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Future Loser
Above: Porky Pig in high school.
Below: Porky Pig now.
The years haven't been kind.

"Doing manual labor for a geek we used to make fun of? This isn't supposed to happen until we're, like, 30!"
Dash, Danny Phantom — "King Tuck".

The Jerk Jock and all-around popular guy who makes the hero's life impossible (while idolizing his Secret Identity) presumes that his popularity and success in the academic world will translate into success in business, sports, and politics, and the protagonist will be there to lick his boots. Irony says otherwise. Through the magical agency of Time Travel, prophetic dreams, or a nearby example of Retirony, we (and occasionally he) find out they'll become a broken shell of a man whose life has been reduced to menial jobs and is the target of constant derision or, worse, being forgotten. Often he endlessly laments his Glory Days because, for once, high school really was the Best Years of Your Life.

If this leads to an epiphany, expect it to be short-lived, since We Want Our Jerk Back, regardless of how doomed it will make his future. If it sticks, expect a gradual shift into Jerk with a Heart of Gold. Usually the Hero will be the one to get the epiphany, and try to sympathize with or treat the Jerk Jock better (this doesn't last long either, but may lead to an Odd Friendship or understanding). If any Character Development happens, expect it to be subtle and far-reaching.

Sometimes given a twist with the character who seems to have it all made and be on the fast track academically becoming the loser. (This is an Inverted Trope, Not a Subversion.)

If taken to extremes, the writer may be working out issues or giving a Take That against Dumb Is Good.

See also Fallen Princess, Humiliation Conga, Jaded Washout, Odd Friendship, and Retirony. Contrast Future Badass.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • Empowered has this in a kind of Imagine Spot, where kid Emp meets her future superheroine self.
    Kid Emp: "Why do I have such a big butt as a grownup...? How did I wind up so old and f-fat...?"
    Current Emp: "Thanks a lot, younger version of me."

    Fanfic 
  • Central in Saruman Of The Many Devices shows Saruman the future where he ends up as this - his army destroyed and he himself stabbed by his former minion while attempting to take over the Shire out of vengeance - as a means to get him to go along with his plans for progress.

