Kudos (Greek!) to Hercules for thinking outside the ampitheatre on this one [...] but it seems to me there was another way out. If he had just kept chopping, eventually the creature would have had a hundred thousand heads, making it look something like venomous reptilian broccoli. Then it would have tipped over and been no threat to anyone. People could come up and laugh at it, it would have been a great tourist attraction.This is where when you defeat an enemy, one or two more show up in its place, and so on until you perform some kind of specific attack to kill it for good. Named for the Hydra from Greek mythology, which had nine heads that grew two more heads whenever one was chopped off; the only way to destroy it was to cut off the heads and cauterize the stumps with fire before the head was able to grow back and multiply. Compare to Asteroids Monsters, in which a destroyed monster divides into several smaller versions of itself and you have to keep killing them until they are dead for good. Expect a lot of decapitation, even though this is probably the worst possible strategy to use.
— Lore Sj÷berg, The Book of Ratings
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- The Monster Society of Evil has a literal Hydra created by Mister Mind, which when it loses a head grows it back with the head of another animal. Captain Marvel causes its heads to fight over meat, killing it.
- Madrox the Multiple Man of X-Factor has the power of Self-Duplication, but it usually works like the Hydra Problem from his enemies' point of view because he involuntarily creates a copy of himself when struck. Punch him, and suddenly he has backup. The answer to beating him is a One-Hit Kill (Pretty Little Headshots don't create copies), restraining him so that he can't receive a sufficient blow (punching a wall would suffice, so you'd better tie him up tight), or employing a method that doesn't involve direct force (poison, for example).
- This concept is the origin behind the name of the terrorist organization HYDRA in Marvel Comics, though in practice it's essentially a boast about their never ending Redshirt Army. Their motto is "Cut off one head, two more take its place". In Captain America: The First Avenger, this sets up one of Colonel Phillips' (played by Tommy Lee Jones) CMOA when, after shooting a HYDRA mook who just shouted the line, quips "Let's go find two more." It also sets up the many times that an Anti-Hero decided to see whether the creed was literal at an individual level: with all the superheroes and supervillains running around, it would after all be easy to make an army of mooks with a twisted healing factor. The surviving mooks are often quite dismayed to realize that it's not.
- The Superman villain Riot has a similar power to Multiple Man. Defeating him requires indirect methods like cutting off his air supply or catching him in a net.
Films — Animated
- In Sorcerer's Apprentice segment from Fantasia, Mickey enchants a broom to do his chores for him. When it begins to flood the castle, he tries chopping the broom into pieces. This backfires horribly, as each splinter becomes a new broom. Only the Wizard's magic can undo all the flooding.
- The Disney adaptation of Hercules had Herc face this problem when fighting the iconic multi-headed serpent. It starts with one head, but when Herc chops it off, three grow in its place. In desperation, he starts wildly chopping at the beast, leaving him with a bigger problem than what he started with. However, he soon triumphs by causing the chasm they're in to cave in, resulting in the Hydra being crushed under a rock slide.
Phil: "Will you forget the head-slicing thing?!"
Films — Live-Action
- In the first Hellboy film Sammael is a creature that, when destroyed, gives life to two of its previously laid eggs. The only way to stop Sammael is to wipe out all of its bodies and eggs at once.
- In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, they fight a literal Hydra (who has this problem). They beat it by using Medusa's head to turn it to stone.
- While appearing in the movie of Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief, in the books the Hydra appears instead in Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters. Here, Clarisse kills it by blowing it up using a gunboat.
- In Prometheus, Fifield attempts to cut off the alien snakes head when it breaks Millburn's arm but not only does it spray acid blood over Fifield's face for his efforts, the head instantly grows back.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe
- As noted above under Comic Books, HYDRA in Captain America: The First Avenger, though the organisation is pretty much solidly defeated by the end.
- The catchphrase takes a much darker turn in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where it's revealed after their defeat in WWII, HYDRA went underground and have shaped the history of the world. They even infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. at its creation. When Captain America protests that HYDRA died with the Red Skull, Zola nonchalantly comments "Cut off one head..."
