstories and setting up the ending on the way there.
Uzumaki is set up in its opening pages as being a retelling of the events after the fact by lead character Kirie. Subverted, in that the obvious conclusion that this means she makes it through intact isn't true in the end.
Although it has little bearing on the series' continuity itself...despite the name.
Let's make that "show based on history means you'll see loads of Foregone Conclusion".
Basilisk has an opening narration indicating that the efforts to make peace between the clans failed and everyone killed each other off ignominiously. The series shows how it happened.
After viewing the first episode of the anime adaptation of Berserk which shows Guts as a badass, BFS-wielding, handicappedjerkass, who seems to have a beef with a dude named Griffith, and seeing that a big portion of the series is in fact a flashback, we all know how Guts is going to end up by episode 25: the rest shows us how.
One Piece has the Skypiea arc, where a giant island got blown up into the clouds, during the arc, you learn about how some four hundred years in the past, an explorer was best friends with a warrior from the aforementioned island, the explorer leaves and promises to return, considering that the Straw Hat's learn about the explorer from a fairytale/propaganda piece where he gets executed and the main characters are on the island in the clouds, it's not exactly a surprise that the story doesn't end well.
A Naruto Shippuden filler takes a character from the manga who we only knew from sourcebooks and from a manga spread and spread it out. The character is Utakata, a rogue ninja from the hidden mist village and host of the six-tailed beast. Unfortunately, anyone who read the manga knew that he did not show up and was implied to have been captured off-screen. So this obviously was notgoing to end on a happy note...
Likewise, the manga's flashback story showing Minato's life prior to the Nine-Tails' attack. We've already been told beforehand that he and his wife will die immediately after their son Naruto is born, with Minato's final act being to seal the Nine-Tails into Naruto's body.
Subverted in the Pokémon episode "Holy Matrimony!", where James tells Jessie, Meowth, and the twerps the sad story of his childhood as an orphan, living alone with only his Growlithe for companionship. James dies at the end of his (obviously fictional) story, and promptly confuses himself when Misty reminds everyone that he's still alive.
Windaria. The story is narrated by Alan after he's gone old and grey and so a number of things are clear from the start: 1. Alan survives the story. 2. Marie does not. 3. The world has recovered from the damage about to unfold. 4. Alan has done something so terrible that not even being lauded as the hero who rebuilt the world can ease his guilt. The how of the story is not even alluded to and no other character is mentioned so there are still plenty of surprises.
This trope is rather apparent in both of the Dragon Ball Z TV specials:
In Bardock: The Father of Goku, it's pretty clear that Freeza destroys Planet Vegeta and almost all its inhabitants at the end.
In The History of Trunks, Gohan dies, Trunks becomes a Super Saiyan and Bulma builds a time machine so that Trunks can return to the past.
Senko No Night Raid: Japan would eventually plunge into imperialistic militarism and ravage China, and the rest of the world would also descend to war eventually, despite whatever efforts the protagonists might attempt to do.
Fate/Zero, as a prequel to Fate/stay night, is subject to this. Anyone who is familiar with the latter will know that the Grail is corrupted, and Kiritsugu will be forced to order Saber to destroy it, resulting in the fire. Kiritsugu saves Shirou by implanting Avalon in him and adopts him, and he will die from the Grail's curse a few years later, without ever seeing his daughter again. Kotomine will give in to his inclinations and become a villain. Kariya will fail to rescue Sakura, and Rider will be unable to convince Saber that her ideals are flawed. Tokiomi, Aoi, and Irisviel are all Doomed by Canon as well.
From the original Saint Seiya, we already knew how few the survivors from the last Holy War were; anyone who read it knew what kind of fate awaited the sheer majority of the characters in Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas, as well as a few pointers about how the Holy War would end.
Mysterious Girlfriend X: It's treated as a given that the main characters, Tsubaki and Urabe, will eventually be each other's first sexual experience (Urabe, who's mildly psychic and can experience others' feelings and transmit her own feelings to them through exchange of saliva, even says in the first chapter that an inner voice told her that Tsubaki would be her first sexual partner). So far, though, the manga's still ongoing (80 chapters thus far) and they haven't even had their First Kiss yet, but there's no doubt between either of them (or to the reader) that greater levels of intimacy will eventually take place between them; Tsubaki even muses at one point that his "mysterious girlfriend" may eventually become his "mysterious wife."
∀ Gundam applies this retroactively to just about every Gundam continuity. No matter what happens or how successful the protagonists are, the peace/order/victory they've achieved is at best bittersweet and fleeting. At worst, it's all for nothing due to the Moonlight Butterfly.
Something similar can be said for Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, given that it takes place before F91 and Victory. This has the effect of making Unicorn's aesop about the hope for the future and human possibility ring rather hollow, given that the peace attained at the end lasts a mere twenty years.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann starts off with a 2-minute scene showing how the creators wanted the show to end (Simon and the Dai-Gurren-Dan waging war on all other Spiral-races to protect the universe), but they threw the script away (and didn't consider re-watching the first episode) and ended up subverting it.
InuYasha makes it clear from the moment Kagome returns to the present for the first time and sees it's unchanged that Naraku doesn't survive, as he would be immortal and (as powerful as he becomes near the manga's end) has no reason to hide from humanity. In fact, the only demons we see at all are either forces of nature (the Hell's Piper) or were sealed away in feudal times (the Noh mask), implying the demons have either been wiped out or so overwhelmed by the advancement of human technology they've had to go into hiding.
Willow is trying to bring magic back to her world in Season 9. In the Season 8crossover with Fray, Time Of Your Life, it is revealed that in the future there is only one slayer left and that Willow has regained her power and become the Big Bad after going dark again. And she gets killed by Buffy.
That is, unless Whistler actually succeeds in changing the future.
The Death of Superman got enough news coverage that CNN should have used spoiler warnings. Thus most people knew, at least from the beginning of the issue where it occurred, that the cover blurb was not just an example of Covers Always Lie. Even those living under rocks until the collected edition (or novelization) was published would generally have a good idea of what was going to happen, with titles like The Death of Superman,The Return of Superman, and The Death and Return of Superman.
In Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America, Captain America dies. The tension comes more from the whodunnit angle and general Avengers infighting.
In Captain America Reborn, Captain America comes Back from the Dead. Though not before some time-travel complications, as well as the Red Skull planning on usurping control of his body.
This is why even the writers for Legion of Super-Heroes came to regret their first Flash Forward to the characters' adulthood — everyone now knew who was going to survive and who wasn't, ruining tension.
The writer of The Mighty Thor (renamed Journey into Mystery) made sure to point out that Loki turning evil again IS NOT a foregone conclusion, since Thor destroyed the Ragnarok cycle which contained the Norn's prophecies that decreed the destinies of the Asgardians. Of course, the whole "Loki gets turned into a kid with only his childhood memories" helps. He's in the Antihero area.
Noob, due to events happening in both the webseries and the novel being about 90% certain to occur in the comic also (the three media have a Broad Strokes relation to each other). Its storyline is late enough on that of the two other media for a lot of in-comic Foreshadowing to technically be a Call Forward.
The mini-series Hunger revolves around Rick Jones and the Silver Surfer desperately trying to stop Galactus before he can begin his attack on the Ultimate Marvel version of Earth. Since Marvel has announced their next Crisis Crossover, Cataclysm (in which Galactus arrives on Earth and battles a bevy of Ultimate Marvel heroes), the readers are now keenly aware that Rick and the Surfer are going to fail in their objective.
The sad fact is, a lot of big pieces of comic news get spoiled ahead of time to hype up new books. We know Thor is going to become a woman before it actually happens. We knew that Trinity War would end with the Crime Syndicate showing up so Forever Evil could happen. Often the premise of an upcoming big name project spoils the end of a currently running one.
The Council Era is a Mass Effect fanfic centered on the Rachni Wars (in the first half, the 83 CE arc) and the Krogan Rebellion for both that and the 783 CE arc. In the first half, three species that don't exist in the video games are introduced. All three are, naturally, extinct by the end of the story. Other examples include: the krogan will be used to reduce the threat of the Rachni by the end of the first half (as stated in canon); the first half covers the build-up to the Krogan Rebellion, said rebellion will end with the genophage (a fertility plague that is killing off the Krogan in the games) being released (again, as stated in canon). These are bound to happen when you're writing a fic set in the past and intend to stick to canon. It doesn't lessen the drama of the storyline, though.
We are aware from the get-go that the instance of SBURB played in Guidestuck is doomed to fail, and that the characters will all die.
From the Robotech fanfic Valkyrie Nights, which is a prequel fanfic to the Macross saga, we know that Roy Fokker survives the events of the story and is cleared of murder charges.
In the WWE fanfic One More Time, Eddie Guerrero and Molly Holly go on a dessert date. They talk about Eddie's recent health and that maybe he should see a doctor. As the story takes place the night before Eddie died, we all know it doesn't end well.
In Who Decides, the prequel to Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, Ryusei is requesting for help in trying to save Jiro. Anyone who watched Fourze knows that Ryusei will make a Deal with the Devil with the Aries Zodiarts and end up killing Gentaro, thus setting the entire story in motion.
A meta example in Story Of The Century: fans of the manga series that the fanfic is based on know off the bat that Light and Misa are Kira and the Second Kira; the drama and suspense come from when and how they are found out.
The beginning of Megamind opens with the title character currently plummeting to his death, which means you know by the end of the movie he's going to wind up in this position. Of course, after the movie reaches that point, he manages to save himself at the last second.
In Hoodwinked, the two minute opening sequence makes clear plot points that will show up in each character's story: that Red Puckett will meet the Wolf on her way to Granny's and it won't go well (as she says, "You again?!" in the opening), that Granny will somehow end up in her closet, Bound and Gagged. Fortunately, some of the plot twists - like the Wolf being a journalist, Kirk being an actor, Granny being an extreme sports athlete - are not brought up.
In Monsters University, despite initially being antagonistic towards each other, the audience knows that Mike and Sulley will be the best of friends. Subverted because while most knew that Sulley would become a Scarer and Mike his assistant, it wasn't easy to guess that they would be expelled from the university and have to work their way up Monster Inc. the hard way.
