Alice sacrifices everything she cared for her home, her reputation, the love of her family and friends in order to save the world. In Alice 2: Back For More, the police clear her and her family forgives her.
Bob spends months of agonizing time and effort to kick booze. He manages to become sober... and then, five episodes later, he's off the wagon again.
Chris spends a whole season learning to trust his rival at the agency. Then it turns out the rival was The Mole all along, and every single thing Chris learned in this season was a chump's lesson.
Why did we have the first half of each story again? It was All for Nothing.
Sometimes, a Story Arc completely destroys the point of an earlier arc in the same story. It could contradict the early story's message, or it could reveal that the events we cared about never happened or weren't what they seemed. A hero's decisions don't seem so heroic if it turns out that they were manipulated every step of the way. And if a character goes through a FaceHeel Turn or HeelFace Turn, their earlier stories might seem irrelevant when we know they'll disavow it all.
This trope can be used to set a story on the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism nothing lasts forever, and something that seems so important may be just a passing moment. Yes, the farm boy may have risen to become king and gotten the girl, but his life doesn't end there, and things can still go downhill. Another use for this is to deliberately shock the audience a FaceHeel Turn hurts so much when the character we cheered for six seasons turns on us.
In general, it's more forgivable when it's done as an event, rather than as a Retcon. If a hero's efforts are undone, that's not as frustrating as if it turns out that they never mattered in the first place. The audience is also more likely to forgive it if we're shown the change, rather than it being done with Second-Hand Storytelling.
A storyline that is All For Nothing is not always a happy thing ruined by bad events. A tragic scene of people losing everything can feel very cheapened if things get better too easily.
Distinct from Status Quo Is God in that it doesn't always bring things back to where they started - it often leads to genuine change.
The story of the first three Jewish kings in the Bible (Saul, David, Solomon) make this trope Older Than Feudalism
- A somewhat more comedic version of this. In School Rumble, class 2-C was divided between whether they should do a play or cafe for the School Festival. They then devoted the next mini-arc to a dramatic war game held in the school between the two groups using fake guns. The very next day, while being punished for the game, their teacher Kooriyama suggests they just do ''both''.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion:
- Zig-Zagged in the final episodes of the series. Despite all the efforts he made at connecting with others, Shinji comes to feel betrayed and abandoned by everyone. Despite all their efforts at preventing Third Impact, the pilots failed because their superiors wanted them to fail in order to trigger their own, somewhat better version and turn the entire planet into a barren wasteland with humanity all but extinct. However, it was Shinji's efforts at connecting with others that led to Rei rejecting his father and instead turning the reins of Third Impact over to him, and it was Shinji's desire to see those people again that led him to stop the instrumentality of humanity. End result: the world ends up as a twisted wasteland; it's left with the hope of recovery as Shinji and Asuka return, giving a tiny step to reach each other out, and all humans can choose to re-embody if they really want to, but it's implied that the only ones who can resist the temptation have to be as fucked up as Shinji and Asuka. They may not have even had that much if Gendo's or SEELE's plans had gone through.
- The Reboot Rebuild of Evangelion is even WORSE. In this version, Shinji manages to hold onto his determination and saves Rei... only to reveal that he just triggered Third Impact by doing that and that she disappeared without a trace, killing the better half of the world. Nobody's amused. Shinji teams up with Kaworu because he's the only one who still show him kindness, and tries to fix everything. He loses him too and partially triggers Fourth Impact. So now Shinji has destroyed the world, lost Rei, only saved Asuka (whose every second in existence is sheer suffering and hatred towards Shinji) and another step in Gendo's hidden agenda is completed. At this rate, you can expect Shinji to rip apart what is left of his dignity and sanity and eventually destroy the entire universe.
- During the finale of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Homura begs Madoka to not make her wish because of all of the pain she went through to protect her. She even says "Everything I fought for... it will all be for nothing!" Madoka still makes her wish, and while this may have benefited everyone else the biggest side effect was that Madoka had to be retconned out of existence. Madoka seems fine with this though and assures Homura she'll always remember her sacrifice, so it's not all bad.
- In the Rebellion movie, it appears it didn't take from Madoka's point of view. Homura makes the decision to usurp Madoka's goddess powers and rewrite the universe again so as to be able to look out for Madoka's interests, even if it goes against her original wish.
- During the Grand Finale of Sailor Moon, Sailors Neptune and Uranus pull off a desperate Fake Defector act in order to get close enough to Galaxia to finish her off, going to such lengths as killing Pluto and Saturn (depriving Sailor Moon of two valuable allies right after the death of Princess Kakyuu and the Heroic Sacrifices of the Inners) and attacking Moon herself and her remaining allies, the Starlights (so she wouldn't suspect them, but also weakening her physically and devastating her emotionally) before finally attacking Galaxia with her own bracelets. Unfortunately, due to no longer having a Sailor Seed, Galaxia is unaffected by the sneak attack before retaliating against the conspirators, and Neptune and Uranus die right in front of Moon and the Starlights without accomplishing a thing.
- One Piece:
- Impel Down and Marineford make up an entire All For Nothing arc. Luffy breaks into Impel Down to rescue his brother Ace upon learning he had been captured and sentenced to death. He fights his way down to the bottom level, surviving only due to luck and Heroic Willpower, only to find that Ace had already been removed for execution. Luffy then starts a Prison Riot to escape, letting hundreds of the world's worst convicts out in the process, and travels to the giant Pirates vs. Marines battle taking forth. Fighting past thousands of soldiers, including the Marines' top fighters, the Admirals, Luffy manages to free Ace from his Power Limiter handcuffs, and they begin to leave. Until Ace turns around in response to one of the Admiral's taunts, gets into a fight, loses, and dies to protect Luffy. If Luffy's reaction of going into a Heroic Blue Screen of Death isn't sad enough, the realization that the past 51 chapters were all for naught makes it so much worse.
- The Marines don't get off that easily either as they suffered massive casualties, lose Sengoku, Garp, and Aokiji all via resignation due to, respectively, trying to cover up the escape of Impel Down's worst inmates, having had to fight two members of his own family and losing one in the process, and refusing to serve under the man chosen to replace Sengoku after being unable to prevent his ascension. On top of all that, the death and final words of Whitebeard cause a new era of piracy and the Marines now have to deal with a level of piracy worse than ever before. They may have killed Whitebeard and killed off Gold Roger's bloodline, but their victory was hollow.
- Dragon Ball Z:
- During the first arc of the series, Yamcha, Tien, Chaotzu, and Krillan all train in order to be able to combat the incoming Sayians. Soon as Vegeta and Nappa get there and they, along with Gohan and Piccolo engage the two. Yamcha is blow up in a sneak attack by one of the man-made henchmen, the Sabiamen. Chaotzu ends up blowing himself up in vain to trying to kill Nappa and Tien ends up losing an arm and using up all his energy just trying to take Nappa out...which also fails. So all that training was for naught.
- During the Buu Saga, Vegeta becomes so obsessed with topping Goku that he makes a Deal with the Devil with Babidi, allowing Babidi to turn him into a Majin and bring forth his inner evil to do so. As it turns out, Goku had unlocked Super Saiyan 3 and had been holding back against Majin Vegeta the whole time, so Vegeta sold his soul to Babidi, forsook his family, friends, and own convictions, and helped unleash Majin Buu upon the world for nothing. More than that, the very thing he did all of the above actions for, his pride, was utterly and completely destroyed. Not only were his sacrifices meaningless, he once again has to deal with the fact that Goku made a huge leap ahead of him by unlocking Super Saiyan 3, to say nothing of the insult of being allowed to think he could win. As a result, Vegeta is pretty damn pissed with Goku when King Yemma brings him back to fight Buu after he gave his life in a failed effort to make amends.
Vegeta: I sent myself into a cold oblivion, and I did it on a lie!
- This is not the first time this happened to Vegeta. In the Freeza arc, he spent the majority of the arc avoiding a direct conflict with the titular tyrant, while using subterfuge and quick action to take the Namekian Dragon Balls for himself and pick off his men, reaching the brink of death more than once, so that he can use the Dragon Balls to wish for immortality, and so that he can finally challenge him. Unfortunately, the Grand Elder, whose life sustains the usage of the magical orbs dies, and Freeza confronts him and his erstwhile allies, Krillin and Gohan. Seeing no other choice, they battle him head-on, but it's not enough. Piccolo is revived and on Namek so that turns the tables against Freeza, but it quickly becomes clear that the battle is still a losing one. So Vegeta in an attempt to become a Super Saiyan has Krillin put him to the brink of death, and Dende revive him giving him a dramatic power boost. It works, but Freeza still toys with him, and he loses all hope when he realizes he's not a Super Saiyan, leading to a savage beatdown by Freeza's hands before he executes him. Everything he did in that arc was to free himself from the yoke of Freeza, and it all it earned him was a pitiful death. At least he got better by the arc's end.
- Said word-for-word in Dragon Ball Z Kai by Piccolo in regards to all the training he did with King Kai and everything Gohan and Krillan went through to get Namek's dragon balls to revive him upon seeing how powerful Freeza's true form is.
- Dragon Ball Super has an "All For Nothing Saga" in the form of Future Trunks Saga. Basically, the entire reason the events happened is because the heroes try to fight off this new threat in the form of Goku Black and Future Zamasu and saved Future Trunk's timeline and survivors of their attack. So after 20 episodes of mystery-solving and fighting what happens? Merged Zamasu becomes a bodiless form who ended up killing off every single survivors that the heroes fought so hard to protect and is now in the process of spreading across the entire multiverse and timelines, forcing them to summon Future Zen'O who ended up blowing up Trunk's entire timeline to finish off Zamasu once and for all with only him, Future Trunks and Mai being the Sole Survivors of that timeline. That's right, all their efforts they worked so hard to protect the timeline ended up being completely meaningless and they couldn't even meet their friends in the afterlife because it's also blown up. The only compensation for all this is the fact that Zamasu is stopped before he managed to spread to other timelines and Whis can send Trunks and Mai back to just before Goku Black came into being and allow Trunks to prevent it all from happening in the first place.
- The manga version had it even worse. Least in the anime they managed to killed Merged Zamasu's main form. In this version, nope, they cut him in half..and he just makes multiple copies of himself. Meaning there's no way they can even defeat him because his powers are just too overpowered. It's only due to Goku remembering he had Zen-O's button that saves them.
- On the flip-side, this also applies to Zamasu himself in that he has finally succeeded in killing of all the mortals in the timeline and managed to have a whole universe shaped in his vision upon gaining a bodiless form, but by that time, he has completely lost his mind, which means that he will never be able to enjoy it. His victory is also negated when Future Zen'O appears and blows up the timeline he resides in, with the knowledge that he couldn't kill the people who caused him the most grief.
- Transformers Energon: Alpha Quintesson spends the entire show manipulating Autobots and Decepticons in order to recreate the planets Unicron had devoured in a new universe outside regular space. By using the weakened Unicron as a newborn sun, the plan suceeds... until the sun collapses into a black hole that consumes the young universe and sets the stage for Transformers Cybertron.
- My Hero Academia: Endeavor, the #2 ranked hero, spent almost his entire superhero career attempting to one-up the #1 hero, All Might. He even goes so far as to marry a woman (who decidedly does not like him) solely to produce children who could be more powerful than All Might. He eventually gains the #1 spot... because All Might retires, giving him the #1 position on a technicality rather than actually earning it by surpassing All Might. What's worse, All Might retires after defeating the Big Bad in battle by using up the last of his power, ending his career in such a way that Endeavor is never going to be able to get out of his shadow.
