0 Days Left to Support a Troper-Created Project : Personal Space (discuss)

Pyrrhic Villainy

Agent Valentine: You have broken every arms embargo written. There is enough evidence here to put you away for consecutive life sentences. I don't think you appreciate the seriousness of your situation.
Yuri Orlov: My family has disowned me. My wife and son have left me. My brother is dead. Trust me, I fully appreciate the seriousness of my situation. But I promise, I won't spend a single second in court.
Agent Valentine: [after Yuri is proven right] I would tell you to go to Hell, but I think you're already there.

The villain always loses, right? Actually... no. Sometimes the villain surprises us all and is victorious, even if only in the short-term. However, victory comes with a price. Both they and the audience may well ask if it was worth it. Often this takes one of two forms: either it has taken so much effort (and such underhanded methods) to win that it has left the good guys as the moral victors with a better legacy, or in order to accomplish their goal the villain has had to sacrifice what they cared for most and/or made them likeable and/or relatable-to for the audience.

So while their efforts might have paid off, to answer the earlier question of whether it was worth it: frequently it is not.

See also The Bad Guy Wins, for where the villain doesn't suffer from this. This sort of plot may be found in a villain's Start of Darkness, back when the villain was either a hero or a much lesser villain, and first turned to true villainy, bringing victory... but at a cost. On the other hand, really top notch villains may win without sacrificing everything, only to find that Victory Is Boring. A Meaningless Villain Victory is when the villain wins but a sudden unforeseen event renders their victory hollow and their efforts for naught. Being Evil Sucks also counts if the villain in question have a Heel Realization about the choices he made.

Needless to say, this is an Ending Trope, so beware the spoilers!


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Harry McDowell in the anime version of the game franchise Gungrave first just wanted enough power to live his life freely and protect the people important to him. With time, he succeeds in rising to the top of Millennion and making it more powerful than the law itself, but only by losing sight of his original goals and betraying almost everyone he cares about. He's driven to kill both Brandon, his best friend whom he relied on in all his life (leading to some spectacular Villainous Breakdowns), the fatherly prior head of the organization and his wife, Brandon's sweetheart. Twenty years later, though, he's finally able to face Brandon and come to terms with his life.
    • Conversely, in the game's continuity, he shows no remorse for killing Brandon/Grave (Harry in the game's storyline is depicted as little more than a complete prick). Either way he still wanted Mika, the innocent daughter of Grave's former love interest dead. Harry even had Big Daddy used as a guinea pig and mutated him into an acid flame-spewing monstrosity, just to see what kind of effects Necro-Rise/S.E.E.D. would have on him and has no qualms about siccing Big Daddy on Grave as the Final Boss of the game. As a result, Harry dies, Grave lives, and moves on with his "life" with Mika.
  • Seen in Hell Girl. Yes, your contract with Enma Ai gives you what you want: to punish someone who's slighted you big time. However, by sending that person to Hell, you've condemned yourself as well, since when your life comes to an end, you will join them in Hell. See the mark on your chest? It'll remind you of the Deal with the Devil you made.
  • In Hellsing The Major succeeds in defeating Alucard, even though Integra kills him in the end. Also, London ultimately rebuilds and life continues on like normal. And just like the last time he was soundly beaten, Alucard is never truly out of the game; he comes back eventually.
    • On the other hand, the Major was actually a Death Seeker, and everything he did was with this singular goal in mind, so he may have gotten exactly what he wanted.
  • Happens twice in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Cars, the main villain of Part 2, gets what he wants which is to become the ultimate lifeform, which lives forever and can adapt to any environment or situation, but ends up flung into space, where he will live forever, but slowly go insane from the boredom. Enrico Pucci in Part 6 kills most of the heroes and obtains his vision of "heaven", if only for a moment... but then gets killed by a mere child, and the world then gets the Reset Button; and he's no longer in the universe, having never been born.
  • Although it may depend somewhat on your interpretation, SEELE's plan doesn't seem to have turned out the way they intended by the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
    • Chairman Keel seemed quite pleased with the outcome. Presumably they are among the people who can't "imagine themselves in their own hearts", so no free resurrection card for them, but that's apparently what they wanted.
      • Shinji, arguably, fits this trope better. In both endings this is what he wanted. In both endings, he got better, but after getting what he wanted... well, Alexander the Great might have wept over no more worlds to conquer, but thanks to Shinji there's no longer a world.
    • Gendo certainly didn't get what he wanted. Rei rejected him in favor of Shinji, and it's implied that he is not reunited with Yui in the pseudo-afterlife that is Third Impact, since (what appears to be) Yui/Unit 01's response is literally biting his head off.
  • In Saint Beast, having defeated two justified rebellions from the angels, Zeus is sick of war and decides to retire and go into a long sleep.
  • In Psycho-Pass Season 2, Kirito Kamui finally killed Masako Togane and forced the Sibyl System to judge itself. However, everything he did is already pointless because the system remains standing and is on the verge of expanding its control outside Japan by lending its "help" to SEAUn and assassinating its leader when he realized their true nature. All what Kamui did was helping Sibyl get rid of those defective brains that hinder their progress and the ones left are the sociopathic ones.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Emperor Doom Graphic Novel, Doctor Doom succeeds in conquering the world by brainwashing everyone. By and large he's a fairly benevolent monarch and does much to solve many of the world's problems. Unfortunately, he's so bored out of his mind that when the one unaffected hero manages to break the spell on a few others, he lets the rebellion win. He'd rather be a conqueror than a Desk Jockey.
    • This is a running theme with Dr. Doom; every time he manages to take control of a nation/planet, he'll spruce the place up very nicely and run it better than most governments ever manage, but will ultimately get bored of running it. Doom enjoys the challenge of taking over a nation and solving problems, not the mundane managerial work of keeping national status quo.
      • The exception is in Doom 2099. He conquers the United States, and actually intends to keep power, so he can fix the entire world. It doesn't end well for him, the country, or most of the heroes.
    • In Triumph and Torment, this is how Doom saves his mother.
  • The end of the Civil War plays with this: Iron Man's reputation has essentially become mud because of his support of the SHRA, and it's only further compounded by Captain America's death.
    "It was the right thing to do! And I was willing to get in bed with people we despised to get this done. And I knew the world favors the underdog and I would be the bad guy."
  • Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog had an early, non-canon Yet Another Christmas Carol where Robotnik is taken to see the future. Robotnik has finally defeated the Freedom Fighters, but he has rendered himself the last man alive in doing so, turning Mobius into a barren wasteland. However, Robotnik doesn't grasp this, and fails to learn his lesson.
  • In Marvel's "What if Juggernaut killed the X-men", the Juggernaut successfully kills Xavier and the X-men, but he doesn't get to enjoy it because without the X-men to stop them, the Sentinels release a poison gas into the atmosphere that kills everyone but Juggernaut due to his powers, and he finds that he can't interact with people hiding in shelters because breaking in exposes them to the gas. So he's all alone in the world, forever.
  • While not technically a villain, the Finance Smurf from The Smurfs comic book story of the same name gains the entire village after all his fellow Smurfs, including Papa Smurf, have left it behind along with all their money...only for himself to be left without anybody to share his new-found good fortune with, making him very sad and lonely. This makes Finance Smurf come to his senses and go out to find the Smurfs to tell them he's giving them back everything and abolishing the money system.
  • Played with in The Batman Adventures's final issue with "Fear Itself": Joe Chill ended up in jail on an unrelated charge after shooting Thomas and Martha Wayne, meaning that the policenote  overlooked him. By the time he finds out just who he shot — and just who the boy that he'd spared that night was — said boy's become an "untouchable millionaire" long out of Chill's reach, and Chill is depicted as seeming to be living relatively scot-freenote ... except for his constantly hallucinating the adult Bruce Wayne's face wherever he goes, spending every day day in mortal fear that someday Bruce Wayne will remember his face and finally finger him to the cops. Not only do Batman and a GCPD detective both not recognize his face, Batman actually mistakenly believing Chill to be a henchman of Killer Croc'snote , but finding out his real name and his alias doesn't ring a bell either, meaning that Joe Chill was in a hell entirely of his own making.

