Follow TV Tropes


Broken Ace

Go To

"All it comes down to is this: I feel like shit but look great."
Patrick Bateman, American Psycho

He's tall, charming, strikingly good-looking, well-spoken in five languages, and classically trained in even more instruments. He's the Big Man on Campus, former president of the Absurdly Powerful Student Council, valedictorian, and working on his doctorate in a scientific field that a peon like you can't even pronounce. He always wears a suit...until the inevitable Shirtless Scene during his (strenuous) exercise routine, that is. He has a lovely smile.

But inside, he's an ugly, writhing mass of self-hatred and Parental Issues.

Expect him to have at least one bizarre trait or ability that should not be overlooked, as well as an unhealthy attitude about love, life, and humanity in general. He most likely doesn't have anyone that loves or respects him for what he really is. This may be justified.


In the most cynical works on the sliding scale, he'll be a Serial Killer, or at least a future one. In works on the more idealistic end, he'll be struggling with a mental illness, a disorder, or some other demon that makes his life miserable but isn't his fault.

This character is usually male, but not always. Also, he may just be a perfectionist crumbling under his own standards. The chief difference between the Broken Ace and the usually female Stepford Smiler is that the Stepford Smiler wants to appear normal at all costs, often to the point of hurting herself emotionally (or because she's sociopathic). This guy has the same setup, but is more talented and wants to be the best, loved by all, and accepted. The debilitating personal issues which he's hiding are only getting worse because of being repressed and the stress of his efforts to excel, and these sorts of characters are prime Jerkass Woobie material.


See also The Ace, who's still better than you at everything but isn't so prone to mental disorders or emotional problems, and the Byronic Hero, who's just as awe-inspiring and brooding but lacks the charming, polished façade and is rarely presented as pathetic. For plots where a character's idol is revealed to be this, see Broken Pedestal. Anyone who has experienced The Perils of Being the Best is likely to become this. Related to "Well Done, Son!" Guy if the child has accomplished much and gained much respect from other people. In case you haven't noticed, this has nothing to do with Asexuality.

In Real Life, this is rather common. Real people have flaws no matter how perfect they seem to be at first glance.


    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • Batman. Wealthy enough to do whatever he wants to do, can have beautiful ladies by the score, highly educated, is as strong and smart as a non-meta human can get, can outthink pretty much every other superhero (including Mr. Terrific and J'onn J'onzz), and can flatten Lex Luthor at his own games. Permanently scarred by the blood and death of his parents, driven to protect as many as possible to keep others from feeling that horror, finds it incredibly difficult to completely trust and give of his self, and has had terrible romantic relationships due to the second identity, which eventually became his first.
  • The alternate Superman from Injustice: Gods Among Us, as presented in the comic prequel. It's explained that despite being the world's greatest superhero, Supes harbored Survivor Guilt over losing his original family and homeworld. Things got worse when he lost Lois, his unborn baby, and the city of Metropolis thanks to the Joker. This sent Supes off the deep end, leading him to gradually turn the world into a dictatorship under his "protection."
  • Spider-Man is strong, smart, witty, and has a list of accomplishment that most other heroes with ten times his strength would be envious of. But a lot of people in his city are suspicious of him due to an unflattering press, his personal life is a wreck because he often has to abandon social events to respond to emergencies, and underneath that all is the crushing guilt over his failure to save his father figure when he first got his powers.
  • Iron Man: Tony Stark is one of the smartest, richest, and most popular people on Earth, witty, a ladykiller who had everything anybody could ever want in their life. However, deep inside he suffers from self-hatred (which has even developed into suicidal tendencies), alcoholism, control issues, and the scars left by his abusive father. He has even stated he feels he doesn't deserve the friends and good things in life he has. This was taken Up to Eleven following the Civil War, where Tony's guilt over Captain America's death and the actions he took would make him occasionally break down.
  • The Plutonian of Irredeemable is slowly revealed by flashbacks to have formerly been this. Underneath his standard smiling, selfless persona, he was actually resentful of his life as a superhero, stuck saving people he felt were ungrateful, being totally unable to cope with any critics, and needing to be compulsively loved and adored by everyone in the world. When he realized that wasn't going to happen he wound up even more broken.
  • The new Phantom Lady is a Ph.D. multimillionaire who has been trained since birth to be a super spy superhero. Also canonically one of the most beautiful women in the DC universe. Yet she's constantly worried that people don't take her seriously and that being a superhero is eating her soul.
  • Rick Flag from Suicide Squad initially seems like a roundly masterful military officer and one of the most competent members of the team, but as time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that he is massively insecure, riddled with trauma, unable to handle the job, and eventually becomes a Death Seeker.
  • The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers:
    • Rotorstorm. On the surface he's perpetually cheerful and snarky, constantly making jokes and in general having fun. However this is revealed to be a cover persona of sorts; he's actually still deeply traumatized from his experiences in the Simanzi Massacre, a massive battle where he witnessed (and possibly participated in) numerous war crimes and atrocities. As if that wasn't enough, he's filled with self-loathing and preps for missions by insulting himself, thanks to the horrifically abusive teaching he received from his drill sergeant and "mentor" Jetstream. Additionally, while he does pull off a near-impossible piloting feat and lands ready with a quick joke, he becomes the first of his team to die only seconds later.
    • To a lesser degree Pyro as well. His Optimus Prime-esque demeanor is mostly a facade, covering up the fact that he's secretly terrified of dying in the sort of pointless, forgotten death soldiers usually get during wars. He spends his life constantly trying to set up a big and dramatic Dying Moment of Awesome, believing that dying in such a manner is the only way he'll be truly remembered.
  • Ozymandias from Watchmen AKA Adrian Veidt, a seemingly-forever-young (he's 46 and looks about 25) blond supergenius who is insanely rich, pretty much has America in his hands, and defeats Rorschach, Silk Spectre, and Nite Owl at the end...he's also persuasive enough to talk Dr. Manhattan around at least to the point of not turning him into a rapidly expanding cloud of superheated plasma. He is also the antagonist and portrayed as deludedly-idealistic to believe that his plan will work. He even has a slight Villainous BSoD after enacting his plan, although the film version ramps his emotional broken-ness up several levels. He shows approximately three times the guilt, self-loathing and painful isolation of his comic book counterpart, even saying he "often [feels] stupid at being unable to relate to anybody". He spends his last few minutes of screentime in a Villainous BSOD, staring into space and looking about ready to fall over as the camera zooms out on him.
  • X-Men:
    • Cyclops. He's the leader of the X-Men and the leader of the mutant race, but oh boy, has Scott ever endured so much pain, chaos, and tragedy throughout the course of his life. Underneath that stoic facade is most definitely an emotionally broken and fragile man. Even before Cerebus Syndrome hit, Cyclops was this. A strong, versatile power came with a crippling inability to control it, and fear that someday he would hurt those he loved with it. Then there's the fact that he literally cannot make eye contact with anyone, a privilege everyone else takes for granted. Good strategizing skills coupled with terrible social skills isolated him from his teammates and made him a repressed, disliked, Sugar-and-Ice Personality who had barely any close relationships.
    • Scott's fellow X-Man Wolverine is also one of these. He's got over a century's worth of accumulated skills, accomplishments, bedmates, friends, and is the poster-boy of "mutant cool". He's also got over a century's worth of painful memories, dirty business, lost loves, enemies, and is full of self-loathing.
    • And Logan's own daughter/Opposite-Sex Clone, Laura Kinney a.k.a. X-23, who may pack even more angst into her seventeen short years than Logan has his entire 150 or more. She's without question one of the best fighters and most experienced members of whatever team she's assigned to thanks to being raised as a Living Weapon by the ones who created her. She was also horrifically physically and emotionally abused by her creators, forced to kill her own mother via a chemically-induced berserker rage which will make her turn on anyone no matter how much she cares for them, had to give up the relatively normal and happy life she was creating with her only other family when the ones who made her came looking for her in order to protect them, and spent an unknown period of time as a prostitute under a violently possessive and abusive pimp. Laura has been left a mess of confused emotions and finds establishing true friendships incredibly difficult as a result, and it's been very strongly implied she's prone to bouts of severe, if not outright suicidal, depression. And her solo series reveals she was left with so little sense of self during her captivity and days as a prostitute she never realized the horrible things done to her were even wrong!
  • This is largely the point of Doctor Doom. He's a scientific genius to rival Reed Richards, a magical prodigy who approaches Doctor Strange in power, and physically fit enough that he can kill lions bare-handed; he rules a nation as semi-benevolent dictator, adheres to a code of always repaying his debts, has enough willpower to stare down the Purple Man without flinching, and wears a suit of armour on par with that sported by Iron Man. He could, in theory, be one of the Marvel Universe's greatest forces for good, because in power level you can pick almost any three superheroes and he's the equal of all of them. Unfortunately for the Marvel Universe, his egomania will never stop clouding his judgment. When Reed Richards pointed out a mistake in Doom's calculations, he spat in Reed's face, and when his experiment went wrong and scarred him, he blamed Reed rather than admit, even to himself, that he screwed up, and dedicated the rest of his life to a needless revenge for a nonexistent crime. His hideous scarring is his own fault because believing his good looks to already be ruined by the thin scar he had received, he donned the iron mask to his first suit of armour without waiting for it to cool first. His people fear him more than love him; he has no friends; most of his intellectual equals are superheroes who would be suspicious at an invitation to discuss something; he's a pariah on the international stage. All because of his swollen ego.
  • The Mighty Thor certainly becomes this post-Original Sin. He loses his worthiness to wield Mjölnir and becomes way more cynical and melancholic. He admits that he's come to believe that Gorr was right about the gods, and that they don't deserve the praise and worship mortals heap on them. Far into the future, he has this even worse. He becomes the All-Father and lord of Asgard and inherits the Odin-Force (which he renames the "Thor-Force"), but his brother permanently turning to evil, the death of all life on Earth at Loki's hands, and Gorr's slaughter and enslavement of his people has reduced him to a near shell of himself who can barely muster the will to fight anymore. Thankfully, both the past and future versions of Thor eventually get better, though they still carry much baggage regarding their past failings and self-worth.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Diana is incredibly powerful, skilled, kind and respected but when Steve Trevor is killed by her villain Dr. Cyber she questions and even temporarily leaves her role as the Amazon's champion. Her mother, in a not well thought out plan, kidnaps an injured version of Steve from the multiverse, overwrites what is left of his memories with ones that won't contradict Diana's and then erases her own daughter's memories of Steve's death.