- Your Name: The side novel Another Side: Earthbound reveals that, after his wife Futaba's death, Toshiki had set out to become mayor of Itomori in order to modernise the town, spending 2 years preparing and then getting elected into a 4-year term. As he's standing for reelection at the start of the film proper, though, comet Tiamat crashes into it one month later, rendering all his efforts pointless.
- Though this is far more often the rule than an exception for antagonists, Fullmetal Alchemist deserves a special mention due to its ties to one of the shows themes. Big Bad Dante at one point gives Ed a Breaking Speech that equivalent exchange is a falsehood made up to make people feel better about themselves, and that no amount of Eds efforts mean the universe owes him a Happy Ending. Considering Dante orchestrated multiple genocides, manipulated the homunculi and has been body hopping for centuries to create a new Philosophers Stone, her ultimate failure and demise shows just how right she is.
- Naruto: Madara Uchiha orchestrated the entire plot of Naruto for the sake of his own idea of "peace", even going as far as training a successor (Tobi/Obito) to continue his work when he could not stave off death any longer, with specific instructions to eventually revive him to complete the plan. All of this was to prove his ideology was better than his former best friend and rival Hashirama Senju's. Well, he succeeds...only to be stabbed in the back by his Enigmatic Minion Black Zetsu, who reveals that Madara, much like everyone else, was an Unwitting Pawn in a much larger game, right before his body is used as a vessel to revive the true Big Bad of Naruto, Princess Kaguya. After Kaguya is defeated, Madara is left powerless and on the verge of death, forced to confront the fact that all his plans and efforts were based on a lie, and that his ideology will die with him, while Hashirama's will endure and live on. The sole comfort he has is that, despite everything, Hashirama still sees him as his friend.
- Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms has a couple story arcs that end this way:
- Mezarte wants to make up for the gradual loss of its iconic Renato dragons by kidnapping women from a Society of Immortals and using them to bear immortal heirs for various families, including the royal one. The lone child from the royal marriage shows no sign of having inherited her mother's immortality, all the Renato either die or escape, and formerly allied nations get so angry with the kingdom that they band together to invade it.
- Krim, who is in love with the woman who was forcibly married into the royal family, spends years plotting to set her free, only for her to refuse to be rescued twice: first because she's pregnant, then because going with him would keep her from ever seeing the daughter from whom she was separated ever again.
- Fairy Tail
- Jellal spent years before the start of the series up to the Tower of Heaven arc manipulating Erza, his childhood friends/fellow slaves, and even the Magic Council itself in order to prepare the R-System for the process of reviving the black wizard Zeref after being possessed by his spirit as a child. He tormented Erza, destroyed countless lives, and even killed one of his friends Simon in the name of obtaining "true freedom." The kicker? Even if he hadn't been defeated by Natsu and Erza, it wouldn't have mattered because Zeref was never dead in the first place. His "possession" was really the result of a brainwashing spell by Ultear who was manipulating him for a plan by her own dark guild to unseal Zeref and to take the Council's eyes off their movements. He becomes a wanted criminal, loses his memories, gets a death wish upon learning what he did, and it was all based on a lie.
- The dark guild in question, Grimoire Heart, ends up suffering similarly in a case of karma. In their goal to unseal Zeref, they cause all manner of death and destruction over decades to obtain "keys" to awaken him. As it turns out, these "keys" hold no more water than the rumors of Zeref's death. Zeref himself actually wants nothing to do with them due to his own self-loathing and desire to die for his own sins, and in fact kills off Grimoire Heart's leader in anger.
- Subverted in Green Lantern with the origin of GL Sodam Yat. As a boy, he grew disgusted with his planet's murderous xenophobia, including when his fellows murdered an alien astronaut whose ship crashes on his planet. In response, he labored for years to repair the alien's ship and leave, but just as he was finished, a power ring arrived to induct him into the Green Lantern Corps. While that meant that now he didn't need the ship to leave the planet, the fact that he worked with that much determination to repair a ship he didn't know, nor how to pilot it or even where he could have gone after he launched, all for the sake of leaving a place and its evil is an incredible display of courage worthy of the Corps.
- Explicitly averted, or for the moment very explicitly attempted, by Kieron Gillen on his run in Journey into Mystery. Major Spoilers ahead. Well aware that there was no way Loki could be left good when he was the major villain of the third biggest film of all time, having his run end with Kid!Loki triumphing and changing "for good" would really just become "for the next week or so until the next writer comes along." In order to avoid his story losing any of its impact, he didn't just kill Kid!Loki, he erased him from existence utterly to be replaced by his older version.
- The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye: The Shadowplay arc becomes this, thanks to the Foregone Conclusion of being a flashback. The villains are trying to make the Decepticon Registration Act mandatory, via a circuitous scheme involving murdering the current Prime and putting a massive bomb in his corpse. Orion Pax and his allies foil this plot, though at the cost of one of the few truly good members of the Senate, and Pax's friend. Then, some years later said friend's student Zeta will become Prime and make the Act mandatory anyway, pushing Cybertron right over the edge into full-scale war.
- And that Senator? Just happens to be Shockwave.
- The entire quest for the Knights of Cybertron turns out to have been this, to wit the Knights of Cybertron died a long time ago and they actually stumbled upon a massive euthanasia clinic that makes dying patients see their greatest fantasy and they made a map to it after they thought it was a utopia. Meaning all the pain, death and betrayal was for nothing.
- Getaway's mutiny also never comes close to achieving anything he wanted it to. He got Rodimus and Megatron off the ship, but neither the Galactic Council nor the Decepticon Justice Division manage to kill them. Far from being an opportunity to find the Knights of Cybertron without delays or inconveniences, Getaway ends up spending more time trying to maintain his control over the ship than actually pursuing leads or following the map. When he does get to Cyberutopia, the above detail about the quest is still true, but for bonus points, Team Rodimus - the people he dismissed as continually getting them caught up in distractions - has still beaten him there, and end up curing most of his army of sparkeaters and defeating him. Needless to say, he doesn't get to be a Prime like he wanted, although he does get a vision of Primus...except it's a hologram being used by a swarm of scraplets, and when he touches it, he gets eaten.
- Megatron specifically tells this to the DJD as he kills them.
Spoiler Character: Goodbye, Glitch. I want you to die with one thought in your head: everything you did was for nothing.
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Vance Astrovik volunteers to be sent on a mission to Centauri IV, which is a thousand year-long journey. He has to be sealed inside a special suit to prevent him dying of old age on the way there, and cryogenically frozen, with the occasional while spent making sure the ship's still on course. He Goes Mad From The Isolation, but his Mutant powers kick in as a result. ... and when he finally gets there, it turns out mankind figured out how to go faster than light a few centuries after he left, making his entire mission superfluous.
- And then, a few minutes after he's unfrozen, the Badoon appear and try to wipe out mankind, and do a damn thorough job of it, making Vance one of the last humans alive.
- Superboy (1994): Amanda Spence, like most at first, thought that Superboy was the enhanced clone of her father, Dr. Paul Westfield, one of the scientists in charge of the cloning. She then decided to make Superboy's life miserable, feeling he was a disgrace to her father and his memory. This includes creating the more powerful and unstable second clone Match, causing Superboy's body to start falling apart and gruesomely killing Superboy's love interest Tana Moon. Her vengeance was already badly misguided and hugely disproportionate, but when you add in that Westfield was retconned out as being the clone donor, it makes it this trope big time.
- Uncanny X-Men Vol 3: Cyclops begins the mutant revolution — a peaceful demonstration that shows that mutants can co-exist with regular humans. After the 8 month Time Skip following Secret Wars (2015), mutants are going extinct because of Terrigenesis and are hated more than ever.
- In Jonathan Hickman's Avengers run, the possibility that this trope is in effect looms over the story, with the Avengers questioning if they'll be able to stop the Incursions threatening to destroy reality. It's a bigger threat than anything they've faced before and things are looking increasingly hopeless... but even if everything is doomed, would that justify doing nothing? Ultimately subverted; many plans truly were for nothing, but many others came together to save the multiverse, and it's clear that everything would've died if people like the Avengers and Fantastic Four hadn't fought to the bitter end. And even if they had lost, they would've at least gone down fighting.
- Lyta Hall in The Sandman makes a deal with the Furies in an attempt to avenge her husband and son who she believes was killed by Dream of the Endless. Sadly, her son Daniel turns out to be alive but Lyta is unable to recall the Furies after learning this, and when the Furies kill Morpheus Daniel 'dies' alongside him, permanently ruining any chance she had of getting him back.
- In Death Note fanfic Apples Equals Cyanide Equals Light Near thinks everything he did to defeat Kira might have been for nothing, seeing how he became an almost immortal shinigami, pretty much unstoppable now.
- Doing It Right This Time: When Rei meets Gendo for first time after travelling to the past she slaps him and informs him all of his planning was for nothing because he would fail. Gendo was pretty... shaken afterwards.
Shinji: Figures. How much did you actually tell my father, anyway?
Rei: Few details. Only that everything he had worked towards and everything he had put myself and his only son through had been for nothing, and that he would die alone and unmourned, rejected by the only person he had ever truly loved. [...] It was... cathartic.
- Ghosts of Evangelion: After Shinji explains why Yui left, Gendo comes to the realization that his whole plan was for nothing.
Gendo leaned back in his chair. "All for nothing," he whispered. He looked at Shinji, a hint of regret in his eyes, then looked away.
- The One I Love Is: In one of the side-stories Gendo admits all he has done, all lives he has ruined -including his son and daughter's- and all blood he has shed... has been for nothing, since he has failed: he has been unable to free his wife and they will never be together again.
- Ruby and Nora: Everything Ozpin and Pyrrha tried to prevent over the course of their stories ultimately fail.
- Scar Tissue: After returning from Instrumentality, Gendo reflects all he did to reunite with his wife -which includes abusing and torturing his children emotionally and ending the world- was completely useless and meaningless, since Yui chose to remain inside Unit 01 rather merging with everyone into Instrumentality.
- In With Strings Attached, the entire quest is bullshit. The original motive for sending the four after the Vasyn pieces was simply Jeft giving them something to do; the curse that the Vasyn was supposed to remove didn't really exist; and while change was accidentally effected by the restoration of the Vasyn, there's no guarantee that it was actually good. However, the four were never told any of this (except the curse part), so they didn't complain.
- In Mean Time To Breakdown after struggling to remain positive and adapt to her new life, Iwanako finds herself back in the hospital three days later even more depressed than when she left.
- In Shatterheart R!Syaoran attempts to reach out to others, endure his friends' apathy, learn not to isolate himself in his room and find some happiness for himself. Then he backslides when Kurogane ends their relationship when he becomes too attached and Syaoran is more miserable than before.
- In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, the Citadel Council cooks up a plan to fortify Council space against an Alien Invasion (specifically, the Flood) by having Aria T'Loak's pirates hold the line in the Terminus without risking Council assets. Between attacks by a seeming Physical God Sarah a Force-sensitive Siren and the aliens' ability to crash through everything, the plan fails miserably. Hundreds of millions die in non-Council, non-Terminus space, and Council space ultimately falls, though an unlikely savior gets most of the heroes out alive...
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness:
- Throughout Act III, Akua and Kahlua willingly work for Kiria and aid him in his plan to rewrite history with the Chrono Displacement spell, going to such lengths as stealing said spell from their father's secret archive, turning themselves into hybrids with Alucard's blood, and killing numerous innocents, because they hoped to make Issa one of the top rulers of the new world that Kiria intended to create. They're naturally horrified when they discover that they were nothing but Kiria's Unwitting Pawns and that part of his Evil Plan would have involved having the two infected with Blackheart and sent back in time to destroy Issa's empire from within so he would be the strongest monster of them all, which is anything but what they wanted: they spend the entirety of Act IV trying to atone for their actions. To further drive the nail in, Kiria's plan was doomed to fail from the start, as if Tsukune and the others had fallen, Luna would have killed Kiria herself and then let the Chrono Displacement spell go critical and destroy everything in a fit of madness.
