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Cohn: "Think they've got a chance?"
"Frankly, no. Not a chance in the world. I'll be surprised if they get halfway to Navarone. It's just a waste of six good men."
The Suicide Mission is an assignment, task, or quest where it's expected that everyone (or nearly everyone) involved will die in the attempt. They're popular in works involving war and action, providing a convenient way to raise the dramatic tension Up to Eleven
There are numerous reasons for a Suicide Mission to be ordered. Perhaps the situation
is truly dire
, the line must be held
, and the advancing enemy must be stopped
. Alternately, General Ripper
may believe it's an acceptable tactic
, or Colonel Kilgore
sets one up to eliminate a nuisance
. A general that doesn't fall into the above categories will often be humanized by asking the Commander of the mission rather than ordering.
To be clear, a Suicide Mission is not
(always) Unwinnable by Design
. There are times when an important task must be attempted without regard for the safety of those undertaking it
. A goal must be accomplished, even if the entire team has to die to do it.
Neither is it a Suicide Attack
; it does not explicitly demand a Heroic Sacrifice
from the get-go. Victory and a successful return home is possible, just very unlikely
The members of the mission will usually be expendables, criminals, Death Seekers
, assorted misfits,
or selfless heroes for the greater good.
Expect Anyone Can Die
to be invoked throughout the mission, Dwindling Party
, and, eventually, either Sole Survivor
for anyone who manages to survive or Kill 'em All
if nobody does. If the characters repeatedly survive these missions, they might be Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder
A subtrope of In It For Life
. May result in a Bolivian Army Ending
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Anime & Manga
- In Claymore, the organization in charge of Claymores sends them on suicide missions whenever they become too dangerous. Possibly justified to avoid Super Power Meltdowns.
- From Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the first time Yang Wen-Li is sent to capture Iselhorn fortress, it was in fact a suicide mission given by superiors who wanted to get rid of him.
- Saito, from Zero no Tsukaima. Originally assigned to Louise, Saito steals the mission from her by drugging the wine they used in their wedding, and then handing her sleeping body off to an ally. The Suicide Mission involved taking on the entire, 60,000 strong Albion army. He holds them up for four hours.
- Kittan willingly sacrifices himself to stop the Death Spiral Machine in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann so Yoko won't make that choice herself- but not before giving her a Last Kiss. It's a mighty Tear Jerker.
- The final two episodes of Sailor Moon, Season One, started Sailor Moon off with all four of her teammates alive. However, to establish the infiltration of the Dark Kingdom's lair as a suicide mission, each of the Inner Senshi died fighting Queen Beryl's DD Girls, until only Sailor Moon becomes the sole survivor. Mamoru also dies protecting Sailor Moon, who also ends up killed after using the full power of the Silver Crystal against Queen Beryl. Sailor Moon does magically resurrect herself and her friends with the Silver Crystal in the end, though at the expense of their memories as Sailor Soldiers (and Tuxedo Mask in Mamoru's case).
- Just about any mission outside the walls in Attack on Titan is this for the Survey Corps. At least half the members of a given team don't come back. The humans are just that outmatched.
- In Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo, a group of Dinosaur Soldiers stages an attack on the abandoned Saotome Labs, the final resting place of the Shin Getter Robo. In order to do so, they grab some of the unfinished Proto-Getters lying around the lab; however, Getter Rays are fatal to Dinosaurs, so the soldiers knew it was a Suicide Mission from the start and volunteered anyway out of devotion to Emperor Gore and the Empire.
- Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja begins with a squadron of American commandos sent to rescue John Doe from the basement of the Soviet KGB. This includes flying a bomber over the city, a tank battle down the streets of Moscow, and a direct assault on the KGB itself. The mission started with over a hundred men, and only two survive to the end.
- The Suicide Squad gets their name for the suicide missions they get sent on.
- This is a recurring idea in Sin City, where almost every mission is said to be one in which the hero could easily be killed. Considering the Anyone Can Die structure of the narrative, it isn't far-fetched to believe that they really will meet their end.
- Beth Lestrade in the first finale of Children of Time: she plans out a two-pronged mission to rescue Holmes and Watson, however... While every detail is planned to the hilt for the Irregulars' rescue of Watson, she is going to slip into Professor Moriarty's stronghold alone to get Holmes out, well aware that she might well die. On the other hand, she points out that a solo mission is their only hope of getting through Moriarty's defenses.
Films — Animated
- Implied in Disney's Hercules when a de-powered Herc goes to take on the rampaging Titans by himself. Megara tells him he'll be killed; his despondent reply is to tell her: "There are worse things."