    Films — Animation 
  • Manolo in The Book of Life. After refusing to kill the bull, the whole town (sans Maria, the Rodriguez brothers, and Joaquin) ridicule him. His own father practically disinherits him. If it couldn't get worse, Manolo thought that Maria, the only woman he's ever loved, died by protecting him from a snake bite. Leading to her father, Joaquin, and himself to mourn her "death" and blame himself for it. Manolo then indirectly asks Xibalba (who concocted the whole thing) to kill him so he could be with her. Poor guy...
  • Frozen:
    • Elsa. As shown in supplementary material, her little sister Anna views her as The Ace, and with good reason. Elsa is intelligent, elegant, graceful, beautiful...and constantly living in fear of hurting people with her ice powers, having to keep up a facade of perfection and stoicism to protect people, only to have it all completely backfire, meaning her life spent in silent misery was for nothing. Needless to say, Elsa finally gets pushed over the edge, though her intentions are always good.
      • Word of God confirms that she has depression and anxiety issues.
    • Prince Hans is outwardly handsome, charming, honourable and a prince. However, desperate hunger for recognition corrupted him and led to him becoming cruel and willing to kill to fulfill his desire for such. He spent much of his life ignored and overshadowed by his older brothers, and it's been confirmed by Word of God that he indeed grew up without love, sparking his desire to take the Arendelle throne in the first place. His actions are still inexcusable, but taking his depressing backstory into account, you can't help but feel sorry for the guy anyway.
  • Vitaly from Madagascar 3. Outwardly brash, confident, coldly competent, intelligent, sophisticated, cynical, and extremely strong...but inside a lonely, insecure, broken tiger who is secretly afraid of both fire and failure thanks to having gone too far with his ring jump and ruining both act and circus. Luckily other than being a bit too talented and threatening with knives, he isn't a sociopath nor a villain. And unlike most examples of this trope, he actually gets healed and unbroken once Alex gives him a Rousing Speech to restore his confidence and inspire him with a new and safer way he can reinvigorate his act.
  • The rooster Chanticleer from Don Bluth's Rock-A-Doodle starts out as the Big Bird of the Barnyard with his power to raise the sun each morning. However, after a battle with one of The Villain's mooks, Chanticleer was too weary to crow, and the sun came up nonetheless. His farmyard peers laughed and jeered at Chanticleer, so he ambled away to the big city. There, he became a singing sensation, though still morose about losing his "sun-raiser" status.
  • Prince Charming in the Shrek movies is a parody of this type that acts like and actually thinks he is a standard heroic Ace, but really is a vain, juvenile Mama's boy once you scratch the surface.
  • Big Z in Surf's Up, who threw a race and pretended to be dead when he found he was getting too competitive (and someone was actually capable of beating him).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • John Nash in A Beautiful Mind is a brilliant and successful graduate student and later mathematics professor but is a socially-clumsy loner with schizophrenia.
  • Nina from Black Swan. She's a young ballet prodigy who is a natural for the lead role of Swan Lake, is very sweet and incredibly beautiful...who's also incredibly socially awkward, emotionally stunted, self-loathing, is implied to have an eating disorder, and is completely batshit insane.
  • Ginger from Casino is Vegas' top casino hustler. She's beautiful and smart. She marries Ace and becomes respected among Vegas' elite. But she also has a troubled relationship with her pimp Lester and as the years pass she succumbs to substance abuse.
  • Under all his wealth and prestige, Charles Foster Kane is a broken man who can't hold down a relationship with anyone and desperately longs for his stolen childhood.
  • Eddie Felson is this at the start of The Color of Money, after the events of The Hustler. He ekes out a living selling liquor, and no longer plays pool or hustles people for money.
  • Kathryn from Cruel Intentions falls between this and Stepford Smiler. She must be considered a lady (smiler) and that requires being a role model who's the best at everything (this).
  • In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent is quickly established as The Ace, though with a problem with his temper. He's crippled organized crime in the city and is close to finishing the job. Then he loses the woman he loves, has half his face burned off, succumbs to The Joker's More Than Mind Control and crosses the Despair Event Horizon becoming Two-Face.
  • Huxley sees Spartan from Demolition Man as what a cop ought to be; strong, brave and a believer of justice. Spartan is however aware that his violent ways have hurt innocents and if the world was perfect, he wouldn't exist.
  • Die Another Day villain Gustav Graves is charming, talented, and insanely rich (from blood diamonds). However, he is really a North Korean with plastic surgery building a Kill Sat to help his faction finally win the war. He has daddy issues too, and really really hates anything Western. He admits to having based the Graves persona partly on Bond.
    • Speaking of James Bond, while he's known to be a suave agent known to use cutting Bond One Liners to enemies and his status as The Casanova, he's sometimes portrayed like this, especially in the rebooted films. In Spectre, it's sad to see Bond's virtually character-less apartment, as it reveals how little of a life he has beyond MI6, and what a lonely and broken man he is. Moneypenny's sarcastic remark about Bond's life in Spectre when he hears her boyfriend over the phone almost sounds like a much harsher jab. Even the rejected song by Radiohead is depressing as hell. It pretty much is a summation of Bond's character and all of the tragedies he suffered over the years. Just read here.
  • Apt Pupil has an A student get fascinated with the local hidden Nazi's old war stories. This eventually causes him (and the Nazi) to snap.
  • Tyler Durden from Fight Club, being The narrator's subconscious conception of his ideal self, which he manifests as an alternate personality.
  • (The real) Jerome Morrow in Gattaca. Once a champion swimmer on top of the world, he lost the use of his legs in an accident and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He's still a brilliant and remarkably gifted individual (with an ego to match), but he's also internalized a lot of their culture's demands for absolute perfection. As a result, he's got a lot of anger with himself and everyone else.
    • Anton Jr. (Vincent's younger brother) turns out to be something like this as well. The audience doesn't get to know him very well, but he's definitely the Ace in their father's eyes, and seems at least a little Broken considering his issues with the fact that his non-engineered brother beat him in a swimming race once after years and years of beating him every time since they were little kids.
  • The Godfather Don Vito Corleone is a fearsome, wise and respected crime lord but in his final days expresses his regret to his son Michael that he couldn't turn the family legit.
  • High School Musical:
    • Gabriella. She's portrayed a very attractive Teen Genius, but underneath is extremely lonely from constantly moving schools, insecure about everything outside of studying and hides her intelligence to avoid being labelled the 'freaky math girl'. She does become more comfortable with herself after the first film.
    • Troy has it even worse. Big Man on Campus and super-talented basketball captain, but also increasingly uncomfortable with the expectations of his parents, friends and the rest of the school. In the third film, after a song which screams self-loathing (to the point of him ripping down posters of himself), he decides to go to a different college than expected, thousands of miles away from his hometown, partly to get away from the spotlight and pressure. In fact, a huge part of his and Gabriella's initial attraction is that they accept each other as themselves and not the hyped up perfect people everyone sees.
  • Sgt. Angel from Hot Fuzz is the best cop in London but his perfection gets him Reassigned to Antarctica. He can't hold down a relationship because he's Married to the Job.
  • Interstellar brings us Dr. Mann. Everyone speaks of him as if he was a hero, the best scientist and most driven member of the Lazarus Project. Unfortunately, by the time the main characters reach him, the isolation, fear, and frustration over the planet he was assigned to survey being completely uninhabitable have driven him mad.
  • Emil Blonsky in The Incredible Hulk is one the greatest special forces operatives in the Western Hemisphere. He's also a Blood Knight with a burning need to be the best there is.
  • Raymond Shaw from The Manchurian Candidate is a war hero and a rising star in politics but his issues with his mother allow him to become a brainwashed assassin.
  • Chuck Hansen in Pacific Rim. He's one of the youngest Jaeger pilots and has the highest Kaiju kill count in history. However, he's also a Child Soldier who has a Hair-Trigger Temper, terrible communication skills, and a double dose of Daddy Issues and Survivor's Guilt with regards to his father choosing to save him over his mother. It's also heavily implied that he believes his only purpose in life is to live and die fighting the Kaiju, which comes true by the end of the film.
    Chuck: After Mum died, I spent more time with these machines than I ever did with you.
  • Star Wars:
    • Anakin Skywalker is believed to be The Chosen One who, according to an ancient Jedi Prophecy, will destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force. Since he was (implied to be) born to a virgin woman, has the highest midi-chlorian count on record, and can do things most humans can't (such as podracing) there was a lot of evidence to back this up. However, Anakin was born into slavery on a planet outside the realm of the Galactic Republic, which stopped him from being discovered by the Jedi until Anakin was nine, far beyond the age that Jedi normally begin training. Because of this, Anakin struggles to separate from his mother, with that attachment only growing as he gets older. Then his Jedi mentor Qui-Gon Jinn is slain and Anakin is apprenticed to Qui-Gon's Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi who, although a wise, kind and powerful Jedi, is inexperienced as a teacher and somewhat jealous of Anakin's potential, causing him to be a bit tougher on Anakin than he should have been. Anakin then forms another strong attachment with his childhood crush Padmé Amidala and secretly marries her even though it's a violation of the Jedi code. His mother's death combined with the distrust the Jedi Council has in him, The Clone Wars, visions of Padmé dying in childbirth and manipulation by Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious leads him to turn to the Dark Side and become the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Destroying the Jedi Order, choking his wife to death in anger, then being horribly maimed in a duel with Obi-Wan, Vader has lost everything and has nothing left but to serve his Sith master.
    • Obi-Wan probably qualifies as well. Helplessly watching Qui-Gon die at the hands of Darth Maul, Obi-Wan promises his dying master that he will train Anakin. As skilled as Obi-Wan was, he was rushed into becoming a Jedi Knight before he was ready and was thus unequipped to take on a Padawan, especially The Chosen One. Constant reminders that his student is destined to be more powerful than he was likely stirred up some insecurities inside Obi-Wan, and Anakin's arrogance only made it worse. Then Qui-Gon's old master Count Dooku becomes a Sith Lord and starts the conflict that leads to the Clone Wars. Then Anakin betrays and murders the remaining Jedi and Obi-Wan is forced to fight Anakin on Mustafar: severing Anakin's limbs and watching him burn alive next to a lava river. It's a miracle that Obi-Wan was able to keep it together and not embrace the Dark Side himself.
  • The title character from The Stepfather film franchise. He's very good with this hands, able to create works of art with just a couple pieces of wood and an hour's worth of time. He's also very intelligent and charismatic. Unfortunately, he's also an Ax-Crazy sociopath and psychopath who's obsessed with creating the perfect family seen in the television sitcoms of the 50s and 60s.
  • Parodied in Tropic Thunder with Kirk Lazarus, who is a talented actor because he doesn't know who he is.
  • This is apparently how Robert Pattinson plays Edward Cullen in the Twilight films. It's an Alternative Character Interpretation that Stephenie Meyer wouldn't endorse, but arguably it makes a lot more sense.
  • Zohan from You Don't Mess with the Zohan. He's a superhuman Badass Israeli who can get any girl he wants. But the film establishes that he has grown disillusioned with the Forever War that is the Arab–Israeli Conflict, and that he would rather follow his dream of being a hair stylist. He fakes his own death just so he doesn't have to fight people.
  • In The Dead Center, Dr. Forrester is excellent at what he does, and he has a kind heart. But he has trouble expressing emotions, is a loner, and will resort to illegal methods to get patients the care he thinks they need.
  • The eponymous protagonist the Biopic Yves Saint Laurent. Being a wunderkind has come at the price of his mental stability and he indulges in excessive drinking, drugs and promiscuity. Being true to history, the same dynamic is portrayed in the rival film Saint Laurent.

