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All for Nothing

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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.


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 vs. Cynicism—nothing lasts forever, and something that seems so important may be just a passing moment. Yes, the farm boy may have risen to become king and gotten the girl, but his life doesn't end there, and things can still go downhill. Another use for this is to deliberately shock the audience—a Face–Heel Turn hurts so much when the character we cheered for six seasons turns on us.


In general, it's more forgivable when it's done as an event, rather than as a Retcon. If a hero's efforts are undone, that's not as frustrating as if it turns out that they never mattered in the first place. The audience is also more likely to forgive it if we're shown the change, rather than it being done with Second-Hand Storytelling.

A storyline that is All For Nothing is not always a happy thing ruined by bad events. A tragic scene of people losing everything can feel very cheapened if things get better too easily; 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.


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.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Berserk: This is the worst part of being an Apostle. It doesn't fix anything, it only changes the subject after reaching the Despair Event Horizon in the short time, as many Apostles can attest (for instance, The Count still loves her daughter, Rosine realizes too late the God Hand never granted her wish to become an elf and Ganishka is still paranoid as ever), but that doesn't mean they won't reach it again. In fact, things gets worse since a dying Apostle will Dragged Off to Hell by their victims eventually.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • During the first saga of the series, Yamcha, Tien, Chiaotzu, and Krillin all train in order to be able to combat the incoming Saiyans. Soon as Vegeta and Nappa get there and they, along with Gohan and Piccolo engage the two. Yamcha is blow up in a sneak attack by one of the man-made henchmen, the Saibamen. Chaiotzu ends up blowing himself up in vain to trying to kill Nappa. And Tien ends up losing an arm and using up all his energy just trying to take Nappa out... which also fails. And Krillin ends up being pretty damn useless as well, as Nappa punishes him and Gohan. So all that training was for naught. This repeats itself on the Android Arc, where the humans ultimately realize how underpowered they are compared to each new foe that appears. As a result, they give up on fighting... or at least Yamcha and Chiaotzu do.
    • During the Buu Saga, Vegeta becomes so obsessed with topping Goku that he makes a Deal with the Devil with Babidi, allowing Babidi to turn him into a Majin and bring forth his inner evil to do so. As it turns out, Goku had unlocked Super Saiyan 3 and had been holding back against Majin Vegeta the whole time, so Vegeta sold his soul to Babidi, forsook his family, friends, and own convictions, and helped unleash Majin Buu upon the world for nothing. More than that, the very thing he did all of the above actions for, his pride, was utterly and completely destroyed. Not only were his sacrifices meaningless, he once again has to deal with the fact that Goku made a huge leap ahead of him by unlocking Super Saiyan 3, to say nothing of the insult of being allowed to think he could win. As a result, Vegeta is pretty damn pissed with Goku when King Yemma brings him back to fight Buu after he gave his life in a failed effort to make amends.
      Vegeta: I sent myself into a cold oblivion, and I did it on a lie!
    • This is not the first time this happened to Vegeta. In the Frieza Saga, he spent the majority of the story arc avoiding a direct conflict with the titular tyrant, while using subterfuge and quick action to take the Namekian Dragon Balls for himself and pick off his men, reaching the brink of death more than once, so that he can use the Dragon Balls to wish for immortality, and so that he can finally challenge him. Unfortunately, the Grand Elder, whose life sustains the usage of the magical orbs dies, and Frieza confronts him and his erstwhile allies, Krillin and Gohan. Seeing no other choice, they battle him head-on, but it's not enough. Piccolo is revived and brought to Namek, and he turns the tables against Frieza at first, but it quickly becomes clear that the battle is still a losing one. So Vegeta, in an attempt to become a Super Saiyan, has Krillin put him to the brink of death and have Dende revive him so he can receive a dramatic power boost. It works, but Frieza still toys with him, and he loses all hope when he realizes he's not a Super Saiyan, leading to a savage beatdown by Frieza's hands before he executes him. Everything he did in that arc was to free himself from the yoke of Frieza, and it all it earned him was a pitiful death. At least he got better by the arc's end.
    • Said word-for-word in Dragon Ball Z Kai by Piccolo upon seeing Frieza's true form. After all the training he did with King Kai, and everything Gohan and Krillin went through to get Namek's Dragon Balls to revive him... he states to Gohan that he can no longer protect him. Not from Frieza.
    • Dragon Ball Super has an "All For Nothing Saga" in the form of the Future Trunks Saga. Basically, the entire reason it happened is because the heroes tried to fight off this new threat in the form of Goku Black and Future Zamasu, and saved Future Trunks' timeline and survivors of their attack. So after 20 episodes of mystery-solving and fighting what happens? Merged Zamasu becomes a bodiless form who succeeds in killing off every single survivor that the heroes fought so hard to protect, and begins the process of spreading across the entire multiverse and timelines. This forces the heroes to summon Future Zen-Oh, who has to completely erase Future Trunks' entire timeline from existence, just to finish off Future Zamasu once and for all. And Future Trunks and Future Mai are the Sole Survivors of that timeline. That's right, all their efforts they worked so hard to protect the timeline ended up being completely meaningless, and they couldn't even meet their friends in the afterlife because it's also blown up. The only compensation for all this is the fact that Zamasu was stopped before he managed to spread to other timelines. That, and Whis can send Trunks and Mai back to a time just before Goku Black came into being, allowing Future Trunks to prevent it all from happening in the first place.
      • The manga version had it even worse. Least in the anime they managed to killed Merged Zamasu's main form. In this version, nope, they cut him in half... and he just makes multiple copies of himself. Meaning there's no way they can even defeat him because he's just too overpowered. It's only due to Goku remembering he had Zen-Oh's button that saves them.
    • On the flip-side, this also applies to Zamasu himself in that he finally succeeded in killing of all the mortals in the timeline and managed to have a whole universe shaped in his vision upon gaining his bodiless form. But by that time, he has completely lost his mind, which means that he will never be able to enjoy it. His victory is also negated when Future Zen-Oh appears and eradicates the timeline he resides in, with the knowledge that he couldn't kill the people who caused him the most grief.
  • Fairy Tail:
    • Jellal spent years before the start of the series up to the Tower of Heaven arc manipulating Erza, his childhood friends/fellow slaves, and even the Magic Council itself in order to prepare the R-System for the process of reviving the black wizard Zeref after being possessed by his spirit as a child. He tormented Erza, destroyed countless lives, and even killed one of his friends Simon in the name of obtaining "true freedom." The kicker? Even if he hadn't been defeated by Natsu and Erza, it wouldn't have mattered because Zeref was never dead in the first place. His "possession" was really the result of a brainwashing spell by Ultear who was manipulating him for a plan by her own dark guild to unseal Zeref and to take the Council's eyes off their movements. He becomes a wanted criminal, loses his memories, gets a death wish upon learning what he did, and it was all based on a lie.
    • The dark guild in question, Grimoire Heart, ends up suffering similarly in a case of karma. In their goal to unseal Zeref, they cause all manner of death and destruction over decades to obtain "keys" to awaken him. As it turns out, these "keys" hold no more water than the rumors of Zeref's death. Zeref himself actually wants nothing to do with them due to his own self-loathing and desire to die for his own sins, and in fact kills off Grimoire Heart's leader in anger.
  • Though this is far more often the rule than an exception for antagonists, Fullmetal Alchemist deserves a special mention due to its ties to one of the show’s themes. Big Bad Dante at one point gives Ed a Breaking Speech that equivalent exchange is a falsehood made up to make people feel better about themselves, and that no amount of Ed’s efforts mean the universe owes him a Happy Ending. Considering Dante orchestrated multiple genocides, manipulated the homunculi and has been body hopping for centuries to create a new Philosopher’s Stone, her ultimate failure and demise shows just how right she is.
  • In the Manga and Brotherhood versions of Fullmetal Alchemist, Shou Tucker's Moral Event Horizon of fusing his daughter Nina with her dog Alexander into a pitiful, suffering Chimera became this once we learn later in the series that the military already had human/animal chimera, and unlike Tucker's chimeras, these ones are not only in a perfectly fine mental state, they can even shift back to their human forms at will. All of Tucker's madness and his sacrificing of his wife and his daughter was done for the sake of experiments the government had already perfected in secret, and done because he wasn't "in" enough to be privy to them.
  • ''Gintama has some arcs/chapters/episodes that ends in this or "Shaggy Dog" Story, either Played for Laughs or Played for Drama. But one arc in particular is a clear All for Nothing: The Shougun Assassination Arc. After the protagonists spent so much time protecting Shige Shige from the ArcVillains, Takasugi and Kamui, he is killed anyway months later by the Big Bad Wannabe, Nobu Nobu (who started the arc in the first place). The only things that came out of this arc are that the status quo of the series has been shattered and that Gintoki and Kagura had planted the seeds of a Heel–Face Turn in Takasugi and Kamui, respectively, that pays dividends two arcs later.
  • In Hellsing, this is revealed to have happened to Walter. After Alucard is killed by Schrodinger, Walter's laughter at Alucard's demise can only turn to bitter tears as he realizes that he's sacrificed his entire life and betrayed Hellsing for nothing whatsoever. Walter failed to kill Alucard, let alone best him, and the Major never even expected that Walter would succeed. Walter somberly notes that he'll die a traitor's death just before he expires.
  • High School D×D: This trope gets hit with this twice. Lucky it's only the antagonistic side that suffers instead of the heroes.
    • Kokabiel's attempt to start another Great War fails: the three of the seven Excaliburs he stole are retrieved and sent back to Rome; Kokabiel's plot to kill the Gremory family have been foiled; and on top of that, he ends up being overpowered by Vali and captured by Azazel to be frozen in Cocytus.
    • The Khaos Brigade's efforts to take over the Underworld and plan to kill Great Red go up in smoke as Katerea is killed by Azazel after her attempts to foil a peace treaty between the Three Factions fail; Creuserey is killed by Sirzechs and Azazel while trying to avenge Katerea; Shalba is overpowered by Issei; the Hero Faction's attempt to transform Yasaka into the Nine-Tailed Fox and summon Great Red are foiled thanks to Sun Wukong and Yu-Long teaming up with Issei to beat them in Kyoto; Shalba's attempt to exact revenge on the Devils leads to his death; and the Old Satan Faction is dissolved after their leaders' deaths.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean, the events of the finale turn Dio and Pucci's whole plan into this. Pucci manages to transform his stand Whitesnake into Made in Heaven and resets the universe just as planned... but before he can actually finish making the changes he wanted, Emporio kills him. The universe snaps back to normal, all the heroes are restored to life (if with different names), and they're actually in a better state than before (such as Jolyne and Anasui's counterparts being Happily Married), while Pucci himself is seemingly erased from existence.
  • Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!: After Mizusaki and Asakusa call for help while they're stuck on the rooftop, Kanamori smashes through a wall to bring the ladder back upright. Cue the two of them standing right behind her, revealing that they just slid down a pipe to the ground instead. Kanamori proclaims that they'll be paying for the damages.
  • Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms has a couple story arcs that end this way:
    • Mezarte wants to make up for the gradual loss of its iconic Renato dragons by kidnapping women from a Society of Immortals and using them to bear immortal heirs for various families, including the royal one. The lone child from the royal marriage shows no sign of having inherited her mother's immortality, all the Renato either die or escape, and formerly allied nations get so angry with the kingdom that they band together to invade it.
    • Krim, who is in love with the woman who was forcibly married into the royal family, spends years plotting to set her free, only for her to refuse to be rescued twice: first because she's pregnant, then because going with him would keep her from ever seeing the daughter from whom she was separated ever again.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • Endeavor, the #2 ranked hero, goes through some deplorable lengths to try to surpass All Might, which includes using his own family as a stepping stone. Even though he finally gets the number one spot, he can't enjoy it because he knows he only got it by default due to All Might's retirement. He'll always be compared to All Might due to All Might's final battle, which will continue to inspire other heroes for decades to come. So no matter what he does now, he'll always feel that All Might has completely and utterly beat him. Worse still, for all the efforts he took to groom Shoto as his successor, there is a strong possibility that Shoto will eventually be surpassed by All Might's protege Izuku Midoriya. This completely breaks Endeavor, forcing him to finally confront his actions and maybe actually become a good person. Shoto, Bakugo, and Izuku all apprentice at his agency, and he proves a good mentor to all three of them for different reasons.
    • Nana Shimura made the difficult choice to put her son Kotaro into foster care to protect him from her life as a superhero because she knew All For One would target her family to get to her; her husband had already been killed by a villain. She even went so far as to ban Gran Torino and All Might from contacting him to keep him safe. However, Kotaro grew up to be an absolutely horrible person due to feeling abandoned and had a kid named Tenko who he abused for wanting to become a hero. Kotaro ended up murdered by his own son when Tenko's Quirk first activated due to the former's abuse. And then All For One adopted Tenko as his heir and renamed him Tomura Shigaraki, just to further twist the knife.
    • Even poor All Might isn't immune to this. In his Final Battle with All For One, he was forced to use up the last embers of One For All in order to defeat the villain and bring him to justice, being forced to retire afterwards. Immediately following the war with the Paranormal Liberation Front, All For One performed the impossible and lead a mass breakout from Tartarus, thus negating All Might's final act as a hero.
  • Naruto: Madara Uchiha orchestrated the entire plot of Naruto for the sake of his own idea of "peace", even going as far as training a successor (Tobi/Obito) to continue his work when he could not stave off death any longer, with specific instructions to eventually revive him to complete the plan. All of this was to prove his ideology was better than his former best friend and rival Hashirama Senju's. Well, he succeeds...only to be stabbed in the back by his Enigmatic Minion Black Zetsu, who reveals that Madara, much like everyone else, was an Unwitting Pawn in a much larger game, right before his body is used as a vessel to revive the true Final Boss of Naruto, Princess Kaguya. After Kaguya is defeated, Madara is left powerless and on the verge of death, forced to confront the fact that all his plans and efforts were based on a lie, and that his ideology will die with him, while Hashirama's will endure and live on. The sole comfort he has is that, despite everything, Hashirama still sees him as his friend.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion:
    • ZigZagging in the final episodes of the series. Despite all the efforts he made at connecting with others, Shinji comes to feel betrayed and abandoned by everyone. Despite all their efforts at preventing Third Impact, the pilots failed because their superiors wanted them to fail in order to trigger their own, somewhat better version and turn the entire planet into a barren wasteland with humanity all but extinct. However, it was Shinji's efforts at connecting with others that led to Rei rejecting his father and instead turning the reins of Third Impact over to him, and it was Shinji's desire to see those people again that led him to stop the instrumentality of humanity. End result: the world ends up as a twisted wasteland; it's left with the hope of recovery as Shinji and Asuka return, giving a tiny step to reach each other out, and all humans can choose to re-embody if they really want to, but it's implied that the only ones who can resist the temptation have to be as fucked up as Shinji and Asuka. They may not have even had that much if Gendo's or SEELE's plans had gone through.
    • The Reboot Rebuild of Evangelion is even WORSE. In this version, Shinji manages to hold onto his determination and saves Rei... only to reveal that he just triggered Third Impact by doing that and that she disappeared without a trace, killing the better half of the world. Nobody's amused. Shinji teams up with Kaworu because he's the only one who still show him kindness, and tries to fix everything. He loses him too and partially triggers Fourth Impact. So now Shinji has destroyed the world, lost Rei, only saved Asuka (whose every second in existence is sheer suffering and hatred towards Shinji) and another step in Gendo's hidden agenda is completed. At this rate, you can expect Shinji to rip apart what is left of his dignity and sanity and eventually destroy the entire universe.
  • One Piece:
    • Impel Down and Marineford make up an entire All For Nothing arc. Luffy breaks into Impel Down to rescue his brother Ace upon learning he had been captured and sentenced to death. He fights his way down to the bottom level, surviving only due to luck and Heroic Willpower, only to find that Ace had already been removed for execution. Luffy then starts a Prison Riot to escape, letting hundreds of the world's worst convicts out in the process, and travels to the giant Pirates vs. Marines battle taking forth. Fighting past thousands of soldiers, including the Marines' top fighters, the Admirals, Luffy manages to free Ace from his Power Limiter handcuffs, and they begin to leave. Until Ace turns around in response to one of the Admiral's taunts, gets into a fight, loses, and dies to protect Luffy. If Luffy's reaction of going into a Heroic Blue Screen of Death isn't sad enough, the realization that the past 51 chapters were all for naught makes it so much worse.
    • The Marines don't get off that easily either as they suffered massive casualties, lose Sengoku, Garp, and Aokiji all via resignation due to, respectively, trying to cover up the escape of Impel Down's worst inmates, having had to fight two members of his own family and losing one in the process, and refusing to serve under the man chosen to replace Sengoku after being unable to prevent his ascension. On top of all that, the death and final words of Whitebeard cause a new era of piracy and the Marines now have to deal with a level of piracy worse than ever before. They may have killed Whitebeard and killed off Gold Roger's bloodline, but their victory was hollow.
    • This occurs a few times in the Whole Cake Island arc:
      • This is the final step of Sanji's Trauma Conga Line, when it was revealed that Pudding was actually Evil All Along and the entire wedding was just a ploy to execute the Vinsmoke Family, meaning that everything he had done: leaving the crew, resubmitting himself to his family's abuse, and treating Luffy and Nami like trash, was for nothing. Fortunately, Luffy's face-punch reignites his desire to reunite with the Straw Hats, which ultimately leads to the entire wedding fiasco.
      • Same goes for Sanji's father, Vinsmoke Judge, who tried everything to cow his estranged son into submission, even blackmailing him with Zeff's safety and putting (fake) explosive bracelets on him knowing that even if Sanji were to survive, the one thing he enjoyed (cooking) would be rendered impossible without hands. He also experimented on his own children, with him outright removing their human empathy in the case of his quadruplet sons so Germa 66 can be led by strong commanders who will recapture North Blue and lead his kingdom to greatness. At the end of the day, all his efforts are for naught — his own wife, Vinsmoke Sora, resorted to extremely desperate measures to ensure her unborn sons would still have empathy, leading to Sanji's birth as he is now. This kicks off a series of events that leads to Judge and his "perfect" children being rounded up for slaughter by the Charlotte family. Fortunately for them, Sanji's too compassionate to let them die.
    • After serving under Big Mom for an entire year, working his way up the ranks to be in a position to kill her, and coming up with a clever yet convoluted plan to pull it off, Bege's entire assassination plan backfires: Big Mom's scream inadvertently destroys his missile launchers, his escape plan is ruined, and his treachery has been exposed to the Big Mom Pirates.
    • Averted with Pedro's Heroic Sacrifice to take down Perospero. Even though Perospero survived the explosion with only a missing arm, Pedro's sacrifice freed Chopper, Brook, and the Thousand Sunny from Perospero's candy and gave the Straw Hats an opening to escape, so it doesn't count as a Senseless Sacrifice.
  • During the finale of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Homura begs Madoka to not make her wish because of all of the pain she went through to protect her. She even says "Everything I fought for... it will all be for nothing!" Madoka still makes her wish, and while this may have benefited everyone else the biggest side effect was that Madoka had to be retconned out of existence. Madoka seems fine with this though and assures Homura she'll always remember her sacrifice, so it's not all bad.
    • In the Rebellion movie, it appears it didn't take from Madoka's point of view. Homura makes the decision to usurp Madoka's goddess powers and rewrite the universe again so as to be able to look out for Madoka's interests, even if it goes against her original wish.
  • During the Grand Finale of Sailor Moon, Sailors Neptune and Uranus pull off a desperate Fake Defector act in order to get close enough to Galaxia to finish her off, going to such lengths as killing Pluto and Saturn (depriving Sailor Moon of two valuable allies right after the death of Princess Kakyuu and the Heroic Sacrifices of the Inners) and attacking Moon herself and her remaining allies, the Starlights (so she wouldn't suspect them, but also weakening her physically and devastating her emotionally) before finally attacking Galaxia with her own bracelets. Unfortunately, due to no longer having a Sailor Seed, Galaxia is unaffected by the sneak attack before retaliating against the conspirators, and Neptune and Uranus die right in front of Moon and the Starlights without accomplishing a thing.
  • A somewhat more comedic version of this. In School Rumble, class 2-C was divided between whether they should do a play or cafe for the School Festival. They then devoted the next mini-arc to a dramatic war game held in the school between the two groups using fake guns. The very next day, while being punished for the game, their teacher Kooriyama suggests they just do both.
  • Transformers Energon: Alpha Quintesson spends the entire show manipulating Autobots and Decepticons in order to recreate the planets Unicron had devoured in a new universe outside regular space. By using the weakened Unicron as a newborn sun, the plan suceeds... until the sun collapses into a black hole that consumes the young universe and sets the stage for Transformers Cybertron.
  • Your Name: The side novel Another Side: Earthbound reveals that, after his wife Futaba's death, Toshiki had set out to become mayor of Itomori in order to modernise the town, spending 2 years preparing and then getting elected into a 4-year term. As he's standing for reelection at the start of the film proper, though, comet Tiamat crashes into it one month later, rendering all his efforts pointless.

