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"I have seen everything that is done under the sun and, behold, all is vanity and chasing after the wind."

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, then falls Off the Wagon again five episodes later.

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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 Face–Heel Turn or Heel–Face Turn, their earlier stories become 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 Versus 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 Face–Heel Turn hurts so much when the character we cheered for six seasons turns on us.

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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; it's also not uncommon for this trope to come into play for villains after a Near-Villain Victory.

Remember, Tropes Are Tools, and when done properly, this can have a large impact on the audience, invoking things like Bait-and-Switch, Hope Spot, and Despair Event Horizon.

Common forms include Shoot the Shaggy Dog, Yank the Dog's Chain, Worthless Treasure Twist, and Happy Ending Override. If done too often, leads to the Broken Aesop, Lost Aesop, and Yo Yo Plot Point.

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Compare and contrast "Shaggy Dog" Story, in which the events of an entire story — either the main story or a subplot — ends up completely meaningless in the end but there's usually no changes to the status quo.

If this was on the villains' perspective, it would be Meaningless Villain Victory. May even involve Pyrrhic Victory.

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

Not to be confused with All or Nothing. Possibly related to Hard Work Hardly Works.

Spoilers Beware.


Catagories with their own pages:

Examples:

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    Asian Animation 
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Joys of Seasons episode 45, Paddi wants to send Little Knife Goat some snow since he's never seen any before, being from the desert. Paddi goes far away into the desert just to deliver the snow, but at the end of the episode his effort is wasted because Mr. Slowy invited Little Knife Goat to the snow-covered Goat Village.

    Audio Play 
  • In the Doctor Who audio spin-off "The Lady in the Lake", the character of Lake learned that he had the ability to regenerate after death as he was one of various 'proto Time Lords' cloned from River Song, and subsequently manipulated his fellows into giving up their own lives so that he could work out how long he himself would live. However, he eventually realised that this was pointless because they all have a different amount of regenerations, ranging from two to nine, and therefore there was no way to know how many lives he might have himself.

    Comic Books 
  • A Walk Through Hell: Shaw actually manages to escape hell despite everything that happened to her partner and everyone else that went into that warehouse and winds up in a roadside diner. But then she hears on TV about a race riot erupting from a Black Lives Matter protest over the police shooting of a black suspect, and a white man in the diner openly talks about "stringing up" black people in their own streets. No one in the diner, including the man's own family, reacts to his utterance in any way except for a young woman who casts a disgusted look in the man's direction as she turns to leave. This, followed by her hearing on TV about a governor seeking re-election making bigoted comments towards gay and transgendered people, shows Shaw that open bigotry is becoming something acceptable to do. In response, Shaw sets off to assassinate the governor in some kind of attempt to fight against the growing evil engulfing humanity. She's gunned down in the attempt and ends up right back in hell for good.
  • * The Boys: Vought's Stillwell did everything in his power to keep the company alive. At the end, he witnesses the presentation of the newest (and last remaining) superhero team, he begins to notice that something is off about them. (Specifically, he notes the unexplained erection of one member of the new team, and the telltale signs of drug withdrawal in another.) He realizes this batch of supers will most likely be worse than the last one and that Compound V is just a bad and, worst of all, unmarketable product. He appears to start the early stages of a nervous breakdown in the final issue, finally cracking as he realizes that his years of scheming led to nothing, and that there is no way to turn Vought's situation around.
  • D.P. 7: In Issue 14, Randy tells a stunned Charly that, perhaps because of his upbringing, he can't see himself in a relationship with a black person. Charly is so hurt and angry that she joins a militant black faction, the Black Powers, and even adds Randy's name to a list of racists the gang intends to beat up. A few issues later, they reconcile and become friends again. Over the next dozen issues, they experience adventures together, share many happy moments, and even seem to be moving toward becoming a couple after all. But after Randy becomes trapped inside his dark antibody, Charly begins avoiding him. In Issue 31, Randy confronts her about it and Charly bluntly tells him that they had been the two normal-looking ones in their old therapy group, but now that he was trapped inside his antibody, he could no longer pass for normal. When Randy asks if they're no longer friends because of his appearance, Charly reminds him that he did the same to her. She tells him that she is rejecting him the same way he rejected her, and leaves. It's as if everything Randy and Charly shared with each other in the time since his rejection of her doesn't count for anything. One would think that the fact that Randy and Charly had saved each other's lives more than once would at least be enough to sustain a friendship, but apparently not. Because there was very little direct contact between Randy and Charly in the next (and last) issue of the series, the reader is never told whether Randy and Charly ever resolved their differences.
  • The Flash went into the future to find an atomic clock that threatened to explode like an atomic bomb, that was sent into the future in a time capsule that included an old Flash costume Professor Zoom a.k.a. the Reverse Flash used to recreate the superhero's speed powers to commit crimes with it. With no other clue where the clock was, the Flash chased down Professor Zoom in hopes he knew. After an extended fight, Flash managed to capture Zoom. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a waste of time: Zoom knew nothing about the clock and Flash had to search even more frenetically to find it and just barely managed to succeed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In The Avengers (Jonathan Hickman), 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.
  • Explicitly averted, or for the moment very explicitly attempted, by Kieron Gillen on his run in Journey into Mystery (Gillen). 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.
  • Mini Marvels: Cereal Quest: Wolverine discovers someone ate his cereal. In anger, he slashes the X-Men's table leg, causing the cereal to fall on top of Angel. Wolvie then embarks on a quest to get more cereal, encountering many thoroughly unpleasant individuals, including the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, who try to steal his cereal or otherwise impede his progress. Finally, Wolverine returns to the X-Mansion, cereal in hand. Then he discovers he has no milk. But then Nightcrawler offers to simply teleport to the store and buy more milk, so Wolverine takes it and pours it into the bowl... which then falls to the ground. Because of the bad table leg.
  • In the Mortadelo y Filemón story Valor y... ¡al toro!, the entire plot of getting back some secret plans is rendered all for nothing when it is revealed that the plans never left the pocket of their inventor in the first place. The title agents are not amused by this.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Ultimates: The Chitauri tried to harmonize Earth with the help of the Nazis, and that led to WWII. But the survivors regrouped in the jungles, started a mass infiltration, arranged many plans to achieve their goals through more indirect means... and it was all pointless. The Chitauri main fleet shows up, without even bothering with cloaking devices, and informs them that there is no more time. Because of intergalactic reasons, they have to leave the area ASAP, so Earth will have to be blown up and be done with it.
  • After creating worldwide peace through making a false alien invasion by Ozymandias in Watchmen, Doomsday Clock depicts how much Ozymandias went through amounts to nothing after seven years of worldwide peace, where the United States and Russia went back to start World War III when Rorschach's Journal containing Ozymandias's schemes were exposed to the public.
  • Hellboy: The Osiris Club are a secret society of immortals who have been prophesied to survive Ragnarok and use the power of Hellboy's right hand to become gods of the new world. After living for hundreds of years and surviving the return of the Ogdru Hem, they obtain Hellboy's severed hand and use it to absorb the lifeforce of the Ogdru Jahad, bringing their plans to the brink of fruition. However, it is at this moment that Hellboy's ghost returns and reclaims the hand, destroying them all in the process. In their final moments, at least two of them lament that it had all been for nothing.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: It turns out that Diana and Etta's landlord Russell Abernathy is a former senator who was convinced by Russian agents that if he gave them intel on weapon development programs and military movements they could and would save his dying wife. They lied, and he lost everything that had ever mattered to him and spends the rest of his life with a target on his back.

