"I'm sorry to inform that this is not the movie you be will watching. The movie you are about to see is extremely unpleasant. If you wish to see a film about a happy little elf, then I'm sure there is still plenty of seating in theatre number two. However, if you like stories about clever and reasonably attractive orphans, suspicious fires, carnivorous leeches, Italian food and secret organizations, then stay, as I retrace each and every one of the Baudelaire children's woeful steps. My name is Lemony Snicket, and it is my sad duty to document this tale."
So you're watching, reading, or listening to a work of fiction, and it's pretty much wrapped up. The good guys win, the hero and his significant other are getting married, and all that's left is to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s in this Happy Ending.
All of a sudden..."Stop watching. Now. We mean it! It's for your own good!" The narrator has intervened to warn you about an upcoming unpleasant plot twist!
If the work in question has more minutes/pages/episodes left than strictly necessary to write "And they lived Happily Ever After" over a beautiful sunset as they ride into the distance, odds are that it won't. Whether it's a Mandatory Twist Ending or a Diabolus ex Machina, the end result is a supreme Downer Ending as the heroes' good fortune is yanked out from under their feet. Normally, this happens without warning, but a Snicket Warning Label will politely inform you beforehand that if you prefer the happy ending, perhaps it's best for you to quit now.
The Snicket Warning Label could also occasionally be used as a 'meta' form of Schmuck Bait. Because really, after a warning like that, who doesn't want to find out what really happens?
A variant can occur when characters are viewing a Show Within a Show, and one character delivers a warning to the other.
Note: Unless there is a warning in the work itself, it is not this trope. "This-or-that movie would have been less tragic if it had ended 10 minutes early" is not this trope. A narrator telling you to stop watching? That's this trope.
This trope is named for the warning the "author" of A Series of Unfortunate Events gives at the beginning of each book, suggesting that you likely will be much happier if you read something else. Perhaps about a happy little elf?Warning: As an Ending Trope, here be SPOILERS, potentially unmarked! Stop reading now or have your favorite stories spoiled!!!
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Anime and Manga
The end of the 13th episode of Princess Tutu appears to be a bog-standard romantic happy ending to the series. Except it's only half finished. The (in-universe) author from beyond the grave gives off the warning.
Saikano's fansub had a variant of this. Episode 10 of this Thirteen Episode Anime ends with "A friendly warning from the team: This is the ending of happiness in Saikano. If you would prefer the anime to have a happy end, consider stopping here and pretending there are no more episodes. Continuing will only bring misery and pain. You have been warned." at the bottom of the credits. Boy howdy, are they right.
It's even worse in the manga, where a similar warning is placed. In the middle of the second volume. Out of seven.
In Cowboy Bebop, in the little preview for Black Dog Serenade, Jet Black says that most shouldn't watch the episode because it's depressing.
Jet: So I have to admit: the next episode of Cowboy Bebop is.. kinda depressing. Very depressing, actually. The only characters that show up are a bunch of musty old guys. I hate to say this, but it's kinda heavy-handed. Children shouldn't watch it. Ladies should avoid it too. On top of that, it's better if you young guys don't tune in either. Next episode, "Black Dog Serenade". Oh, all you old guys, I wouldn't miss this one if I were you.
The "Season of Mists" story arc of The Sandman ends with a (fictional) G. K. Chesterton quotation about how any story can have a happy ending if you just stop reading in the right place — and if you want The Sandman to have a happy ending, that's not a bad place to stop reading.
"Now before I go any further, I should mention that if you are looking to read one of those stories where a girl from the real world falls into a fantasy world and maybe falls in love with one of the characters there, you are probably looking at the wrong story."
The film (500) Days of Summer begins with the narrator stating "This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know up front, this is not a love story."
The film I Stand Alone is interrupted before the climax by a full-screen caption saying 'YOU HAVE 30 SECONDS TO LEAVE THE CINEMA.' It then counts down the 30 seconds on screen before proceeding with the plot, which takes a turn for the worst.
A variant: Adam Cadre's Varicella has an Easter Egg which allows for the only even remotely happy ending in the game. One can have Primo Varicella dispose of all those horrible rivals, and then type WAKE UP to get an ending where the whole scenario is All Just a Dream. If you don't, then you're stuck with a Shoot the Shaggy Dog ending where Primo Varicella is tortured to death by the prince, whose nasty experiences at the hands of the rivals has caused him to cross the Moral Event Horizon himself and become a horrible, Caligula-like monster who, in addition to torturing Varicella, kills his own mother and starts bloody wars on other nations.
The 2006 Interactive Fiction Competition game Deadline Enchanter (not to be confused with Infocom games of similar names) has a warning in it towards the end, where the text implies that completing your mission will result in the death of the being who sent you on the mission in the first place. You're then told that there won't be a happier ending, and that if you can't handle it, you should turn the game off and go do something else.
The 6th arc of Umineko no Naku Koro ni is the closest the story gets to an outright happy ending. The seventh arc then provides two different warnings that to continue reading is to get a much more depressing end. The first is in the description when the game is opened. "Things you become able to see with love. Things you become unable to see because of love. By knowing love and believing in magic, the door to the Golden Land was opened. However, the tale of love ends here. What will be told from now on is only a tale of cruel tragedy and harsh truth..." At the end of the seventh arc, just in case the audience was still holding out hope for a happy ending to be yanked out of everything during the final arc, Lambda and Bern then warn you in red that This story will not have a happy ending. The ending of the eighth arc itself is an improvement over the seventh, but only from "bad" to "bittersweet."
