In Bleach, Gin walks away from his fight with Hitsugaya after Rangiku persuades him to stand down. Hitsugaya initially wants to continue, but Gin tells him he should tend to the unconscious Momo first.
Naraku of InuYasha had an irritating habit of doing this. Every episode Naraku was directly involved in ended with him either running away after getting his ass handed to him or him doing something that made it impossible for him to be directly attacked. And every single incarnation he created would inevitably run like hell when things got sticky. Honestly, how many times can the Big Bad get savaged and still claim to be all powerful?
Thankfully inverted with the Band of Seven. Except for maybe once or twice, they all fight to the death. Inuyasha even tells the leader that he can leave, but he refuses because he wants to avenge his friends. Is it any wonder why a group of specters who got curb-stomped in only a handful of battles are seen as more bad-ass than the Big Bad of the entire story?
In the Mai-Hime manga, Nao leaves her fight with Mai and Yuuichi after Yuuichi knocks Nao's key away, preventing her from using her Child. Mai and Yuuichi demand an apology for remarks Nao made about the other.
Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch: Every time after the heroines perform their song, which end with a "Love Shower Pitch!" (and followed with "How about an encore?"), the villains (most of them) they just beat always teleport away afterwards.
In Naruto, Itachi Uchiha is a master of the Art of Run. Most likely explained by the revelation that he was a double agent who wanted to limit any damage done to the good guys.
Kabuto and Orochimaru seem to be impossibly good at escaping when at a disadvantage, especially when compared to the majority of other villains. A fair amount of the time, their opponents are also badly injured or out of chakra, though.
A rare villain-villain example: Gecko Moria in One Piece at the end of the Marineford arc was supposed to be killed as his performance simply wasn't impressive enough. However, Doflamingo reports that he used his abilities in a way he hadn't been seen to before in order to escape.
No one in Pokémon ever bother to chase Team Rocket after they "blast off again". This was addressed in one episode, an Officer Jenny blasted them off, disappointed that they got away but remarking that there were more powerful members of Team Rocket around that the police force should occupy their time with catching.
As of Black and White, instead of "blasting off", they simply escape, usually by jetpack, when they lose.
Pixy Misa in the Pretty Sammy series always leaves just before her Monster of the Week gets vaporized. One particularly weird exit was when she left on a huge cruise ship that randomly appeared in Pretty Space.
In Sailor Moon, after the Monster of the Week is deployed, the member of the Quirky Miniboss Squad who did it virtually always teleports, drives or runs away while the main characters are distracted by the monster. In some cases, they actually watch the battle without participating, and then escape after the monster is defeated. Of course, nobody bothers to stop or chase them; except once when the Outers try attacking Kaolinite. She summons up incredible power to beat them all...and then runs away anyways.
Averted in episode 3. After the monster is defeated, Jedite takes on Sailor Moon in combat and almost defeats her before Tuxedo Mask shows up.
In Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, this trope is subverted in "Get Berg Katze" where the episode begins where the stories typically end, with the destruction of the Galactor mecha of the week and Katze escaping in his personal craft. Afterward, Professor Nambu orders the team to actually pursue Katze for once, and the villain is shocked (Shocked!) to see the team do so. But he must have thought about it at some point, since he escaped his escape craft via smaller escape craft. Then things got really weird.
You mean the exploding bananas? Katse was king of this trope, what with the mooks blocking the heroes, the innocents needing to be rescued, the sliding doors, and the bombs.note Small personal and medium bombs, as well as the blow-up-the-base variety.
Quartz Christie runs away at the end of the Bodacious Space Pirates series after the Grand Cross was curbstomped due to mostly her overconfidence. To make matters worse, she promised Kato Marika that she would not "run and hide", but a minute later, heads to her escape craft and activates the self-destruct mechanism. She is later shown in her escape craft, pleased to save the battle strategy data that may have led to her easily being defeated, and that she destroyed the last Grand Cross ship to eliminate any evidence of her humiliation... but points out what a humiliating defeat it still was, though she still hopes to face Marika once again.
Subverted in Cable & Deadpool #49, after Deadpool and Ka-Zar thwart one of Brainchild's latest plans to take over the Savage Land he and his minions try to escape on pterodactyls. Ka-Zar laments that Brainchild has escaped even though he's really not that far away and he could go after him on foot as it's hard to loose a flying lizard with people on it. Deadpool, Genre Savvy as he is, simply shoots the pterodactyl Brainchild is riding sending it tumbling down into the waiting jaws of some very hungry T-rexes. Deadpool then tells Ka-Zar that he should really try using guns.
In the Marvel Universe, The Red Skull justifies this trope by preparing his escape routes with care with obstacles that justifiably discourage the heroes from pursuing him.