    Films — Animation 
  • The climatic chase of Boogie, a Race Against the Clock where Boogie must deliver Marcia to a courthouse to testify against the local mob kingpin, Sony Calabria. After driving like crazy in a chase scene involving what seems to be around 200 police vehicles, Boogie made it in the nick of time!... except Calabria already had a dozen of his mooks on standby, immediately ordering them to gun down everyone the moment Marcia tried testifying. At which point Boogie decided the best course of action is to just shoot everything in sight.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In The Incredibles, Bob painfully swallows his sense of justice and grudgingly obeys Huph's order that he does not leave the office to help a mugging victim, else Huph will fire him. But afterward, Huph pushes Bob to his Rage Breaking Point, so that he throws Huph through several walls, seriously injuring him, and is fired anyway.
  • How Tai Lung's quest for power ends in Kung Fu Panda. He finally gets his hands on the Dragon Scroll, only to find nothing but a blank sheet of reflective gold. He fails to learn its message that Po figured out already. There is no secret ingredient. It's just you.
  • Justice League Dark: Apokolips War features two:
    • Zigzagged with the plan to save Earth from Darkseid's control, as while they ultimately couldn't stop Darkseid's Reapers from causing irreparable damage to Earth and thus end to have Flash cause a Cosmic Retcon to restart everything, their fighting allowed them to find Flash in the first place, so at least said Cosmic Retcon was an option because of their efforts.
    • Given Lex Luthor was really the mole for the rebellion, their siege on Lexcorp Tower caused the deaths of Cheetah and Lady Shiva during it to be this.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Kingpin's 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 can't stay there for more than a few days before breaking down on an atomic level. Additionally, the reason his family wound up deceased is because they saw his secret violent side and got into a traffic accident when fleeing; a side that Kingpin refuses to change and will inevitably show again, as demonstrated when it happens during the climatic fight against Miles. As Spider-Man bluntly tells him, his plan to get his family back will never work and all the evil things he's done are all for nothing; even if he did get them, he'd just lose them all over again.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars the Clone Wars as a whole ends up being this ultimately. Considering that the Jedi are fighting to protect the Republic and keep it from collapsing, the fact that Palpatine is Sidious seriously undermines this and ensures that the Republic is doomed already. All the warfare shed between the Republic and the Separatists is meaningless as the Sith effectively control both sides of the war. If the Separatists had won, the Sith take over. When Anakin falls to the dark side and joins Sidious, the Republic transforms into an Empire with the Sith firmly in control. As for the clones, once Order 66 is declared they themselves become the enemy to the Jedi Order and help destroy the Republic. The only ones who won were Sidious and his new apprentice, and even said apprentice falls firmly under Pyrrhic Villainy.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 6 Days: The terrorist's cause fizzled up in smoke the moment they took the Iranian Embassy hostage, as the UK government had no intention with playing along. Inspector Max's attempts at a peaceful resolution ends with him lying to the confidant who trusted him resulting in the latter's (somewhat justified) deaths.
  • 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.
  • Alien³ kills off two characters who Ripley spent the whole second film protecting in the first few minutes... off camera.
  • 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 Face–Heel 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 the DC Extended Universe:
    • 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.
    • SHAZAM! (2019): After Billy spent over a decade searching for his mother, when they finally reunite he learns that after being lost at the fair and then found by the police his mother decided to leave him with them because she was too overwhelmed with her own issues regarding her parents kicking her out of the house and her husband walking out of the marriage. Ultimately, she felt Billy would receive better care from the police than she could provide. Billy tearfully walks away to return to his foster home.
    • Zack Snyder's Justice League: The Amazons seal the entry to the stronghold that their Mother Box was in to trap Steppenwolf and his parademons, killing a good number of their own in the process as the building falls into the water. This is all for naught as Steppenwolf and the parademons rise out of the water afterward.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. He's stiffed with the reward, he's considered a coward instead of a hero, and he loses the girl to another suitor.
  • The Irishman: Frank murders Jimmy Hoffa and gets away clean. Too bad he destroyed his relationship with his daughter (who had been close to Hoffa), and the march of time sees all his friends and loved ones dying pointless and ignoble deaths from crime or old age. At the end, Frank is an old man Dying Alone in a nursing home, and no one knows or even cares about who Jimmy Hoffa was or why he was murdered.
  • The Knowledge: On the day Ted passes the legendarily difficult exam that London taxi drivers have to take, he is disqualified for drunk driving.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
    • Avengers: Endgame has one right at the beginning, as when the heroes go after Thanos, he informs them that he ordered the destruction of the Infinity Stones exactly to prevent his actions in Infinity War from being reversed. Even if Thor then decapitates Thanos in anger, the bad ending remains. But then, after a Time Skip, Ant-Man comes back with an idea.
  • The Northman: While discussing Fjölnir, Amleth's fellow raiders make fun of the fact that Fjölnir killed his own brother for nothing, because King Harald of Norway took away his kingdom soon thereafter, resulting in his exile and becoming a chieftain of a far more modest Icelandic settlement.
  • No Escape (1994): The mission to steal an engine part from the Outsiders camp costs Casey and The Mole for the heroes their lives. They never get a chance to use the completed engine before King blows it up.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Afterwards, it turns out that the statue was ordinary stone.
  • Rurouni Kenshin: The Final: Yukishiro Enishi lost his sister, Tomoe, when he was young. This led to him pursuing her killer, Kenshin, in many attempts to destroy everything and everyone he loves. But eventually, Enishi is defeated, arrested and given his sister's diary in prison. Reading her last entry, it reveals that she intended to protect Kenshin from the men plotting his death, and fully accepted that she might die as a direct result. As such, Enishi had spent his entire life seeking revenge for someone who didn't want it.
  • Star Wars:
    • Revenge of the Sith: Anakin Skywalker turned to the Dark Side because Chancellor Sheev Palpatine (a.k.a. Darth Sidious) promised him a way to keep his wife, Padmé Amidala, from dying. But when she learns what Anakin has done in pursuit of this, she confronts him, leading to him Force Choking her in a fit of rage. In the end, he became Darth Vader, destroyed the Jedi Order, murdered an unknown number of innocent Younglings, helped create The Empire, all to save his wife... only to ultimately cause her death. 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 Padmé like he did his mother. Not to mention being mangled for life by his former friend/mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, and being encased in a suit of life-supporting armor for the rest of his life.
    • The Clone Wars end up being this as the two armies are both under the control of Darth Sidious. The Republic is doomed with either side winning and the true battle was between Palpatine and the Jedi, a battle that the Jedi lose as the Republic is reborn as the Galactic Empire.
    • The original trilogy, episodes IV-VI, showed how the Rebellion triumphed over the evil Galactic Empire and the Galactic Republic was restored in its place. Episode VII (The Force Awakens) starts off with the remnants of the Empire having been organised into a new faction called the First Order that has the run of the Galaxy and wipes out the Republic in passing when they feel like it. The plot of Episode VIII (The Last Jedi) takes the Rebellion even further back from victory, to the point that they seem to be worse off than at the beginning of Episode IV, and the beginning of Episode IX (The Rise of Skywalker) adds a final step backwards by bringing back the Big Bad of the original trilogy on top of that.
  • 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.