36 Hours (1965): Just before D-Day the Germans stage an elaborate deception to make the main character, a captured American intelligence officer, believe that it is 1950, the war is over, and he has had amnesia. The idea is to get him to disclose the D-Day plans as "therapy" for his amnesia. History says that surprise was successfully maintained for the D-Day landings, so the tension-inducing question is how the main character will discover the ruse.
(500) Days of Summer: The story is this. As the narrator tells us at the start, "This is a story of Boy Meets Girl. But you should know up front, this is not a love story." The Anachronic Order also helps with this.
Amen: Depicts the efforts of SS Lieutenant Kurt Gerstein to stop the Holocaust by exposing it to the German public, via the Allies or the Vatican, and inspiring a campaign of protest against it similar to that which successfully stopped the Aktion T4 programme. The audience of course knows it didn't work out that way.
American Beauty: The Opening Monologue includes the line "in less than a year I will be dead." The tension then comes from the question "How?" which isn't answered until the end, at which point several different people have very different reasons to consider murdering him.
Apollo 13: Manages to wring surprising amounts of tension and suspense out of the story, even though you should know the ending already. They don't get to the moon, but they do survive.
Barry Lyndon: Makes excessive use of this trope. Everything that is going to happen is stated outright by the title cards and the narrator well in advance of the outcome. In his review, Roger Ebert even suggested this is the entire point of the film.
A Beautiful Mind: An odd variation came with this film. Although the major plot developments qualify to those familiar with John Nash's life, the script was written with the (correct) assumption that most of the audience wouldn't know him from Adam.
La bonne annee (The Good Year): Starts with a character getting out of jail in 1973 then cuts to the same character preparing a robbery in 1966.
Breach: Begins with a news report on the arrest of Robert Hanssen. Since the movie is based on real events, which did indeed end with his arrest, this is understandable.
Brick: Starts with Emily lying facedown in a drainage ditch. When she shows up again in the flashback sequence, you already know she's doomed.
Captain America: The First Avenger: Everything in this film led up to him being frozen for decades before waking up in the present time. Its sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is similar in that regard as anyone who has any knowledge of the comics knows exactly who the eponymous Winter Soldier is. It turns out the identity of the Winter Soldier is incidental to what's really going on.
Casino: This is subverted, where Joe Pesci's character, Nicky Santoro, has his narration cut off in mid sentence by the vicious beating that leads to his death.
Citizen Kane: Starts with the main character dying, and the rest is told in flashback. So you know he's going to die.
Confidence: Begins with the main character, Jake Vig, lying dead from a gunshot wound, his opening line of narration "... So I'm dead." Inverted Trope somewhat in that it turns out Jake's death is faked; his assertion that he is "dead" is only accurate in a sense that he is considered to be dead by the people who wanted him dead.
Creepshow: The segment of this anthology film starring Stephen King is entitled "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill".
The Crossing: A movie about Washington crossing the Delaware. It's the Darkest Hour for the Continental Army, as they have only ever been defeated, their enlistments are up in days, they're broke, and if they fall to the Hessians—which everyone but Washington thinks is a foregone conclusion of its own because Hessians—The American Revolution is kaput. Not only do they win, they do it without losing a single man in battle.note Two soldiers did die of hypothermia on the march to Trenton and several were wounded in the battle, but not fatally.
Evita: Starts with Eva Peron's funeral before flashing back to her early teenage years.
Fallen: Begins with a voiceover from the main character: "I wanna tell you about the time I almost died." Subverted Tropein that it's the demon Azazel who's really saying it. Denzel's character does die.
Michael Collins: The film starts with Joe O'Reilly consoling Kitty over the death of Collins. The film starts after the death of the main character, and then go back and tell the story of how the British Empire was humiliated. Considering the fact that the film is based of the lives of a long dead historical figure, the beginnings don't really give much away.
Gandhi: The film starts with Gandhi’s murder.The film starts after the death of the main character, and then go back and tell the story of how the British Empire was humiliated. Considering the fact that the film is based of the lives of a long dead historical figure, the beginnings don't really give much away.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah: Shows that Godzilla is slowly dying of a nuclear overload at the beginning of the film. Which actually starts even before the film, as the trailers for the film actually flat out state "Godzilla Dies!" as part of the advertising campaign to draw in viewers!
Heavenly Creatures: Begins with Pauline and Juliet running through a park covered in gore, screaming that Mummy's 'terribly hurt'. The rest of the film reveals how they came to this sorry pass. Those familiar with the case won't be surprised.
Since Bilbo is narrating the story, you know that he will survive this journey. Same with Gandalf and Glóin who both make appearances in the sequel The Lord of the Rings.
Likewise, anyone who paid close attention to The Fellowship of The Ring will know that Balin can't die in this trilogy, because he's the one entombed in the crypt at Moria, having fallen to the invading orcs.
The filmmakers are really playing with this, going as far as creating a new character as love interest for Kili.
Inglourious Basterds: Much of this film concerns two independent plots to kill Hitler and the rest of Nazi high command in a movie theater in France, in 1944. Since everyone knows how Hitler really died, there's only one way this can possibly end. Surprisingly, they succeed: Eli Roth shoots Hitler dead.
Ip Man: Everyone watching it already knows that he would survive the Japanese invasion of China and become Bruce Lee's martial arts master.
Kick-Ass: Referenced in this film; since Dave has been narrating all the way through, when seen tied to a chair and being tortured by Mooks, it seems reasonable to think he will survive. He promptly calls the audience on it; "if you're reassuring yourself that I'm going to make it through this since I'm talking to you now, quit being such a smart-ass! Hell dude, you never seen Sin City? Sunset Boulevard? American Beauty?" He survives despite pointing out that he might not.
Kill Bill: The scenes in the first film are not shown in chronological order. Although Vernita is actually the second name on the Bride's list, the scene where she confronts her is shown before the far-more climatic confrontation with her first victim, O-Ren Ishii. After killing Vernita, the Bride crosses her name off the list, and the viewer's can see that the name "O-Ren Ishii" has already been crossed out, making it obvious that O-Ren didn't survive in the yet-to-be-seen confrontation.
Lawrence of Arabia: You know the title character is going to die. Better yet if you know the true story.
Letters from Iwo Jima: Even the Japanese are Genre Savvy enough to realize that their situation is basically Unwinnable. Really, the only question is whether Saigo will survive the battle or not. He does, and is actually better off, as he is sent to a internment camp, internment camps were actually just boring holding camps, and he gets a free life in the US, and may still be friends with his American friend.
Lincoln: The end of the story is well known historic fact. You know how the vote will go but the tension is generated by what it takes to succeed.
Memento: Starts with Leonard shooting a man dead. The rest of the movie is spent finding out why he thinks he did it. An interesting variation on the trope, as the chronology of the movie mostly runs backwards and so it's natural to have the conclusion at the start. The chronology alternates between going forward and backwards, and meets in the middle in the climax.
Michael Clayton: The beginning of this film shows him survive an assassination attempt. Who wanted him dead? Watch the rest of the film to find out.
Milk: Actually comes right out and says that Harvey Milk is killed within the first few minutes of the movie. Interestingly, though, the movie even continues after he dies.
Miracle: Everyone knows that the American hockey team will beat the Soviet Union, but how did they manage to do it?
And the 1955 version is based on the actual life of Toulouse-Lautrec (and the novel).
The Opposite Of Sex: Narrator Dede and her ex-boyfriend struggle over a pistol, which goes off. The both lie there for a moment until Dede pushes his body off her. Her narration says "What, you thought I'd be the one who died? I'm the narrator here, guys! Keep up!"
Oz: The Great and Powerful: Theodora is "turned evil" in a situation sympathetic enough that in a different movie, you would probably be hoping that the effects of eating the apple will be undone and she'll return to her good self; just as Oz, not having seen the movies, offers her a Last-Second Chance when sending her into exile. But of course, in 'later' works she is the Wicked Witch of the West and therefore nothing like that will happen.
Pan's Labyrinth: Starts with Ofelia, lying on the ground, bleeding from her nose. From the fact that the blood is moving backwards, viewers can tell right away that the plot is about to rewind, which it does.
Penn & Teller Get Killed: At the end of this movie, they do. There's a closing narration along the lines of, "Well, what did you expect to happen?"
Public Enemies: This film is based on the life of the infamous bank robber John Dillinger, famously shot by three FBI agents.
Revolution 1985: Since this film is set in the American Revolutionary War, you know that the Americans will win out against the British in the end.
Romeo is Bleeding: Starts with a bartender telling a story about one of his regulars (Gary Oldman), and why that man is such a mess. There's a bit of a twist, though, when it's revealed at the end that both of them are the same man.
Seven Pounds: The movie starts with the main character calling in his own suicide to 911.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: Gives us a really good view of a waterfall during the establishing shot of the castle in which the climax of the film takes place. Those familiar with Holmes mythology could tell where the movie was headed from there. Subverted in that it's shown that Holmes survived. Those who weren't sure knew how it was going to end when Mycroft mentioned that the peace summit was taking place at Reichenbach
Star Trek: While this film is an alternate continuity and takes liberties such as killing Kirk's dad and destroying Vulcan, you know everyone will get over the conflicts to become True Companions as the Enterprise crew.
While perhaps not immediately obvious to casual fans, it was also obvious to most Star Wars fans as soon as Chancellor Palpatine showed up that he and Darth Sideous would turn out to be the same person; while not mentioned in Return of the Jedi, "Palpatine" was known to be the Emperor's name in many novels where he appeared.
The Strangers: Begins with saying that the two protagonists left a wedding reception in 2005 and nobody knows exactly what happened next, all but saying that they died. Then they show some parts of the ending. Though the movie cheats at the end by having the female lead impossibly survive. Though she may be better off dead, as she was terrorized by a group of serial killers, saw her husband blow a friend's head off, and was stuck in a chair while he and her husband were stabbed repeatedly. Even if the survivor... well, survives, they won't be getting out of a psych ward for awhile. In her case, "death" may have been meant metaphorically.
Stranger Than Fiction: "Little did he know that this simple seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death." "What? What? Hey!" Subverted, though: he lives at the end.
Sunset Boulevard: Starts with a shot of the main character and narrator lying dead in a swimming pool. Being a movie about a screenwriter and an old movie starlet, it sure as hell makes you wonder the whole length of the movie.