  • Accidental Detectives: In Madness at Moonshiner's Bay, Sheriff Leroy was a rising FBI star (and a prettyy athletic-looking guy) before he was forced to arrest his own brother Clem for murdering his uncle -although he was actually framed- and also compromised his principles by hiding evidence in the case in a failed attempt to keep Clem from going to prison. When Clem was convicted anyway, he felt that he'd betrayed his principles for nothing, causing him to resign from the FBI and become an apathetic, rural sheriff who doesn't watch his weight.
  • Ciaphas Cain. Capable, intelligent, handsome—and a compulsive liar desperately trying to hide what he sees as his own fundamental lack of courage and decency in a culture obsessed with martyrdom. It's fairly obvious in his memoirs that Ciaphas is incapable of giving himself credit for any achievement because he has to justify any noble act with ignoble intentions.
  • Deverry: Rhodry ap Maelwaedd. A brilliant fighter and battle leader, he is very intelligent, willing to work past cultural and societal constraints and bias, successfully ruled a rhyn for many years, and can be very quick to notice small things and take advantage. Also severely prone to terrible bouts of depression called hiraedd, often takes on far more responsibility then is remotely necessary, blames himself for things that are in no way his fault, is often subject to severe honor before reason and becomes a Death Seeker, with only his honor keeping him from suicide.
  • Ender Wiggin from Ender's Game may be only 10, but he is one of these. Everyone in Battle School (with some exceptions) loves him. He is the best in the standings, his free-time practice sessions are attended by many people throughout the school, he has the best army in the school and is one of the best tacticians ever. But he feels isolated from his friends and unloved. This becomes very apparent in Ender's Shadow, as Bean is really Ender's only confidant. He is a poor, lonely boy with the weight of the world on him.
  • Charles Dawson from The Ferryman Institute is revered as the best Ferryman the Institute has had in centuries, having an unbroken success-streak exceeding a century. The only problem is that that the constant work with death — the various departed souls having to say goodbye to their friends and loved ones, as well as the trauma of their deaths — combined with the constant workload that being the best entails, has left him with a sense of ennui and depression. Combined with him being too stubborn to ask for emotional support, this has caused Charles to retreat for days at a time without telling anyone, avoiding work whenever he could and only coming in at the barest minimum.
  • "Boy" Staunton from Fifth Business, with a side of Manchild as his chosen name indicates.
  • Seth Carl from Isobelle Carmody's The Gathering. He's described by protagonist Nathaniel as "looking like one of those perfect guys from coke ads". He's popular, attractive, the son of a local police Sargent and almost everyone likes him. He's also a struggling abused teenage alcoholic who almost sells the group out to the titular Gathering.
  • Lance from the Gone series. He is smart, athletic, handsome, and was popular before the poof. He also suffers from Fantastic Racism.
  • Crowley from Good Omens. He's a Noble Demon, with a confident, attractive facade (implied to even have an aggressively cool haircut that only looks good on someone like him) and a quick wit. He has a relentlessly stylish apartment full of fancy gadgets, he always seems to have the best of everything and drives the coolest of Cool Cars. However, in spite of the book's ensemble cast, he stands out as pretty much the main viewpoint character, whose thoughts we hear the most, and behind the painfully cool exterior, he's frightened, weary, and eventually very angry, which causes him to rebel against both Heaven and Hell. He's definitely not the slick bastard he appears to be on the outside, but unlike a lot of these characters it ends up making him stronger and extremely sympathetic.
  • Carl Hamilton series is a famous, highly decorated SEAL-trained intelligence operative, independently wealthy, a gourmet chef and wine connoisseur and fluent in four languages. He is also crippled by a complete inability to handle romantic relationships, not being able to confide in anyone concerning his work, and increasingly guilty conscience about killing people for what later may turn out to be no good reason.
  • Hannibal Lecter takes on shades of this in the Hannibal Rising prequel novel, when his Freudian Excuse of horrific childhood ordeals is revealed. In his adulthood, he is quite happy where he is.
  • Harry Potter excels in Defense Against the Dark Arts and Quidditch, and, to a lesser extent, other fields in magic. However, Harry develops major insecurities as a result of his abusive childhood and the pressures the wizarding world dumps on him.
    • Albus Dumbledore is talented, powerful, and famous bordering on revered for defeating Grindelwald and leading the fight against Voldemort, both of whom are said to have only feared him out of all wizards. As the books go on, it becomes clear that he's also a deeply lonely man whose intelligence does not prevent him from making emotional mistakes. The "broken" part really kicks when his Dark and Troubled Past is revealed in book seven.
    • Tom Riddle was an example during his schooldays—a prodigy, incredibly popular, disguising his true nature. In this case, he's an out-and-out murderous lunatic instead of just "messed up" or "morally ambiguous", driven by his fear of death.
    • Severus Snape. Brilliant student who improved his potion textbook. But he was also a non-socialized Creepy Child, allegedly created many Curses (actually he only created ONE curse and many spells) alongside his potions, destroyed his one chance of a happy life upon using a massive slur against his Only Friend, and is so bitter over his bullying at the hands of the hero's father and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his parents and everyone around him...that he takes up to use his position as a Hogwarts teacher to torment not only The Hero, but his friends, and especially an innocent boy named Neville Longbottom.
  • Horatio Hornblower is a brilliant sea warrior whose men are devoted to him, who managed to make several women fall in love with him, and who managed to manipulate the French into two of their greatest military disasters in history (Trafalgar and Russia). He also absolutely hates himself.
  • The Victors of The Hunger Games. Everyone celebrates their triumph except... most of them.
  • Tiberius from Robert Graves' I, Claudius is portrayed this way - he's immensely strong and healthy, one of Rome's greatest generals, an excellent administrator, and a student of philosophy. Unfortunately, he's cursed with moral weakness and a domineering mother, and he ends up becoming a reclusive, paranoid, murderous pervert.
  • Kvothe from The Kingkiller Chronicles is pretty, magically-gifted, superlative at everything he does, but poor, arrogant and a wreck in the present day.
  • Mayor Madeleine from Les Misérables is the most beloved man in town but really he is Jean Valjean, an ex-convict with a compulsion for self-sacrifice bordering on madness.
    • His nemesis Inspector Javert is also an example of this. Javert is the most feared policeman in France. He is described as a "monstrous Saint Michael". But his zealotry is motivated by the fact he is the bastard son of a convict and a fortune teller, which he is deeply ashamed of. He seems to have some sort of mental illness and suffers from Black and White Insanity so bad that when his worldview is destroyed he kills himself rather than compromise any further.
  • Maxim from the first Night Watch (Series) novel is good-looking, fairly intelligent, and a very successful businessman and he looks down at the less successful. While some of his murdering of Dark Others isn't his fault (he had Detect Evil ability and wasn't in on The Masquerade), it's noted that he has no real comprehension of love—pretty much, when given a choice between punishing evil and doing good, he chose the former.
  • Lancelot in The Once and Future King, who falls in love with Arthur and becomes so obsessed with becoming the greatest knight in the world (so that Arthur will love him back) that he gives his entire childhood in the pursuit of this dream. Throughout the book, he is shown to be extremely uncomfortable in his own mind and is quite self-loathing. Guinevere mellows him out a bit, eventually.
    Guinevere: Three years is a long time for a boy to spend in one room [the armory] if he only goes out of it to eat and sleep and to practice tilting in the field. It is even difficult to imagine a boy who would do it unless you realize from the start that Lancelot was not romantic and debonair. Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites would have found it difficult to recognize this rather sullen and unsatisfactory child with the ugly face, who did not disclose to anybody that he was living on dreams and prayers. They might have wondered what store of ferocity he had against himself, that could set him to break his own body so young. They might have wondered why he was so strange.
  • Besides The Once and Future King, Lancelot also qualifies in Le Morte D Arthur, where he does all his fantastic deeds just to win Guinevere's attention. It does not end well.
  • The entire point of the poem "Richard Cory". Richard Cory is a kind, rich gentleman who gets along with everyone he meets, regardless of their social station, has women dreaming of him, and men wanting to be him. And then he inexplicably commits suicide, and no one knows why.
    ...we thought that he was everything
    To make us wish that we were in his place.
    So on we worked, and waited for the light,
    And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
    And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
    Went home and put a bullet through his head.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Luke Castellan is this trope all over. He's handsome, popular, talented, and a trusted authority figure. He's also a manipulative turncoat who's trying to overthrow the gods, and he seems increasingly scared and unhinged with each book. This is later revealed to be because his mother was cursed and went completely insane when he was a baby and his father, Hermes, left him with her. Associating with an evil primordial entity who hurt him from the start probably didn't help.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion:
    • Melkor. The name means "He Who Arises in Might", and he is explicitly called the greatest of the Ainur. This goes to his head, and he eventually winds up getting a new name...Morgoth, the Dark Enemy.
    • The Elf Prince Fëanor is possibly the greatest Elf to have ever lived, "For Fëanor was made the mightiest in all parts of body and mind: in valour, in endurance, in beauty, in understanding, in skill, in strength and subtlety alike: of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and a bright flame was in him." He's a great craftsman, charismatic enough to make most of the Noldor (one of the Elf tribes) follow him from Valinor to Middle-Earth and he has seven sons. He's also incredibly arrogant and a bit of a creep (he was really touchy and possessive about his niece Galadriel), threatens his half-brother Fingolfin out of fear they will take the throne, and obsessed with the Silmarils he made, the three greatest jewels ever made. When Morgoth steals the Silmarils Fëanor and his sons swear the Oath of Fëanor, to get the jewels back no matter what. This leads to Elves killing each other and many of the troubles over the next 600 years, even though Fëanor died soon after reaching Middle-Earth. His actions mean he will not reincarnate from the Halls of Mandos until the end of the world.
    • All of his seven sons, but especially Maedhros and Maglor. They are valiant, noble warriors and Maglor perhaps the greatest musician of all Elves, but they are exhausted by the evil oath they have sworn and the atrocities they have committed.
    • Also Boromir from The Lord of the Rings. He's a proud and gallant warrior, greatly admired for this by his people (and his younger brother) but the pressure put on him by his position as heir to Gondor's ruler and his belief that Sauron could never be beaten fed his obsession with the Ring and made it easy for him to fall for the temptation.
    • Túrin Turambar. He's one of the most Badass heroes to have ever lived, killing Glaurung Father of Dragons. However, his actions lead to a lot of suffering (though its unclear how much is Túrin's fault and how much is Morgoth cursing his family) and he ends up killing himself.
  • Skulduggery Pleasant is the best detective the Irish Sanctuary (or possibly any sanctuary) has, is skilled with both magic and hand-to-hand combat, and was one of the best soldiers during the war, being part of a seven-man cell called the Dead Men who went on suicide missions but always survived. He's also a living skeleton. His friends and allies all warn his new protégé that he is horribly damaged by his family's murder and is renowned for his Unstoppable Rage when people he cares about are in danger. This doesn't worry Valkyrie at all until she learns that Skulduggery is so broken his darker thoughts and desire for revenge turned him into Lord Vile, the most infamous general of Mevolent's armies, who was hell-bent on the annihilation of all life.
    • Made worse because the Faceless Ones spent a year torturing Skulduggery, making him a little bit more unhinged than normal (including threatening someone sent to keep an eye on him with a gun) and separating the Lord Vile part of Skulduggery's psyche into a separate Ax-Crazy entity.
  • Song at Dawn: Dragonetz appears to be the perfect knight: strong, gallant, and handsome, but he's also bitter, disillusioned, and afraid of marriage because he thinks he'll screw it up.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire
  • In Space Marine Battles, Cato Sicarius becomes this after Fall of Damnos. He considers Damnos to be his greatest failure (it is, in fact, the first time he's ever lost as a Captain) and is tormented by the fact, has Past Experience Nightmares about the Undying and believes that he'll be punished severely for what happened there. He's not, and manages to dig out of his Heroic BSoD when the Ultramarines retake Damnos.
  • The Stormlight Archive:
    • Kaladin is an interesting version of this trope. He starts out as an Ace, charismatic leader, excellent spearman, trained in medicine, pays bribes to protect his men and get new untrained boys into his squad where he can watch over them. But after he's betrayed he's definitely broken. The skills are all still there, but he has trouble finding the will to use them anymore.
    • As it turns out, all of the Knights Radiant are this. Being broken is a prerequisite to being a surgebinder, as the "broken" bits are what allow Spren in to form the bond that gives them abilities.
      Kaladin: You want too much of me. I'm not some glorious knight of ancient days. I'm a broken man. Do you hear me, Syl? I'm broken.
      Syl: That's what they all were, silly.
  • Of The Three Musketeers: Athos is outstanding for his looks, thorough education, martial prowess, and social graces. Unfortunately, he is also a somewhat misogynistic alcoholic with truly terrible luck. He is less misogynistic then horribly distrustful of women because he married the patron saint of Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, Milady de Winter. Athos really achieves Broken Ace in the later books, when his faith in Royalty is shattered when the king takes his son's fiancee as his mistress.
  • Denth from Warbreaker is friendly, charming and good with words, despite being a mercenary. He also happens to be obsessed with revenge, and will do anything to get it, including torturing and killing innocent people. He can't move past the issue that broke him in the first place, even when given the opportunity to heal.
  • Kazuo Kiriyama from Battle Royale can master almost any skill. Combined with his inability to feel emotion due to brain damage which makes him the perfect killer. It's only as he dies does he regain emotion and the first thing he feels is regret over everything he's done.
  • In the Dreamblood Duology, Ehiru is introduced as Hananja's favourite and the best Gatherer currently alive. However, messing up only once eats almost all of his confidence away and his lauded incorruptibility and devotion to Hananja's Law make him susceptible to being manipulated, creating a downward spiral of insecurity about his abilities and worth.
  • Attorney Mickey Haller from the Bosch series. Despite being a crack defense attorney with a well-known reputation for his veracity in defending his clients (especially in later books), he is full of self-loathing for defending the guilty and the strain his work puts on his relationship between his first ex-wife and their daughter. Doesn't help that his personal life is somewhat of a trainwreck - something always seems to knock him down when things start to go well.
  • Wander, in Wander. She's skilled enough to have survived since she was eleven, but it comes at the extent of nearly all her interpersonal skills. Dagger is horrified by how far she’s willing to go at times, and it’s outright stated that a part of the reason she decided to save him was that she hoped he could teach her to be around people again.
  • Juan Cabrillo from The Oregon Files is a talented ex-CIA agent, A Father to His Men who are themselves a Badass Crew of former military and government men and women, and captain of the MV Oregon, a high-tech spy ship disguised as a rusting tramp steamer. However, he is deeply troubled by the death of his wife, who became an alcoholic died in a car accident.note  On top of (and possibly due to) this is his severe case of Chronic Hero Syndrome to the point that he must help someone need, even if doing so would result in worse consequences down the road. He also grapples with ethical issues stemming from his heroic tendencies clashing with the morally ambiguous nature of being a mercenary, at one point musing that if he killed someone in cold blood, even if the person deserved it, it could take away a part of his soul and take him down a path that would make him no better.
  • When Rabbit Howls: Not so much a broken ace as a fractured one. Truddi Chase is a successful real estate entrepreneur and talented artist, but the psychological aftermath of her horrifically abusive childhood has left her with paranoia, emotional distancing, and difficulty with relationships. Then there're the ninety-and-change multiple personalities.
  • The protagonist of Imaro is the greatest fighter in the world, bigger and stronger than just about everyone, and seems to quickly become great at everything he puts his hand to. He wins every battle, however impossible. But all the pain and horror he has to go through wears him down more and more, as does the fact that he keeps getting rejected by everyone he seeks acceptance from - and the mental scars just make him even more incapable of really reaching out to someone, leading to more rejection. At one point, his love interest knows that when he starts thrashing in his sleep she has to clamp her hand over his mouth because the ruthless mercenaries he leads must not know that their supposedly fearless leader suffers from nightmares that cause him to wake up screaming in terror.
  • Daylen in Shadow of the Conqueror, due to having both the experience of age and the vigor of youth, excels at a number of things: swordsmanship, engineering, mathematics, sunforging, Lightbinding, flying, and military tactics. He's also a former Evil Overlord whose empire collapsed when the entire world declared war against it, and who is currently ravaged by the soul-crushing guilt at the epicenter of the story's Dysfunction Junction.
  • A Frozen Heart, a half-Perspective Flip literary adaptation of Frozen (2013), Hans is handsome, charming, and a prince. However, desperate hunger for recognition, severe Daddy Issues, and seeking glory corrupt him. He's ignored and overshadowed by his 12 older brothers. In the book, which gives him a more expansive backstory, most of his brothers constantly bully him, ranging from verbal abuse to throwing items at him for simply daydreaming. His mother loves him but is too weak to spend time with him, and his father coldly regards him as a nuisance and sends him to do horrific tasks. Despite this, Hans often daydreams about having a loving and caring father, even as an adult. It's even heavily implied that he is a self-harmer. He ends up becoming more and more power-hungry until he becomes cruel and willing to kill to fulfill his ambition. By the time the book ends, Hans is starting to regret his actions, but has done enough damage to be sent back to the Southern Isles to be humiliated and punished by his family.]]
  • The Nero Wolfe book Where There's A Will has Eugene Davis. A "brilliant" attorney who was considered the best in the city, and with the potential to make history before he fell in love with a Gold Digger who dumped him for a wealthier man, leaving Davis as a self-loathing alcoholic who can't find joy in anything anymore.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Jack Bauer from 24 is lauded by his colleagues for his service to his country, but his penchant for justice has made him do terrible things.
  • Raven Reyes from The 100 had, by age 18, become quite possibly the best mechanic on the Ark, a master at operating in Zero-G, and a certified badass, who traveled down to Earth solo in a space shuttle she rebuilt herself. Yet almost everything in her life not related to those skills is a complete mess. She was abandoned by her mother, loses her boyfriend to another girl after just two weeks of separation, becomes paralyzed in her left leg and resists others' attempts to help with her condition, acts distant towards the men she sleeps with so she won't become attached, and tends to put all other moral concerns on the backburner when her (ex-)boyfriend's safety is at stake.
  • Grant Ward from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. starts off as the perfect spy, The Big Guy for Coulson's team of specialists. He wasn't the most sociable, but even that gave him a James Bond-like quality, forgoing a social life for king and country. Still, he becomes friends with the rest of Team Coulson and has a budding romance with Skye. Then it later turns out that he's The Mole working for HYDRA, and he betrays SHIELD and his friends. Then we learn the circumstances of his recruitment and just how screwed up his life was up to that point. At the end of the season, Ward's mentor is killed and he's arrested for his crimes and attempts suicide in jail. In the second season, Coulson and his crew make it very clear that they do not trust or forgive him for his actions. When circumstances require them to work together again, pretty much everyone wants to kill him. Even when he gives some Freudian Excuse, he's shut down by Agent May, whose PTSD is often a plot point ("We all have our traumas, Ward, didn't turn any of us into psychopaths.") He escapes at the end of that mission and was a recurring villain until his death in the third season.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • It is shown that Jaime is incredibly bitter about his reputation as the 'Kingslayer' and that no matter what he does, he'll always be remembered as someone who will change sides at the drop of a hat.
    • Oberyn Martell is by most measures one of the biggest Aces seen in the series, being charismatic, an extremely adept politician, an incredibly skilled fighter, and a big hit with ladies and men alike (and yes, the feeling is mutual). However, the brutal death of his sister at the hands of a Lannister-hired assassin is shown to be eating away at him from the inside. And it ends up manifesting itself in a case of Revenge Before Reason that sees him being killed in a manner every bit as horrific as his sister, by the same man nonetheless, all because he refused to kill an injured but still very combat-capable warrior until he'd admitted that Tywin Lannister ordered the death of Oberyn's sister.
