In the end of the story, things might have gone bad for our heroes. They might have lost the base, have the villain remain victorious, or even have themselves killed
. But even amongst all that tragedy, there's still something that assures that it doesn't end there, that there might be a chance to make things better, a ray of hope on the horizon.
This differs (almost to the point of being the opposite) from a Bittersweet Ending
, where the protagonists win but at a great cost, and is not simply a Downer Ending with a few happy tones either. This trope means that, despite the heroes being soundly defeated, physically and/or emotionally, there's still some hope left; a reassurement that things are not as bleak as they may look, and there could be a chance to turn the tides around, even if everything that has been lost can't ever be truly recovered.
Compare to A World Half Full
, which is a world that despite its broken state can still be turned for the better, Fling a Light into the Future
, which is a more deliberate hope establishment and usually happens at the start of the story, Hope Springs Eternal
, which is the very concept of hope always living on no matter the circumstances.
Contrast Surprisingly Happy Ending
, in which a seemingly bittersweet or downer ending turns into a happy ending thanks to a plot twist, and Esoteric Happy Ending
, where the creator thinks
they have ended things on a positive note, but the Audience Reaction
is Fridge Horror
Depending on the circumstances, this kind of ending may be (or become) a Sequel Hook
This is an Ending Trope, so beware of unmarked spoilers.
Anime and Manga
- Star Wars:
- The Empire Strikes Back: The Rebellion is on the run without a base, Han Solo's debt with Jabba the Hutt comes back to bite him and he has been frozen solid in carbonite, Luke gave up his Jedi Training to walk into Darth Vader's trap, lose his hand and finds his true parentage. But the main cast minus Han are able to escape the Empire at Cloud City and it ends on a high note with Luke's replacement hand and the team getting a lead on Han's whereabouts.
- Revenge of the Sith: Anakin Skywalker has fallen to evil. The Jedi have been all but destroyed. The Republic has fallen, and the Empire has risen to power. Obi-Wan and Yoda, the only survivors of the Order, are in hiding. But the Skywalker twins have been born, and we know from the original trilogy that they will be the ones to change the state of the galaxy for the better.
- The ending to the European film, Acla also known as Acla's Descent would almost be a Downer Ending, but it has a touch of hope since it's shown that in spite of everything, Acla can still dream of a better future.
- Twelve Monkeys: Protagonist James Cole, a time traveler from After the End, dies trying (and failing) to stop the villain from releasing the virus that triggers The End of the World as We Know It. But in the next scene, another time traveler appears in disguise to speak with the villain — implying that, thanks to Cole's work, the scientists of the future will finally get a pure sample of the virus so they can make a vaccine. The past can't be changed, but the future can still be saved.
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World ends with the male characters ending up in the hospital after losing the $350,000 worth of money, but Captain Culpepper assures them with this line:
"I don't think any of you have anything to worry about. My wife is divorcing me, my daughter is applying to the courts to have her name changed, my pension has been revoked, and the only reason you 10 idiots will very likely get off lightly is because the judge will have me up there to throw the book at. I'd like to think that sometime, maybe 10 or 20 years from now, there will be something that I could laugh at, anything."
- The ending of Se7e. While the villain has won, Mills gave in to his anger at his wife's and child's death at the hands of John Doe, the villain, and John does agenda, a recreation of the Seven Deadly Sins in the form of murders, came to fruition as mills shot John Doe in the head, giving in to the final sin, wrath, and his evil plan has suceeded. Mills, clearly emotionally traumatised by the events, has been taken into custody. However, Detective Somerset is a generally selfless and moral Knight in Sour Armor until a short time before the beggining of the film when he decides to actually retire and get on with his life. Throughout the film he is on the brink of retiring but just can't keep out that selfless part inside of him that wants to keep on fighting for the innocent, which is pushed on by Mills who is like a reminder of Somerset at a younger age. He does decide to stay on for a few days, but at the end of the film after Mills shoots Doe and Doe's plan suceeds, it is implied that he has decided to stay on completely. The last words of the film are Somerset: "The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for. I agree with the second part" which shows that even in the worst of places and after seeing the worst in humanity, people will still fight for good.
- Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines: After spending the whole film trying to avert Judgment Day, the heroes fail at the end and the machines nearly wipe out all life on earth. Of course, the T-850 knew it would happen all along. John finally accepts his destiny as leader of the resistance and begins his long journey to the eventual defeat of Skynet.
