How the Mighty Have Fallen
This is the guy who used to be able to turn solid stone into lava just by thinking hard at it. The 60's most powerful superhuman! And all he's fit for now is soaking up whiskey like blotting paper and burning the toast!
This person once had it all. They were wealthy and powerful, sycophants hung on their every word, and it seemed like the world was their oyster. Then they fell, hard. Now their empire has crumbled, their money is gone, and they are scorned by the people who once admired them; there's nothing left for them to do but long for the Glory Days
Other characters may shake their heads in pity and comment, "How the mighty have fallen."
Someone powerful and prideful
who suffers a Humiliation Conga
or Break the Haughty
can have this fate waiting for them at the end. However, it can just easily happen offscreen, or to someone who wasn't excessively prideful.
Depending on how sympathetic the character is, this can be played for comedy, tragedy, or karmic justice. It may even prove to be a Happy Ending
; he avoids Lonely at the Top
for true friendship
and true love
The Fallen Princess
copes with it; the Princess in Rags
pretends it hasn't happened. Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair
is when it happens to a civilization, or Vestigial Empire
when it happens to a nation state.
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Anime & Manga
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Viral at beginning of season 2, Simon (by choice) at the end.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Yoki. He goes from leader of a prosperous mining town to Scar's sniveling lackey.
- Slayers: NEXT has Martina, a princess whose kingdom is blown up by Lina, and who takes to following the heroine around seeking revenge.
- Death Note's ending leaves Light broken both physically and mentally, with all his sycophants either dead or not having a clue who he is. The anime scene with him running sobbing from the warehouse to be killed by a heart attack a few minutes later is the nice version of his death, and within a few years, the world's gone back to normal. In the original manga, he's killed while writhing in agony and whining that he doesn't want to die.
- Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force, the fourth season manga of the Nanoha franchise gives this treatement to Signum in spades. Fortunately, after recovery, she's working her ass off to subvert this.
- The life of Fallen Prince Lelouch Lamperouge in Code Geass. Even his Zero persona goes through this.
- In Black Butler, Sebastian says this of Ash/Angela in the first Season Finale. In this case, he's referring to three things exactly: first, the Irony that someone who adored Purity is now drawing power from human corruption, second that is a literal Fallen Angel, and third, that s/he is about to go DOWN.
- Your Mileage May Vary, but... several of the countries from Axis Powers Hetalia can be seen as such. The Roman Empire himself, for starters, is said to have had everything, but then vanished one day (although, as a young Italy remarks, he had many scars and was in pain beforehand, probably for a long time). Prussia used to be a great fighter, and now, he isn't a nation anymore. During the Revolution, America remarks how England "used to be so big". Kind-of played with in the case of France, when he isn't invited to one of the Allies' meetings and tries to remember some of his "finest hours", all of them ruthlessly destroyed/parodized (in the cases of Joan of Arc and Napoleon, because of England, and in two cases he just jumped into the fight when the enemy was already weak).
- This happened to Kotetsu's old boss in Tiger & Bunny. Ben Jackson was the director of TopMag's HERO division before it closed down and he became a mere taxi driver. Unlike most examples of this trope, he was a genuinely caring boss to Kotetsu. Later episodes show that he doesn't mind it though he still looks out after Kotetsu especially when he realizes that Kotetsu is losing his powers. In the epilogue, this is ultimately subverted as he becomes the new president of Apollon Media.
- One Piece: The death of his crew at the hands of Kaido left Gekko Moriah really screwed up — by the time the protagonists first meet him, he's let himself go and uses others' strength instead of his own to get the job done. His Badass Decay eventually got him kicked out of the Seven Warlords of the Sea, as he was deemed too weak for the position.
- In Common Grounds, the once-prominent superhero Blackwatch is now a slovenly homeless man after serving a long prison term for accidentally killing newbie hero Snowflame in one of those superhero fights.
