Gave Up Too Soon

"[My uncle's] greatest accomplishment was a soft-drink called 4-Up. It wasn't very successful, so he invented 5-Up. Still it didn't click, and then came 6-Up. Still nobody liked it, so he died heartbroken. Little did he know how close he came."
Victor Borge, Caught in the Act

A situation in which the characters are using the right method, at the right location, for the right motivations. Success is just around the corner... but the characters tire of what they're doing and either depart or change their tactics. Had they only persisted, they would have succeeded. Examples include: characters waiting for somebody or something that arrives seconds after they give up waiting and depart; characters who dig in the right spot for a treasure, but give up before digging deep enough; or, more grimly, characters who attempt a Taking You with Me or Last Stand and are wiped out just before help arrives. Also frequently occurs when two characters are searching for each other. (In Real Life, the lost are often advised to stay in one place to avoid this trope.) Although it occurs in all genres, Gave Up Too Soon is most prominent in farce and horror.

In cases where it is used to ironic effect, expect The Reveal to the audience that whatever the characters failed to achieve was Real After All.

Contrast You Were Trying Too Hard, Just in Time. Compare Never Recycle Your Schemes, where the bad guy comes oh-so-close, but never tries the tactic again despite near-success.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dirty Pair Flash: Iris (a.k.a. Flare) has a grudge against the 3WA because they didn't provide backup when she called for help, which caused Molly to get killed. Or so she thought — actually, they could and would have provided backup if she hadn't thrown away her communicator device, assuming that they weren't going to.
  • In School-Live!, if Miki's friend Kei had persisted and stuck with Miki a little bit longer, she might have been rescued by the School Life club when they went into the mall and wouldn't have become a zombie, as strongly implied in chapter 30.

  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. NNY believes that the only reason he can't go through the mirror to a world where everything is better is that he didn't stare at it long enough before touching it. Then he kills someone to take his mind off the issue.
  • Grant Morrison turns away right before Foxy, his childhood imaginary friend, signals him back from the hills at the end of Animal Man
  • Wally West, The Flash, got in a fight with a super-villain in a department store that resulted in a fire, and did a quick run-through to get any innocents out. He quit looking too soon, and a woman got horribly burned. She sued, and although Wally was acquitted of any responsibility, he blamed himself for his failure and tried to become even faster so he could be everywhere at once.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Epic just when Professor Bomba's recording equipment would have been useful (tiny MK needed him and his iPhone), he starts disconnecting them. Fortunately, he finds the needle MK moved on his map to indicate the Leafmen lair.
  • In An American Tail, Fievel's parents assume Fievel died while falling overboard on a ship, and they spend most of the movie having near-misses while Fievel is out looking for his family because Papa Mousekewitz refuses to entertain the notion that Fievel is alive. The same thing almost happened to Fievel towards the movie's conclusion, where Fievel is convinced by street orphans that his family isn't coming to look for him, and he should just accept it. Moments after he stops looking, Fievel and his family find each other.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The main characters in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist spend a good chunk of the movie looking for their inebriated friend Caroline. They just lost the cell phone connection with her and decide she's not at the bus terminal, so they leave to look somewhere else. Three seconds later, Caroline emerges from the terminal bathroom.
  • In Home Alone 2, the mother is looking for her son Kevin all over New York. After searching for him in her brother-in-law's house, she doesn't find anybody so she picks a taxi and leaves, moments before Kevin arrives on the scene luring Marv and Harry there.
  • In the modern adaptation Romeo and Juliet, Juliet starts waking up from her coma as Romeo is drinking his poison, and he realizes his mistake right before dropping dead. This raises the drama from the original, where she merely woke up to find his corpse.
  • A ridiculously tragic version: in The Mist the main character mercy-kills his son and all his friends (he had just enough bullets for everyone but himself) moments before the ominous pounding sound drawing ever closer is revealed to be the military coming through killing all the monsters and burning up the mist.
  • Citizen Kane: Thompson, the Intrepid Reporter that has spent all the movie looking for the answer to the Driving Question (What is Rosebud?) gives up precisely in the very room the answer lies.
  • In Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Wayne Sylinzki, the creator of the Shrink Ray, is fed up with the failure of his device not working and goes into a rage and smashes it up, not realizing that it worked and shrunk his and the neighbors' kids. Upon finding out it worked, part of the plot revolved around him finding the kids and putting the machine back together to return them to normal size.