    Comic Strip 
  • A minor example in Retail occurred when Josh, the assistant manager for Grumbel's, lied about getting a job offer from a competing store in order to secure a raise. He initially got away with it...until Marla (the store manager) found out about it, and proceeded to tell Stuart, their district manager who was formerly Josh's supporter. No longer having Stuart's protection, and with Marla planning to fire him, Josh quickly got himself a new job and quit.

    Fan Fiction 
  • There is a Final Fantasy VII AU story in which Sephiroth achieves his goal of godhood, only to "rule" over a dead, unpopulated landscape, doomed to wander forever through a barren world alone and abandoned by Jenova. It climaxes with him falling to his knees, screaming in agony and irretrievable insanity.
  • On a similar note, there is a Star Wars fanfic where Anakin wins the duel with Obi-Wan on Mustafar, but Padme dies before Palpatine's ship arrives. Anakin promptly turns on Palpatine and kills him, and spends some time ruling the galaxy, searching for a way to bring Padme and the twins Back from the Dead, slowly going crazier all the while. Naturally, it's a massive case of Came Back Wrong when he finally does try to bring Padme and the twins back, and Anakin responds by wreaking havoc on the galaxy in his fury. In the end, he returns to Mustafar, where he spends eternity sitting on a throne in the middle of the hellish wasteland, surrounded only by the bodies of Obi-Wan and Palpatine (and maybe Padme), and talking to the bodies as though they were still alive.
    • Care to tell what the name of this fanfic is?
  • When All Your Dreams Come True, an Avatar: The Last Airbender fic, explores what would have happened if Prince Zuko had actually managed to capture Team Avatar. The results are nightmarish, with Sokka publicly lynched and his corpse put on display in a museum, Katara forced to spend the rest of her life fighting in a gladiator arena in order to bloody virgin troops, and Aang is bodily mutilated to the point where he can't threaten anyone, to the point where the last we hear of him is him having gone insane to the point where he begs his guards to let him out to feel the sun on his skin one last time. And the worst part for Zuko, aside from the guilt of seeing that happen? No one back home believes he actually captured the Avatar. They think Iroh did and then gave the credit to his incompetent nephew. The fic ends with Zuko escaping into a fantasy life where he made friends with Team Avatar, while outside in the real world the Fire Nation wins the war.
  • Discussed in the Daria fanfic "God Save The Esteem." Helen (who owns her own private firm in this universe) is in an intense debate with the school's attorney, Jim Vitale, about a case involving Daria. Helen points out that if the case goes to court the victory could go either way, and given how much bigger his firm is than hers, even a slim victory will look embarrassing for his side. After a moment of thought, he agrees to settle.
  • In Necessary To Win, Ceylon, discontent with what she believes to be overly lenient policies by her predecessor as St. Gloriana's commander, becomes very harsh in her leadership of the team, to the point of being abusive. The team advances to the semifinals, but is defeated as a result of one of Ceylon's mistakes, and partly the result of a mistake made by one of her panicking subordinates; Ceylon tries to scapegoat the latter for what happened. In the end, Ceylon leaves the school as a pariah, and leaves high school feeling empty.
  • In The Fifth Act, when Angeal finds out that his illness is terminal and that Cloud's genetics might hold the secret for a cure. Angeal succeeds in kidnapping Cloud and sold him out to Hollander in order to find a cure. He then finds out that Hollander has no intention of curing him and fully intends to experiment on Cloud to find out what made Cloud superior. Then Hollander is killed and Cloud kidnapped again with no cure to show for it. He betrayed Cloud's and his friends' trust, is now a fugitive and has completely betrayed his ideals and is still going to die.
  • Both played straight and dicussed in the final episode of Sonic X: Dark Chaos. Maledict succeeded in creating an "Ultimate Weapon" greater than he ever dreamed of... but the fact that his prized Ultimate Weapon ( both of them, in fact) ended up turning against him thanks to his own actions made his success ultimately pointless. Even Maledict himself admits his Gambit Roulette wasn't worth it in the end.
  • In Wish Carefully, Voldemort and the Death Eaters got exactly what they wanted: Britain is theirs, with the Light Side banned by Magically Binding Treaty from returning for as long as the Death Eaters rule, and the Light faction will take all the Muggleborns away each year so that the Death Eaters never have to deal with them again. All they had to agree to was not to go after the Light refugees or interfere in any way with the Muggle world. It wasn't until well after the treaty that they realized that virtually all the producers of goods and services were Light-aligned, leaving them with a crippled economy that is hemorrhaging gold. Even worse, without the muggleborn and Light-faction bloodlines, inbreeding is slowly choking the magic out of their descendants.