- In Lucifer, when Perdissa thinks she's killed Lucifer, she indulges in a bit of Evil Gloating by quoting Isaiah 14:12 - "Oh how art thou fallen from grace oh Lucifer, son of the morning."
- Death Of The Family: While the Penguin was distracted by the Joker's return, his Number Two, Ogilvy, took advantage of the situation to steal his boss' position as top crime boss of Gotham, coercing the loyalty of Penguin's lieutenants and buying out all his assets. By the time Penguin realizes what's happened, he's been rendered homeless, powerless, and completely broke.
- Trope Namer is The Bible; the phrase occurs in 2 Samuel 1:19, 1:25, and 1:27.
- Interestingly, not quite an example despite being Trope Namer. The mighty in question, Saul, has literally fallen in battle, not merely fallen from power.
- See also Isaiah 14:12 - "How art thou fallen from heaven, star of Morning, son of the Dawn! How art thou cut down to the ground, who laid the nations low!"
- The same sentiment was also expressed in The Aeneid: "quantum mutatus ab illo / Hectore"
- Paradise Lost goes for both of them because John Milton loves his erudition: "If thou be'est he but oh how fallen / How changed..."
- Snow Crash: Chuck Wrightson. Once the president of Kenai and Kodiak, now a homeless drunk.
- A recurring theme in the Nightside books; John Taylor notes that even gods can end up living on the streets. Herne the Hunter is one of the biggest examples.
- Ozymandias in Percy Shelley's famous poem:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
- In Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, the Greek Gods are holed up in a dilapidated house in contemporary London, much diminished in power because no-one believes in them anymore, what with "the upstart carpenter" and all.
- An incidence of this being the Happy Ending occurs in Juliet E McKenna's Aldabreshin Compass with warlord Kheda having lost two separate kingdoms, but is now free to be with the woman he loves and travel as he wishes instead of tied to throne.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Phoenix on the Sword", Thoth-amon used to be a powerful magician, until he lost his Ring of Power. Then he had to flee for his life, and ended up being Made a Slave.
- In The Lord of the Rings, Saruman goes from being a demigod and head of the wizard's order to boss of a small group of Orcs bullying hobbits in the Shire. Pretty much every adaption wisely ignores this bit of the book.
- Kallor in The Malazan Book of the Fallen once ruled a kingdom that spanned two continents, but was such a monster that his mages were willing to destroy an entire continent in the hopes of killing him. He survived the devastation and was later cursed to live forever and fail at whatever task he took upon himself as punishment for exterminating his own huge empire, man woman and child by the millions, when he knew it would be taken away by beings more powerful.
- The Wrath of God, a novel by Jack Higgins (this trope seems to involve lots of wrath!) Janos, a grossly overweight ex-soldier in the Hungarian imperial guard, now working as an Arms Dealer in 1920's Mexico, curses the glandular problem that caused his fall from grace.
- Antichrist villain Nicolae Carpathia in the Left Behind book series went from being a terrifying Evil Overlord who ruled the world with an iron fist and Satan indwelt to a pathetic and humiliated rotting shell of a human being who has to suffer for eternity in the Lake of Fire.
- According to the Legend of Belisarius, the Eastern Roman general Belisarius ended up as a blind beggar on the streets of Rome.
- In the fourth The Wheel of Time book the recently overthrown former Amyrlin exploits this trope in order to get past a guard and flee the city:
Yesterday, I was perhaps the most powerful ruler in the entire world, able to summon kings and queens and have them answer; today, I must hope I can find a farm where I will be allowed to sleep in the barn. Whatever crimes you think I have committed, isn't this punishment enough?
- The Machine Gunners: Having received a crushing defeat from schoolyard rival Chas McGill, Boddser Brown finds his followers have deserted him, people are no longer afraid of him and openly mock his turban-like bandages and his position of power and popularity at school is gone.
