A Sudden Downer Ending is a series finale in which an otherwise completely upbeat, accessible series
ends on an unimaginably bleak note
. Can also apply to self-contained movies, books, video games, or etcetera with such endings.
Often done because True Art Is Angsty
and because Mood Whiplash
is an effective way of manipulating your audience, or as a way of adding depth to the main characters at the last moment.
The 3-way baby of Mood Whiplash
, Cerebus Syndrome
, and Downer Ending
. See also Diabolus ex Machina
, The End of the World as We Know It
, The Bad Guy Wins
, Gainax Ending
, Cruel Twist Ending
, Shoot the Shaggy Dog
, and Kill 'em All
. Can be a result of Creator Breakdown
. Can result in major Ending Aversion
and cries of Ruined Forever
As an Ending Trope
, expect spoilers.
If a work was dark or serious to begin with, it does not qualify for this trope and is simply a Downer Ending.
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Anime & Manga
- Excel Saga parodies this, like everything else, in one late-run episode, which is very dark and humorless compared to the other episodes and ends with Excel being shot and left to die. It's actually around episode 23 of 25; the actual final episode (#26) was unaired due to crossing the line way too many times.
- Mahoromatic. It's a Foregone Conclusion that Mahoro would die; it's the whole premise. The ending is still ridiculously dark. And confusing.
- The last few episodes of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi turn what was a series of parodies of video games and anime into a serious fable about dealing with grief.
- Then again, the series was from Gainax...
- Fairy Tail. The S-class/Tenrou Island arc ends with the main cast and semi-main cast being blasted by Acnologia and presumably dead.
- Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt takes it Up to Eleven. In the very last minute of the series, Stocking turns out to be evil, slices Panty into 666 pieces, and walks into the sunset with the revived Big Bad.
- Master of Martial Hearts: The first 4 out of 5 episodes will make you think that this OVA is just a silly, goofy, mushy comedy with some brutal fights between the main character Aya and her opponents in a tournament. Then the 5th episode comes in. To wit: Aya ends up killing her opponent in a Berserker Rage. Then she finds out that every one of her friends was a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who had manipulated her right from the beginning. They mentally broke all the losers of the tournament, making them into "perfect women" to be sold into sexual slavery. Aya's "friends" did this because her parents did the same thing to their parents, and they want to kill her to get back at her mother. Then Aya's mother shows up and kills them off, revealing to her that this is a Cycle of Revenge going back to their grandparents. So Kill 'em All ensues, with Aya limping away from the blown up building. Then her so-called best friend's mother gets a visit from someone that she is very scared to see.... There had been very few hints that something like this was going to happen. Yikes!
- The 1975 anime adaptation of A Dog Of Flanders, true to the original material, has the main character freeze to death in the last episode. The series is quite positive and upbeat (and looks like Heidi) otherwise, so to many children, this came as quite a shock.
- Transformers: Wings of Honor: Metalhawk's and Onslaught's teams (as well as the other Elite Guard teams who operate mostly offscreen) work well together, complete many missions with an unbroken victory streak, and beat back numerous Decepticons, in relatively light-hearted adventures. And then it all goes to hell. Onslaught's team defects to the Decepticons, and attacks the Autobot base. They also become a combiner, Bruticus, which ends up crushing Sentinel Major in its hand, Over-Run is crushed by one of his drones, and almost all of the other Elite Guard are also killed in various ways including Powerflash. While Bruticus is finally brought down by one of the heroes, Onslaught still kills his former friend Metalhawk on their way out. It finally ends with the last remaining Elite Guard team coming to the base and requesting permission to land, but finding no response. Even a side comic which is usually a bunch of humorous stories about goofy newscasters, ends with, not a funny punchline, but one of the reporters coming to the sight of the carnage and asking to go home in shock. Geez.
- Though this was only the first story; the sequel ends with a bittersweet, but more upbeat note.
- Marley and Me. The film actually ends with the eponymous dog being put to sleep because of old age.
- Roller Boogie, a light-hearted roller-disco film, inexplicably ends on a downbeat note, with the main characters tearfully separating to pursue their futures in different cities.