  • Tommy Oliver has shades of this by the time of Power Rangers Dino Thunder. Age 26, he's spent about a quarter of his life as a soldier in an ancient fight against evil, and the series implies that he might have difficulty knowing where Tommy the Power Ranger ends and Dr. Thomas Oliver begins.
  • Kara "Starbuck" Thrace from Battlestar Galactica (2003). Top notch pilot, expert markswoman, fine brawler—but suffering from memories of an abusive childhood, a morass of self-esteem and self-loathing issues, and unsure of how to have a life beyond being The Ace. And of course it just gets worse halfway through the fourth season when she finds out she's been Dead All Along.
  • Roan Montgomery from Chuck is a Chick Magnet despite his age but beneath it, he's a Jaded Washout.
  • Jeff Winger from Community is good-looking, has a gift for gab, and is liked by everyone—but his masculinity hides his issues with his estranged father and his fear that no one will like his vulnerable side. He calls himself "broken" in season 4.
    • Even more so Rich from pottery class, who has a load of mother issues after his brother died. On the outside, he comes over as the allegedly most charismatic and cool character on the show.
  • Rebecca Bunch from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a fantastic lawyer who has graduated from both Harvard and Yale. She is also filled with self-doubt, self-hatred, massive anxiety, and depression. When she screws things up with Josh Chan (the guy who she moved to West Covina for), she sings to herself, "You Stupid Bitch," which is all about her self-loathing:
    You ruined everything, you stupid bitch.
    You ruined everything, you stupid, stupid bitch.
    You’re just a lying little bitch who ruins things
    And wants the world to burn.
    Bitch. You’re a stupid bitch.
    And lose some weight.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Some incarnations of the Doctor from fall under this trope, especially in the revived series, which starts with the premise of the Doctor being forced to kill his own species offscreen.
      • The First Doctor begins to develop into one of these once Ian and Barbara leave the crew and the Doctor begins to come to terms with the massive predicament he's in, while simultaneously suffering a string of adventures with major Downer Endings. After Steven says Screw This, I'm Out of Here! at the end of "The Massacre", he has a full-blown Heroic BSoD and is far more delicate and fearful afterward.
      • The revived series has gone on to show he was broken before he became an ace, growing up he spent his nights in a barn crying himself to sleep, his Only Friend eventually went insane and became his Arch-Enemy and he eventually admitted the real reason he left Gallifrey was that he was scared.
      • The Tenth Doctor is confident and cavalier on the outside, but he suffers from survivor's guilt and verges on self-loathing on the inside.
      • The Eleventh Doctor is a charming, charismatic, moral, slightly eccentric, Chaste Hero on the outside. At first, his confidence seems genuine, but as time passes it quickly becomes apparent that Eleven is just as riddled with grief, rage and self-loathing as Ten.
      • The War Doctor is the only doctor who is openly this.
      • The ultimate Nice Guy Fifth Doctor had become this by the end of his run resulting in him becoming the Darker and Edgier 6th and 7th Doctors. The same thing then happened when the Eighth Doctor transitioned to the War and 9th Doctors.
    • "The Daleks' Master Plan": Sara Kingdom is Mavic Chen's best agent, a hero in her organisation, said in awed tones to have "The Strength of Ten Men". She shoots Bret Vyon (a "traitor" allied to the Doctor) and was sent to murder the Doctor and his companion too, and would have done it if they hadn't been accidentally teleported to the planet Mira. While on Mira, the Doctor confronts her, clearly in a disturbed psychological state, and she eventually admits Bret was her brother. She joins the Doctor's side soon afterward.
    • Captain Jack Harkness, later of Torchwood. Dashingly handsome, brave, cocky and nigh-immortal...but after being abandoned by the Doctor for being "wrong", suffering trauma after his repeated deaths, seeing everyone he loves die in battle or of old age, and now having being forced to allow his own grandson to be killed he's definitely a Broken Ace. He also has a Dark and Troubled Past. He still feels guilt over getting his brother captured by a vicious alien race. Even during his time as a temporal agent, it wasn't all gallivanting through history and screwing Anything That Moves (although there was a fair bit of that too). He has a chunk of memory the size of 2 years missing, although he completely forgets about it after meeting the Doctor.
  • The Crane brothers in Frasier. For all their success as psychiatrists, it doesn't spare them from the fact that both of them suffer from deep-seated parental issues and are both hapless with women, even though, oddly, they never seem for want of one.
  • James Gordon of Gotham. Gordon might be a rookie detective, but he's a former soldier and a very good hand-to-hand combatant, effortlessly disarming and taking down a large heavily-armed man and then later delivering a beatdown to two mob enforcers among other badass moments. He's also good looking with a laundry list of admirers who will always strive to do what is right and clean up Gotham. However, most of his admirers are Ax-Crazy and he's constantly fighting with his own dark side which others take note of. Also, there are frequent hits on his life (by two of his admirers even) and the lives of those close to him. In addition, Galavan worming in his way out of justice, combined with Gordon netting a 40-year sentence for his vigilante execution, seems to have stripped Gordon of any notion that the law can work in Gotham which is what he firmly believed separated the villains from the heroes.
  • This seemed to be a central theme in the NBC series Heroes. Having superpowers didn't cure the characters of their painful pasts, past mental issues, or dark secrets.
  • Dr. Gregory House from House. Not only is he the greatest diagnostician, but he has also mastered all the manipulative aspects of human sociology and psychology. In addition, he speaks several languages, plays a mean guitar, and has the expertise needed to turn his own apartment into an ICU. Despite all this, he still manages to have no social skills, has no friends, and is an unapologetic, drug-addicted criminal.
  • Sherlock is, as always the world's greatest detective, he's both one of the smartest people you'll ever meet and a very capable fighter and regularly enjoys making the police look like idiots. But at the same time he's a self-destructive drug addict who can't measure up to his Aloof Big Brother, seems to have something of an Inferiority Superiority Complex and has a very co-dependent on his best/only friend John Watson (who is himself a bit of a broken ace) and that's not even mentioning his sister.
  • Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother tries very hard not to be this trope, but he isn't nearly as good as hiding this fact as he thinks he is. His over-the-top, self-aggrandizing "awesomeness" is his way of overshadowing all his emotional issues.
  • Jack Shephard of Lost — brilliant, handsome, athletic, charismatic doctor on the outside. Angry, emotionally-abused, masochistic, repeatedly-relapsing addict with a messiah complex on the inside.
  • Don Draper of Mad Men. Creative director/shaman of both the older Sterling Cooper and the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Incredibly handsome and charismatic. Able to bed any woman pretty much just by looking at her. Has won multiple advertising awards and manages to accept them while cutting a dapper figure. He achieved this by stealing another man's identity to get away from his dirt poor abusive upbringing. His marriage to Betty showed the consequences of a Broken Ace marrying a Stepford Smiler. A major part of season 4 was about surveying the wreckage of that union.
  • M*A*S*H:
    • In the haunting episode "Heal Thyself," the camp's talented and charismatic new surgeon, a veteran of a front line aid station, has a complete mental breakdown during a particularly long and gruesome O.R. session that stretches across a couple of days. They find him crouched down in the Col. Potter's tent, doing the Thousand-Yard Stare, and compulsively scrubbing his hands to wipe off the imaginary blood that he is convinced they are still coated in.
    • Hawkeye has signs of this through the mid and late seasons from the stress of saving the lives of soldiers that are just going to get killed later anyway. But the final episode is when he really is broken because he inadvertently caused a mother to kill her own child.
  • Nikita is the best covert operative Division created but she hates them for turning her into a killer who is unable to live a normal life.
  • Nathan Ingram from Person of Interest was a world-renowned software engineer and CEO, but he's actually The Beard for the real genius, his friend Harold Finch. Nathan was actually The Alcoholic and his family life was in shambles.
  • Political Animals: Douglas Hammond appears to be the responsible and successful twin. He was his mother's campaign manager for her presidential run, is her right-hand man while she is Secretary of State, and is about to marry his beautiful and accomplished fiancee. However, he also displays serious self-doubt and anxiety and seems compelled to take on responsibility for his dysfunctional family's well-being. An argument with his father revealed that he feels responsible for the failure of his mother's presidential campaign and he later reveals to Susan Berg that he's even having cold feet about his engagement.
  • Allison DiLaurentiis from Pretty Little Liars is originally presented as a very bitchy Ace. She later goes through so much being buried alive hardly the worst part she winds up being seriously broken. It also turns out she was quite broken from the being with, thanks to her very dysfunctional family.
    • Melissa Hastings is a played down version - while certainly The Ace, she wasn't broken quite as hard as Allison - though hard enough...
  • Red Dwarf's Arnold J. Rimmer is a literal example of the trope. Sucked dry of his negativity and neuroses (themselves powerful enough to destroy a Lotus-Eater Machine) by an Emotion Eater, he immediately turns into Ace Rimmer (what a guy!). Eventually, he becomes the next Ace Rimmer—as each one dies, he recruits the next, and so on, until it finally reaches Arnie himself. It is mostly his neuroses that hold him back—but, luckily for him, the Red Dwarf universe has it set that pretty much every Rimmer gets redeemed. Before then, he makes an awesome Last Stand at the end of Series 6.
  • Scrubs:
    • An early episode had J.D. competing (purely in his own mind) with another intern named Nick to see who was the best between them and who should be the unofficial leader of their group of interns. Eventually, J.D. has to concede defeat, as Nick can match JD's medical knowledge while also being more handsome, less socially awkward, more charismatic, less of a suck-up and even has the girl J.D. likes interested in him. Hints are dropped throughout the episode, however, that Nick is a Stepford Smiler who is barely repressing all his insecurities and inner turmoil. At the end of the episode Nick realizes he's not going to be able to save the life a 7-year-old kid, (who likely couldn't have been saved because sometimes that's the reality of medicine and health care) and Nick completely breaks down as a result and quits working at Sacred Heart.
      Nick: That kid is eventually gonna die. Whether it's today, tomorrow, or a month from now. There's nothing I can do. Nothing works. Now his parents want to talk to me and what am I supposed to tell them?! "Peter lived a good long seven years?" Seven years, man! ... [whispers] I hate this place, I hate this job. I can't do it anymore. I'm done. I'm done. I'm done. [starts crying]
      J.D.: [internal monologue] The scariest thing is I thought he was stronger than all of us.
    • A little later in the series, they brought in Doctor Kevin Casey. He was played by Michael J. Fox, and they gave the character severe OCD to help explain the tics caused by Fox's Parkinson's Disease. His OCD made him an incredible doctor and surgeon, as his compulsive need to study meant that he had read every book he could get his hands on multiple times and perfected his physical dexterity, performing complex operations in a fraction of the time a normal surgeon would require. He's also incredibly nice and wise, giving helpful advice to everyone in the hospital, helping them fix their lives. So, having humiliated Turk in the OR, Cox in front of his interns, and JD by destroying his ego with an off-hand comment, all three seek him out to confront him. And they find him trapped in the scrub room outside the OR, unable to leave because he's been compulsively washing his hands for hours. He's on the verge of tears but he just can't leave.
    • Dr. Cox himself could be seen as this. He's intelligent, witty, well respected, perhaps the best Doctor at Sacred Heart and keeps in fantastic shape for a man his age. However, he's also bitterly lonely, broken shell of a man who hasn't had a meaningful relationship in years. He gets somewhat better as the show goes on, after his ex-wife returns, and he becomes a father.
  • Several examples on Smallville:
    • Lionel Luthor: Of the Villain with Good Publicity variety, Lionel is the Big Bad of Season's 1-3. He's a Magnificent Bastard, Corrupt Corporate Executive, and Cultured Badass with more money than God, and the ears of kings, sultans, and presidents. He's respected by those who don't know how evil he is, feared by those who do and has the entire world at his beck and call. He's also a damaged, empty man who has immense difficulty identifying with other people and is trapped in a mutually self-destructive relationship with his son, a relationship he is unable to salvage even after a Heel–Face Turn. He's burned every bridge he's got to get where he is and is revealed to be a Self-Made Orphan who's still running away from his abusive, drunken parents.
    • Lex Luthor: Lionel's son. On the surface, he's got it all: wealth, power, women, immunity from prosecution. Underneath, he's self-loathing, caught up in a desire for parental approval that he'll never get, before or post-Face–Heel Turn, haunted by the deaths of his mother and brother, and consumed by his need to control the people around him. He blows up every friendship he ever has in his drive for success and his eventual slide into cackling supervillainy is as tragic as it is inevitable.
    • Jason Teague: He's a good-looking football coach, secretly dating one of the hottest girls in the school. His family is rich, he's a former star player himself, and he's able to lie and cheat at Lex's level. Unfortunately, he's pretty eaten up by his mommy issues, has no self-esteem, and is nearly incapable of taking any action his mother (Season 4 Big Bad Genevieve Teague) doesn't approve of.
    • Green Arrow/Oliver Queen: A heroic example. In one life Oliver is the heir to an immense fortune, a billionaire playboy with more women than he can handle and a life most people only dream of. In his other life, he moonlights as a Badass Normal Superhero saving more lives before nine A.M. than most people do before lunch. And yet neither of these is the real Oliver Queen. Inside he's hollow, convinced that his life is a sham, and manifests numerous self-destructive tendencies including alcoholism, the inability to commit to anything, and a total disregard for his own safety that's both impressive and frightening. His commitment to saving the world overshadows everything else he does, leading to bouts of drinking, a temporary drug addiction, and culminating in his Interrupted Suicide in Season 9.
    • Tess Mercer: A female variant. Much like Lionel and Lex, whom she succeeds as leader of LuthorCorp, Tess is an incredibly rich young woman, who has successfully escaped an abusive home life. She speaks two or three different languages, is extremely attractive, and has the money and power to do whatever she wants. She also has horribly low self-esteem, no faith in humanity, and a fatalistic need for a Messiah, all stemming from having given up on her former idealism and desire to change the world in favour of moving up in the world. As the show progresses, her ace facade disintegrates more and more, and the Broken Bird underneath is increasingly exposed. Alliances with Checkmate and Major Zod, and an eventual Heel–Face Turn have all failed to give her the sense of self-worth she's seeking.
  • In The Sopranos, Tony Soprano is the mob boss of all New Jersey; charismatic, powerful, ruthless, and has keen business acumen. Underneath it all, he suffers from some serious Parental Issues and other mental problems, which cause him to have panic attacks.
  • Dean Winchester from Supernatural. Handsome, charming ladies' man and badass hunter on the outside, self-loathing bundle of PTSD and daddy issues on the inside. His brother Sam is the brains of the operation (but no less badass) and tends to be much more empathetic towards people in need, but is a nest of hatred, anger, and self-loathing and is driven primarily by revenge for much of the show.
    • Every hunter is this in spades, to the point of only being good at what they do by being so horribly broken. Capable of fighting monsters, demons, and undead nightmares, hiding from (or staying on the run from) the police and FBI for the crimes they commit doing their jobs, and all of them make the hardiest survivalist look like a pansy. The only reason any of them live the life they do is that either they were raised into it, which is a whole mess of issues right there, or they experienced firsthand losing someone close to them because of the things that go bump in the night and became obsessed with revenge. John Winchester was arguably the worst we've seen, often being remarked on as a hunter of unparalleled skill but uncaring of anything that wouldn't lead him to the Yellow-Eyed Demon, to the point of being abusive and neglectful towards his sons and raising them as soldiers to fight an unending daily war (which Sam and later Dean resent him for).
  • John Connor is the Messianic Archetype of the Terminator franchise who will eventually lead the human race to victory against the machines but Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles shows the hell he went through to become what he is. He's also made rather questionable decisions like trying to strike an alliance with a renegade faction of machines.
  • Possibly Charlie Harper from Two and a Half Men. Despite being a rich, handsome womanizer, many episodes indicate or imply that he is riddled with mommy issues. There is the possibility that his womanizing is a means of acting out said mommy issues or is even a means of overcompensating for repressed homosexuality/bisexuality or having been more abused or neglected than Alan when they were kids.
  • Dr. Bashir, CMO of Deep Space Nine: brilliant, charming, funny, athletic, genuinely caring enough to make ex-torturers Heel–Face Turn out of love...and needy as hell, ignorant of his own privilege, and convinced that he's a fraud and that everything he's achieved is fake due to his extremely illegal genetic enhancements, which were given to him by his parents without his consent and if discovered will lead to him losing everything.
  • John Sheppard on Stargate Atlantis is undeniably a Colonel Badass and Ace Pilot who's not afraid to kick some ass in order to defend the city of Atlantis. He also has severe self-loathing, intimacy, trust, and abandonment issues which come into play when people under his command or close to him die because of the inherent danger of his job.
  • The Walking Dead: Carol is one of the best fighters on the team; skilled, pragmatic, smart. She's a One-Woman Army with a track record of being very deadly and very sly. But despite her status as The Unfettered, she suffers from a crippling Guilt Complex that slowly eats away at her, eventually causing her to run away. After being incapacitated by a Savior, Carol has a brief Death Seeker moment, where she admits that death would free her from all the horrible things she's had to do.
  • Dear White People: Troy. He's very much the Big Man on Campus, beloved by the majority of the Student Body. It quickly becomes apparent during his spotlight episode that his father puts an insane amount of pressure on him to be the model black student, to the point that Troy resorts to drugs to help cope with the stress.
  • Veronica Mars : Princely Young Man Duncan is a straight A student, student newspaper editor, student body president, handsome, popular, and the son of the wealthiest, most beloved man in town - he also has a particularly nasty type of epilepsy that causes violent fits, a pretty vicious mother, a recently murdered sister whose death caused him hallucinations, a need for antidepressants, and an ex who might be his half-sister. to further Break the Cutie, just when everything sorts itself out and it turns out he and Veronica aren't related, his other ex falls into a coma while pregnant with his baby. Sheesh.
  • Spencer Hastings from Pretty Little Liars. A perfectionist, beautiful Academic Athlete. She also comes from a wildly dysfunctional family (made entirely of other Broken Aces), suffers from a semi-dormant Ambiguous Disorder as well as substance abuse, is in a very toxic Alpha Bitch vs. Starscream "friendship" with another Broken Ace, Allison, from whom she borrowed some disturbing Fille Fatale tendencies. As Hanna puts it, no one should have been surprised when Spencer was admitted to Bedlam House.
    • All of the aforementioned Hastings family fit this category, as they unquestionably fit The Ace part in achievements, status and even looks, they also each carry a can of worms - Melissa with her secret pregnancy, Veronica with her secret illness, and Peter with his secret affair with the Dilaurentis twins, Jessica and Mary, with whom he had given birth to no less than three children out of wedlock - Jason, Alex and Spencer herself.
      • Even the two men who planned to marry into the Hastings family, the equally creepy Ian and Wren, could fit the trope, though Wren gets the prize for Foreshadowing his psycho Hidden Depths as early as season 2, while the depths of his sketchiness are only revealed five seasons later.
    • The Only family that can hold a candle to the Hastings are the Dilaurentis family, so chock-full of secrets and craziness each of them get Walking Spoiler status, even though they are - or used to be, the most beloved, respectable families in Rosewood. That applies even for the ones who didn't know they were part of the Dilaurentis family, like Spencer herself.
  • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid:
    • Hiiro Kagami/Kamen Rider Brave, genius surgeon with a stellar career at an age where most other doctors are starting out as interns (like his colleague Emu Hojo). His coldly perfect exterior covers a mass of issues from being unable to relate to people on a personal level, defending against the pressure of his job and having no life outside of it as a result to blaming himself for his girlfriend's death.
    • Taiga Hanaya/Kamen Rider Snipe, genius radiologist and CR's first Kamen Rider, able to spot an early phase of Game Disease with ordinary technology of his field. Fast forward five years, he is a broken shell of a once-kind man fighting for revenge - the only thing he can do after he lost everything.
  • Euphoria: On the field, Nate Jacobs is a star quarterback for his high school football team. Off the field, he's a mess of neuroses.
  • Tynomi Banks from Canada's Drag Race. She's one of the most famous drag queens in all of Canada after making a name for herself in the crowded Toronto drag scene, and was long considered a shoo-in for the inevitable Canadian remake of RuPaul's Drag Race. When she made her entrance in the Season 1 premier, all the other queens shat themselves because Tynomi's reputation preceded her. But once the season was underway, it turned out competition was not her strong suit. She only lasted four episodes and performed poorly enough to land in the bottom for three of them, and you can see her resolve crumble each episode until her elimination.