- Young George Amberson Minafer of The Magnificent Ambersons suffered this when his 'rich' grandfather died and it turned out that he had lost all his fortune and he just didn't tell him for the sake of pride. He went from living in a gorgeous mansion to living in a boarding house with a job involving explosives.
- One of the two fates offered by Historia Brittonum for King Vortigern, the supreme ruler of Britain blamed for bringing the Saxons to Britain, is that he was dethroned and ostracized by his former subjects, so
"... that, deserted and a wanderer, he sought a place of refuge, until broken-hearted, he made an ignominious end."
- William Wordsworth's poem, "On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic":
"And what if she had seen those glories fade,
Those titles vanish, and that strength decay;
Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid
When her long life hath reached its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
Of that which once was great is passed away."
- The third act of A Clockwork Orange operates on this for Villain Protagonist Alex, a vicious criminal (in the first act) whose "treatment" in jail has rendered him incapable of even thinking about a violent act without becoming cripplingly ill. It becomes particularly noticeable when some of his old peers find him being mercilessly beaten by the elderly and then decide to beat on him themselves - all of these people he'd easily crushed earlier in the story.
- The Authors of The House of Night tend to favour the Break the Haughty method:
- Aphrodite went from being the most popular fledgling, High Priestess-in-training, dating the hottest guy at the House of Night to being friendless, completely powerless, and spending her meal times sitting out in the courtyard eating alone.
- Rephaim - "The favourite son of an ancient immortal reduced to hiding in refuse and talking to the ghost of a human child."
Live Action TV
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: Said by Guinan of the recently depowered Q in the episode "Deja Q".
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Obsidian Order was Cardassia. Enabran Tain was the Obsidian Order. Not even the Central Command dared challenge him and Garak was his official protégé. In Cardassia, it doesn't get much more powerful than that. Then Garak ended up in exile for an unrevealed crime and now Cardassians have this view of him. Gul Toran even quotes this trope verbatum to him in the episode "Profit and Loss".
- In Angel Illyria used to be worshiped by millions and held dominion over multiple dimensions. Due to her reincarnation in a mortal body, as of series end, she's capable of being defeated by a minion of creatures she previously barely noticed. And the closest thing she has to a worshiper drinks a lot and called her a smurf.
- Conan O'Brien Lampshaded this trope in his opening skit to the 2006 Primetime Emmy Awards, mocking NBC in the Broadway-style musical number "Trouble At NBC''.
- "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay tells the story of a man who overthrew a corrupt king and took his place. He had money, power, and an admiring kingdom, but he soon became corrupt just like the first king. Upon realizing how far he had fallen, he became disillusioned with his position of power and allowed himself to be removed from the throne and [assumedly] spent the rest of his days looking back on his reign and laments his fate.
- The Depression-era number "Brother Can You Spare A Dime", famously performed by Bing Crosby.
- Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone":
Once upon a time you dressed so fine,
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
People’d call, say, “Beware doll, you’re bound to fall”
You thought they were all kiddin’ you.
Now you don’t talk so loud,
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.
- The Laura Marling song "Failure" starts like this:
He used to be the life and soul of everyone around.
You'd never catch him looking up and never see him down but oh, la laa.
He couldn't raise a smile oh, not for a while, and he's a failure now.
- "Fortune Plango Vulnera" from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana".
"Fortune rota volvitur;
alter in altum tollitur;
rex sedet in vertice
nam sub axe legimus
(English translation: "The wheel of Fortune turns/I go down, demeaned/another is carried to the top;/far too high/the king sits at the summit/let him fear ruin/for under the axis is written/Queen Hecuba.")
- A WWE SmackDown! angle had Shawn Michaels so broke that he was reduced to working for John Bradshaw Layfield.
- In a real-life example, Ric Flair was a 16-time world champion and considered one of the greatest wrestlers ever. Between bad investments, messy divorces and living the jet-set lifestyle character he played on TV left him seriously in debt later on in life.