  • In Neverwhere, Door agreed to meet up with the Marquis at the floating market. They could have touched him, had they known where he was. Dead. By the time he recovered, they had already left.
  • The book Gold and Silver, Silver and Gold, about buried treasure, mentions that treasure hunters should be persistent because "You could dig four feet down, find nothing, and give up when the treasure is buried five feet down."
    • Interestingly, there's a real life instance of this subverted to ridiculous levels. The exact location escapes me, but following a rumor of gold on a island, decades of treasure hunters have dug over a hundred feet down looking for the loot, because "If the previous guy didn't find it, maybe it's just a little bit further!" Considering that the shaft is now so deep to be prone to flooding, and the gold was supposed to be from the 19th century- Chalk this one up to not knowing when to quit, how would the original owners have put gold hundreds of feet down?
      • Do you mean Oak Island?
      • Long story short: Due to the finding man made obstacles, they know something is buried down there but no one has been able to get to it (or, now days, even figure out where the original pit was).
  • Lighthearted example where it's Zigzagged (the character gives up too soon, but succeeds by doing so) in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry has to get into Dumbledore's office, but he doesn't know the password. He does know that the password is always some type of candy, so he rattles off the names of every popular brand he can think of, like "Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans" (then remembers that Dumbledore doesn't like those, so that's clearly not right), "Chocolate Frog", and "Sugar Quill", before throwing up his arms in desperation and shouting, "Cockroach Cluster!". And that is the password, which causes the bemused Harry to say “Cockroach Cluster? I was only joking …”

    Live Action TV 
  • In one episode of Doctor Who, Donna Noble lived a highly compressed life in a virtual reality system, meeting "the perfect man", falling in love with him, and having children with him, all in the space of a few real-time minutes. Once she leaves the system, she hangs around to see if he really existed or if he was just a computer illusion. She gives up and leaves, just as he shows up.
    • Zig-Zagged in the prequel to The Bells of Saint John. The Doctor is sitting in a swing-set, despondent because he has been unable to locate Clara Oswald. A little girl approaches him and offers advice, which convinces him to keep at it. Subverted because this is what prevents him from giving up, but played straight because if he'd thought to ask her name, his search would be at an end.
  • In the "Subway"" episode of Homicide, a man (played by Vincent D'Onofrio) falls in front of a subway train and gets pinned between the train and the platform. When told he will most likely die within an hour, he asks them to find his girlfriend, who's out jogging. They don't find her and at the end of the episode when the paramedics were taking him away, she's shown jogging by.
  • Season 2 of Jeremiah; Mr. Smith convinces Jeremiah, Kurdy and Markus that God is going to finally, overtly, come to Earth and grant one wish to each person in a selected place. Each character discusses what their wish would be; Mr. Smith says only to have his broken arm, which the doctor's said had little chance of healing, repaired ("That's it?" * shrug* -"I travel light"). Long story short, they all wander off except Mr. Smith-then the next morning, they are throwing a baseball around, and Mr. Smith appears and catches it-with his theretofore broken arm, saying sadly, "You guys shoulda stayed...".
  • On Seinfeld, the quartet spends the entire episode waiting for their table to be available at a Chinese restaurant. Just after they leave... "Seinfeld, 4?"
    • Another episode involves Jerry and George buying some stock on a tip from an acquaintance of Geroge's. Throughout the episode, the stock continued to drop until Jerry decided to sell it before it was too late while George 'decided to go down with the ship'. The next day, Jerry finds out that the stock had risen dramatically and George ended up making $8,000.
  • In an episode of Sliders, the characters only have a few seconds to decide whether or not to stay on the latest parallel Earth they've landed on. To see if it's their home or not, Quinn tries a fence, knowing it is always squeaky (something he does in the pilot), and it doesn't squeak. After they leave, a gardener with an oil can comes into view.
  • Happens in the So Weird episode with the aliens, and probably some others as well.
  • The Twilight Zone
    • The series had a rather disturbing example of this trope. In the episode "Mr Garrity And The Graves", a con artist scams an entire village into believing he can raise their dead. After being paid not to, he feels badly and performs the phony ritual anyway before leaving town in disgrace. Cue the dead rising.
    • The episode "I Shot an Arrow into the Air" involved a space ship crashing onto what the astronauts think is a distant desert planet. One Jerk Ass member of the crew, determined to survive, kills the rest of the crew one by one so he can steal their water canteens. Shortly after killing the captain, the crew member finds out they were on Earth All Along, not far from a freeway leading to Reno, Nevada.
    • An ambiguous case in an episode of the 2002 remake: a group of college students travel through a forest and discover a cave of an ancient tribe. They disturb a large chalice containing blood and the sun unexpectedly goes dark, much to the confusion of scientists on the radio. Realizing that the blood was an offering to a sun god by an ancient culture, the group believes that in order to bring back the sun, they must replace the offering so they kill one of their group for her blood. Immediately afterwards, the sun returns, but then they hear over the radio that scientists believe that the event was caused by a natural occurrence, leaving them to wonder if they killed their friend for no reason.
  • The X-Files episode "Quagmire" was about the deaths of several people around a lake where a lake monster is purported to live. The killer turns out to be an alligator that Mulder shoots. Right after he and Scully leave, the real lake monster surfaces.
  • In one episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Sabrina is invited to Josh's book club the same night as Harvey's football game, so Sabrina gives Dreama a pager to let her know when Harvey will be in the game so she can zap herself there to see it. After a few false alarms with the team losing and only thirty seconds left on the clock, Sabrina decides to turn off the pager. Harvey is then put in the game so the team can save face. Not only does Sabrina miss Harvey's touchdown, but he breaks up with her when he finds out she was with Josh.