    Film - Animated 
  • In Pixar's Cars, Chick Hicks wins the final race, but because of his actions during it, he finds himself hated and rejected by everyone.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Michael Corleone might be the ultimate example of this by the end of The Godfather Part II. Certainly he's destroyed every major underworld power in his way and taken on the US government and won, but he's also destroyed his marriage, alienated his children and friends, killed his brother, and is left utterly alone. And then the third film features his daughter getting killed right in front of him.
  • Daniel Plainview's empty isolation and drunken insanity at the close of There Will Be Blood. And his now immortal final line: "I'm finished!" implies that the way his life turned out is exactly what he wanted.
  • The movie version of The Talented Mr. Ripley has Ripley having to kill everyone he likes in order to get away with it. The book ends by indicating that he'll never be able to look at another policeman without that flash of alarm that says "This is it — he's the one — he knows." Not a way anyone would like to live life.
  • Star Wars:
    • Anakin Skywalker is a prime example of this by the end of the prequel trilogy in Revenge of the Sith. Sure, he's won the war, and his turn to The Dark Side has allowed his Evil Chancellor partner to take over the galaxy, but he's lost the pregnant wife he did it all for, had his limbs chopped off, and is forced to spend the rest of his life in an uncomfortable life support suit to avoid dying from his burns. The novelization puts it best:
      You killed her because, finally, when you could have saved her, when you could have gone away with her, when you could have been thinking about her, you were only thinking about yourself...
      It is in this blazing moment that you finally understand the trap of the dark side, the final cruelty of the Sith—
      Because now your self is all you will ever have.
    • The final battle between the New Republic and the Galactic Empire. The Empire is forced to sign a treaty officially ending the regime however many lives were lost,Jakku was turned into a wasteland, and the galaxy is plunged into a 30 year cold war between the New Republic and The First Order.
    • Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. Obsessed with setting himself in the image of Darth Vader, his hero and grandfather, he has eradicated the new Jedi Order started by Luke Skywalker and joined the First Order in restoring the shattered Galactic Empire, but he has grown so emotionally and mentally unstable that his First Order allies can't completely trust him, and in the end, he has possibly destroyed his hopes of redemption/reconciliation by murdering his own father, Han Solo.
  • By the end of 300, Xerxes has lost most of his best troops and although he's defeated Leonidas at Thermopylae, the performance of the Spartans and the losses inflicted among his men has only given new determination and inspiration to the other Greeks. Historically speaking this was only a minor setback for the Persians, but other Greeks counterattacked and forced the Persians to leave the country; therefore Xerxes won the battle but lost the war because the chokepoint of Thermopylae bought the other Greeks enough time to mass for their counterattack.
  • By the end of Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, it's clear that Garrett realizes that he will lead a conflicted, unhappy life and will be chiefly remembered for killing his friend. Billy, meanwhile, will have most of his bits of sociopathy forgotten by an adoring public. (To an extent, this extends to other portrayals of the two, including Young Guns 2).
  • In House of Flying Daggers, The Mole for La Résistance accomplishes his mission to perfection, but loses the Action Girl he loves, and later kills her while fighting The Rival who had won her love.
  • In Lord of War, Villain Protagonist and Arms Dealer Yuri Orlov manages to evade the law and escape a long stay in prison to continue his gunrunning. However, this comes at the cost of his brother and uncle being killed, his parents disowning him, and his one true love divorcing him and taking his only son with her. He was also released only due to being useful to the U.S. Government and he's fully aware they can have him disposed of if his usefulness ceasesnote . This is hammered home when the Interpol agent chasing Yuri says that normally he'd tell Yuri to go to Hell, but he thinks that Yuri's already there.
  • In the Hong Kong action crime drama Sha Po Lang (or Kill Zone in the U.S.), Triad crimelord Wong Po, the villain played by Sammo Hung, defeats the hero Inspector Ma played by Donnie Yen by sending him right out a window... right onto the Wong family's waiting car with Po's beloved child and wife still inside, killing all three of them.
  • The Wrath of Khan: Khan's ruthless, vicious bid to exact revenge on Captain Kirk succeeds (up to a point), and he even acquires what might be the most powerful piece of technology in the 23rd century. Unfortunately, this success led to him sinking deeper into insanity, leading his devoted followers to their deaths, getting disfigured, and finally committing suicide in an effort to finish off the object of his fixation. Early on, his own right-hand man pointed out that he had already achieved a limited victory and could fly away without suffering any consequences. Naturally, his advice went unheeded.
  • Real Steel has Zeus declared the winner of the match between him and Atom despite the latter knocking the former out, keeping his status as the unbeatable champion. However, Zeus is booed by the crowd who embraces Atom as the "people's champion."
  • In The Avengers, Tony tries to explain to Loki that this is the best he can hope for.
    Tony Stark: You're missing the point, there's no throne. There is no version of this where you come out on top. Look, maybe you open the portal, and maybe your army is too much for us, but it doesn't matter, because it's all on you. Because if we can't save the Earth, you can be damn sure we'll avenge it.
  • In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Katniss warns Snow about this, stating "if we burn, you burn with us." Snow even acknowledges the fact that the Capitol needs the Districts to survive. That said, if it's a choice between capitulation and domination, Snow proves more than willing to slaughter as many people as it takes to stay in power.
  • The title character in Nixon manages to become President using lies, dirty tricks and backroom deals with big business and government officials... yet can't enjoy his Presidency, because he's too busy trying to destroy his enemies. Arguably Truth in Television: after his 1972 election, where Nixon won 49 of 50 states, Nixon complained that he didn't win enough votes and immediately fired half of his staff.
  • Gillo Pontecorvo's Burn!, set on a fictional Portuguese colony in the Caribbean. The protagonist, English adventurer William Walker, incites a slave uprising to secure the island for British sugar interests. When the slaves continue fighting against the British-backed government, Walker returns with British troops to crush them... destroying most of the island's sugar crop in the process. Walker eventually succeeds, but destroys the island's cash crop and is killed himself.
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: On paper, Lex Luthor succeeds in getting Superman killed thanks to Doomsday. However, he ends up in jail as a result, Batman is keeping an eye on him and will work with Wonder Woman on starting the Justice League, Superman is now remembered by everyone as a hero and will probably come back.
  • CSA: The Confederate States of America: By the early 21st century, the CSA has maintained chattel slavery of Africans, revived the international slave trade, and shows no sign of slowing down. However, every other major country (except South Africa) maintains sanctions against it, and its oppressive "morality" laws and Culture Police have driven cultural icons into exile in Canada, while its only art being government propaganda. At the end of the film, it is stated that the stubborn adherence to slavery is weakening the country's economy.