- In Kung Fu Panda 2, it is parodied when after Po saves the Furious Five that he did not plan any further from that, as he did not expect to make it that far.
Films — Live-Action
- In Kiss of the Spider Woman, the protagonist accepts a suicide mission to pass a message to political revolutionaries in order to demonstrate his newfound courage.
- The Matrix franchise:
- The Matrix. Neo and Trinity's plan to rescue Morpheus.
Tank: "This is loco. They've got him in a military-controlled building. Even if you somehow got inside, there are three Agents holding him. I want Morpheus back too, but what you're talking about is suicide."
- In The Matrix Revolutions, Neo and Trinity's mission to the machine city. Both of them die there, but the mission is still a success.
- The crew of the spaceship Messiah assign themselves one last mission, well aware of the fact that when the remaining nuclear bombs are detonated inside the larger comet fragment they will destroyed as well.
- The Dirty Dozen centers around one of these.
- The middle part of Dr. Strangelove, right before Slim Pickins rides the bomb to oblivion!
- Played for laughs in Monty Pythons Life Of Brian: the "crack suicide squad" of the Judean People's Front shows up at the crucifixion, apparently to rescue Brian. Their leader cries "Attack!", whereupon all of the members stab themselves and die at Brian's feet. Seen here
"That'll show 'em!"
- Invoked in The Princess Bride:
"Have fun Storming the Castle
(aside) "Think it'll work?" Miracle Max:
"It would take a miracle."
- This is the plot of Das Boot; the German U-Boat is supposed to get to Italy via the Strait of Gibraltar, one of the most heavily defended Allied naval zones in the world.
- Any film adaptation of the Battle Of Thermopylae, such as The 300 Spartans and 300.
King Leonidas: (from 300) "A new age has begun. An age of freedom! And all will know that three hundred Spartans gave their last breath to defend it!"
- The mission of the 13 Assassins to kill Lord Naritsugu definitely counts as this, with many of them seeing it as their last chance to die an honorable death in an age of peace.
- Faramir in The Lord of the Rings' third movie has a suicide mission to retake Osgiliath. In the Book it happens differently.
- Made even more suicidal by the decision to go about it by frontal assault in broad daylight and on horseback, so that you're sure and certain the enemy's archers won't miss you.
- Sunshine is arguably a suicide mission from the beginning and definitely is one once their Oxygen Garden is destroyed.
- In Cube 2: Hypercube, it's strongly implied that this was Kate's mission from the get go. She finds Alex Trusk and retrieves her data device, then escapes the hypercube against all odds. Her superior thanks her for her service and then has her shot to make sure she won't talk. Kate doesn't even protest her execution and simply closes her eyes when she hears the man behind her pull out his gun.
- The attempt to destroy The Guns of Navarone.
- There are quite a few of these in Lord of the Rings. Hope beyond possibility of success is one of Tolkien's major themes.
- Aragorn leads a hopeless march against the gates of Mordor, to draw the orc armies out of Frodo's way. Fortunately, Frodo destroys the Ring before all the good guys are slaughtered.
- Frodo believes his own mission is this, since he holds very little hope that he and Sam will make it to Orodruin and is certain that there won't be a return if they do.
- Tolkien likes this trope in general. In The Silmarillion, Thingol sends Beren on a suicide quest to get a Silmaril from Morogth's crown in exchange for his daughter's hand.
- In Scott Westerfeld's The Risen Empire, Captain Laurent Zai and his frigate is ordered to destroy a far larger (and more advanced) enemy battleship's receiver array, after his failure to commit ritual suicide after failing to rescue the Emperor's sister from a hostage situation. Naturally he fails again (I.E Fails to die and become a matyr, not the above mission). Gee, he just can't catch a break.
- The Hunger Games trilogy has a lot of this, in different variations.
- Practically in every Sven Hassel book. As a soldier fighting in a german disciplinary battalion during WW2, he and his comrades were routinely sent in the most dangerous missions
- Happens in the second book of the Stories Of Nypre series. A group of inexperienced mages are forced to swim to the layer of water in order to restore water magic to the world. The trip involves diving down into a trench beneath the ocean floor where the pressure is unbearable even with the strongest of enchantments.
- The Dead Men in Skulduggery Pleasant were a special unit during the war with Mavelont. They got the name from the fact that they went on many suicide missions but always came back alive. In fact only two of the eventual nine died on missions during the war.
- Going up against Lord Vile with anything less than a battalion was considered this and even then you prayed someone got in a lucky shot.
