Meaningless Villain Victory
The villain has the hero on the ropes. The villain's plan
foolproof this time, and he's staked his claim on the prize so thoroughly that even a court of law wouldn't take it away.
The Bad Guy Wins
Well, sorta. Evil may have won, but there's going to be a last second caveat that renders the whole point moot. The big pile of gold he's just won turns out to be pyrite; the ancient superweapon he's claimed is irreparably broken, and probably has been for a long time. However it plays out, the audience can rest assured that evil never pays, and the villain has just blown a boatload of his evil resources on a Snipe Hunt
Often involves a Literal Genie
or Prophecy Twist
. In folklore, a Deal with the Devil
can often be broken in this way.
Also known as a Quibble; arguably synonymous with Exact Words
. Compare to Pyrrhic Victory
, Pyrrhic Villainy
and And Then What?
Not to be confused with Off the Table
, the trope formerly known as Pound Of Flesh. This trope was formerly known as Pound Of Flesh Twist.
Compare Victory Is Boring
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Anime and Manga
- Dragon Ball Z: Freeza, who was trying to get the Dragon Balls for immortality, gets to Porunga and wishes for it before Dende can wish Namek's residents off the exploding planet. However, due to his lack of access to the Namekian language, Freeza's wish is ignored and Dende's, which was spoken in said language, is granted instead. Even if he could learn the language, since he was fighting off Goku, whose best friend he blew up on top of all the murders he had committed, his plans were at an end. Earlier on, Freeza gets access to all the Namekian Dragon Balls via the Ginyu Force. Except without knowing Namekian or the dragon's name, he can't even summon it, much less make a wish.
- In one of the movies, the villain Garlic Jr. actually obtains immortality... before being sealed in an empty dimension.
- By the nature of the work, Lupin III is excessively fond of these. Since Lupin is a criminal, technically a villainous character, and chased by a good guy upholding the law, examples are limited to when a third-party is competing against Lupin and the gang.
- "Emmanuelle in Bangkok": Lupin allows Fujiko and Emmanuelle to fight over the treasure, a box made to contain the Scripture of Immortality or the "Fountain of Youth", as it might otherwise be known. Its crumbled to dust.
- Fairy Tail: When the crew goes off on an S-Ranked mission to save an island from a curse that turns them into demons, they find that there is a demon on the island that was sealed away in ice and the villains are trying to thaw and resurrect it. The villains manage it, only to find that it was already dead.
- In Soul Eater, the heretic witch Arachne spends a good deal of resources sending an army to an island where the good guys are also assembled, all to recover the Demon Tool BREW. When her man finally succeeds in recovering the mystic tool, it turns out that it is broken beyond repair. However, it is subverted in that Medusa had actually switched the real BREW out for a fake. BREW itself was still usable and eventually falls into the hands of another villain, but as far as Arachne is concerned, it is played straight.
- In Azumanga Daioh, Yukari and Nyamo bet ten thousand yen on the outcome of the Sports Festival. Yukari's class wins, Nyamo hands her the money...and then Nyamo points out that Yukari borrowed ten thousand yen from her a while back. Yoink!
- One Piece: The Whitebeard War. To say the results were mixed is to sugarcoat it. Both the Marines and the World Government ended up much worse off in the long run, even if they completed their initial objectives. Oh sure, Ace and Whitebeard are dead, but now the Marines got an even worse pirate on the rise with two Devil Fruit powers, one of which was Whitebeard's quake ability, and absolutely none of the self-control to go with it. Also, several Level Six Impel Down prisoners are on the loose, thousands of Marines are dead, and the worst generation of pirates (the Eleven Supernovas) are wreaking absolute havoc in the New World. They've also lost three major assets (Sengoku, Garp, and Aokiji) due to disgust with the World Government. Akainu is now Fleet Admiral, so more needless civilian deaths and property damage abound. To top it all off, Whitebeard's death was supposed to act as a warning to pirates everywhere, just like Gold Roger's death, and snuff out the Golden Age of Piracy. But, thanks to his proclamation that One Piece truly does exist, he ended up starting an entirely new age of piracy. The World Government and Marines were better off when Whitebeard was alive and the Golden Age of Piracy was in full swing.