  • Patrick Bateman from American Psycho gets away with everything, but is just as miserable and lonely as he was in the beginning. Nobody actually cares about him, and there are implications that all of his crimes only happened in his own sick mind anyway.
  • In the Chuck Palahniuk novel Haunted 2005, one character, a small time journalist, tells a story about bringing his sick dog to a strange vet and realizing the vet is a former child star. He does a friendly interview with the vet, which shows the vet has made a good, happy and normal life for himself, but the tabloids the journalist works for aren't interested in it. They don't care about former stars that are normal and happy. So he talks to the vet again, drugs him, makes him OD, and creates a wild story about the former star having sex and drug addictions, etc. The story sells and earns him a ton of cash... but next week when his dog is sick and he doesn't know a good vet to bring it to, the dog dies.
  • Judas Iscariot may be an example. Sure, he got a tidy sum for betraying Jesus, but, according to Matthew, he was so overcome with guilt afterwards that he hanged himself.
    • Exactly how things worked out for Judas varies a bit depending on who's telling it. The Gnostic Gospel of Judas (rejected when New Testament's contents were formalized) even claimed that Judas "betrayed" Jesus under Jesus's orders.
    • Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me... For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." (Mark 14:17 & 21, ESV)
    • And of course, that "tidy sum" of earthly treasure is mere pittance compared to the honor his fellow apostles would have of "sitting on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel", not to mention sharing in the same inheritance that the Lord and His believers would receive from His Father. To compare it to another part of the Bible, Judas' thirty pieces of silver is the equivalent of Esau's bowl of pottage which he traded his birthright inheritance for with his brother Jacob, which brings us the Aesop that sacrificing one's future (heavenly) inheritance in exchange for the satisfaction of immediate short-term (worldly) gain isn't a good thing.
  • In Test of the Twins, Raistlin Majere's goal of becoming a god is revealed to be a severe case of Pyrrhic Villainy. He succeeds, but in the process he destroys the world and eradicates every shred of good in his own soul, leaving him with no ability to renew or heal that which he has laid waste. Fortunately for all concerned, his brother Caramon is able to go back in time and reveal this outcome to the earlier Raistlin, who then sacrifices himself to save Caramon and Crysania.
    • He thinks of it differently, as revealed during his nephew's test to become a full-fledged mage.
      Raistlin: I sacrificed myself to save myself.
  • In the William Gibson short story "Dogfight," the main character wins the aerial combat video game, but in the process alienates everyone he might possibly celebrate his victory with.
  • The Silmarillion: after 500 years of struggle, the last remaining Sons of Fëanor, Maedhros and Maglor finally get the two remaining Silmarils. In the process, they lost their father, all their brothers, their kingdoms, their followers and, thanks to them committing genocide against other elves on three separate occasions, they've made enemies of the entire world, and they reject the Last-Second Chance offer for them to return to Valinor for trial (where they may eventually be reunited with their dead family). And when they try holding the Silmarils in their hands? The gems burn them due to all the evil they've done, so they can't even hold them without feeling unbearable agony. Maedhros ends up throwing himself off a cliff with his Silmaril, while Maglor throws his away and spends the rest of his days Walking the Earth lamenting their folly, too ashamed to ever face another living being again.
  • Sure, by the end of PLAGUE (4th GONE book), Caine Soren finally got that important position of evil dictator he was pushing for since book 1, but at what cost? Oh yes, A) He doesn't really have supreme control at all. B) Everyone hates and disrespects him. and C) the love of his life just left him for his twin brother/arch enemy. And she's pregnant with his demon child, who certainly stirs shit up for him later. Some victory that turned out to be.
  • Several instances occur within A Song of Ice and Fire, following the Red Wedding:
    • Tywin Lannister destroys the Starks as a noble house. In the process, his eldest son is crippled by Tywin's own mercenaries and later denounces him, Gregor Clegane renews tensions with Dorne, his last-minute Tyrell allies poison his grandson and take a large chunk of his political power and he is then ignominiously killed on the toilet by his abused younger son.
    • The Freys gain possession of Riverrun and a number of other perks for perpetrating the Red Wedding. They're currently the most despised house in Westeros and are being killed one-by-one by the Brotherhood Without Banners and Wyman Manderley. There's also signs that tensions within House Frey itself is beginning to reach boiling point and should Lord Walder Frey finally pass away, the Frey are expected to implode.
    • Roose Bolton becomes one of the most powerful men in Westeros for betraying and murdering Robb Stark. He also inherits Robb's war with the Greyjoys, a war with Stannis, the imminent invasion of the Others and only a handful of Roose's new vassals aren't actively plotting against him. Additionally, his years-earlier rape of a miller's wife turns out to bite him in the ass in a major way when Ramsay, the product of said rape murders his legitimate son Domeric, thereby becoming his heir by default. He potentially undermines Roose's gains with his out of control sadistic behavior, including his treatment of the fake Arya Stark they have him marry to cement the North, whose cries from her tower embolden the remaining residents of Winterfell towards a possible coup.