    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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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 Jonathan Hickman's Avengers run, the possibility that this trope is in effect looms over the story, with the Avengers questioning if they'll be able to stop the Incursions threatening to destroy reality. It's a bigger threat than anything they've faced before and things are looking increasingly hopeless... but even if everything is doomed, would that justify doing nothing? Ultimately subverted; many plans truly were for nothing, but many others came together to save the multiverse, and it's clear that everything would've died if people like the Avengers and Fantastic Four hadn't fought to the bitter end. And even if they had lost, they would've at least gone down fighting.
  • Explicitly averted, or for the moment very explicitly attempted, by Kieron Gillen on his run in Journey into Mystery. Major Spoilers ahead. Well aware that there was no way Loki could be left good when he was the major villain of the third biggest film of all time, having his run end with Kid!Loki triumphing and changing "for good" would really just become "for the next week or so until the next writer comes along." In order to avoid his story losing any of its impact, he didn't just kill Kid!Loki, he erased him from existence utterly to be replaced by his older version.
  • 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 we 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.

    Fan Works 
  • Apples Equals Cyanide Equals Light: Near thinks everything he did to defeat Kira might have been for nothing, seeing how he became an almost immortal shinigami, pretty much unstoppable now.
  • A Brief History of Equestria: Princess Platinum does everything in her power — up to and including orchestrating her own death — to rid Equestria of the monarchy. Her efforts will ultimately be for naught when Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are crowned co-rulers of Equestria.
  • Crimson and Emerald: Endeavor went through deplorable lengths to surpass All Might which includes using his family as his stepping stones. It's all for naught, his negative qualities drop him to Number Three with his recklessness making it difficult to get Number Two making becoming Number One to be even more of pipe dream. His treatment of his family is so horrible that it drives the other genuinely heroic characters like Hawks, All Might and Inko to intervene to save his family from him. So Endeavor no longer possesses his "perfect tool" Shouto and has to pay restitution to the family he neglected and abused. The more popular Hawks is being groomed to be All Might's immediate successor as Number One hero. All his children hate and fear him. His reputation with the both the public and fellow Top Ten heroes is the toilet. Everything he worked as amounted to nothing.
  • Doing It Right This Time: When Rei meets Gendo for first time after travelling to the past she slaps him and informs him all of his planning was for nothing because he would fail. Gendo was pretty... shaken afterwards.
    Shinji: Figures. How much did you actually tell my father, anyway?
    Rei: Few details. Only that everything he had worked towards and everything he had put myself and his only son through had been for nothing, and that he would die alone and unmourned, rejected by the only person he had ever truly loved. [...] It was... cathartic.
  • FFS, I Believe in You: In the sequel, Link, Zelda and Sidon spend considerable time and effort in searching for the recipe to the healing potion for Jabu Orkù, deciphering the archaic instructions once they find them, collecting all the ingredients, brewing the potion and getting it to Zola Province. In the end, Uisdean smashes it before they can use it, and it's revealed that it wouldn't have done any good anyway because Orkù's problem was that he was being parasitized by a barinade.
  • Ghosts of Evangelion: After Shinji explains why Yui left, Gendo comes to the realization that his whole plan was for nothing.
    Gendo leaned back in his chair. "All for nothing," he whispered. He looked at Shinji, a hint of regret in his eyes, then looked away.
  • In Hearts of Ice, Cologne goes to extreme lengths to ensure that Shampoo gets married to Ranma: blood magic, manipulation, brain-washing, attempted murders... until Ranma gets killed as a result of her schemes. Whereupon, Cologne decides her efforts have been worhtless, and she just wants to go back home.
  • In Imaginary Seas, Percy does his best to minimize civilian collateral during his battles, but he soon finds that it's all for naught, as succeeding in his quest will destroy the Lostbelt and wipe everyone in it from existence. Despite this, he stubbornly sticks to his morals until Olympus' forces rally the populace against him, forcing him to reluctantly destroy everything on Eris Island with Nine Lives to obscure his and Chiron's escape from Artemis' and Zeus' prying eyes.
  • In Mean Time To Breakdown after struggling to remain positive and adapt to her new life, Iwanako finds herself back in the hospital three days later even more depressed than when she left.
  • The New Adventures of Invader Zim:
    • Played with in regards to the plot of Season 1 Episode 5. Within the episode itself, it seems as if everything Dib went through in order to get Van Helsing's journal was pointless since the journal is useless. However, in the following chapter, the consequences of Dib's actions (the twins being assigned to be his partners partly to keep an eye on him) seriously change the story's status quo.
    • The Tallest ultimately feel this way about the entirety of Season 1's Story Arc, as Project Domination is destroyed without them, or anyone else, getting ahold of it.
    • The plot of Season 2 Episode 7 is kicked off by both Dib and Tak's teams trying to stop Zim from siphoning cosmic energy to use in future plans. After the resulting trip to a Mirror Universe and a fight against Dib and the twins' evil counterparts, at the end of the chapter Zim walks away with a fragment of the crystals that said evil counterparts were using to also siphon the cosmic energy, meaning that Zim got some after all.
  • The One I Love Is...: In one of the side-stories Gendo admits all he has done, all lives he has ruined -including his son and daughter's- and all blood he has shed... has been for nothing, since he has failed: he has been unable to free his wife and they will never be together again.
  • In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, the Citadel Council cooks up a plan to fortify Council space against an Alien Invasion (specifically, the Flood) by having Aria T'Loak's pirates hold the line in the Terminus without risking Council assets. Between attacks by a seeming Physical God Sarah a Force-sensitive Siren and the aliens' ability to crash through everything, the plan fails miserably. Hundreds of millions die in non-Council, non-Terminus space, and Council space ultimately falls, though an unlikely savior gets most of the heroes out alive...
  • Robb Returns:
    • Ser Willem Bootle’s attempt to pay back his debt to Collyns winds up being for naught, as Collyns had been executed as an associate of Littlefinger. This means that Bootle murdered Lord Surestone, seized his property, and tried to force Dacey Surestone into prostitution for nothing, and it only buys him death by incineration via the Fist of Winter.
    • Hearing Cersei's interpretation of Maggy the Frog's prophecy, if it could even be called that, causes Tyrion to realize just how incompetent his sister really is. "Valonqar" has several meaningsnote , assuming she didn't actually hear "Valongar"note . Even assuming for a moment that Maggy was right, then Jaime could have been the one she should have feared, as he is the middle child and her direct younger sibling. In other words, Cersei killed someone and tormented Tyrion his entire life because she couldn't be bothered to check up on her vocabulary and grammar.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness:
    • Throughout Act III, Akua and Kahlua willingly work for Kiria and aid him in his plan to rewrite history with the Chrono Displacement spell, going to such lengths as stealing said spell from their father's secret archive, turning themselves into hybrids with Alucard's blood, and killing numerous innocents, because they hoped to make Issa one of the top rulers of the new world that Kiria intended to create. They're naturally horrified when they discover that they were nothing but Kiria's Unwitting Pawns and that part of his Evil Plan would have involved having the two infected with Blackheart and sent back in time to destroy Issa's empire from within so he would be the strongest monster of them all, which is anything but what they wanted: they spend the entirety of Act IV trying to atone for their actions. To further drive the nail in, Kiria's plan was doomed to fail from the start, as if Tsukune and the others had fallen, Luna would have killed Kiria herself and then let the Chrono Displacement spell go critical and destroy everything in a fit of madness.
    • During the final chapters of Act V, the actions of Babylon's minions lead the HDA to declare war on monsters, leading them to arrest and quarantine any monster they can find and drive the dark lords out of the human world. After some events, however, they realize by Act VI chapter 52 that their efforts were in vain; Babylon had been targeting the monster world all along, and the humans were unfortunate enough to get caught in the crossfire.
  • Ruby and Nora: Everything Ozpin and Pyrrha tried to prevent over the course of their stories ultimately fail.
  • Scar Tissue: After returning from Instrumentality, Gendo reflects all he did to reunite with his wife -which includes abusing and torturing his children emotionally and ending the world- was completely useless and meaningless, since Yui chose to remain inside Unit 01 rather merging with everyone into Instrumentality.
  • In The Second Try, when Gendo interrogates his son, Shinji warns him that all his scheming and planning would be for nothing since everyone will die and Yui will never come back to him. Gendo refuses to believe it, but when he realizes that Shinji is right, he tries to kill himself.
  • In Shatterheart R!Syaoran attempts to reach out to others, endure his friends' apathy, learn not to isolate himself in his room and find some happiness for himself. Then he backslides when Kurogane ends their relationship when he becomes too attached and Syaoran is more miserable than before.
  • Sleeper Hit AU:
    • After training extensively and managing to pass U.A.'s grueling Entrance Exam despite being Quirkless, Izuku shows up for his first day... and gets expelled by Aizawa, who casually outs him as Quirkless while declaring that he's got absolutely no potential as a Pro Hero. While he eventually finds another school willing to take him in, all his work to get into U.A. came to naught.
    • Aizawa deliberately fudged the results of his assessment in order to boot Midoriya out so that he could ensure there was a space open in the Hero Course for his protégé Shinsou. By the time the Sports Festival rolls around and Shinsou is able to prove his merit, more vacancies have opened up due to Asui and Mineta being killed by the League's USJ assault.
    • Izuku doesn't come forward with proof of how Katsuki bullied him since childhood because he doesn't want to risk tainting All Might's legacy. All Might sacrified much in order to save him in the Kamino incident, and Izuku fears that exposing King Nitro as a Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up would make those efforts pointless. In the end, Bakugou loses his license for attacking his fellow heroes anyway.
  • SV Wishes: Yue Qingyuan breaks a decade-long promise to Shen Qingqiu to be monogamous that was the bedrock of his marriage to give into social pressure and take another spouse to raise his status. Not only did that earned him further mockery of the court, it destroys what was a previously harmonious relationship and ruins the lives of everyone involved.
  • Total Drama What If Series The Screaming Gaffers fell into despair after the war challenge since all they fought for was a treasure of Anne Maria's hairspray.
  • The Two of Us starts with Marinette having financial problems, and Adrien offering a Marriage of Convenience to make it easier for her to secure a student loan. After all the trouble they go to (a lot, considering whose son we are talking about), it turns out that the financial aid is per household, not individual, meaning the wife of a man as wealthy as an Agreste isn't eligible.
  • Underverse: Cross and X-Event!Chara's attempt to fix their world and make it their own fails spectacularly. Not only does the quarantine on all the Universes they've been in undo everything they've stolen, but Ink brings back XGaster, who takes back the other half of his soul and puts X-Event!Chara back in his place.
  • Weight of the World: In The Depth of Deception, the entire Kuchinashi mission was pointless. Salem's forces found Mistral first so Yang's group entered Kuchinashi, hunted down Roman, and were captured for nothing. Not only that, but their absence from the City of Mistral let Salem's forces get the Relic of Knowledge and kill Neo/Mistral.
  • White Sheep (RWBY): Played for Laughs. All of Cinder's evil plans, utilizing Grimm, terrorists, criminals, hacking, and murder... they all fall apart when she's barely started putting everything into the final stages. How? Her little brother Jaune managed to convince Ozpin that Cinder was the best person to inherit the power she was seeking. Her plans were unnecessary because everything was being handed to her on a silver platter. She ends up sitting in her room with a Thousand-Yard Stare for hours.
  • In With Strings Attached, the entire quest is bullshit. The original motive for sending the four after the Vasyn pieces was simply Jeft giving them something to do; the curse that the Vasyn was supposed to remove didn't really exist; and while change was accidentally effected by the restoration of the Vasyn, there's no guarantee that it was actually good. However, the four were never told any of this (except the curse part), so they didn't complain.
  • In With This Ring Paul merges with the Ophidian to save his surviving friends and Earth from an Alien Invasion during its Darkest Hour, only to find it was never real and no one was in danger.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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.
  • How Tai Lung quest for power ends in Kung Fu Panda. He finally gets his hands on the Draon 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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. Afterward it turns out that the statue was ordinary stone.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • The Knowledge: On the day Ted passes the legendarily difficult exam that London taxi drivers have to take, he is disqualified for drink driving.
  • 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.
  • The Mythbusters have made several very complicated myth setups, only for them to completely blow up in their faces.
    • A giant Lego ball that took hours of work of about a dozen people to make, after getting both all the blocks from Lego Land and the largest private collector, completely broke apart before it even made it halfway down the setup track.
      • This was actually a huge success as it proved that the video was a fake.
    • When they attempted to retest the JATO Rocket Car myth from their pilot episode, they wanted to give it the best possible chance of actually getting airborne, so they pulled out all the stops: spending a lot of money on a "real" rocket (instead of their original homemade version), building and reinforcing a massive ramp, installing remote controls and elaborate tow-lines so it could be launched safely. After all that effort and expense, their professionally-built rocket engine exploded when it was ignited. This was perhaps the only time since the first season that they couldn't give a verdict of "busted", "plausible", or "confirmed". As this was the "Supersized Special", they ended up calling the myth "appropriately supersized"; after all, they'd still gotten a consolatory fireball.
  • A 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.
  • 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 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.

