Follow TV Tropes


"Better if Not Born" Plot

Go To
Seymour: Hey, this isn't right! You're supposed to show me how miserable everybody is without me!
Junior: Hey, if everyone made the world a better place, it'd be perfect!

Everyone and anyone has heard of (or have used) the It's a Wonderful Plot storyline: an angel shows a suicidal or otherwise depressed person how much radically different and worse their loved one's lives would be without them in it and it inspires a newfound sense of hope and confidence in them that allows them to turn over a new leaf or at least soldier on.

Then there's this trope.

The angel or another otherworldly creature shows the person, usually an Asshole Victim or other unlikable soul, that the world around them is doing just fine or is even better/beneficial without them in it. Obviously this does not bode well for the person and it can go two ways:

  1. the person decides to commit suicide anyway since they truly don't have anything to live for or just do it to stick it to their "loving" survivors, or
  2. they decide to live, not necessarily just for themselves, but as a sense of revenge to make sure the people in their lives don't have a moment of joy in their deaths.

Sometimes, however, this could happen to one of the good guys or other sympathetic characters; they're shown that the lives of people would be better without them around. Perhaps they've been unintentionally annoying or even harmful to their surroundings. Perhaps they did some mistake in the past that changed the lives of people around them for the worse. Perhaps their parents didn't even mean to create them, in particular. Or (when Played for Laughs) perhaps they're just the Butt-Monkey whom everyone looks down on. They may either try to change themselves for the better, or atone for their mistakes, or attempt to kill themselves, or accept some kind of punishment, or at least leave the people's presence. If Time Travel is possible, they may want to kill their past self (causing them to die as well) or at least try to change them for the better.

Closely related to Necessary Fail and Suicide for Others' Happiness. See also Asshole Victim and And There Was Much Rejoicing. Compare Preferable Impersonator, where the character's friends and loved ones (if any) are better off with a fake version of the character. Could lead to a Fake Better Alternate Timeline if subverted.

As a Death Trope, this trope will have unmarked spoilers. Due to the nature of the trope, adding real-life examples would be asking for trouble/impossible.


    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics: In one story, an angel shows Cheryl Blossom what things would be like if she hadn't moved to Riverdale. It turns out that the other characters are much better off without her. Betty becomes a supermodel dating a prince, Archie is vice-president at Lodge Industries and Happily Married to Veronica, who is now much less selfish and even involved in all sorts of charity work, and Jughead is the mayor. In the end, Cheryl misses the point and decides that making their lives more complicated is her purpose in life, so she goes back to the life she has. And the angel gets demoted.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: Subverted in one story, where Donald has a good and a bad angel in his head that try to guide him. After he overhears his loved ones having a tea party without him and talking about how much he frustrates them, he gets angry and talks about how their lives would be worse if he hadn't been born. The good angel has been waiting for a moment like this to try and make Donald better his ways, and creates an imaginary story of what things would be like for his loved ones if he hadn't been born. However, the bad angel, who doesn't want him to improve, hijacks the plan and shows Donald this reality instead. In it, Huey, Dewey and Louie live with Scrooge; they have plenty of toys and fun and he enjoys having them there. Without Donald, Daisy dates Gladstone instead and he showers her with gifts. When Donald is at his lowest, the good angel breaks free and shows him the truth of it: Daisy and Gladstone are actually miserable as a couple, and Scrooge finds the nephews a nuisance and plans to have them shipped off to a boarding school.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes: In the post-Zero Hour run, Brainiac 5 gets a vision of what the Legion would be like without him, and it turns out to be an idealized Silver Age-style world in which the other Legionnaires are just kids in a "hero club." After confirming that, yes, their lives are in fact better without him, Brainy chooses to go back anyhow in order to go on making their lives as miserable as they make his.
  • One "Monroe" story of MAD Magazine had Monroe wish he wasn't born, and a guardian angel shows him how life would be different. When he shows his parents being happy, and his friend being more popular, the angel says he has failed his mission, since everyone would be better off without Monroe, and assumes he would be willing to not come back for their sake. He assumes wrong, and Monroe tells the Angel that his mission did not fail, and he wants to come back, saying that if they made his life miserable, then they don't deserve to have happy lives without him.