  • There's a definite trend of portraying Superman as this in popular music, too
    • Five for Fighting's "Superman": Superman has still won the Superpower Lottery (of course) but is portrayed as lamenting being considered as the people's hero to the exclusion of anything else about him and thoroughly depressed by the loss of his home planet, but being unable to take any time out for grieving.
  • The above-mentioned "Richard Cory" example was expanded on in a song of the same title by Simon & Garfunkel, contrasting Cory's facade of happiness with the poverty of one of his envious employees. The song ends the same as the poem. The narrator still envies him.
    • Is the chorus repeated (even after The Reveal) merely to be consistent with standard song structure? Seems unlikely, as Simon—self-described in "Homeward Bound" as "a poet and a one-man band"—was a careful wordsmith. And because a final chorus would be anti-climactic, its inclusion requires an important reason. Even so, it's not clear whether this was simply for the sake of Irony, or if the narrator's envy was allowed to persist so his crushing poverty would be underscored.
  • Ziltoid of Devin Townsend's Ziltoid The Omnicient seems like your ordinary fourth-dimensional evil overlord, spreading terror and destruction across the known universes, fraternising with the fifth-dimensional planet smasher and the omnidimensional creator, and of course raiding the earth for our finest coffee to use for time-bending. But in the end, Captain Spectacular of Earth has seen Ziltoid's true self; a nerd.
  • The list of "troubled musicians" in Real Life and fiction is probably plentiful enough for it to be its own trope.
  • "Oh No" by Marina & the Diamonds is a Broken Ace anthem of sorts. It's particularly popular for Fan Vids about this kind of character.
  • "We" by Christian singer-songwriter Joy Williams describes two people wanting to really be known as they truly are.
    "She's independent and beautiful
    Wish I could be like her
    She's got the girls and the boys so wrapped around her finger
    Rumor is, she's some kind of dream
    Nobody knows, she cries herself to sleep."