For instance, his first Silver Age appearance has him escaping through a hidden wall panel door. Bucky is all for smashing through it to begin the chase, but Captain America realizes that panel is a disguised steel door and by the time they get it open to the escape tunnel, the Skull would be long gone. As Cap says in the story "Whoever this Red Skull is, he's no amateur!"
In a modern version, Cap pursues the Skull in one of his buildings and loses him just long enough to find a veritable maze of multiple possible escape routes the Skull prepared for this situation and decides trying to guess correctly which one he took would be unlikely and a waste of time to try.
Subverted at the climax of Captain America: Reborn. Here, the Red Skull's consciousness is forced back into his robot body after being forced out of Rogers' by Rogers himself. Unplugging himself, the Red Skull tries to make a break for it hoping the big fight around would cover his tracks. Sharon Carter stops that in a brilliantly counter-intuitive way by using Dr. Hank Pym's size changing technology to make him a giant before he got away. Yes, that means that there now is a giant Red Skull trying to stomp the superheroes, but it also means that there is no way he can sneak away now and fighting with Colossus Climb tactics is old hat for Captain America and his friends, not to mention Sharon gets the Vision to access the Skull's ship's weapons systems to hit a now really big target.
Invoked but not carried out by Harley Quinn in volume 2 of "Hush". As she flees Batman she quotes Snagglepuss, "Heavens to Murgatroid, exit, stage left." but is caught before she can fully escape.
Invoked in Sonic the Hedgehog issue #8. After beating Robotnik's super hero themed robots, Sonic is about to beat him up but slips on some motor oil. Robotnik then escapes riding Crabmeat, after which, Sonic pulls out the Comics Code handbook and comments that the villain always gets away in the end.
In Daredevil #17, the Masked Marauder slips away from view long enough to beat up a security guard and steal his uniform, escaping capture to menace New York another day.
Parodied in The Simpsons Comic: Bart and Lisa have just survived a run-in with Sideshow Bob, Kang and Kodos. Bob sees a helicopter with a rope-ladder hanging from it and assumes his henchmen have prepared his escape. He gives the standard "We shall meet again" speech and flees - only to realise something:
Bob(halfway up the ladder): Wait a minute! Good Lord, I don't have any henchmen!
Wiggum(inside the copter): Looks like our new "hands-off" approach to fighting crime is working.
This trope is frequently subverted in The Legend of Spyro: A New Dawn. Commander Hades attempts this after his defeat, only to be cut off by Drake, who effortlessly curbstomps him. Empress Tyrania's The Dragon attempts this after the curse keeping the slaves from hurting him is broken and all his guards are demolished. Sparx slams his exit door in his face.
Kaworu in Shinji And Warhammer 40 K does this three times, each time soundly thrashed despite the horrific casualties of the heroes and each time completely unwilling to accept that he was defeated. That he got into the habit of this might be the reason the author decided to have Gendo demonstrate that he was Eviler than Thou.
Usually played straight by Jade and her minions, however.
The Immortal Game: When Esteem realizes that Twilight is too powerful for him to defeat, he flees. Twilight intercepts and kills him.
Discord sticks around just long enough to temporarily reduce Titan's power — giving the heroes a chance to prepare for the Final Battle — and then flees. Luna implies that he left the planet altogether.
In the Dark World arc of the Pony POV Series, Rancor ultimately walks away from the fight with the Elements of Harmony and returns to the Draconequi dimension after succeeding in stealing Destruction's power from Discord.
At the end The Joker is apparently so used to this trope through the years tangling with Batman that when Terry destroys his Kill Sat control and sends the ensuing Death from Above heading right towards the Joker's hideout, his only response is:
Joker:Oh, good, the beam's headed here. Now I'll have to start all over again. Thanks for wrecking everything, kid. See you around...
There's an earlier example when the Joker first confronts the elderly Bruce Wayne; when he leaves, he sets off explosives to put the civilians in danger, in order to stop Terry from pursuing him in his getaway hovercraft...knowing that Batman would have to save the civilians.
Films — Live-Action
In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Jade Fox is almost killed by Li Mu Bai, but escapes the legendary warrior - who is capable of Roofhopping to the point of flight - by jumping over a wall. And he just lets her get away.
Subverted in Smokin' Aces. The last living member of the redneck neo-Nazi assassins is accosted by the last living member of a group of bounty hunters that had run afoul of them earlier. At first, the Nazi walks away... and then the audience hears, "Fuck this" and the Nazi is brought down by repeated shots in the back.
Austin Powers does this a couple of times, with Dr. Evil flying off into space.
The rewritten version of Gandalf vs. Witch-King in The Lord of the Rings has major shades of this. In The Movie, the Witch-King actually has Gandalf at his mercy, then quickly exits when The Cavalry arrives.
In Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen, a super-powered Optimus Prime doesn't bother killing a damaged Megatron after giving The Fallen a gruesome death; in fact, right after The Fallen dies, Starscream comes to Megatron and suggests that they flee, attempting to justify the villains' side of this trope with his memorable quote.