    • Archmaester Gyldayn's Histories chronicled Aegon II's successful usurpation of the Iron Throne but by the end he is deformed, his dragon and his family are dead, his forces are depleted and he has no heir save his nephew who is the son of his nemesis. Still he remained defiant against the rebels. Someone in his camp poisoned him to end the war.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird: Bob Ewell is able to get away with severely beating his daughter and having a black man framed for it and imprisoned. But anyone watching the trial knew what he did, destroying what remained of his reputation, and driving him to harass the wife of the black man he imprisoned, spit in Atticus' face, invade the home of a judge, and later attempt to murder Jem and Scout.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Wire: after killing and backstabbing his way to becoming Baltimore's chief drug kingpin, Marlo enjoys it for only a month before losing his entire organization and being forced to go straight by the police. His name and reputation, the things he treasured most in the world, are quickly forgotten while his defeated enemy Omar lives on as a street legend.
  • The Shield's Vic Mackey ends up with a cushy job as a Federal Agent, after burning every bridge imaginable with his family (disowned him and in witness protection), his friends (one killed his entire family/self and left a note blaming Vic for turning him into such a monster while the other, whose loyalty to Vic was never in question, was made into the scapegoat for Vic's crimes), and pretty much had ALL of his sins exposed to the world, as part of an immunity deal he landed as part of his job. Worse, his cushy job is a desk job, which plays against Vic's strengths as a law enforcement agent and his boss, horrified at the fact that Vic conned her, has vowed to make Vic's life a living hell in a desperate hope to make him void his immunity deal, costing him his job and freedom. And even if he survives, after three years, the Feds can fire Vic, and with his sins all public knowledge, this means that Vic will never gain employment in law enforcement again, denying him the justification he used to hide from his crimes. Karma is a bitch, Vic.
  • Lucas North from Spooks. He succeeds in selling the Albany file to the Chinese, but in the process destroys the life he built and causes the death of the woman he loves. And to top it off, the weapon Albany is a blueprint for turns out not to work.
  • Morgana from Merlin lives for vengeance, but when she finally manages to have King Uther killed, it's clear that she doesn't feel the victory the way she thought she would.
  • In the Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," the ship is occupied by two aliens from a species where half are black on their right side and white on their left, and the other is the opposite, and the former have set themselves up as the societal superiors of the latter, in an obvious metaphor for the racism prevalent at the time. The black-on-the-right one is chasing the white-on-the-right one as a criminal, and ultimately succeeds in forcing the crew to return to his home planet, where his prisoner can be judged. However, they find that while the chase was going on, the war between the two sides escalated until every single person on the planet was killed. The two aliens promptly accuse each other of their people being responsible, and teleport down to the planet to continue their war, as Kirk somberly notes that their hatred for each other is all they have left.
  • Walter White of Breaking Bad manages to slip the law, his competitors and former allies in the drug trade. Each time he does it ruins the lives of those around him and costs him a little more of his soul. By the end of the series he finally secures millions of dollars for his children and dies on his own terms. In the process, among other tragedies, his brother-in-law is murdered, his partner is almost psychologically destroyed, his wife and son despise him, two children are murdered, he inadvertently helps to cause a plane-crash and his criminal life becomes national news.
  • Things tend to work out this way for Justified's Boyd Crowder. Though he's always able to survive, he typically loses out in one way or another. In Season 1 he brings down his father, but loses his Church. In Season 2 he defeats the Bennetts, but his girlfriend, Ava, ends up in the hospital and Dickie evades him. In Season 3, his enemy Robert Quarles is captured, but his henchman, Arlo, goes to jail and Boyd misses the chance to claim Mags' money. In Season 4 he outlasts Nicky Augustine and gets the chance to be Wynn Duffy's new partner, but at the cost of Ava going to jail. And in Season 5 he manages to kill the treacherous Johnny and survive the Mexican cartel and Daryl Crowe both, but his fledgling empire is in tatters, Ava becomes a CI, and Rachel, Raylan, and Vasquez are coming for him.
  • Doctor Who: "The Hand of Fear" has the classic line "So now you are king, as was your wish. I salute you from the dead. Hail Eldrad. King... of nothing."
  • Many of the murders in Cold Case are this. The killer escapes for years or even decades but time and circumstance change and the murder they committed becomes a senseless act which they still must pay for.
  • Daredevil has Samantha Reyes in season 2, who tries to get Frank Castle either dead or in jail for life to cover up the fact she was indirectly responsible of his family's death with her carelessness because it would ruin her career. She does succeed in having him sent to jail and saving her job... only for Castle to escape a few days later, reducing her to a panicked wreck under the belief he will come for her. And just to make sure saving her career was pointless, she is gunned down soon after (albeit not by Castle).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Werewolf: The Apocalypse's final book, Apocalypse features one scenario in which the Weaver takes centre stage as the main villain of the setting instead of the Wyrm, and can actually end with the Weaver eliminating all threats to her perfect world by sealing the Gauntlet shut, separating the physical world and the spirit world once and for all. Unfortunately, this means that the spirit world is sentenced to entropic breakdown without a physical world to reflect, and the real world loses its vital spark of creativity without the spirit world to provide it; not only do humans lose their ability to dream and innovate, but all life in the universe begins a steady decline into extinction. For all intents and purposes, the Weaver's chance to create a static utopia has been lost forever, and thanks to the separation of the two worlds, there's nothing she can do to stop it.