    Film 
  • Back to the Future:
    • Biff has gone from George McFly's bullying supervisor to waxing George's car, after Marty goes back in time and teaches his dad to stand up to Biff. It sort of works out for everyone, since Biff now has a little humility and runs his own detailing business. Of course he isn't fantastically rich, but at least he doesn't own the world.
    • Biff is still hiding some deep resentment for George and his family, though, because his elderly future self in Part 2 steals the DeLorean and changes history much to George's detriment. Though, by Word of God, not as much as he would have thought. The Future Loser Biff was also a much better person, while the Perfect Future he created for himself also created a Biff who was cruel and vindictive.
    • They also mention in the Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy featurette that the chest pains and collapse he goes through after returning to 2015 are the result of Lorraine shooting him dead sometime in the early '90s - either because she was sick of his abuse or she found out that he murdered George.
    • Marty actually showed some Genre Savvy about this trope. His first fear when Doc appears at the end of the first film, insisting that he come to the future and fix things? That he and Jennifer will grow up to be, if not losers, then at least "assholes". That turns out to be the truth (at least until they fix things). Marty agreed to a car race which resulted in him hitting another car. The owner sued, Marty broke his hand, he had to give up on his music and Jennifer only married him out of pity. By 2015 he either ends up with both kids in jail or he gets fired.
  • Disney's The Kid 2000 has a young boy encounter his future self. After running through everything his future self got wrong, the boy shouts, "I grow up to be a loser!" Played for irony, since the future self is wealthy, successful and respected (and a huge asshole), while the kid is chubby and unpopular with low self-esteem. The joke is that his priorities as an adult were very different from what they were as a child.
  • Played with in the film Anger Management. The schoolyard bully that made Adam Sandler's character's life miserable grew up to be... a Buddhist monk. Who, despite being a monk, still thinks that Adam Sandler's childhood humiliation was hilarious. Adam Sandler ends up getting his revenge the old fashioned way - by beating the crap out of the former schoolyard bully.
  • 13 Going on 30: After she body-switches to the future, the 13-year-old main character discovers that the super hunky jock she desperately wanted to date in the past is now a fat, balding taxi driver. "Call me!"
  • In Fucking Åmål aka Show me love, Agnes' father tries to comfort her in this way. He tells her he recently went to a class reunion, and all the bullies had turned into nobodies, while the former nobodies had quite decent lives and careers.
  • At the end of Can't Hardly Wait it is revealed Mike Dexter's future includes losing his football scholarship after drinking too much, being forty pounds overweight, and losing his job at a car wash when incriminating Polaroids surface.
  • Happens repeatedly in Romy And Michele's High School Reunion:
    • Billy Christiansen takes the gold: going from popular hunky jock dating the popular girl in school, to a slobby failure who nails drywall for a living and whose wife is pregnant with (he suspects) another man's kid. And he still thinks he can bed Romy since she had a thing for him back in the day, even though the last time they saw each other he publicly humiliated her for a laugh.
    • His wife Christie deserves a mention too. She carried on her spiteful Alpha Bitch ways 10 years beyond highschool, retaining her Girl Posse who copy her every move, so she never grew out of her teenage bullying- but the reunion reveals her life is a pathetic shell of her past glories. She's an unfulfilled housewife with an unhappy marriage to an unfaithful sleazy loser, her only outlet in life is having baby after baby (which she pretends to be thrilled about) she never got the career she wanted, and to add insult to injury, all the people she tormented in highschool are happy and fulfilled, and the minion she used to boss around has a high flying career in fashion.
  • In The World's End, Gary King, the self-professed king of his hometown, grew up into an aimless alcoholic whom his friends find irritating. Unusually for this trope, he's the protagonist of the film.
  • In I Am Number Four, Sam comments that Mark is in "the third year of the best four years of his life".
  • Young Adult: Former prom queen Mavis doesn't seem like a loser in the present: she's got a nice job as a writer of Young Adult fiction, she lives in New York, has a cute Pomeranian, and has all the Hello Kitty gear and booze she could ever want but actually she can only write what she knows and all she knows is being in high school. Then she loses the writing gig and her ex-high school boyfriend announces the birth of his child, so the obvious thing to do is go back home and steal him from his wife and child.
  • Neighbors: Teddy is well aware of the fact that he's on the road to becoming this.

    Literature 
  • A Christmas Carol is all about this.
  • The title character's liberal use of time travel to prevent this trope in his own life are what fuel the plot of William Sleator's The Green Futures of Tycho.
  • In Woken Furies, Takeshi Kovacs encounters an earlier Brain Uploading of himself; this sociopathic thug who'd just gotten out of the military (from his perspective) is not impressed that his future self isn't a Big Bad in the criminal underworld.
  • The John Grisham novel Bleachers has this end up with the former hot girl that the protagonist dumped his previous girlfriend for. It turns out that despite her being hot and desirable in high school, she now works in Vegas as a waitress at a brothel.