- Averted trope as seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The Avengers take down one HYDRA base after another based on intel from Maria Hill until they arrive at the last remaining powerful HYDRA base. Strucker and List, the two last remaining higher-ups surrender and the former is even killed by Ultron. See also the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. example below, though beware spoilers for that series.
- In Avengers: Age of Ultron, no matter how many Ultron drones the Avengers destroy, the AI itself can still escape to anywhere. Eventually, Vision interfaces with Ultron and prevents him from escaping through the Internet.
- In Dragonball Evolution, Piccolo summons minions that could regenerate from any piece of them cut off. Goku slices them up with a sword to make a lot and then throws them into lava, forming stepping stones so he can cross.
- In The Andalite Chronicles, Visser Three unleashes mortrons, creatures that can regenerate into separate beings when sliced apart. Elfangor resorts to knocking them out. Loren strangles one to death, and uses a softball bat to cave one's skull in.
- The Telar in The Last Vampire. Referenced as such by Krishna and Yaksha.
- Not a literal example, but Snape describes The Dark Arts as this in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
- The Chaodyn in The Death Gate Cycle are monsters which, if wounded, their spilt blood will turn into another Chaodyn. The only way to stop this is to deliver a wound that kills them before any of their blood hits the ground.
- The Angel episode "Waiting in the Wings" had mooks who would respawn into two whenever they were killed. Angel had to fight past them and defeat the mage controlling them to make them disappear. Fortunately each time a new lackey is created, the mage's power weakens as he has to keep control of an increasing number of mooks.
- On Charmed Swarm Demons are replaced by two more swarm demons when they're killed. The sisters have to destroy the lead Swarm Demon, the demon from which all others come from, in order to kill them all. And in another episode an evil witch unleashes her snake familiar onto the sisters and when the snake is chopped into two pieces, the pieces both grow into a new snake. The witch is killed and then so are the snakes.
- The show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shares a continuity with the Captain America film examples above. Coulson takes down HYDRA by basically cutting off as many heads as possible and, when he gathers enough intel, he calls in the Avengers to deal the final blow. Hydra is now scattered and Kelbo says that "heads ain't growin' back". Then Ward decides to revive HYDRA in his own image and recruits Baron Von Strucker's son as his apprentice; two more heads have grown. All known heads are again cut by the end of the third season, including Hive, the original head. Of course, it's still possible that more will turn up in season four...
Mythology and Religion
- The Trope Namer:
- The name comes from the Lernaean Hydra from Classical Mythology. Whenever a head was broken, two more grew in its place. To defeat it, the hero Heracles had his friend Iolaus burn the stumps before the head grew back until he smashes off all the beast's heads with his club. (Adding insult to injury, King Eurystheus wouldn't count this one towards the Ten Labors because Iolaus helped him.)
- The Hydra also had one immortal head, which they had to bury under a rock.
- Deconstructed here, as it turns out not only can a demigod like Hercules not fail to beat a Hydra no matter how many heads it can grow back, but the heads can grow in a sufficiently complex structure to contain all of arithmetic. (Note however that this is only true for a non-standard version of the hydra where heads can be either directly connected to the body or branched off another neck and it won't regrow any heads if the head cut-off is directly attached to the body.)
- There's also a classic math problem involving hydra herds in which every blow which fails to kill a hydra spawns a number of duplicates of the damaged hydra equal to the number of blows which the entire herd has received. (Added to that, Heracles is cursed to only be able to smash heads in the worst possible order.) Still beatable by an immortal demigod, but it's surprising how quickly the required number of blows grows.
- Parody hero Samurai Cat fought Cerberus, who it turned out had the same power. Samurai Cat just kept chopping off heads until Cerberus had so many, 1) they were all too small to bite effectively and 2) they weighed so much Cerberus couldn't walk around anymore.