    Video Games 
  • Kratos in the first God of War (Back Story included) gains a great deal of power at the cost of many lives, kills the original God of War, Ares, and becomes the new God of War in the process. Unfortunately for our Sociopathic Hero protagonist, his burning ambition costs him the lives of his family (by his own hand), possibly the only thing he genuinely cared about emotionally, and causes him to go nearly insane with guilt and endless nightmares. After learning that all of his efforts towards his goal of ending said nightmares were ultimately futile, he, despite everything that he had gained, descended further into madness (leading to the events of God of War 2), where he ends up killing Athena, the one Goddess who was sympathetic to him..
    • The third game ends Kratos' story in this manner. Kratos finally has his revenge on Zeus, and has brought down nearly all of Olympus AND the Titans. However, each god he killed caused a major calamity to strike the world. By the end, the oceans have risen (Poseidon), the sun has been blotted out (Helios), a plague has broken out (Hermes), all vegetation has died (Hera), and what little remains has been covered in Gaia's remains. Even worse, Pandora's Heroic Sacrifice (something he was trying to prevent) was utterly pointless, as the power to defeat Zeus was in him the entire time. When Athena's ghost pulls her Face–Heel Turn, he finally has had enough and impales himself, which releases Hope and helps the world a little... but he's still dead, and can never rejoin his family. Damn.
      • Or is he? Waiting through the credits reveals Kratos may be alive.
  • At the end of Final Fantasy Tactics, Delita successfully manipulates his way to absolute power over Ivalice, destroying all of the competing factions and ascending to the throne by seducing and marrying Princess Ovelia. Unfortunately, his methods so thoroughly alienate his new bride that she decides she must have been part of his machinations too, and stabs him, possibly fatally. (If the cutscene writers didn't pay attention to Delita's unarmoured HP at least...) This forces Delita to kill her in retaliation, and he is left wondering if it was all worth it as he falls to his knees clutching his wound. (The painfulness of this scene is increased further if you believe that Delita genuinely loved Ovelia.)
  • One of two inevitable outcomes of Nuclear War (the DOS game by New World Computing, not the actual political option). Either the last remaining ruler on Earth presides over a blasted wasteland, or the entire world is destroyed.
  • In the first Kingdom Hearts game, Ansem (who you find out, in Kingdom Hearts II, is really Xehanort's Heartless), successfully opens the door which he believes would lead to ultimate dark power; however, Sora tells him that "Kingdom Hearts is Light", and the villain ends up getting disintegrated when the door opens.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Well-Intentioned Extremist Teyrn Loghain's plan to take the throne of Ferelden works like a charm ... up until the point where it sparks a civil war and causes riots throughout the country. Ironically, in an effort to protect Ferelden from Orlesian occupation, he's forced to act just as badly as the former conquerors he once struggled against. This sends him into a deep depression and eventually sparks a Villainous Breakdown.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, one of the ways to talk down Legate Lanius in the Final Battle is to convince him that even if he were to beat the NCR and conquer Hoover Dam, the Legion would inevitably fall via attrition (due to Rape, Pillage, and Burn being a poor long-term way to sustain an army) or overextending themselves (much like the NCR themselves have done).
  • At the end of Batman: Arkham City, when it looks like Batman might not save The Joker from his TITAN poisoning the clown backstabs him to try getting the cure, causing it to drop and smash on the ground. Joker dies about a minute later. Extra irony-points because Batman really would have saved the Joker, and in his dying breath, he finds that fact hilarious.
  • Dr. Eggman's plan actually succeeds in Sonic Riders... kinda. He does manage to steal the treasure of Babylon, which turns out to be a rug. He faints when he realizes how much effort he put into it. If he'd kept it, he could've discovered that it was actually ancient Babylonian technology that actually flies.
    • This gets referenced in Sonic Generations, when Classic Robotnik asks Eggman if he's ever won, Eggman responds "Depends on your idea of winning."
  • The Sith in Star Wars: The Old Republic get hit hard by this in the later part of the story.
    • On Taris and Balmorra, the planets wind up being conquered and switching sides, the republic-dominated Taris being taken by the empire and vice-versa for the weapon manufacturing hub of Balmorra. Balmorra is, again, a planet full of weapons manufacturers, Taris is a polluted wasteland worth only sentimental value to the Jedi and has no pragmatic value or resources. Furthermore, Taris being captured by the Empire frees up a very competent anti-Empire general who quickly finds her self elected head chancellor of the Republic.
    • The Sith themselves also get hit hard by this, in adhering to the code of "only the strongest", the Sith have spent so much time on petty power struggles that drag military resources into them (two of four Empire class storylines end with you fighting a Sith, another has a Sith as the final boss of act 1, and the fourth lets you Heel–Face Turn to the Republic to kill another) that by the time of the first expansion, there are two of originally twelve Dark Council members still alive, One of them the player character Sith inquisitor and a Darth more or less subservient to them, countless military minds have been killed, and there aren't enough Sith left to make up the difference for how many Jedi are left. Even the characters note at this point that the Empire is more or less screwed. The only reason they've survived this long is because Dark Revan and the threat of the Emperor returning has forced both sides to band together.
  • The canonical ending of Evolve. While the hunters manage to defend the evacuation ship, saving several thousand people and allowing word of the monsters to be brought to the galaxy at large, the monsters still demolish the colony of Shear and kill hundreds of thousands. At the same time, the hunters themselves remain stranded on Shear, while the monsters remain free to spread to yet more worlds.

