In a dramatic moment, some Big Damn Heroes
burst into someone's hideout to foil his plan but find that they're too late. This can go several ways:
If the final stage of the plan involves a Time Bomb
, then it is an example of this trope only if the heroes arrive too late to prevent it from going off. If the heroes defuse the bomb or divert the missiles midflight, then they're Just in Time
. This is not to be confused with Unrequited Love Switcheroo
Compare Remembered Too Late
Spoiler Warning: Due to the nature of this trope, all examples are a spoiler risk.
The hero may still interfere with the villain's plan, but at a high price:
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- The Dark Knight: Batman arrives in time to rescue Harvey Dent, but the Gotham Police are too late to save Rachel Dawes. The trope is invoked a second time when Gotham's citizens refuse to participate in the Joker's plan, but the Joker points out Batman still cannot redeem the corrupted Harvey Dent.
- Which was part of the plan, really. Joker was counting on Batman being just fast enough, and the police not being fast enough. That's why he switched the locations. Batman thought he was saving Rachel. Joker KNEW he'd choose Rachel, he's already jumped off of a skyscraper to save her.
- Notably, one of the major themes of Batman Begins is recognizing when it isn't too late to make a difference or turn things around, whatever naysayers may say.
- The Dark Knight Rises: And the nuclear power plant turned into a bomb couldn't be placed in the containment field on time because Talia set the containment field to self-destruct by drowning the electronic parts about five minutes before it went off. Either way, by that time it was near-impossible to get the bomb to the containment field on time.
- Equilibrium: After finding out the time of incineration for Mary, Preston finds himself leaping to her rescue after discovering he was present at his wife's execution when he requests video footage of her. Suffice to say, despite running as fast as he can, the camera switches to his approaching figure as the door to the incinerator has literally just closed, immediately told they can't open the doors without causing an explosion over ground. The helpless look on his face when he realises this is something he can't prevent and the fact it's someone whom he knows and loves just sells the distressing scene.
- Team America: World Police: Seemingly invokes but also parodies this trope: Before the Big Bad sets off his doomsday device, he says "You see? No knight came riding in on a white starrion[sic] to save the day. Your world is now over... in five minutes."
- In the second season of 24, the good guys discover the bomb, but it's already armed and can't be stopped. They decide the best course of action is for someone to fly it into the desert, where its effects will be minimized. Jack Bauer volunteers to do so, but George Mason, who's already dying of radiation poisoning, sneaks aboard the plane with a parachute and convinces him to bail out before it's too late.
- Again in season 8: Jack and co. arrive at the apartment where Hassan's execution is being broadcast from, only to discover that the broadcast was time-delayed and that the execution already took place.
- In a different case, well after the main villains had been taken care of, the season 1 finale infamously showed viewers that Jack was too late in saving his wife from Nina.
- Season 3 had them stop a toxic virus from being released, but at the cost of Chase's hand. He had secured the virus to his wrist to keep it out of the clutches of the villain, so Jack had to cut his hand off to get the virus to an airtight container.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Scooby gang were too late to stop Glory from opening the portal. Buffy isn't willing to let Dawn die to close the portal, so she makes a Heroic Sacrifice.
- "Becoming Part 2": Buffy had to kill Angel (who had just gotten his soul back) to close the portal Angelus opened.
- Not sure which of these it fits, it seems mixed, but "The Green Candle" from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Rita makes a candle made from the magic wax Tommy was covered with when she turned him into the Green Ranger. If it burns out while in her hands not only will it strip Tommy of his powers, they will bolster her own magical strength. At the end of the two-parter Jason is too late to stop the candle from burning out while in Rita's possession. They're able to stop the drained power from being added to Rita's own by giving Tommy's coin to Jason (granting Jason the Dragon Shield), but the fact remains that they're down a man, meaning their fight has gotten that much harder.
- In Torchwood: Children of Earth, the world governments have finished rounding up 10% of the world's children and are preparing them to be sent to the 456 when Jack discovers he can use the transmission sent by the 456 to defeat them and save the children, but only at the cost of a child's life. The only child available? Jack's grandson. Worse yet, his mother can do nothing but watch. This leads to Jack suffering a Heroic BSOD.
- In Lexx, the Gigashadow mocks Kai for being too late to stop its rebirth, fueled by the sacrifice of the entire population of the League of 20,000 Planets. Kai takes that as a challenge and goes inside the Gigashadow with the baby Cluster Lizard Squish as his tracker in a bid to attack the Gigashadow's brain. The Gigashadow ejects Kai from its body as it awakens, and Kai throws Squish back inside it ordering him to find the brain. The Gigashadow is too distracted by the crew of the Lexx to notice Squish until Squish starts eating its brain. The Gigashadow collides with the Fractal Core in its death throes, leading to its and Squish's demise.
- In Halo's fifth level, Cortana sends the player to stop an outbreak of the Flood, "before it's too late!". Turns out it is, and the only way to stop them from spreading out into the galaxy is to destroy the titular fortress world along with any human survivors still on it.
- In the level "The Covenant", Johnson is captured to be used to activate the array. Master Chief is a bit too far away, so Miranda goes in after him. They almost sacrifice themselves, but Truth kills Keyes before she can carry it out, then activates the rings. MC and the Arbiter, with the Enemy Mine help of the Flood, arrive Just in Time to deactivate them.
- In Halo 4, Chief and Cortana have to drop several layers of shields surrounding the Didact and attack him with a nuke, before he turns the Composer on earth, converting its citizens into enslaved AI soldiers. You succeed in dropping the shields... but the Didact simply says "And yet, still you fail", before firing the device. The epilogue shows that an entire city was harvested.
- The Main Quest of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion revolves around recovering the Amulet of Kings so the last of the Septim line, Martin, can relight the Dragonfires to maintain the barrier keeping the daedra from invading Tamriel. Unfortunately, nearly every step in this involves you arriving too late.
- In Modern Warfare 2, you hear your commanding officer yell at you over the radio that General Shepherd has set you up; and should not be trusted. You get the memo shortly after Shepherd shoots you and your team mate, Ghost, in the chest, and has his goons soak your bodies in kerosene and set you on fire. Thankfully, Soap and Price decide to take him out for good.