- During the final chapters of Act V, the actions of Babylon's minions lead the HDA to declare war on monsters, leading them to arrest and quarantine any monster they can find and drive the dark lords out of the human world. After some events, however, they realize by Act VI chapter 52 that their efforts were in vain; Babylon had been targeting the monster world all along, and the humans were unfortunate enough to get caught in the crossfire.
- In With This Ring Paul merges with the Ophidian to save his surviving friends and Earth from an Alien Invasion during its Darkest Hour, only to find it was never real and no one was in danger.
- In The Second Try, when Gendo interrogates his son, Shinji warns him that all his scheming and planning would be for nothing since everyone will die and Yui will never come back to him. Gendo refuses to believe it, but when he realizes that Shinji is right, he tries to kill himself.
- In A Brief History of Equestria, Princess Platinum does everything in her power—up to and including orchestrating her own death—to rid Equestria of the monarchy. Her efforts will ultimately be for naught when Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are crowned co-rulers of Equestria.
- Weight of the World: In The Depth of Deception, the entire Kuchinashi mission was pointless. Salem's forces found Mistral first so Yang's group entered Kuchinashi, hunted down Roman, and were captured for nothing. Not only that, but their absence from the City of Mistral let Salem's forces get the Relic of Knowledge and kill Neo/Mistral.
- Crimson And Emerald: Endeavor went through deplorable lengths to surpass All Might which includes using his family as his stepping stones. It's all for naught, his negative qualities drop him to Number Three with his recklessness making it difficult to get Number Two making becoming Number One to be even more of pipe dream. His treatment of his family is so horrible that it drives the other genuinely heroic characters like Hawks, All Might and Inko to intervene to save his family from him. So Endeavor no longer possesses his "perfect tool" Shouto and has to pay restitution to the family he neglected and abused. The more popular Hawks is being groomed to be All Might's immediate successor as Number One hero. All his children hate and fear him. His reputation with the both the public and fellow Top Ten heroes is the toilet. Everything he worked as amounted to nothing.
- A Goofy Movie has Max learning to accept his dad, faults and all, for who he is. In the sequel, An Extremely Goofy Movie, Max's first line of dialogue shows that Max has regressing to being often annoyed with his dad. On the other hand, it has been a few years and the circumstances are quite different (with the first being based in lack of communication and the second on lack of purpose). In fact, one can view the first movie being the focus on Max and the sequel on Goofy.
- A downplayed example in Frozen Fever. After spending most of Frozen learning how to control her powers, Elsa again loses control in the sequel short. This time, however, she at least has a better idea of how to handle that loss of control, and the results are much less disastrous.
- Coco: Miguel becomes stuck in the Land of the Dead and needs find a family member who will give him their (unconditional) blessing so he can go home. After some challenges, he finally tracks down Ernesto de la Cruz, who agrees. Then he finds out Ernesto is a murderous phony who stole the songs that made him famous from another musician, whom he killed. Not wanting to risk Miguel telling people the truth, Ernesto changes his mind and instead tries to trap Miguel. On top of that, it turns out Ernesto isn't even actually a relative of his at all.
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Kingpins ultimate plan is an attempt to undo his greatest mistake by finding an alternate version of his deceased family with the Collider. Little does he know that people transported to other dimensions with the Collider cant stay there for more than a few days before breaking down on an atomic level. As Spider-Man bluntly tells him, his plan to get his family back will never work and all the evil things hes done are all for nothing; even if he did get them, hed just lose them all over again.
- Horror movie franchises are infamous for this, such as killing off the Final Girl of the previous film (Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome) in the first two minutes of the sequel, often at the hands of the very same villain that she went through hell to defeat last time, who always comes back because he's too popular to be put down for good.
- Alien³ kills off two characters who Ripley spent the whole second film protecting... in the first few minutes... off camera.
- Similarly, Terminator 2: Judgment Day has the characters Screw Destiny... but the third film reveals that You Can't Fight Fate, and all the efforts in the second film to stop apocalypse were pre-destined to fail.
- In the Director's Cut of Das Boot, the German submarine crew survives many dangerous encounters to make it home—only to be killed by an Allied air raid on their port.
- In Reservoir Dogs, Mr. Orange was a cop, after all. Additionally, Mr. Orange reveals to the audience that he's undercover when he kills off Mr. Blonde to stop the latter from hacking a fellow cop to death. This comes at the expense of risking potentially blowing his cover when the rest of the crew comes back to the hideout, and indeed, his bosses are so unwilling to believe his cover story for killing Blonde that it leads to the film's infamous Kill Em All Mexican Standoff. The real clincher? As soon as the crew returns, Nice Guy Eddie looks around at the carnage and pops a few slugs into Orange's fellow cop, killing him instantly. So not only was Orange's intervention all for nothing, it ended up dooming everyone else, as well.
- In Dirty Dancing, Baby says this when her efforts to get Johnny cleared of theft charges get him fired anyway for having a relationship with a guest.
- Most heist movies end this way: The money blows away (The Killing), gets burned up (original Ocean's 11), or comes loose (The Lavender Hill Mob). Others include a mentally challenged boy collecting license plate numbers in The League of Gentlemen or the brains behind the operation staring at a young girl so long the cops catch up with him in The Asphalt Jungle. It's usually a way of showing that You Can't Fight Fate (and that Crime Doesn't Pay).
- Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith Anakin turned to the Dark Side because Palpatine promised him a way to keep Padme from dying, but when she learns what Anakin has done in pursuit of this, she confronts him, leading to him Force Choke her. In the end, he became Darth Vader, murdered an unknown number of innocent children, helped create The Empire, and ultimately caused the death of his wife. He lost the love of his life, his friends, and everything else he risked his life for in pursuit of a way to keep from losing his wife like he did his mother.
- In Nine Days of One Year, the hero, a nuclear research scientist, winds up absorbing fatal doses of radiation while running experiments designed to produce a fusion reaction. While he's in the hospital awaiting a long-shot bone marrow transplant that might save his life, he finds out that the effect he'd observed in his experiments wasn't fusion after all, and he hasn't found a new energy source.
- In Black Hawk Down, a couple of Delta Force snipers go to rescue one of the pilots of one of the downed helicopters, Durant, and after placing him in a nearby building, they go back to defend the chopper, drawing the militia fighters away from Durant by using themselves as bait. Unfortunately, after the two are killed off, Durant ends up being captured by the Somali militia anyway.
- The Life of David Gale: The governor had promised if evidence if an innocent person executed ever surfaced he'd call a moratorium on capital punishment. Gale's death is set up as exactly this. However, the governor refuses to call the moratorium, saying the state can't be blamed for a plot by someone else.
- I Shot Jesse James: Despite being his best friend, Robert Ford murders outlaw Jesse James in order to escape his outlaw life and be with his Love Interest. However, it all backfires. Hes stiffed with the reward, hes considered a coward instead of a hero, and he loses the girl to another suitor.
- The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a few examples of this:
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier: The Reveal that HYDRA is alive and bigger, more seclusive and dangerous than ever, which rendered everything Captain America and his friends did to wipe them out in World War II meaningless. Black Widow even lampshades this later in the movie.
- Avengers: Infinity War: All the heroes' attempts to stop Thanos from completing the Infinity Gauntlet fail miserably, with half the heroes disintegrating by the end and a few others dead. This is ultimately played with, however, as Doctor Strange implies that it is All According to Plan.
- Throughout the movie, the Secret Avengers (plus Rhodey) try to find a way to destroy the Mind Stone without killing Vision. Wakanda is attacked before Shuri can finish detatching Vision's consciousness from the Stone, forcing Wanda to take him and flee into the forest. In the end, Wanda destroys Vision completely to keep Thanos from getting the Mind Stone, only for Thanos to bring him back with the Time Stone and brutally rip the Mind Stone out of him.
- Infinity War also rendered the whole plot of Guardians of the Galaxy story moot, where they tried to protect the Power Stone, given just a brief mention as "Thanos attacked Xandar" last week.
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: A particularly cruel example happens during the credits via Thanos's snap, killing those Ant-Man spent the entire film helping, and leaving him trapped exactly the same as Janet was with no way out.
- The World of Kanako: In the end, after being beaten, shot, betrayed and kidnapped by the Yakuza (and after dealing out a lot of punishment too), Akikazu still cannot find Kanako. As far as we know, she's dead and buried in the snow but he refuses to accept this and keeps searching for her.
- Wonder Woman (2017); Diana single-handedly liberates the town of Veld from the Germans on her quest to stop Ares. The next day, General Ludendorff uses it as ground zero to demonstrate his new gas weapon, killing every civilian Diana and her team saved.
- X-Men Film Series: All the struggling that the Professor Xavier and his X-Men went through to protect mutantkind in the previous movies—especially in X-Men: Days of Future Past—come across as a moot point in Logan, given the fact that most mutants died out anyway, along with several of the X-Men themselves, not due to some big final battle, but thanks to one of Xavier's telepathic seizures and the birth of future mutants has been stopped thanks to crops being genetically modified to suppress the mutant gene. Pretty much the whole saga, including any future installments, is ultimately for nothing and comes to a horrible end.
- Police Academy had a subplot which ended this way. The night before the driving test, Hightower comes to Mahoney and tells him that he hasn't driven a car in a long time and Harris told him he'd flunk out if he didn't pass. So, Mahoney takes him out for a driving lesson in Blanks' car and badly damages it in the process. Hightower ends up passing the test, but Hooks goes after him. At the end of her test, she runs over Blanks' foot. He calls her a racial slur as a result, inciting Hightower to go after him. After Hightower flips over the test car with Blanks in it, Harris expels him. Furthermore, Blanks sees the damage to his car and gets into a fight with Mahoney and Barbara. Mahoney ends up getting expelled as well after he takes the blame for the fight. Their expulsions get revoked - and they get commendations on top of it - when they show up to help contain the riot that breaks out in the climax and save Harris' life in the process.
- The Longest Day: On D-Day, the U.S. Army Rangers launch a costly assault on Pointe du Hoc to take out several artillery batteries that could have threatened the main landings. However, after finally making it up the cliff and securing the bunkers, the Rangers find out the guns were never even installed and the entire assault was a waste of time. This is subverted if you know that, in real life, the Rangers later succeeded in locating and destroying the guns.
- The Return of Count Yorga had the the main hero Baldwin finally reaching Cynthia after barely avoiding Yorga's traps. He confront Yorga on the roof of the manor and, with Cynthia's help, manages to kill him. Looks to be all well...until it's revealed he was bitten by Yorga's brides on his way to rescue Cynthia and the change finally kicked in, to which immediately goes to bite Cynthia.
- Atomic Blonde: As the film proceeds, the characters come to the realization that the entire Cold War was more or less all for nothing, and that their place in the world is rapidly disappearing. In particular, Percival realizing this drove him to his FaceHeel Turn. Driven home by how Lorraine's mission ends: she gets at least two total innocents and a whole mess of bad guys killed in the name of helping the U.S. swindle their own allies out of some information that's going to be completely irrelevant in mere days.
- Deep Blue Sea:
- Susan made illegal modifications to the sharks, inadvertently making her responsible for all the subsequent deaths when the super-intelligent sharks break out, but she did it to find a cure for degenerative diseases and even uses this as a defense of her actions when given a What the Hell, Hero? speech. However, the cure is later destroyed when she is forced to electrocute one of the sharks as it attacks her along with the substance they extracted from their brains, making those sacrifices ultimately pointless.