The Thing (2011): The plot is a prequel about the Norwegian camp story, and you know through MacReady and his team's investigation in the 1982 film the overall fate of the Norwegian camp and its occupants, including how some of them are going to die. It also foreshadows the ending that "The Thing" will imitate a dog and 2 survivors from the Norwegian camp will chase and hunt it down, which they will fail to accomplish.
Titanic is a double example. You know that the Titanic is going to sink, and you know right from the start that the main character survives.
May also qualify as Prophecy Twist - viewers paying attention to Rose's backstory at the beginning will know immediately which man she ends up with, as her last name is given as Dawson. However, at the end of the movie it's revealed the circumstances surrounding this were not marriage.
Tora! Tora! Tora!!: Most of this film is about the Japanese planning to attack Pearl Harbor and the Americans fretting over their attempts to discover what Japan is up to. The Japanese achieve complete surprise.
Transcendence: As Max narrates at the start of the film, reminiscing about Will and Evelyn, it's clear that both of them are dead by this time.
The film does have significant differences to the Iliad on which it is based. Both Menelaus and Agamemnon survive the war in the original story, whereas Paris does not; in the film this is reversed.
In the film, Helen leaves with Paris because she genuinely loves him and hates Menelaus, the old man who she was forced to marry. In the original legend, Helen dearly loves Menelaus, the marriage is her personal choice, and she only falls for Paris because of a spell put on her by the goddess Aphrodite.
Two Came Back: This 1997 made-for-TV movie depicted five young people left adrift in an emergency raft after their yacht sinks. Guess how many of the characters survived the ordeal and returned to land safely? If you need to, take another look at the title.
Valkyrie: Even if you are not familiar with the historical details, everyone knows that Adolf Hitler will survive the bombing. And if you don't like that, well, just watch Inglourious Basterds instead.
Veronica Guerin This film is not only based on the life and death of the aforenamed Irish journalist, the movie begins with a depiction of her murder. The film then flashes back to two years prior, when she began her investigations into the Irish drug trade, which is what lead to her gruesome fate.
This films are both prequels to the first three X-Men films (though the prequels contradict each other in some regards) and therefore contain numerous examples of this trope (assuming that the viewer has seen the first three films and/or is familiar with the comic book source material).
In Wolverine, it's a given that Logan, Sabretooth, and Stryker will all survive the film. Logan will receive his adamantium skeleton from the Weapon X program. Finally, Logan's memories of everything in his life up to, and including, the events of the film will somehow be erased by the end of the film.
In First Class, it's sadly given that despite Xavier and Magneto starting out as best friends, Magneto's inevitable Face-Heel Turn will result in them becoming the leaders of two opposing mutant factions. Eventually Mystique will make a Face-Heel Turn of her own and become Magneto's Dragon. Beast's attempts to "cure" the physical appearance aspect of his mutation will not only fail, but will actually backfire, making his condition much worse.
Into The Storm: Obviously the audience knows how the second world war (and Churchill's career) turns out, the interesting part is witnessing Churchill's struggle firsthand.
R. Austin Freeman's The Singing Bone (1912), which features his medical detective Dr. Thorndike, is said to have the earliest inverted mystery in literature.
Uprising, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, starts with a ten years later, with a young woman coming to one of the main characters and asking about the strike, and the fire (the book is based on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory...). Due to inner monologue, it's revealed that 2 of the 3 narrators of the book end up dead. But it still backs a wallop when reading the death scenes- from their own point of view!
Adam Cadre's Ready, Okay! exemplifies this trope by stating on page 1 that by the end of the school year, every person that the main character loves and cares about will be dead.
In both the novel I, Claudius and The BBCTV series based on it, readers are told at the start that Claudius is going to become Emperor. Nonetheless, the description of 60 years of Roman politics and intrigue leading up to this event manages to remain amazing and entertaining.
His first novel The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor: Who Drifted on a Liferaft for Ten Days Without Food or Water, Was Proclaimed a National Hero, Kissed by Beauty Queens, Made Rich Through Publicity, and Then Spurned by the Government and Forgotten for All Time.
Since the Redwall novel Mossflower opens with Martin the Warrior in exile, the prequel Martin the Warrior ending with him going into exile is pretty much a given. This doesn't make the latter novel's monumentalDowner Ending any less powerful, of course.
Philip Pullman's The White Mercedes/The Butterfly Tattoo begins with the following sentence, also on the back cover: "Chris Marshall met the girl he was going to kill on a warm night in early June..." Yeah, right. That's quite a definition of "kill" you've got there, Philip Pullman.
Annoyingly, one of the Septimus Heap books talks about the future daughter of the protagonist doing something. Every example of danger that she's in is entirely unneeded, and technically never in any permanent danger.
Used similarly in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books. One of the books says that Percy is writing this six years after the book takes place. Extremely, extremely egregious as the whole premise of the series is based on a prophecy saying that someone will die when they're sixteen years old, and he believes it to be himself. Everyone assumed it would be the child of the big three and Percy isn't the only child of the three: there are three others besides himself.
Tamburlaine Must Die is exempt from the historical fiction version of this trope because there are more than enough conspiracy theories about the main character, Christopher Marlowe, that say he didn't die. It still starts by saying he's going to die in three days. However, fans of the writer will be strongly suspecting a subversion... which doesn't happen.
John Dies at the End, for obvious reasons. Subverted in that John is the only main character who doesn't die at the end, He instead opts to die at the start. They get better.
Technically, this trope could be used to describe A Series of Unfortunate Events, because the endings of the books are unfortunate, as the author clearly states. A particularly strong example occurs in The Reptile Room, in which Uncle Monty's death is announced in the narration long before it happens.
At the beginning, the narrator Death says that Liesel's story, chronicled in her diary, ends with her surrounded by ruins, howling. However, Death's description of the scene is vague enough for the later full narrative of the same scene to still pack quite an emotional punch.
Death reveals the death of a certain character in the middle of the book because he is bad at mystery.
Bertolt Brecht's The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui makes interesting use of this trope. The play is deliberately shown to be an allegory for Adolf Hitler's rise to power, so the audience already knows how the story will end. The focus thereon in is on how he came to power — and how easily it could have been prevented. Didactic, but very worth it.
The introduction to Cordwainer Smith's novel Norstrilia ends with the following words:
He gets away. He got away. See, that's the story. Now you don't have to read it. Except for the details. They follow.
Anyone with a smidgeon of knowledge about European history already knows Napoleon fails to conquer Russia in War and Peace. The whole book is more about why he failed. In case you didn't know Napoleon tried to invade Russia before reading the book, the philosophical asides mention it often enough.
Fate/Zero is (almost certainly) written under the assumption that readers are already familiar with Fate/stay night, which it's a prequel to. The knowledge of how it all turns out (hint: not happy) adds to the sense of tragedy. Not to mention that if you read it first you'll get most of Fate/stay night's plot twists spoiled in the prologue. Discussed by the author in the end of Volume 1.
"Don't get too attached to these guys, no matter how cool they may be. You know they're just going to die."
I want you to think of a regular ship. No, not a flying dragon ship like the one that was falling apart beneath me as I fell to my death. Focus. I obviously survived the crash, since this book is written in the first person.
Anyone even the slightest bit familiar with The Bible or Christian theology in general will know how Paradise Lost is going to turn out before it even begins. Anyone else will be told how it's going to turn out in the first five lines or so.
In the The Bible; the Gospel authors (especially John) had a tendency to introduce Judas Iscariot as "the man who would betray Jesus".
Nabokov's Lolita has a foreword, which says that Humbert died from coronary thrombosis and Lolita died in childbirth. However, it refers Lolita as "Mrs. Richard F. Schiller", her married name, which isn't revealed until the end of the book.
Stephen R Donaldson's The Real Story spends the first chapter describing how a Damsel in Distress got rescued from an evil villain by a dashing hero. Then the rest of the novel is spent finding out that both the situation and the characters were in fact rather more complex than they seemed to a casual observer. Following books compound the process.
Daniel Defoe's The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who Was Born In Newgate, and During a Life of Continu'd Variety For Threescore Years, Besides Her Childhood, Was Twelve Year a Whore, Five Times a Wife (Whereof Once To Her Own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon In Virginia, At Last Grew Rich, Liv'd Honest, and Died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums.
In Mercedes Lackey's first Heralds of Valdemar novel, she details the dramatic death scene of Vanyel, the last Herald-Mage of Valdemar. When Vanyel gets his own trilogy, everyone knows where this is ultimately going. The same thing happens with Lavan Firestorm, whose death is described in the first Heralds of Valdemar trilogy long before his story is told firsthand in Brightly Burning.
Yukio Mishima's Patriotism actually begins with the reader being told about the couple's (who are the main characters) joint suicide.
Kevin J. Anderson's Last Days of Krypton. Everyone knows the planet is going to go kaboom, but he manages to milk a large amount of suspense over how, introducing multiple possibilities in rapid succession. Will it explode from geologic instability? Will it be smashed by a massive comet? Will it be consumed by its red sun Rao going supernova? Answer: none of the above. All of the above threats are taken care of, then near the end a bunch of stupid politicians throw a portal to the Phantom Zone into the core, causing the planet to implode.
Heaven's Net Is Wide. If you've read the main series that this book is a prequel to, then you know exactly what's going to happen. And that just makes it even more heartbreaking.
Additionally, parts of Hearn's Otori trilogy are presented as the memoirs of one of the characters, letting the reader know that that particular character will survive all the way through. When Hearn revisited the series with Harsh Cry of the Heron, the story switched to omniscient third person, cluing you in to the fact that the narrator of the previous books would not survive to the end.
It's not hard to see how the author would expect you to know the ending of The Death of Ivan Ilyich.
In Ikiru, the narrator tells when and how Watanabe will die. You get to see what he does before then, and then watch his funeral.
There's a novel, Death Star, which takes place on the first Death Star. It gets used on Alderaan and is later destroyed. The characters, of course, don't know that. There's a cantina owner whose bar got burned down getting an offer to work in a bar up there, and deciding that there probably isn't a safer place to work than an invincible battle station. The head gunner, uneasy about being in a station which theoretically could destroy a planet, consoles himself by thinking that it will be used purely on large ships, enemy space stations, maybe some moons, since no one would be evil enough to order him to fire on a populated world. A few other characters vaguely wish they could leave, maybe join the Rebellion, but with something like the Death Star cruising around, the Rebellion would come to naught, since people who would gladly die for their cause would hesitate to risk their planet. War as they knew it would end. A lot of the tension comes from wondering who, if anyone, survives, and how, since most of them don't have permission to leave.