    "He's on the top of the social scene
    He's stylish, cool, and clever
    He's got a cool attitude that screams 'He's got it all together'
    You'd think he's addicted to himself
    But he wishes he could be someone else."
  • "Where Do You Go To My Lovely?" by Peter Sarstedt is about a woman (Marie-Claire) who is beautiful and witty ("You talk like Marlene Dietrich and you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire..."), intelligent and with excellent taste (she's a graduate of the Sorbonne, owns a Picasso, dresses in Balmaine, listens to the Rolling Stones and drinks Napoleonic brandy) has famous friends and is famous in her own right. However, the narrator, who is a childhood friend, recalls their shared origins as beggar children in Naples and suggests that beneath her incredibly glamorous life Marie-Claire still bears the scars of life on the streets.
  • Rush's song "Mission" is about being inspired by people who have made an impact on history, but ends with the singer reflecting that their achievements came through personal sacrifice:
    "If their lives were exotic and strange
    They would likely have gladly exchanged them
    For something a little more plain
    Maybe something a little more sane
    We each pay a fabulous price
    For our visions of paradise."
  • The Megas' take on Mega Man. After Get Equipped, he sinks into a deep depression, becoming distant from his father, and even though he's still winning his fights, he's definitely not in good shape, emotionally. It's most visible in "Lamentations of a War Machine", which is entirely about how much he regrets his actions in Get Equipped, "History Repeating, Part 1", where he actively describes himself as "broken and bleeding", and "Fly on a Dog", where he's barely holding it together at all. Averted after his He's Back moment in "I Refuse (To Believe)", though; he seems pretty functional after that.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Sadly, this trope is very common for professional wrestlers. Many great talents have been plagued with severe personal issues that have ruined their careers.
    • Scott Hall has been wrestling with alcoholism for quite some times, yo-yoing back and forth for almost two decades. WCW even made his drunken behavior into a character trait.
    • Jake "The Snake" Roberts has struggled with alcoholism as well. Several times during his career he's shown up to an arena fully drunk. He was one of the first wrestlers to take advantage of WWE's drug rehab program for current and former wrestlers in the wake of the Chris Benoit situation.
    • Jeff Hardy and his battles with drug addictions will very likely land him in jail in the near future. Not to mention, his already terrible reign as TNA World Champion was capped off with one of the worst title matches in history (see the So Bad It's Horrible TNA page for more details).
    • Hulk Hogan has gone through a very messy, very public divorce, not helped by his son Nick getting involved in a car crash that left the other driver in a vegetative state. Hulk at one point said he gets why OJ Simpson did what he did.
    • Ric Flair has a litany of broken marriages, money problems, and substance abuse demons.
    • "Stone Cold" Steve Austin has several times been detained on domestic violence charges.
    • "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig could do just about anything, except put down the bottle which led to his death.
    • Shawn Michaels, considered to be one of the most talented performers to have ever stepped into a ring, had a terrible pain killer addiction on top of being a colossal jackass backstage who used his considerable pull to screw over several of his coworkers. After his four-year retirement and conversion to Christianity, he has since gotten rid of all his vices, became The Atoner, and all around committed to subverting this trope.
    • Kayfabe-wise, Randy Orton portrays this with some Reality Subtext. Orton was the talented athlete that most of WWE's higher-ups envisioned at the top of the company back around 2003-2005, but never surpassed John Cena's status mostly because of his inability to stay out of his own way. In kayfabe, especially, most of his heel turns are marked with bouts of insecurity and paranoia, and his recent bout as a face portrays him as a skilled athlete, but a stoic Sociopathic Hero. And, both in and out of kayfabe, Orton still occasionally dips into anger and behavioral issues.
    • "Macho Man" Randy Savage: Considered to be the second most famous pro wrestler after Hulk Hogan, and had almost as many personal problems. Crippling perfectionism, being over-possessive of his first wife Miss Elizabeth, to the point where she left him over it, a love-hate relationship with Hogan in both Kayfabe and real life, insecurities about aging (which WWF and critics were happy to exploit) and a string of injuries and steroid abuse, which contributed to his premature death at the age of only 58. note 
    • Sting is a subversion: In the mid-1990s he struggled with substance abuse and his family life, but like Shawn Michaels above, became a Born-Again Christian and turned his life around.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted:
    • The Unconquered Sun himself. Created by the Primordials to be the embodiment of absolute perfection, he turned out to be perfect in four different ways that didn't always get along. Combined with his addiction to the Games of Divinity and the Great Curse driving his Exalts into depravity, he essentially suffered a nervous breakdown and locked himself up in the Jade Pleasure Dome.
  • The Primarchs of Warhammer 40,000 are gods among men and strong charismatic leaders of their adopted planets but many harbor serious issues like insecurity (Fulgrim), inferiority complex (Perturabo) or a need for revenge (Angron) which led half of them to commit rebellion.
    • Their father/creator the Emperor of Mankind. The most powerful psyker to ever live, a brilliant scientist, a ruler who united humanity in a golden age, practically a living god...but his inability to be the father his sons needed dooms himself and the Imperium to a slow wasting death. All that is left of the once-mighty Emperor is a decaying husk trapped between life and death that can only watch as the Imperium falls apart over ten thousand years.