The Book of Adventure Games, a third-party hintbook to multiple Interactive Fiction titles, suggests the player create their own "alternate ending" for Infidel, as the intended ending is your character's Karmic Death.
And fandom was split on the actual ending of the series in The End. Many plotlines were unresolved at the end, but on the other hand we had been warned all along...
In the last book of The Dark Tower, Stephen King tells the reader to stop right before the coda because the story is really about Roland's journey to get to the Dark Tower, and not what happens within. It's also used several other times in that book: just before the deaths of Eddie and Jake King warns the reader that they should stop because the next part was very painful to tell, and will be very painful to hear.
Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub suggests at the end that the reader stop and not read the epilogue.
Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs has one of these at the start of the book. He warns you that the songs within will get stuck in your head and drive you insane, so please don't do it!
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish contains a section in which Douglas Adams advises the audience to skip the middle of the book if they aren't interested in Arthur's love life, and instead go right to the end "which is a good bit and has Marvin in it."
In Anne Rice's Tale of the Body Thief, the second-to-last chapter is only a few paragraphs long and consists of Lestat warning the readers that they really ought to stop now, and if they don't, will probably wish they did. He says that the book should end here, and although it doesn't, the reader is welcome to pretend it did.
House of Leaves: "This is not for you" is printed on a page before the start of the novel.
Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief has a horribly depressing Everybody's Dead, Dave sort of ending, in which, yes, everyone in the book except for two characters die suddenly and without meaning. Luckily, the book gives ample warning from chapter one - namely, by telling you the setting is World War Two Dresden, and by having Death narrate. The first chapter is Death listing off all the times he'll meet the Book Thief, so you have time to turn away.
In Lloyd Alexander's The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, the point after which Prince Jen and Voyaging Moon have declared their love for each other is the point when the narration says "You can stop here if you want." Fittingly, the next chapty it's dangerous to read the book, b) deciding that he's going to stop writing but then being threatened/bribed into continuing, or c) reminding you that the names of all the characters have been changed for their own safety.
Cat's Cradle. Seriously, that Bokonon is ADAMANT about preventing people from reading his real-deal world-ending book.
Bokonon: STOP! DO NOT READ THIS BOOK! This book contains only lies.
Chuck Palahniuk's Choke starts out with "If you're going to read this, don't bother."
The Fae of The Kingkiller Chronicle series have a custom whereby dark, tragic plays begin with the malicious oracle known as the Cthaeth depicted in the scenery as a warning to the faint of heart. The Cthaeth appears in The Wise Man's Fear which just happens to end at a Hope Spot. Kvothe also tells the Chronicler in before telling his story that it can be boiled down to, "I lived, I loved, I lost."
Percy Jackson and the Olympians has one on the very first page. Hardback copies of The Lightning Thief also have this on the back of the book/as the blurb:
"Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood. If you're reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.
"Being a half-blood is dangerous. It's scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways. If you're a normal kid, reading this because you think it's fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened. But if you recognize yourself in these pages-if you feel something stirring inside-stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it's only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they'll come for you. Don't say I didn't warn you."
Wayside School is Falling Down begins chapter eight, "Warning: Do not read this story right after eating. In fact, don't read it right before eating either. In fact, just to be safe, don't read this story if you're ever planning to eat again.”
In the framework of The Princess Bride, the grandfather abruptly stops reading right before Westley's (temporary) death and tells his grandson that it might be a good idea for him to stop here.
Live Action TV
When showing something graphic like the aftermath of a bombing, some news stations will say "Some viewers may find the upcoming images disturbing" or something like that.
Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs has done this on occasion, such as during the episode on rendering, where a dead cow is lowered into a grinder where...
"I don't ever want to tell you not to watch this show, but..."
La-Mulana warns you against entering the final room of Hell Temple:
The one that must not be seen. The one that regrets seeing. Leave before thou becomes such. Before thy time comes to naught.
In Fallen London, these warnings precede almost every action relating to Seeking Mr. Eaten's Name, begging the player to stop, and telling you that the quest only leads to ruin and death. The warnings aren't lying.
All the books in Odin Sphere end happily enough with Gwendolyn and Oswald together, along with Cornelius and Velvet, while Mercedes finally defeats Odin and wins the war with the Aesir, and the three Wise Men are all dead. Then you find out that the last book is called Armageddon and you know right off the bat that everything goes downhill from here.
There's a very quiet one in Spec Ops: The Line. The first thing in the game that you see is a big red "STOP" sign. About halfway through the game, you find another one, this one filled with bullet holes.
In-universe example in the webcomic Krazy Larry. Vicious misanthrope Larry idolizes the Grinch, so his friends go to great lengths to make sure he never sees the last five minutes of the TV special.
Applied in the author comments in this chapter of Mortifer.
"No one is going to like this chapter. No one. Its going to be horrible."
South Park features one of these at the beginning of every episode, not warning of a sad ending, but of offensiveness:
All characters and events in this show-–even those based on real people–-are entirely fictional. All celebrity voices are impersonated.....poorly. The following program contains coarse language and due to its content it should not be viewed by anyone.
Now that you've read this, don't say that we didn't warn you.