- Amazingly, the same applies to the sharks. The entire film they've been working on a plan to herd around the humans and flood the facility so they can escape. After two of the sharks are already dead, the last one actually manages to break through the fence, only to be blown up five seconds later by a stick of gunpowder fired into her back.
- Robin and Marian: Richard has the Chalus castle burned down to seize a golden statue its lord allegedly has, while killing women and children doing so. Afterward it turns out that the statue was ordinary stone.
- Part of what motivates Billy Batson in Shazam! to have runaway from over a dozen foster homes is his determination to find his birth mother that he lost in a fair ten years before. After skipping school and getting into an argument with Freddy, another boy living in the same group home, and then getting beaten up as Shazam by Dr. Sivana, one of the other children breaks into government databases and gives Billy his mother's address. When Billy goes to her apartment, he's overjoyed and wants to give her a hug, but she refuses, explaining that her parents kicked her out when she got pregnant at 17, her husband, likely a kid like she was, left her soon after. When she lost him at the fair, she noticed he was being well tended by the cops that found him, and determined that since she couldn't take care of him, that he would be better off in the foster system. Billy gives her back the compass she won for him at the fair, and walks away alone.
- In The Hunger Games this is what Katniss feels like after Prim, the sister she went through all of the hell of the Hunger Games for, dies in the final portion of Mockingjay.
- Harry Potter:
- There's a different sort of example in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Most of the drama for the first 3/4 (at least) of the book surrounds Harry's performance in the three Tasks of the Triwizard Tournament. The drama is removed from this on all rereadings, when you know that Harry was aided, manipulated and guided through all 3 challenges by the villain, and the villain's entire plan hinged on Harry winning the Tournament.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Harry and Dumbledore fight through all of Voldemort's protections on his locket Horcrux, only for Harry to later discover that it was a fake.
- The Distant Epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows shows that Harry Earned His Happy Ending—the world is at peace, he no longer has soul pains, and he has a warm relationship with his son Albus; when Albus worries about his Sorting, Harry assures him that he won't be placed in Slytherin if he doesn't want to be. Then Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out, and we find out a new evil is rising, Harry's scar hurts again, his relationship with Albus is and has apparently always been strained, and Albus was put in Slytherin and is miserable there.
- A disappointing example occurs in the Sword of Truth series, in which the dramatic climax of the (relatively good) first book turns out to have been all for naught. Umpteen books later, in the final book of the series, we discover that Darken Rahl would have died no matter what box he opened. So much for The Power of Love.
- Essentially the entire plot of The First Law turns out to have been this, in the sense that nothing truly changed and the protagonists were only tools. Certainly all of Logen's and Jezal's quest in the second book qualifies, as does, to an extent, Glokta's defense of...Ah, hell, like I said, the entire plot.
- Stephen Donaldson does this all but nonstop in his Thomas Covenant books, thanks to the absolute cunning of Lord Foul the Despiser, to the point that one character outright advises the protagonist: "It boots nothing to avoid his snares, for they are always set about with other snares". It's a very, very standard part of his fiction.
- Kevin Landwaster, a lofty and wise ancient lord, who, after brutally battling Lord Foul for years, fell into despair, eventually resorting to The Ritual of Desecration, that snuffed out almost all life there for centuries. The hope was that the land could regrow while Lord Foul would surely die. He didn't. Kevin using the ritual was Lord Foul's idea in the first place.
- The Unhomed Giants, subject to a lengthy rescue campaign by the Lords - who were wiped out in a genocide brought about by the very omen they thought would save them, all unwilling to run or raise even a single hand in self-defense. They were told that their troubles - dwindling numbers, declining birthrates, slow death - would all be over when their race gave birth to triplets. They did. All three of them were soon possessed by staggeringly evil spirits.
- Whatshername - we never hear her name - who tried to warn the Lords about a nasty Ur-Vile ambush, and who was bewitched to be unable to speak at all, so that her very attempts to warn the Lords would delay them long enough for the ambush to be sprung in the first place.
- The story of Sunder and Hollian, who accompany the heroes throughout the journey, and both die and are resurrected in extremely unlikely circumstances and their son Anele, who is entrusted with the Staff of Law - and who outright loses it.
- Convenant's daughter Elena, who locates all the MacGuffins needed to get to the Earthblood, which grants one wish to the drinker, granted unconditionally so long as it's within natural power , and then completely screws it up when she does drink it, sending the spirit of the aforementioned already despair-broken High Lord Kevin after Lord Foul. He is swiftly overpowered and enslaved and turned on her, and just as swiftly kills her. The summoning also breaks the natural Law of Death, allowing Lord Foul to raise the dead from this point forward.
- Drool Rockworm, who tried to win freedom for the Cavewights from Lord Foul, and who was just being led along by Lord Foul to recover the Illearth Stone.
- The now-non-canon Star Wars Legends expanded universe reveals that Emperor Palpatine came back to life after the events of the Original Trilogy. though it should be noted he's destroyed again by the end of the Dark Empire stories. This is a notable source of Fanon Discontinuity for many, despite the fact that Lucas actually liked it more than most of the EU book series. As of April 2014, it is considered non-canon, and even the emperor's actor, Ian McDiarmid stated that Palpatine is now Killed Off for Real.
- Both the book and the film version of The Neverending Story play with this: Atreyu has risked his life and lost people important to him on a quest to find out the cause of the Empress's illness and what had to be done to cure her, only to have her reveal that she'd known both of these things all along. Atreyu is understandably furious about this, until the Empress explains that his quest was important and did have a purpose, even if it wasn't the one stated up front.
- In The Divergent Trilogy, Tori's Roaring Rampage of Revenge to avenge her brother Georges death in Insurgent and death in Allegiant amount to this, after The Reveal that her brother George is alive and outside the fence.
- The Running Man: Richards joins the Running Man contest, being pursued by groups of 'Hunters' and receiving money for every hour he stays alive, in order to provide for his wife and his sick daughter. He makes it further than any previous contestant in the history of the show, eluding the Hunters for almost two weeks and managing to escape on a plane after he publicly threatens to blow up the airfield (which is a bluff). Killian then offers him a job, but reveals that Richards' family had been killed in a home invasion only two days after the start of the contest. With nothing left to live for, he hijacks the plane and flies it right into the Games Tower.
- In the prologue of the first The Machineries of Empire book, Kel Cheris' unit takes tremendous losses and she herself is forced to commit heresy to secure the enemy infrastructure intact - only for her superiors to pull her and her people out and bomb the entire area into oblivion.
- The Fear Street book "The Rich Girl" has Sydney and Emma finding a bag of money. They decide to hide it but then friend Jason starts acting up majorly to attack and the girls end up killing him. When it looks like Jason is coming back from the grave, Sydney starts to snap and finally has a total breakdown to land in the mental hospital. At which point, it turns out that Jason is alive and he and Emma did all this to get rid of Sydney so they could get the money for themselves. But when they try to spend some, they find out that while some bills are real, the vast majority of it is fake play money. The book ends with Emma rocked to realize she destroyed her best friend for a "fortune" that doesn't exist.
- Run With The Wind: During Day 1 of Hakone Ekiden, Prince is the starting runner for Kansei and unexpectedly comes last in his section, but the admirable efforts of Musa and the twins help the team climb up the rankings. Unfortunately, the last runner for the day is the very sick Shindo; he has to push himself to move at all, let alone complete his section, and the team drops back down to 20th place for that first half. The team of course has nothing but admiration and concern for Shindo, who insisted on competing since withdrawing would mean Kansei dropping out of Hakone together.
- 24's second season had Jack recover some of his ordinary life by the end. The third season reveals that he has completely screwed it up between seasons, becoming (among other things) a heroin addict.
- This is the entire theme of The Americans. Phillip and Elizabeth are deep cover KGB agents in 1980s Washington. The entire series revolves around them doing dirty jobs, sacrificing so much and even ruining the lives of friends for their mission. The series finale has them "burning" their lives in America, leaving behind their children and returning to Moscow. The series ends with the duo back home...unaware that in just two years, the USSR will collapse, the KGB will be disbanded and everything they did for their country will be for naught. In other words, the series focuses on two Cold War soldiers with no idea they ultimately will lose the War.
- Angel Season 3 has such an example when Wesley discovers a prophecy that seems to predict that Angel will eventually kill his newborn son Connor. Fearing for the baby's life, Wesley makes a deal with Angel's old enemy Holtz to spirit the baby away before that happens, but Holtz ends up double-crossing him; as a result, Wesley ends up with a Slashed Throat while Holtz and Connor end up trapped in the hell dimension Quor'toth. Then it's revealed that the prophecy was in fact fabricated by the demon Sahjhan, who had discovered that Connor was destined to grow up and kill him. When Fred visits Wesley in the episode, she informs him of his blunder, even quoting the trope name word for word.
- In the Breaking Bad episode "Ozymandias," Walter White's ill-advised kidnapping of his infant daughter Holly when he realized Skyler and Walter Jr. turned against him and thinking that Holly couldn't turn against him due to not knowing enough practically put a final nail in the coffin for any chance of redemption. And he was proven wrong, as she started crying "Mama!" Having realized he'd gone too far, Walt sent Holly to the Fire Station to be brought home to his wife and son, and he spent the rest of his life at least partially try to making amends until his death in the finale.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 5 has all the drama of Joyce's brain tumor. Then she dies of an aneurysm after the tumor is removed.
- A purposeful, tragic example in season 7: a girl named Cassie has prophetic powers and repeatedly predicts that she will die this Friday. Because of this, a cult tries to sacrifice her to a demon, figuring people will just rule her disappearance a suicide. Buffy saves her from the demon, saves her from a booby trap, tells her that people can make their own destinies...and then Cassie falls dead from a heart condition that she didn't even know that she had. After giving a veiled prediction that Buffy will stop the Apocalypse.
- Degrassi Junior High
- L.D. has to deal with trauma from her mother's dying of cancer. She finally learns not to fear and distrust all things relating to health — and in Degrassi High, L.D. gets leukemia.
- Much of Degrassi Junior High is Big Ego, Hidden Depths for Joey, who learns not to be such a lazy ass. In Degrassi High, all that talk about getting off his butt and working hard is rendered meaningless when it turns out he has dysgraphia. (It still fits his character arc, since he still has to cope with feelings of inadequacy, but it's a huge shift.)
- The Do They Know It's Christmas Time? episode of Degrassi Junior High is about Arthur and Yick learning to stay friends even though Arthur is richer and Yick is more rebellious. The lesson sticks for the whole series. But in Degrassi High, they almost stop being friends completely for those same reasons.
- As the resident Anti-Hero, Wheels is always getting shoved through the HeelFace Revolving Door. More than once, he turns heel off-screen, with no warning until we're suddenly told that he's been acting this way for weeks. Second-Hand Storytelling makes the perfect tool for manipulatng the audience.
- Doctor Who:
- "The Caves of Androzani", in which almost every action and event is rendered pointless by almost everyone dying. What's more, the only thing the Doctor was able to accomplish was saving Peri's life; meanwhile, he caused a gigantic power collapse on Androzani Major and managed to destroy one of the planet's most valuable resources.
- "Bad Wolf"/"The Parting of the Ways": The Doctor discovers that, after he sacrificed his own species to destroy the Daleks in the Time War, they're still around, meaning his people died for nothing.
- "Daleks in Manhattan": The Doctor has this reaction again when he finds out the Daleks escaped the Battle of Canary Wharf, where he lost a companion stopping them.
[Tranquil Fury] "They survived. They always survive, while I lose everything."
- In the Pilot Movie of Emergency!, the thing that convinces John Gage to become a paramedic is when he rescues an electrocuted line man and because the lineman didn't get any life saving treatment to stabilize him before transport to the hospital, he was hopelessly terminal by the time he arrived. As John remarks, "Rescue, Hell. All we rescued was a corpse."
