[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
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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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In the modern adaptation Romeo + 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.
- 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.
- 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 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 persistant 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). Short story long: Anything by Dickens.
- 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 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?"
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- After Order of the Stick is forcibly split up, the party mage Vaarsuvius gets fed up with the inaction of the half he/she ended up with and leaves to find a way to reunite with the other half. Once he/she returns with enough power to magically reunite everyone, he/she finds the rest of the party has already gathered somewhere else.
- Perhaps more appropriately to this trope, the Order spends a whole day searching the desert for leads to one of the gates. It's only after they leave that a scry shows up.
- Though if the scry seems was left by Zz'dtri as the magical aura surrounding it suggests (the character's own spells have auras the same color and style), not exactly a straight usage.
- In episode 3F10 of The Simpsons, 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 and pushes toaster handle, disappears]
Marge: [Looks outside and sees doughnuts fall from the sky] It's raining again.
- An American Dad! episode involved the Smiths being trapped in a cave. They end up cannibalizing the side character who was with them almost immediately, and are rescued soon after.
- 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.
- Codename: Kids Next Door: In "Operation T.R.I.P.", the Evil Minions need to find the heroes' hiding place and then call in the ninja squad (and only then, because as the Big Bad explains, "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, plan failed. 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.
- 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.