    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.

  • 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 tresure turns out to be a simple engraving of 'Peace on Earth' on the bottom of a rock

  • Both The Fantasticks and Into the Woods do this deliberately as a Deconstruction of fairy tales. The first act is a mythic tale with beginning and end, and the second act is life going on and not ending so neatly.
  • In Henry V the titular king, unhindered by civil war, takes his "noblest English" into France and, despite overwhelming odds, defeats the French at Agincourt. Not only does he win the country (or a big chunk of it) he charmingly woos the French Princess Katherine to seal the deal and the last action has the two of them getting ready to be wed. Then the Chorus reminds the audience that, like in real life, Henry would be dead a few short years later, and his son's reign would see all those French territories lost and the country of England plunged into one of its famous and bloody civil wars.

    Video Games 
  • This trope sums up the net gain of any MMO that has shut down. Spent all that time grinding characters, farming loot, hunting achievements and making nerdy friends who you have no actual contact information with? Too bad, the servers are shut down and scrapped (or even sold on the black market as stolen personal information) and all your hard-earned progress is gone forever! Doubly so if you spent any money on the game.
  • In The Bard's Tale Trilogy, the first two games are about saving the town of Skara Brae, while in the third game, the town is destroyed.
  • Batman: Arkham Knight has a subplot in which Batman and Robin are trying to find a cure to an infection caused by the Joker's blood, which mutates those infected into clones of the Joker, which Joker himself sent to hospitals before his death in Arkham City. One such infectee, Henry Adams, is apparently immune, and Batman believes him to be the key to a cure... but as it turns out, Henry was Evil All Along and in fact faking his immunity, and he subsequently kills the other infectees. Ultimately, there is no cure for the infection, and Batman kept Robin working on a "Shaggy Dog" Story rather than serve as an effective ally in the field; the Joker hallucination that plagues Batman throughout the game gleefully rubs in Batman's face that he went through all that trouble for nothing.
  • In Battletech, Victoria Espinosa's character arc ends this way. After performing one dog-kicking act after another for what she believes is the greater good, the Directorate is defeated by Kamea and the Player Character and her father — who had convinced her that his was the only way — decides to surrender rather than fight to the last. Unable to come to terms with the fact that she did all those evil acts for nothing, Victoria has a Villainous Breakdown and commits Suicide by Cop against Kamea and one of your lances.
  • In Betrayal at Krondor, the renegade moredhel Gorath goes to insane lengths to prevent his people from starting another suicidal war with the humans and by extension achieving peace between the two nations. These "insane lengths" include giving up leadership of the clan he's led for over two centuries and defecting to the humans, thus getting branded traitor and earning his people's hatred and his wife's contempt. In short, he gives up everything. By the end of the story, it is revealed that his efforts mostly only forwarded the villain's plan to get his hands on an Artifact of Doom. He lays down his life to prevent said artifact from destroying the world. Any success towards achieving peace or making his nation less war-crazed? Nada.
    • Though this was a Foregone Conclusion, since the game takes place in between two books that had already been published, with no major change to the political landscape between them.
    • There is one very delayed benefit in the last arc of the novels: Gorath's sacrifice makes it possible for the heroes to trust a delegation of Moredhel led by Gorath's youngest (And only living) son who volunteer to help keep the Dread from breaking into their universe and destroying it two centuries after his death.
  • The whole story arc of Litchi Faye-Ling up to BlazBlue: Central Fiction. She does everything she can to save her dear friend Lotte. Including leaving her potential position as a prestigious scientist in Sector Seven, inflicting herself with the same corruption inflicting him (which does a number on her body), joining two Obviously Evil people that she doesn't trust for the sake of more information of how to save him (even when her other friends call her foolish for it) and by that game, somehow she's managed to find that one method to do it safely and reunited with him while being lucid and sane... and then Lotte himself reveals that he was one step ahead, already knew that method and chose by his own will not to get cured, then told Litchi to do what she should have done in the beginning: Kill his corrupted form Arakune. Which means all those risky decisions and getting herself being known as a reckless, selfish idiot by others were all for nothing.
  • Call of Duty: World at War multiplayer matches often end this way if your team loses:
    Sgt. Roebuck: A lot of good men died today. All for nothing!
  • In Commander Keen: The Secret of the Oracle, Keen can unlock access to the Pyramid of the Forbidden, which takes the game's existing Nintendo Hard difficulty and ramps it Up to Eleven. After navigating this dungeon, Keen finds and rescues one of the captured Gnostic Elders...only to be told he's not an Elder, but their janitor. Keen is not amused.
  • Darkest Dungeon, fitting its incredibly dark and hopeless tone, ends with one of these. The Heart, the source of the corruption is a transcendant being that is truly immortal, "killing" it only stalls its inevitable growth. One day when efforts fail and it grows fully, it will erupt from the planet's crust in what's likely to be a Class 6 or Class X Apocalypse How. The player character is broken by this truth and seeks solace in the same way as the ancestor did, with a new descendant arriving to repeat the same cycle until the world inevitably ends with the alignment of the stars. Worse, the Thing From the Stars, assuming it's not the egg form of the Heart, means that even if humanity somehow manages to truly neutralize the Heart, there will always be another Eldritch Abomination out there ready to prey on humanity.
  • Dark Souls follows this to nearly a tee across all of its entries:
    • In Dark Souls you are told throughout the whole game that you are The Chosen One who is destined to succeed Gwyn and rekindle the Age of Fire, stopping the Undead Curse and making a new golden age for mankind. Then you actually Link the Fire and realize it means you get to burn for thousands of years, sacrificing your souls and Humanity to feed the Age of Fire. Also, you were actually The Unchosen One the whole time, and it was only luck and sheer determination that got you to the point where you could even make that choice.
    • Dark Souls II shows that no matter what you did in the previous entry, the Curse was never really stopped, only held back until the fire starts to fade again. You've come to Drangleic looking for some way to cure yourself of the Curse of undeath, and while you do get a treatment for it if you complete the Lost Crowns Trilogy in the form of the ancient crowns of the Sunken King of Shulva, the Old Iron King, the Ivory King of Eleum Loyce, and Vendrick's own crown, you ultimately come to the conclusion hat no matter what you do there is no cure, and you can only hope to propagate the cycle of Light and Dark long enough that someone else will find a way to cure it long after you're gone. If you completed the Scholar of the First Sin content, then you can make it a little less futile by refusing to ascend the Throne of Want and instead trying to find another way out of the cycle, but Aldia states that this is a fool's hope at best.
    • Dark Souls III seemingly subverts this in all of its endings, as the game implies that the Age of Fire can't be saved and it is going to end no matter what you do. All you can do is choose how it dies: You can either Link the Fire one last time, giving the world a spark of light to go out on. You can have the Firekeeper snuff it out so that a natural flame can take its place out of the Age of Dark. Or you can consume the First Flame itself and use its powers along with the Dark Soul to break the Curse and rise as the new Lord of the Age of Dark.
      • Then we get to the Ringed City DLC, which really shows just how pointless this whole mess with the Fire and the Dark really was: The Dark was never supposed to be malevolent, it was only made that way when Gwyn (paranoid as he was) placed a seal of fire on mankind. This act cut off their natural affinity for the peaceful Dark in the souls, and as they lost control over their own Dark the Abyss and Humanity itself grew malevolent and chaotic, leading to the Curse itself. If Gwyn hadn't been paranoid about the Dark, every single problem in the whole series could've been avoided.
  • Deponia Doomsday, the fourth installment in the Deponia series, could very well be a textbook example. After spending the whole game trying to undo what happened in the end of Goodbye Deponia, all he did not only was undone, it might have even made things worse for him and others.
  • Destiny 2 has a side quest where you investigate the Drifter. They believe he has hidden motives and might be a threat to the Guardians and the Traveler. Drifter finds out about this and gives you a choice to become his mole against the Guardians. If you decide to remain loyal to the Guardians, you will uncover various things about the Drifter's past, mainly because the man decides to help you discover it, claiming he has nothing to hide. You eventually discover his hideout and investigate it, only in end to be told that there is no evidence against the Drifter that shows he is guilty of anything and the investigation was pointless. The only things that change is the info about the Drifter fills up a lore completion segment,(which details how the probe was pointless) and you still get to do the Gambit co-op modes, but Drifter doesn't trust you anymore, occasionally calling the player a snitch.
  • The original Diablo has three heroes fighting to lift the demonic curse from the town of Tristram and save the nation of Khonduras from the corruptive influence of the titular Lord of Terror. They fight their way through the corrupted cathedral, crumbling catacombs, dark caverns, and ultimately into Hell itself. Upon defeating Diablo, the Warrior plunges the crystal holding Diablo's soul into his own head, volunteering for an eternity of torment as the can for this ancient evil attempting to break free. Diablo II reveals that the Rogue was corrupted by Andarial and destroyed the monastery her people call home, the Sorceror went mad and retreated to a pocket dimension of his own making, and the Warrior (now identified canonically as Prince Aiden) wasn't strong enough to hold Diablo, and had handed the Lord of Terror a much stronger host than the 10-year-old boy he'd been inhabiting in the first game. When Diablo escaped the cathedral, he burned Tristram on his way out, slaughtering everyone who lived there, leaving Deckard Cain as the only survivor.
    • Diablo III pours some more salt on the wound by revealing that Adria the Witch was working for Diablo the whole time.