- Game of Thrones:
- Jorah's plan to regain Daenerys' favour by presenting her with Tyrion. All he gets out of the whole adventure is a case of greyscale.
- After sacrificing his daughter so he can resume his advance, Stannis loses everyone and everything including the battle.
- Despite an entire season worth of effort, Myrcella dies anyway.
- Theon sabotaged Sansas attempts to free herself from Ramsay Bolton in order to protect her from his wrath (as he believed that escape was impossible and trying would only make things worse), but eventually realizes that all his efforts are meaningless because Ramsay is still planning to torture and eventually kill her anyway (after he gets a Child by Rape from her to secure his claim to the North). Knowing this makes him snap and he breaks out of being Reek for the first time.
- Robert's rebellion ended with his beloved dead, and him stuck with a crown he never wanted. "The Dragon and the Wolf" reveals that Lyanna was never kidnapped by Rhaegar, but instead went with him willingly because she was truly in love with him.
- Queen Cersei's schemes and plots cost her all her allies, the lives of her children and the love of her brother/lover, but in the end she's once again forced into an unwanted marriage, except with a much worse suitor, she's completely alone and surrounded by enemies.
- On Hawaii Five-0 a girl is seemingly kidnapped by her boyfriend who killed her father. The team find evidence the girl was abused by her dad and the boyfriend was trying to help her. But as they dig deeper, they realize the evidence is fake and the girl was using the man to kill her father so she could inherit his million-dollar life insurance policy. The girl arranges for her dupe "boyfriend" to be killed by the cops and talks of him as a madman attacking her family. But not only does the team know the truth but in interrogation, they drop the bomb: Wanting to make sure her college education was paid for, her father stopped payments on his life insurance so the policy had lapsed. Kono openly snaps "you've got nothing" as they leave the girl to spend her life in prison.
- How I Met Your Mother ends this way: Barney and Robin get divorced after three years of marriage, Ted finally meets the Mother and is blissfully happy for eleven years until she comes down with an illness and dies in 2024, six years before he started telling the story, and the kids have realized that the story was really a way to ask them for approval to chase Robin AGAIN.
- Law & Order has a case where a Jewish woman killed a man thought to have her grandfather's Nazi-confiscated coin collection. Eventually, after several false starts, red herrings, and wild goose chases, the prosecutors find out that said murder victim never possessed the collection in the first place; he said he did as a financial pretense on which to back his fortune and only knew of the collection from an old auction catalog he'd read. The murderer breaks down in tears and horror as she realizes she killed a man for nothing but a memory.
- Played for Black Comedy in "Couples", which opens with a man dying of a heart attack while jogging with his husband. It later turns out he was poisoned and the cops go to his spouse. To their surprise, the man immediately confesses to the murder, assuming the cops already figured it out. He then starts moaning over how his lawyer just broke it to him that the state of New York refuses to acknowledge the marriage as legal and since everything was in his husband's name, he's about to lose their home and not able to inherit any money or even access accounts.
- Ray Palmer of the Arrowverse feels this way about his wealth and inventions, which is what motivates him to join Rip Hunter in the Pilot of Legends of Tomorrow:
- On Lost, Jacob has become the Island's protector reluctantly, almost against his wish. He wants it to be different for his replacement, so he sets up an elaborate system of candidates that last for at least a few dozens if not hundred years, affecting and ending the lives of hundreds different people. Near the end it appears to pay off, as Jack takes on the job consciously and willingly. However, he then performs a Heroic Sacrifice within the following day and passes the job to Hurley, who is extremely reluctant to take it from him and even went as far as saying "Just glad it's not me" when Jack himself volunteered for the job. Jacob's entire plan eventually resulted in nothing. (though Jack's sacrifice was to stop the Big Bad that Jacob tried to keep from leaving the Island, so it did pay off... at the cost of both Jacob and Jack's lives)
- Another example: The Oceanic 6 spend 3 years lying about the time they spend on the Island and the fates of people that they left behind, believing themselves to be protecting their friends from Charles Widmore. This causes most of them some serious guilt issues. However, it is later revealed that Widmore performed an off-screen HeelFace Turn and, while still a big jerk, was actually on the same side as our heroes. Even then, he couldn't have possibly harmed any of the people left on the Island, as those were stuck in a completely different time period. Sorry, Hurley, the Lie was All For Nothing.
- Could be argued that most of the characters' storylines became All For Nothing at various points through season 6, the writers just killing them off seemingly without a care for any kind of subplot they still had going on. Probably worst of all when Sun spends almost a season and a half returning to the island and finding Jin so they can return to their daughter before both simply drown.
- John Locke's entire story arc also seemingly turned out to be All For Nothing, as he was simply a pawn in The Man In Black's game all along. However, Locke's life and death did had one major consequence: he had finally managed to convince Jack of the truth of his beliefs, thus allowing all the events of the last two seasons to happen.
- The first season of Madam Secretary has the subplot of a splinter group of the CIA and State Department working to overthrow the current Iranian government to put in a leader who can be far more friendly to American interests. Liz is briefly tempted to let them do it...until she discovers that their hand-picked new leader has a terminal brain tumor and just six months to live. Thus, the coup will barely be settled before his death kicks off a power struggles that will leave the nation a mess all over again.
- The Man in the High Castle takes place in a 1962 where the Axis won World War II. Hawthorne is able to collect films from alternate worlds, including a few where the Allies won. Finding out, the Nazis put together a massive machine designed to cross over to these other worlds. In the season 3 finale, Commander Smith tells a captive Hawthorne that the Nazis have tested the device with three "volunteers" exploding and a fourth vanishing. They are now going to use it to invade and conquer other Earths. Hawthrone smugly tells Smith this won't work for one simple reason: A person can only cross over into another reality if their counterpart in that world is already dead. There's no way the Nazis can know what world they're going to go into, let alone which of the soldiers sent have living counterparts or not. So unless the Nazis plan to field a force made up only of anyone born since 1947 (and even then, it's 50/50), there's no chance their invasion won't end up with sixty to ninty percent of the soldiers not surviving the trip.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Daredevil (2015):
- Season 1 ends with Matt, Karen and Foggy defeating Wilson Fisk and putting him away after getting a corrupt detective to link Fisk to the murders of Detective Blake and several other cops. However, this only temporarily stops Fisk, as season 2 shows him rebuilding his criminal empire from within prison, even using Frank Castle to get rid of the kingpin who heads the prison's underground economy. And in season 3, he gets out of prison and seeks revenge on Matt, Karen and Foggy for putting him away.
- Matt's defeat of Nobu and the Hand in season 2 is rendered this trope by Iron Fist (2017) season 1 and The Defenders (2017), which reveal Matt only defeated a faction of the Hand, and never got close to touching the other factions led by Bakuto, Madame Gao, Sowande, and Alexandra.
- Matt manages to save Stick from Elektra in the 12th episode of season 2, but this only prolongs Stick's life by a couple months, and the next time around, in The Defenders (2017), Elektra kills Stick, with Matt unable to stop her.
- Jessica Jones (2015) season 1 sees the protagonists trying to clear Hope's name, after Kilgrave made Hope kill her parents. Jessica Jones and her allies go through dangerous lengths in order to capture him alive just to prove his powers and therefore, Hope's innocence. In the end however, he evades all their traps and Hope kills herself so Jessica can focus on killing him instead of bringing Kilgrave to justice.
- Luke Cage (2016): All of Misty Knight and Luke Cage's work to take down the Stokes-Dillard gang succeeds in putting away Luke's murderous half-brother Diamondback, but Mariah walks free due to arranging for Shades to kill the one witness who could link her to Cottonmouth's murder.
- Daredevil (2015):
- In the episode "Adam's Ribs" of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye and Trapper go through great lengths to get an order of ribs delivered from Chicago to their outfit in Korea. The moment the ribs are served and the cast is about to have dinner, casualties are arriving and they're all off to the O.R.
- Well, they have the ribs, they'll just need to be reheated. So this is more like delayed gratification.
- Also they forgot the coleslaw.
- There was another episode where they were so desperate for real food (Father Mulcahy in particular) that they spent months growing corn. And then the cook creamed all of it, much to Mulcahy's chagrin.
- In one ep, Potter was delighted by an accidentally-delivered can of tomato juice, something he hasn't had in a long while. Radar wants to get him a whole case, so he, Hawkeye and BJ engage in a load of horse-trading and just plain grief to acquire it. When they get their goods, Potter reveals that he remembered why he had gone so long without tomato juice - he's horribly allergic.
- Well, they have the ribs, they'll just need to be reheated. So this is more like delayed gratification.
- Merlin. At the inception of the series, a teenaged Merlin comes to Camelot and is made Arthur's manservant, being told repeatedly by a prophetic dragon that the two of them have a great destiny together: to unite Albion, to legalize magic, and to usher in the Golden Age. It never comes to pass. After five seasons, which amounts to ten in-show years, Arthur dies at Mordred's hands before any of this can occur. Unless you count the brief three years of Arthur and Guinevere's reign that happened entirely off-screen in the Time Skip between series 4 and 5 (in which Merlin is still a lowly servant and the druids and other magic-users still have to live in hiding), everything that Merlin ever worked, waited and hoped for comes to naught. Though given that the Distant Finale shows that Merlin is still around, and Arthur is traditionally the King in the Mountain...
- More than once on Murder, She Wrote, the killer discovers too late that the motive for the murder (from a supposed payday to winning over someone's love) either never existed or isn't what they expect. A key example is "Night of the Coyote." A man kills a rancher to find the location of a lockbox stolen by bandits a century before. He finally digs it up, expecting gold or silver. Instead, he finds it's filled with bonds...for a company that went bankrupt in 1905.
- The Mythbusters have made several very complicated myth setups, only for them to completely blow up in their faces.
- A giant Lego ball that took hours of work of about a dozen people to make, after getting both all the blocks from Lego Land and the largest private collector, completely broke apart before it even made it halfway down the setup track.
- This was actually a huge success as it proved that the video was a fake.
- When they attempted to retest the JATO Rocket Car myth from their pilot episode, they wanted to give it the best possible chance of actually getting airborne, so they pulled out all the stops: spending a lot of money on a "real" rocket (instead of their original homemade version), building and reinforcing a massive ramp, installing remote controls and elaborate tow-lines so it could be launched safely. After all that effort and expense, their professionally-built rocket engine exploded when it was ignited. This was perhaps the only time since the first season that they couldn't give a verdict of "busted", "plausible", or "confirmed". As this was the "Supersized Special", they ended up calling the myth "appropriately supersized"; after all, they'd still gotten a consolatory fireball.
- A giant Lego ball that took hours of work of about a dozen people to make, after getting both all the blocks from Lego Land and the largest private collector, completely broke apart before it even made it halfway down the setup track.
- This was a big part of Power Rangers Samurai. Throughout the entire season, it has been stated that the sealing symbol of the Red Ranger was the only thing that could seal Master Xandred away forever. However, when the big moment comes for it to be used, Master Xandred shrugs it off, having gained an immunity to it earlier. It's not just the build up for the sealing power that's for nothing, but the fact that Jayden kept his sister's existence hidden from his friends, as well as all of Lauren's hard work to master the sealing symbol, not to mention their father's plan that started it all. It was even lampshaded.
