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Bad Omen Anecdote

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Patrick: Maybe a story will cheer you up. It's called The Ugly Barnacle. Once, there was an ugly barnacle. He was so ugly that everyone died! The end.
SpongeBob: That didn't help at all!
SpongeBob SquarePants, "Something Smells"

This trope is for when, in the middle of some tense, possibly life-or-death situation, one character will remark to the other: "You know, this reminds me of a similar story..." The other character, hopeful, will remark "Oh, and they succeeded?" and of course, the first character says "No, they all died, actually."

May overlap with Metaphorgotten if the person giving the example genuinely forgot the unfortunate ending of it. Also overlaps with Analogy Backfire, "Shaggy Dog" Story and Ice-Cream Koan.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Films — Animation 
  • Played even more for laughs than usual in Hoodwinked!, as the person giving the omen seems to have no idea that the anecdote ended badly in the first place. When Twitchy and the Wolf are trapped in a cave:
    Twitchy: We're gonna die in here!
    Wolf (intending to be reassuring): Hey, now. That's what they said at the Alamo.
  • In Gnomeo & Juliet, Gnomeo has a chat with a statue of William Shakespeare, who tells him that he knows this story. When Gnomeo asks what happens to the lovers in that story, Shakespeare tells him that they both die.
    Gnomeo: They both die? What kind of an ending is that?
    Shakespeare: My dear boy, this is a tragedy.
    Gnomeo: Yeah, you're telling me, mate! It's rubbish! There's gotta be a better ending than that!
  • When Hot Rod and Kup are trying to avoid a Macross Missile Massacre in The Transformers: The Movie, Kup likens it to an encounter with shrikebats on Dromedon. When Hot Rod asks what he did back then, Kup remarks that there were an awful lot of casualties before remembering they reversed the polarities. It works, sort of.
  • The Brave Little Toaster, when the appliances try to cross a waterfall.
    Radio: I think Houdini did this once, and if I remember right, he was out of the hospital in no time.
    Lampy: Well, that's encouraging.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Near the conclusion of Beverly Hills Cop, Billy and his partner, Taggart, find themselves outnumbered and pinned down by enemy gunfire. Despite the gravity of their situation, it's made clear that Billy is having the time of his life, as he gleefully recalls how Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid found themselves in a similar situation when facing the Bolivian Army. Taggart tells Billy, if they make it out alive, he's going to make him pay.
  • In Dumb and Dumber, Lloyd tricks Sea Bass and his friends into picking up Lloyd and Harry's tab at a restaurant. They rush off in their van before Sea Bass can catch them. While on the road:
    Harry: That was great! Did you come up with that yourself?
    Lloyd: No, I saw it in a movie once.
    Harry: Let me guess, they get away scot-free?
    Lloyd: No! In the movie, they catch up to him about half a mile down the road and slit his throat! (laughs) It was good one!
    [Harry starts driving a lot faster]
  • The Hunt (2020): At one point Crystal Creasy (the film's Anti-Hero) tells Don (one of her fellow hunted) a variation of "The Tortoise and the Hare" that starts off as normal (the tortoise wins because Slow and Steady Wins the Race and the hare freaks out at his loss and yells that "the hare always wins!") but turns for the horrifying when the hare arrives to the tortoise's house that very night and kills the tortoise and his whole family (even forcing the tortoise to see his family die first), because "the hare always wins". Don is notably creeped out afterwards, both by the tale and the way Crystal narrated it in a nonchalant fashion.
  • Judge Dredd. Dredd and Fergie are trying to get back into Mega City.
    Dredd: There is a way in. Six years ago, two refugees figured it out. It's a vent to the city's incinerator. There's a burst twice a minute. That means somebody could run through that tube and have 30 seconds before it flames again.
    Fergie: And these, these refugees, they made it through, right?
    Dredd: Actually, they were roasted. But the theory's sound.
  • This exchange from the film version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, before Harry's first Quidditch game:
    Oliver Wood: Scared, Harry?
    Harry: A little.
    Oliver Wood: That's all right. I felt the same way before my first game.
    Harry: What happened?
    Oliver Wood: I, uh, I don't really remember. I took a bludger to the head two minutes in. Woke up in hospital a week later.
    [Harry has an Oh, Crap! look as the game begins]
  • In The Last Samurai, Nathan Algren is talking to Katsumoto about the war and makes note that they can win, despite being outnumbered and outgunned, using the Battle of Thermopylae to exemplify his thesis and tactics. Katsumoto never heard of said battle (as Japan was isolated from the world until the movie's time period), so he only knows what Algren told him. Moments before they march to war, this exchange occurs:
    Katsumoto: What happened to the warriors of Thermopylae?
    Algren: Dead to the last man.
    [Both look at each other and chuckle]

