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Adaptational Karma

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Laurie Blake: You killed three million people, Adrian. You're under arrest. …
Adrian Veidt: You've kept this secret all this time. And now you're having misgivings?
Laurie: People change, Adrian. At least, some of us do.

An adaptation of a story changes the fate of a character who was a Karma Houdini in the original work, by having them receive a fitting karmic punishment. This trope was mandated by The Hays Code, and thus, often sprung up in films made during that period. Similarly, it can sometimes occur to appease other Moral Guardians.


Sometimes, however, it may simply be used by directors who think that the story is strengthened by a Karmic Twist Ending, or are simply responding to fan complaints about how the villain should have been punished. In any event, it adds an element of Not His Sled for adaptations of very well-known stories.

In some instances, the film is an adaptation of the first installment of a series, and the change allows for finality when sequels are unplanned or uncertain. This may overlap with Death by Adaptation and Super Hero Movie Villains Die.

Not just limited to official adaptations- a lot of Fan Fiction does this, as disgruntled fans who want to see the villain get comeuppance but have no official material to supply this may decide to write their own.

Examples are sorted by medium of adaptation, not by medium of the source material. Because of the nature of the trope, spoilers ahead.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • The novel and anime versions of Candy Candy never show the fall-out of Neil Legan's failure to get Candy for himself. In the manga, he is publicly humiliated due to Albert's intervention and is last seen literally crying to his mommy about it, much to his sister Eliza's secondhand embarrassment.
  • Les Misérables: Shōjo Cosette: In the original book, M. Thenardier manages to escape to America with Marius' money. That does not happen here, since Javert decided (at the last second) not to commit suicide and was able to arrest him.
  • Cyrus from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl suffers nothing beyond frustration at his plan to destroy and remake the universe failing. But in the anime, he ends up Deader Than Dead when he jumps into his new universe as it's fading from existence.
  • Persona 5: The Animation: In the original game, during Makoto's Confidant, the harasser Tsukasa's only comeuppance was that he got his plan exposed that he had to stop on that, and nothing else. In the adaptation, however, Eiko proceeds to put his misdeeds on her in the Phan-Site and then his other victims follow suit. This made him a target for the Phantom Thieves, who proceeded to eventually defeat his Shadow in Mementos.
  • Black Lagoon's anime adaptation of the "El Baile de la Muerte" arc, "Roberta's Blood Trail" does this to Roberta. While she still gets to go home and retire in peace after a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, she does so minus an eye and several limbs.
  • In Shaman King, the Big Bad, Hao/Zeke, obtains the Great Spirit, making him invincible which eventually makes him as the Shaman King. In the anime, Yoh defeats him by cutting him in half despite Hao still getting the Great Spirit.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Both the 1950s animated film and the 1999 live-action film of George Orwell's Animal Farm end with the pigs' regime falling. In the former, the animals, lead by Benjamin the donkey, overthrow and presumably kill the pigs. In the latter, the animals decide to leave the farm after deciding the pigs have gone too far and it fully collapses upon Napoleon's death.
  • The Wicked Fairy in Sleeping Beauty disappears from the story after cursing the princess, and gets no comeuppance for her evil deed. In Disney's Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is slain by Prince Phillip when she turns into a dragon to stop him from breaking the curse.
  • The Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid is an amoral figure who gets people to make bad deals with her. There is no comeuppance for this. In Disney's The Little Mermaid (1989), she, here named as Ursula, is upgraded to Big Bad and killed in the end.
  • In Rapunzel, the witch is never seen again after throwing Rapunzel and the Prince out of the tower. In Tangled, her counterpart Mother Gothel gets a Disney Villain Death.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets is a case of this in regard to the source novel Israel Rank: in the film, the Villain Protagonist narrowly escapes being executed for a death in which he had no involvement, but then the film ends with him realizing that he left his Memoirs (in which he had confessed to everything) in his cell. In the source novel, Israel Rank, there isn't this kind of twist (the Villain Protagonist is on trial for the murders he did commit), but an Adapted Out love interest kills herself and takes the blame for the crimes.
  • The George Sanders film The Private Affairs of Bel Ami has the Villain Protagonist Georges Duroy get in trouble for posing as an aristocrat. In Maupassant's original novel Bel Ami, Duroy gets away with everything and the "posing as aristocrat" is a minor detail (he is from a town called Canteleu starts calling himself Du Roy de Cantel).
  • Topkapi ends with the band of thieves and the protagonist Arthur Smith breaking rocks in prison, but on good terms and plotting escape/future jobs. In the source novel The Light of Day, the thieves escape and Smith (who in both versions was planted as a Sixth Ranger Traitor by the Turkish police) who is a much more anti-heroic character, leaves with a small reward, but is essentially stateless. At the end of the sequel novel Dirty Story (written after Topkapi), he ends up in a slightly better position.
  • Les Misérables (2012) has this with the Thenadiers in regard to both the original novel and the source musical:
    • In the novel, M. Thenardier, who is the evilest character in the book, is given money by Marius to settle a debt, and the narration indicates that he became a wealthy slave trader in America.
    • In the musical, Thenardier and his wife (who is Spared by the Adaptation) have the role of Plucky Comic Relief but still do the same evil stuff as in the novel. At the end, they crash Marius' wedding and are paid by him as in the book, and sing a cheery song about how people like themselves who scavenge off society without moral compunction always win.