- Notoriously, the original ending to Clerks would have ended with this. A lighthearted comedy about two lazy store clerks wasting a day shift? The original version ended with a robber entering the store and shooting the main character, killing him instantly.
- Although the film wasn't all that lighthearted. There was plenty of Black Comedy, strong swearing, and mature subject matter, but the original ending was still a massive tonal shift.
- This Island Earth: Sure, the earth is saved, but the entire Metalunan race is wiped out by the Zagons. The Metalunans weren't really bad, just desperate. And the movie ends with Exeter's ship crashing into the ocean in flames.
- The silent film Exit Smiling is a zany comedy about a terrible actress in a traveling theater troupe trying to save the man she loves from going to jail. She succeeds. But he never finds out she was the one who saved him, and he's so happy about being able to stay in town with some other girl he likes that she simply doesn't tell him. The movie ends with her crying quietly as he steps off the train.
- At the end of Boytown, the band dies in a plane crash, leaving behind wives, children, and an unrealised relationship for the recently outed Carl. It's extremely incongruous for a film that was quite light and farcical up to that point. It's uncomfortably played for laughs and drama.
- The end of The Mole People: Adad and Bentley managed to escape the destruction of the Sumerian kingdom and had reached the surface... Only for Adad to suddenly and inexplicably turns back towards the cave entrance and be crushed by a falling pillar. Her death was mandated by the studio, who considered American Bentley and Sumerian Adad a "mixed-race couple" and feared having them live happily ever after would be seen as endorsing miscegenation. This◊ is Adad, by the way.
- In Train Of Life, the Jewish villagers manage to smuggle their train across half of Europe, tricking the Germans along every step of the way, and eventually reach the safety of the Russian border. Everyone is celebrating, and Schlomo starts telling us what happened to the characters as the camera slowly zooms out from his face... revealing him standing behind the barbed wire of a concentration camp. The entire story was wishful thinking on his part.
- In the final chapters of Tottie: The Story of a Doll's House, one of the dolls is burned to death.
- Mostly Harmless, the fifth book of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, ends with all but one of the protagonists dying horribly. The author, Douglas Adams, did plan on writing a sixth book and ending the series on a happier note, but his own death prevented this. A more upbeat sixth book was eventually written.
- Xinran's Miss Chopsticks is a fairly upbeat book about three sisters making their way in modern China and finally gaining their father's respect. The Author's Note at the end reveals that of the three real-life girls the characters were based on, one was then forced into an unwanted marriage, one lost her job when her employer was shut down for distributing banned books, and the third disappeared.
- Played with in the Captain Underpants series. At the end of the ninth book, Tippy Tinkletrousers accidentally creates a post-apocalyptic timeline and apparently gets crushed to death, and the book appears to end with a textless two-page spread of Scenery Gorn... but then the following page reveals that the story will be continued. Doubly so when you realise that Tippy's disruption of George and Harold's arrest (seen at the end of Book 8 and the beginning of Book 9) had yet to happen.
Live Action TV
- In the final episode of Dinosaurs, the main character accidentally triggers an ice-age by over-industrializing the world. He then has to explain why they're all going to die to his youngest child. Cut to the outside of the house, where snow is piling over the entire house. In the final shot, a newscaster solemnly states that the snow is getting harsher, the days are getting darker, and there's no end in sight. He issues a formal "Good night". He reconsiders for a moment, then looks straight in to the camera with weary, uncertain eyes, and solidly states, "Goodbye."
- In terms of individual seasons, Power Rangers Turbo ends rather sadly. Turbo, being based on a parody sentai, was written as light-hearted (even compared to Power Rangers in general). However, the ending is downright depressing. It is, so far, the only season to end with the Big Bad actually winning. The ending of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers came close, but the start of Zeo reversed most of its more serious consequences back to the status quo, whereas the start of Power Rangers in Space took the Sudden Downer Ending and ran with it.
- The finale of Blackadder Goes Forth. Made all the more sad because the same trope (Kill 'em All) was played in two previous series for laughs. Justified in that playing the events of the finale for laughs this time would not have produced the best reaction given what they concerned.