    Live Action TV 
  • Saved by the Bell:
    • Had the dream version happen to Slater (not a jerk, but definitely a jock), seeing himself as a beer bellied drunk in a class reunion, forcing him to rethink his life and his "comfort zone" as a jock.
    • At one point, Screech even points out the trope in a tape intended for future students at Bayside:
      Screech: And remember, be nice to us nerds; in twenty years, we'll be the ones with all the money!
    • The irony is not lost.
  • On Star Trek: The Next Generation Picard dies during an operation due to an old injury from an incident from his rebellious youth of counter-cheating in sports ending in a stab to the heart. Q offers him a second chance if he can avoid said incident by reliving that period of his life. After he succeeds (backing out or whatever of cheating at sports and fighting, and having alienating sex with one of his friends) Q sends him back to the point in his life where the injury would have killed him only to discover that he is a Lieutenant junior grade (between Ensign and Lieutenant) instead of a famous starship captain. Q explains that the injury gave Picard a sense of his own mortality which, possibly unknown to Picard himself, motivated him to make his mark on the Universe. The alternate Picard never lived that experience, and as such drifted thought his career, never getting noticed by anyone. Picard then begs Q that he has learned his lesson, is given a second second chance, condemns himself to death after a worthy life... and awakens from his death to discover that Q was just jerking his chain again (or might have actually saved his life). With Q, you never know if it was really All Just a Dream or if he actually sent you back in time.
  • Lindsay Lohan's recent character on Ugly Betty is a down-on-her-luck former Alpha Bitch whom Betty knew in High School.
  • Used with relish in nearly every episode of Cold Case, the usual example being the former High School Mean Girl who's been married twice and extremely bitter.
    • In the episode "Spiders", this is both played straight and subverted. A gorgeous blond girl who was devoted to a white supremacist leader, who was seen years later as overweight in the present; on the other hand, she's overcome her racism (admitting that she had done "stupid things" and has had children with a black man
  • In episode of Ghost Whisperer, the ghost is the former captain of a football team that after leaving High School became an utter loser - he dropped College after two years, was unable to forge a solid relationship with any woman and switched a low-paid job for another each three or six months. Eventually he committed suicide a few days before a reunion of former students because he was too ashamed to attend... and it became even more pathetic when another ghost stole his body and decided to go to the party as a zombie. Yikes.
  • On How I Met Your Mother, Robin's ex-boyfriend comes to town. Instead of the teen heartthrob she remembers, he's balding and pot-bellied, still lives with his parents, and works a menial job. Good luck getting her to see that, though....
  • The renewed Twilight Zone series - In the episode "One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty", an angry middle-aged man named Gus finds himself transported back in time where he meets his child self. After an incident with a bully, Gus tries to get his past life together by convincing his younger self (who doesn't know he is his older self) to have a better relationship with his father (who died as he grew up). Gus then returns to his own time, and hails a cab where driver happens to be one of the kids that used to bully him.
  • A similar case in Friends, where Formerly Fat Monica got a chance to date a bad boy she had known from high school who was a jerk to her. When she does date him, she realizes that he is immature, lives with his parents and never grew up from his high school days.
  • Jimmy and Christine, two of the main characters from Yes Dear are this — very popular in high school, attended college but dropped out soon afterward, and, for the most of the series' run, lived (along with their children) in a guest house belonging to Christine's sister and her successful husband.
  • The short-lived My Generation had this as one of its premises. Ten years after the class of 2000 graduated their lives are not where they expected them to be.
    • The popular 'Overachiever' who once could not decide whether he would become a lawyer or a doctor, had to drop out of college when his father went to jail for fraud and they lost their money. He is now a bartender.
    • The nice 'Rich Kid' who was deeply in love with the 'Smart Girl' ended up taking over his father's business and married the 'Beauty Queen'. They live a shallow, unfulfilled existence. Their marriage looks awkward and forced and they seem desperate to recapture the passion they felt in high school.
  • Supernatural:
    • Sam returns to an old school where, after multiple encounters, he laid a beat down on the school bully. Years later, Sam discovers how lousy his life was and how after being beaten, he was bullied even worse, eventually dying from drug addiction. Sam feels guilty, although most wouldn't, as the bully made life for one student so hard that he committed suicide.
    • In "The End" Dean encounters a future Castiel who has been stripped of his powers, and is now a junkie, an alcoholic, and running a cult of the enlightenment-through-sex variety.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Warren, after gaining incredible powers, runs into an old school bully and beats the crap out of him. It also provides insight into what made Warren so horrible ("Remember how I couldn't stop crying?")
  • Kurt predicts this in the second episode of Glee, when a bunch of jocks are about to toss him into a dumpster:
    Kurt: (Glaring) Someday, you will all work for me.
    • See also the Music section below.
  • Married... with Children: Al Bundy, whose proudest moment in his life is scoring four touchdowns in a single game while in high school.
  • In an episode of 21 Jump Street Doug is bullied by a kid while undercover as a nerd prompting all the detectives to each tell a story of a bully they had when they were younger. Doug recalls painful memories of a bully who made his life hell throughout high school culminating in ruining his prom night with his dream girl when the bully drove off with her in Doug's new car the minute they arrive. Even though he's an adult now Doug can't get over it and decides to finally get some closure by going to where the bully now lives and punching him when he comes to the door. However when the guy opens the door he doesn't recognize him and Doug realizes he's become a poor and bitter loser, unhappily married to a nagging "cow". Doug leaves without taking his revenge on the guy, because life already did.
  • Breaking Bad: Season 5 opens with a flash forward to Walt's fifty-second birthday. He's clearly suffering, completely out of it when he talks, living under a different name and alone on his birthday, eating breakfast at Denny's.
  • On Unforgettable Carrie reluctantly goes to her high school reunion since back in high school she was "Scary Carrie" and did not have any friends. The trope seems initially averted since most of her classmates have done well for themselves. The quarterback is a successful real estate developer and the class stoner actually became a rock star. However, the trope is played straight when she encounters the quarterback's popular best friend who touts himself as a successful family man but Carrie easily sees through the Blatant Lies. After the guy is murdered she discovers that he is divorced, completely broke and trying to blackmail one of his former classmates. As she digs deeper, she discovers that not all of her classmates had happy lives after graduation. She even exploits the trope by making it look like another classmate was also lying about his success and thus is a prime suspect. The killer then tries to frame the guy for the crime not realizing that it is a trap.