    • Terminator: Dark Fate has John Connor killed in the opening scene to really hammer it in that protecting him in the first two movies was ultimately for nothing, and goes further with the reveal that Skynet being gone doesn't make any difference because another AI will eventually rise anyway and do the exact same thing. The machine war and human resistance is inevitable no matter the names of the players, with latter being destined to win the only saving grace.
  • In Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, Burt destroys his entire house and everything in it to kill an Ass-blaster after it gets close to his MREs (Meals-Ready-To-Eat) because he believes that it, like the Shriekers, will vastly multiply when it eats enough food. It's only after the destruction of his house that he gets a call from Nancy and Mindy to inform him that Ass-blasters go into a "Food Coma" when they eat enough food, meaning that it would have been better if Burt had let the Ass-blaster eat his supplies and that he destroyed his house for no reason. Cue Thousand-Yard Stare.
  • The Wild Bunch: Thornton spends the entire film chasing down the titular Wild Bunch, only for him to find them all massacred by the time he finally catches up to them in a Mexican village. To add insult to injury, after the bounty hunters who accompanied him leave with their bounties, he's informed later that they didn't manage to make the return trip. At least he gets to avoid jail time.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • Both of the novels in the Bloodline series end like this!
    • In the first book, Tepes' grand plans to restore House Dracul completely crash and burn, leading to his and Mina's deaths. And the good guys' rescue mission to save Lily was also all in vain — Lily is Driven to Suicide and John undergoes a particularly nasty Face–Heel Turn.
    • Less so in its sequel, Reckoning, but the bulk of the novel involves Quincey attempting to redeem himself by abstaining from human blood. By the end, he is forced to resume drinking it again, since otherwise he would be too weak to protect himself and Mary from their enemies.
  • The Cat Who... Series: In book #9 (The Cat Who Went Underground), Qwill spends three weeks at his cabin, spending part of that time trying to have an addition built onto it that he can use as a study. He goes through two carpenters (both of whom disappear and turn up dead) before the addition, except for its foundation, is destroyed in a storm. After that, he gives up on having it built and soon after moves back to Pickax.
  • 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.
  • In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, at one point Rodrick has a Wild Teen Party and forces Greg to help clean it up so he doesn't get in trouble, down to nearly getting caught with the bathroom door replacement (Someone at the party had written on it and they couldn't get the words off, so they swapped it with a downstairs closet door). It's brushed off for a while... then later in the book, the parents find that one of the guests had fiddled with a camera in the closet and taken a very incriminating picture of the whole thing. Rodrick and Greg get punished.
  • In The Divergent Trilogy, Tori's Roaring Rampage of Revenge to avenge her brother George's death in Insurgent and death in Allegiant amount to this, after The Reveal that her brother George is alive and outside the fence.
  • The Emperor's Gift: Hyperion believes that one of the reasons reason the Space Wolves are outraged the Inquisition intends to purge Armageddon's population, since it renders the sacrifices of all the Wolves who died fighting Angron's army to ensure the people would be spared worthless.
    Hyperion: When seen in such a light, the Wolves' actions - already noble enough - takes on another layer of righteousness. They've lost warriors, too. How many of them died in glory, only to learn now it had all been in vain defending a doomed population?
  • 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, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Mad Scientists Club The bad guys in The Big Chunk of Ice spend the whole novel trying to retrieve a stolen diamond that had been lost in the (now melting glacier) and fallen into a plaster cast the mad scientist club were making. At the end, it turns out that it was not the diamond, but rather a glass doorknob that a drunk tourist had yanked out of the motel and discarded in the glacier. As one of the villains puts it:
Three generations of research, six months of planning, and a free-wheeling trip across the bloody ocean to boot. And all that kid had was a bloomin' doorknob?
  • Moon Base Alpha: The mystery in the third book is an attempt to poison reviled Corrupt Corporate Executive and space tourist Lars Sjoberg. Lars poisons himself with the help of his daughter Lily to force the moon base to send him home early because of how miserable he is (the allocation of space on cargo shuttles is keeping him from getting regular permission to leave). Unknown to Lars, everyone on the base is about to be evacuated because of equipment failures and all his efforts achieve nothing but leaving him humiliated, in legal trouble, and facing an ugly divorce when his wife disapproves of his cowardly efforts to make Lily take all of the blame.
  • 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.
  • The Robert Ludlum novel The Road to Gandolfo has General Hawkins embarking on a wild plot to kidnap Pope Francis I and hold him for the ransom of one dollar for every Catholic in the world. This involves using Francis' lookalike opera singer cousin to pose as him long enough for the abduction to take place. After various crazy twists, the kidnapping is pulled off and Hawkins sends the ransom demand. To his shock, the Vatican replies that the Pope is perfectly safe and see no reason to pay. Hawkins realizes the cardinals like the imposter far more than the real Francis. Not only that but Francis himself enjoys taking an extended vacation from the pressures of the job while using a radio to "coach" his cousin how to play the part so Hawkins' entire scheme doesn't net him a dime.
  • 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.
  • Run with the Wind: During Day 1 of Hakone Ekiden, Prince is the starting runner for Kansei University and unsurprisingly 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.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Upon Cersei Lannister's coup to install Joffrey Baratheon to the throne, Ned Stark is given the choice to either confess to false charges and take the black, or defy the Lannisters and face execution. Ned is pointed out that if he chooses the latter, his daughter Sansa will be at the mercy of the Lannisters, so he understandably chooses the former. Then Joffrey goes off-script and executes Ned anyway, meaning he is both dead and has his reputation tarnished, while Sansa is taken hostage for an entire year because her brother Robb declares rebellion upon their father's death.
    • Daenerys Targaryen saves Eroeh and Mirri Maz Duur from being gang raped by the Dothraki khalasar who sack their village. While Mirri's case is more of The Farmer and the Viper, Eroeh's story falls squarely in this trope. She is merely a sad, terrified girl who can only count Daenerys to protect her. As a result, when Daenerys loses the loyalty of the khalasar after Drogo's death and is recovering from her childbirth, the khalasar waste no time to gang rape and brutally kill Eroeh.
    • The liberation of Astapor and Yunkai. Soon after Daenerys leaves, Astapor undergoes a Full-Circle Revolution that sees the former slaves subjecting their masters into slavery, while Yunkai reverts to the way it was before Daenerys' visit. When she hears about their fates, Daenerys laments that she has created "ten thousand Eroehs".
    • Many people have conquered Harrenhal, but their attempt to rule over it always failed, creating rumors that the castle has a Curse associated with it. When Petyr Baelish inherits it as a reward for his cooperation with the winning side of the War of the Five Kings, he chooses to level it to the ground.
  • 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... aaaaand then Palpatine came back anyways as the Big Bad in The Rise of Skywalker.
  • 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.
  • Titan's Forest: Everything Ular does in the first book is for the purpose of learning magic, returning to Canopy, and fulfilling the fate she believes lies in store for her as the bodyguard of the reborn Audblayin, and is willing to justify rather extreme actions on the basis of the great destiny they will work towards. When it's revealed that Audblayin was reborn as a girl, and will thus take a male bodyguard, it becomes clear that everything she did — every betrayal, every abandonment, every death she caused and the aid she gave to Kirrik's destructive plans — served no purpose at all. She does not take this well.
  • Treasure Island: When the Captain's party gives up their stockade, part of their supplies and the map to Silver, he knows something's going on, but he never mentions his suspicions to the other pirates. When they arrive to the point where the treasure had been buried, they find that someone (Ben Gunn) had done it before - and the Captain's party ambushes the pirates, rendering all their efforts to nothing.