  • Dinosaur Forest reveals the adventures of the Space Opera protagonist had been a hallucination from a prison inmate undergoing severe mental health treatments.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition: In the Trespasser DLC, after saving both Ferelden (basically Medieval England) and Orlais (Medieval France) from smaller machinations of the main villain as well as saving the world twice and now finding out that the means by which the main character did all this is also killing them, both royal houses, which owe their continued existence to you, decide you're too powerful to be left alone and want to disband the Inquisition. The Precision F-Strike by the main character describes how futile their efforts were.
    Inquisitor: DAMN IT! We save Ferelden, and they're angry. We save Orlais, and they're angry! We close the Breach twice, and my own hand wants to kill me! Could one thing in this FUCKING world just stay fixed?!
    • Made even worse when you discover that the god who erected the barrier between the real world and the dream world where all the magical creatures exist now means to tear it down and basically wreck everything all three protagonists from the last three games have worked so hard, some even dying, to save.
  • In Dragon Quest II, most of the towns on the main continent have been destroyed, there are tougher monsters roaming the land, and there is a worse Big Bad threatening the world.
  • Near the end of Dragon Quest Builders, the player learns from the goddess Rubiss that all of their efforts to restore civilization was meant to set the stage for the eventual return of the fated Hero who would defeat the Dragonlord for good and all. There is one big problem, however: there is no telling when this hero would come. Could be tomorrow, or it could be a millennium, and the people of Alefgard would continue to suffer until then. Upon learning this, the Builder decides to Screw Destiny and defeat the Dragonlord instead.
  • The endings of both Earthworm Jim games, of the comedic kind. In the first game, the cow launched by the hero in the first level suddenly plummets into the ending and crushes the newly rescued Damsel in Distress. In the second, it turns out the Love Interest, the Big Bad and the eponymous earthworm — were all cows in disguise.
  • In the original Fallout, triggering one of these moments is a way to Talk the Final Boss to Death. The Master created his Super Mutant army intending it to be a "master race" that could flourish in the post-nuclear wasteland as the Unity, a harmonious society, after converting the rest of humanity into more Super Mutants. If you ask him whether any of his Super Mutants have reproduced and have the medical reports to back your point up, he realizes his "master race" is a sterile evolutionary dead-end, suffers a Villainous BSoD and triggers his lair's self-destruct mechanism.
    The Master: But it cannot be! This would mean that all my work has been for nothing! Everything that I've tried to- A FAILURE! It can't be! Be! BE! Be... I... don't think that I can continue. Continue? To have done the things I have done... in the name of progress... and healing... It was madness. I can see it now, madness. Madness? There is no hope. Leave now. Leave... while you still have hope...
  • Far Cry 5 has the entire game. No matter what you do you get a Downer Ending, with your three choices being "give up at the beginning, the bad guy wins, and the world is probably eventually nuked", "walk away, kill your allies in a brainwashed stupor, The Bad Guy Wins, and the world is probably eventually nuked", or "resist and defeat Joseph Seed and the world is nuked and the bad guy suddenly wins".
  • In Fire Emblem Fates, Hinoka pretty much voices this trope aloud during the Conquest route in which their sibling, the player-character, elects to return to the adoptive family whose patriarch murdered their father and kidnapped them from their homeland and birth family, effectively rendering her years of training to rescue them utterly pointless. On top of that, she didn't even get the satisfaction of being the one to bring you back home before you left again - you got stranded and brought back by sheer luck, only to depart of your own accord afterwards for the people that stole you from her. Ouch.
    Hinoka: How could this happen?! What have I been fighting for all this time...?
  • Happens late in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia. Berkut, nephew to Emperor Rudolf and heir presumptive to the Rigelian throne, resorts to increasingly desperate measures to prove himself worthy of the crown. Then he learns that Alm is actually Rudolf's son and the true heir to the empire, everything he ever fought for was a complete lie, and Rudolf knew all of this and didn't tell him. The results are not pretty.
  • The God of War series:
    • God of War:
      • In both the original game and its prequel, Chains of Olympus, Kratos does various tasks for the gods in exchange for freedom from the nightmares caused by him murdering his wife and child in blind rage. As it turns out, they never explicitly said they would do that, only that he would be forgiven for his sins, making ten years of servitude completely pointless.
      • While fighting Ares, the God of War traps Kratos in a separate dimension where his family is attacked by dopplegangers of him. He succeeds in defending his family, only for Ares to rip his weapons out of his forearms and kill his wife and child again.
    • God of War: Chains of Olympus: Kratos spends most of the game chasing after his daughter in the Underworld, even going so far as to give up his weapons, magic, and appearance. Then Persephone comes along and reveals that the world is about to end, and the only way for Kratos to save it is to sacrifice being with the child he fought so hard to be reunited with. Also, the game doesn't do this in a cutscene. You must take control and drive Kratos away from his beloved daughter. Talk about cruel.
    • In God of War III, Athena tells Kratos he must open Pandora's Box to destroy Zeus and spends the game trying to get to it and extinguishing the lethal flame guarding it. He rescues its namesake with the intention of offering her to the flame, but he has a change of heart and cannot go through with it. Then Zeus appears, and after the first of three final boss fights, Pandora runs to the flames. Kratos catches her and tries to prevent her from getting sucked in, but Zeus pisses him off so much he releases Pandora to tackle Zeus. The flames are gone, Pandora is dust, and Kratos opens the box to reveal... Nothing. It's empty, rendering pretty much the entire game and the Pandora plotline moot. The soundtrack for this moment is even called "All for Nothing".
  • Taken at a different angle in Grand Theft Auto V, where Trevor gets Michael and Franklin to help him steal an object of his interest from Merryweather and they succeed in the heist... only for Lester to drop in and tell them that they stole a superweapon and that Trevor intended to sell it to the Chinese. Needless to say, regardless of which approach you choose the steal the thing, Trevor gets chewed out for it pretty bad. What really drives the salt in the wound was that completing the heist without Lester's intervention would have granted the crew 20 million dollars. But looking back on it, it was probably a good idea to leave it amongst the wreckage. Doesn't make the sting less apparent, though.
    Franklin: So you mean to tell me this shit was all for nothin'? Man, it's the hood all over again. Fuck!
  • Halo:
    • The Forerunners built seven "Halo" rings, which were galactic WMDs, in order to use them as an absolute last resort against the Flood, who had conquered pretty much the entire galaxy and foiled every advanced weapon or strategy the Forerunners had tried against them. When the Forerunners fought their last stand, they activated the Halo rings and wiped out the Flood throughout the galaxy, stopping them from taking over it...the problem was that when they did it, they not only wiped out the Flood but themselves and any intelligent species remaining in the galaxy as well, making it lifeless. Fortunately, the Forerunners had planned ahead and stored as many species as they could into a safe spot located outside the galaxy, returning them to their homeworlds after the Halos were fired. 100,000 years later, some of the Flood specimens the Forerunners had kept in storage began to break out of containment, and it took a desperate gamble by the good guys to prevent the Forerunners' sacrifice from becoming all for nothing.
    • Halo 4's terminals reveal that the Ur-Didact was sealed into a Cryptum in the hopes that prolonged meditation would restore his sanity. However, as detailed in The Forerunner Saga, he would need access to the Domain during his slumber to help heal his mind; instead, the Domain ended up being destroyed when the Halos were fired. The result? The guy had nothing but his madness to dwell on for 100,000 years, which meant that he was still insane when he was finally released.
  • Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number: no matter what you did, in the end nothing matters as 50 Blessings assassinates the presidents of both the USA and Russia, causing Miami and Hawaii to get nuked by Russia, killing off all the remaning characters.
  • Before the events of Star Stealing Prince occur, many people are hit by this, but Relenia... oh poor Relenia... She's told by Snowe's asshole parents to guard the Sepulcher, which is used for their own greedy ends, and just to stick the knife in further, she refused initially, due to her precious daughter obviously taking more priority over something so stupidly unnecessary, not to mention she lost both her parents and husband whilst arriving at the island due to their poor conditions back then, leaving her daughter as the only memory left of her previously-content life. So to coerce her to guard the Sepulcher, they put a memory-altering spell on her daughter, then her daughter asks who she is, thus having her forget who her mother is and then the King and Queen have her daughter be raised by a foster family instead. At this point she's so saddened by this event that she doesn't refuse to guard the Sepulcher afterward. Only after facing down said asshole parents does Snowe's group discover the truth that Relenia's duty of guarding the Sepulcher was pointless, literally wasting years of her life for nothing. The only saving grace is that she, along with the others affected by the spell placed on Snowe, including her daughter, have prevented them from physically aging before said rotten link is severed. After some time passes she happily reunites with her daughter in such a heartwarming event that it truly brings tears to many a first-timer's eyes...
  • The Last of Us Part II: By the end of the story, Ellie's quest for revenge is left unfulfilled as she could not bring herself to kill Abby when she had the chance. Jesse is dead, Tommy and her are both permanently maimed (missing eye and lost fingers respectively), and Dina has left along with JJ. The moral of the story is Vengeance Feels Empty.
  • At the beginning of Knights of the Old Republic, you are on a planet trying to get past the Sith fleet that has the entire planet blockaded. Along the way, you are given chances to help people or hurt people (generally, being good costs a lot of money, while being bad gets you money, and this is the only place in the game where credits don't grow on trees). At the end of the sequence, the Sith carpet-turbolaser the entire planet, killing effectively every person you helped or hurt or didn't help or hurt in the first quarter of the game, making your decisions moot.