- Still, at the end of the game Soap and Price are wanted as traitors with no real way to clear their names, the Americans have repelled the Russian invasion but at the cost of many civilian deaths and the eastern seaboard heavily damaged by an EMP, Makarov escaped, and World War III is just getting underway.
- Final Fantasy Tactics - Not only does Ramza never show up in time to make any difference (except punch out some demons), he is played for a Unwitting Pawn for most of the game. (Okay, so he's eventually Vindicated by History, but that's centuries down the road.)
- Guess again. At Fort Besselat, he floods the battlefield, essentially stopping the Lion War as it reached its peak. He also would have probably succeeded in rescuing Orlandeu even if Delita hadn't staged that execution. Before that, he spirits both the Virgo Stone & the Germonic Scriptures away before the Knights Templar can get their hands on them. Granted, they eventually get them anyway, but he still shows up JUST in time to thwart the Big Bad. Whether or not he managed to save his sister is a matter of debate.
- While Ramza fails to stop the corrupt church or the machinations of his childhood friend turned evil Delita, he does arrive in time to deal with a much worse threat, in the form of the Fallen Angel Ultima.
- Persona 3. The party is the Unwitting Pawn that, about halfway in, allows the Big Bad to summon the Eldritch Abomination, and find out three-thirds down the story that they've been too late to stop it ever since. They nonetheless manage to prevent the Abomination from destroying humanity, though the main character dies in the process of doing it.
- In Mega Man Zero 4, Zero arrives at the final boss barely in time (which is an improvement over his usual tardiness; see below) to stop the destruction of the last good land on Earth... but must sacrifice any chance at escape for himself.
- Assassins Creed III: Desmond and company unlock the Grand Temple, only to have Minerva show up and tell them that they screwed up her original plan, wasting centuries in the fight between the Assassins and Templars instead of developing the technology left behind by the First Civilization, and now it's too late to stop the impending solar flare. Juno manipulated Minerva's plans to cause this situation to happen, precisely so that she could offer an alternative: sacrifice Desmond's life in exchange for salvation — and release Juno to take her revenge on the Earth.
- In the Lonesome Road DLC for Fallout: New Vegas, the Courier reaches Ulysses after he has already input the launch codes for the nuclear missiles and they are getting ready to fire at the NCR. At that point, all you can do is either redirect the missiles' destination, or allow your Robot Buddy, ED-E, to stop the launch via Heroic Sacrifice.
The hero has to think of a new plan:
Anime and Manga
- Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash has Ash trying to get back the Necronomicon from Freddy and Jason before Freddy starts reciting chants from it. He's 10 minutes too late.
- Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog: Eggman and NICOLE realize that the events of Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man: Worlds Collide has done more than alter Mobius, it's caused the entire Multiverse to collapse upon itself. Even worse, all of that energy is gathered into Mobius and needs to be released. Sonic and Tails think they can still save the day and Orbot and Cubot think that Eggman can fix it. Their response? "IT'S TOO LATE!" And Mobius tears itself apart.
- The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor consists almost entirely of this trope. We can't let Han place the Eye of Shangri-La on top of the tower, or the world is doomed! Wait, he did it? Crap. Okay, as long as he doesn't bathe in the waters at Shangri-La — if he does, the world is doomed! Oh, he did that too. Never mind, just make sure he doesn't raise the Terracotta Army, otherwise the world is d— ah, nuts. All right, don't let Han cross the great wall with his army, or the world is doomed! By this point, it gets a bit hard to care.
- Outside the raising of the army, it's more a matter of the characters failing on location rather than arriving too late.
- Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines ends with John Connor finding out Skynet has no central server but rather has programming distributed across the entire internet, thus stopping it from becoming self-aware had essentially been impossible for quite a while. The goal is still to stop Skynet, but with half the planet nuked it may take a few more movies. The T-850 sent back to protect him actually knew this but withheld the information to be sure John would come with him, accepting the deaths of much of the planet to guarantee the survival of humanity as a whole.
- Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. The Evil Plan to bring the Storm King back to life was set in motion five hundred years ago and, atypically of the genre, the heroes really can't do anything to stop it. They are saved in the end only because Simon manages to Take a Third Option.
- In Dark Force Rising, Luke and Mara rescue Karrde before he can be forced to reveal the location of the Dark Force fleet. Han and Lando fight to keep Thrawn from capturing the other man who might know where it is and fail, but Karrde has been moved into a Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal and shows them, which should mean Thrawn's forces and the little New Republic team sent out to see if Karrde is right get there more or less at the same time, right? Wrong. Thrawn's already been there, leaving only the fifteen malfunctioning Dreadnaughts out of the hundred and eighty five working ones as bait for a trap. Three Big Damn Heroes moments with three different groups let our heroes survive, but the Empire is much stronger now than it was.
- Not fully the case, but in Firefly, the crew are trying to steal the Lassiter from this major war criminal with the help of Saffron. He stumbles onto their plot to steal the Lassiter, but it turns out he seems like a nice, soft-spoken guy that loves Saffron, and that she just might have lied to them again. He goes out to get a reward for them, and after he leaves, Mal goes on to call out Saffron for her stories and games. However, the "War Criminal" comes back to find Mal and Saffron in the middle of this conversation, lectures her, and when she tells him how much of a fool he is, he informs them that he had alerted security the second he saw them and now armed Alliance guards are coming to take them in. Mal and Saffron escape, but this is much more difficult.
- Before the writers' strike, this was originally the plot of the second season of Heroes. Peter didn't manage to catch the vial containing the deadly plague virus before it hit the ground and shattered, leading to a desperate attempt to contain it before it ended up wiping out 99% of humanity.
- In the fourth season of Angel, the good guys completely fail to stop the Beast's plan to blot out the sun. It gets sorted out eventually, but it was only the first stage of the Big Bad's plan.