- In the Hindu Mythology Durga once found herself facing an enemy whose power was a regeneration-based Self-Duplication - from each drop of blood spilled, a clone would pop up into existence. After a moment of futile fighting, she transformed into her Kali aspect, which quickly solved the problem by catching her enemy and, depending on the version you read, either eating him whole or holding him still so she could drink all his blood as it spurted from his wounds.
- More Hindu mythology: The legend behind the Thuggee cult was about regenerating demons too, therefore demanding strangulation (a bloodless killing method).
- The Bible [Jesus; Matthew 12:43-45] once said that if you defeat a demon/unclean spirit with your own power that isn't God's, it would return with seven more of its kind (or worse, just by it coming back and finding its house empty as in without, you know, the Holy Spirit coming in to occupy it after the person was freed).
- In Dino Attack RPG, if one of the Mutant Vinscale Octomus's tentacles were severed, two more would grow back in its place.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Judges Guild module Dark Tower. It had an area with a mirror hanging on the wall that was guarded by a skeleton. If an attack against the skeleton didn't do exactly 8 Hit Points of damage, it would split into two skeletons with the same property. The only way to defeat the skeletons (other than by doing damage) was to destroy the mirror.
- D&D's Monster Manual also lists the Hydra among the monsters that the players can fight. However, only the Laernian variety of the hydra exhibits the Hydra Problem; the (normal) hydra and the firebreathing pyrohydra both get weaker as you lop their heads off, not stronger.
- In 5e the only hydra in the monster manual has this ability, sort of. If it looses 25 health in a single turn it losses a head and regrows to more for every head lost in its turn. It only gains a total of 20 points of health back so, without healing, the hydra will eventually die if it heads keep getting cut off.
- Magic: The Gathering has a number of creature cards that implement this trope as mechanics. Usually, if the creature survives taking damage, it gets stronger afterwards.
- In the Theros block, planeswalker Elspeth Tirel has to fight Polukranos, a hydra that is dubbed the "World Eater" with very little apparent hyperbole. She is armed with a Blade on a Stick. She solves the problem, not by lopping off heads, but by splitting each head in two. The bisected crania can't regrow, nor, obviously, can they live.
- Hydra Slayer is a quirky little Roguelikegame wholly concerned with how to resolve the Hydra Problem on a case-by-case basis. Your success is determined by being able to tell which weapons/powers will remove heads, which will add heads, and how to combine these two factors to kill each individual hydra in the shortest possible time.
- The boss Mariska from Lollipop Chainsaw respawns into two when Juliet slices her in half. The copies then tear themselves in half several times to create an army of Mariskas. Juliet shoots the copies down, and when she gets to the last one, she lops her head off. Mariska seems to run out of energy and perishes.
- Undead enemies in Wandering Hamster respawn every time they are killed, unless you use the glimmer item which kills them for good.
- Megaera is a three headed hydra in World of Warcraft's Throne of Thunder, when one of her heads is killed, two more grow in it's place. Megaera still takes damage with each head killed, so it's just a matter of killing seven heads and holding out against the assault from all the extra heads. Perhaps a Shout-Out to the original mythos, at the last stage of the fight, Megaera has nine heads; two that can be attacked and must be tanked, and sevennote attacking the party from a distance.
- Warcraft III features hydras as a neutral monster, but use Asteroids Monster due to the limitations: every three-headed hydra splits into two smaller three-headed hydras.
- Trauma Center: New Blood has the Brachion Stigma, which is a core with several arms. Whenever you cut off the heads of the grappler arms, it pulls them back and emits more. Killing it involves continually cutting the arms loose, which ultimately overtaxes the core and causes it to disintegrate.
- The Plasma Hydra boss in Hero Core initially has three heads. In Normal difficulty, it only regrows one head for each one destroyed and only has two heads per neck. In Hard, however, it grows two for each destroyed head, and when those two are destroyed, it sends out a third, extremely powerful head. Once the third wave of heads is dealt with, however, the Plasma Hydra self-destructs.