- Transformers Armada Megatron has just successfully killed Optimus Prime, but it had left him empty as he has no rival anymore, and spent that next few episodes doing nothing till Optimus is resurrected.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure really loves this trope. Some worthwhile mentions:
- Part 1&3: Dio manages to kill the hero, Jonathan Joestar, and steal his body but is trapped inside a burning ship for 100 years while Jonathan's wife and unborn child live on. Also, fusing with Jonathan's body leaves him physically weaker than he would be otherwise and indirectly causes Jonathan's descendants to gain powerful Stands along with.
- Part 2: Cars acquires Complete Immortality he sought so hard for thousands of years but is blasted into space with no way of returning to Earth, slowly losing his mind for all eternity.
- Part 6: Enrico Pucci achieves the power to kill Jotaro and Jolyne, ending the (direct) bloodline of Joestars for good and rewriting them out of reality. Then he is killed before he could do the finishing touches, and the reality reshapes again and the dead protagonists get reborn in a new reality without their original memories.
- Part 7: Diego Brando (from yet another alternate dimension) beats Johnny Joestar soundly, steals the Holy Corpse and wins the first price of the race but Lucy Steel doesn't let him get away with it.
- A Carl Barks Donald Duck story has Uncle Scrooge accidentally agreeing on giving the Beagle Boys all of his fortune if he failed to deliver a dozen eggs from a rare kind of egg-laying rabbit unharmed. At the end, the eggs are shattered, and revealed to actually be chicken eggs, making the contract worthless.
- A hilarious example came from when Dracula fought Superman. Dracula succeeded in hypnotizing him so he could get close enough to drink Superman's blood and gain his immense power — only for it to turn out that because Superman is solar powered, when he drank his blood, his head exploded.
- "Justice League Adventures," the comic-tie in with the "Justice League" series, in issue #15 had Kanjar Ro hired by Kromm and Sayyar, two Warlords who were in "war games" with Queen Hyathis. Kanjor Ro ends up capturing Hyathis' latest prize, the Gamma Gong, and the Justice League as well. Kanjar Ro uses the Gamma Gong to entrance Hyathis' people, and loot her trophies. When Ro seems he'd get away with his loot when the Gong's destroyed, Hyathis gives him a proposition Batman advises her to: join the Warlords in their games. This gives Kanjar Ro "respectability" as it means he's no longer scurrying around like a thief; but Queen Hyathis then reminds Ro he's limited in the use of his loot. And that she'd watch him, Kromm and Sayyar to make sure they don't cheat from here on. To help with enforcement of this...the Queen shows her new allies — The Justice League!
- The Wacky Races story "The Scavenger Scramble" (Gold Key #7, April 1972) had a big purse up for grabs to the winner (a "big purse" interpreted as a cash prize as per standard race). Dick Dastardly wins, and he receives the prize — a big, flowery ladies' purse.
- The immortality one is fairly common: in the animated film Heavy Metal 2000, the Man Behind the Man gets his immortality... of course, he then gets sealed in a chamber that can only be opened from the outside with a key lost in the depths of space.
- In the movie version of Richie Rich, Big Bad Van Dough finally gets Mr. and Mrs. Rich to open the Rich family vault, only to find that it's filled with priceless possessions of the Rich family that would be of no monetary value (like baby pictures, a tricycle and bowling trophies), and not a single cent of money. When Van Dough angrily demands to know where the money is, Mr. Rich simply says that it's in banks, the stock market and real estate, not sitting around in a zero-interest vault on their property. Van Dough does attempt to kill the Rich family there, but Richie and Cadbury foil that plan, too.
- In A Simple Plan, the brothers played by Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton kill a lot of people, including their third partner and his wife, to get the money they found in the crashed plane, ending with Thornton forcing Paxton to kill him, as it's the only way for the plan to work at that point. Unfortunately, it turns out the money was the ransom in a kidnapping, and the serial numbers are on file at the FBI, making the money useless.