- Also because for anyone with any emotional investment in WW 1 (read: everyone in Britain above a certain age), the ending is actually incredibly touching, respectful, and appropriate. Writer Ben Elton's uncle, an eminent historian specialising in the period, was outraged when he first saw Blackadder Goes Forth and practically disowned him for what he saw as trivialisation of the war. After seeing the final episode, he wrote his nephew a letter apologizing and praising him for the way it was handled.
- The finale of Roseanne, where it's revealed that the entire last season was part of a book Roseanne had written after Dan died of a heart attack.
- In the last episode of Alf our wise-cracking alien protagonist is captured by the Alien Task Force, presumably never to be seen again by the Tanners. The producers were told they'd get a TV Movie to Wrap It Up, but it wasn't until years later that it actually happened, and the tone of it was distinctly darker than the series.
- This trope began a season early in the BBC's version of Robin Hood. At the end of season two, Maid Marian was brutally murdered at Guy of Gisborne's hands, changing an upbeat family show into something unimaginably bleak, and without any hope for a happy ending. Bizarrely, season three tried to regain its reputation as a family show, but the fed-up actors left for greener pastures, ensuring that the show ended with the deaths of Robin Hood, Allan-a-Dale, Guy of Gisborne, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Despite the gutted cast, there was an attempt to introduce a Legacy Character for Robin Hood, but the show was not commissioned for a forth series. The show ended with the remaining outlaws vowing to continue the fight against Prince John, but anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of English history knows how well that would have turned out.
- Publicity for the last ever episode of largely light-hearted series Lovejoy focused on the return of Will They or Won't They? love interest Lady Jane and Lovejoy's wedding to Replacement Love Interest Charlotte. Instead, the Villain of the Week kidnaps Lovejoy on the way to the wedding as revenge for foiling his plot and Charlotte refuses to believe it, thinks she's been jilted, and takes a job away from the area. What's more, Lovejoy's other two friends also take jobs away from the area and he's effectively evicted from his home/shop. The final scene of him packing his things into the back of his truck and driving off alone is actually quite depressing.
- Seinfeld's two-part series finale is arguably an subversion. The show itself was about selfish, horrible people coasting through life, and the finale showed them finally getting their comeuppance. Still, it divided fans of the show, who thought that it was a very dark way to send off one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.
- Add to that, said comeuppance came partly at the hands of the supporting characters and characters of the week, many of whom were even worse than the foursome.
- Although Medium dealt with many bad things, its overall ethos was generally that the bad guys always got caught and everything turned out well in the end. Which made the series finale in which Alison's husband Joe is killed in a plane crash, most of the episode is taken up with a bizarre soap opera tale of it all being a ghastly mistake and an amnesiastic Joe is living in Mexico which turns out to be a dream, and then Alison spending the next 40+ years of her life without the one person who has kept her sane throughout her psychic travails and who she has repeatedly been shown to depend on utterly and all alone because she never finds someone else or remarries all the more difficult to take. Even more so when the producers apparently thought it was a happy ending because, well, those forty years don't matter when you get reunited when you eventually die. Right?
- The True Life episode "I Don't Trust My Partner" had two couples talking about their trust issues. The audience sees Nikki and Shawny, the second couple interviewed, fighting for the extent of the episode, thanks to Shawny flirting with girls behind his girlfriend's back, and eventually going to couple's therapy to see whether they should move in together. Fast forward some months later, the show pans over to the new apartment the couple talked about renting, with their stuff inside. Problem is, shortly after they moved in together, Shawny suddenly died after complications from a hernia, and Nikki went through a period of overwhelming grief. For a show that usually goes no further than a Bittersweet Ending, this depressing conclusion came out of nowhere.
- The last episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun: all of the main characters are forced to return home. Mary doesn't want to leave Earth, and she is given a Mind Wipe so she won't remember Dick. An alternate ending has Mary being abducted by Dick after the Mind Wipe, but it still ends on a depressing note.
- In Glee's third season finale, Kurt was rejected from the prestigious performing arts college he spent the whole season trying to get into. The whole thing felt extremely out of the blue since his audition made him out to be a shoo-in several episodes prior, being praised by the recruiter and all.