Second book in the Coruscant Nights Trilogy — Captain Typho, Padme's Bodyguard Crush, seeks to avenge her death, eventually deciding that he has to kill Darth Vader. Even he thought it would be a Curb-Stomp Battle unless he was really prepared. Didn't really work. It introduces a Continuity Snarl, though, as Typho is cut down by Vader, even though existing canon confirmed that he was still alive 18 years later.
Julie Buxbaum's The Opposite of Love is mostly centred around the main character's difficulties forming relationships following the death of her mother — problem is, any tension that might arise over whether she'll ever work things out is sapped by the flash-forward prologue, where she's married with a baby on the way.
In The Godfather Mario Puzo frequently mentions something that will happen, and then "rewinds" to show how it happened. For example, the deaths of Sonny — the scene with Vito calling in the favor from the undertaker appears before the tollbooth sequence and Vito.
The "Emperor" series (as well as any other story depicting the life of Caesar). It's known what will happen between Julius and Brutus in the end, yet the story is very compelling all the way through.
The Horus Heresy series. The major (and many of the minor) facts of the Horus Heresy have been part of the Warhammer 40,000canon for over twenty years. If nothing else, you know Lucius, Kharn, Abaddon, Typhus et al are going to survive, because they have profiles in the friggin' Chaos Codex. Well, for a given value of 'survive' in at least two of those cases. Lucius isn't really the man he used to be.
Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novels — Cain will survive because these are his memoirs; Amberly Vail will survive because she outlived him and edited the memoirs; Sulla will survive because she reaches the rank of reached Lady General and Vail included excerpts from her memoirs to supplement Cain's; in Death or Glory, Tayber and Arriott will survive because Vail included excerpts from their memoirs.
Similarly, the Gotrek & Felix series prefaces its chapters with excerpts from the Book Felix has sworn to write. So while Gotrek's death is a given, it's obvious that Felix will survive whatever doom Fate has in store for the Trollslayer, despite his worrying about it in the present.
It was later revealed in the books by Nathan Long that Felix had been sending the manuscripts to his brother and that they had already been published with Gotrek still alive. The only indications of Gotrek's death are a vague prophecy by a mortally wounded daemon and the fact that the books Kinslayer and Slayer are being billed as The Doom of Gotrek Gurnisson.
Dune does this twice, telling how the first of the book's three parts will end in the second chapter (spoiling a Plot Twist in doing so), and the book's ending is foretold in the middle of the second part by the prophetic, Magnificent Bastard protagonist. Yet this still doesn't detract how exciting it is reading how it happens.
It's done even more in the sequel, Dune Messiah: the conclusion is hinted at in the second chapter, and by halfway through the novel, the protagonist has a prescient dream in which he foresees the entire rest of the story. The vision guides him even after his eyes get burned out by nuclear radiation. By twenty pages before the climax (a substantial portion of the just 200-page book) it's a definite example, except for the Plot Twist in which Paul foresees only the birth of his daughter, and not her far more significant twin brother.
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters is written backwards chronologically. It is particularly bittersweet as you view the beginnings of a pair who you know will eventually turn into an embittered, nigh abusive couple.
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote starts out with Holly Golightly having already left and the narrator going backwards to recount their time together.
Similar is Nina Lugovskaya's I Want To Live, essentially the Stalinist version of Anne Frank, although Nina survives her imprisonment. But why else would you be reading these books?
Alfred Doeblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz begins with a one-page summary of the book's plot, describing the character's frequent falls from grace, but it refers rather elliptically to his final redemption, leaving some mystery. Likewise, each chapter is preceded by a summary, and throughout the book there are references to events yet to occur. All this is to show how the central character has no control over his life.
The original book of Wicked had loads of this for anyone even remotely familiar with either the book or movie of The Wizard of Oz. We know that somehow the green-skinned Elphaba will get a pointy black hat, a broomstick, some winged monkeys and set up shop in the West as the Wicked Witch, while her friend Glinda will become the Good Witch of either the North or South (it ends up following the movie version, from the North), her sister will become the Wicked Witch of the East before being squished by a Kansas farmhouse dropped by a tornado and carrying a young girl who will ultimately kill Elphaba by splashing her with water. Note that the ending is not quite so foregone in the musical version. The book also has more obscure ones for those who have read the other Oz books. For example, a peasant boy being dragged along by an old woman is Tip, who will become the princess Ozma.
The Animorphs books including Chronicles in the title all do this to some degree
Andalite tells the backstory of Elfangor, who dies in the beginning of the first book (the Framing Story is that it's his last testament, transmitted telepathically just minutes before his death). It also has Alloran, whom we know as the host body of Visser Three, as Elfangor's commanding officer.
Hork-Bajir involves the conquering of the Hork-Bajir, who are almost entirely enslaved by the time of the main series.
Ellimist relates a humble space bird's journey from gamer to God via Sufficiently Advanced Alien. The framing device is of him telling his backstory to a deceased but unnamed main character (which is itself sort of a spoiler for the main series), so it's really not surprising where "Toomin" ends up.
Visser involves the Yeerk's discovery of Earth and the early stages of the invasion, the results of which are seen in the main series.
Galapagos employs this trope extensively. In fact, he goes so far as to play with this by putting an asterisk by the name of every character due to die soon in the course of the story, and telling us that humanity will shortly be killed by a virulent disease. Cat's Cradle is similarly upfront in saying that ice-nine will escape and destroy the world, despite the protagonist's efforts.
There is a character introduced near the beginning of Slaughterhouse-Five. Almost every time that character makes an appearance in the story Vonnegut tells us when and how he will die. By the time the reader finally sees his death, it doesn't have as deep an impact. So it goes.
Danish author Hans Scherfig's novel Det forsømte forår (Stolen Spring, or literally The Neglected Spring) begins with the murder of a latin teacher from a high-esteemed school. Then we flash forward to many years, where his students meet and think back to their school time, and through this, we get to know the killer (the fact that his killer is among the students is revealed right away.)
What Came Before He Shot Her tells the ending right in the title, although it may take quite awhile to figure who 'he' and 'her' are. The main character actually didn't shoot her, though he takes the blame.
The opening lines to Ruth Rendell's novel A Judgement In Stone tell us that "Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write". This doesn't prevent it being one of her best novels.
If you've ever heard about Griboyedov, much less studied in a Russian school, then you probably know how The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar ends. If not, then you will realize it as soon as it is explained that Griboyedov's diplomatic title is "Vazir Mukhtar" in Farsi.
In the Stephen Hunter Swagger series, it's well established that sniper Bob Lee Swagger's best friend and spotter Donnie Fenn was killed at Swagger's side in Vietnam even before Fenn's story is told in Time To Hunt.
Because Bobby's segments of The Pendragon Adventure are presented in journal formats, it is obvious that he has survived all of the events in the books. The point of the journals is to see exactly what events he survived, and how.
Bluestar's Prophecy. As if the fact that how and when Bluestar dies is already known by the entire fanbase isn't enough, the book opens with her death scene rewritten from her point of view. A good part of the book works like this, too, such as her relationship with Oakheart, Mosskit's death, and the fact that all of the characters who aren't in the first books will end up dead.
Crookedstar's Promise, especially seeing as we never heard of Willowbreeze or Crookedstar's other kits. And also Stormkit breaking his jaw and being held back from being an apprentice. And that he dies at the end.
Anyone who's read Eclipse already knows that the main character of The Short Second Life of Bree Tanneris murdered by the Volturi. Heck, just reading the title gives most people a good idea of how it'll end. On a lesser note, anyone at all the least bit familiar with the Twilight series will know that sunlight makes the vampires sparkle and not burn into ash, long before the actual characters do.
Losing Joe's Place. As if the title isn't enough, the book starts with Joe furious with Jason over the title blunder and forcing him to recount how it happened.
Invoked in The Doomsday Brunette, when a genetically modified gorilla is reenacting King Kong (It Makes Sense in Context) and the detective says, "King Kong only ends one way."
The reader knows from the beginning of the The Sparrow that the mission ends catastrophically. The novel is about how and why that happened.
The Belisarius Series has some of this in certain passages. For instance, it describes a character's reaction to an event, and adds how decades later, when he'd married and fathered children, those children loved to hear him retell the story of that event. Well, we sure know he's going to survive the series. That example occurs in the first book. The same passage also specifies that another character will be killed in a later battle, and of course it happens as described.
The very title of the final book of The Lord of the Rings trilogy lets the reader know that Aragorn will live to claim the throne of Gondor, spoiling plot points in the first two books. This is why Tolkien wanted to title the book "The War of the Ring" rather than "The Return of the King". He was overruled by the publisher.
In World War Z you know that humanity will survive because the book is supposedly written after the war.
Assassin's Creed: Renaissance by Oliver Bowden has one placed near the end of chapter one, when Ezio is living it up with Federico. "Little did he realize how short-lived those days would be." Doesn't exactly bring about a feeling of good nature and happy-la-la, does it? Of course, if you'd played the game already, you likely saw the bit that follows coming.
In Obasan by Joy Kogawa, the main character Naomi's mother went to Japan around 1940 to help an ailing grandmother and never came back. Most readers can probably figure out that her mother probably died in the atomic bombings. But in the 70s, Naomi reads some letters about her missing mother which state that she went to Nagasaki in August 1945 to visit a cousin, and was mutilated and later died in the bombings.
Samantha Kingston dies at the end of the first chapter of Before I Fall, and a few more times after that.
In an odd context-reliant example, readers of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood knew full well what happened to the Clutter family and their killers thanks to the huge press coverage it received when the news broke. Capote had to rely on the one thing they didn't know in order to make his book a success; the gritty details.
The Feast of the Goat is a novel that deals with the end of Rafael Trujillo's dictatorship. Thanks to knowledge in history and the chapters' order, we know from the start that he's going to be murdered.
The first page of The Cruel Sea tells us that HMS Compass Rose will be sunk and replaced.