Note that Prime's super-armor was provided by Jetfire, who complained about being low on energon, sacrificing his body for the parts. Prime discarded that armor pretty quickly right after the fight, in which the Fallen destroyed one of the turbines, so he must've burned through what little reserves were left.
Count Dooku in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones does this after the clone army attacks, fleeing to his personal space craft, and though Anakin and Obi-Wan (and then Yoda) pursue him they aren't that effective, leaving him alive for the next film.
Darth Vader does the same after the Death Star is destroyed.
Subverted in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.At first it looks like Destro and Cobra Commander are going to do this, but Duke refuses to let them escape and catches them.
Played straight in G.I. Joe: Retaliation: Cobra Commander escapes on a helicopter near the end of the movie.
In the earlier books in A Series of Unfortunate Events, Count Olaf would always get away, while Mr. Poe comically and ineffectively attempted to get the police to chase him. The first book, he literally walks off a stage after another villain turns off the lights for his escape.
This was even lampooned in an issue of MAD Magazine, in which Count Olaf goes into a showing of Return of the King and Mr. Poe says it's too much trouble to go after him.
Used in the Ender’s Game-universe novel Shadow of the Giant to create a moral dilemma: in order to save a hostage, Bean promises the villain he'll let him escape, and then has to decide whether to keep that promise, knowing that doing so will probably result in many deaths.
Parodied in Discworld novel The Last Hero. Cohen's band of heroes would always let Dark Lord Harry Dread escape, and he would always hire stupid minions and make easily-escaped dungeons. They all refer to it as The Code; either you live by the code, or you don't. If you're a villain this means being a Card-Carrying Villain, and if you're a hero you benefit from Plot Armour. If you don't live by The Code, then that means that those ineffectual villains can stop playing around, or that the heroes don't have to let the villain escape. It's not just tradition, it's a way of life. Which means either you live by the code or, you know. Not.
The Old Count from Carpe Jugulum benefits from a variant of this: he always makes sure that his castle is full of easily-improvised anti-vampire weapons, and the villagers who defeat him never actually scatter the ashes so he'll stay dead-dead.
Justified in Warrior Cats, where the Warrior Code makes it so that the winning cats have to let the defeated cats escape, to prevent unnecessary bloodshed.
Also played straight at the end of A Dangerous Path, where Tigerstar just runs away without putting up a fight.
In Star Trek: The Battle of Betazed, the Vorta overseer Luaran beams out in a climatic scene using a Dominion long-range transporter. She leaves her Cardassian colleagues behind to be captured, though.
At the end of the third Spaceforce book, the Big Bad Minty Mazata attacks Jay with her vampire fangs and escapes the planet in her ship before the alarm is raised.
Malevil forces this trope to zig-zag a bit when Malevil comes under siege. With Vilmain dead, his subordinate, Jean Feyrac, leads their men in an orderly retreat back to La Roque, Malevil's defenders watch them depart from the castle ramparts. Subverted when they mount their horses and ride along a hidden trail to cut off the survivors and set up an ambush. Double subverted when it's realized that Feyrac is alone, riding on a bicycle ahead of the soldiers, and Emmanuel must risk letting the leader go to avoid alerting the bulk of the army to the trap. Finally subverted again they remember Colin's bow allows for a silent kill and their enemies walk blindly into the ambush a few minutes later.
In Moon Over Soho the "Faceless One" decides that having a chimney stack thrown at him is more than enough, and takes advantage of the distraction afforded by a crashing helicopter to disappear in the confusion. He'll probably be back.
Septimus Heap: When Alther exposed DomDaniel as a necromancer and took the Amulet of Akhu in the backstory DomDaniel jumped from the top of the Wizard Tower and escaped into the Abyss.
Happens in the end of Sukhinov's Emerald City series in a most egregious way. After the Big Bad loses his army, he starts fighting the good guy's champion, then in the middle of a fight says "Oh, I don't think i can kill you!", and flies off into ''space'' The End!
In the Rainbow Magic series, Jack Frost escapes this way in Joy's book, leaving behind a taunting message for the heroes to find.
In the Venus Prime series, Big Bad Nemo pulls this twice - first after his cover as Editions is exposed by Blake (he escapes because Blake gets injected with a drug that causes him to rant uncontrollably, meaning that even if he'd gone to the police, nobody would have believed him), and later after Sparta slaughters most of the prophetae of the Free Spirit. He nearly escapes a third time in the last book, but instead gets erased from existence.
At the end of the Doctor Who serial "Terror of the Autons", UNIT do chase after the Master, but give up when they find his abandoned vehicle. The Doctor is completely unconcerned about the likelihood of the villain returning. "As a matter of fact, Jo, I'm rather looking forward to it." The Master would then perform this trope in almost every one of his appearances (except for those in which he "dies").