    • In Star Wars: The Old Republic you find out that your efforts actually helped a small group survive the orbital bombardment and they form a new society. However, as you progress in the quest line, you discover recordings that recount how the new tribe was ultimately wiped out due to radiation poisoning and constant attacks by monsters created by a plague.
    • Taris just can't get a break. In the same game, the Republic classes' side of Taris sees the Republic working to rebuild the planet and make it habitable once more after Malak destroyed it three hundred years ago, which players can choose to help out with. The Imperial classes' side of Taris, which they visit at a later point in game, sees the Empire invade and destroy the Republic's reconstruction efforts, undoing everything that the Republic (and Republic players) had accomplished.
    • In the sequel of the first game, the light side path has you traveling across the galaxy to locate the surviving Jedi Masters so you can recruit their aid in fighting the new Sith menace. But when you finally gather them all together, they promptly declare you to be a bigger threat than the Sith (due to your status as a Force Wound) and try to cut you off from the Force—at which point they are interrupted by Kreia who proceeds to kill them all, making your original quest completely pointless.
  • Haschel's quest to find his lost daughter in The Legend of Dragoon has been ongoing for twenty years and once or twice during the story, he gets a clue that might lead to her (such as bandit who knows a martial arts only taught in his village). By the end of the game, Haschel realizes that his daughter has been dead for eighteen years, but at least he's been traveling with her son for some time.
  • Subverted in Mario Party 3. After EVERY challenge the player asks, they beg the Millennium Star to make them the greatest superstar in the universe, only for him to confess he's a fraud and flies away, and your character completely sulks dumbfoundedly thinking the whole journey was a wasted effort. Then the real Millennium Star appears and reveals it was watching the player the whole time, returns everything to normal, and promises them they are the greatest superstar in the universe.
  • Mass Effect 3:
    • James Vega's backstory; he sacrificed a colony to get crucial information that might help defeat the Collectors, only for Commander Shepard to do it him/herself, and make the sacrifice meaningless. This story got expanded into a fully fledged animated movie, Mass Effect: Paragon Lost, which shows just what Vega went through during that incident.
      • Ironically, it's not that pointless; DLC reveals that some of the Collectors were stranded from their base when it exploded, and it's implied that the intel helped them integrate with the alliance. But then they proceed to murder everyone in their last stands and die alone, since they're all loveless mutants anyway. Yay.
    • The Geth being largely peaceful makes the entire Quarian-Geth war completely pointless. Unusually, getting the Quarians to realize this trope is actually the best thing that can happen, as it means peace is an option.
      • Additionally, forcing the two groups to make peace (essentially allowing them to rebuild the Quarian homeworld together) is essentially rendered moot if one picks the "Destroy" option at the game's end (as all of the geth are destroyed, anyway).
      • You can go further and wipe out both civilizations, turning Rannoch into a wasteland. And in the worst ending, you set all Mass Relays to self-destruct, ending the Reapers but nuking galactic civilization back to the (cultural) dark ages. Symbolically, this means that Shepard's final solution to the entire Reaper conflict is to destroy anything worth fighting for so that nobody wins. You Bastard!
    • A lot of angst for all characters comes from the knowledge that everything the Protheans did to win their war ultimately failed to prevent their extinction, and that there is every chance the same thing would happen in their cycle. One of the characters actually prepares knowledge for the next cycle in case they fail, and in one of the endings, it is the next cycle, not the present one, which ends up ending the threat of the Reapers.
  • Papers, Please: Over the course of the game, EZIC plots and plans to overthrow the government of Arstotzka. At one point, you are asked to assassinate a specific person who may jeopardize EZIC's activities. If you go through with the assassination, you are arrested and put to death for murdering someone who was, in the eyes of the law, an innocent civilian, and EZIC is forced back underground due to your replacement at the border checkpoint refusing to work with them, rendering their efforts for naught.
  • Persona 5: Haru joins the Phantom Thieves because she wants to atone for her father's actions and redeem him. This ends up for naught as her father is murdered by The Conspiracy and Haru spends the rest of the game having to cope with the guilt.
    • The Traitor committed many atrocities, affecting a good portion of the Phantom Thieves, for the sake of getting revenge on his father Shido, only to realize that all their actions could have been completely avoidable. Not to mention Shido's cognitive self of Akechi reveals that the former only saw the latter as an expendable puppet and was planning on killing them later anyways.
  • Red Dead Redemption 2: Arthur Morgan sacrifices his life to help John Marston and his family escape from the collapsing gang, helping them get a better life. The first game, however, shows that it's become all for nothing when Edgar Ross eventually has his army gun John down.
  • There are a couple of incidents in A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) where the Baudelaires efforts are wasted. Their escape from Olaf's house fails due to Olaf somehow catching the children as they crawl out of the escape hatch. Their efforts in protecting Josephine also fails due to their rescuer being Count Olaf and he pushes Josephine's boat away from his, thus resulting in her being eaten by the leeches you fought so hard against.
  • In Silent Hill: Homecoming, four families were allowed to leave Silent Hill and its cult at the cost of sacrificing one child per family every fifty years. However, the latest round of sacrifices fail when the Shepherd family refuses to kill their sole remaining child after the one they intended to spare dies in an accident. This pisses off the three families who each did their newest sacrifice for what turns out to be no reason, and results in the supernatural prescence of Silent Hill reclaiming its former members.
  • Tales of Berseria has its Wham Episode cause one of the main characters to think this way. Velvet learns that her brother Laphicet was a willing sacrifice instead of being murdered by Artorius. And throughout the game, Velvet was remorselessly killing people and leveling cities in order to avenge him, which has now been rendered pointless. This realization causes Velvet to completely lose it.
  • Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation has Lara accidentally releasing the evil god, Set, after she steals the Amulet of Horus from his tomb. To prevent Set from fully manifesting, Lara has to gather the various pieces of Horus's armor and place them on a statue to summon him to fight Set. At the very end, Set arrives anyway and destroys Lara's only shot at summoning Horus. Lara seals Set away, but she winds up being Buried Alive when the pyramid's chamber collapses around her.
  • In Ultima VI, the Avatar prevents the complete fulfillment of the False Prophet prophecy, as the Gargoyle world is not destroyed, and peace is established between Britannia and the Gargoyles. In Ultima IX, the Avatar destroys the Gargoyle colony Ambrosia, fulfilling the prophecy anyway.
  • A bit of a running theme of Uncharted, where Nate walks away with either nothing, very little or even losing something valuable of his (assuming you don't count him picking up the Treasure collectibles). A consistent trope is that he never gets thing he spent the whole game searching for, although he's more about the chase than the reward. Walking away from an expedition with no treasure and just a clue to a new location also pushes the characters into feeling this way about things.
    • In Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Nate initially has nothing by the end and intentionally left his ring with Sir Francis. Subverted when it's revealed that Elena recovered the ring for him and Sully stole a boat from the pirates who stockpiled a crate full of Spanish gold.
    • In Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, the Chintimani Stone is revealed to be just amber, and is immediately overshadowed by the sap from the Tree of Life that grants fast healing powers. Both are destroyed with the city they're in. Being a bleaker game, there are also many smaller instances of this trope, such as Nate going out of his way to carry a wounded a Jeff only for him to be shot in cold blood by the villain when they're cornered, or fighting armoured gatling gunners and even a helicopter up a train to rescue Chloe, only for her to tell him he wasted his time as she was upset about the earlier incident.
    • Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception has Nate walk away from Iram of the Pillars having lost his ring for good, and Sully only scavenging a few coins this time. Mid-way through the story, Nate fights through hordes of pirates in a stormy dock and a shanty cruise ship to try and rescue Sully, only for it to be revealed that the pirates never had him.
    • In Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the Spanish treasure hoard turns out to be radioactive, meaning possessing it at all would be deadly.
    • For Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Nate decides that it isn't worth it to go after the pirate's hoard. Sadly, his brother Sam can't resist the allure and Nate has to go back and save him from the booby-trapped pirate ship. However him doing so gives him some of the pirate treasure he can slip to Elena, giving Nate and Elena some coin to start a new legal life of hunting down history and treasures that is shown to make them very wealthy by the end time of the epilogue.
      • This also turns out to be the fate of Libertalia. Henry Avery intended it to be a utopia for pirates to live without society's rules.The problem being, a society made up of people who rob and plunder for a living was doomed from the start. When they realized they'd been conned into having their money stolen, the populace rose up in revolt. Avery and Thomas Tews saw the other pirate lords ready to fight for the treasure and poisoned them all to get it themselves...then ended up killing each other over it. Thus, the "utopia" ends up becoming a mass graveyard lost to time.
    • Finally averted in two ways in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, where the Tusk of Ganesh is obtained for keeps by the heroes, but they decide to legally hand in to the local authorities rather than sell it. Still counts from Sam's perspective however as he was rather hoping for the extra money.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines becomes this in a meta example. Due to its place in the Old World of Darkness timeline, Gehenna is literally right around the corner when the game ends. Then again, White Wolf's official stance on their canon is that if we don't like an aspect of the lore, we're free to ignore it...