  • Freddie Trumper in Chess, though his ace reputation is also notoriously short-tempered and cocky. Still, he drove himself to be a chess champion due to his rather hellish childhood and doesn't want anyone seeing his weakness. The audience only finds out during "Pity the Child".
    • Anatoly Sergeievski counts too if the lyrics of "Where I Want To Be" are any indication. Figures that in a show where the two female leads are broken birds, the men would be broken aces.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac: Cyrano, Reinassance man, (legendary poet, duelist, soldier, philosopher, physicist, musician, playwright, novelist and excellent actor) who also is an ugly, writhing pile of mommy issues, who systematically throws away every chance of success he has, prefers to help a fair guy get the girl he loves instead of confessing to her, abuses everyone who is not his friend and an assiduous killer of Asshole Victims because his enormous Gag Nose.
  • Ultimate heroic example, without even a trace of Jerkass: Jesus Christ himself in Jesus Christ Superstar is deeply conflicted by his own messiah role and increasingly uncomfortable with his followers and fanbase, particularly because he doubts that anything he's done will even make an impact.
  • Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, expects us to believe Raoul de Chagny was one of these all along. Anything for a ship.
  • Stacee Jaxxx from Rock of Ages is a famous rock star but his solo career is stalling thanks to writer's block.
  • Tybalt in Gerard Presgurvic's musical Roméo et Juliette, de la Haine à l'Amour, especially in the Hungarian production, where he's an epileptic pyromaniac on top of being obsessed by family honor and in love with Juliet.
  • Graf von Krolock from Tanz Der Vampire. Suave, unflappable vampire, seducer of the young and beautiful, dominating and powerful...and then, come The Eleven O'Clock Number, we see him practically writhing in the dirt of the castle graveyard as he castigates himself for being driven to destroy what he loves and never rising to the true pinnacle he always wanted to achieve.
  • Hamilton: Applies to both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
  • William Shakespeare's tragedies frequently star broken aces. in many cases the "breaking" itself constitutes the plot:
    • Hamlet: Hamlet is a brilliant young scholar-prince who’s good with a sword and has a girlfriend who loves him. He’s also wracked with grief and paranoia in the wake of his father’s murder, obsessed with the idea of revenge but too indecisive to make it happen, and (at least by the end of the play) more than a little bit insane.
      • Laertes would also qualify, for many of the same reasons.
    • Macbeth: Macbeth is an honorable and valiant general who receives the king’s favor for his loyalty and prowess in battle. He’s also power-hungry, easily swayed by his even more ambitious wife, and eventually so guilt-ridden by his many murders and so paranoid about losing power than he can’t even appreciate his kingship.
    • Othello: Othello is a successful and highly-respected general with a wife he loves and subordinates who would do anything for him. As it turns out, he is also totally taken in by a complete sociopath, and susceptible enough to jealousy and rage that he kills his wife in the mistaken belief she is cheating on him.