Lady Cassandra O'Brien in "The End of the World" attempts exit in a leftward direction via teleportation, only for The Doctor to teleport her back moments later - While she's bragging to her henchmen.
Similarly subverted in the Ninth Doctor episode "Boom Town" when Margaret Blaine repeatedly runs away from the Doctor, only to be forcibly teleported back by her own device.
And as far as the Daleks of the Cult of Skaro go: "EMERGENCY TEMPORAL SHIFT!"
Subverted in an episode of Firefly, when a one-shot villain mistakenly thinks he's going to get this treatment. Instead, he gets to know one of Serenity'sengines in a very personal and intimate manner.
Niska pulls one of these at the end of "War Stories", somehow managing to slip past an enraged Mal and the remainder of Serenity's crew while his henchman are busy dying.
YoSaffBridge tries to pull this twice, only for her to be swiftly found by Serenity's crew - twice - who let her go unharmed - twice.
Unharmed, maybe. But they call the cops on her the second time, so she doesn't actually escape.
Subverted in the V regular TV series, which begins right at the moment V: The Final Battle ended where Diana made her escape. Donovan immediately realizes that she's getting away, chases her and catches her right away.
Every episode of LazyTown. They don't even put Robbie Rotten in a Cardboard Prison. Or even have any police force (no wonder they need a superhero!) Granted, in a town with four adults and five kids as the total population, it doesn't seem like they could spare the manpower to guard him...
Quite a few Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes feature the heroes standing around and letting Spike get away. This didn't seem so bad after his Badass Decay but back when he was a legitimate threat it could really get on your nerves. Perhaps the most egregious is in the episode "Halloween", where Buffy is standing right next to him as he starts to run away in defeat and clearly could have easily killed him.
"Crush" was possibly the most egregious; Spike declared his love for Buffy, was rebuffed, attempted to have Drusilla kill her, failed, and Buffy's response is to close the front door in his face. Not, say, kill somebody who'd just proved himself willing and able to kill people again. "The shark,she is jumped.", some might say.
The instances of Harmony getting away are rather irrational, considering that they always beat her so easily. She does still drink people's blood!
They can't take her seriously. When Buffy learned she had assembled a gang, she laughed. Earlier, Xander even confronted said gang by standing on the door of Buffy's home and telling them off due their inability to enter uninvited, and when Dawn accidentally invited her in Xander was able to kick her out. Xander, a normal human who had no cross at the moment, KICKED OUT THE VAMPIRIC HARMONY. How could they take her seriously?
Also done humorously with the vampire Lyle Gorch in Bad Eggs, who keeps saying "This ain't over!".. until he sees Buffy hack a giant underground tentacle-monster to death with a pickaxe.
"Alright, it's over." (Flees.)
Quite often, the characters in The A-Team are content at shooting at their enemies' feet until they run away, only forcing the surrender of the main boss. The opposite is also noted with the army.
Eagleclaw in The Aquabats! Super Show! tries to fly off after The Dude wrecks his guitar, but ends up landing not far from where he took off, still in the camera's sight. He awkwardly runs off as the Aquabats regroup.
In one of the six endings (the canon one) of the hundredth episode of Red vs. Blue, Red Team lets Blue Team go without trying to kill them, because they've had enough for one day.
The final mode of Junk Yard, "Outer Space", always ends with Crazy Bob escaping once you're out of firecrackers to throw at him.
Employed as a game mechanic in the role-playing game Mutants & Masterminds where players are rewarded for the villain escaping by fiat with "hero points" that allow them to increase their chances of success in later encounters.
In Dungeons & Dragons, it's traditional for the Big Bad wizard to have at least one teleportation spell prepared for when he drops under a certain number of hit points or his plan is spoiled. In 3rd Edition, it's usually Dimension Door, but that only gives a head start of a few hundred feet to whatever serves as an escape pod. However, a magic item, the Corrupted Unicorn Horn, takes this a step further and returns the possessor to wherever the horn was obtained. Ever since this item was published, more and more villains have been getting away easier...
Other core spells that provide similar functions include Plane Shift, Word of Recall, and, at really low levels, Invisibility (which even comes in potion form for non-spellcasting cowards).
Appears in Warhammer 40,000 with the Necrons. If their army is reduced to 25%, they teleport away. Problem with that in gameplay is, it means the Necron player loses automatically even if they might be winning.
As of 2011 this rule has been removed entirely, although none of it's appearences in the "fluff" have been retcon'd out.
Also, Cypher. If he's ever "killed", the Chaos gods just teleport him outta there.
In superhero RPG Truth & Justice, villains get a pool of Villain Points they can spend to do things like turn out to actually be a robot double, or have a secret exit immediately to hand that closes and locks itself behind them. Game Masters were in fact encouraged to do this to make a villain into a recurring character instead of a one-off thing, with several encounters and last-minute escapes culminating in the villain (finally out of Villain Points) getting captured and locked up. Only to spend the time in prison regenerating their Villain Points through devious scheming...