  • The Order of the Stick Start of Darkness book shows this happening very, very heavily to Redcloak, and to a much lesser extent to Xykon as well.
    • Vaarsuvius's Deal with the Devil, literally harnessing the powers of evil, ultimately doesn't accomplish what they planned. In a twist, V's subsequent actions cause a LOT of change, some of it even good, but they're left morose at how badly things went awry. Thankfully, this has started V down some real character development.

    Web Original 
  • The final Act of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon's 2008 Web Original supervillain musical. Dr. Horrible, attempting to kill Captain Hammer to both gain entry to the Evil League of Evil and win Penny's heart, indirectly causes Penny's death and Captain Hammer's humiliation. The final scenes show him living the high life of an A-List villain...but the final shot shows Billy, heart-broken and traumatized. And the final song describes that he has achieved everything he ever wanted, but the lyrics are dripping with double meanings: "The world I wanted at my feet": the world is my oyster, or Penny - the "world I wanted" - lying dead at his feet.
  • Bennett the Sage and JesuOtaku have done several crossover videos, with the idea in mind being Bennett attempting to Break or Corrupt the Cutie with terrible and sexually shocking or exploitative anime. In the third such crossover, JO reviews Master of Martial Hearts for Bennett, and he agrees that Sage has won and shown him something so gratuitously cruel and horrific that he just can't laugh it off or remain unaffected by it. However, after a relatively short spell of being horrified and depressed, JO remembers that it was just fiction and all the good things about real life, then goes outside to enjoy himself and cheer himself up by playing with his roommate's dog. Meanwhile Sage is left in a deep depression with his "victory", pondering where mankind has gone wrong, and whether a species capable of such cruelty and darkness is worthy of redemption.