- Subverted in Stargate SG-1: the good guys are racing to destroy Anubis' fleet with the Ancient outpost on Antarctica. As the good guys enter the outpost, they run into Anubis who gloats at them with this trope's name. The subversion occurs when O'Neill steps forward and sticks his hand into Anubis, revealing that it's only a hologram and the Goa'uld was bluffing to buy itself time. Anubis responds by ringing Kull Warriors into the outpost in order to kill the good guys but O'Neill manages to activate the outpost's Attack Drone legions and blasts Anubis' fleet into smithereens while the rest of the team kept the Kull Warriors occupied. Afterwards, O'Neill entered a stasis chamber because he knew the Ancient knowledge in his mind would kill him otherwise.
- In Supernatural's season six finale, Dean, Bobby, and Sam arrive just too late to prevent Castiel from absorbing all the souls from Purgatory While Castiel's plan to gain enough power to prevent the Apocalypse from being reinitiated works, the power goes to his head and a worse enemy comes out of it—which is why they were trying to stop him.
- In one episode of Burn Notice, slippery master thief Natalie, who has already managed to avoid getting caught by Team Weston once before, tricks the group into stealing a chemical weapon for her that she intends to turn around and sell to some Arms Dealer contacts. Michael tries to take the weapon back from her before the deal goes down, but while he's holding Natalie up, her clients arrive at the site for the purchase. Michael has to adjust quickly and come up with a new plan to get out of it.
Michael: Let's go.
Natalie: Mmm... I don't think so. See, you're cute. You're clever. But your timing sucks. Your little trick ate up my whole day so instead of getting my hair done, I had to come straight to the buy. And guess what? My buyers are here. [She stops holding her hands up as 6 armed men enter the room]
- Happens in the final mission of Modern Warfare. The SAS team plus Sgt. Griggs has met up with an American sniper team and is about to enter the nuclear launch facility to take down the Big Bad, only to watch in surprise and horror as two ICBMs lift off right in front of them. The new mission objective is to find fire control and input abort codes that will disarm the missiles in mid-flight.
- In Command & Conquer: Red Alert 1, Stalin has a nuclear facility, and it is unknown whether any atomic bomb has been armed yet. Naturally, some of them are, in time for them to be launched during the mission. Next mission: infiltrate the command centre, deactivate the bombs in flight.
- Just about all the endings of the original Drakengard. The canonical one plays it straightest: You're too late to stop Furiae's death and the breaking of the last seal, and have to stop Manah's final form single-handedly. The other endings are some variant of this as well (usually involving being too late to stop Furiae from kicking the bucket somehow), but with copious amounts of Mind Screw thrown into the mix.
- In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, you are too late to save Zelda from being sent into the Dark World, forcing you to venture into it yourself to save both her and the other maidens.
- In the second Onimusha game, when Jubei finally confronts Demon King Nobunaga, Nobunaga immediately tells Jubei that he is too late and that Nobunaga has completed the final step of his plan, animating a giant golden statue. (Considering that you could only learn of this plan through a couple of notes left laying around, players who either didn't find or pay attention to these notes could conceivably have no idea what Nobunaga is talking about). Fortunately Jubei gets an Eleventh Hour Superpower from the MacGuffins he has been collecting, enabling him to take Nobunaga down in a not terribly difficult boss fight.
- The finale of the main campaign of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The original plan to relight the Dragonfires to keep the forces of Mehrunes Dagon at bay is rendered moot when Mehrunes Dagon and his army finally break through and appear in the capital. In the end, Martin Septim shatters the Amulet of Kings and sacrifices himself to become an avatar of the dragon god Akatosh and banishes Mehrunes Dagon back to Oblivion. Sadly, Martin does not survive the ordeal.
- In Diablo II, Mephisto taunts you by yelling "You're too late!" as he starts to attack you. He's correct; you're one step behind everything that happens involving the Prime Evils in the game and are basically cleaning up their messes.
- The final act of Diablo III has Diablo as the Prime Evil unleashed upon the High Heavens, making his way toward the Silver Spire to corrupt the Crystal Arch to plunge both the Heavens and Sanctuary into darkness forever. Along the way, he taunts you with how "you are too late, just as you always have been!" And indeed, when you finally confront Diablo, he has already reached the Arch and begun corrupting it. But unlike some of the other Diablo examples below, you are able to stop him from doing any lasting harm to the Arch. Hopefully.
- The entire first half of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. They go to get the Dream Stone to stop the villains getting it, but Bowser and Antasma get there first and take it anyway. They go to stop their plan on Mount Pajamaja, the villains succeed in putting the world to sleep, powering up the Stone and using it to conquer the island/world. They try and save Peach by hiding her in the Dream World... and they fail again, because Bowser was savvy enough to switch her out for a decoy while they were hiding from the Dream Beats. The rest of the story is the heroes coming up with a new plan to make up for the first half.
- In Super Paper Mario, the sixth chapter fits perfectly. Sammer's Kingdom is consumed by the Void before the party can reach the Pure Heart. Then the heroes venture into the white void that's all that's left of the Kingdom, and recover the Pure Heart... though it's been turned to stone and isn't restored until some time later. And the Kingdom is restored at the end of the game.
- In the chess game chapter of American McGee's Alice, Alice has to go to Red territory to rescue the White Queen (like in an actual chess game, the Queen is the strongest piece, meaning that the benign White forces are doomed without her). But Alice arrives too late; the Queen is executed just as she arrives. Alice has to battle the Red army and defeat the Red King (the stage boss) at the Twelfth Square, and finally, set the Pawn she brought as her guide. As per the rules of chess, the Queen is restored via Twelfth Square Pawn Promotion, and the area is cleared.
- Parodied in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Gaming the System", where Perry bursts into Dr. Doofensmirtz's lair, only to be told "Ah, Perry the Platypus! You are too late... wait, is it eleven o' clock yet? * glances at watch* Wait, wait... Now! Now you are too late!" Then Doofensmirtz zaps Perry with his latest invention, the Ballgown-inator, and Perry has to figure out how to defeat Doofesmirtz while wearing an oversized, restrictive dress.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, a lot of emphasis is put on the Aang beating Ozai before Sozin's Comet arrives and super-charges the villains for a period of time. It soon gets demonstrated that they have no way of getting Ozai to fight them before then, and there won't be a world to save if they wait till after. However, it ultimately doesn't matter, as Aang is still able to steamroll Ozai once he goes into Avatar mode.