    Visual Novels 
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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!
  • RWBY: Raven spends Volume 5 concocting her plan to oppose Salem by obtaining the Relic of Knowledge for herself. In the end, her plans become a lost cause. Qrow disowns Raven as his sister; Vernal, her lieutenant, dies because she's a decoy; and she exposes herself as the Spring Maiden to the enemy, something that will effectively put her on Salem's hit list. And when she finally attempts to obtain the relic, Yang bluntly rips apart her logic, telling her that Salem will see her as an even greater target if she takes it. In the end, she leaves Yang carrying the burden, and abandons both the Relic and her daughter with a tearful apology. In Volume 6, it's revealed that Grimm are attracted to the Relics, something that Ozpin never mentioned to even Qrow, meaning Raven's plan was never going to work.
    • Also, the only way to permanently kill Salem? You can't. All of Ozpin's efforts across the millennia amount to merely delaying Salem's inevitable victory.
    • The heroes battle Salem's faction at Haven, trek across Anima and steal an airship to bring the Relic of Knowledge to Ironwood in Atlas, learning of the secrets listed above in the process. Afterwards, they lie and pretend the Relic is non-functional and do not telldistrusting Ironwood. However, they decide to finally come clean and Ironwood tells the public the truth about Salem in order to stand united against her. Unfortunately, Cinder proves to be a Spanner in the Works, and Salem takes advantage of Ironwood's paranoia to push him past the Moral Event Horizon, causing him to view Team RWBY and co. as a threat and to try to kill Oscar. On top of that, Neo is able to steal the Relic of Knowledge, bringing the heroes almost all the way back to square one with Salem on the way...
  • 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 {{Web Animation/Underverse}} Cross, X-Tale Chara and Frisk's plan to take their world back fails. First, Cross ignores Chara's warning that he can't OVERWRITE, leaving the two of them trapped in the void. Second, XGaster discards all of the work that Cross and Chara have done, temporarly killing Chara, before ressurecting Cross, and leaving Chara as the only free one in the middle of all of his friends who have been turned into People Puppets.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Adventures of Puss in Boots, the group spend a small arc trying to track down clues to lead them to an artifact known as the "Obelisk of Night". After helping out the person said to have it, they find that he just has a replica of it and points them to where the real obelisk is found; the group's home town of San Lorenzo.
  • In the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode Video Oujia, Meatwad can talk to the dead through titular video game. Shake kills himself so he can haunt Meatwad through the game. Unfortunately for him, Meatwad had already grown bored of Video Oujia and moved on to Insult Master.
    • In Super Bowl, Meatwad wins two super bowl tickets from a bag of Enchiladitos chips. Carl and Shake battle for Meatwad's favor to get the extra ticket. Not wanting to suck up to Meatwad anymore, Shake tries to win another pair by eating bag after bag Enchiladitos. Resulting in him geting diabetes and cancer. In the end Meatwad picks Boxy Brown instead. To add insult to injury, Meatwad forgets the tickets and goes to a farm instead. Shake is not too pleased.
      Meatwad: Yep, Super Bowls are fun. We got bragging rights this year! Number one...
      Shake: Who?
      Meatwad: Number one!
      Shake: Who? Who's 'Number one'?
      Meatwad: I dunno...
      Shake: YOU DON'T KNOW? Because you went to a *HORN SOUND* FARM you *HONK NOISE* imbecile! Get back here, you cost me my one chance! I got *BUS HORN* DIABETES and CANCER because of you!
  • Defied in Bob's Burgers episode The Equestrinauts. When Tina's favorite horse doll is stolen, Bob goes undercover at a convention as a fan of the show the doll is from to get it back. After being caught and almost given an embarrassing tattoo, while getting a small part of it on his rear, he gets the doll back. Tina decides she's too old to play with dolls and put it away. Not pleased with her decision after everything he went through, Bob quietly, then shouting, orders Tina to continue playing with it, which she does.
  • In Central Park, Season 1 "Live It Up Tonight", Bitsy made up an award for the Mayor Whitebottom to give to her and have a ceremony for it as an excuse to have Whitebottom slander Central Park's management to the public and has an auditor try to find any dirty on Owen. After Owen and Paige managed to avoid getting in trouble with the auditor, Whitebottom didn't have any dirt to reveal at the ceremony and it was all for nothing. To add insult to injury, Bitsy has no alcohol in her hotel because when Bitsy and Helen were trapped in a store room full of liquor underground, they thought it belonged to the Dagmont Hotel and they destroyed it all just to screw with them, only to later learn they destroyed their own liquor.
  • Danger Mouse: ZigZagging in "All Fall Down." Mac the Fork and Dudley Poyson have built a world-shattering earthquake device from plans stolen from Puttinghamdown Research Centre. Once the device is built, DM studies the blueprints for it and lets the villains try to use it. As DM and Penfold escape and the villains activate the device, the very building they're in (and only the building) comes crumbling to earth over them. DM notes that Colonel K must have spilt his tea on the blueprint, making what was left of it only able to get the device to enable localized quakes. Penfold wonders if he and DM went through all that for nothing, but DM reasons it did put pay to two nasty villains.
  • In the Family Guy special "And Then There Were Fewer", Diane's plan for revenge was to kill James Woods, her ex, and frame it on Tom Tucker, her former co-anchor, with the deaths of a few side and recurring characters as by-products of the plan. In the end, the main goals of her scheme were for naught as Tom was cleared of the framing and it was revealed later on that James Woods was revived by top-secret Hollywood medicine, meaning the only things she accomplished were killing a few recurring characters, with her herself being killed by Stewie to save Lois who learned about Diana's plot.
  • The main antagonist of Final Space Lord Commander /Jack spent all of season one trying to capture Moon Cake to open the breech into Final Space and unleash The Titans in hopes that they will save him from dying from the overuse of his powers and make him one of them. But the Titans he believed would make him into a god completely ignore him and just pull the Earth into Final Space instead. He ends the season with the breech destroyed, his forces depleted, and him still teetering on the verge of death because of overusing his powers.
  • In The Flintstones episode "The House That Fred Built", when Wilma receives a message from her mother saying she was going to move in with her daughter and favorite son-in-law, Fred buys a house for her, with him and Barney working hard to fix it up. When it's discovered that the house is built over an artesian well, Fred tries to move the house to his backyard, only for the trailer to careen out of control in the process and the house getting destroyed. It's then revealed that Wilma misinterperted her mother's letter and she was really going to live with Wilma's sister and her husband. At first, Fred and Barney laugh at the fact that they did all that hard work for nothing, along with the house getting destroyed...until Fred realizes all the money he wasted on the endeavor.
  • The Legend of Korra
    • Bolin's work on the Earth Empire and with Kuvira is this. He joins Kuvira because he believes that they are making lives better. Bolin strains his relationships with his brother Mako and girlfriend Opal, who disapprove of Kuvira because he idolizes her. Bolin goes so far as to lash out at Mako for not thinking she is a good leader. In "Enemy at the Gates", when he is sent to Zaofu to negotiate, he finds that Opal is angry and wants nothing to do with him. When Bolin tries to tell all the good the Earth Empire has done to improve the lives of the towns, Opal tells him that all of the towns that were forced to join the Earth Empire have turned into labor camps so Kuvira can get their resources and calls him out on never checking on those towns. Bolin refuses to believe her and snaps at her that he was certain that they were making the Earth Empire a better place to live. The tension between the couple is defused, however, when Bolin hears Kuvira issue a twenty-four hour ultimatum to surrender Zaofu, lest she would take it by force. Kuvira then confirms to Bolin that what he heard is true and threatens to send him to a reeducation camp. Painfully aware of how badly he misjudged her and how many people he's hurt in the process, Bolin goes to great lengths to help derail Kuvira's plans. Lampshade in "Remembrances":
      Bolin: How can you call me "the hero of the world"? [Looks down.] I left my friends and family to join up with a psychotic dictator who imprisoned me and now, [Looks away in shame.] I'm running back home with my tail between my legs.
    • A good part of the first season involved Mako trying to be a good boyfriend while in a Love Triangle with Korra and Asami, never wanting to hurt either, but still doing so because of his own tactlessness, irresponsibility and habitual lying. In the end, he loses both women by the end of the second season.
    • While this could apply to all the Big Bads of the series, special notice goes to the fourth season's Kuvira, whose intentions were to bring order to the fractured Earth Kingdom and not leave it in the hands of an immature fop like Prince Wu. Not only does she end up defeated by the very person she claimed was obsolete, but she lost her fiancé and adoptive family while the very prince she usurped decided to abdicate anyway and democratize the kingdom into a series of states, meaning all the strong-arming and scheming ended up being just an exercise in cruelty from a woman with abandonment issues.
  • My Little Pony 'n Friends: In "The Magic Coins", the ponies undergo a series of dangerous quests to retrieve a set of legendary treasures in order to get Niblik the troll to undo a curse. These all turn out to be entirely fruitless, as Niblik is allergic to the first treasure, the second breaks into pieces, and the third is identical to some gems Niblik already has plenty of, giving them nothing for their efforts.
  • In The Owl House, Lilith ends up with a couple instances of her plans being rendered moot.
    • After Luz challenges Amity to a witch's duel, Lilith secretly cheats in Amity's favor by placing a power-enhancing seal on Amity's neck. But Amity didn't need such a seal; she was clearly magically superior to the Muggle Luz, and would have won easily without Lilith's help. Once the cheating is discovered, it turns what should have been a Curb-Stomp Battle for Amity into a mutual loss for everyone.