When Voldemort and Bellatrix are faced with the sheer power and brute force of the dragon that the main trio are riding on in Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, they are quite quick to turn into black smoke and flee.
Nicely subverted in The King of Fighters XI. Magaki opens a portal to escape, the entire time talking about how The Battle Didn't Count. The player's characters, meanwhile, openly mock him for abandoning the fight. Just as Magaki is about to enter the portal, however, Shion, The Dragon whom was previously thrown into it, hurls a spear through Magaki's chest from inside the portal and kills him.
A notable attempt at aversion is seen in Final Fantasy VI, where Sabin (and maybe Shadow) confront Kefka in the Imperial Base outside of Doma. Kefka repeatedly employs a Villain Exit Stage Left after being hit, but Sabin does try to chase him down. The only reason Kefka gets away is because of conveniently placed enemies.
Kefka employs this trope an awful lot in the early parts of the game, while he's still being portrayed as a minor comic-relief villain. Pretty much everything goes to hell when Kefka stops running.
A couple times he also jokes as he runs. They yell at him to wait and he responds "Wait he says. What do I look like a waiter?"
In Final Fantasy VII, Rude's defeat animation consists of him looking at his watch and walking away, with the heroes making no effort to pursue. But then again, said animation is too badass to interrupt.
Seifer in Final Fantasy VIII does this every time you fight him. One gets the impression that Squall really just doesn't want to kill him.
However, unlike Reno, you do knock him out once.
Deliciously averted in Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Near the end of the game's first half, Rasputin has shown his true colors and launched a full-scale attack on Petrograd. The party catches up to him on the roof of the Winter Palace, but he jumps off and begins to fly away on his giant evil blimp. At this point, anyone who has seen this trope in action before is expecting the standard "Well shucks. You live to fight another day, villain. If only there was a group of meteor-slinging wizards and near-superheroes who could pursue you" reaction. Instead, Yuri has the entirely sensible recollection that he's an incredibly powerful shapeshifter, transforms into Amon, and beats down both Rasputin and the zeppelin itself with his bare hands.
In Return to Castle Wolfenstein and its sequel, Wolfenstein, the Nazi Mad Scientist Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse always gets away. So far it's happened four times: first with an U-Boat from Kugelstadt, then with a rocketplane from occupied Norway, then from the top of his personal castle after a Giant Space Flea from Nowhere destroyed his extradimensional battery, and lastly from a parallel dimension, through an ancient portal that led to an exploding Zepellin. The producers don't seem to want to kill him off since, as far as Those Wacky Nazis go, he's actually a rather competent villain. He even gets promoted to General between the two games. However, in The New Order, this trope is averted and Deathshead is finally Killed Off for Real at the end of the game.
This happens several times in Odin Sphere. Most notably when Cornelius allows the obviously insane and world-destruction-seeking Big Bad King Valentine to stumble away after besting him, TWICE. Not only that, Belial manages to survive FOUR boss fights before finally being killed, and that was only because he asked to be killed. And if that weren't enough, four characters didn't the foresight to kill Leviathan before he grows to full power, though Gwendolyn has the defense of Oswald's safety being more important to her at the time. Remarkably this IS subverted at one point though when Oswald decides to kill Skuldi rather than let him live. A good thing too, because the latter was about to attack him again. This is also partially subverted at another point when Cornelius seems to really consider killing Ingway before the latter asks him if he could deal with the guilt of killing his lover's brother.
In Mega Man Powered Up, Dr. Wily escapes if you beat him on Easy. Beating the game on harder difficulties causes Wily to go to his usual routine of begging Mega Man to leave him alone, claiming to have learned his lesson.
Subverted in the comic during the first game adaption. It looks like Wily is about to get away, but Mega Man proves too quick.
Present in most Sonic the Hedgehog titles, especially when Dr. Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik is the main (and only) boss. Every time you defeat him, he'd come back again in a bigger and sometimes-more-dangerous mecha to menace Sonic again and again.
As are Captain Whisker and his crew, the robot pirates (from Sonic Rush Adventure. As the cut scenes are just character art and text on a background, they didn't have to explain how this was possible, and so the phrase "he got away again!" and variants thereof were used many, many times. This is also repeatedly Lampshaded:
Sonic: Argh! He ran off again!
Blaze: Those guys just will not sit still!
The Poacher from Jade Cocoon, who's only role in the story is to provide a mini-boss battle when it would be a good time for a mini-boss battle. Levant lets the guy run away each time he beats him and makes no attempt whatsoever to stop him. Admittedly, it leads to a damned hilarious line after defeating the poacher for the third time:
Poacher (on the brink of tears): I can't believe I just lost to a little kid. I guess I'm over the hill. Maybe I should just retire... See ya around, kid.