    • In the newer film (which is mostly an adaptation of the musical but is also in some respects more faithful to the novel), the Thenardiers are physically thrown out of Marius' wedding and don't receive any payment (although oddly, they still sing the same song about "winning"). This may have been a case of What Might Have Been, as set photos show the pair crashing the cake and generally having a good time of things.
  • In the original play of The Bad Seed, the Devil in Plain Sight Enfant Terrible Rhoda manages to survive her mother's attempt to kill her when she discovers what kind of being her daughter is and is implied that she has a new victim in her sights. The 1956 movie adaptation, because it was made during the Hays Code era, wasn't going to allow such a monster to live... and because her mother failed, Rhoda was struck down by lightning on the very last scene (an epilogue right after that has the actresses of Rhoda and her mother break character and, in a pretty comedic moment, Rhoda's actress gets spanked).
  • Thanks to the fact that Joker Immunity wasn't in play, The Joker is actually killed in Tim Burton's first Batman movie rather than being sent to a Cardboard Prison.
  • The 1995 film of A Little Princess does this to the evil Miss Minchin, who was a Karma Houdini in the original, by having her lose the school and forced to become a chimney sweep.
  • Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice tend to do something regarding Wickham who, after nearly ruining Lydia, is bribed into marrying her to save the family's honour. Joe Wright's film implies that Domestic Abuse might be in their future, Bride and Prejudice has him getting busted by Darcy before he can do anything harmful to Lydia and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has Lizzie stabbing him in the chest.
  • Rebecca had Mrs Danvers escaping Manderly after she burns it to the ground. The film - by order of the Hays Code - shows her dying in the fire.
  • Subtly done in Matilda with the setting change from the UK to America. In the end of the book, the Wormwoods flee the authorities to Spain. At the end of the film, they flee to Guam. But since Guam is a US territory, it's likely that the FBI might catch up to them. Thus giving them a direct comeuppance for their abuse of Matilda.
  • In Witness for the Prosecution, Christine Vole commits perjury in her husband Leonard's murder trial, and deliberately gets caught doing so, in order to sabotage the case against him and get him acquitted. The Agatha Christie short story it was based on ends with her admitting what she did to Leonard's defense attorney and the reason she did it: she knew he was guilty. In the movie Leonard abandons Christine for another woman shortly after his acquittal; and she murders him in rage.
  • In A Street Car Named Desire, Stanley was able to win back Stella, despite being an abusive husband and raping Blanche and getting her sent to a mental institution. In the film, it cuts to the credits after he kept crying "Stella," heavily implying that she was finally going to leave him.
  • In the film adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale, Offred stabs the Commander (one of the movers and shakers of the intensely awful Republic of Gilead, who has been keeping Offred as a breeding-slave) to death before she is taken away. In the original novel, the Commander is still alive and in power at the end.
  • The Chocolate War: In the original book, Archie gets away with manipulating everyone and setting Jerry up to suffer a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown at the hands of Emile Janza. In the film, his luck runs out when he draws a black marble and is forced to take Janza's place in the boxing match he himself set up. The end result: Archie himself suffers a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown at Jerry's hands, and Obie takes his place as the Vigils' Assigner with Archie himself demoted to Obie's secretary.
  • In Treasure Island, Long John escapes with some loot, is believed to have settled down after that, and the protagonist makes no effort to pursue him. In Muppet Treasure Island, Long John Silver escapes with the loot, but his previous warning to Arrow about unsafe lifeboats turned out more accurate than he expected. He ends up trapped on a desert island with its annoying inhabitants. An interesting example because Silver in this version is much more affable.
  • Ready Player One:
    • The book's climax suggests that Nolan Sorrento may get away with his many wrongdoings due to lack of solid evidence and very good corporate lawyers (on the other hand, the protagonists now have enough wealth to get lawyers of their own along with the support of millions of people that can act as witnesses). In the film, the last we see of him is getting locked away in a police car and getting socked in the face by a disgruntled ex-employee that was arrested with him, making it clear that no lawyer is going to save him.
    • This also applies to one of his henchmen, I-R0k. In the book, he disappears from the plot after giving Sorrento the location of one of the keys. But in the movie, Sorrento activates a bomb that wipes out all the avatars in the area- and I-R0k is the first to be killed.
  • The three villains of Holes are arrested by the Texas attorney general's office at the end of the movie, while the book doesn’t mention their fate (and furthermore, the continuation has the Camp reactivated a few years later and them getting back their old positions).
  • The 1987 adaptation of Flowers in the Attic had this enforced by the studio. In the book Corrine marries another man and doesn't get any form of comeuppance until the third in the series (where she tries to win back her children's love and dies in a fire). The higher-ups felt the audience would want to see Corrine get punished, and so she is exposed by her children and hung on her wedding day. Understandably the sequels where she plays a big role never got adapted.
  • The novel In This Our Life saw Stanley framing Parry for her drunk driving accident and getting away with everything. Per the Hays Code, Roy and Craig find out what she did and she dies in a fiery car crash while being chased by police.
  • In the original musical version of Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey II is able to kill Seymour, sell itself to every household in the world, and then start an apocalypse. This was originally the plan for the movie, but test audiences didn’t like the ending, so they changed it so that Seymour is able to destroy Audrey II by electrocuting it.
  • In the 2019 remake of Lady and the Tramp, Aunt Sarah and her cats are forced to leave the house after Jim Dear and Darling find out her mistreatment to Lady. In the original, they don't get much punishment, even though Aunt Sarah forgave Lady and the Dears for misjudging Lady.