  • In the Warrior Cats series, one young cat's spine is broken when a tree falls and she's pinned by the branches. Jayfeather, the medicine cat, tries to encourage her by telling her how ShadowClan once had a cat with a similar injury and had told him about their experiences. Unfortunately, ShadowClan's warrior ended up dying because of complications with it, which doesn't encourage Jayfeather's patient much.
  • In Towers of Midnight, the penultimate book of The Wheel of Time, Mat Cauthon asks Birgitte, famed archer and Hero of the Horn, for information about the very dangerous Tower of Ghenjei where dwell the Aelfinn and Eelfinn so that he can enter it to make a rescue. Birgitte proceeds to tell him the story of how she and her lover Gaidal Cain once entered so as to receive magical healing; Mat assumes that the great Birgitte naturally succeeded in her quest but no: both of them died in the tower's Mobile Maze, most likely right on the other side of the wall from the fountain they sought. (The nice twist on this variation is that the speaker, rather than telling the anecdote about someone else, is talking about herself—since, as a dead Hero of the Horn, she has her memories of all her previous lives and can speak of them when out in the mortal world, whether summoned by the Horn or unnaturally.)
    Mat: How do you know so much about the Tower anyway? You've been into it, haven't you?
    Birgitte: I have.
    Mat: Well, you got back out! How'd you manage it?
    Birgitte: That legend didn't survive, I'm assuming?
    Mat: I don't know it.
    Birgitte: I went in to ask them to save the life of my love. It came after the battle of Lahpoint Hills, where we led the Buchaner rebellion. Gaidal was wounded horribly; a blow to the head that made him unable to think straight. He forgot who I was, some of the time. It tore my heart, so I took him to the Tower to be Healed.
    Mat: And how'd you get out? How'd you fool them?
    Birgitte: I didn't. The Eelfinn never Healed him. They killed us both. I didn't survive, Mat. That is the end of that particular legend.
    Mat: Oh. (Beat) Well, that's kind of a sad story, then.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The dour Scot Frazer in Dad's Army is fond of doing this, much to Mainwaring's exasperation.
  • Occurs in Ghosts (UK) as Mike tries to reassure Alison that the ghosts are all in her head:
    Mike: My uncle Graham, he thought he could smell toast but you know what? There was no toast.
    Alison: He was having a stroke! He died, Mike.
  • Freaks and Geeks: this is Harold Weir's preferred type of anecdote, which he uses to describe any kind of activity that he doesn't want his kids getting involved in.
    Mr. Weir: I knew a girl who had premarital sex, do you know what she did on homecoming night? She DIED! Of an overdose. Heroin.
  • In The George Lopez Show, Carmen compares her relationship to Romeo and Juliet. George is quick to point out that they both die.
  • The Golden Girls:
    • In one episode, Blanche worries that her longtime "backup guy" Mel Bushman is in trouble when he doesn't return her calls. Rose tries to help by telling one of her infamous St. Olaf stories about a group of townspeople who had similar fears regarding a local noble. She explains that they all rushed to his castle to check on him and that he was fi—"Oh, no, wait, he was dead."
    • Inverted by Rose in "Stan Takes a Wife." Dorothy's ex-husband Stan is getting married for a third time, but she realizes that she might still have feelings for him. In an effort to dissuade her, Rose tells a story about a woman who uprooted her whole life during a period of grief. Blanche hopes that the tale will end with the woman being alone and miserable, but instead she became rich, found a handsome husband, and lived happily ever after. Dorothy thanks Rose for encouraging her to go after Stan.
      Blanche: Well, way to go, Rose. You talked her into doing the exact opposite of what we wanted her to do!
  • Inverted in an episode of How I Met Your Mother, in which the gang tell anecdotes within anecdotes within anecdotes all trying to convince Ted not to do something. All of them have bad endings except for one. Barney's. Because he's crazy.
  • In Scrubs, Eliot often tries to cheer people up by remembering one of her relatives being in a similar situation. These stories all end with the relative committing suicide.
  • In SeaQuest DSV the crew are exploring an ancient alien spacecraft. One of them brings up a science fiction story he read as a kid that was about a similar situation, except the ship hadn't really crashed. The characters in the story were trapped when the ship took off again and dissected.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In "Sacrifice Of Angels", the Defiant is leading a fleet of over six hundred Federation starships to retake Deep Space Nine from the Dominion, and find themselves up against twice their number in Dominion warships. O'Brien and Bashir begin reciting Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade, but are told to cut it out. Later on, Garak asks O'Brien how that poem ends. O'Brien assures him that he doesn't want to know, from which Garak deduces exactly how it ends.
  • On an episode of Match Game '74, Richard Dawson tells a story of a neighbor's cat who accidentally lapped up some spilled lawn mower fuel, and the cat gasped, ran around wildly for a couple of minutes, stopped, and then collapsed on the ground. Gene Rayburn fearfully asked "Did it die?" and Dawson—in Paul Lynde voice—said, "No...just ran out of gas!"
  • In one episode of Frasier, Daphne tells what seems to be a helpful anecdote about how it's worth it to trust people, only it seems to end with the old man she trusted giving her a sexually harassing written note, though she still seems happy about the situation. After she leaves, the listeners agree they have no idea whether she was advocating trusting or the opposite.
  • In an episode of Criminal Minds, while Reid is in jail, Stephen reminds Prentiss of a previous case they worked where he was nervous and she told him to trust the system. He took her advice, and everything worked out. Prentiss does calm down, but at the end of the conversation, she remembers something.
    Prentiss: "Hey, wait. That guy was guilty. We don't want the system to do its job."
    Stephen: "I was hoping you wouldn't remember that. This is why I don't give pep talks."
  • One episode of Monk has Monk feeling outclassed by a group of detectives who seem much more effective than he is (and are definitely more technologically advanced than him). His therapist manages to cheer him up by likening him to John Henry. Then he keeps talking and spoils that Henry dies at the end of that story. This crushes Monk enough that he cuts his session short.
  • The Sopranos: This is Mikey Palmice's favorite kind of story, typically sprung obliviously at inappropriate times. Just ask Junior's tailor.
  • The M*A*S*H episode "The Bus" provides this gem from Colonel Potter:
    Colonel Potter: World War One, Argonne Forest. Lost and hungry then, too. Couldn't find my outfit. After three days, I was ready to eat my socks. Nothing to do but wait.
    [The camera zooms in on Potter]
    B.J.: At least everything turned out all right.
    Colonel Potter: Right. I was taken prisoner, they shaved my head and beat me to a pulp.
    [Silence falls; Hawkeye, Potter and B.J. look around nervously]