- There is also a great deal of emphasis put on defeating him during the solar eclipse, but that fails. In fact this could almost fit in the fourth category.
- In Disney's Sleeping Beauty the fairies are too late to prevent Aurora from pricking her finger, forcing them to fall back on the escape clause that Merryweather added to Maleficent's curse.
- Later in Disney's The Little Mermaid, the heroes arrive too late to complete Ariel's contract, as Ursula gleefully points out.
The villain's plan is his own undoing:
- Loyalty has the climax of the Desert retreival arc. Sakura has just spent the better part of Two chapters chargeing alone through the desert, chaseing a hunch that Hinata is still alive. Amazeingly she picks up the trail, and locates the kidnappers. The chase culminates with her spotting Hinata leaned against a tree, tied up. She spends the better part of two hours painstakingly setting up her retreival tunnle and sabatogeingher opponent. Only to discover Hinata was dead long before, her body is boobytrapped. Her eyes have been plucked out. This all leaves Sakura in shock. Hinata was, for all intents and purposes, Sakura's only friend. The Rain chuunin who murdered Hinata sees Sakura in shock, and thinks he'll simply walk up and cut her throat. Instead he gets the surprise of his life when Sakura engages an epic murdurous rage and attacks him. She is nearly killed in turn, but manages to take him down for a Crowning Moment.
- In El Mariachi, Moco succeeds in killing the man who was out to kill him (Azul), and the Mariachi arrives too late to save his love interest Domino from being gunned down by Moco in a fit of jealousy. But when Moco pulls the dick move of shooting the Mariachi's hand so that he won't be able to play again, this is the final straw that sends the Mariachi over the edge, resulting in Moco's death as the Mariachi guns him down.
- The end of the Dragaera book Five Hundred Years After. In brief, a challenger for the throne, Adron, uses powerful magic to seize the kingdom for himself, and informs the heroes upon releasing it that nothing they could do would stop him. Unfortunately, at that moment, someone else assassinated the Emperor, meaning that the person the spell will dethrone is Adron himself. This causes a divide by zero error in the spell. And since the type of magic Adron was using is powered by direct manipulation of raw chaos, the divide by zero actually does tear a hole in the fabric of reality, destroying everything for miles around (including the capital city and Adron himself).
- Happens Foundation And Empire, the second book of the Foundation series. The resolution of the fourth Seldon Crisis doesn't come from Magnificent Bastards as in the previous crisis, but from this trope.
- Stephen King's The Stand. The Big Bad sent his pyromaniac sidekick out into the Nevada desert to find something interesting in all the hidden military bases. He does. And brings it back to show his boss the shiny toy...
- Played with in The Last Watch when the hero is coerced into helping by a nuclear bomb planted near his family. When he is unable to interfere, he is told not to bother thinking of a plan, because the bomb has already detonated anyway. After he kicks the speaker in the balls, an ally of the speaker explains that she took measures to prevent the detonation, because nuclear weapons are a few steps too far. However, it isn't his undoing since she did it because she was Genre Savvy enough to realise murdering his family would endanger the main plan.
- So far in AdventureQuest Worlds, the hero always arrives too late to stop the Chaos Lords from summoning their respective Chaos Beasts and breaking one of Drakath's seals (in one case, he/she actually gave the item sought by the first lord of chaos, Escherion, to him so he could use it to free the Lake Hydra, and in another, Discordia was actually a fake Chaos Lord so he didn't have his own Chaos Beast - the real Chaos Lord, Kimberly, on the other hand, used her power of rock to send him/her back in time where her Pony Gary Yellow was enlarged and brought to life). He/she defeats the Chaos Beasts anyway, though.
- Dead Rising. Carlito dies if you continue the main storyline, but he has already destroyed one American city and has planted walking children zombie bombs with host families all over the country.
- The third ending of Drakengard. Manah gets the closest to succeeding in her plan — only to get defeated by the dragons, who suddenly decide that enough is enough and that humanity has to die before they end up dooming the world.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Link's first serious task is to free the Great Deku Tree from a potentially fatal curse. While Link kills the boss that was the source of the curse, the Deku Tree was doomed before Link even started. The Deku Tree knew this all along, he just decided to make the best of a bad situation by getting Link started on his quest. It's later revealed that the Deku Tree reincarnated seven years later.
- Basically the plot of Final Fantasy V. Exdeath continues his winning streak right up until he is consumed by the Void he was trying to control. Then the heroes beat him.
- Comedic example: In an episode of Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'?, Ashley declares that she's going to poop in Anthony's bed while he's playing Guitar Hero. Anthony tries to pause the game and stop her, but it turns out that she broke the pause button earlier. By the time he finishes playing... well, I'll let the dialogue speak for itself.
Ashley: You're too late
! Enjoy the poop! Anthony: ...this is your room. Ashley:
...NOOOOOOO- (Cut to the credits screen))
- An arc of ''DuckTales': Glomgold will lose a diamond mine to Scrooge if Scrooge pays a contract by a deadline. After many (Glomgold-induced) failures to pay, Scrooge finally approaches, money in hand, on the day of payment. Glomgold sits back and lets him come, taunting him by counting down the seconds to the expiration, and only after Scrooge presses the payment into his hand at "Three, two..." does he show his watch and reveal the deadline was actually a few minutes ago. This being a children's cartoon, of course, Glomgold can't win, and within minutes, quite by accident, the mine's diamonds are emptied onto Scrooge's land.
- Happens in the finale of The Secret Saturdays: Argost succeeds in capturing Zak and stealing his Kur Powers; unfortunately for him, he had earlier stolen the powers of his anti-matter counterpart, and as everyone knows, matter and anti-matter tend to not get along well. Cue the villain imploding.