Pokémon villains, upon defeat, will always get away from the hero, who at the end of the game might even have a fire breathing dragon. We don't know how they do it, because the game conveniently turns the lights out.
At the end of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky, Big BadDarkrai attempts to escape through a portal, but Palkia shows up just in time and destroys said portal with Darkrai still inside it!
Averted with Ghetsis in Black2/White2, in which he simply goes insane and unable to function as a person.
Lord Yuna of Breath of Fire IV constantly does this. Whenever someone confronts him over his monstrous deeds, he quickly teleports away like a coward. Unfortunately, it seemed to work quite well for him.
Gorgutz 'Ead 'Unter in Dawn of War does this in both Dark Crusade and Soulstorm, and implied to have done this after Winter Assault (given he managed to escape Lorn V). Both Tau commanders also do this after their Ethereal is killed.
Lampshaded in World Destruction. Immediately after killing someone, members of the World Salvation Front catch your party. Agan exclaims "Exit, Stage Left!" and your party proceeds to run off through the same door your opponents have just used to enter while they watch you leave.
Tales of Symphonia makes an art of this. You fight and several antagonists several times, but they always get away. Sometimes as easily as just getting up and walking away, and none of the heroes feel like chasing after them. That is, until the end when they all either die or join you.
In Alpha Protocol, Conrad Marburg attempts this at the end of the Rome mission and Sergei Surkov attempts this at the end of Moscow. Depending on your choices and how you've interacted with them up to that point, they may or may not get away. Marburg, if he escapes, can later be convinced to say Screw This, I'm Outta Here! and wash his hands off the whole affair.
Bowser Jr. at the end of every world in New Super Mario Bros. Wii will jump onto the airship as Mario runs up to him, stays a good four or five feet away, and just stands there watching as he flies off with the princess.
Except for two worlds, where the airship actually left without him. This results in him running after it and Mario finally chasing him to it. An airship level ensues. You fight him at the end, although he just jettisons you each time you beat him. Stupid Kamek.
In the final world (save the secret one) there isn't any chase scene, you just run up to the airship, infiltrate it, and engage him in his really final boss fight. I mean it this time.
Also used repeatedly in the Paper Mario series; at one point, to escape, minor baddie Mimi simply floats up and apparently passes through a wall, perhaps by flipping to 3-D.
In BioShock 2, It is revealed that the Big Sister was planned to be this. Just being one Big Sister that would always flee after being defeated. However the creators believed that most players would get annoyed at the idea of the Big Sister always fleeing, so they made multiple Big Sisters.
Happens with Sekto in Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, who swims off in the now-un-dammed river. It's somewhat justified however, as 1). Stranger wasn't aware of Sekto's 'true form', and 2). he and the Grubbs were generally rather distracted by The Reveal of Sekto's abandoned host body: the previous guardian Steef.
Giygas in MOTHER 1, after your party sings the eight melodies to him. Pokey in EarthBound, after you vanquish Giygas outright. The latter is what ultimately leads him to the time in which Mother 3 takes place.
The enemy commander in Advance Wars do this after every battle, even if you win by capturing their HQ or (In the case of days of Ruin) destroy the unit that the commander himself is traveling with. It's at least parodied with Lash, who even leaves a dummy of herself behind to distract Sami and Nell while she flees.
During the second-to-last scenario of the Earth Route in Shin Super Robot Wars, The Daikyuu Maryuu team beats up Lu Cain and the Demon Death squadron to the point where Lu Cain and the Demon Death squadron are forced to retreat to the mothership. To find out what happened to those guys, You have to play through the Space Route and fight them in the last scenario in that Route.
By the time the final stage of RefleX rolls around, with all but one of the Raiwat's ZODIAC units destroyed, the Raiwat army is retreating, leaving ZODIAC Libra, ZODIAC Ophiuchus, and a pair of KAMUI units to duel amongst themselves.
In Time Crisis, should you take too long to defeat Kantaris in the Special Mode, she will do this. However, she also does this in the spinoff Project Titan after you rescue the VSSE agent Abacus.
After the failure of his plan in Something Else, The Evil Guy says that he's going home and frees the Village Elder.
In Girl Genius, when Tarvek beats the crap out of Zola, and is about kill her, when Gil suddenly stops him, which allows her to fly away. It matters little that she was unconscious by that time, and the reason she could escape is that her flying coat was already activated, and it was Tarvek's weight that were pulling her down.
Lampshaded and subverted in this earlier comic. A minor villain attempts to exit stage left, only to be ganked by the resident Heroic Comedic Sociopath, who is then chided by his Genre Savvy teammates for killing off a recurring villain.
Played straight here, at the end of the Dungeon of Dorukan arc. The heroes, after defeating Xykon thanks to a Deus ex Machina, completely ignore his henchman, Redcloak, allowing the latter to escape with the lich's Soul Jar.