    Fan Works 
  • In the fic, Finding Courage Dean yelled at Castiel and Castiel decided to kill himself. Gabriel showed Castiel what would happen if Uriel was the one who pulled Dean out of Hell.
  • In Miraculous: Fade to Purple, Bunnyx punishes Gabriel Agreste for his crime as Hawkmoth by trapping him in a world where he never existed, showing how much better everyone's lives are without his presence, with Emilie not in her coma, still a famous actress and one of Paris' superheroes, Adrien being allowed freedom for his entire life due to having a better father, and Marinette now being a major name in the fashion industry due to not wasting her time trying to impress Gabriel

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The director's cut of The Butterfly Effect ends with Evan, having made numerous abortive attempts to change the past for the better, deciding to use his Mental Time Travel ability to go back in time to when he was a fetus and strangle himself with his umbilical cord. The film then shows a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue of the other characters, showing how their lives were immeasurably improved by his absence. Earlier in the film, his mother made an offhand reference to having had multiple stillbirths before successfully delivering Evan, implying that his dead siblings ultimately made the same decision as Evan.
  • 16 Wishes: Abby gets a wish that transforms her into an adult, causing her to see what her friends' and family's lives are like without her in them. She realizes she was such a brat and that everybody was actually better off without her, and promptly changes her ways after undoing the wish.

  • Animorphs: One Megamorphs has the kids be made aware that they're living in a much-worse alternate timeline (genocide and slavery are commonly accepted facts of society, women who don't Stay in the Kitchen are sent to reeducation camps, the Yeerks are on the brink of victory thanks to a totalitarian government, Jake is a Small Name, Big Ego sociopath). They end up chasing the villain through time, and end up wiping him (or rather, his human host) from existence by ensuring his host's parents never met (as the host is aware of both timelines, he accepts the fate decided for him).
  • GoosebumpsThe Cuckoo Clock of Doom: A variation in which the jerk isn't shown the result of their non-existence. Instead, her protagonist brother Michael unwittingly does this to his horrible little sister Tara, and decides the world (or at least his life) is much improved by her absence.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A Bit of Fry and Laurie: An important media mogul (a clear Anonymous Ringer for Rupert Murdoch) is about to throw himself off a bridge when his guardian angel appears to show him how the world would be without him. It turns out that without him, everyone lives together in peace and harmony, and people are well-educated and cultured since he wasn't able to create his media empire which would profiteer heavily on creating divisions in society through glorification of violence and spreading bigoted discourses against minorities. When they return to the bridge, the media mogul tells the angel that he wants to be brought back to life in this universe, because it is ripe to be exploited for his own profit. At this point, the guardian angel, realizing that he is a lost cause who will never improve, pushes him off the bridge himself.
  • Dallas: The finale of the original series, "Conundrum," has J.R. contemplating suicide when he is visited by his guardian angel, Adam, shows him how several key people in his life – his parents, siblings Gary and Bobby, Sue Ellen, Cliff Barnes, Pam Barnes, Kristin Shepard, Callie Harper and Ray Krebs – would have turned out if he had never been born. Some cases are for better, some for worse. In the end, Adam, who reveals to J.R. that he's not a guardian angel at all, attempts to goad J.R. into suicide ... but it is revealed in a reunion movie (aired several years) later that he shot the mirror.
  • The 1989 two-parter Christmas Episode of Married... with Children had Al's guardian angel (played by Sam Kinison) show what would happen if he was never born, which shows Peg as a loving Housewife, Bud successful with women, Kelly a smart and chaste college student and having a charming and rich man played by Ted McGinley as their husband and father. This angers Al so much that he decides to live just to spite them for being the greedy and ungrateful bastards that they are.
  • Smallville: Played for drama in the episode "Apocalypse". When Chloe and Clark discover that Brainiac has gone back in time to Ret-Gone Clark by killing his infant self, much to Chloe's horror, Clark is so despondent about all of the shit that he's had to endure so far (and in one way or another he's forced his loved ones to endure) that he refuses to do anything about it. Chloe literally begs Clark to snap out of it and go back in time and stop Brainiac, but he still refuses. The spirit of Jor-El takes Clark to a world where he never made it to Earth. At first, it looks like everything is better. The Kents have their own son and Jonathan did not die of a heart attack, and Lana and Chloe are successful and have love interests. Then it turns sour when Clark discovers that his cousin Kara made it to Earth to be raised by the Luthor family and is a pawn of Brainiac, then President Lex Luthor triggers a nuclear holocaust. This finally motivates Clark to go back and stop Brainiac.
  • Supernatural: After becoming a Well-Intentioned Extremist, Anna decides to kill Sam and spread his atoms across the universe so he can't be resurrected as a means to stop the Apocalypse. When that fails, she decides to go back in time to kill John and Mary Winchester and prevent Sam (and by extension Dean) from existing. Castiel is horrified and helps Sam and Dean return to the past to save their parents. However, at first, Sam is willing to consider that he would be better off not existing if it saves the world, and Dean eventually considers this possibility as well. They even go so far as to try and convince their mother to leave their father, though she is already pregnant with Dean. The archangel Michael comes to the past to kill Anna and save the Winchesters, making everything moot. Ironically, in later seasons, we are introduced to an alternate timeline in which Sam and Dean were never born, and it is considerably worse than anything in the main timeline or even the Bad Future shown in Season 5.