- The series finale of Angel involves the heroes killing the Circle of the Black Thorn, the Senior Partners' highest-ranking agents on Earth. Angel warns everyone that even if they succeed, the Partners will Make an Example of Them. Wesley dies and Gunn is left with minutes to live even if they didn't have a demon army bearing down on them. The story gets more complicated in the post-series comic.
- The Doctor Who serial Planet of the Daleks. When Jo points out the Thals can escape using the Dalek ship, the Thal she talks to is afraid that will make them hesitate when they are needed.
- Shows up rather unexpectedly in the finale of Power Rangers Turbo, where all magical and alien technology has been lost, all allies are captured or missing in action, and four of the five rangers go into space on a human space shuttle with the vague goal of "try to find the bad guys and fling ourselves at them in futility". Fortunately when they do randomly come across a member of the evil alliance in the first episode of Power Rangers in Space, there's also a convenient potential ally with four extra morphers to keep them from becoming instant corpses, but they hadn't been expecting that.
- In Stargate Atlantis, Sheppard has, implausibly, flown several suicide missions. Given the appropriate lampshading, of course, when McKay starts to point out the certain death potential of an upcoming mission:
SHEPPARD: Yeah. Well, it's not like it's the first time. How many suicide missions have I flown?
McKAY: I don't know. I lost count.
- 24 has had Jack Bauer embark on a few, none of which actually see him dead at the end (for obvious reasons). For a villainous example there's General Juma's invasion of the White House. He knew that neither he nor his troops would be getting out alive, and the simple goal was to humiliate and then execute the President of the United States in order to send a message everywhere before their death. Thanks to the efforts of (primarily, among others) Jack, Renee Walker, Aaron Pierce, and the Heroic Sacrifice of Bill Buchanan, said goal was ultimately prevented.
- Agents Of Shield has a suicide mission in one of its episodes. It's in 'The Hub', and the fact that this trope appears is actually a serious spoiler since the two agents, Ward and Fitz, sent on the mission weren't told there was no extraction plan for them during their briefing. Coulson was... upset to say the least.
- Part of the plot of Dark Assault is a suicide mission to destroy the interdimensional invaders threatening Earth. The Iron Savior pulls a Big Damn Heroes and saves everyone, though.
- This is par for the course for Troubleshooter missions in Paranoia. Given the use of clones, fatality rates over 500% are normal, and survivors are treated with suspicion by Friend Computer.
- Also a pretty common situation for Firewall Sentinels in Eclipse Phase. With slightly lower fatality rates. The introductory short story in the core rulebook starts and ends with the player characters' backups being re-sleeved.
- Warhammer 40,000's Commander Kubrik Chenkov of the Imperial Guard makes every mission for his troops a Suicide Mission, throwing his men to their deaths against hardened defenses (and shooting any who fail to comply) until the enemy's all dead as a matter of course. He has managed to get an actually good track record in specific manners of speaking with such a "strategy" by defeating the enemy quickly and/or with minimal advanced support.
- Battlefield: Bad Company centers around B Company, an army company where the most troublesome members of the Army are sent in the hopes that they get killed in their assigned suicide missions.
- Their inability to die gets them upgraded to Elite Mooks in the eyes of the army in the second game, though they're still also considered fuck-ups.
- The entire plot mission of Mass Effect 2 is revolving around assembling a Badass Crew in preparations for one of these. It's explicitly called "Suicide Mission" because no ship (except the bad guys) has ever returned after trying to use the Omega-4 Mass Relay. Unless you do a lot of things right, you'll lose a few friends. However, bringing everyone back alive is not actually too hard once you do know what to do. Now the Non Standard Game Over that shows how you lose all of your friends along with your life basically requires you to try very hard to get it.
- Mass Effect 3 is rife with suicide missions. The situation is just that desperate.
- One occurs at the end of Modern Warfare 2. With the rest of their squad dead, Soap and Price exact revenge against Gen. Shepherd by taking on the entirety of Shepherd's so-called "Shadow Company". As Soap put it best, "We've got one good UMP. They've got a thousand." And as a testament to their sheer force of will, they succeed and kill Shepherd, along with several hundred Shadow Company soldiers.
- In World of Warcraft, Thassarian, one of the Knights of the Ebon Blade, gets sent on a Suicide Mission because the Alliance is unwilling to accept him as a Death Knight. However, you later find out that Thassarian's superior had been brainwashed by a Scourge agent, so it may have been his doing rather than the general's own decision.