  • The song "Zangra" by Jacques Brel is about an officer stationed in a frontier fort who looks forward to the enemy attacking so he can become a hero. But years pass and the enemy doesn't come. Finally, he retires, and that's when the enemy shows up.
  • The song "Stan" by Eminem focuses on the relationship between the artist and an obsessive fan who, furious at his idol for not writing back, kills himself and his pregnant girlfriend. In the final verse of the song, Slim Shady does write a reply encouraging Stan to seek professional help so as not to end up like a suicide victim he heard about on the news and then realizes Stan, himself, was the victim.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Occurs in one week-long Doonesbury story arc. In a pastiche of Waiting for Godot, Mike and Zonker wait for Mario Cuomo to announce his bid for the presidency. The two finally give up out of frustration, and a beat later, Cuomo arrives in the last panel.


  • In The Order of the Stick:
    • When the Order is forcibly split into two groups, the wizard Vaarsuvius searches with increasing desperation for a way to contact the other half of the party. Eventually tiring of the unproductive distractions they faced, Vaarsuvius leaves; once he/she gains the power to reunite the party, he/she finds that the others have already gotten together in his/her absence.
    • The Order spends a day searching the desert for leads on one of the Gates or its guardian, finds nothing, and leaves. Moments later, a scrying sensor appears. Subverted when it's revealed that it was the villains, not the sorcerer they hoped to find, spying on them.
    • When Nale and his companions are hunting a dungeon for Girard's Gate, they leave in frustration upon finding a stone block with a taunting message in its place. Roy and Haley, being more familiar with Girard's brand of paranoia, shatter the stone to find the Gate hidden inside.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Team Homer", before normal closing time:
    Moe: [sighs] Might as well close the dump.
    [outside, Quimby leads a bunch of people toward the bar]
    Quimby: I am going to drink you under the table.
    Man: No, I am going to drink you under the —
    [the "Moe's" lighted sign turns off]
    [the crowd sighs and turns back]
    • An excruciating example in Treehouse of Horror V's "Time and Punishment" segment.
    Homer:[After having changed history via time travel several times] Hmm, fabulous house, well-behaved kids, sisters-in-law dead, luxury sedan...woo hoo! I hit the jackpot. [sits down] Marge, my dear, would you kindly pass me a doughnut?
    Marge: Doughnut? What's a doughnut ?
    Homer: [Shrieks repeatedly while dashing out of room, pushes toaster handle, and disappears]
    Marge: [Looks outside and sees doughnuts fall from the sky] It's raining again.
    • An episode taking place in the future starts with Homer having an accident that kills him. At the funeral, where Moe is trying to make his move on Marge, Professor Frink reveals he made a clone body for Homer. A montage spanning thirty years occurs where Homer continuously dies and is replaced with a clone, with Moe trying to make a move at each funeral. At the end of the montage during the most recent Homer's death, Marge tells Moe that his attempts are futile, to which Moe drops his kind bravado and acts like his normal Jerkass self while telling Marge off. It's then that Professor Frink comes in saying he can't clone Homer anymore. Moe even lampshades the trope.
    • In one episode, Moe gives Homer his camera so he can get revenge on the celebrities who humiliated him, saying that he wanted to use it to take pictures of women in the ladies' room, but no women ever come into the bar. After Homer leaves, two sexy girls come in and ask to use the ladies' room so they can exchange bras and panties. Moe is so upset that he snaps a beer bottle in two.