- The final episode of Xena. Things looked dark, darker than usual, but there was a clear path to victory set up that was going to make everything better. Except right before reaching it, the protagonist suddenly decided that Redemption Equals Death (despite the entire show up to that point being explicitly about redemption via living a better life) and chose to just stay dead, leaving her soulmate alone. It wasn't even a heroic sacrifice, as nothing was gained by it. This ending was quickly disavowed by the comic book continuation.
- That Mitchell and Webb Look had an interesting variant of this. The trope was discussed in the penultimate episode, with the duo deciding they wanted their last sketch to be this. The sketch at the end of that episode was a spoof of the trope. Then the actual last episode came around, and it ended with one of the most depressing sketches ever made.
- Titus did this for every season finale — but especially in the final three episodes of the series. In the first, Christopher's mother Juanita shows up suddenly in Christopher's house, apparently having broken out of the mental hospital she was in. The episode is mostly lighthearted as usual, focusing on Christopher and his family trying to catch/find Juanita... until they finally have her cornered, in a closet, when Erin comes in with a message from the mental hospital, that Juanita had committed suicide four hours prior; meaning Christopher had been hallucinating her the entire time. And THEN, there is the two parter finale that continues the story, 'Insanity Genetic', in which the cast is on an airplane coming back from Juanita's funeral, Christopher has a mental breakdown, and they all cause a panic and get arrested under suspicion of being terrorists. They are all thoroughly interviewed, the authorities become convinced Christopher is mentally ill, and the rest of the cast end up admitting him to a mental hospital, where he reassures Erin that he'll be okay as she tearfully says goodbye, and we're left with a last, lingering shot of Christopher sitting alone in his cell.
- Arguably subverted, since he was only sent there for three months (which of course would allow for a Time Skip to the beginning of another season had it been continued). It's pretty much implied he'll be able to cope for that amount of time.
- In the true ending of Persona 3 The Hero defeats Nyx but suddenly dies in the game's last second. The mini-sequel, Persona 3 The Answer explores the reason behind this sudden downer ending.
- The true ending of Braid. Open to interpretation, but it would appear that the princess was trying to escape from the protagonist to the antagonist, not the other way around. Or she's the atomic bomb. Either way, or both ways, she appears to explode, which is sort of hard to think of as a positive ending.
- Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter for the DS. Basically, all of the adorable animal characters in the village are killed, G-Rated style (they fade away). One of the characters, named Mike, fades away last. The voice of Mike's sister Heather is heard asking the Creator, the god-like figure in the game, to bring her brother back, which at first seems like a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming. Then, her message changes and she was really trying to say, "God, just bring back my little brother to me." It is now revealed that Mike and Heather are actually humans, and the whole story with the village of cute animal things was all just a dream that Mike was having. It wasn't a regular dream, either; it turns out that Mike and his family were in a car crash, which killed his parents, injured his sister, and put him in a coma. Damn.
- In Final Fantasy X Tidus and his friends save the world from Sin. It had been previously stated that if Sin were completely destroyed Tidus would desintegrate. However, unlike in previous Final Fantasy games were the main characters were saved at the last second, Tidus does disappear. The post-credits scene shows an ambiguous scene that has Tidus awakening in the ocean. The sequel Final Fantasy X-2 reveals that Tidus is alive but so little explanations about this and the two years awaiting the release of the game make it look like an Ass Pull.
- Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. You die. Admittedly, the game is one of the darkest in the franchise (if not the darkest), but it's typically quite happy.
- BIT.TRIP FATE is a pretty dark game compared to the other games in the series, but the ending takes the cake. Upon defeating the Final Boss, CommanderVideo Turns Red, gets into position... and rams himself into the boss, destroying it and killing himself. After the final point tally, CommandgirlVideo arrives at the site of the final battle, realizes what just happened, and sheds a Single Tear.
- Sam And Max Freelance Police: The Devil's Playhouse is a comedy Lovecraft Lite that, while Darker and Edgier than the previous games, is still very lighthearted and playful. The ending involves Max being Killed Off for Real.
- Conkers Bad Fur Day. After a humorous South Park styled adventure, Conker becomes King Of All The Lands.... but at a price: the people in his kingdom are all morons, and to make matters worse, his girlfriend, Berri, is dead. As for Conker himself, it's highly implied that he's spiraling towards a booze-filled self-destruction.