- Experimental montage film A Movie has a nearly literal version of this trope. After the latter portion of the film dwells on death, violence, and destruction, the last clip is of a scuba diver exploring a sunken ship, panning up to the sun, visible from under the water.
- The Lorax would have been a total Downer Ending, had the Once-Ler not given the child the last Trufula seed.
- 1984 concludes with an appendix about Newspeak which is phrased in the past tense and written in standard English. Some people have interpreted this to mean that the reign of Ingsoc was eventually broken.
- First King of Shannara ends this way. While the Second War of the Races is won and the Warlock Lord defeated, this Big Bad isn't permanently destroyed. In spite of this development and the destruction of the Druids, Allanon remains as the last Druid, the Sword of Shannara is still capable of destroying the Warlock Lord, and Jerle Shannara continues his bloodline — leaving his descendants to eventually destroy the Warlock Lord.
- At the end of The Dark Tower, when Roland is sent back in a "Groundhog Day" Loop, he holds the horn of Eld (unlike in previous iterations), which implies that he could break the loop eventually. He also hears a vague whisper from somewhere which suggests that perhaps this time "it will be different".
- John Wyndham's novelette Out of the Deeps/The Kraken Wakes. At the end of the story the invading underwater aliens have melted the polar ice caps and caused worldwide flooding. However, the Japanese have developed an unmanned device that broadcasts ultrasonic waves lethal to the aliens. It has wiped out some of the aliens and might succeed in destroying all of them.
- The fourth book of A Series of Unfortunate Events ends this way, with the Baudelaires reflecting on the small blessings that allowed them to survive this latest attempt on their lives, and conclude maybe they do have some luck on their side after all.
- In A Canticle for Leibowitz the world nukes itself a second time, yet the church has grown wiser, forming a parallel hierarchy in space, and sending a starship to Alpha Centauri.
- The Cut Short V (2009) ended on the big downer of the Visitors gaining the ability to bliss humans en-masse, which could very well be the backbreaker for the human race. Plus many key characters die, and a very hopeful-looking plot against Anna by her estranged mother fails utterly. But Erica is introduced to a deeper underground resistance involving members of the FBI, military and intelligence communities, which may, with some perseverance, cunning and luck, just have enough resources and high connections to succeed, should there ever be a continuation or sequel...
- The X-Files ends with half the main cast chased by the authorities, Mulder still being wanted and the revelation that an alien invasion will begin in December 2012. However Mulder expresses his belief to Scully that they have a force more powerful than the aliens on their side and that there's still hope to defeat them. And then the second movie happened.
- The fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ends with the Dominion invasion of the Alpha Quadrant, Deep Space 9 is quickly captured by the Dominion forces and the heroes retreat. The ray of hope comes in the form of the massed Federation-Klingon fleet ready to fight back and Captain Sisko leaving behind his baseball on the station, a message that he will return, and shove it up the Dominion's ass when he does.
- The fifth season of Fringe begins with our heroes finding themselves in a dystopian future ruled by the Observers, their leader Captain Windmark even going so far as to taunt Walter with the heroes' lack of hope by saying "Nothing grows from scorched earth." At the very end of the episode Walter finds a single dandelion growing though a crack in the ruined street, a sign that there's still hope to save the Earth.
- In the second part of Vacant Sky, it turns out Auria is really the Big Bad after all, one of the second heroes Serijala has made a pact with the Virad, and Mia is dead. Things are looking kinda grim. ...And then, we discover that the Virad are infected by demons, meaning demon-killing weapons have a chance of permanently killing them off, and also there is the hope that stopping Ejaro will put an end to the Virad.
- Spec Ops: The Line. In the best ending, it is implied that despite all the horrible things Walker did, he still has a chance at possible redemption. The achievement for getting this ending is even called "The Road Back".
- The Purple Clan's ending in Fahrenheit would be a downer ending, had it not been for Lucas and Carla's child who has potential to save humankind where his/her father failed.
- Infinity Blade: In the second game, Siris manages to defeat Radriar the God King for the second time and makes sure not to kill him. He takes Radriar to the Worker of Secret's cell, so that the Worker will be freed and Radriar will be imprisoned in his place. Unfortunately, Siris discovers too late that his "old friend" is a Consummate Liar and a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. The Worker takes the Infinity Blade with plans for world domination, and leaves Siris and Radriar to rot in his cell, as well as claim that Ausar/Siris was the one who imprisoned him there in the first place. By all accounts, this is a Downer Ending, but the last scene shows Isa approaching the castle.