  • An American Dad! episode involved the Smiths being trapped in a cave while being hunted by a group. They end up cannibalizing the side character who was with them almost immediately, and afterwards, discover that their 'hunters' were actually a paintball team.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: In "Operation T.R.I.P.", the Interesting Twins from Beneath the Mountain need to find the heroes' hiding place and then call in the ninja squad (and only then, because, according to Father "ninjas charge by the hour and I'm not made of money!") They find the hiding place, call the ninja squad, then discover it's not the hiding place... so they call the ninjas off, and the sister smashes the radio in despair. Then they learn they've been tricked — this is the hiding place, and now they can't call the ninjas a second time! Cue Villainous Breakdown.
  • An episode of Samurai Jack centered on Jack and a thief trying to steal the same gem—the thief wants to sell it, Jack wants to use its power to travel back in time. The episode ends with the gem being shattered in front of them. The thief is left sitting dumbstruck, while Jack, being used to this kind of thing, walks away almost immediately... seconds before the gem activates anyway, sending the thief traveling through time instead!
  • In a Game Show skit on Histeria, Toast continued to give a bizarre answer that ended up being wrong (and resulted in him being injured). When asked the final question, Toast gave a different answer, only for it to be wrong while the answer he had been giving previously was correct.
  • In one episode of Timon & Pumbaa, Timon is put on trial where he endures continuously crazy tests to prove if he's guilty or innocent. Eventually, Timon has enough, snaps, and admits to the crime that he was accused of. Then the judge reveals that Timon was going to be pronounced innocent before his outburst.
  • In one episode of Phineas and Ferb where Candace is teleported to Mars, the person working the Mars rover at Nasa goes into a rant on the futility of the project, saying there is no life on Mars and shuts down the project, just when Candace was trying to get his attention. Even moreso, the citizens of Mars come out of hiding just after the rover shuts down.
  • One episode of Pinky and the Brain involved the duo attempting to join a club of world leaders (in order to learn the secrets of ruling the world). After going through a humiliating initiation, Brain gets fed up and quits. However, the world leaders then mentioned that he was just about to join the organization. As a result, Brain gets kicked out while Pinky is allowed into the club.
  • Poor Daffy is a victim of this in a Looney Tunes cartoon. He's lost in the desert, dying of thirst, and hallucinating. He finds a huge chunk of gold, but it's pretty worthless right now, as he can't spend it. Then a mouse shows up, tempting him with water in exchange for the gold. At first, Daffy refuses, unwilling to give up the fortune, but eventually, he gives in and gives up the gold in exchange for the water. Then, when he's about to drink it, it starts raining so hard he's flooded up to his chest. Comically Missing the Point, he says, "Boy, when I buy water, I get my money's worth!" before the cartoon ends.

    Real Life 
  • The Burke and Wills expedition of Australia is a sad example of this. They and their team were to travel from the southern to northern coast of Australia and back. They had left part of the team at a halfway point and took two extra teammates with them to the coast. After waiting for several weeks, the other team gave up waiting and left only nine hours before Burke and Wills returned, which eventually led to their deaths.
  • The prospector who first discovered what would turn out to be the Comstock mine sold the rights to Comstock. Once somebody thought to test the tailings for silver content, the Comstock mine was discovered to be the single largest silver-ore deposit in the U.S.
  • A prospector during the gold rush found a mine, and immediately began working with a pickaxe and dynamite, getting deeper and deeper into the mine each day. However, as he failed with each excursion to find even a trace of gold, at last the prospector threw down his tools and left the mine, never to return. Many years later, a modern company with upgraded digging technology found the mine and immediately began to dig...and they found a rich gold vein six inches from the point where the original prospector had stopped.