- Red Dwarf: In "Waiting for God", Lister discovers that during the 3 million years he was in stasis, the race of beings that evolved from his cat founded a religion worshipping him as "Cloister the Stupid". They then proceeded to have a holy war over whether the sacred cardboard hats at his hot dog stand were supposed to be red or blue. What makes it this trope is that according to Lister, the hats were supposed to be green.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Omega Glory" Captain Ronald Tracey blatantly violates the Prime Directive and gets involved on a primitive planet's war, takes Kirk and his landing party prisoner, murders their Red Shirt in cold blood and throws Kirk in with savages to die, all for the sake of getting a serum that supposedly can extend a humanoid's lifespan by centuries. Needless to say, he doesn't take it very well when Dr. McCoy discovers that the natives simply evolved that way and thus there is no serum to isolate.
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Lower Decks" has Sito Jaxa (the most focused on of the ensigns and also the one with the most to prove) killed at the end, making all of her efforts moot.
- Subverted with a vengeance in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "In the Pale Moonlight" where Sisko himself notes in his log that after violating one moral principle after another in a scheme with Garak to bring the Romulans into the Dominion war, the whole thing blew up in his face and it seemed all his moral compromises were wasted. Garak, however, refused to let his Xanatos Gambit go to waste that easily and managed to salvage it with one thoroughly brilliant and utterly criminal act of treachery.
- On Timeless, Wyatt believes his wife was murdered by a notorious serial killer. He steals the time machine "Lifeboat" to go back to 1983 and prevent the killer's parents from meeting. It turns into a mess as the man destined to be that killer's father accidentally dies. Wyatt is shaken but copes with how he prevented his wife's murder. Returning to the present, he's not only arrested but discovers that while the killer wasn't born and his other victims were alive, Wyatt's wife isn't. A stunned Wyatt realizes someone else killed his wife and the trip just ends up with him arrested.
- In the The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "I Shot An Arrow Into The Air", a group of astronauts on a prototype rocket crash-land on what they believe is an asteroid somewhere in the Earth's orbit. Only three of them- Col. Donlin, Corey, and Pierson- survive and are left with limited supplies, little water, and no way off. While everyone is focused on survival, Corey gradually descends into a Crazy Survivalist who butts heads with the other two constantly. He goes so far as to murder Pierson on an expedition to take his water and then guns down Donlin before setting out on his own. After spending the better part of a day climbing over a mountain, Corey makes it over the top and sees telephone poles and a sign for Reno, Nevada. Realizing that they just crashed back into the Earth, he starts Laughing Mad before breaking down crying.
- The Wire ends like for this for Jimmy McNulty, whose fake serial killer scheme finally wrecks his police career. It did get Marlo Stanfield off the streets but it's implied it's temporary and in the greater scheme of things, it didn't make Baltimore a better place.
- Both The Fantasticks and Into the Woods do this deliberately as a Deconstruction of fairy tales. The first act is a mythic tale with beginning and end, and the second act is life going on and not ending so neatly.
- In Henry V the titular king, unhindered by civil war, takes his "noblest English" into France and, despite overwhelming odds, defeats the French at Agincourt. Not only does he win the country (or a big chunk of it) he charmingly woos the French Princess Katherine to seal the deal and the last action has the two of them getting ready to be wed. Then the Chorus reminds the audience that, like in real life, Henry would be dead a few short years later, and his son's reign would see all those French territories lost and the country of England plunged into one of its famous and bloody civil wars.
- This trope sums up the net gain of any MMO that has shut down. Spent all that time grinding characters, farming loot, hunting achievements and making nerdy friends who you have no actual contact information with? Too bad, the servers are shut down and scrapped (or even sold on the black market as stolen personal information) and all your hard-earned progress is gone forever! Doubly so if you spent any money on the game.
- In The Bard's Tale Trilogy, the first two games are about saving the town of Skara Brae, while in the third game, the town is destroyed.
- Batman: Arkham Knight has a subplot in which Batman and Robin are trying to find a cure to an infection caused by the Joker's blood, which mutates those infected into clones of the Joker, which Joker himself sent to hospitals before his death in Arkham City. One such infectee, Henry Adams, is apparently immune, and Batman believes him to be the key to a cure... but as it turns out, Henry was Evil All Along and in fact faking his immunity, and he subsequently kills the other infectees. Ultimately, there is no cure for the infection, and Batman kept Robin working on a "Shaggy Dog" Story rather than serve as an effective ally in the field; the Joker hallucination that plagues Batman throughout the game gleefully rubs in Batman's face that he went through all that trouble for nothing.
- In Battletech, Victoria Espinosa's character arc ends this way. After performing one dog-kicking act after another for what she believes is the greater good, the Directorate is defeated by Kamea and the Player Character and her father — who had convinced her that his was the only way — decides to surrender rather than fight to the last. Unable to come to terms with the fact that she did all those evil acts for nothing, Victoria has a Villainous Breakdown and commits Suicide by Cop against Kamea and one of your lances.
- Call of Duty: World at War multiplayer matches often end this way if your team loses:
Sgt. Roebuck: A lot of good men died today. All for nothing!
- In Betrayal at Krondor, the renegade moredhel Gorath goes to insane lengths to prevent his people from starting another suicidal war with the humans and by extension achieving peace between the two nations. These "insane lengths" include giving up leadership of the clan he's led for over two centuries and defecting to the humans, thus getting branded traitor and earning his people's hatred and his wife's contempt. In short, he gives up everything. By the end of the story, it is revealed that his efforts mostly only forwarded the villain's plan to get his hands on an Artifact of Doom. He lays down his life to prevent said artifact from destroying the world. Any success towards achieving peace or making his nation less war-crazed? Nada.
- Though this was a Foregone Conclusion, since the game takes place in between two books that had already been published, with no major change to the political landscape between them.
- There is one very delayed benefit in the last arc of the novels: Gorath's sacrifice makes it possible for the heroes to trust a delegation of Moredhel led by Gorath's youngest (And only living) son who volunteer to help keep the Dread from breaking into their universe and destroying it two centuries after his death.
- Dinosaur Forest reveals the adventures of the Space Opera protagonist had been a hallucination from a prison inmate undergoing severe mental health treatments.
- In Dragon Quest II, most of the towns on the main continent have been destroyed, there are tougher monsters roaming the land, and there is a worse Big Bad threatening the world.
- The endings of both Earthworm Jim games, of the comedic kind. In the first game, the cow launched by the hero in the first level suddenly plummets into the ending and crushes the newly rescued Damsel in Distress. In the second, it turns out the Love Interest, the Big Bad and the eponymous earthworm — were all cows in disguise.
- In Fire Emblem Fates, Hinoka pretty much voices this trope aloud during the Conquest route in which their sibling, the player-character, elects to return to the adoptive family whose patriarch murdered their father and kidnapped them from their homeland and birth family, effectively rendering her years of training to rescue them utterly pointless. On top of that, she didn't even get the satisfaction of being the one to bring you back home before you left again - you got stranded and brought back by sheer luck, only to depart of your own accord afterwards for the people that stole you from her. Ouch.
Hinoka: How could this happen?! What have I been fighting for all this time...?
- Happens late in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia. Berkut, nephew to Emperor Rudolf and heir presumptive to the Rigelian throne, resorts to increasingly desperate measures to prove himself worthy of the crown. Then he learns that Alm is actually Rudolf's son and the true heir to the empire, everything he ever fought for was a complete lie, and Rudolf knew all of this and didn't tell him. The results are not pretty.
- Taken at a different angle in Grand Theft Auto V, where Trevor gets Michael and Franklin to help him steal an object of his interest from Merryweather and they succeed in the heist... only for Lester to drop in and tell them that they stole a superweapon and that Trevor intended to sell it to the Chinese. Needless to say, regardless of which approach you choose the steal the thing, Trevor gets chewed out for it pretty bad. What really drives the salt in the wound was that completing the heist without Lester's intervention would have granted the crew 20 million dollars. But looking back on it, it was probably a good idea to leave it amongst the wreckage. Doesn't make the sting less apparent, though.
Franklin: So you mean to tell me this shit was all for nothin'? Man, it's the hood all over again. Fuck!
- At the beginning of Knights of the Old Republic, you are on a planet trying to get past the Sith fleet that has the entire planet blockaded. Along the way, you are given chances to help people or hurt people (generally, being good costs a lot of money, while being bad gets you money, and this is the only place in the game where credits don't grow on trees). At the end of the sequence, the Sith carpet-turbolaser the entire planet, killing effectively every person you helped or hurt or didn't help or hurt in the first quarter of the game, making your decisions moot.
- In Star Wars: The Old Republic you find out that your efforts actually helped a small group survive the orbital bombardment and they form a new society. However, as you progress in the quest line, you discover recordings that recount how the new tribe was ultimately wiped out due to radiation poisoning and constant attacks by monsters created by a plague.
- In the sequel of the first game, the light side path has you traveling across the galaxy to locate the surviving Jedi Masters so you can recruit their aid in fighting the new Sith menace. But when you finally gather them all together, they promptly declare you to be a bigger threat than the Sith (due to your status as a Force Wound) and try to cut you off from the Force—at which point they are interrupted by Kreia who proceeds to kill them all, making your original quest completely pointless.
- Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines becomes this in a meta example. Due to its place in the Old World of Darkness timeline, Gehenna is literally right around the corner when the game ends. Then again, White Wolf's official stance on their canon is that if we don't like an aspect of the lore, we're free to ignore it...
- The Forerunners built seven "Halo" rings, which were galactic WMDs, in order to use them as an absolute last resort against the Flood, who had conquered pretty much the entire galaxy and foiled every advanced weapon or strategy the Forerunners had tried against them. When the Forerunners fought their last stand, they activated the Halo rings and wiped out the Flood throughout the galaxy, stopping them from taking over it...the problem was that when they did it, they not only wiped out the Flood but themselves and any intelligent species remaining in the galaxy as well, making it lifeless. Fortunately, the Forerunners had planned ahead and stored as many species as they could into a safe spot located outside the galaxy, returning them to their homeworlds after the Halos were fired. 100,000 years later, some of the Flood specimens the Forerunners had kept in storage began to break out of containment, and it took a desperate gamble by the good guys to prevent the Forerunners' sacrifice from becoming all for nothing.
- Halo 4's terminals reveal that the Ur-Didact was sealed into a Cryptum in the hopes that prolonged meditation would restore his sanity. However, as detailed in The Forerunner Saga, he would need access to the Domain during his slumber to help heal his mind; instead, the Domain ended up being destroyed when the Halos were fired. The result? The guy had nothing but his madness to dwell on for 100,000 years, which meant that he was still insane when he was finally released.
- Deponia Doomsday, the fourth installment in the Deponia series, could very well be a textbook example. After spending the whole game trying to undo what happened in the end of Goodbye Deponia, all he did not only was undone, it might have even made things worse for him and others.
- Mass Effect 3:
- James Vega's backstory; he sacrificed a colony to get crucial information that might help defeat the Collectors, only for Commander Shepard to do it him/herself, and make the sacrifice meaningless. This story got expanded into a fully fledged animated movie, Mass Effect: Paragon Lost, which shows just what Vega went through during that incident.
- Ironically, it's not that pointless; DLC reveals that some of the Collectors were stranded from their base when it exploded, and it's implied that the intel helped them integrate with the alliance. But then they proceed to murder everyone in their last stands and die alone, since they're all loveless mutants anyway. Yay.
- The Geth being largely peaceful makes the entire Quarian-Geth war completely pointless. Unusually, getting the Quarians to realize this trope is actually the best thing that can happen, as it means peace is an option.
- Additionally, forcing the two groups to make peace (essentially allowing them to rebuild the Quarian homeworld together) is essentially rendered moot if one picks the "Destroy" option at the game's end (as all of the geth are destroyed, anyway).
- You can go further and wipe out both civilizations, turning Rannoch into a wasteland. Symbolically, this means that Shepard's final solution to the entire reaper conflict is for all sentient beings to just accept death and stop all the suffering. You Bastard!.