The villain's plan was out-gambitted by the heroes:
Anime and Manga
- In the Watchmen, Rorschach leaves his journal behind, which identifies the Big Bad and thus could potentially undermine his victory. The book ends with the question of what, if anything, will come of the journal Left Hanging.note
- In the first Story Arc of Grant Morrison's Zenith, the Lloigor Iok Sotot has already beaten and killed most of the heroes, assumed its true form, and actually begins to enter our physical space, when the post-hypnotic command Mandala had implanted in its mind gave it a fatal "seizure".
- In a Japanese thriller Unfair, the ultimate conclusion of the Gambit Pileup, which was to obtain a MacGuffin on a thumbdrive, is that Yukihara tainted the thumbdrive with a tracer program to figure out who killed her husband.
- In the first Sword of Truth book, Richard pretends to be touched by Kahlan's power, then makes Darken Rahl open the wrong box, which kills him.
- In the Incarnations of Immortality series, 'With a Tangled Skein', the personification(s) of Fate is trying to prevent a diobolical plot of Satan's to sabotage some sort of ceremony. Many sidequests ensue as they follow their suspect before realizing that they royally screwed up by following a decoy around the whole time. Cue a Satan showing up to mock their failure. It's all right, though, because during the course of the sidequests and subplots they alerted Chronos (the incarnation of time) to Satan's plot, and he simply called the ceremony's hosts and told them to call it off once he was certain they would fail.
- In Mistborn, heroine Vin releases the power of the Well of Ascension and rejects godhood in order to defeat the unknown power in the process of destroying the world. Except that in so doing, she actually unleashed aforementioned power, the dark god Ruin, from his imprisonment, as per a plan that had been set in motion milennia ago. Then it turns out that Ruin's opposite number, Preservation, had been manipulating him into rushing headlong to his own destruction so that a new god combining aspects of both could be elevated.
- Very common on Hustle or Leverage, as befits shows about the good guys' conning the heck out of the villains (and audience).
- Starslip has future-Vanderbeam boobytrap his own time suit before fighting Katarakis - knowing he'll lose his suit, but Katarakis will fail because his engram has been compromised to use Vanderbeam's. - in lay speech, when Katarakis tries to rewrite reality moments before it begins, he erases the conditions necessary for humanity to develop a method of time travel in the first place. Vanderbeam is an art curator.
- The end of Reboot Season 3, when Megabyte triggers a portal to the Supercomputer to escape Mainframe, but Mouse converts the portal at the last second to instead send Megabyte to the Web. Though if you go through to Megabyte's return in Season 4/My Two Bobs, Mouse's actions only succeed in strengthening Megabyte.
No twist; it's genuinely too late:
Anime and Manga
- The death of L and Watari in Death Note. The evidence to prove that Light is Kira has finally been found and then Rem kills them. The good guys win in the end, anyway, though.
- Dio in the first arc of Jo Jo's Bizarre Adventure. Although he seemingly dies along with Jonathan, he comes back for an epic sequel in Part 3, leaving us to imply that he indeed won.
- The heroes of Mobile Suit Gundam 0083 are dogged by this trope, between being unable to stop the nuke from being fired successfully to failing to prevent a Colony Drop.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny, the heroes uncover a plot to Colony Drop the remains of Junius 7 onto Earth. Though they fight heroically to prevent it, they got there way too late, and it causes massive damage to a large portion of the world and reignites the war from the last series.
- Played a straight in End of Evangelion, where Shinji arrives too late to save Asuka from being eaten alive, and as a result, gets to see the remains of her Evangelion Unit-02 being thrown on the ground. He is subsequently crucified by the MP EVAs.
- Subverted in the Manga version, where Shinji does arrive in time to save Asuka from being eaten alive. He still gets crucified, though, and this time both Shinji and EVA-01 get giant holes in their hands.
- And played with in Rebuild of Evangelion 2.22, where Kaworu arrives too late to prevent Shinji from initiating Third Impact and thus the end of the world, but arrives just in time to stop Shinji from letting it progress too far. Apparently, though, an alien piloting a giant alien in robot armor is able to throw a spear from above planetary orbit...
- Doubly Subverted during the eclipse in Berserk. Skull Knight pops in and saves Guts and Casca right before Griffith can pull the Coup de Grāce on them. However, by this time, both had suffered a Fate Worse Than Death, and afterward the God Hand declared that they were going to bring forth an age of darkness.
- While pretty much all the protagonists and side characters in the entire series are trying to prevent the Space Defence Force's attempt to crash an experimental space ship into the largest city on the moon, all their efforts end up failing when the SDF averts the crash themselves when their demands are met. And since unlike their methods, their demands were fairly reasonable (dividing space's resources among countries based on their population instead of how much contribution they payed the NATO-Expy, the end result isn't all that bad.
- The ending of the first Myth Arc of BIONICLE. Makuta Teridax is revealed to have been playing the heroes as Unwitting Pawns, taking possession of Mata Nui's body, a Humongous Mecha containing the whole Matoran World, during a crucial part of the process of reviving the Great Spirit so that when the Toa Nuva finally awoke Mata Nui, they woke it with his mind. Mata Nui's soul itself is placed inside the Mask of Life and jettisoned out into space.
- A Donald Duck comic features Donald desperately trying to find and deliver a recycled can of soda to the soda manufacturer, thereby making his total number of returned cans ten thousand and granting him a yacht to a tropical island. He arrives just a few seconds too late, and is greeted by the manufacturer with this line.
- The "Ground Zero" storyline of Peter David's run on the Hulk. Hulk finds a Gamma Bomb planted in the middle of a small town by the Leader. He fights off the Leader's guards, and is about to disable the bomb—when it blows up.
- In the 2009 DCU one-shot "Faces of Evil: Kobra", the new leader of the Kobra cult is broadcasting to the world his intentions to transform the organization and kill everyone associated with his predecessor. He does this from within a Checkmate base, where earlier in the issue, Superman had delivered a bunker full of half-reptilian Half-Human Hybrid babies rescued from the predecessor's Tykebomb program. As the new Kobra prepares to execute the infants, Superman takes off from the JLA satellite, but finds only flaming rubble when he arrives at what used to be the Checkmate base, making it apparent that the broadcast was not live.