- A similar twist occurs in the underrated comedy Screwed. Miss Crock's assistant, Chip, steals the money intended as the ransom in the fake kidnapping of main character Willard, but is busted when one of his accomplices uses one of the bills to buy flowers, not aware of the serial number practice.
- Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Nazis decide to "try out" the Ark of the Covenant as a weapon of mass destruction, only to be destroyed themselves for not reading the fine print.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: The Big Bad wishes for knowledge, and gets more than can fit in her skull.
- In The Book of Eli, Big Bad Carnegie has gone through great lengths to wrest the book from Eli. He finally has it in his grasp and has a locksmith open it to find that it's in Braille. And he can't read Braille. This turns into a Humiliation Conga when it's revealed that his town has totally slipped out of his control because he sacrificed almost all of his men to get it, the blind woman he's been abusing for the whole film tells him to shove it when he tries to get her to read the book to him, and finally, a relatively minor wound he suffered earlier in the film is now badly infected, and he's likely to die from it if the uprising doesn't kill him first. Meanwhile, Eli memorized the book, so the good guys can start printing their own copies as they please. Protip: Don't piss off God.
- The Maltese Falcon from the film and the book of the same name. Supposedly a gold statue disguised as lead, turns out to actually be lead. The people obsessed with it (to the point of being willing to kill for it) decide that it must be a copy and the original must still be out there somewhere.
- In The Doberman Gang, a group of criminals train a pack of dobermans to commit an ingenious bank robbery. They succeed. But by the end, only one of the criminals is left. The person who trained the dogs is gone, and since he was the only one the dogs trusted, the criminals are unable to recover the money. The dogs escape carrying all the loot with them.
- In The Avengers, Tony Stark points out the futility of Loki's plan, because even if he wins, he's never going to be able to rule over anyone. Humanity would rather just keep fighting until the bitter end. And the Avengers, regardless of whatever else happens, will be gunning for him;
: You're missing the point — there's no
throne, there is no
version of this where you come out on top! Maybe
your army comes, and maybe
it's too much for us, but it's all on you... 'Cause if we can't protect the Earth, you can be damn
sure we'll avenge it!
- In Megamind, the eponymous Villain Protagonist finally accomplishes what he's been working toward for years: killing Metro Man. The thing is... now what? He's literally spent his entire life trying to beat Metro Man at something, anything! Well, Metro City is finally his for the taking. But that quickly loses its novelty. His life now direction-less, Megamind decides he needs to create a new super hero to fight against! Of course, this goes horribly right...
- In Big Fish, Edward Bloom gets inadvertently caught up in a bank robbery when his old friend Norther decides to rob the place while talking to him in line. Norther takes the guard's gun and tells Ed to clean out the vault. Unfortunately, this robbery took place at one of the corrupt Savings & Loans in the 1980's, so the vault was actually empty. The woman opening the vault even tells Ed that he can't tell anyone about this.
Norther: opens a small envelope "This is it? The whole vault?"
Edward: "'Fraid so."
Norther: sighs "Edward, it's still got your deposit slip on it."
Edward: "Well, I didn't want you to leave empty-handed..."
- Cars ends with Chick Hicks winning the Piston Cup because Lightning McQueen forfeited his own chance, stopping just short of the finish line to go back and help the third racer whom Chick caused to crash. That plus Chick's gloating over his victory may have ensured that this win is his last.
- Ocean's Eleven (at least the Frank Sinatra original) has something like this: Danny and crew are the protagonists, and they're not exactly "villains" in the usual sense (though they are criminals). Their plan to rob the casinos goes off like clockwork, but in the end the money is destroyed (they do manage to give the widow and children of a friend $10,000 first, so it's not a complete loss).
- In Kung Fu Panda, Tai Lung does get the Dragon Scroll eventually. But it's blank. Or rather, it has a mirrored surface to show the reader It Was with You All Along. Po gets the message and kicks Tai Lung's tail.