- One of the most prevalent themes in Greek tragedy; it'd be easier to list the exceptions, which are very few indeed.
- Oedipus the King is an especially good version of this. Over the course of the play, he goes from King of Thebes to a blind beggar who everyone knows killed his father and slept with his mother.
"Men of Thebes, look upon Oedipus
the king who solved the famous riddle
and towered up, most powerful of men.
No mortal eye but looked on him with envy,
yet in the end ruin swept over him."
- The song "King of the World" from the musical Songs For A New World is about this — the singer used to be very powerful and is now in prison. (Beyond this, the details are open to interpretation.)
- In the musical of The Producers, Max Bialystock reminisces about once being "the king of all Broadway" rather than, as now, a producer of serial flops. (But then the chorus responds with "We'll believe you - thousands wouldn't.")
- Maybe a bit of a stretch, but the song about Grizabella ("Grizabella the Glamour Cat") from "Cats" gives this vibe. Former celebrity, now a common, old stray.
- A common theme in the Human and Dwarf Noble origin stories in Dragon Age: Origins, both of which begin with the player character as a scion of a very powerful family (either that of the in-universe equivalent of a duke or that of the King of Orzammar). Both end with the player on the run and forced to join the Grey Wardens to escape. Of course, you do rise to prominence again at the end, but that is to be expected.
- Of course, this happened to the Dalish long before the story started.
- The line is used in Eternal Darkness as Pious kills Mantorok in the second chapter. Considering he just punched out that story's equivalent of Cthulhu and consigned it to a slow and inevitable death, it is probably fitting.
- From Portal 2:
- The middle chapters take the player on an exploration of the old Aperture Science Innovators test facilities, far beneath the more modern chambers that you start the game in. You get to see what Aperture was like when its eccentric founder, Cave Johnson, was in his heyday, full of money and enthusiasm and with "astronauts, Olympians, and war heroes" jumping at the chance to test his products. Then you get to see it as a company struggling to survive and hiring bums off the street due to Congressional inquiries over the "missing astronauts". Lastly, you get to hear Cave's final recordings as a bitter, bankrupt old man dying of mercury poisoning and trying desperately to preserve some kind of legacy. Aperture may have recovered and gone on without him, but he's gone, his memories buried along with the empire he built.
- Appropriately, the chapter where you're first introduced to the crumbling remains of Old Aperture is called "The Fall".
- POTATOS. Though she gets back up again.
- This is where Starscream ends up by the end of Transformers: Fall of Cybertron.
- In Starcraft II, after spending almost the entire series as the dominant race, the Zerg are decimated and scattered at the end of the Terran campaign, and you spend the entire next campaign helping them recover from the disaster.
- The Lost MC in Grand Theft Auto V. Once a feared group of Badass Biker's, V reduces them to strung out, aimless, desert dwelling meth addicts, who get massacred by Trevor.
- Happens all the time in real life in the workplace, where a non-supervisory employee says, "I used to be in management and [whatever I don't like] was not how I/we did [X]."
- Subverted in this joke: Three refugees from talk about the old times. First one: "Here I live in a one-room apartment, but in the old country, I had a house with twelve rooms." Second one: "Here I am an ordinary secretary, but in the old country, I was a CEO." Third one (with a Mister Muffykins on his lap): "I'll admit, I'm a poor devil now as well as then. But in the old country, my dog was a St. Bernard."
- People during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance saw Ancient Rome as this.
- The Hudson's Bay Company, once, a real life Mega Corp.. For 200 years, they owned and ruled over more than a third of what is now Canada. Now they're just a chain of mid-range department stores, some of which are now being sold off to Target.
- Joe Paterno. He retires in disgrace after the horrifying Penn State sex scandal blew up. And after his death, a statue outside the campus erected to honor his achievements gets taken down after numerous evidences and implications pile up that he was involved in the whole cover-up.