    Music 
  • In Gorillaz, Murdoc Niccals used to be bullied by a large boy named Tony Chopper (No, not that one!) when they were kids. Eventually, Murdoc learned to fight back with words and from then on, he had no trouble. Tony Chopper now works at a grocery store and regrets being mean to Murdoc because of his present world-wide rock star fame.
  • Toby Keith's "How Do You Like Me Now?" plays with this trope, as he's grown up to be a famous musician while the girl he idolized in high school who never gave him the time of day is unhappy with her adult life. The video drives it home even harder than the song alone.
  • The protagonist of John Mayer's No Such Thing just can't wait to confront the Future Losers with his anticipated success.
  • In Avril Lavigne's Sk8er Boi, the main character was popular in high school but five years down the line is a lonely single mother, while the boy she rejected for being too "punk" is now a world-famous rock star who's apparently dating the singer.
  • Lily Allen's 22 is about a woman whose future looked promising when she was 22; but by the time she's pushing 30, she is miserable, stuck in a dead-end job and desperate for a boyfriend. The video plays with this by showing Allen in the toilets at a nightclub, with her haggard-looking older self reflected back at her from the mirror.
  • One of the Glee cast's original songs, Loser Like Me is about how the Glee kids, who are considered losers now, will become successful in the future, while the bullies won't. Finn's verse fits this trope especially well:
    Finn:
    Push me up against the locker
    And hey, all I do is shake it off,
    I'll get you back when I'm your boss.
    I'm not thinkin' 'bout you haters,
    'cause hey, I could be a superstar!
    I'll see you when you wash my car.

    Stand Up Comedy 
  • Jon Stewart used this in his standup in response to school shootings. He figures the best way to convince kids not to shoot up high schools is to convince them that it ends. So what he proposes is taking them on a time travel field trip to their twenty anniversary high school reunion.
    "See that fat, balding, alcoholic guy in the ill-fitting suit crying in the corner? Captain of the football team."

    Theater 
  • Biff in Death of a Salesman as well. He was a football player, "built like Adonis", and his father believed Biff would be a successful salesman because he was well liked, while his bookish neighbor Bernard would not be successful because he wasn't as gorgeous or popular. Instead, Bernard ended up a successful lawyer, and Biff became a farm hand out west who made next to no money.
    • An important part of the play is that Biff could have had a successful life as well if he did not sabotage his future as an overreaction to finding out what a Jerk Ass his father was. He could have still flamed out later in life but he never even tried.
    • Willy is a non-school example. In the beginning he treated Charlie and Bernard with disdain but in the end they ended up highly successful and Willy ended up broke and his sons as failures.