- Occurs throughout the Halo series, to the point where this is the only reason the Covenant rank of Arbiter even exists; at moments of extraordinary crisis, the Prophets will pick a disgraced Elite with a distinguished combat record to become the Arbiter, and send him on suicide missions of great importance so that he can regain his honor upon death (if he doesn't die, he just gets more difficult suicide missions). Unusually for this trope, the Arbiters are generally held in high regard by the rest of the Covenant.
- On the lower end of the Covenant military hierarchy, hordes of Grunts are often sent out to die for the sole purpose of making the enemy waste their ammunition.
- Humanity had its own suicide troops in the form of the SPARTAN-III super soldiers, war orphans who were expected to die by the time they turned 10-12 years old. Even those transferred to more elite units, like Headhunters and Noble Team, weren't expected to live too long.
- Prince LaCroix in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines keeps sending the Player Character on Suicide Missions to get rid of you without sparking a civil war with the Anarchs (who have been rooting for you). When the PC singularly fails to die, he recognizes an opportunity and uses you to further his own ends.
- In the City of Heroes backstory, the Rikti War ended with a suicide mission led by Hero 1 to cut off the Rikti homeworld from Earth. For a long time, only one survivor, Ajax, was known; Lady Grey's task force reveals that three more survived on the Rikti homeworld: sisters Infernia and Glacia, and Hero 1, turned into a Rikti named The Honoree.
- In the BETA-infested setting of Muv-Luv Alternative, the standard UN tactical doctrine for shutting down enemy bases (hives) involves dropping mechs onto the bases from orbit a la Starship Troopers, while ground forces distract and neutralize the enemy anti-air units. Once the orbital drop squads break into a hive's interior to destroy the hive controller, they are essentially cut off from reinforcements and supplies and outnumbered at least 100 to 1 by BETA. Takeru and his squad was given the mission of destroying the BETA Superior in the Original Hive at the end of Alternative, with predictable results.
- The six Warriors of Cosmos in Dissidia 012 Duodecim who didn't appear in the 13th cycle of the conflict (being Kain, Tifa, Laguna, Yuna, Vaan and Lightning) give themselves to cut off the source of Chaos' Manikins that had been overwhelming their side, so that the remaining ten would stand a fighting chance in the next cycle. Whether they actually died or were simply freed from the cycle of conflict isn't totally clear, but they all acknowledge that, in doing this, they wouldn't be part of the next cycle, for better or worse.
- In FreeSpace 2, the player can choose to partake in a recon mission in an unknown, Shivan controlled system with no backup or support and with impeccable timing being required just to get home alive. Your superior openly tells you that you'll be "flying suicide".
- At one point the player is transferred to a squad known as the "182nd Suicide Kings" due to their extremely high turnover rate (their emblem is a King of Hearts playing card with the King's sword through his head). This is because they have one of the most dangerous jobs a fighter pilot can have: thin out the AAA fire on capital ships so bombers can get through. This is a game where Point Defenseless is seriously averted.
- The entire Metal Gear series qualifies, as every game pits a single soldier against dozens of Mooks and a handful of world-class elite soldiers who serve as bosses. Metal Gear Solid 3 gets a special mention, as it contains an extremely literal Suicide Mission: The Boss's final order from her superiors is to die at the hands of Snake. She complies.
- Exterminatus Now is centered on two inquisitors and two mercenaries who are repeatedly sent on suicide missions.
- In Digger, the statue of Ganesh sends Digger and Ed underground to deal with an undead god. He doesn't expect either of them to survive the task.
- Due to the nature of time travel in Homestuck, anybody who goes back to change the past will die after their purpose has been fulfilled, and their timeline will cease to exist altogether. Aradia put this to good use with her temporal clones, using them as a psychic shield against the Black King's Vast Glub. And then they were all killed by Jack.
- One episode of Mighty Max involves Max recruiting a team of legendary heroes as they plan to enter Skullmaster's lair to destroy the Crystal of Souls. Each hero teaches Max something important to use on his journey. They succeed in destroying the Crystal, but the heroes stay behind in Hell to Hold the Line while Max is transported to safety.
- In Justice League Unlimited there is Task Force X. It is obviously the Suicide Squad from the comics and even has much of the same roster, they just weren't allowed to call it that.
- In "Young Justice" Season 1 episode "Failsafe," there's a lot of this. Aqualad does a suicidal I'll-stay-behind-while-you guys-go-first, Robin sends Superboy on one, and then he and Kid Flash go on a suicide mission to blow up the alien mothership. Accompanied by an "It Has Been an Honor" nod.