    • As shown in a flashback with Lilith, she cursed her more magically-talented sister Eda the night before a witch's duel for a spot in the Emperor's Coven. Lilith used the curse to take away some of Eda's power, thinking it would last for one day. When the time came for the duel, Eda stepped down before the duel started and let Lilith have the spot, knowing how much she wanted it. To make things worse, when the curse kicked in, Lilith realized that not only did it cause Eda to transform into an owl beast, but that the curse was permanent. Eda ends up as a social outcast and a pariah, kicked out of the Boiling Isles by everyone who saw her transform. Lilith's desperation to have Eda join the Emperor's Coven and get the curse removed in the story proper is spurned on by Lilith's guilt that she basically cursed her own sister and ruined her life for no reason.
    • Towards the end of the first season, Lilith finally succeeds in bringing Eda to the Emperor's Coven, since Big Bad Emperor Belos promised to remove the curse in exchange for Lilith's loyalty and assistance with his plan. But Belos reveals that he never had any intention of removing the curse, and fully intends to turn Eda to stone as an example of what happens when people don't do what he says. Since petrification is the one spell on the Boiling Isles that is irreversible and unblockable, this prompts a Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal from Lilith after yet another instance of her plans amounting to nothing.
  • Popeye: This tends to be a frequent twist in the theatrical cartoons:
    • "Clean Shaven Man" — Popeye and Bluto overhear Olive singing that she prefers a man who is nicely groomed, and go to the barbershop to fix themselves up. But with the barber out, they end up doing it themselves, but Bluto cheats, and sabotages Popeye's chances. After the inevitable fight, they find Olive is now going out with Geezil (a recurring character from the comics with a long, black beard). Remade years later as "Shaving Muggs."
    • "Females is Fickle" — Olive's pet goldfish jumps in the sea, and she makes Popeye go in after him. After he goes through a lot of trouble to get him back, Olive decides the fish would be happier freed and tosses him back in the sea. Enraged, Popeye throws her into the sea as well.
    • "Puttin on the Act" — Popeye and Olive read in the paper that vaudeville is making a comeback, so they decide to bring back their old act, and the rest of the cartoon is about their rehearsal. At the end, after the two perform a very dangerous act, Swee'pea notices something on their newspaper and shows it to them. The paper was dated for 1898!
    • "Olive's Sweepstakes Ticket" — Olive wins first prize in a sweepstakes, but unfortunately misplaced her ticket. Thinking it might be worth millions, Popeye helps her turn her house upside down until they eventually find it, only for it blow out the window, forcing Popeye to go through all manner of hijinks chasing it across the city before finally getting back after a Bar Brawl. When Olive turns the ticket in to claim her prize, it turns out to be...a silly looking bird.
    Popeye: (Tearing his hair out) Olive, someday you're going to give me apoplexy!
  • Recess:
    • In episode "Officer Mikey", Mikey Blumberg wants to become a safety ranger, but was rejected by the captain, crushing him since becoming a safety ranger was his dream. So Mikey's friends try to help him, and after an extensive Chain of Deals, they succeed in getting him on the squad. The gang goes to school happy they made Mikey's dream come true, only to find that he'd already quit less than a day in because he found it to be too hard. Mikey then tells his friends he has a new dream of being a jet pilot; they leave while he's busy talking.
    • The episode "Pharaoh Bob" has King Bob force the entire student body to construct a mud pyramid dedicated to his tenure as king. A student rebellion arises in response, and in the midst of it, rain begins to pour and melts away his pyramid. With or without the rebellion, the pyramid was doomed from the start.
  • Rick and Morty:
    • Rick Sanchez's stated goal in "The Rickshank Rickdemption" is to supersede Jerry as The Patriarch and focal point of Morty's life as well as the family's lives in general. The end of "The Rickchurian Mortydate" sees all of that fall apart as Morty decides to stay with his family and help his (possibly-clone) mother, who has gotten back together with Jerry after some ill advice from Rick regarding her possible nature as a clone sent her into an Identity Crisis that led her back to Jerry as the one simple constant in her life. At the end of the episode the Status Quo at the start of Season One is restored and looks like it's going to stick since the family is genuinely happy now instead of the near-dysfunctional state they were in back then. Of course, given how the series intentionally switches between Cerebus Syndrome and Reverse-Cerebus Syndrome each season, it's all played for laughs and sobs.
  • Samurai Jack:
    • In the Seasons of Death episode of season four, the winter segment focuses on a group of mountain ogres (or something) who expend massive amounts of time and effort to forge a magic sword that can defeat Jack. Then, their chosen champion meets Jack with the sword... and it shatters against Jack's in the first blow.
    • Played for Laughs in season five. The High Priestess of Aku believes that Aku has abandoned her, and will do anything to hear his voice again. To that end, she births half a dozen daughters, raises them to be killing machines, and sends them to kill Samurai Jack and win Aku's favor again. Not only is Aku completely unaware of all this, but it's demonstrated throughout the season that it's very easy to contact Aku—dialing zero on any phone will get you an operator who will be happy to connect you to him in seconds. In the end, most of the Daughters are killed, and the last one ends up joining Jack and killing the High Priestess. Again, this all happens without Aku even noticing.
    • Also during Season Five, Scaramouche learns in the season premiere that Jack had lost his sword (i.e the one thing that can harm Aku). After surviving his fight with Jack, he went on a journey to reach Aku to inform him of this fact, suffering a few setbacks along the way. Unfortunately, during that time, Jack managed to recover his sword and by the time he reached Aku, it was no longer true, earning himself a head explosion for his troublesnote . This detail actually gets a lampshading without Scaramouche realizing it.
      Scaramouche: (After learning that Aku doesn't want to see anyone anymore) Oh, no! I didn't come all this way for nothing!
  • In The Simpsons, Barney decides to sober up after becoming horrified when he sees a video of what he's like when he's drunk. He joins Alcoholics Anonymous, and actually stays sober for some time after that episode (usually drinking coffee rather than beer). He eventually relapsed, however.
    • Homer and Apu travel to India to meet the head of the Kwik-E Mart, only for Homer to accidentally ruin Apu's chance of getting his job back.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In "All That Glitters", after his spatula breaks, SpongeBob seeks aout a new one called Le Spatula. After spending literally everything he had that was worth monetary value in order to buy it (including his house and clothes), it turns out that La Spatula has a mind of its own and has a higher standard than flipping Krabby Patties, and abandons SpongeBob, leaving the poor guy with nothing.
    • In "Scavenger Pants", Squidward keeps sending SpongeBob and Patrick on impossible scavenger hunts to get them to leave him alone, but they succeed with every last one. His most impossible test is to find his nonexistent long-lost brother, which they spend six whole months trying to find until they run into Mrs. Tentacles, who reveals she only had Squidward because one is enough, so that last test was all a big waste. But SpongeBob refuses to go back to Squidward because he feels he needs the brother he never even thought he had, so he and Patrick ask Mrs. Tentacles to adopt them to Squidward's dismay.
  • In Trollhunters, Draal is captured by the Big Bad and put under Mind Control near the end of the second season, and for most of the third season the good guys are trying to rescue him. In the same episode where he escapes Gunmar's mind control, he dies saving Jim from Angor Rot.
  • In Wakfu, Nox committed atrocities to collect wakfu to be able to turn back time and save his family, believing everything he had down would be undone by saving them and eliminating his reason and means to do so. He succeeds in turning back time, but only twenty minutes. Upon realizing how horrible he's been and that there isn't enough wakfu in the world to take him back two hundred years, he teleports away and dies.
  • In the final fourth of the second season of W.I.T.C.H., after Phobos defeats Nerissa and regains his status as the Big Bad, he reconquers Meridian and begins planning to conquer Kandrakar as well. This was all actually part of a complex Batman Gambit set up by Will. Knowing Phobos would betray them but still requiring his help to defeat Nerissa (as only a member of the royal family could forcibly take the Seal of Nerissa from her), Will made him swear on the power of Kandrakar to return the Hearts of Meridian and Zamballa upon getting the Seal from Nerissa before releasing him. The vow acted as a mystic contract, and if Phobos were to set foot on Kandrakar with malicious designs, he would mystically forfeit everything he claimed since defeating Nerissa. To accommodate the plan, the Guardians deliberately allowed him to reconquer Meridian and even forfeited the battle for Kandrakar (Phobos being only willing to set foot on a conquered territory). However, just before the vow was broken, Lord Cedric pulled a Starscream and devoured Phobos, using Exact Words to claim all his powers and conquests (Phobos granted him a "fraction" of his power for the battle, and Cedric used it to claim 4/4's, as in all of it). Since Cedric didn't make a vow, he gets to keep everything, meaning that not only did Will's plan fail, but the Guardians had allowed Meridian and Kandrakar to fall into enemy hands for nothing.
  • Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum: In "I Am Johann Sebastian Bach", the kids travel miles by foot to see a concert that Bach really wanted to go to, but only see a snippet of it before Bach runs off to work on his song. Yadina points out how dumb this idea was.


Video Example(s):


Play With the Doll!

In Season 4 "The Equestranaut", after Bob gets Tina's doll back, Tina puts her doll away for good because she's too old for it. Bob, not amused because he went through a lot of trouble to get her doll back, forces her to play with it.

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