    Western Animation 
  • In any situation where Elmer Fudd appears to succeed in killing Bugs Bunny in Looney Tunes shorts, he breaks down emotionally. The best example is What's Opera, Doc?, where in the story, Bugs' character is Killed Off for Real. This demonstrates that perhaps Elmer isn't really cut out for this hunting business.
    Siegfried!Elmer What have I done? I've killed the wabbit. Poor little bunny! Poor little rabbit!
    (Elmer starts blubbering while carrying Bugs' limp body to Valhalla)
    Bugs: Well, what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?
  • Villain on villain case: in Batman: The Animated Series, the Corrupt Corporate Executive whose unfair treatment first turned Edward Nygma into The Riddler succeeds in continuing to make money off Nygma's intellectual creations, but lives his life in constant paranoid fear of Nygma coming to get him again.
    Bruce Wayne: "How much is a good night's sleep worth? Now there's a riddle for you!"
    • Batman Beyond does a similar thing with Inque's daughter, who screwed her over and tried to kill her. She now lives in fear of the vengeance of the assassin who can be anywhere, as anyone or anything, seeing her in every shadow.
    • In a milder example, Jervis Tetch (the Mad Hatter) in Batman: The Animated Series uses his mind control technology to land Alice, a co-worker he was too shy to talk to, but Batman calls him out on this, asking if a mind-controlled, compliant Alice with no personality was what he really wanted. Tetch has a breakdown and blames Batman for his misery. Thing is, Jervis had ALREADY come to this conclusion earlier in the episode and wanted to woo her on his own merits, but after Alice, who only saw Jervis as a friend, reunited with her boyfriend, he was driven over the edge.
  • Speaking of Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold ends with Bat-Mite screwing over the show to get it cancelled so that a darker, more serious Batman series will be made in its place. The new series focuses primarily on Batgirl, and as Ambush Bug points out, a serious Batman series has no room for Silver Age silliness... like Bat-Mite himself. Bat-Mite realizes his mistake seconds before he is erased from existence.
  • Justice League had an episode where Superman is transported thousands of years into the future, only to find the immortal Vandal Savage as the sole survivor of the human race, thanks to his use of an ultimate weapon. He's had plenty of time to reflect, alone, about how utterly unimportant ruling the world is. He even tried to build himself a spaceship, but stopped when he realized he deserved to be punished. Superman leaves to stop "his" version of Savage from building the aforementioned weapon, but with a new-found respect for the villain. Given that this was Savage's last appearance on JL, it can be assumed that Superman shared some of what he'd seen with the modern day Savage, and convinced him to turn away from his life of villainy.
  • In Wakfu, Nox has spent 200 years of research, plotting, and genocide in order to gather the energy needed to travel back in time and stop his family from being destroyed partially due to his own negligence. In the end, he manages to defeat the heroes, drain the Tree of Life (killing the Sadidas in the process), and uses all the energy gained over this time period to travel back in time... a whole twenty minutes.
  • Total Drama World Tour: Courtney finds out that her boyfriend, Duncan, and Gwen have hooked up behind her back and vows revenge on them—she gets support from most of her team and Gwen's eventually voted off. However, Gwen and Duncan remain a couple(although they do eventually break up) while Courtney loses the support of her team and fails in getting Duncan voted off (and gets voted off herself)—and on top of all that, Courtney blindly falls for Alejandro, who's just using (and actually has feelings for Heather), and Alejandro ends up losing anyway as well. So, in the end, Courtney ends up with nothing and no one.
  • Jimmy Two-Shoes. Lucius manages to push the weavils off their land, but the mountain he was going to carve his face into ends up carved into a weevil head instead.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In the episode "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000", the Flim Flam Brothers win the contest with Applejack by producing far more barrels of cider than she and the rest of the Mane 6. In the process, they not only manage to alienate the town with their Jerkass behavior, but also had to shut off the quality assurance of their machine to win. The resulting cider is so unappetizing that nopony is willing to buy or take it for free. Faced with an angry mob, they have no choice but to pack up and leave.
    • In "Rarity Takes Manehattan", Suri Polomare takes credit for the creation of Rarity's special fabric to increase her reputation at a fashion competition. Suri does end up keeping Rarity from reaping the benefits of the competition, and it's never discovered that Suri didn't make the fabric herself. But on the flip side, Rarity manages to still officially win the competition, Suri's Hypercompetent Sidekick Coco Pommel (who did most of the actual work) quits and does a Heel–Face Turn, and while Suri has the reputation for making beautiful fabric, she doesn't have the actual ability, meaning that her reputation will be short-lived.
    • In "The Cutie Remark", Starlight Glimmer managed to develop a Time Travel spell so that she could go back in time and stop Rainbow Dash's first Sonic Rainboom which causes the Mane Six to never become friends, and every time Twilight tries to fix things, she fails thanks to the spell being designed so that Starlight would arrive before Twilight. However, because the Mane Six never became friends, they weren't around to protect Equestria from all the previous Big Bads that they've stopped, and every time Twilight fails to fix the past, the Bad Future ends up worse and worse. Eventually, Starlight gets to see for herself what her changing the past would do, at this point, the only thing left is a barren wasteland, and it's implied that if Starlight continued that the future could have gotten worse.
    • In "No Second Prances", Trixie uses her friendship with Starlight Glimmer to have her choose between helping with her performance or going to Twilight's dinner with Celestia. When she chooses to help Trixie, Trixie brags about it to Twilight claiming that since Starlight chose Trixie over Twilight Trixie has finally beaten Twilight at something. But, Trixie formed a real friendship with Starlight and when Starlight runs off in tears over being used, Trixie is left without her assistant for her show and no friends at all, making her self-proclaimed victory pointless. Twilight is able to convince Starlight to forgive Trixie for her behavior though and the three all make amends.
  • In the TRON: Uprising episode "Rendezvous", Pavel repeatedly frames various programs, and ends up promoted to the overseer of a district. The district in question? Purgos! And not only does Tessler expect Pavel to clean it up, Paige knows exactly what Pavel has been up to and tells him that she'll get him back for what he did. And on top of all this, Pavel had to hand over the upgrade Disc he'd been hiding!
  • In The Fairly OddParents special "Timmy's Secret Wish", Foop succeeds in making Timmy look like the worst godkid ever and having all his wishes undone, including Poof. However, he learns too late that as Poof's anti fairy, he gets erased from existence too. This brings Ascended Fridge Horror into play when many wondered what would happen to Foop if he succeeded in erasing Poof.
  • In a handful of episodes of The Dreamstone, the villains actually succeed in sending nightmares to the Land of Dreams. As much as Zordrak savors these victories, the Urpneys couldn't care less that they had and usually suffer ten times the abuse the Noops ever could from a bad dream in the process (and usually a revenge beating to go with it afterwards), but they do it.
  • At the end of Season 3 of Legend Of Korra, Zaheer gets this for his troubles. He managed to kill the Earth Queen, he's brought anarchy to the Earth Kingdom, and managed to break the Avatar's spirit; but the cost is that he lost the woman he loved, and he's the only one left from his group of friends. On top of that, for all of his crimes, he has to spend the rest of his life locked up in chains. The only consolation he had was that there are more Red Lotus out there, which the world leaders acknowledge as bad news.
    • Korra even pushes it further for him in Season 4. She points out that the freedom he claimed to be fighting for, to have killed the Earth Queen for, has been absolutely crushed under Kuvira to where the Earth Empire is worse than the Earth Kingdom was in allowing people any freedom. And even worse, his aim to kill the Avatar for all time only left Korra down for the count where she could have participated in dealing with the problem, or even preclude it altogether since Kuvira's Motive Rant after she's defeated states that Korra's absence from world affairs spurred her to act. For a guy who valued freedom above everything, even spending his life in chains is nothing compared to that. Zaheer even admits that Korra is absolutely right.