Why We Broke Up. It's a girl telling her ex-boyfriend why they broke up; throughout her 300-or-so-page description of their relationship, you know the entire time that they're going to break up, assuming you read the title.
Darkness at Noon: Rubashov is going to be shot, and he knows it. The question is what he will (or will not) say before his execution, and to whom.
In Muriel Spark’s novella The Driver’s Seat, the fate of troubled protagonist Lise is established in the opening paragraph, which mentions Interpol agents investigating her death.
As mentioned in the Film section above, if a story has a Narrator, you can generally assume they will live to the end, though there are of course subversions. Val McDermid loves subverting this trope (so much so that a fan of her writing may start to expect it). Many of her books switch back and forth between two or three narrators, letting you assume that at least those two or three characters will make it... only to have one of them be brutally murdered halfway through the story.
They Shoot Horses Dont They starts In Medias Res, and it's told in the first few pages that the protagonist, Robert killed his friend, Gloria because she asked him to, and he'll be sentenced to death for it.
Apollo's Grove is the story of the last Oracle of Delphi, who is identified as such early in the play by her mentor. She fights to save her temple and religion. She obviously fails, though she does manage to Fling a Light into the Future.
The Cat Who Went to Heaven is about a cat who goes to heaven after dying with happiness after being included in a picture with the Buddha. Knowing this doesn't make the ending any less of a Tear Jerker.
The Sea Hunters series by Clive Cussler is a nonfiction account of his shipwreck hunting expeditions. It's extremely episodic, with each part being the name of the ship in question and having "Chapter 1" be a dramatized account of what made the ship famous and its demise. Therefore, you know that each section of the book will have the part's namesake going to the bottom a few sentences before the phrase "Chapter 2".
Since the S.D. Perry Resident Evil novels were written for fans of the games who all know Wesker is the Big Bad, the author doesn't even try and hide it. Instead we get numerous chapters which show what Wesker was up to (and exactly how evil this guy really is), while Chris and Jill fumbled through the mansion.
Cordwainer Smith was notable in that many of his stories begin by telling the ending. For instance, one of his finest stories, "The Dead Lady of Clown Town," begins: "You already know the end—the immense drama of the Lord Jestocost, seventh of his line, and how the cat-girl C'mell initiated the vast conspiracy. But you do not know the beginning, how the first Lord Jestocost got his name, because of the terror and inspiration which his mother, the Lady Goroke, obtained from the famous real-life drama of the dog-girl D'joan. It is even less likely that you know the other story—the one behind D'joan. This story is sometimes mentioned as the matter of the "nameless witch," which is absurd, because she really had a name. The name was "Elaine," an ancient and forbidden one."
Despoilers Of The Golden Empire is an unusual example because the result is a foregone conclusion but the audience doesn't realize it for the vast majority of the story. The story details the invasion of Commander Frank and his ill-equipped army of an alien world far away from home in search of the element that their empire runs on - gold. The piece is a work of Historical Fiction, not of Science Fiction, and "Commander Frank" is, in fact, Francisco Pizarro; the story is about the conquest of Peru in the 1500s.
Ranger's Apprentice talks a lot about Hal Mikkelson, and the fact his revolutionary sail plan is a common feature on wolfships. Brotherband is a prequel to these mentions, and stars Hal Mikkelson. A large amount of tension in the latter series is whether or not Hal can clear his name, a feat he would have done for Skandians to be permitted to discuss him in the former series.
The Wheel of Time series makes it perfectly clear, at the beginning of every book, that the story takes place in both an age long past and an age yet to come. In fact, the very title of the series suggests that time is cyclical, and thus everything that has happened before will happen again.
Game shows provide many examples of the winner being virtually assured before the episode's natural conclusion — that is, the contestant in the lead will have such a great lead that it is impossible for the other players to catch up. For instance:
Jeopardy!: When a first-place contestant has more than double the cash amount (score) of the second-place contestant at the end of the "Double Jeopardy" round, the situation is known as a "lock" or, more recently, a "runaway". That is, unless the leader does something very stupid (such as bet everything in "Final Jeopardy!" and then give a wrong answer) he is assured of winning.
Sale Of The Century: For the first year of the 1980s NBC revival, the front game ended with three questions, worth $5 each (for a maximum $15 payout). Oftentimes, the leading contestant had a lead of at least $16 lead, rendering the final set of questions a mere formality. To avert this, a "Speed Round" was added, with host Jim Perry asking as many questions as time allowed at $5 each — although by the end of these rounds, a dominant contestant will have such a big lead that not enough time exists for the second- and third-place contestants to catch up.
Wheel of Fortune: Starting in 1999, $1,000 is added to whatever dollar space the wheel landed on the Final Spin, to reduce the amount of foregone conclusions at the start of the Speed-Up part of the final round and give trailing players a better shot at catching up. However, if he does hit $5,000, then this sometimes over-compensates to the point that a player with a very low score can abruptly overtake someone who was doing reasonably well before then.
On the Pyramid game shows hosted by Dick Clark, the front game automatically ended before the sixth category if the trailing contestant's score was so far behind that the sixth category was not necessary (except in the instances where bonus categories still had to be played). At least twice (once in 1985 and again in 1986), the game ended after the fourth category.
Similarly, on Match Game, the front game's second round ended immediately after an incorrect match made it impossible for the losing contestant to at least tie the score.
The Newlywed Game: Although extremely rare, husband-wife teams whose scores were 30 or more points behind the other teams did not play the final "25-point bonus question," since they were out of the running for the show's prize (the 25-point question, even if answered correctly, would not give them the lead and a shot at winning).
The last episode of Star Trek: Voyager begins with the crew on Earth, celebrating the 10th anniversary of their return home. The producers of the episode then throw in some How We Got Here and some good old fashioned Reset Button to both subvert and lampshade this trope.
Smallville tries to maintain sufficient drama, suspense, and Shipping even though we already know that Clark becomes Superman and ends up with Lois Lane. Clark's friendship with Lex Luthor is actually more compelling given that we know they become mortal enemies later in life, than many other relationships on the show.
Babylon 5 does this for nearly every plot line. In the first episode, we learn how G'Kar and Londo Mollari die (but the context is nothing like what we expect). The end of The Shadow War is given a season before it actually happens. Half way through the first season we see the eventual destruction of Babylon 5 (the space station). And of course there's "If you go to Z'ha'dum you will die".
Deadwood Wild Bill Hickok serves as a main character in the first four episodes of the first season, and his murder becomes central to several storylines that follow. Also, viewers knowledgable of history would know that characters based on historical figures such as Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock and Sol Starr were going to survive the time portrayed in the series.
Columbo, the TV mystery series starring the iconic Peter Falk character, is a beautiful example of how this trope can generate narrative tension. Famously described as not a whodunnit but a 'howcatchem', the show devoted the opening fifteen minutes or so of each episode to showing the murderer set up and execute their version of the perfect crime. From there we follow Columbo's slow, methodical attempts to unravel it, picking up subtle physical clues and using them to play mind games with the suspect.
Murder, She Wrote often shows the killer at the beginning of the episode, leaving the rest of the episode to show how Jessica goes about catching the killer.
Sherlock has an episode called "The Reichenbach Fall." Guess what happens. Subverted in that we see that he survived, although we're not told how.
Most episodes of the last several seasons of Monk are better classified as "whydunits," as we see the crime, but it doesn't seem to make any sense, such as the time when a millionaire tries to mug a middle class man at gunpoint. The police want to clear the crime from the books, because all the facts seem in order, and there are no loose ends, but Monk senses that someone must be getting away with something.
Many episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent are whydunits, although while there is usually a bit of black humor, or wackiness in the Monk crimes, the CI crimes are always played straight. The "whydunit" is just from the audience's point of view. The detectives still have the whole case to solve. It's like the Columbo model, with the extra tension of wondering why the crime was committed in the first place. The crimes on Columbo usually had obvious motives, like monetary gain, when expensive jewels were stolen.
At the beginning of the episode "Doomsday", Rose Tyler's voiceover says, "This is the story of how I died." Of course it turns out that she's only considered dead in our world because she's trapped, and quite alive, in an alternative dimension with no apparent way back to this one...except that she appears in the first episode of series 4, before disappearing in a flash of light, and comes back later in the season.
Also any time they go back to famous events, Pompeii, the Reign of Terror, Madame du Pompadour, World War I, World War II, etc., the world doesn't end — big shock.
In the 4th series, River Song dies in the double episode she is introduced, but is capable of time travel... effectively making her immortal whenever she appears in other episodes.
In the first part of the series 5 finale, van Gogh's expression of the TARDIS exploding is passed through the centuries. Earlier on, a chunk of an exploded TARDIS is extracted by The Doctor from a time crack. However, The entire reality in which the event happened is wiped out and replaced by a similar one.
Even though Ted spends the first season trying to get Robin, we know from the first episode that their relationship is ultimately doomed (Ted does get her by the final episode of the first season and they break up just before Lily and Marshall's wedding at the end of the second).
We learn that Marshall's greatest mistake was buying his first apartment with Lily, then later that episode we see them buying an expensive apartment downwind of the sewage treatment plant with a bad mortgage.
A lot of things about the show are foregone conclusions from flashforwards or spoilers given by Future Ted: the gang's friendships will all last, Lily and Marshall will stay married, Robin will never have kids, Robin's career will take off, Wendy and Meeker will get married, Barney will get married, Lily and Marshall will have a baby, Ted and the mother will have children, etc. Elaborated on in this NPR article.
In Mad Men, the main characters work on an ad campaign for Richard Nixon's campaign for the presidency (against John Kennedy.) We know it won't work, but it's still very interesting. However, the trope is played with a bit as the audience is initially led to believe that their client, described as a "young, handsome navy hero", is Kennedy.
The show only starts hinting at an Arthur/Gwen romance in season two. And, of course, eventually Prince Arthur is going to be king, with a magic sword, a Table Round, and Merlin as his trusted advisor.
Also, Morgana eventually turns evil.
No matter how loyal Mordred appears to be to Arthur, one of the defining moments of the Arthurian Legends is that of Arthur and Mordred's fight to the death and thus he must be evil.
An episode of NCIS starts with one character racing to find two others, just in time to see them start to drown. Most of the rest of the episode shows how that scene came to be. The fact that every segment begins with a one-second "repeat" of the final second of that very segment should also apply here.