    Webcomics 
  • In Sluggy Freelance some information from the future convinces Torg that he goes on to become a world famous professor. Turns out he actually plays the Professor in a theatrical rendition of Gilligan's Island that a demon forces people to watch as a form of torture. Riff just didn't have the heart to tell him the truth.
  • Subverted in Least I Could Do, Rayne is actually rather happy with the future that is shown him.

    Web Original 
  • When Linkara is briefly hurled into the year 2039, he discovers that his future self still lives in his parents' house, still hasn't published issue 3 of his comic, and doesn't even have his trademark brown fedora anymore. Seeing this, Linkara resolves to buckle down and change his life for the better. After he returns to the present and the Delayed Ripple Effect kicks in, Future Linkara is exactly the same as he was before - except now he has his hat back.
    • For extra amusement, the Future Linkara was played by his father.
  • In the Whateley Universe, Phase calls out a group of Alpha flunkies, telling them that they've attached themselves to a group of thugs and losers who'll be nothing in a few years, and that their future prospects aren't looking good: all the devisers and gadgeteers will have filed for patents and thus become rich; the Capes will have real superhero jobs; and the Golden Kids will inherit their parents' wealth and go into their businesses. He tells the flunkies to start seriously reconsidering their lives, because their future prospects are very grim. None of them really have a response.