    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • In the Bravest Warriors episode "Decide What You Want From Me," a strange extra-dimensional being shows Danny what life would be like without him. The creature paints a picture that the world is a better place, but he can't hide the fact that Chris is not doing well in this new reality.
  • Zigzagged in the 2005 Eddsworld Christmas special. Without Edd, Tom becomes a multi-millionaire and is friends with his Sitcom Archnemesis Tord, who is a successful comic strip artist. However, Tord has also become a Communist who attempted to violently conquer Norway (although "The End" would reveal he goes down this path anyway), Matt is a tramp on the streets of London, and Coca-Cola went out of business.

  • Brawl in the Family featured a straight version of It's a Wonderful Plot for King Dedede, but the arc ends with Pit showing Waluigi how much better the world would be without him.
    Pit: If you never existed, the world would be bliss! Well, whatdya think?
    Waluigi: WAA! Waluigi hates this.
  • The webartist avogado6's work usually concerns people being objectively better off dead. "Regretless Life" has a man commit suicide and be shown that nobody cares (his "friends" just laugh, his coworker finds someone else to dump his extra work on, his mother never wanted him in the first place, and someone else adopts his cat). Rather than take revenge on them, the dead man is happy about this, as his only fear was that he'd make people sad at his passing, allowing him to go to the afterlife without regret.
  • Bug Martini: One of the Bug's irrational fears is that the world would genuinely be better without him in it.

    Web Original 
  • A Christmas Episode of The Nostalgia Critic showed him what life would have been if he never became the critic, which showed amongst other things Linkara as the owner of both Marvel and DC Comics, Angry Joe as President of the United States and Spoony as the Nostalgia Critic himself and beloved by all trolls, including Douchey McNitpick. When Roger the angel learns that even his life would be better if Critic never existed, he tries to murder Critic himself. Critic murders him in response (turns out God lied about angels being Immune to Bullets) and decides his life does have meaning: to make everyone else's lives miserable.
    • Doug Walker said in commentary he was disappointed to find out this had been done so many times before. He at least hoped this was the first time a character asked how the life of the angel would be like if the person was never born.
  • In Shane Dawson's sketch "Why was I born?", the notion that everyone would be better off without Shane is deconstructed by the fact that in a timeline where Shane was never born, he wasn't able to be friends with a boy named Robbie, resulting in the latter's suicide due to feelings of isolation. Shane's guide points out that whatever everyone else feels towards him, it's the people who do miss him who matter most.
  • Downplayed in the SuperMarioLogan episode, "Bowser Junior's 11th Birthday!"; When Junior's friends don't show up to his birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's, Junior wonders what life would be like if he was never born. Junior gets knocked out by a skee-ball and meets God, who shows him what life would be like if he were never born. While the lives of most of Junior's friends are shown to be miserable if he wasn't born (Bowser died from doing nothing but watching Charleyyy and Friends uninterrupted, Joseph died from starvation, Brooklyn T. Guy became homeless, and Cody became interested in dating girls), Chef Pee Pee is shown to have successfully pursued his dream career of running his own five-star restaurant, since without having to babysit Junior, he had more time to focus on making delicious recipes.