- In the original ending, things were a bit less... subtle. In the bar scene at the end, Conker was supposed to shoot himself in the head. The only reason this was changed was because the creators were planning on a sequel.
- DeathSpank is a comedic hack and slash RPG that prides itself in its wacky, lighthearted Monkey Island-esque humor. Then, at the end of the sequel, DeathSpank's closest ally and possible love interest goes batshit insane due to the Thongs of Power's corrupting power, and he must either let himself be killed to fuel her delusions of godhood or cut her down himself, which greatly troubles him as he mourns and buries her. Unlike literally the entire rest of the series, this is all treated as somber and tragic as possible. And the canonical choice? He kills her.
- This isn't the ending of The Reconstruction as a whole, but it is the ending of chapter 3, "Life and Debt". Up until that point, the story reads like a fairly typical Heroic Fantasy adventure story, with a few hints of a greater, overarching plot and only a few very serious moments. You'll probably think that it'll maintain the fairly carefree, happy-go-lucky vibe the heroes have going on. Well, at least, until Metzino gets thrown off the Faithall Tower, you fight your first boss fight with a human character (who dies bloodily), and at the end of the day, it's revealing that the characters were Unwitting Pawns the whole chapter and their efforts were meaningless. It's also immediately followed by interlude 3, which is filled to the brim with Tear Jerker.
- The general reaction of players to the ending movies of Final Fantasy XIII 2 is something like this: "You know, they say this game has a bad ending, but I gotta say, I'm not really seeing — ...oh. There it is."
- The Bad Ending to the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, in which Sonic fails to get all the Chaos Emeralds before fighting Silver Sonic, and is punished for it by not completing his adventure, and instead showing a montage of him running from the middle of the day into the dead of night while the credits roll. The bad part? When he stops running, he looks up into the sky and sees Tails' face in the sky, implying that he died.
- The ending to Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light, which had up to that point been a fairly normal, relatively upbeat (no major betrayals, no major massacres, nobody dies, etc) RPG, can only be summarized by this trope.
- You could argue that Sly 2 ends this way. Granted, the Big Bad is finally gone for good (both of them) and Sly gets away in the end, but the gang disbands due to Bentley getting crippled for good during the fight and Murray blaming himself for it. Sly 3's first chapter is the three coming back together and confronting their lingering feelings from that disaster.
- The Conquest ending to the otherwise giggles-and-rainbows game Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk 2 has Nepgear taking the lives of the 7 other CP Us, including her own sister, in the most heartwrenchingly depressing death scenes you can imagine.
- Mass Effect 3 has this problem, amongst other issues (such as a Gainax Ending, Railroading, multiple inferred holocausts, plot holes large enough to move a mass relay through). The endings contain a combination of Shepard dying, the Citadel exploding, and a guarantee in all endings that the mass relay network is destroyed. This effectively ends galactic society as we know it and dooms all the ravaged worlds to a slim recovery at best. At worst, it outright obliterates every system with a mass relay (of which most Homeworld systems are) due to the established precedent of exploding mass relays = supernova-grade explosion.
- Retconned in the free Extended Cut DLC, where the relays and Citadel are merely lightly damaged. Also, Word Of God confirms that Shepard lived in the destroy ending.
- Fire Emblem 7 talks about what happened to all the characters after the ending. All of them turned out pretty okay getting married and whatnot...oh except for Canas who died along with his wife in a snowstorm.
- Ultima 5 ends this way; the Avatar returns to Earth to discover that his house has been robbed while he was away saving Lord British. This was apparently done to drive home the moral that the path of virtue is its own reward.
- Possible in Maniac Mansion if you contact the Meteor Police before showing the Meteor the publishing contract. While the Meteor is on the talk show in the ending, a policeman will beam down and arrest him. "I don't care if you're reformed, I'm still arresting you."
- Doobl. What appears to be a normal family-friendly webcomic for a fair number of strips, then has the protagonist go crazy and slaughter the cast before killing himself. Meanwhile, in the news posts, the author's mother dies. He spends the remaining posts increasingly lashing out against the world. It ends with a newspaper clipping covering the author's suicide. It turned out to be a hoax.