    Western Animation 
  • Luthor Lex, a fairy that bullied Cosmo, in an episode of The Fairly OddParents. He was a jock and ended up being a ballet dancer.
    • Timmy actually causes Crocker to become the nerd version of this, and turn into an Agent Mulder who's fairy obsessed.
  • A non jock example: Stewie, in "Stewie Griffin, the Untold Story" from Family Guy, is 35 years old and still a virgin, lives in a dirty run-down apartment, and actually cried after having sex for the first time with his "girlfriend."
    • There's to say that, probably, he will not end like that anymore: he resolved the problem at the end of the episode, so he should have changed his future.
  • Every future Simpsons episode has Bart as an aimless but upbeat Future Loser, though Lisa's Wedding (which looks furthest into the futurenote ) intentionally subvert this by portraying Bart as a wrecking ball operator working his way through law school. According to an episode, the Simpsons are plagued with a "Simpsons Gene" that doom the men of the family to become pathetic losers in the future (though it doesn't stop the show from depicting Bart as crafty).
    • This could have also been a Continuity Nod to the episode "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie" which ended with a Flash Forward that revealed that Bart will eventually become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • There's a South Park episode where Stan meets his future self: a lazy stoner. They're forced to live together to the tune of a fake sit-com theme. It turns out to be just an actor hired by Stan's parents to scare him out of doing drugs.
    • Even more hilariously parodied at the end of the episode. After Cartman helps Stan get revenge on the company that hired the actor, the former states that he learned from the experience, and vows to turn over a new leaf and start acting more responsibly. He is then confronted by a man claiming to be Cartman's future self, a successful time-traveling businessman, who congratulates him on reaching the turning point in his life. Naturally Cartman doesn't believe him, vows to act EVEN WORSE than he did before and storms off. The guy transforms into a fat mechanic. Turns out it *was* Cartman's future self after all.
  • The Made-for-TV Movie Dexter's Laboratory: Ego Trip has Dexter traveling to the future, and discovering he became a craven man who is also submissive to his former rival/current boss Mandark. Although as the duo travels forward in time, a Future Badass Dexter recalls it happened because Mandark gained power in their company by stealing Dexter's ideas.
  • Inverted in the Sabrina: The Animated Series episode "Generation Hex," where all-around Rich Bitch Gem Stone grows up to be the head of a corporation while Sabrina is her lackey who had to sell her magic powers as part of a merger. Played straight in the same episode with Pi, Harvey, and Salem the cat. Pi becomes a monorail driver whose monorails are outdated, Harvey gets a job curling pigtails (on real pigs) after failing the entrance exam to his dream school (a hospital-cum-law school where the students study to be doctor-lawyers), and Salem is still a cat (due to an incident in which he used the Witches' Council's favorite golf course as a public toilet after Sabrina spent all of his kitty litter allowance money), only he's now homeless and walking dogs to pay off his debts.
    • There was also a Christmas Carol style episode in which Sabrina tried to get Gem to reform her selfish ways by showing Gem's future. Gem ends up dying unloved and alone, with her servant actually kicking Gem's tomb and cheering in glee. Subverted in that present Gem couldn't see the problem with this.
  • Jerk Jock Brick Flagg from Kim Possible really let himself go during the time traveling movie A Sitch in Time. But that future got reset'd away.
    • For the record, he wasn't exactly a jerk, just a little more fool-hearty than even Ron Stoppable. A Post Script Season episode proves that after going to college (after trying for seven years) his future apparently might be looking good.
  • In The Venture Bros., this is the defining character trait of Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture, the former naive Tagalong Kid for his super-scientist Gentleman Adventurer father (much like one Jonny Quest) who grew up into a bitter fraud trying to fill his dad's shoes while exploiting his legacy — badly. It's revealed later that many of Rusty's hang-ups can be traced back to the horrible lifestyle his father forced him to lead, and the expectations others placed upon him.
    • Subverted by sorta-brother Jonas Venture Jr... Well, he would possibly be a subversion, as he is ridiculously successful; but being as he didn't even EXIST for a significant period of time, a case could be made that he's just Like Father, Like Son and not a subversion.
    • In a later episode, Orpheus' Master implies that this is what Dean will inevitably become if he and Triana Orpheus ever get together. Then again he might also be messing with her like he does with her father.
  • In the Teen Titans episode "How Long Is Forever?", Starfire is sent into a future timeline, so she ceases to exist for 20 years. Cyborg is broken down and forced to stay connected to the Titan Tower's power grid, Raven is institutionalized, Beast Boy is a balding, paunchy circus attraction, and Robin has become Nightwing, and now works alone. Though with his all-black suit, gruffer voice, and long hair, Robin's unquestionably a Future Badass.
  • Inverted and Played for Laughs in Teen Titans Go!: Beast Boy and Cyborg have a ten-year staring contest, after which they discover (to their horror) that all of the other Teen Titans have gone onto bigger and better things (Robin became Nightwing and married Batgirl, Starfire became queen of her home planet, and Raven ascended to godhood). They build a time machine and change things to a Bad Future instead.
  • Jimmy Neutron: Jimmy accidentally screws up the future by giving the local Jive Turkey a megalomania complex. When Jimmy, Carl and Sheen travel to the future and find out, they find that Carl's a convicted felon, Sheen's a garbage diver and Jimmy's become a dumbed-down idiot who has to constantly do work on his mother-in-law's feet (as he'd married Cindy), instead of the ridiculously successful future selves that they should have turned into.
  • Dash Baxter of Danny Phantom seems to know what the future has in store for him and has even lampshaded it a few times. Who knew a guy with poor grades could be so Genre Savvy?
  • Bill Dauterive from King of the Hill he was once a tall, muscular athlete with long, flowing hair and was popular with both the guys and the girls. However, getting cheated on and dumped by his wife Lenore pretty much destroyed his self-esteem, turning poor Bill into a fat, balding Sad Sack. A few episodes show that his rut is self-inflicted, and he could get out of it if he only had the willpower to stick with it.
  • Extremely sad version in Adventure Time. Simon Petrikov was a certified badass when he was human, but centuries of being mentally warped by an Artifact of Doom have left him a pathetic, crazy old man who barely even knows how to function anymore. It's pretty obviously meant to parallel the effects of dementia.

We Will All Be History Buffs in the FutureWe Will Not Use an Index in the FutureWe Will All Fly in the Future
Future BadassTime Travel TropesFuture Me Scares Me
Funny ForeignerCharacters as DeviceThe Gadfly
The Looney Tunes ShowImageSource/Western AnimationWestern Animation

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