- Norse myth tells of Loki, who bet his head to the dwarf Brokk of whom could give the Aesir the better gift. 'Betting your head' in Norse society meant 'betting a sum of gold equal to your head's worth', but when Brokk (who was rich enough to begin with) won the bet he decided he wanted the bet paid literally. Loki at that point pointed out he'd never bet any of his neck, and neither side could agree on what constituted the head and what constituted the neck. In a final inversion of the trope, one version of the myth tells that Brokk got annoyed by being cheated out of what he considered rightfully his and sewed Loki's mouth shut to stop his word twisting (Loki was unable to argue that it was in any way not part of his head).
- Piers Shonks, a knight on Mediaeval England, killed a dragon belonging to Satan, who turned up in a rage and promised that "whether you're buried in the church or out, I'll have your soul!" When Shonks died, he was buried in the wall of a church near Brent Pelham, with the inscription "Shonke one serpent kills, t'other defies / And in this wall as in a fortress lies."
- In Thomas by Robin Jarvis, the protagonists meet a magician and find themselves caught up in a quest to defeat an evil cult hoping to resurrect their demon master by recapturing the pieces of a magical egg from which he will hatch. The heroes end up prisoners, helpless witnesses to the dark ritual... except it goes wrong. The magician gloats to the confused baddies that they've fallen into the goodies' trap — the Big Good knew this would happen one day, so he and his followers spent years enchanting the egg with goodness so that it would destroy the demon instead of reviving him if the heroes failed to stop the cult. Still, the story isn't quite over...
- Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Millennium Falcon does it twice in a row. The Heroes and their competitors are looking for a location of something "of immeasurable value". The Heroes get to it first and find an old relic made of common materials. The competitor then arrives and explains that the item had collector's value to him all along. But then he discovers that the item is actually a replica and the original relic is still out there somewhere — a Shout-Out to the Maltese Falcon, on which the plot was based.
- The Bad Beginning, first in A Series of Unfortunate Events, ends with Violet successfully arguing that a marriage contract to her evil uncle wasn't signed "in her own hand" because she used her non-dominant hand (and thus it wasn't her true signature).
- Occurs at the very end of The Dresden Files: Ghost Story, when Harry ultimately realizes that, although he IS the Winter Knight, Mab still doesn't have any ACTUAL power over him, allowing him to retain his free will and enabling him to determine HOW or even IF he follows Mab's orders.
- This is different from the original Winter Knight, who was punished for allying with Summer, his supposed mortal enemies. As long as he doesn't commit treason, Harry is completely unbound. When Mab is told that he knows of this, she goes from creepy maternal to outright scary slave-owner in seconds, and Harry laughs in her face.
- The original plot is subverted in the Star Trek novel 'Dark Mirror'. Picard reads a mirror universe version of The Merchant of Venice. In the Mirror Universe Shylock gets his pound of flesh because no one would really think you can really get a pound of flesh without shedding blood. They weigh it, it is too much, and they laughingly say he can take some of it back.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, everything starts going to hell for the Lannisters right after their apparent victory over House Stark in the War of Five Kings, rendering it pointless. Joffrey is poisoned. Tyrion snaps after being falsely accused and convicted of Joffrey's murder and turns against his family. Tywin is shot in the bowels while on the privy by the vengeful Tyrion. Cersei proceeds to run the Seven Kingdoms into the ground with her incompetent leadership. Meanwhile, House Stark isn't quite as dead as everyone believes, with some of the surviving Stark children poised to take a level in badass.
- Despite Oberyn Martell having the upper hand during the bout, Gregor Clegane wins the Trial by Combat that condemns Tyrion Lannister to death. However, Tyrion escapes due to the intervention of his brother Jaime, and, because Martell had poisoned his weapon, Clegane dies a long and painful death.
- In the Left Behind book Kingdom Come, Abdullah Smith points out to Sarsour the futility of Satan's and The Other Light's plan to overthrow God by telling him that even if Satan has a chance of winning, he wouldn't be able to resurrect all the people who died as martyrs for The Other Light because God hasn't given Satan the power to do so.