Xena spends Season 4 with recurring visions of herself and Gabrielle crucified at the hands of the Romans, while all the while Caesar is getting rid of his competitors and consolidating power in Rome. When an episode entitled "The Ides of March" pops up at the end of the season, you know what's coming. Caesar dies with the requisite Shakespeare quotes, Xena and Gabrielle die on crosses. Somewhat of a surprise at the time, many people expected the writers to find a way for the heroes to technically fulfill destiny and still escape...
Rome, quite obviously. Caesar dies. Marc Antony and Cleopatra die. Octavian wins and changes his name to Augustus.Rome has the distinction of being spoilable by a calendar — a simple glance at the months between June and September are all one needs to see just whose clan comes out on top.
You Rang, M'Lord? plays this up in the final episode, as Lord Meldrum talks about how things are finally looking up—just a year before the beginning of the Great Depression.
The first Blackadder series is built on the premise that Henry Tudor (aka Henry VII) eventually became king and (according to the programme) re-wrote history to depict Richard III as a hunchback monster who'd killed his nephews. So, the resolution's already known from the start, the only question is how.
Deadliest Catch: Capt. Phil Harris died of a stroke while filming season six. When the season premiered there was a lot of intentional/unintentional foreshadowing, and even worse Hope Spots — he was doing so well they had already started thinking about physical therapy...
The BBC3 drama pilot Dis/Connected starts out with the funeral of one of the characters, then goes on to tell most of the story through flashbacks. The audience thus knows from the beginning that Jenny killed herself - the question is why none of her friends responded when she emailed them her suicide note.
Boardwalk Empire features many historical characters so their fates are pretty much sealed.
Al Capone and Charlie 'Lucky' Luciano will survive and become organized crime bosses running Chicago and New York. "Big Jim" Colosimo, Arnold Rothstein and Dean O'Banion will be murdered. Any attempts to kill Joe Masseria will fail if they take place before April 15, 1931.
The series also gets to play with this in cases where historians disagree on what actually happened. Jess Smith died in 1923 and while his death was ruled a suicide many historians speculate that he was actually murdered. On the show multiple people want him dead but he really is Driven to Suicide.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has an interesting case of this in the episode In The Pale Moonlight. The episode is told through flashbacks and begins with Sisko wondering where it went wrong so that the audience knows from the beginning that something bad happens. And during the episode we see Sisko trying to get the Romulans to their side in the Dominion War and so the audience begins to think that the plan fails and makes things worse. But ultimately the reason he is saddened is that he succeeded but that to reach this far he had to cheat, bribe, lie and 2 people were killed in the process and for him the most damning thing is that he finds himself able to live with it.
Each season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand has this. For Blood and Sand itself: The slaves of Batiatus will rebel against their master and succeed.
Gods of the Arena is a prequel, so you know what will happen.
Vengeance builds up to the battle of Mount Vesuvius, where Spartacus will kill Glaber, and Oenomaus will also die.
An episode midway through Human Target goes back several years, to tell the story of exactly how the main character turned from his previous life of crime. Anyone who watched basically any previous episode knows that this story involves him falling in love with a girl... who doesn't survive.
Any episode of Quantum Leap where a famous person is involved. Good luck trying to save Marilyn Monroe or John F. Kennedy. Slightly subverted in that the show claims that things were much worse in the original timeline. Apparently, what we know is the result of Sam changing things for the better. Marily Monroe was supposed to die before making her final movie. JFK's wife was supposed to be shot along with him. Sam made sure it happened differently.
Sometimes happens in the History Channel series America: The Story of US. For example, one episode plays suspenseful music and asks if Andrew Carnegie will be able to get the Bessemer steel-making process to work, so he can revolutionize America, pave the way for such things as the space program, and become the richest man on earth.
The BBC produced a reality series called Dancing On Wheels, a wheelchair dance competition in which the winner would go forward to represent the UK at European Wheelchair Dance Championships in September 2009. The show didn't air until March 2010.
Every episode of Cold Case starts off with an introduction to the Victim Of The Week, followed soon by a depiction of their death. No matter how likable the subsequent flashbacks might make them out to be, it's only a matter of time before the final flashback reaffirms what we learned in the first few minutes of the show—this person is going to die.
This is subverted in a few episodes when we find out in the end that the presumed victim actually survived. The dead body was misidentified or the police never found a body and assumed a murder was committed while the supposed victim simply moved away under a different identity.
The victim in this case was injured in the attack, getting amnesia as a result, and was found by police and subsequently adopted.
NBC's Hannibal is a kind of adaptation of the book series, but also a prequel. So at some point in the show, Hannibal is going to get discovered and eventually imprisoned.
An early season two episode of LOST, after the Tailies discover the survivors from the raft, shows a man impaled on a stake, identified by Ana-Lucia as Goodwin. When Goodwin shows up in the flashback episode The Other 48 Days, it's easy to guess his fate.
Also, in season 5, half the main cast goes back in time to the 70's and join the Dharma Initiative... thing is, we already know what will happen to them, as it was shown in Ben's flashbacks towards the end of season 3. And it's not pretty.
The BBC's The White Queen is the story of the life of Elizabeth Woodville. The first episode builds suspense over whether her and the king's My Own Private "I Do" ceremony was faked just to get her into bed before he marries the princess he's betrothed to; even if you don't know the first thing about the historical events, the series' title rather gives away the fact that she's going to become Queen.
Walking with Dinosaurs's fourth episode, Giant of the Skies, opens with a dead male Ornithocheirusnote (nowadays calledTropeognathus but whatever) lying near a mating site. The story deals with his journey to the area. The sixth episode, about the extinction at the end of the Cretaceous, is titled Death of a Dynasty. Guess what happens to the central Tyrannosaurus family. Actually, the mother is killed shortly before the meteor impact.
House Of Saddam: As a historical drama, the audience knows that Saddam Hussein's regime will collapse and that he will eventually be captured and executed.
Many Marxist thinkers (including the leaders of the Russian Revolution) believe in a kind of historical determinism which posits an inevitable progression from feudalism to capitalism to socialism to communism. Interestingly enough, Karl Marx himself never supported this view of history, any more than he supported genocidal, totalitarian dictatorships.
A variation occurs in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The narrator, noting that stress is a growing problem in the world, chooses not to unduly stress the readers by giving away the ending of a suspenseful sequence: The planet they are above is Magrathea, and the nuclear missiles approaching the ship will cause no damage, save for a nasty bruise to the forearm. To order to preserve some sense of suspense, though, he does not say whose forearm — until the closing credits of the episode. It was Arthur.
In Norse Mythology almost all of the gods are fated to get killed (in very specific ways) at Ragnarok, along with most of humanity, trolls, giants, monsters and assorted other species.
William Shakespeare invented the phrase, used in Othello, although he meant it more literally: the evidence of Cassio's dream "denoted a foregone conclusion" of his sleeping with Desdemona, "foregone" meaning "having previously happened".
Also, here's a pattern: if you're in a Shakespearean tragedy, and your name is in the title, you're screwed. If your name is the title, doubly so.
Although inverted with King Lear. The legend at that time had Cordelia and Lear survive and Lear restored to the throne. Shakespeare surprised audiences by turning it into a tragedy.
The histories all fall into this trope as well, given that they're all Based on a True Story. There's even a meta-example in the epilogue of Henry V, in which the Chorus pretty much tells the audience the outcome of the next three plays in the chronology, Henry VI, Parts I, II and III.
"Henry VI, in infant bands crowned King
Of France and England did this king succeed
Whose state so many had the managing
That they lost France and made his England bleed."
Including fictional history, as is the case with Steven Brust's Khaavren saga, a prequel series presented as a written Docu Drama of a major Backstory event in the world of Dragaera.
The musical Miss Saigon reveals Chris will get out of Vietnam while Kim (and the Engineer) will not towards the end of the first act. The second act shows how this happened.
All Greek tragedies, being based on well-known myths, were like that. It was considered normal to the point that, when New Comedy authors started imitating some aspects of tragedy while still telling stories they made up themselves, they created the Prologue, which was already pretty much what it is in the Shakespeare example: one of the actors would address the public at the beginning and explain how everything was going to play out — they feared the spectators would get confused otherwise.
A small note of this is in the opening scene of the play An Inspector Calls. The rich family sat at dinner are discussing the amazing modern world they live in, including the new utterly unsinkable ship that's due to sail soon - The Titanic. It's a not-exactly subtle bit of symbolism - the family's own personal iceberg is, as the title says, about to call on them - and some productions have actually gone so far as to omit the line entirely, since the usual audience reaction is to laugh.
Les Misérables: The June Rebellion will fail and the barricade will fall.
1776: Congress will declare independence and America will win the Revolution. It's a sign of a well-done production when the audience completely forgets this and spends the entire play biting its collective nails.
Max: They were all dead. The final gunshot was an exclamation mark to everything that had led to this point. I released my finger from the trigger, and then it was over.
In Final Fantasy Tactics, you already know how the game is going to end in the introduction (the main character, Ramza, being branded a heretic and erased from history, while his childhood best friend, Delita, is revered as a hero and became king) due to the fact that it's narrated by a historian looking back into the past. Although in this case, it's not a matter of how things end, but rather an attempt to uncover the massive church conspiracy that damned Ramza as an evil heretic instead of the hero he is.
Final Fantasy X begins with the main party sitting at a campfire outside of a ruined Zanarkand, with the protagonist, Tidus, asking the player to "listen to [his] story" because "it may be the last chance [they] have left." Cue extended flashback. Seymour never really stood a chance. Funnily enough, the only thing not absolutely certain is whether or you and Wakka manage to win a Blitzball tournament or not.
Crisis Core, the prequel to Final Fantasy VII, expands upon the character Zack, who was seen in two flashbacks in the original game. Since one of the flashbacks shows Zack being killed by members of Shinra, you already knew the ending. Square Enix ups the ante by having Crisis Core end with Cloud Strife jumping on the train from the start of Final Fantasy VII.
The same can be said about Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, a game that chronicles Roxas' time with Organization XIII. Since we know the conclusion of his story in Kingdom Hearts II, we know that that game won't end happily.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, a prequel to the first game, does not end happily. Given that all three protagonists are MIA as of the aforementioned first game just ten years later in-universe, it was only a matter of how they all met their untimely ends. It's played with since technically none of them are actually dead.