- A lot of angst for all characters comes from the knowledge that everything the Protheans did to win their war ultimately failed to prevent their extinction, and that there is every chance the same thing would happen in their cycle. One of the characters actually prepares knowledge for the next cycle in case they fail, and in one of the endings, it is the next cycle, not the present one, which ends up ending the threat of the Reapers.
- James Vega's backstory; he sacrificed a colony to get crucial information that might help defeat the Collectors, only for Commander Shepard to do it him/herself, and make the sacrifice meaningless. This story got expanded into a fully fledged animated movie, Mass Effect: Paragon Lost, which shows just what Vega went through during that incident.
- Dragon Age: Inquisition: In the Trespasser DLC, after saving both Ferelden (basically Medieval England) and Orlais (Medieval France) from smaller machinations of the main villain as well as saving the world twice and now finding out that the means by which the main character did all this is also killing them, both royal houses, which owe their continued existence to you, decide you're too powerful to be left alone and want to disband the Inquisition. The Precision F-Strike by the main character describes how futile their efforts were.
Inquisitor: DAMN IT! We save Ferelden, and they're angry. We save Orlais, and they're angry! We close the Breach twice, and my own hand wants to kill me! Could one thing in this FUCKING world just stay fixed?!
- Made even worse when you discover that the god who erected the barrier between the real world and the dream world where all the magical creatures exist now means to tear it down and basically wreck everything all three protagonists from the last three games have worked so hard, some even dying, to save.
- Four examples in the God of War Series:
- The original game and its prequel Chains of Olympus have Kratos doing various tasks for the gods in exchange for freedom from the nightmares caused by him murdering his wife and child in blind rage. As it turns out, they never explicitly said they would do that, only that he would be forgiven for his sins, making ten years of servitude completely pointless.
- Another in the first game; while fighting Ares, the God of War traps Kratos in a separate dimension where his family is attacked by dopplegangers of him. He succeeds in defending his family, only for Ares to rip his weapons out of his forearms and kill his wife and child again. Although, it is possible that Lysandra and Calliope were just magic duplicates and thus had no chance of living at all, but the effort is still in vain.
- In Chains of Olympus, Kratos spends most of it chasing after his daughter in the Underworld, even going so far as to give up his weapons, magic, and appearance. Then Persephone comes along and reveals that the world is about to end, and the only way for Kratos to save it is to sacrifice being with the child he fought so hard to be reunited with. Also, the game doesn't do this in a cutscene. You must take control and drive Kratos away from his beloved daughter. Talk about cruel.
- In God of War III, Athena tells Kratos he must open Pandora's Box to destroy Zeus and spends the game trying to get to it and extinguishing the lethal flame guarding it. He rescues its namesake with the intention of offering her to the flame, but he has a change of heart and cannot go through with it. Then Zeus appears, and after the first of three final boss fights, Pandora runs to the flames. Kratos catches her and tries to prevent her from getting sucked in, but Zeus pisses him off so much he releases Pandora to tackle Zeus. The flames are gone, Pandora is dust, and Kratos opens the box to reveal... Nothing. It's empty, rendering pretty much the entire game and the Pandora plotline moot. The soundtrack for this moment is even called "All for Nothing".
- Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number: no matter what you did, in the end nothing matters as 50 Blessings assassinates the presidents of both the USA and Russia, causing Miami and Hawaii to get nuked by Russia, killing off all the remaning characters.
- Sums up the whole story arc of Litchi Faye-Ling up to BlazBlue: Central Fiction. This lady did everything she could to save her dear friend Lotte Carmine. Up including leaving her potential position as a prestigious scientist in Sector Seven for a position of a lowly doctor in a normal town (that she came to love genuinely), inflict herself with the same corruption inflicting him that it's doing a number to her body, go join two Obviously Evil people that she didn't even trust for the sake of more information of how to save him (even when her other friends call her foolish for pursuing such ideals) and by that game, somehow she managed to find that one method to do it safely and reunited with him while being lucid and sane... and then Lotte himself revealed that he was one step ahead, already knew that method and chose by his own will not to get cured, then told Litchi to do what she should have done in the beginning: Kill his corrupted form Arakune. Which means all those risky decisions and getting herself being known as a reckless, selfish idiot by others were all for nothing.
- Persona 5: Haru joins the Phantom Thieves because she wants to atone for her father's actions and redeem him. This ends up for naught as her father is murdered by The Conspiracy and Haru spends the rest of the game having to cope with the guilt.
- The Traitor committed many atrocities, affecting a good portion of the Phantom Thieves, for the sake of getting revenge on his father Shido, only to realize that all their actions could have been completely avoidable. Not to mention Shido's cognitive self of Akechi reveals that the former only saw the latter as an expendable puppet and was planning on killing them later anyways.
- Tales of Berseria has its Wham Episode cause one of the main characters to think this way. Velvet learns that her brother Laphicet was a willing sacrifice instead of being murdered by Artorius. And throughout the game, Velvet was remorselessly killing people and leveling cities in order to avenge him, which has now been rendered pointless. This realization causes Velvet to completely lose it.
- In Ultima VI, the Avatar prevents the complete fulfillment of the False Prophet prophecy, as the Gargoyle world is not destroyed, and peace is established between Britannia and the Gargoyles. In Ultima IX, the Avatar destroys the Gargoyle colony Ambrosia, fulfilling the prophecy anyway.
- Haschel's quest to find his lost daughter in The Legend of Dragoon has been ongoing for twenty years and once or twice during the story, he gets a clue that might lead to her (such as bandit who knows a martial arts only taught in his village). By the end of the game, Haschel realizes that his daughter has been dead for eighteen years, but at least he's been traveling with her son for some time.
- Dark Souls follows this to nearly a tee across all of its entries:
- In Dark Souls I you are told throughout the whole game that you are The Chosen One who is destined to succeed Gwyn and rekindle the Age of Fire, stopping the Undead Curse and making a new golden age for mankind. Then you actually Link the Fire and realize it means you get to burn for thousands of years, sacrificing your souls and Humanity to feed the Age of Fire. Also, you were actually The Unchosen One the whole time, and it was only luck and sheer determination that got you to the point where you could even make that choice.
- Dark Souls II shows that no matter what you did in the previous entry, the Curse was never really stopped, only held back until the fire starts to fade again. You've come to Drangleic looking for some way to cure yourself of the Curse of undeath, and while you do get a treatment for it if you complete the Lost Crowns Trilogy in the form of the ancient crowns of the Sunken King of Shulva, the Old Iron King, the Ivory King of Eleum Loyce, and Vendrick's own crown, you ultimately come to the conclusion hat no matter what you do there is no cure, and you can only hope to propagate the cycle of Light and Dark long enough that someone else will find a way to cure it long after you're gone. If you completed the Scholar of the First Sin content, then you can make it a little less futile by refusing to ascend the Throne of Want and instead trying to find another way out of the cycle, but Aldia states that this is a fool's hope at best.
- Dark Souls III seemingly subverts this in all of its endings, as the game implies that the Age of Fire can't be saved and it is going to end no matter what you do. All you can do is choose how it dies: You can either Link the Fire one last time, giving the world a spark of light to go out on. You can have the Firekeeper snuff it out so that a natural flame can take its place out of the Age of Dark. Or you can consume the First Flame itself and use its powers along with the Dark Soul to break the Curse and rise as the new Lord of the Age of Dark.
- Then we get to the Ringed City DLC, which really shows just how pointless this whole mess with the Fire and the Dark really was: The Dark was never supposed to be malevolent, it was only made that way when Gwyn (paranoid as he was) placed a seal of fire on mankind. This act cut off their natural affinity for the peaceful Dark in the souls, and as they lost control over their own Dark the Abyss and Humanity itself grew malevolent and chaotic, leading to the Curse itself. If Gwyn hadn't been paranoid about the Dark, every single problem in the whole series could've been avoided.
- A bit of a running theme of Uncharted, where Nate walks away with either nothing, very little or even losing something valuable of his (assuming you don't count him picking up the Treasure collectibles). A consistent trope is that he never gets thing he spent the whole game searching for, although he's more about the chase than the reward. Walking away from an expedition with no treasure and just a clue to a new location also pushes the characters into feeling this way about things.
- In Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Nate initially has nothing by the end and intentionally left his ring with Sir Francis. Subverted when it's revealed that Elena recovered the ring for him and Sully stole a boat from the pirates who stockpiled a crate full of Spanish gold.
- In Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, the Chintimani Stone is revealed to be just amber, and is immediately overshadowed by the sap from the Tree of Life that grants fast healing powers. Both are destroyed with the city they're in. Being a bleaker game, there are also many smaller instances of this trope, such as Nate going out of his way to carry a wounded a Jeff only for him to be shot in cold blood by the villain when they're cornered, or fighting armoured gatling gunners and even a helicopter up a train to rescue Chloe, only for her to tell him he wasted his time as she was upset about the earlier incident.
- Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception has Nate walk away from Iram of the Pillars having lost his ring for good, and Sully only scavenging a few coins this time. Mid-way through the story, Nate fights through hordes of pirates in a stormy dock and a shanty cruise ship to try and rescue Sully, only for it to be revealed that the pirates never had him.
- In Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the Spanish treasure hoard turns out to be radioactive, meaning possessing it at all would be deadly.
- For Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Nate decides that it isn't worth it to go after the pirate's hoard. Sadly, his brother Sam can't resist the allure and Nate has to go back and save him from the booby-trapped pirate ship.
- Finally averted in two ways in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, where the Tusk of Ganesh is obtained for keeps by the heroes, but they decide to legally hand in to the local authorities rather than sell it. Still counts from Sam's perspective however as he was rather hoping for the extra money.
- Red Dead Redemption II: Arthur Morgan sacrifices his life to help John Marston and his family escape from the collapsing gang, helping them get a better life. The first game, however, shows that it's become all for nothing when Edgar Ross eventually has his army gun John down.
- Far Cry 5 has the entire game. No matter what you do you get a Downer Ending, with your three choices being "give up at the beginning, the bad guy wins, and the world is probably eventually nuked", "walk away, kill your allies in a brainwashed stupor, The Bad Guy Wins, and the world is probably eventually nuked", or "resist and defeat Joseph Seed and the world is nuked and the bad guy suddenly wins". The backlash was prolonged and belligerent, since the game suffers a major case of Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy with many feeling the only way to win is to not play.
- Katawa Shoujo does this on multiple occasions:
- Lampshaded in Hanako's Bad and Neutral Endings. In the Bad Ending, she screams how nothing has changed in her life before delivering a Player Punch and a Get Out!. In the Neutral Ending, she tentatively clarifies that nothing has changed, with Hisao agreeing.
- Played straight in Lilly's Neutral Ending: she leaves for Scotland, never to return. Hisao feels that his relationship with her was completely pointless.
- Subverted in Lilly's Good Ending. Hisao chases after Lilly as she's on her way to the airport. Mere meters from her, he has a heart attack and wakes up two days later in hospital. Resenting his condition and blaming himself for never helping Lilly with her issues beforehand, Hisao comes very close to crossing the Despair Event Horizon. The next scene (using one hell of a Chekhov's Gun) shows that Lilly never left Japan; she stayed behind to build her future with Hisao.
- In Girl Genius Lady Margarella Selnikov kidnaps a monk and forces him to lead her through the vaults of his monastery, which contain various confiscated mad science inventions. When what's in one vault does not match her guide book, she panics and begins opening all the vaults in an effort to find it, eventually releasing The Beast, which kills her. We later learn she wasn't even in the right vaults to begin with, rendering her death and the damage caused by The Beast all for nothing.