- In Heart of Darkness, a particularly tough enemy introduced late in the game will turn into two blobs upon being killed; if they're not destroyed in time, they'll instantly grow into two more enemies. Since they frequently can appear in pairs, and you constantly have to dodge their attacks, they can quickly overwhelm you if you don't stop them from multiplying.
- In Yu Gi Oh BAM, after you defeat their leaders, the Ghouls taunt you that their numbers are endless.
Game: You jump, startled and ready to fight. From the utter silence slithers in a cryptic whisper: It does not matter. We are the Ghouls. Even if you bury us, we will get out. We are the Ghouls. We will meet again.
- In Gems of War, there's a Hydra troop, and its famous feature is represented in its special attack; the base damage is boosted by however much damage to its health the troop has taken, reflecting the extra heads which the Hydra now has. (The Hydra doesn't actually gain any extra health to represent the increased difficulty in killing it, however.)
- You Don't Know Jack (the UK edition anyway) has a question asking "Suppose you cut off all of the Hydra's heads, all its replacement heads, then half of the new heads, how many heads would there be?" note
- The Order of the Stick: The heroes solved the problem of an actual hydra by repeatedly decapitating it until it fainted — its heart couldn't maintain the proper blood pressure in all the extra necks. Then an enterprising goblin starts using it as an infinite supply of meat for a barbecue restaurant.
- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002):
- He-Man once faced a Man-Eating Plant that was similar to the Hydra. He finally kills it by uprooting it.
- Another episode had Triclops unleash an army of skeletal warriors that respawn into two every time they get smashed. They are defeated when the heroes smash the device Triclops was controlling them with, making them all crumble to dust.
- The Powerpuff Girls episode "Beat Your Greens" had Plant Aliens that regenerate. They are defeated when everyone eats them.
- Most directly related to the mythological hydra, if a planarian's head is split without severing it from the body (not that they can't survive that) both halves can regenerate, ending up with a two-headed planarian.
- Some weeds ensure their survival by sending out long horizontal roots that can sprout new stalks if the original stalk is destroyed. Pull up the first stalk, and you'll find a cluster of new weeds sprouting all around the hole a few days later.
- Falling afoul of the Streisand Effect can land you in a PR nightmare because of this trope, especially on the internet. Did you force a takedown of a song posted to YouTube, even though the way it was posted constitutes fair use? Expect much hate mail and at least fifteen reposts. Scoured the internet just to delete all references to you that you feel are overly critical, or connect you to something stupid/embarrassing you did? Congratulations, what you've censored has just been reposted to five blogs, and a sixth one commented on your dickery. Forced the takedown of an entire site? Well, now there's two mirrors registered under foreign domain names and five with slight variations of a common name.
- A similar event happened when manga publishers asserted their copyrights to get Scanlation sites taken down-many more sprung up to take the places of the ones targeted.
- The Pirate Bay. Sink a pirate ship, two more shall rise from the water. For years, people have tried to shut down the site; sometimes they pull it off for a few hours or days, but it never goes away for good. Reports say that all the magnet links are just 90MB, making it very easy to do this.
- Edward Snowden: "You're not going to bully me into silence like you've done to everybody else. And if nobody else is gonna do it, I will. And hopefully, when I'm gone, whatever you do to me, there will be somebody else who'll do the same thing. It'll be the sort of internet principle, of the hydra; you can stomp one person, but there's gonna be seven more of us."
- Nintendo's attempt to ban cartridge dumpers and copiers in the 90s: They started by targeting the most prolific manufacturer of cartridge copiers, Bung Enterprises. They went as far as to get an injunction on Bung Enterprises merchandises in the US. They managed to kill Bung Enterprises shortly after, but then numerous manufacturers sprung up in Bung's place. Additionally, the amount of publicity generated resulted in the Streisand Effect (the US Customs also received a number of eggs on their face after they confiscated a package from Bung Enterprises meant for a US customer, and it turned out that the package only contained a Game Boy Advance link cable). They later did the same things with flashcarts, and then tried it with YouTube videos containing their characters.