- Concerned, the Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman, is mostly a gag strip that ends with... oh, guess. Of course, it's still funny while doing so.
- The Last Days Of FOXHOUND has everyone Doomed by Canon. As such, the last chapter is just a montage of their bodies. It's emphasized by how sudden it is — cutting straight from the "preparing for battle" montage to the death montage. At least the ghosts of the dead characters show up to joke about their ineptitude, providing a relieving comical note.
- It's All Been Done ended with the main character and his wacky group of talking toys about to have an adventure when he realizes the entire thing was an attempt to avoid dealing with his wife's death.
- The finale of Codename Kids Next Door. Teary goodbyes and heartwarming moments abound, yes, but then Numbah One leaves Earth, forever, and never sees his friends or his parents again.
- Camp Lazlo - Lumpus was never really the scoutmaster, he was a literally insane man who had locked the real scoutmaster away, presumably for the duration of the entire show, to steal his life. He is sent to an asylum. This twist is so dark and downright shocking that the entire cast except Lazlo can do nothing but stand in silence for a moment. Word Of God claims that Jane Doe busted him out afterward and married him, but it's still a Shocking Swerve.
- The classic Disney short "Chicken Little" plays like a normal Cat-and-Mouse cartoon... until the end, where despite the Narrator's assurance to the audience that everything turns out alright, Foxy Loxy catches and eats all the chickens, turkeys, and ducks, smiling smugly all the while. "Hey, wait a minute!" the Narrator exclaims. "This isn't right! That's not the way it ends in my book!" Foxy, leaning against his "Psychology" book, responds, "Oh, yeah? Don't believe everything ya read, brother!" Yeah.
- The Snowman, which remains upbeat Sweet Dreams Fuel until the final moments, which reveals first that the Snowman has melted and died, then that it definitely wasn't a dream. The main character breaks down and cries. Cue credits.
Father Christmas: Glad you could make it again! The party, I mean, not the snowman.
- The classic Looney Tunes short "Whats Opera Doc" is mostly a goofy parody of opera tropes combined with Bugs Bunny's typical slapstick and Attractive Bent Gender gags. Then Elmer kills him. Bugs does revive long enough to deliver the last line, though:
"Well what did ya expect in an opera — a happy ending?"
- The infamous (within its fandom, at least) "Holly Jolly Secrets" Christmas Special of Adventure Time. It is about the heroes Finn and Jake watching a bunch of videotapes made by their arch-enemy and Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, the Ice King. The whole time, Finn and Jake continue because they believe the Ice King has hidden "evil secrets" in the tapes. Once the Ice King finds out that they are watching his tapes, he tries to stop them, but fails to prevent them from putting the last tape in their VCR. At that point, all he can do is watch in horror as Finn and Jake discover that he used to wear glasses, but more importantly, that he used to be a normal human being who was driven insane and transformed by a supernatural artifact that he'd bought. They watch the young Ice King lose his mind. Before this, the Ice King had almost always been a funny character, and plenty of things that were Played for Laughs in the past were made tragic by this revelation. The writers seem to understand this and have given the character a break so far. Or possibly they don't know what to do with him. In addition, the other tapes before the last one are usually the Ice King saying or doing hilarious things, but some of them show him sitting around his house, crying, although that still seems to be Played For Laughs.
- Ice King's past comes up again in "I Remember You", when it's revealed that Simon took care of Marceline when she was a child in the aftermath of the Mushroom War. The crown's magic was the only thing that kept him alive, but was also slowly driving him insane; at present, he doesn't remember her very well.
- If any episode of The Simpsons has any character change in a positive way or gain something nice, and they keep it near the end of the episode — expect it be suddenly yanked away soon afterward. The Status Quo must be preserved. That being said, there were only a few notable exceptions: Barney recovering from his alcoholism (although the writers eventually undid this), Lisa telling Homer that she'll never be happy with her body image (though the whole thing about Lisa being insecure with her body hasn't been mentioned since that episode), and Milhouse's parents staying divorced (though they did get remarried in "Little Orphan Millie," it's not very clear whether or not they're back together).
- Drawn Together ends with one of the main characters dying a brutal, tragic death, and then reality itself being Retgoned due to Stanky's idiocy.