- The possibility is considerd by Gaea in Noob: La Quête Légendaire, where the Cliffhanger from the previous movie could cause a Game Over in the fictional MMORPG in which the story is set. Gaea has just recently accomplished something that took four years of preperation and is hence worried about having it all vanish in just a few days.
- SCP Foundation: Despite everything The Foundation has done and will continue to do to keep humanity safe, there are some things that they simply can't do anything to stop. Sooner or later, something is going to cause The End of the World as We Know It.
- PBG Hardcore:
- Most series end with the cast failing to achieve their goal as the last men standing are killed off. The only exceptions to date are Minecraft #1, Diablo II, and Minecraft #4.
- In Minecraft #5, Ray, Dean and McJones risk their lives finding Nether Wart, ultimately dying in the process. When Jeff, who eventually becomes the Sole Survivor, tries to make potions in episode 22, he doesn't know how to do so and is unwilling to look it up. So he decides not to bother, rendering the hunt for the Nether Wart pointless.
- RWBY: Raven spends Volume 5 concocting her plan to oppose Salem by obtaining the Relic of Knowledge for herself. In the end, her plans become a lost cause. Qrow disowns Raven as her sister; Vernal, her lieutenant, dies because she's a decoy; and she exposes herself as the Spring Maiden to the enemy, something that will effectively put her on Salem's hit list. And when she finally attempts to obtain the relic, Yang confronts her and tells her that Salem will see her as an even greater target if she takes it. In the end, she leaves Yang carrying the burden, and abandons both the Relic and her daughter with a tearful apology. In Volume 6, it's revealed that Grimm are attracted to the Relics, something that Ozpin never mentioned to even Qrow, meaning Raven's plan was never going to work.
- shadypenguinn and TheKingNappy's playthrough of Pokémon Trading Card Game has one instance where Nappy sets up his Water types to take a trainer out, only to have him use his Kadabra to win the game.
TheKingNappy: "Remove all damage counters from all of your own Pokémon with damage counters on them, then discard all Ener-" WHAT?!
- Another instance comes up during the battle against Murray, where Nappy gets a huge amount of damage on Murray's Pokemon. When Pokemon Center comes up...
shadypenguinn: That's a broken deck.
TheKingNappy: His Kangaskhan and his Chansey...have 10 damage left before they're knocked out!
TheKingNappy: And his Snorlax is at over half heath gone. THAT'S LIKE 200 POINTS OF DAMAGE...GONE!
shadypenguinn: That's so broken.
TheKingNappy: (laughs) What?! (Snorlax is healed) Healed 60 from him. (Abra is healed) Healed 20 from Abra. (Chansey is healed) Healed 100 from Chansey.
TheKingNappy: I mean, they have no Energy. But I was about to- (beat) I have no words! This game hates me!
- In The Adventures of Puss in Boots, the group spend a small arc trying to track down clues to lead them to an artifact known as the "Obelisk of Night". After helping out the person said to have it, they find that he just has a replica of it and points them to where the real obelisk is found; the group's home town of San Lorenzo.
- Defied in Bob's Burgers episode The Equestrinauts. When Tina's favorite horse doll is stolen, Bob goes undercover at a convention as a fan of the show the doll is from to get it back. After being caught an almost given an embarrassing tattoo, while getting a small part of it on his rear, he gets the doll back. Tina decides she's too old to play with dolls and put it away. Not pleased with her decision after everything he went through, Bob quietly, then shouting, orders Tina to continue playing with it, which she does.
- In the Family Guy special "And Then There Were Fewer", Diane's plan for revenge was to kill James Woods, her ex, and frame it on Tom Tucker, her former co-anchor, with the deaths of a few side and recurring characters as by-products of the plan. In the end, the main goals of her scheme were for naught as Tom was cleared of the framing and it was revealed later on that James Woods was revived by top-secret Hollywood medicine, meaning the only things she accomplished were killing a few recurring characters, with her herself being killed by Stewie to saved Lois who learned about Diana's plot.
- The main antagonist of Final Space Lord Commander /Jack spent all of season one trying to capture Moon Cake to open the breech into Final Space and unleash The Titans in hopes that they will save him from dying from the overuse of his powers and make him one of them. But the Titans he believed would make him into a god completely ignore him and just pull the Earth into Final Space instead. He ends the season with the breech destroyed, his forces depleted, and him still teetering on the verge of death because of overusing his powers.
- The Legend of Korra
Bolin: How can you call me "the hero of the world"? [Looks down.] I left my friends and family to join up with a psychotic dictator who imprisoned me and now, [Looks away in shame.] I'm running back home with my tail between my legs.
- Bolin's work on the Earth Empire and with Kuvira is this. He joins Kuvira because he believes that they are making lives better. Bolin strains his relationships with his brother Mako and girlfriend Opal, who disapprove of Kuvira because he idolizes her. Bolin goes so far as to lash out at Mako for not thinking she is a good leader. In "Enemy at the Gates", when he is sent to Zaofu to negotiate, he finds that Opal is angry and wants nothing to do with him. When Bolin tries to tell all the good the Earth Empire has done to improve the lives of the towns, Opal tells him that all of the towns that were forced to join the Earth Empire have turned into labor camps so Kuvira can get their resources and calls him out on never checking on those towns. Bolin refuses to believe her and snaps at her that he was certain that they were making the Earth Empire a better place to live. The tension between the couple is defused, however, when Bolin hears Kuvira issue a twenty-four hour ultimatum to surrender Zaofu, lest she would take it by force. Kuvira then confirms to Bolin that what he heard is true and threatens to send him to a reeducation camp. Painfully aware of how badly he misjudged her and how many people he's hurt in the process, Bolin goes to great lengths to help derail Kuvira's plans. Lampshade in "Remembrances":
- A good part of the first season involved Mako trying to be a good boyfriend while in a Love Triangle with Korra and Asami, never wanting to hurt either, but still doing so because of his own tactlessness, irresponsibility and habitual lying. In the end, he loses both women by the end of the second season.
- While this could apply to all the Big Bads of the series, special notice goes to the fourth season's Kuvira, whose intentions were to bring order to the fractured Earth Kingdom and not leave it in the hands of an immature fop like Prince Wu. Not only does she end up defeated by the very person she claimed was obsolete, but she lost her fiancé and adoptive family while the very prince she usurped decided to abdicate anyway and democratize the kingdom into a series of states, meaning all the strong-arming and scheming ended up being just an exercise in cruelty from a woman with abandonment issues.
- This tends to be a frequent twist in the theatrical Popeye cartoons:
- "Clean Shaven Man" - Popeye and Bluto overhear Olive singing that she prefers a man who is nicely groomed, and go to the barbershop to fix themselves up. But with the barber out, they end up doing it themselves, but Bluto cheats, and sabotages Popeye's chances. After the inevitable fight, the find Olive is now going out with Geezil (a recurring character from the comics with a long, black beard). Remade years later as "Shaving Muggs."
- "Females is Fickle" - Olive's pet goldfish jumps in the sea, and she makes Popeye go in after him. After he goes through a lot of trouble to get him back, Olive decides the fish would be happier freed and tosses him back in the sea. Enraged, Popeye throws her into the sea as well.
- "Puttin on the Act" - Popeye and Olive read in the paper that vaudeville is making a comeback, so they decide to bring back their old act, and the rest of the cartoon is about their rehearsal. At the end, after the two perform a very dangerous act, Swee'pea notices something on their newspaper and shows it to them. The paper was dated for 1898!
- Rick and Morty: Rick Sanchez stated goal in "The Rickshank Rickdemption" was to supersede Jerry as The Patriarch and focal point of Morty's life as well as the family's lives in general. The end of "The Rickchurian Mortydate" sees all of that fall apart as Morty decides to stay with his family and help his (possibly-clone) mother, who has gotten back together with Jerry after some ill advice from Rick regarding her possible nature as a clone sent her into an Identity Crisis that led her back to Jerry as the one simple constant in her life. At the end of the episode the Status Quo at the start of Season One is restored and looks like it's going to stick since the family is genuinely happy now instead of the near-dysfunctional state they were in back then.
- Samurai Jack:
- Played for laughs in season five. The High Priestess of Aku believes that Aku has abandoned her, and will do anything to hear his voice again. To that end, she births half a dozen daughters, raises them to be killing machines, and sends them to kill Samurai Jack and win Aku's favor again. Not only is Aku completely unaware of all this, but it's demonstrated throughout the season that it's very easy to contact Aku—dialing zero on any phone will get you an operator who will be happy to connect you to him in seconds. In the end, most of the Daughters are killed, and the last one ends up joining Jack and killing the High Priestess. Again, this all happens without Aku even noticing.
- Also during Season Five, Scaramouche learns in the season premiere that Jack had lost his sword (i.e the one thing that can harm Aku). After surviving his fight with Jack, he went on a journey to reach Aku to inform him of this fact, suffering a few setbacks along the way. Unfortunately, during that time, Jack managed to recover his sword and by the time he reached Aku, it was no longer true, earning himself a head explosion for his troublesnote . This detail actually gets a lampshading without Scaramouch realizing it.
- In The Simpsons, Barney decides to sober up after becoming horrified when he sees a video of what he's like when he's drunk. He joins Alcoholics Anonymous, and actually stays sober for some time after that episode (usually drinking coffee rather than beer). He eventually relapsed, however.
- Homer and Apu travel to India to meet the head of the Kwik-E Mart, only for Homer to accidentally ruin Apu's chance of getting his job back.
- In Trollhunters, Draal is captured by the Big Bad and put under Mind Control near the end of the second season, and for most of the third season the good guys are trying to rescue him. In the same episode where he escapes Gunmar's mind control, he dies saving Jim from Angor Rot.
- In Wakfu, Nox committed atrocities to collect wakfu to be able to turn back time and save his family, believing everything he had down would be undone by saving them and eliminating his reason and means to do so. He succeeds in turning back time, but only twenty minutes. Upon realizing how horrible he's been and that there isn't enough wakfu in the world to take him back two hundred years, he teleports away and dies.
- In the final fourth of the second season of W.I.T.C.H., after Phobos defeats Narissa and regains his status as the Big Bad, he reconquers Meridian and begins planning to conquer Kandracar as well. This was all actually part of a complex Batman Gambit set up by Will. Knowing Phobos would betray them but still required his help to defeat Narissa (only a member of the royal family could forcibly take the Seal of Narissa from her), Will made him swear on the power of Kandracar to return the Hearts of Meridian and Dumbala upon getting the Seal from Narissa before releasing him. The vow acted as a mystic contract and if Phobos were to set foot on Kandracar with malicious designs, he would mystically forfeit everything he claimed since defeating Narissa. To accommodate the plan, the Guardians deliberately allowed him to reconquer Meridian and even forfeited the battle for Kandracar (Phobos only willing to set foot on a conquered territory). However, just before the vow was broken, Lord Cedric pulled a Starscream and devoured Phobos, using Exact Words to claim all his powers and conquests (Phobos granted him a 'fraction' of his power for the battle, and Cedric used it to claim 4/4's, as in all of it). Since Cedric didn't make a vow, he gets to keep everything, meaning that not only did Will's plan fail, but the Guardians had allowed Meridian and Kandracar to fall into enemy hands for nothing.
- Danger Mouse: A little zig-zag in "All Fall Down." Mac the Fork and Dudley Poyson have built a world-shattering earthquake device from plans stolen from Puttinghamdown Research Centre. Once the device is built, DM studies the blueprints for it and lets the villains try to use it. As DM and Penfold escape and the villains activate the device, the very building they're in (and only the building) comes crumbling to earth over them. DM notes that Colonel K must have spilt his tea on the blueprint, making what was left of it only able to get the device to enable localized quakes. Penfold wonders if he and DM went through all that for nothing, but DM reasons it did put pay to two nasty villains.