Lampshaded again in this strip, when Nale uses a conveniently timed distraction to make an exit, only to return moments later with the evil cavalry.
Played tragically straight here, where Miko's ill-timed intervention allows the nearly defeated villains to make a last second escape.
Averted in El Goonish Shive with Damien as he self destructs. However, according to the "PB Special Features" strips, in the first versions of the script of the ''Painted Black" arc, Damien would always get away, go into hiding and later return to cause more trouble.
Perhaps the most frequent use of this trope was in the cartoon segments of the The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. After Bowser's latest plot is foiled, he would often have an exit (usually a "warp zone potion") that would allow him to duck out just before the heroes can fully defeat him. Except for one episode, this was done every time without fail.
Spoofed by The Simpsons episode about spinoffs, where Chief Wiggum and Principal Skinner fight criminals. Said criminal jumps into the water, and Skinner comments on how he's very slowly getting away (he's a Fat Bastard type who can barely swim), and they could probably catch him. Wiggum replies that he's certain they'll face him again, each and every week.
Super Friends does this ALL THE TIME. Just about every episode ends with the Legion of Doom defeated and with no way out, but the Super Friends pretty much let them get away. At one point, the Legion of Doom can only resort to TURNING INVISIBLE. And the Super Friends just. Stand. There.
Although subverted with a one-shot Arabaian-Nights themed villain who gives the classic "he who fights and runs away" line while seated in his escape vehicle, only to be promptly lassoed by Wonder Woman and taken into custody.
Dr. Drakken of Kim Possible often gets away at the end of the episode (in a hovercar or other escape vehicle he and Shego conveniently had waiting). Sometimes he does go to jail, but he never seems to stay there long. It was also subverted once when he tried to get away with a jetpack, but forgot he was inside and collided into the ceiling.
Although at the beginning of the fourth season, while Kim would be fighting some other villain, an episode would sometimes end with Drakken, showing how he was coping in prison with his ridiculously annoying cellmate/Fan Boy Frugal Lucre. Further twisting the knife, at least twice someone broke out Shego, leaving Drakken behind to rot.
Spoofed in the South Park episode, "Super Best Friends", where the villain escapes via a Cobra Commander-like escape pod. The heroes just stand around and curse watching him get away.
Done by Batman to the Legion of Doom at the end of Justice League Unlimited. For helping save the world from Darkseid's invasion, he gave them "A five minute head start." As the last episode of the series, it was more than enough time.
Repeatedly (and suspiciously) used in the TV series G.I. Joe. After defeating the doomsday device of the week, G.I. Joe will often round up lower echelon Cobra troopers to presumably face prison, but the upper echelon villains such as Cobra Commander, Destro and Zartan will always escape. Sometimes, this is due to most of them being slippery masters of disguise, but on a couple of occasions the Joes will literally watch them run or drive away, which is particularly odd when you consider that the Joes usually still have plenty of working vehicles at the end of a mission. Job security, maybe?
And it's not like Cobra Commander usually makes much attempt to conceal his intention to run away, what with his habit of loudly shouting "COOOOOOBRA! RETREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAT!" in full earshot of the Joes.
In the X-Men episode "Phalanx Covenant", Mr. Sinister beats a hasty exit at the end of all the shenanigans. The worst part is he's less than a block away, and just running down an alleyway, and all is said is a nonchalant "Sinister's getting away!" He's right there. Catch him!
One of the most notable examples from Western Animation is Inspector Gadget's arch-nemesis Dr Claw, who'd flee in his Flying Car of evil with his parting Catch Phrase "I'll get you next time, Gadget... next time!"
In the second season, recurring MAD agents would appear for three episodes, escaping without being arrested in each episode. No one really seemed to care that the MAD agents were still loose and could strike again at anytime. Penny in particular suffered character decay, as she didn't seem to be bothered in the slightest about the escape of agents who had been trying to kill her uncle, and who would return to do so again.
Asajj Ventress and General Grievous in Star Wars: The Clone Wars are absolute masters of this, and never miss an opportunity to perform it. In the very first episode, when Yoda quite neatly disassembles all Ventress' attacks with his superior Force abilities, she resorts to causing an overhead mountain to explode, so while Yoda catches the boulders with his telekinesis she runs away faster than the Road Runner to a nearby escape pod.
Shredder did this every week on the 80's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. No matter where he happened to be at the time, as soon as his plan went sour a great big drill-car thing would burrow up from the ground, he'd hop in and head back underground to the Technodrome, and at no point did it occur to the turtles to simply go down the hole after him. Mind you, the holes did have a tendency to fill up with lava and cool into rock pretty quickly seeing as the Big Bad's HQ was at the center of the Earth. In fact, the turtles once attempted to pursue Shred-Head's escape through the driller in one episode... and were quickly rewarded by literally getting the Hot Foot within moments.
Lampshaded in one episode where a guest character shouts "Shredder is getting away!" and Raphael wearily responds "Yeah, you get used to that."