    Western Animation 
  • The Angry Beavers: Dagget has this happen to him, but his cluelessness winds up messing up the "improved" lives of his friends in the alternate reality.
  • The second half of Christmas special of Beavis and Butt-Head had a guardian angel actually trying to convince Butthead to commit suicide after showing him how much better everyone else was doing: Beavis was a nice and respectful young man, Stewart had confidence, Highland High School was a great school, Daria had trust in men and a boyfriend and Principal McVicker was not only happy with his school, his staff and his students, but also has a full head of hair.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: In the rather infamous "It's a Wishful Life" episode, Timmy is feeling so underappreciated that he wishes he was never born. He gets poofed out of existence, and Jorgen proceeds to show him how everyone's lives are without him. Timmy assumes that at least one person's life must be worse without him around...but nope. Apparently, if Timmy were never born, his parents would be rich, his friends successful and happy, Mr. Crocker normal, Vicky no longer evil, the Cubs would win the World Series, etc. It's so bad that Jorgen actually refuses to reverse the wish because this is proof Timmy is a jackass not worth keeping around. Timmy then manages to get Jorgen's wand and tries to get his life back but realizes that the better thing would be to let the world exist without him. After giving his wand back, Jorgen reveals that the whole thing was a test for Timmy to show that you shouldn't help people to be appreciated but because helping people is the right thing to do, and undoes the wish so that Timmy will start being a better and more selfless person.
  • Robot Chicken: In a Popeye-themed sketch parodying It's a Wonderful Plot, Wimpy's guardian angel tries to deter him from committing suicide by showing him what would happen if he died. However it is then instead shown how much better the world is without his existence. Popeye has a full head of hair, he and Bluto open up their own bank, Olive Oyl has much sexier & curvier figure, Alice the Goon found a cure for cancer, there is no pollution or war, and hamburgers are free. After seeing all this, his guardian angel then apologizes for wasting Wimpy's time and then kicks him off the bridge himself.
  • Hey Arnold! uses a variant where Helga dreams of what the world would be like if she disappeared in the present. Everybody celebrates that she's gone; Arnold, who caused her to disappear with a magic trick, is famous for it; and her parents' lives are much better. Eventually she wakes up and tries to fix all the bad things she did in that episode before falling asleep.
  • Beetlejuice "It's a Wonderful Afterlife" is a rare example of this and It's a Wonderful Plot being both played straight. Beetlejuice, after a series of incidents, grows depressed and wishes himself out of existence. A guide comes to show him what the Neitherworld would be like without him. Much to their surprise, his fellow ghosts are remarkably successful in their respective fields; they've just become self-absorbed jerks, because their success has gone to their heads without him around to keep them humble. There is one person who is miserable without him, however: Lydia. And that's all the reason B.J. needs to wish to return.
  • Johnny Bravo: One episode has an angel show Johnny what life would be like without him, despite his protests he wasn't interested in seeing it, and everyone is better off: Pop's Diner is replaced with an extremely chic restaurant, Carl is a martial arts master and a software millionaire (Pop claims Carl is the reason Aaron City is on the map), Bunny Bravo is the head of a spy organization, and Little Suzy... apparently became a terrorist. Even his angel confesses that his boss warned him Johnny was just a "hunk of meat with a mouth". The only reason he came back was because he had put his face in cement that morninghe believed his friends' success didn't make up for not having his beauty around.
  • Little Shop has one with Seymour, capping it off with an exchange that is the page quote.