  • In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the eunuch, Huang Hao, is one of the few people responsible for the downfall of Shu by manipulating Liu Shan into his favor. After Shu surrendered to Wei, Sima Zhao had the eunuch executed. In historical records of the Three Kingdoms Era in Imperial China which the novel is based from, Deng Ai wanted to execute the eunuch after he heard of his reputation but he escaped by bribing his officials.
  • The Bulgarian adaptation of The Wolf and the Crane by Ran Bosilek. Yeah, the ungrateful bear had managed to get out of paying the stork with the usual excuse... but what happens when she needs to get another bone out? Well, the stork doesn't want to be fooled a second time, so, just in case, he's going to pull out the bear's teeth first.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Saturday Night Live adapted the final scene of It's a Wonderful Life for one of their sketches... which immediately goes this route by having the characters pointing out how Mr. Potter had been quite the Karma Houdini up to that moment (like in the original movie) and then mobilizing to lynch Mr. Potter.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax", the villains get away. In the adaptation by Granada starring Jeremy Brett, they are caught - although Lady Frances also suffers brain damage.
  • Happens in both the BBC and the ITV adaptations of the Miss Marple novel At Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie. In the original novel, the murderer is not seen to be apprehended, although Chief Inspector Fred "Father" Davy vows to go after her. In both screen adaptations, she is exposed by Miss Marple and taken into custody.
  • After episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents ending with a criminal still at large, Hitchcock's closing remarks would often dish out some Offscreen Karma by stating that they were brought to justice afterwards; this was generally not present in the original short stories being adapted. It should be noted, however, that Hitchcock himself did not actually want to include these in his closing remarks and only did so in order to placate the sponsors.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017): In the books, Mr. Poe placed the Baudelaires in one abusive home after another throughout the first seven books (except Book 2) and never got punished for either doing that or or just being an incompetent moron. Here, he has to face the consequences for his incompetence when the Baudelaires run off at the end of The Wide Window and almost loses his job at the beginning of The Miserable Mill.
  • Watchmen (2019), a Sequel in Another Medium to the original Watchmen, sees Veidt finally get arrested for what he did to New York in the original comic at the end of "See How They Fly".
  • In Horton Hears a Who! and most adaptations of the work, Jane Kangaroo is Easily Forgiven for harassing Horton the entire story, and a Happy Ending ensues without forcing so much as an apology from her. In The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss however, a lot of Jane's nastier or more careless moments backfire onto her, to the point of nearing Can't Get Away with Nuthin', with her nearly always displaying remorse and trying to make amends. This is an unusual case where the trope also leads to Adaptational Nice Guy, since these consequences often made the show's version of Jane rather sympathetic.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 


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