Live Action TV
- In Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Beethoven's Last Night, Mephistopheles forces Beethoven to give up his 10th Symphony in exchange for not torturing a homeless girl to death. Fate (literally) steps in, and Mephistopheles signs a contract for one copy of the 10th Symphony, written by Ludwig von Beethoven, first son of his parents. However, the composer is actually Ludwig von Beethoven the second, as his elder brother of the same name died shortly after birth.
- While you could say that they can't pay up and Meph gets a refund? It was implied in-script as the fact that his soul in Heaven could write music and that the tenth symphony of Ludwig the elder (should it ever be written) will belong to Mephistopheles.
- The former Trope Namer comes from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice: Shylock pleads his case in court, and the court finds that, indeed, the contract he made with Antonio is binding, giving Shylock every legal right to extract a pound of flesh from him. However, the obviously biased court also rules that Shylock is not entitled to any blood. Therefore he would have to take the flesh without spilling a drop of blood, which everyone simply accepts is impossible.
- Jak 3: Wastelander features Veger accomplishing his goals to meet the Precursors, as well as become one of them. But, it turns out the Precursors are actually ottsels, like Daxter. And Veger only learns that after he wishes to become a Precursor, leading him to realize this mid-sentence before he's polymorphed into a fuzzy rodent.
- In Golden Sun, Alex manipulates both the heroes and the villains into breaking the seal on Psynergy so that he can claim the awesome powers of the Golden Sun for himself. And succeeds. But then The Wise One shows up and informs him that it placed a small portion of the Golden Sun's energy into the Mars Star that Issac carries, rendering Alex's powers slightly less than god-like. Now, being almost omnipotent should be prize enough, except for the fact that the Wise One is omnipotent, and swiftly renders Alex unable to move.
- It's also a case of Chekhov's Gun. At the very beginning of the first game, the Wise One asks Isaac to show up the Mars Star for a brief moment. Nothing is made of it until that moment.
- In the final case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All, Matt Engarde confronts Phoenix with the sadistic choice of getting a sociopathic murderer acquitted and sending an innocent woman to jail, or having his sidekick be killed by an assassin. Phoenix gets Engarde the verdict he wanted but also reveals to Shelly de Killer that Engarde taped him killing Juan Corrida and planned to blackmail him with the footage. This means he's broken his bond of trust with de Killer, a very fatal mistake. Engarde is forced to plead guilty in order to be protected from de Killer... and it's possible even that plan didn't succeed. Even before then, it can be argued that Matt's reputation had already been destroyed, as the Judge points out that he can't think of him as an innocent and good person, knowing that he drove Celeste to suicide, even if he didn't kill Juan.
- Ganondorf's manipulation of Zelda and Link in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time nets him access to the Sacred Realm and the Triforce and neither of them can do anything to stop him... But unfortunately for him, the Triforce has a caveat that unless a human is perfectly balanced with its virtues, they can only possess one piece of it. This means that Ganondorf only gets one third. The most powerful third, yes, but still not *quite* the ultimate power he had envisioned, and he becomes doomed by fate to forever be thwarted by the owners of the other two pieces (Zelda and Link, for those not in the know), which together overpower Ganondorf.
- Ganondorf actually gets this one twice. At the end of the sequel, Wind Waker, after he beats up Link and summons the full Triforce before him, King Daphnes Nohanson Hyrule comes out of nowhere and touches the Triforce, causing his wish to be granted instead of Ganondorf's.
- In Sonic Riders, Eggman appears after Sonic and co. make it through the Very Definitely Final Dungeon, and when the treasure for which Eggman sacrificed the Chaos Emeralds, the series's go-to Mineral Macguffins, is within sight, he actually holds off the heroes with a laser gun in order to grab the treasure at the last minute. However, when Eggman opens the chest containing said treasure, he finds an ancient prototype Gear in the form of a Flying Carpet, outclassed by every other Gear currently available to the public and therefore worthless to Eggman. At least it was a really nice rug...
- In an early arc of Antihero For Hire, Doctor Nefarious successfully launches and uses his mind-control satellite, only to learn that he doesn't have the ability to issue orders to anyone the satellite is controlling, making it useless.