  • A subplot in the first book of Watchers of the Throne has Chancellor Tieron working to get the High Lords of Terra to repeal the Edict of Restraint, which forbids the Custodes - the Imperium's biggest, baddest group of Super Soldiers - from venturing out of the Imperial Palace and aiding in the Imperium's many wars. Ultimately, the Custodes Captain-General votes against. Then, Guilliman returns and repeals the Edict anyway, and it turns out that the Custodes have been secretly ignoring it already. This being said, Tieron managing to assemble the High Lords in the first place does aid them, so it's not entirely for naught.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24 does this constantly, to the point that it could be called "All for Nothing: The Series":
    • The show'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.
    • Tony sacrificed his marriage and his good standing with the government over the course of the third season after he was blackmailed by the main antagonist of the season. He ultimately finds redemption in Season 4, helping to stop a new threat and ends up patching things up with his wife. In Season 5 his wife, and as it later turns out, his unborn child are killed in a car bomb, Tony himself is badly injured in the explosion and later left for dead by the same man who helped plot their murder, it turns out that President Logan, the same man they were aiding in Season 4, was one of the collaborators in the plot of Season 5 and has stabbed everyone in the back, and by Day 7 when Tony discovers the mastermind that collaberated with Logan and led to his wife and son's death he becomes so desperate for revenge he resorts to terrorism to get the man, which eventually leads to his arrest.
    • Said government constnalty stabbing everyone in the back, including leaving Jack a prisoner in China for nearly two years at one point, destroys his own faith in the government. Allison Taylor, the President as of Day 7, is easily the most moral one in the seris since David Palmer, and she's eventually able to help restore his faith is gradually over the course of the season. Then in Day 8 Taylor betrays him and her own morals for her own purposes and destroys Jack's faith for good this time.
    • Speaking of Allison Taylor, in Day 7 she is forced to make some tough decisions and ultimately loses her entire family; her son due to murder, her daughter due to her committing a crime and thus allowing her to be arrested, and her husband due to him divorcing her after their daughter's arrest. Her actions in Day 8 see her try to get an important peace treaty signed and it's clear she's desperate to see it happen because of what she sacrificed in the previous season to make it have some sort of meaning. When it turns out Russia, one of the parties supposed to sign the treaty, has been involved in masterminding terrorist attacks to get out of it, the aforementioned moment of her abandoning her morals comes as she blackmails them into signing the treaty with Logan's help and attempts to keep the truth about the events silenced. While she has a change of heart, she realizes confessing her crimes will destroy her presidency and leave her political career in irreparable shambles, meaning her worst fear, that her sacrifices really were meaningless, ended up coming true.
    • In 24: Live Another Day after Jack is left a fugitive following the previous season's events, he comes out of hiding to prevent a presidential assassination and is given a pardon. His ex Audrey is murdered and Jack is ultimately forced go give himself up to Russia by the end of the season, making it meaningless.
  • 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 just four years later, 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.
  • The Barrier: By the time she and her brother are ready to deploy their vaccine for the noravirus Alma has been branded a traitor due to being assumed to be an accomplice to to her husband, who has turned against the government. She lives in a dicatatorship whose leaders aren't big fans of letting traitors live for very long. The situation gets subverted when the President catches noravius and Alma's brother finds people who have secretly been given an old experimental vaccine better than the one she came up with.
  • On the ninth season of The Blacklist, a scientist begins killing members of the team who helped him develop a sonic weapon. The team assumes it's to eliminate those who helped so he could sell it to the highest bidder. In reality, the man is so guilty over this weapon that he's getting rid of anyone who could make it and planning to kill himself. After he does, an angry Ressler confronts the government contractor behind the project who not so subtly indicates another team is already working on a new version of the weapon. Ressler sardonically sums up that "eight people died and you're not even going to miss a beat."
  • This is a recurring situation in Breaking Bad:
  • 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. Cassie then 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.
  • One of the recurring characters on Come Fly With Me was Fearghal O'Farrell, a gay air steward who resorted to increasingly unethical methods in an attempt to win Steward of the Year, including deliberately giving a customer food they were allergic to so they could save them and be hailed a hero, and sleeping with the airline's (female) CEO. All this proves to be for nothing in the finale, when another employee wins the award instead. Fearghal is so incensed by the snub that he reveals all the unethical lengths he went to and then steals the trophy. He's unsurprisingly fired.
  • A few times on CSI: Miami.
    • A pair of crooks rob an armored car, killing one of the guards. One is killed himself by the cops while the other is caught. It's then discovered that the money was actually fake as the crooks just happened to pick a shipment that had been swapped by another pair of crooks for the real cash. The captured thief can't believe he's going to jail for killing a man over a pack of fake cash.
    • A set of triplets conspire to murder the rich husband of one sister, figuring their identical appearances will guarantee the cops can never prove which one of them did it. Not only are they wrong but as it happens, the man they killed was actually their husband's Body Double and he's very much alive to raise the son of one of his "wives."
    • A series of seemingly random murders at Spring Break turn out to be the work of a young woman who had been horribly bullied by those kids as overweight and ugly. After a huge makeover, she hunted them all down to kill them off. The episode ends with the woman (in her "original" form) smiling as she's led off in handcuffs. As soon as the cell door shuts, she becomes her current version with her smile fading as it sinks in how she let her desire for payback for some minor bullying ruin her entire life.
    • More than one dying crook has had the last thing they hear be Caine dryly asking if "it was all worth it in the end."
  • 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 Heel–Face 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 manipulating the audience.
  • Doctor Who:
  • 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."
  • In Everybody Loves Raymond episode "The Angry Family", when Michael tells a short story about a bickering family, it results in a chain of events in which Raymond, Debra, and their in-laws end up in therapy. It's at the end of the episode that Raymond and Debra learn that Michael actually based his story off a tv show he watches.
  • 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 Sansa's 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. She does get Jaime back in the penultimate episode of the last season...only for both of them to die not long after their reunion.
    • Perhaps the biggest example is Tywin Lannister. He spent years trying to build up the Lannister legacy, committing ruthless and outright horrific acts to protect it, accruing enemies on every side who would love nothing more than to see him dead and his house wiped out. This eventually culminates in the Red Wedding, where he has Robb and Catelyn Stark and most of their bannermen murdered while they were under guest right. Considered his greatest triumph, it's after that everything begins to fall apart. First, Jaime refuses to leaves the Kingsguard and carry on the family name, then Cersei reveals his aforementioned legacy is nothing more than a lie by confirming the rumors about her and Jaime are true, and then Tyrion outright murders him after being put through a sham-trial that was meant to end in Tyrion's death, unable to take his father's emotional abuse anymore. Once Tywin dies, that's when everything really goes downhill: the Tyrell alliance he painstakingly tried to maintain crumbles after Cersei blows the Great Sept of Baelor sky high with wildfire, killing Margaery, Loras, and Mace, along with Tywin's brother Kevan. This sees Tommen commit suicide and Cersei taking the Iron Throne for herself in a desperate bid to stave off the inevitable retaliation. The Starks he had seemingly wiped out and defeated have retaken Winterfell, and then Daenerys Targaryen lands in Westeros, dragons and all. All of that eventually leads to Jaime and Cersei dying in Daenerys's inevitable attack on King's Landing, leaving Tyrion, the son he despised, as the last remaining Lannister. To top it off, Tyrion has been celibate since Shae's death, so unless he breaks out of that mindset, House Lannister will go extinct.