Averted In Valkyrie Profile 2 Silmeria, which is seemingly a prequel to the first game. We "know" that Silmeria is going to get captured by Brahms… and that's when Time Travel from the first game completely changes everything. But played straight in a way by the first game. Regardless of what happens with the various Einherjar you pick up, the world is going to end a month in-game after the prologue. Sure, Lenneth recreates, uh, creation afterward, but only in the best ending.
Since the title of Tales of Monkey IslandChapter 4 reads "The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood", we are curious at to what happens to Guybrush at the end. Although it is subverted when he is saved from execution by LeChuck, who clears out the last of the five charges for him, it becomes double subverted when the same guy who saved Guybrush later kills him by the Cutlass of Kaflu after the latter cures everyone of the Pox of LeChuck. That Spoiler Title is definitely a Four-Gone Conclusion!
Pick any number of historical first-person shooters or RTS games that don't deviate into Alternate History. These spoilers run anywhere from the Allied victory in WWII to the Union victory in The American Civil War
Done in Valkyria Chronicles in which the opening narration is by a novelist who wrote about the war described in the game and talks about how Gallia would come to withstand the invasion and would challenge one of the continent's great powers. The fun in the game, is of course in finding out exactly how, and the price of victory. And soon you realize that it will be very high. The question is not who will win, but what will be left once the war is over.
The story in the video game adaptation of The Darkness is being told by the protagonist, Jackie Estacado, so the assumption is that he's around after the fact to tell you his story. In an unusual subversion, there are totally unexpected twists in the story which present further examples: "That... well, that was the first time I died."
In Neverwinter Nights 2, you can ask your uncle Duncan to tell you about some of his adventures. Although he has a lot of stories to tell, he refuses to tell them to you because there wouldn't be any tension since you know that he lives.
Fire Emblem: Fuuin no Tsurugi has Hector dying within the first few chapters - in the prequel game Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken, Hector is one of the protagonists.
Fuuin and Rekka have (6 and 7 respectively) has several of these. by playing Fuuin, you already know that Canas will die, Eliwood's wife (and Hector's) will become a Missing Mom, not to mention that Karla will die of an illness and that Rath (as well as possibly Lyn) will die in a Bern uprising.
However, it's only at the end of Rekka no Ken that it's implied that Lucius was the priest who started the orphanage that Chad and the twins lived in, and who was killed by Bern forces.
Adventure game Diamonds In The Rough starts off like this. "However I'll tell you the ending. I have just consumed 200g of yellow phosphorus dissolved in olive oil. Now I feel fine, if a bit queasy from the olive oil. Soon extreme thirst will happen. Followed by nausea and headache. That's when the real fun begins." He goes on to describe exactly how his body will shut down and suffer severe organ failure. It also serves as hint on how to progress; you need to read a report on its effects and grab a beaker of it late in the game.
Prototype plays with this, mixing it with Prophecy Twist here and there. The prologue of the game as well as the cutscenes of Alex recounting the events so far occurs at the 18th Day of the infection. From the looks of New York and the background images of desperate fighting the player gets the impression that The Virus has all but taken over Manhattan. So, as the game progresses, it is of no surprise as hives and infected are popping out left and right. It is not until about midway through the game that the player learns that Alex killed Elizabeth Greene and the Blacklight lost its momentum and another couple more missions before she actually dies. Likewise, Alex mentions very early on that he killed McMullen. What he doesn't say is that when he finally got to McMullen, he shot himself in the head, depriving Alex and the player a treasure trove of information, most importantly, about the Pariah. In a similar vein, the Web of Intrigue videos clue the player on Alex's role in the creation and spread of the Blacklight virus before the actual reveal occurs.
"The Last Stand" poster in Left 4 Dead saying "It won't end well." This is for Survival mode where you have to hold out for as long as you can because everyone will eventually die. But that it is not canon, at least not yet.
Initially the fact that the campaigns were connected made the ending of each one an example (Since no matter how hard you fought, you were right back to where you started in the next one). The creators thought this would leave a sour taste in the player's mouths since it meant each ending bar the last one was a Downer Ending. The "Crash Course" campaign and later comic then confirmed that all of them tie into each other since the fans wanted continuity.
God of War: "The gods of Olympus have abandoned me. Now there is no hope left." The game begins three weeks before Kratos crosses the Despair Event Horizon.
The HaloprequelHalo: Reach. Anyone who's been paying even a little attention to the backstory knows that Reach is Master Chief's Doomed Hometown and is gonna burn. Bungie have acknowledged this, as the game's tagline seems to be "From the beginning, you know the end."
This goes for the player character as well. The first cinematic upon starting a new game is a scorched wasteland - and a helmet with a bullethole through the visor. The game then cuts to your character placing the same helmet, now intact, on his/her head...
Several "dungeons" in World of Warcraft involve the players going back in time to foil the Infinite Dragonflight's attempts to break the Timey-Wimey Ball. While this could be a subversion if it were possible to fail, canon states that if the players screw it up the time guardians of the Bronze Dragonflight will hit the Reset Button. So not only are the original enemies Doomed by Canon, so are the Infinite agents.
To make things worse, the 4.3 patch added the "End Times" dungeon where you go to the Bad Future to defeat the leader of the infinite dragonflight... the corrupted Nozdormu himself who knows that he's screwed but must defeat his insane self anyway to preserve the future from his upcoming madness. Anyone taking bets that the other members of the bronze flight are equally aware of their eventual corruption?
In Eternal Sonata, it was a given that Chopin was going to die. Players were told on the game's cover that he's on his deathbed. The drama was not in whether he would die but how he would die, peacefully or in turmoil, and what the dream represented for him.
The premise of the game — that these stories are being viewed through the Genetic Memory of Altaïr and Ezio's descendants — mandates that the main characters will survive past the events depicted and will have children whose bloodlines converge in Desmond Miles. note Interestingly, Altaïr marries and has children after the events of the first game, and the second game makes it clear that Desmond is descended from his firstborn son, but Revelations requires that later memories of him be explored. This is done by means of having Altaïr use the Apple of Eden to store his own memories in keys which Ezio later recovers and views.
In the modern-day setting, 2012, Abstergo is the Mega Corp. that evolved from the Templars that Altaïr and Ezio battle. We also know that the Templars reign virtually unopposed throughout much of modern history. So while these two Assassins may do great things in their time, their achievements are doomed to be remembered only in secret among their descendants.
In Assassin's Creed II, the Big Bad, Rodrigo Borgia, must survive to become Pope, therefore Ezio finds an excuse not to kill him. This is foreshadowed in the game by having Shaun tell Desmond about his historical research on the subject prior to Desmond viewing the final memory sequence.
In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Ezio destroys a number of mechanical inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci, such as a tank, a machine gun, and a bomb-equipped glider. We all know that he merely delays their creation. Also, the Big Bad's manner of death is a matter of historical record, so Ezio foregoes his normal assassination method in favor of throwing him off a wall.
Resident Evil 0, despite being a prequel, goes both ways with this trope. You know Rebecca will end up in the Spencer mansion and you know her entire team dies, but since Billy isn't even so much as mentioned in any other games you have no clue whether he'll die, be handed over to the authorities by Rebecca, or make his escape.
Surprisingly subverted in most Star Wars games. The conclusion is forgone, since they're all sidequels, interquels, and prequels… but you can always play towards the non-canonical Dark Side ending anyway, where that doesn't happen. The (Knights of the) Old Republic games avoids it, unless you play The Old Republic first or are aware of LucasArts general policy on Light Side/Dark Side choices — they might be prequels, but they take place so long before the rest of the expanded universe that there is over a millenia of thus-far undetailed time for things to snap back (the Sith Empire wins? The internal contradictions causes it to collapse within a century or two (or even quicker), and the Republic re-emerges from the ashes). You know how it ultimately is going to end up, but that ultimately is so distant that it doesn't really matter to the ending.
In most games that are based on movies, it can be safely assumed that the game's canonical ending will be the same (or at least, very similar to) the ending of the movie it is based on. Some games partially subvert this by giving the player the option to play as the movie's villain(s), usually creating a non-canonical ending in which the villains win.
Anyone even remotely familiar with Zelda-series history knows a little bit about the Master Sword and its role as "The Sword of Evil's Bane." So when they play The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and start to see the eponymous sword beginning to look more and more like that legendary blue-hilted blade, they can likely fill in the blanks before they reach the end.
An outdated but more obvious one - anyone who played the older games would have realized things weren't going too well for Link and Princess Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Agarest Senki Zero star Seighart and his son Leonis. Both of them are Leonhardt's ancestors so, of course, Leonis cannot die so it's obvious the normal ending is non-canon.
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey opens with Zoe in a coma, so you know you're getting set up for a Downer Ending. And it works in the opposite direction, too. The first game ends with April Ryan living as a content old woman, so her apparent death at the end of Dreamfall is probably not going to stick. In this case, then this must means that Kian Alvane will also survive to marry her, as the kids called her "Mrs. Alvane".
The beginning of Dragon Age II starts ten years after game play actually begins, so it reveals that Hawke will become the Champion of Kirkwall and will be involved in events that will severely cripple the Chantry. However, exactly what Hawke does is up to the player. The trailer also gives another one; the Qunari uprising, the Viscount's death, and the possible duel against the Arishok.
Subverted in Second Sight: half the game is set in the present, with the rest being told as flashbacks roughly six months earlier. However, the ending reveals that what the protagonist believes to be the past is in fact the present and what he believes to be the present is in fact a hypothetical future, which he is experiencing because of his precognitive abilities.
In Lufia II, you know Maxim and Selan don't end well, and you know that killing Gades won't end the game because there are three more bad guys you have to fight on the Doom Island.
The missions "All Ghillied Up" and "One Shot, One Kill" in Call of Duty 4 involve you attempting to assassinate Russian Ultranationalist leader Imran Zakhaev in 1996. Of course, since the mission just before ended with Zakhaev attempting to call Khaled al-Asad in the present day, you can figure out how this will end...
Playing through The Walking Dead you eventually meet Glenn, who, seeing as how he is a principal character in the T.V. show and comics, will not be staying with the main character and his group.
