We're all used to heroes winning out over the bad guys
. The bad guys get theirs, justice is done, and the heroes walk away happy. Sometimes things are a little more bittersweet
, but we at least expect the villain to lose in the end. One can even get away with a Downer Ending
where it ends badly for the heroes, but many of these kinds of endings are "nobody wins" affairs where everybody pays the price (fatally
or not). Even if the villain wins in these kinds of endings, it's usually at great enough personal cost to the villain that he or she is utterly ruined as a result
Not so with this ultimate of Downer Endings
. The Bad Guy Wins is Exactly What It Says on the Tin
: complete and ultimate triumph for the villain, and complete and utter devastation (frequently with death
) for the hero or heroes who dared to oppose them. A bad guy who wins is a Karma Houdini
by definition, and such endings can frequently be depressing as all get out
— even more so than your regular Downer Ending
. When this trope is parodied, it is the happy ending stuck on for the villain instead which is despairingly from the hero's perspective.
History has plenty of examples of this trope, especially in stories of failed rebellions against a powerful empire or recountings of real life tragedies. But in Fictionland, when this kind of ending shows up, it's often used either as a hook for a sequel
that will give the hero (or a new hero) the chance to succeed where they failed in the first one, or as a way of showing how much of an utter, hopeless Crapsack World
that the characters live in — particularly in the case of Dystopias
, where it serves as a warning to those living in the here and now not to let this kind of thing happen for real. There can be any number of other reasons for the bad guy winning: simply for the sake of a twist ending (especially in horror stories, which are often most effective if they leave the audience with a hugely emotionally negative final shock); out of the writer's desire to be original or to throw in a new twist to keep things fresh or unpredictable; or just because the writer couldn't find any other way to end the story which suited them. Sometimes it may all just be part of a Black Comedy
Doomed by Canon
often requires this trope. If the Big Bad
involves the Big Bad attaining all kinds of success to get him or her into the position that started the story
, the Prequel
requires him or her to win — and kill off any major characters
, no matter how sympathetic, who do not make it to the sequel. More generally, Villain Protagonists
will benefit from this trope, particularly in video games where the player takes on the role of a bad guy.
Some stories may attempt to use this trope, yet still try to soften the blow. Perhaps the villain's goal is ultimately a good thing
. Or the heroes are really Not So Different
after all (especially true if they're Villain Protagonist
characters up against a 'good' antagonist). Another variant is for the villain to create a Villain World
that the heroes must topple in a future story.
In cases when the hero was particularly well-liked or the villain particularly hated, the audience may call for a sequel in which the villain gets a proper comeuppance. Or lacking that, they may decide to write their own
The sixth form of You Are Too Late
is one technique to bring this about. Another technique to invoke this is to form a Xanatos Gambit
: the villain wins something
regardless of whether the heroes foil their Evil Plan
or not. A Last Stand
commonly features them.
Doing this too often or having this happen almost inevitably will result in Invincible Villain
See also: Downer Ending
, Karma Houdini
, Industrialized Evil
, and Shoot the Shaggy Dog
often end this way. Compare Team Rocket Wins
. Contrast The Good Guys Always Win
. Can overlap with Godwin's Law of Time Travel
. May be considered a form of You Can't Thwart Stage One
if it happens in a serial work. Also compare Meaningless Villain Victory
, in which The Bad Guy Wins, but the victory is rendered hollow or meaningless or actually becomes a defeat due to some technicality or unforeseen chance.
Compare Pyrrhic Villainy
when the villain's victory came at a great cost.
Also, since this is an Ending Trope
, there are massive spoilers
on this page.