  • Gotham: Sofia Falcone seduces Jim Gordon, the man who murdered her brother into allying with her, creates an orphanage solely to manipulate Penguin, summons a Serial Killer to Gotham, allowing him to cut a bloody swathe through the GCPD just so Gordon can take him down and be considered a hero, and even assassinates her own father in hopes of recreating the Falcone Empire in Gotham with her at the head. Before Season Four is even over, she's in a coma, her empire is permanently crippled and fractured, and any remaining influence her family had in Gotham is gone for good.
  • 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.
    • Jenna was forced to spy on the team as Wo Fat was holding her fiancee hostage. She finally delivered Steve right to his enemy, was brought to see her love...only to find he'd been dead for months and Wo Fat was hiding it to continue to use Jenna. She ends up sacrificing herself to save Steve, noting that she threw her entire life away for nothing but can at least help him.
  • 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.
  • The proto-Monty Python special How To Irritate People has a character played by Graham Chapman spending most of an office party trying to persuade a co-worker played by Michael Palin to offer him a lift home. It's not until the end of the party that Palin reveals that he came to the party via train and thus can't give Chapman a lift home — though as John Cleese notes in the hosting segment, it wasn't a complete waste of time for Chapman since he did at least get to have fun irritating Palin.
  • Kingdom (2019): At great risk to himself, the Crown Prince ensures no survivors are left behind as they flee from the ruins of Dongnae to Jiyulheon just as night falls. However, forces loyal to Cho soon track him down and demand his surrender in daytime. When he refuses, Cho's forces unleash a hail of arrows that kills many innocents.
  • 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.
    • In one episode of Law & Order: SVU, a developmentally disabled and traumatized boy fights through his (very much justified) fear to publicly implicate his abusive foster mother in the death of another child. The following scene reveals that the foster mother subsequently died of a heart attack before the conclusion of the trial, meaning that the entire trial was ultimately pointless.
  • 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:
    Ray: I died, or at least people thought I did, and nothing happened. All the money, all the inventions, all the buildings (Beat) and no one cared.
  • 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 Heel–Face 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 ninety 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.
  • 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. Ultimately played with: when Radar quotes the trope Potter gently admonishes him. "An act of kindness is never for nothing, son."
  • 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.
  • My Country: The New Age: Seon-ho rebels against his father and kills his father's servants to save Yeon... and she gets killed right when she's about to escape.
  • 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. It was a huge success in that it proved that the video they were trying to imitate 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 version of this trope that actually favors the protagonists occurs in an episode of NUMB3RS. A billionaire businessman conspires to rig California's election system, and then starts killing anyone who could implicate him. While the businessman is able to avoid arrest, the investigation results in the scheme being made public, thus ensuring that it won't succeed.
  • 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 Sons of Anarchy Jax Teller sacrifices everything in order to fulfill the club's obligations to other criminal organizations and finally get the Sons out of the gun running business and making money in legitimate ways. The followup series Mayans M.C. takes place a few years later and the Sons are back to running guns as without Jax, their leadership drive faded and they fell back into their old ways.
  • Squid Game
    • Seong Gi-hun main motivation for returning to the games was to procure funds to cure his mother's diabetes. After he finally returns from the games however, she was long dead.
      • Wanting nothing to do with the dirty money he had won, he makes a final All or Nothing bet with Il-nam based on their differing philosophies: If anyone helps a drunken man they spotted on the streets by midnight, Il-nam would have to take back all the prize money. Despite Gi-hun winning the bet, Il-nam had silently passed away on the dot, preventing the latter from acknowledging his loss and leaving Gi-hun stuck with the money. It ultimately becomes subverted as this event also convinces Gi-hun to accept and use the money for good.
    • Ji-yeong throws her game with Sae-byeok to allow her to progress, as she believes Sae-byeok's family gives her something to live for outside of the game, but Sang-woo ends up unceremoniously killing her offscreen the night before the final game, voiding Ji-yeong's sacrifice.
  • 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.
    • In "Operation: Annihilate", McCoy determines that a parasite that has infested Spock, as well as millions of civilians, can be killed by an intense light. At Spock's request, McCoy reluctantly tests the treatment on him; the treatment successfully kills the parasite, but also leaves Spock blind. Just as they're absorbing this fact, McCoy recieves lab results that reveal a horrifying fact: the creature is vulnerable to one specific type of light, which is beyond the visual spectrum and thus wouldn't cause blindness. (Fortunately, it turned out that Spock's blindness wasn't permanent.)
      McCoy: I threw the total spectrum of light at the creature. It wasn't necessary. I didn't stop to think that only one kind of light might've killed it... I didn't need to throw the blinding white light at all.
  • 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 Terror, despite all the crews trials and tribulations, the majority of them die off far from home and in various horrible ways. The sole survivor is then forced to settle down with the local Inuit, avoiding searchers out of guilt.
  • 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.
    • A chatterbox named Jamie makes a bet with an aristocrat named Archie: if he could stay silent for one whole year, Jamie will win fifty thousand dollars. After a whole year of silence, Archie finally admits that he is a fraud; he lost his fortune a year ago. Distraught, Jamie writes down on a paper that he is a fraud, too. Knowing he would never be able to keep his end of the deal, he had the nerves to his vocal cords severed.
  • In the series finale of Veep, Selina Myers throws long-time loyal friend Gary under the bus to go to jail for her own misdeeds, bans gay marriage which means daughter Catherine no longer speaks to her and accepts a VP she hates to win votes which drives the rest of her loyal staff to quit. So what is Selina's ultimate reward for throwing away any principles and friendships to be President again? She loses the next election to her rival who serves two terms which is then followed by Richard becoming a great President who finally brings peace to the Middle East. She's nothing but a historical footnote only remembered for her many mistakes and to top it all off, her funeral is overshadowed by the networks cutting to news of Tom Hanks having died.
  • 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.
  • Young Sheldon: In "A Loaf of Bread and a Grand Old Flag," Sheldon causes a fuss when a company changes his favorite bread by producing it cheaply to save money, and in a series of escalating events ends up accidentally supporting communism because he thinks it will get him better bread. At the end of the episode he announces that he gave the bread another chance and he likes it, trying to make himself sound mature, but the rest of his family is still mad at him for what he put them through and isn't talking to him.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Apocalypse Stone was a Dungeons & Dragons adventure designed to destroy a Second Edition world to allow a fresh start with Third Edition. In the default ending, nothing the PCs do ultimately matters. Even if they succeed at every task flawlessly, by the time they confront the final villain, the world is too far gone to prevent an Earth-Shattering Kaboom. However, it did also allow alternate endings, such as the fabric of reality being altered in ways that would accommodate Third Edition mechanics.