- At first it appears that FreeSpace: Blue Planet - Age of Aquarius will end on a high note with the 14th Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance (GTVA) Battlegroup returning back to their own universe's Earth after being cut off from it for 50 years, an United Earth Federation (UEF) frigate shows up and asks the battlegroup's ships if they come in peace, only for the heroes to discover that GTVA high command had sent the battlegroup to invade the Sol system and forcibly reunify it with the alliance, a point punctuated by the battlegroup easily destroying the frigate. However it's not all gloom as Samuel Bei and half the battlegroup decide to fight for Earth instead, in the process giving Earth a fighting chance as opposed to the otherwise certain defeat.
- However as the sequel War in Heaven is quick to underline, the UEF rarely scores any victories in their war with the GTVA whose forces both outgun and outnumber the UEF's, the second act in particular ending on a very cruel Hope Spot where the Wargods, who up until that point have been singlehandedly winning the war, are completely curb-stomped on the cusp of what could've been a war-ending victory The third act itself ends with the GTVA forces about to invade the Earth itself, Noemi Laporte's revelation that the Vishnans have given up on preserving humanity because of the UEF-GTVA war and have ordered the Shivans to destroy humanity and Noemi being forced to fake her death to escape from the Elders' grasp. The ray of hope comes in the form of Ken bringing Noemi back from a survivor's guilt induced Despair Event Horizon by telling her that Lorna is still alive and that the Shivans have a plan to prevent humanity's end, but the UEF needs to win the war in order for the plan to work. This leads to a pretty epic He's Back moment as Noemi re-joins the UEF fleet under a fake identity and vows to end the war no matter what it takes.
- Halo: Reach: The Covenant conquer Reach and burn its entire surface to glass. Humanity's second most important planet is lost. The fleet's attempts to stem the invasion end in failure every time. Almost all of NOBLE Team is killed including the player. The only thing that keeps the story from being a complete tragedy is that the player manages to evacuate the ship Pillar of Autumn with Master Chief and Cortana aboard, who will turn around the course of the war in the subsequent games. In the final cutscene, Dr. Halsey gives your eulogy and assures you that your Heroic Sacrifice was worth it, as shown by Reach now being a green paradise being colonized again.
- The "Bad Ending" when you lose all your lives and choose not to continue in Metal Black. The Hero Dies, but inspires the rest of the military to fight the aliens. 20000 Black Fly ships set out for battle.
- Arc The Lad II's ending would be a Downer Ending in the vast majority of games, being a Pyrrhic Victory in which the only success Elc and the survivors of the party can claim is that they survived The End of the World as We Know It, and saved some portion of humanity as well. But this was better than anyone expected, and probably the best that humanity could hope to win.
- The "Refusal" ending of Mass Effect 3. The Reapers wipe out most life in the galaxy, but the epilogue implies that the next cycle's races managed to defeat them for good.
- The first Season Finale of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. The identity of the Creep of Crystal Cove is revealed to be Mayor Jones, Fred's father and the gang is separated and grounded by their parents. When things seem lost however Scooby Doo renews his resolve and vows to put the gang back together.
- Every single season of Code Lyoko except the last one (Earn Your Happy Ending) ends this way, with a victory for XANA but with the potential for the heroes to undo his victory. In order:
- Season One: While Aelita is finally dematerialized, a virus planted inside her makes her freedom temporary, and the heroes still unable to shut down the computer without killing her. Still, Aelita is not a complete prisoner, and Jeremie promises to find the cure no matter what it takes.
- Season Two: Aelita has more freedom from Lyoko, but XANA now has a specific goal, to absorb her memories using the Scyphozoa. In the last episode of the season, he succeeds, and manages to escape Lyoko, no longer relying on it and becoming far more powerful than before. But, when the heroes seem out of ideas, they get a message from the enigmatic Franz Hopper, pledging his help.
- Season Three: The end of this season marks XANA’s biggest victory. His goal is to destroy Lyoko, so that nothing can undo his attacks on humanity. At the end of the episode, he not only succeeds, but makes William his slave. But, when all hope seems lost, the heroes get a message from Hopper again, hinting that he may have a solution. (In the next season, it is shown that Jeremie is able to use what Hopper sends him to rebuild Lyoko.)