- The Sinestro Corps War, Hal Jordan realizes too late that the Guardians' new authorization for the Green Lantern Corps to kill was the whole reason Sinestro started the war in the first place, meaning The Bad Guy Wins. However, even Jordan acknowledges at the end that the ability to use lethal force like real cops and soldiers does help in defending the universe.
- Watchmen, the former Trope Namer:
"Dan, I'm not a Republic serial villain. Do you seriously think I'd explain my masterstroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago.
- If you go back and look you can see that Moore and Gibbons were shoving it in your face the whole time. The two "concurrent" scenes are filled with clocks.
- In Assassin's Creed: Brahman, Assassin Arbaaz Mir arrives to stop Templar General Francis Cotton from poisoning Ranjit Singh, ruler of the Sikh Empire, by slapping the poisoned drink out of his hands. However, he had already drunk from the cup, and his death means the British, and by extension the Templars, will be able to takeover India.
- It's revealed in the final confrontation that Simon Phoenix did this to John Spartan in Demolition Man before they were both frozen. Phoenix had already killed the hostages and chilled their bodies, so that Spartan wouldn't have known about them (via thermal scan) until after the inevitable explosion and so that Spartan would be blamed for their deaths when they were discovered.
- In Dr. Strangelove instead of them stopping the attack that would set off the doomsday weapon, they fail and a small amount of the population has to flee to underground bunkers in order to survive.
- Fight Club, the film version. Project Mayhem's plan to destroy a series of office buildings works, and the Narrator is too late to stop it. Although it's an odd case, as he was also the one trying to do it.
- He did manage to get rid of Tyler, though.
- Happens to Harry in Speed when he arrives just in time at the building to be blown up by the bomb planted there as a diversion. It's not the showdown and the villain isn't there, though.
- Star Wars Episode V. Luke arrives on Cloud City too late to save Han and later the heroes race to save him from Boba Fett only to arrive as the ship takes off.
- Episode III, anyone? Yoda loses. The Old Republic is in ruins, the Jedi have been slaughtered, Palpatine is triumphant.
- The end of the Count Yorga movies despite Yorga dying. In the first he claims the protaganists first female friend, Erica, and turns her into a vampire bride. Then hypnotizes Donna and lures her to his mansion. Micheal manages to reach her and kill Yorga. But Erica remains undead and in the end, Donna is revealed to have been turned too who instantly attack Micheal and kills him. The second movie, by the time the heroes have found out what going on Yorga has killed most of their friends and amassed an army of female vampires (many of the girls whom he turns through the movie). In this case though, the last protagaist, Baldwin manages to kill Yorga and prevent him from turning the damsel, Cythnia. But no sooner then Yorga gone that Baldwin is revealed to have turned and bites Cythnia shortly after.
- Werner Herzog's Nosferatu The Vampyre. Lucy succeeds in killing Count Dracula via a Heroic Sacrifice, but Jonathan Harker is already a vampire and escapes at film's end. Adding insult to injury, police arrest Van Helsing for Dracula's "murder" at the movie's end!
- In Game Theory, the TSAB is not able to stop Precia from completing her spell. Only it turns out that she had found a way to revive Alicia without traveling to Alhazred, and she had already carried it out successfully before the TSAB even got a chance to send their troops in. The entire confrontation on the Garden of Time was just a smokescreen so that Precia could fake her death. However, given that her goal was to bring her daughter back to life, her success can actually be considered a good thing.
- In The Miracle at Palaven a Mass Effect fanfic taking place during the period of Mass Effect 3, the Reapers fall victim to this from the heroes, the Turian/Krogan forces defending the Turian homeworld of Palaven. By the time that the Reapers figure out that these uprisings at the processing camps aren't isolated but coordinated, the suicide bomber squads carrying explosive WMDs have made it into them. A moment later, ninety one Reapers are obliterated from the inside nearly simultaneously: it is the titular Miracle at Palaven.
- In Daniel Pinkwater's The Snarkout Boys And The Avocado Of Death, the Diabolical Mastermind villain succeeds at destroying a Cosmic Keystone by having an orangutan eat it while the heroes were busy capturing him. The effect of his victory is that all the licensed realtors in the United States are possessed by extraterrestrials.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows In The Moonlight", in Olivia's dream, when the son calls on his father, his torturers cut his throat and kill him before his Physical God father appears. Of course, it's not too late to invoke Taken for Granite.
- In the Novelization of the Terran Campaign of the game StarCraft, Danny Liberty talks with Arcturus Mengsk about sending Kerrigan to place the Psi Emitter, which the rebels on Antiga Prime need to lure more Zerg to break the Confederate blockade so they could escape:
Danny Liberty: But the emitter will only amplify. You need a telepath to...Kerrigan. You're going to use Kerrigan to bring in the Zerg.
Arcturus Mengsk: Very good.
Dan: You can't do that! You want her to break into a Confederate camp? She'll never make it.
Arcturus: I have a high degree of confidence in the lieutenant.
Dan: You can't do that!
Arcturus: You have your tense wrong. I gave the orders for the operation before we sat down for our first game. The good lieutenant should be picking up the emitter in the shops right about now. If you hurry, you can catch up with her.
- In Players of Gor (book 20) Cabot learns of a plot by Cos, Tyros, Brundisium and certain factions in Ar to attack Ar. He gets the evidence, then learns that it's actually happening right now. The evidence is now worthless so he burns it.
- Happened in the backstory of Warhammer 40,000 in which the Ultramarines, Space Wolves and Dark Angels Space Marine legions are being stalled by the traitor legions as much as possible while the Siege of Terra rages on. The three legions eventually arrive at Terra, only to find out that the traitor legions had already fled into the Eye of Terror and that the Emperor had been mortally wounded.
- But it should be noted that the fact that the space marine legions were going to arrive and help forced Horus to speed up his plan and ultimately get killed.