    Music 
  • The 60s anti-war song One Tin Soldier tells of the Valley Folk who covet the great treasure of the Mountain Kingdom. The Kingdom are more than happy to share, but the Valley folk greedly want the whole stash, going to war with the Mountain and wiping them out. In the end, the "treasure" turns out to be a simple engraving of 'Peace on Earth' on the bottom of a rock
  • Rainbow: The song "Stargazer" tells the story of a wizard who enslaves people to spend nine years building a tower in the desert for him so he can channel his magic to fly. His first attempt ends with him falling to his death, rendering the whole endevour completely pointless.

    Sports 
  • The New Orleans Saints' play known as the River City Relay has become infamous due to this trope. With the Saints trailing by 7 on the final drive of a game they needed to win to have any chance of staying in the playoff race, they pulled off one of the most incredible lateral plays of all time to score a last-second touchdown... only for usually-reliable kicker John Carney to miss the extra point that would have tied the game and forced overtime.

    Theatre 
  • 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 most famous and bloody civil wars.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Monokuma provides certain motives to the students in order for them to kill each other and get out of the school. However, given that the nature of the world is effectively post-apocalyptic, anyone who did escape would most likely quickly die anyways.
    • The first motive is showing the students their loved ones ... then horrific implications as to what's happening to them. However since it's been a year since the Tragedy, there is little to no chance that getting out now will save their loved ones.
    • The second motive is embarrassing secrets. While it's up in the air how the students themselves would judge each other with their secrets revealed, it's highly unlikely that anyone left in the outside world would care, as there are more important things to worry about - e.g. survival.
    • The third motive is money. Even if money still has a use in the outside world, its importance has dropped significantly and having that much money is dead weight at best.
  • 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.
    • In Rin's first bad ending, which you get by selecting "Then explain," Hisao and Rin break up after an argument, and the last line of Hisao's inner monologue is about how much time he wasted on their relationship.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Raven spends the fifth volume concocting plan to oppose Salem by obtaining the Relic of Knowledge for herself, and actually succeeds in reaching the Relic. However, the very act of her success reveals her entire plan was a lost cause, instantly undoing all the effort she went to. Qrow renounces her as his sister; her lieutenant Vernal dies because she's a Maiden decoy; and she exposes herself as the Spring Maiden to the enemy, which automatically makes her Salem and Cinder's target. Just as she's about the pick up the Relic, she is confronted by Yang, who forces her to confront her own cowardice: Yang observes that collecting the Relic won't protect her from Salem, it'll make her Salem's priority target; With a tearful apology, Raven leaves Yang to take the Relic and flees.