- When the Lenin Nuclear Power Station at Chernobyl exploded, many of the efforts to bring the situation under control or at least prevent it from getting worse were essentially on one of these. Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov in particular are notable for volunteering for a mission to drain water from below the reactor, preventing the water table from becoming irradiated, knowing full well it would kill them horribly.
- Similar to Chernobyl, a recent example would the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. A badly age-ing first-generation plant like that at Chernobyl, the safety features of which had been neglected due to a lack of funding, in 2011 it suffered a critical breakdown after the region was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami. The 'Fukushima 50', an anonymous group of maintenance and repair/support workers, stayed behind to fix it. Luckily Averted because They all lived.
- Happens from time to time in warfare:
- At the Battle of Cold Harbor during the Civil War, some Union soldiers wrote letters beforehand declaring "I died at Cold Harbor."
- These are usually "just in case" letters, though, and often written before major assignments which will in all probability have a good chance of dying on the field. Many other soldiers write letters like these even in relatively "safe" warfare situations, like patrolling assumedly secured areas, because soldiers know that death could happen at any time. It doesn't have to be a suicide mission to trigger that.
- Any number of battles during World War One were similar to Cold Harbor in this respect, with men going over the top with little or no expectation of survival. There's a reason that the field between two opposing trenches was called "No Man's Land".
- Special Operations units occasionally are used in this fashion. The St. Nazaire Raid is an excellent example with the British Commandos and Royal Navy losing 72% of their personnel either killed or captured. However, by destroying the drydock and repair facilities there they forestalled the Germans from using the battleship Tirpitz against allied merchant shippingnote .
- Little wonder that five (!) Victoria Crosses were won over the course of about 24 hours.
- As mentioned in the 300 example, the Battle of Thermopylae, which pitted 300 Spartans and their allies against the massive Persian Army to buy time for the rest of the Greeks to mobilize for war.
- In the final months of World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy developed - with the tacit approval of the rubber-stamp civilian government - separate programmes for 'Tokubetsu Kogeki'/'Special Attack' units. Today these units and their function are better known by the informal term "kamikaze" - after the 'Divine Wind' (a great typhoon) that sank the invasion fleet Kublai Khan forced the Mongol-controlled Yuan Empire of China to send against Shogunate Japan in the 13th century.
- Subverted in that 80% of the pilots were assigned to defend against Operation Downfall, so they lived because Japan surrendered before they could fly their missions.
- Che Guevara used to say to the future guerrilla warriors training in Cuba: "From now on, consider yourselves as dead men, and that the life you'll have from now on is lent".
- The Forlorn Hope during Napoleonic sieges. Breaching fortifications took weeks, so everyone on both sides knew where the attack would be made. The Hope was the first squad the attackers sent into the breach. Casualties were astronomical, and Hopes were usually made up of men who desperately craved advancement or atonement. (Men who survived the Hope could expect automatic promotion and a removal of any negative marks from their records.)
- Aphid colonies mostly consist of asexually-produced clone sisters which are easily replaced. The aphids on the edge of a cluster will sit there and allow predators to pick them off without resistance, essentially serving as living shields for their siblings at the center of the colony.
- The 1916 'Easter Rising' in Dublin of a thousand revolutionary militiamen against the government, at least in the eyes of its leader Patrick Pearse. While some who participated in the rebellion believed (rather naively) that it was possible to overthrow the government and establish an independent Ireland by force, Pearse was fully aware that the use of lethal force would cause the police - and the army - to respond in kind to re-establish order. For his part, he simply hoped that their deaths at the hands of the army would make them martyrs in the eyes of the people of Dublin (a "blood sacrifice", in his own words) and would inspire people to rise up and kill government officials and soldiers in the same way - thereby encouraging a cycle of revenge that would end in Irish independence, one way or another. 120 officials, police officers, and soldiers died as a consequence, as well as 80 rebels - the latter including Pearse and 15 others who were executed for treason and multiple counts of murder. 250 civilians were also killed in the fighting.
- Shtrafbat penal battalions (individuals ranging from small-time criminals to political enemies to regular soldiers who were suspected of cowardice/political dissent/etc.) units in World War II were ordered do these - from certain death in "trampler" service via clearing minefields by walking over them, to still-pretty-certain death by infantry duty as reconnaissance, assaults or just distractions against particularly resilient enemy defenses (in the latter service, likely while being very under-equipped).
- During the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese, in addition to the bomber planes, sent in some mini-submarines. Their mission was to do as much damage as they could, and if possible, get out afterwards. During the final communications between the sub-pilots and their commander, no mention was made of them not returning — that was a foregone conclusion.