- In Modern Warfare, the climax of the U.S. assault on the unnamed Middle Eastern country occurs when the player's marine squad fail to find Al-Asad in the broadcast center, while a simultaneous attack by SEAL Team 6 has found a live nuclear bomb in his palace. An epic scene ensues when every unit still in the city scrambles to make it onto helicopters and out of the blast radius, but the SEAL team fails to defuse the bomb and the player's heli is knocked out of the air by the blast wave.
- Also, the next level has you crawling around in the aftermath of the nuke. Then you die.
- Since Diablo II features the player trying to chase down Baal and the Dark Wanderer, respectively, Acts II and III both end on this note. Duriel, the Act II boss, taunts you saying:
"Looking for Baal?"
- Mephisto points this out as well when you confront him at the end of Act III:
- It happens again in the Lord of Destruction Expansion. You have to stop Baal from getting to the Worldstone or all is lost. But when you defeat him it turns out he has already corrupted the Worldstone, forcing Tyrael to destroy it to keep humanity from being enslaved by Hell (although given the worldstone's true purpose, this inadvertently sets up the happiest ending in the series).
- Don't forget about the first game, either.
Abandon your foolish quest. All that awaits you is the wrath of my Master! You Are Too Late
to save the child. Now you will join him...in Hell!
- Master of Magic intro movie. Non-villainous example, but still:
Old man! You seek the spell of mastery! Merlin:
You have come too late... my work has already met with success. Tauron:
If that is the truth... then your work must stop.
(large fireworks ensue
- In The Godfather game, you arrive too late to prevent Sonny's death and can only avenge him by fighting his killers and finding the man responsible.
- And earlier on, you also fail to prevent your girlfriend's death. But like the previous example, you also have to find and kill the responsible.
- This can (and a lot of the time will) happen in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Because every event in the game is on a timer very often Link will find himself unable to stop Sakon getting away, not being able to stop aliens stealing the ranch's cattle and in the worst case failing to stop the moon colliding into Termina and eradicating all life. It can be a severe Player Punch to rush to an event in progress only to be too late to intervene.
- Final Fantasy. Constantly.
- In Final Fantasy IV, you arrive too late to prevent Anna's death. And Golbez from collecting the crystals. And the summoning of the Giant of Bab-il. FF4 is quite full of fail on the part of the heroes.
- In Final Fantasy V, you arrive too late to prevent the end of the universe but the universe reboots.
- In Final Fantasy VI, you arrive too late to prevent the poisoning of Doma. And The End of the World as We Know It.
- In Final Fantasy VII, you arrive too late to give Yuffie what-for because she's already been kidnapped.
- Or to save Aeris, or to save Sector 7, or to save Cloud's hometown, or (possibly) to save humanity from Meteor and/or Holy, or...
- In Final Fantasy IX you are too late to prevent Brahne's attack on Lindblum.
- In Final Fantasy Tactics, you arrive too late to prevent St. Ajora's resurrection.
- Subverted in Chrono Trigger, in that you arrive too late to prevent Marle from being deleted from the timeline, but you are Just in Time to prevent the event that deletes her. I hate time travel.
- In Assassins Creed II, Ezio arrives at the Doge's palace too late to stop Carlo Grimaldi poisoning him, and though the Templar is killed, the Doge dies anyway and another Templar, Marco Barbarigo, is installed as the new Doge. For now anyway.
- The third level of Eternal Darkness. Anthony is corrupted by the evil magical scroll intended for Charlemagne, and he slowly becomes more and more zombified as you progress through the level, desperately trying to find Charlemagne and warn him that conspirators want him dead. At the end of the level, Anthony staggers into a room to find two of the evil monks standing over the king's corpse, slumped in a chair. Really, Eternal Darkness features a few examples of this sort of thing, but Anthony's is probably the best one.
- In Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal, you are too late to prevent Yaga-Shura from burning down Saradush and slaughtering its inhabitants. At least you get to add him and his army to the tally of people killed during the siege shortly afterwards.
- In Rift, the Defiant player characters are too late to stop Regulos thanks to the Guardians smashing the Defiants' capital city to tiny bits. The player character is simply buying enough time to get themselves to a time machine that will give them a chance to make sure the Bad Future they're in never starts. They succeed but mere moments after stepping through all of Regulos' minions slaughter the remaining Defiant stronghold since they had to power down their defenses in order to give the time machine enough juice.
- In Mega Man Zero the title character is exceptionally bad at this. In Zero 2 he chases Elpizo during the failed attack on Neo Arcadia to save him, only to find the Four Guardians standing over his body. Later in the same game he is again chasing Elpizo, this time to stop him from killing X. He arrives just in time to watch Elpizo destroy his friend's body. In Zero 3 he tries to stop a missile from destroying a human inhabited part of Neo Arcadia...doesn't quite make it in time. And in Zero 4 he is standing at the boss door when Ragnarok fires, destroying Neo Arcadia.
- Of course, this does make the vengeance a bit sweeter when you beat the boss in question.
- Wizard101 has a few cases of this trope, for the Malistaire arc this is the case for three of the five worlds involved. But a truely shocking one happen for the chapter where the player explores Azteca and completely fails to stop the villain. The villain succeeds in destroying Azteca with a comet resulting in the deaths most of it's inhabitants.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic has a nasty one on the Consular's arc. A senator is captured from your ship. Your Mad Scientist companion and his holographic assistant do an epic job of tracking the kidnapper's location. Crippling his ship, you and the Senator's daughter (and, at that point, unofficial Padawan) burst in as a pair of lightsaber-packing Big Damn Heroes. Not only are you too late to save your Padawan's daddy, but the kidnapper is a Sith so screwed up and broken he can't recall his own name, and the Big Bad leaves him a broken and babbling wreck on the floor once he's expended his use. So, the Senator's dead, you get no useful information from the kidnapper, and your pupil commits a Dark Side act by killing what's left of daddy's murderer before you can stop her.
- The Watchmen Video Game shows this quite often:
- Rorschach and Night Owl come to stop a jail break, the guy escaped 5 minutes before they could get there. Also the power comes on and Dr. Manhattan arrives too late.