    Webcomics 
  • 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 as far as she was concerned. (Agatha got a great ally out of the mess.)
  • In Latchkey Kingdom chapter "Titan", Willa does manage to defeat the Titan... but the reward for doing so was so small, it wouldn't cover the cost of replacing the how-to guide she destroyed in the process.

    Web Original 
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd goes through a lot of trouble to get the Atari 5200 set up: he tries to plug in the 5200 in the back of his main TV, then realizes that there's no room in the back, so he switches to another TV, but the cable is too short, so he gets an extension cord, then the 5200's adapter box doesn't reach, so he has to move the TV and drops it onto his foot. Finally, he gets the console to start up... and he can't even play any games because the controllers don't work. So he orders a third-party controller, but the plug isn't compatible with his console's ports.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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...
    TheKingNappy: "Remove all damage counters from all of your own Pokémon with damage counters on them, then discard all Ener-" WHAT?!
    shadypenguinn: That's a broken deck.
    TheKingNappy: His Kangaskhan and his Chansey...have 10 damage left before they're knocked out!
    shadypenguinn: Wow...
    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.
    shadypenguinn: Wow...
    TheKingNappy: I mean, they have no Energy. But I was about to- (beat) I have no words! This game hates me!
  • The Scott The Woz episode "Borderline Forever", which has Scott going on all sorts of adventures in an attempt to break free from the blue border in all of his videos, ends with Scott allowing himself to be contained by the border for good, with the knowledge that everyone else will be spared by it. Lampshaded by one of his friends who tagged along for the ride:
    Jerry: THAT GOES AGAINST EVERYTHING WE'VE JUST DONE!!
  • 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.
  • In Screen Rant Pitch Meetings, The Producer greenlights Fantastic Four (2015) despite its major problems in large part because it will keep the Fantastic Four out of Marvel's hands for a long time. Cue news article confirming that the Fantastic Four will join the MCU.
  • In the Spongebob Conspiracy, Alex talks about how he spent three years in film school, only for him to end up making Spongebob videos.