    Video Games 
  • If a person playing Maniac Mansion picks Michael, they get this before heading into the mansion:
    Michael: Hey, did anybody see that movie on television last night? These four kids went into this strange house and... uh, never mind.
  • Mass Effect 2: Zaaed has a lot of stories about being a mercenary. Most of them end with everyone but himself dying. This is a strong hint that he's a poor choice for leading the other squad during the suicide mission (there was originally going to be an option to turn him into a better leader and make him a good choice for the suicide mission, but this was cut from the game).
  • In Secret of Evermore, shortly after arriving in Nobilia, the Boy is thrust into a Gladiator Game, which reminds him of a movie. Unfortunately...
    Boy: Wow, this is like that big fight in Dirt, Swords, Sweat, and Togas! ...I think the hero got pummeled in that picture.
  • Near the end of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, player character Kozak and squadmate 30K get into a discussion about a movie that they're reminded of in the middle of one of the most intense firefights in the game:
    30K: Anybody seen that movie with the two cowboys and the whole Mexican army?
    Kozak: Pretty sure it was the Bolivian army!
    30K: You know how it ends, right?
    Kozak: Yeah, but we've got better guns!

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, in the episode "The Cave of Two Lovers", the hippie nomad tells the Gaang about the secret cave, though he doesn't recall the song about it very well ("Uh, secret tunnel! Secret tunnel!"). Eventually...
    "Hey, I just remembered the end of that song! *plink* And diiiieeeee!"
  • One of the more famous scenes of SpongeBob SquarePants invokes this; the mysterious tale of The Ugly Barnacle.

    Real Life 
  • Played for Laughs in Stephen Colbert's speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner when he compares George W. Bush's presidency to Rocky:
    Stephen Colbert: ... But does he stay down? NO! Like Rocky, he GETS BACK UP and IN THE END HE actually loses in the first movie... um...


Video Example(s):


The Ugly Barnacle

Patrick tries to cheer up SpongeBob over his supposed ugliness with a story about an ugly barnacle. To say it didn't make SpongeBob feel any better would be a gross understatement.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (21 votes)

Example of:

Main / AssuranceBackfire

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