  • Happens to Allen in the Punky Brewster episode "Allen Who?" Everyone comes down on him because he nearly ruined a retirement party for the school P.E. teacher, so he wishes he had never been born. Glomer grants Allen's wish, then he sees how things would have turned out. He is seen by the others but they avoid him thinking he's a stranger. Glomer can't bring him back as Punky is protecting him from Allen.
  • Rugrats (1991): Discussed by Angelica to Chuckie in "Chuckie's Wonderful Life" where after the latter feels guilty for blaming his friends for a CD of his dad's getting lost (which the former had discreetly stolen), she then says that it would be better if he were never born. The resulting dream, however, shows just the opposite: without his voice of reason and cautiousness, Angelica would bully Tommy and his parents into giving her whatever she wanted, Phil and Lil would be destructive monsters and Chas would lose his mind.
  • Rugrats (2021): Zig-zagged in "Tooth or Share"; Lil wishes that she could be an only child, so Susie shows her what life would be like for her if Phil was never born. At first, Lil enjoys this life, as she has more things to herself, she gets to play on the slide first, and Angelica is nice to her. Unfortunately, without Phil to eat the raisins she doesn't like, she has to them herself, she is unable to play on the seesaw because she doesn't have anyone to push her up and down, and Angelica becomes too attached to her. Lil also meets a boy named Will who looks like Phil but doesn't like the same things as her.
  • The Simpsons: In the episode "The Last Temptation of Homer", Homer’s guardian angel (who takes on the form of Colonel Klink), tries to show him “how miserable” he would have been if he’d married Mindy instead of Marge. This backfires horribly, as Homer married to Mindy is living in a mansion with his own butler, playing tennis with Mindy, and Marge is President of the United States with her approval rating rising.
  • A Super News cartoon did this with George W. Bush. Such changes include Dick Cheney being a greeter at Wal-Mart.
  • Superjail!: In the season finale, the Warden is sentenced to spend eternity locked up, because his existence would culminate in his world domination. It's only when he escapes and gets a chance to see what happens without him there to horribly enslave the world that he's able to show the alternative (which isn't remotely as bad as world domination, but quite a bit freakier). The force responsible for his fate doesn't buy it, leading to two very unsettling minutes of Continuity Nod as the two realities combine.
  • The Garfield Show episode "World Without Me" subverts this, where Paddy the Leprechaun attempts to convince a depressed Garfield that it's a good thing he exists and Garfield sees Jon and Odie living in luxury and Arlene being Bruno's girlfriend. Garfield later learns that the Space Lasagnas would've been able to take over the Earth without his interference (even wishing Paddy to make him exist in the alternate timeline so he can fend off the race of alien pasta), Jon and Odie feel lonely without a cat around, Arlene has broken up with Bruno due to him not being the kind of guy she's into and Vito's pizzeria has gone out of business due to not having someone with Garfield's appetite as a regular customer. Ultimately, Paddy demonstrates to Garfield that without him, the audience would just be watching static.
  • The Loud House: Zig-zagged In "Time Trap"; After the kids accidentally destroy a Priceless Ming Vase again, Lisa turns Vanzilla into a Time Machine to travel back in time to Lynn Sr. and Rita's wedding day and prevent them from receiving the vase in the first place. In doing so, the kids accidentally ruin the wedding and create an alternate timeline where they were never born. As a result, Lynn Sr. and Rita are having the time of their lives traveling the world in a sleeker and more efficient car, their house is also much cleaner and much more intact, Mr. Grouse is much happier and healthier without the kids causing him stress, and Flip runs a decently managed and much cleaner convenience store. However, Lynn Sr. and Rita are now Child Haters, Chunk works and lives at a junkyard without Luna to drive him to pursue his passion in music, and without Lincoln, Chandler is now the leader of Lincoln's circle of friends, turning them into complete jerks.