    Real Life 
  • This trope can be applied to the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar, arguably one of the biggest and most consequential own goals in political history and was a massive turning point for one of the greatest and most influential empires in world history. Caesar was no saint, and the methods to get to the height of his power involving exploiting every weakness the Roman Republican system had (along with a civil war), but he was still a competent leader and, more importantly, an extremely popular one. His opponents in the senate, who feared he would become king (though he was basically king in all but name anyway at that point) decided that killing him before that possibility could be realized would restore the Republic to how they believed it should be. Unfortunately for them, Caesar's supporters rallied the furious public against the "liberators", chasing them out of Rome. If anything, however, Caesar's death may have accelerated the demise of the Republic, as his adopted son Octavian, who renamed himself Augustus, proceeded to become the first Emperor of Rome. All of the conspirators were hunted down and killed in the intervening years (or committed suicide), the Republic became ruled by kings by another name, and the only thing the "liberators" achieved was killing Caesar himself, but considering Rome became ruled by a Caesar anyway, and arguably one even more ruthless than the last and less willing to pardon his enemies after seeing how that ended for his adoptive father, they may as well not have even bothered.
  • This trope can be applied to the League of Nations. Created just after World War I by President Woodrow Wilson, it was intended to maintain world peace from then on. But although the League successfully mediated a number of disputes, especially surrounding borders, the opium trade, and slavery, the United States never joined the League, much to Wilson's embarrassment. Perhaps not surprisingly, this led to problems for the League in the 1930's. To make a long story short, Germany turned to Adolf Hitler and Those Wacky Nazis, who repeatedly ignored the League's cries for peace, and in 1939, World War II, which the League was trying to prevent in the first place, had begun.
  • This trope applies to the 2021 fall of Afghanistan back into the hands of the Taliban after 20 years of freedom following its liberation by NATO forces only a couple of months following the 9/11 attacks and start of the War on Terror. In just around 3 1/2 months, everything that the United States, United Nations, and NATO worked for when they liberated Kabul with the Northern Alliance in 2001 was apparently destroyed as the Taliban launched a massive offensive and recaptured key provinces (allegedly with the aid of a conspiracy within the Afghan government) and, within 10 days, secured Kabul, putting them back in control of most of Afghanistan as terrified Afghan civilians fled to the airport to escape with U.S. troops and those American citizens evacuating the U.S. Embassy as well. It was like the Fall of Saigon all over again in the eyes of some people. However, cracks began to show in the Taliban shortly thereafter, and there were still some groups fighting them...

 
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Paige Fails to Stop the Deal

Even though Paige got Mayor Whitebottom to resign after publishing evidence of his corruption, he plans to use his final moment to sell Central Park to Bitsy, making the evidence she found to stop the park deal meaningless.

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