- They arrive to late to save the FBI agent from revealing where he was to meet the reporters on the Watergate Scandal.
- They try to save the reporters from being kill, they are already dead when they arrive.
- They go to save Violet Greene from the sex trade, they already have her convinced to stay when they finally arrive.
- Stocke of Radiant Historia often finds himself in this situation, considering that the game is one long chain of Setting Right What Once Went Wrong across two different timelines.
- The rule of thumb of anything concerning Revolver Ocelot of the Metal Gear series, the moment you're even minorly involved, you're helping his plans along and you won't know it even if you could read minds. Old Snake stopped Ocelot and prevented JD's nuking, but since it is Ocelot, it was either part of the plan or he had a contingency for such an occassion. In the end, your ultimate goal is achieved, which is to say you accomplished Ocelot's objective, which is to liberate the world from The Patriots' control.
- Guild Wars 2 has Scarlet Briar invoke this trope with her dying breath. The players killed her, but she still succeeded in her goal of rupturing a leyline to wake the sixth Elder Dragon.
- Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death: Judge Dredd attacks the Death Cult's hide-out at the docks to stop the resurrection of the Dark Judges, but their leader has already completed the ritual giving them physical bodies and taunts Dredd thus. The monsters escape, but the player can still shoot Death's priest.
- In Looking for Group, Cale and The Cavalry make a dramatic Gondor Calls for Aid march to the North to help their allies fend off an invasion from The Empire, only to find that the defending forces have already been soundly defeated, the city and fortifications burned to the ground, and the remaining survivors in retreat.
- Subverted in They All Laughed (Project Apollo.net)''
Oh hohohohoho! So you've finally come, Ray Vincent! But how unfortunate that You're Too Late
! My sinister plan for world domination is now unstoppable! Forget saving the world — you'll be lucky to save the taste of bitter defeat! Michelle:
Wait a minute, what "sinister plan"? Your only plan for today was to watch soap operas and eat cookie dough ice crmmmph! Marigold:
Ha ha ha ha! Er, a sinister secret plan!
- Bob and George Only a few moments too late
- The end of Act 5 in Homestuck. The first person to realize what has happened is Rose, in [S] Cascade. They already know something is wrong because they haven't found the Green Sun, but it takes her about five minutes of staring at The Tumor before she realizes what it is, and just seconds before it explodes and kills her and Dave the reader is given a close-up of her eyes widening.
- Tex's attempted rescue of the Alpha in Red vs. Blue is this. She teams up with York to try to get him out of the Director's clutches, but by the time she breaks back in, Alpha has already shed his memories (in the form of Epsilon) and no longer even remembers her. They do end up together again later, but he doesn't remember what happened for years, until he comes in contact with Epsilon again, at which point Tex has already been taken by the Meta and dies just a few episodes later.
- This trope is pretty much everything that Alpha!Tex is made of. She is an AI that is basically doomed to always arrive too late and fail when it matters most because her husband, the template for Alpha, was trying to resurrect a dead woman who, in as of yet unknown ways, failed and died while on a mission.
- Swiper the Fox. He is god of this trope. Course his schemes are more Poke the Poodle and Dora and Boots manage to retrieve what he's taken from them anyway.
- In cases like this, they usually just didn't say "Swiper, no swiping!" fast enough. Swiper doesn't succeed half the time.
- Played straight for comedy in the Phineas and Ferb episode "That Sinking Feeling".
"You know what, Perry the Platypus
, I think it's time for you to go. That's right, go on, your services are no longer required. The lighthouse is gone and there's nothing you can do about it, so you might as well run back to Major Monogram and tell him you lost this one."
- Turns into the third kind of this trope in The Stinger when the lighthouse, which Dr. Doofenshmirtz turned into a rocket and launched in order to get rid of the foghorns keeping him awake at night, crashes into his building as he's trying to fall asleep.
- The second season finale of Beast Wars ended with Megatron basically erasing the Maximals from existence. Season three had them fix it, but not every region got that part.
- Happened in the Captain Planet episode "Whoo Gives a Hoot". The Planeteers attempt to stop Looten Plunder with a court injunction against clear-cutting an old growth forest. Despite their success in finding what they need to stop the cutting, Looten's clumsy, stupid minions actually managed to succeed in stealing the evidence, leaving Plunder free to continue. The Planeteers and judge eventually discover Looten's deception, only to discover that Looten had already cut down all the trees. The episode ends on that note, with him laughing in their faces about it and daring them to try and stop him again.
- In the first red sky episode of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, Shredder gives the turtles a 30-minute time limit to give him Krang, or the Channel 6 building will explode with April and friends inside. Arriving a minute late, seeing the building still there, they think Shredder was bluffing, only to witness the building explode a second later. Fortunately, Splinter snuck in and saved all of the employees before the explosion. But still...
- The Powerpuff Girls are given a specific amount of time to solve Him's riddles in "Him Diddle Riddle" or, in Him's words, "the Professor will pay!" The girls fail on the final riddle, and the Professor must indeed pay—full price for a pancake breakfast at Him's diner. (The episode was executed in real time.)
- Season 2 of Avatar: The Last Airbender sees the Gaang rushing to prevent Iroh's warnings of Azula launching a coup from coming true, only to discover that the groundwork she had laid for the coup and Zuko's subversion of the Heel-Face Turn was so far along that they couldn't stop it, and when Aang tried to enter the Avatar State to enact the traditional Curb-Stomp Battle, Azula realised that Transformation Is ''Not'' A Free Action and shot him in the back before he could power up. Consequently, the actual ending of the season was Azula taking over Ba Sing Sei (effectively realising the Fire Nation's goal of conquering the world), Anti-Villain Zuko turning back to the dark side, and a comprehensively defeated Avatar Aang. If it hadn't been for Season 3 coming along, it would have been a truly Olympian Downer Ending.
- This happens in Seasons 2 and 3 of Code Lyoko (and the end of Season 1 wasn't very happy either). The heroes have to spend each season undoing what XANA did in the previous season, and he becomes stronger each time.