Sonic the HedgehogFan InterquelSonic Before The Sequel has Sonic trying to stop Eggman from launching the Death Egg. Since the game takes place between Sonic 1 and 2, the latter game showing that the Death Egg is now orbiting above the Earth and Sonic still has to stop it, it's pretty obvious that he fails this time.
Batman: Arkham Origins subverts this: You know that Cyrus Pikney died. What you don't know is how he was murdered, and why. Then it turns out that Cobblepot Senior FAILED: Cobblepot needed to silence Pikney to take over Gotham's economy, and used the classic poison and a social invitation that Pikney couldn't refuse. Pikney died, but used a derivative of the Lazarus Vector (thanks to a young Arkham, no less) to resurrect himself. Unfortunately, like all applications of Lazarus (Venom, Titan, Raj Al-Ghul, etc.) it drove him a little insane. He then killed Cobblepot for real.
In the MOTHER fangame midquel MOTHER: Cognitive Dissonance, you already know that Giegue will descend into madness if you've played the series before, no matter what you do. Not even PK Harmony, the ability equivalent to Sing and Pray, can save him, only momentarily holding off his insanity.
Fate/stay night: Saber will return to her timeline and die atop a hill with the corpses of her countrymen surrounding her. It's already been recorded in history, and anything that happens during the Holy Grail War cannot prevent that from happening on her own personal timeline. Somewhat subverted in that the point was never to prevent her from dying, but to let her live life to the fullest before her death.
Rose Guns Days takes place in The Forties and tells the story of Rose Haibara and her club of ladies of the night turned mafia family, Primavera. In an Alternate History where Japan was destroyed by a disaster and repopulated by Chinese and American immigrants, she desperately tries to keep Japanese culture alive and prevent the Japanese people from disappearing. Before the story even begins, in 2012, we already know that she failed and that Primavera degenerated into a violent nationalistic group that has little to do with what its first Madam wanted it to be. Over the course of the story, several important elements are also unveiled in advance, like Wayne surviving and having children or Jeanne having taken over Primavera by defeating Rose.
Case 4 of Trials & Tribulations is a flashback to Mia's first case as a lawyer. As soon as you find out the prosecutor's identity ( Edgeworth) it's meant to be clear that you can't win because Edgeworth never lost a case prior to meeting Phoenix in court. Although it was a subversion since neither lawyer won: the defendant commits suicide while testifying and the case is thrown out without a judgment. Also, in Apollo Justice there's another flashback trial that you know will end badly, because you've already been informed that it's the one that caused Phoenix's disbarring. It's also made clear in the same game that Mia is going to lose the case, as shown by her thinking back to it in the first case of the game and reflecting on how badly it ended. Of course, this still led players to expect her to outright lose, instead of neither lawyer winning, so it's still a subversion.
In Ace Attorney: Investigations, Edgeworth is shown at his first trial during a flashback case. It's not the one with Mia, so you know something's going to go horribly wrong; the suspect is killed at the beginning of the case and instead of prosecuting him, Edgeworth has to figure out what happened. At the end of the case, present-day Edgeworth comments that his true first case would take place months later, and if you've played Trials and Tribulations, you already know what's going to go down...
Furthermore, some cases (usually the first one in each game) show the killer at the very beginning. It's a matter of proving it to the court.
Investigations 2 features a flashback case where you get to play as Gregory... against von Karma. Anyone who's played the first game will know he maintained his perfect record until he went up against Phoenix, so it's clear Gregory won't be able to win. Not only that, this is the case where von Karma received his only penalty, so you know that Gregory is going to find out von Karma forged evidence and that won't end well for him... You also know you won't be able to catch the real killer in the flashback portion of the case. But they still managed to pull a few surprises though, such as Badd being involved in the case, von Karma only barely winning due to Loophole Abuse, the moral victor was firmly Gregory and, most significantly, the Chief Prosecutor at the time being involved in the forgery, and he only gave von Karma the penalty to cover his own tracks.
The Last Days of FOXHOUND: If you've played the game, you know how the main characters end up. At the beginning when it's all flanderizing the characters for humor, this doesn't register. At the end after a long bout of Cerebus Syndrome, it's pretty damn bleak. The panel with Sniper Wolf and Bertholt is exceptionally heartbreaking.
The book "The Sharp End of the Stick" of Schlock Mercenary starts with several characters dressed in loincloths and wielding sharp sticks, rather than their usual military uniforms and plasma weapons, not to mention that Kevyn and Elf have become a couple. The rest of the story switches back and forth between telling the story in chronological order from that point and showing how the characters got there.
Chess Piece takes place during The Roaring Twenties — 1927 currently, to be exact. Although times are good, the Great Depression is just around the corner.
Homestuck, all the time. Not only does the story run on Anachronic Order, but time travel and having visions of the future are regular occurrences, and twelve of the sixteen major characters with dialogue already know everything that's going to happen for a large portion of the story and regularly tell the four protagonists about it.
The current "Tower of Babel" arc of S.S.D.D is essentially the backstory of one of the characters, and previous arcs make it clear that Tessa's squad destroys Arthur, but during the battle Julian is killed and Tessa is captured. Then she escapes with help from Tin-head, and sometime later wins Sticks from Julie Waterman in a card game.
Spacetrawler: Nogg tells Mr. Zorilla that his daughter, Martina, has died. The rest of the comic is Nogg telling "the long and very detailed version" of how this came to pass.
Kick The Football, Chuck uses Charlie Brown attempting to kick Lucy's ball as a metaphor for his fight with cancer after chemotherapy. We all know he never kicks it.
Played with a little bit earlier before that; Sarda believes that the outcome of his battle with the Light Warriors is a foregone conclusion, and that he literally cannot lose to them, since his present-day self grows up in a world that isn't terrorized by the "heroes". He does actually lose the fight... sort of... but the Light Warriors disband after the battle anyway.
The "Sam" arc of General Protection Fault goes into Ki's past with Sam, her former fiancee, who had been alluded to in the past. While it is implied that they had a bad breakup, the arc reveals that he tried to rape her.
Much Erfworld's "Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower)". The story is Wanda's loss of Goodminton, and her journey to be a caster in Faq. Anyone who's read the main story already knows that Faq falls through Wanda's actions.
In-story, anything foretold by a Predictamancer. Prophecy Twist is possible, but less common than you'd think, and is a source of endless grief for the main characters.
There is a multi-chapter flashback in Evil Plan which tells the origin story of Kinesis from Will's perspective. The entire time you get to know how much of a bright and happy spirit Will was, knowing the flashback has to end with his death by Stanley's hand.
One of the main draws of Sire. The Binding is a mystical force which forces the lineage children to follow the destiny of their sire/dam. Dramatic Irony itself is the antagonist of the series and each character just has to work their hardest to avoid their foregone conclusions.
Web Original / Web Animation
In Survival of the Fittest, when a character gets rolled and isn't saved by any of the other handlers within the time limit, you can be sure that their death is only just around the corner. The same fate falls upon inactive characters who don't get adopted.
Half of seasons 9 and 10 of Red vs. Blue are prequel stuff, taking place several years before the beginning of season 1. Due to the events of the previous 8 seasons we know that most of the Freelancers we meet are going to go crazy, almost all are going to die (often at the hands of their former teammates), and those that survive will be irreversibly damaged by what they go through. We also know several key events that will occur, just not how or when they do.
It's played up as suspenseful, and doesn't officially occur until halfway through the first season, but I wonder who's going to end up on team RWBY...
In The Salvation War, Satan himself orders the Grand Duke Abigor to lead an army of approximately four hundred thousand demons to Earth, to subjugate humanity. Unfortunately for them it's 21st-century Earth (the point of divergence being January 2008). Human technology has already made short work of several Kaiju-like demons, and Abigor's army is made up of demons only slightly bigger than humans, fighting with feudal technology and tactics. So forget the plan, Abigor's army itself does not survive the first battle with humans, and an overarching theme of the story is just howdoomedthe demons were the moment they entered Earth.
It should be exceedingly obvious at this point that everyone that has anything to do with the Slender Man is going to die horribly. Averted, surprisingly, by Marble Hornets - Tim lives. So does Jessica. Jay and Alex and everyone else, however...
This also applies to Slender and its sequel. Every Slender game, really.
There's a twist for the Season One finale. Since a dead character can't come back in this series, they killed Prime metaphorically. Unleashing the Matrix on Unicron took away all of his memories of being Optimus Prime. He is now Orion Pax, and has joined the Decepticons via Megatron taking advantage of his current state. The Autobots eventually went back to Cybertron to reload the Matrix, giving Optimus his memories back.
Come the end of Season 2, Prime was in the base when the 'Cons blew it up, and his arm can be seen amongst the wreckage. He might be dead this time, but it's highly doubtful.
Played completely straight in that Prime did die and come back to life in season three, although subverted in that he was ready to pass the mantle on, just as the original Prime did in the movie. Ultra Magnus even shows up to take command of the Autobots in their darkest hour. Smokescreen's Screw Destiny move, however, ensured that Prime's habit of cheating death will live on.
Any time they come close to capturing or killing an important figure in the Separatist Alliance or if any of the Jedi are in peril. You already knew Nute Gunray was going to get away and that Obi Wan somehow escapes the supposedly inescapable trap. The series does avert this to a degree whenever they feature clones, since you never know which among them will get offed the next minute.
As the series is an interquel set between episode II and episode III of the prequel trilogy, and Kid-Appeal Character Asoka, Anakin's padawan, is nowhere to be found in the latter, something is going to happen to her eventually which removes her from being able to do anything to influence the events of the movies and makes Anakin, who is quite attached to her, not want to talk about her. Turns out that she was expelled from the Jedi Order after being framed for a crime she didn't commit. Though the truth eventually comes out and she is acquitted, she declines to return to the Jedi afterwards due to the Council's lack of trust in her.
While the series obviously cannot touch any named Jedi that appeared in or after the third prequel, they do manage to off some important expanded universe characters. Due to the higher level of canon Clone Wars has, these deaths are final. This became quite shocking in the season finale, where Barris Offee was arrested as a terrorist. She was suppose to die by her master's side during Order 66, which was ultimately cut from the movie but appeared in a comic.