Averted by Shredder in The 2K3 series, but played straight by Agent Bishop.
The Avatar: The Last Airbender episode The Chase had a three-way fight between Aang, Zuko, and Azula that was joined by the rest of the main cast, minus Mai and Ty Lee. Everyone corners Azula, until she shoots Iroh, the rest of them attack her, she causes an explosion, and presumably runs off somewhere. In the Who Would Want to Watch Us? episode, we have:
Actress!Azula: (pointing offscreen)What's that? I think it's your honor.
(everyone turns around. Actress!Azula opens a door and walks offstage.)
Strangely enough, it was the one-shot Birdman villains who escaped capture on a semi-regular basis, sometimes by endangering others, sometimes... just by leaving the scene really fast and letting Birdman hover there declaring to Avenger that they would meet again. In the end, only one escapee villain (Vulturo) was actually defeated and arrested in a second encounter.
This made it all the more satisfying in "The Incredible Magnatroid" when Birdman decides there's enough time left in the episode to actually prevent Metallo from escaping in a helicopter with the following immortal line:
Birdman: Look, Avenger! Our culprit's trying to escape! Well, he won't get far without propellers!
Happened often in Transformers: Beast Wars. In many given episodes, the Maximals would manage to often push the Predacon forces back, but would rarely follow through with a full scale attack against them, often because they themselves had sustained heavy damage as well and as such would allow Megatron and his forces to flee back to their base. This is somewhat justified insofar that Maximals are supposed to be peaceful as a rule, and Optimus as a rule wants to protect his crew and return to Cybertron rather than engage in all out warfare.
HenryMasterson and his Headmaster Unit in Transformers: Animated. His first appearance he manages to escape while the Autobots are busy trying to reset a solar fusion reactor. Second time is nearly subverted, but Porter C. Powell arrives on scene at the last moment to play it straight. Finally subverted without interference when he's trying to brawl Optimus with Starscream's abandoned body.
Happens in every series in Transformers. Typically the reason for the Decepticons getting away in the old series was that they could fly and the Autobots couldn't, even though they could in the pilot episode. A spin on it was done in Transformers Armada, where the Decepticons got away by teleporting; the episodes that revolved around getting a Minicon always had them teleporting away, regardless of whether they got it or not. This led some to some moments where they would leave even if they had the overall advantage. Although this wasn't the only Transformers series that did it, it did it the most frequently.
In an episode of Jimmy Neutron, Villain of the Week The Junkman has been tied to a chair on his own ship. He tricks Jimmy into freeing him, then heads over to an escape pod, and escapes, while everyone just stands there.
In The Magician, while Ace Cooper would always be able to capture the minor, one shoot villains in each episode, the major baddies such as Black Jack, Sonny Boy and Faceless would always escape. In Black Jack's case, it's not that he ran away, but is that his lawyer Clockwise would always be able to twist the facts around so Black Jack wouldn't be arrested.
Slade does this in the first season finale of Teen Titans, after his mask gets knocked off and he's decided he's had enough. He does, however, trigger his lair's self-destruct so that the Titans won't be able to follow him. The season four finale has a variation, as Slade is actually not really a villain at that point and gets flung away by Trigon from the final battle, not to be seen again. Later on, though, Robin expresses his belief that Slade survived and returned to his villainous ways.
In one particular episode of Bravestarr, the hero literally threw the villain away. He threw him about a mile, into a swamp. What makes it particularly egregious was that this was an anvilicious episode about vigilantism. Right after throwing the villain away, Bravestar turns to the strawman vigilante (who has been hunting Villain all episode) and says something like "See, justice prevails!". The really, really sad part is, the vigilante agrees, and promises to mend his wicked ways.
An episode of Batman: The Animated Series that has Batgirl and Catwoman join forces to find who stole a cat-shaped artifact from a museum ends with Catwoman trying to swipe the item for herself, but then being persuaded by Batgirl to turn herself in. However, as the police cart her off, Catwoman somehow forces them out of the squadcar and drives away herself. Robin tries to give chase, but Batgirl grabs him by the cape, reasoning that they'd encounter her again sometime.
Legend Of Korra: Defied by Asami, The Equalist Evil Genius Hiroshi fights her in a mechsuit, and ends up beaten and disarmed. After a few family arguments, Asami stays her hand he uses this distraction, to shoot up a grappling hook, making her dodge it and lose pace. After that he exits the suit and gets away... so she just shoots an electrified bolo at him and takes him down.
Played straight with Varrick in the finale of Book 2 when he and Zhu Li escape from prison during the Big Bad's attack on Republic City.
Futurama: Almost literally in the Episode 'The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings'. In the end the Robot Devil throws a smoke bomb and vanishes (but not really: in the shot of the baffeled audience we see the Robot Devil escaping in the background. On the stage right side.)