  • In modern takes on the Transformers character Optimus Prime, Optimus is often presented as being a great warrior, inspiring leader, brilliant commander, and so on, but also has hints of some sort of personality disorder or otherwise being neuro-atypical. Most commonly it's presented as depression (despite his reputation, someone he commands always dies) or post-traumatic stress (four million years of war can do that to you). There are also some who argue that in various elements of the Transformers Aligned Universe, including High Moon Studios' games and the Transformers: Prime series, Optimus is subtly coded as being autistic. Some critics of Michael Bay's movies even snark that the long war has unhinged that Optimus into a psychopathic monster.

    Web Animation 
  • Pyrrha Nikos of RWBY is a prodigy in combat and viewed as a celebrity for her tournament victories and endorsement deals. She can single-handedly defeat entire teams of fellow students and possesses one of the most powerful Semblances seen thus far, and still remains a Humble Hero and Nice Girl, determined to spend her life protecting people. But all of this leads to a major case of Lonely at the Top: everyone else avoids socializing with her because they assume she's too good for them, or they want to use her for her fame the way Weiss did in Volume 1 and is implied to have had no real friends before coming to Beacon Academy. All this eventually leads to her death in Volume 3, when her ingrained belief that she is destined to be a hero leads her to take on an opponent even she can't hope to defeat without help, in a (futile) bid to reverse the desperate situation. In the end, the most she accomplished was that her death triggered Ruby's Traumatic Superpower Awakening.

    Web Comics 
  • Jack of Check, Please! is a Tall, Dark, and Handsome hockey prodigy - and also a mess of anxiety, perfectionism, and "Well Done, Son!" Guy issues.
  • Homestuck's Dirk is a perfect example. At first glance, he appears to be completely flawless—he is a badass of the highest caliber, is an incredibly-skilled engineer capable of creating fully-sentient virtual clones of himself, and has his group's session of Sburb all planned out. The reality, though, is quite different: he suffers from severe psychological trauma from being born in a Bad Future, and is one of only two humans left alive on Earth. His Bro, his one guardian figure who he clearly adored, was murdered prior to his birth, leaving him forced not only to raise himself with nothing but a Demonic Dummy for company but to live up to the legacy of his heroic and Shrouded in Myth ancestor. Due to the pain, this famous ancestor inflicted upon the ruling empress, Dirk is top on her hit list. On top of all this, he has developed a crush on Jake, who was born 400 years in the past and who he may not even meet, let alone get to confess his feelings to. As The Stoic, he's unable to confide in anyone, leaving him the heroic equivalent of a ticking time bomb—though from what we've seen so far, he'll probably be okay.
    • We get to see this ace break in-story—not especially dramatically (little in Homestuck is played for drama), but, for the work, pretty hard. At least, falling into a depressive, self-loathing fit so deep that not even a magically-induced sugar high can bring him out of it certainly looks like this. Just a bit before this, we see him lamenting how his emotionlessness and manipulative bastardry have alienated him from his friends and boyfriend, and displaying some ambiguously-suicidal impulses in nearly destroying his robotic personality copy. If this wasn't enough, afterward we find out that he has a fair-sized insecurity complex about his sexuality and the fact that he'll never be able to love his dearest friend in the way she wants (and deserves) because of it. Give this kid a hug already!
    • Vriska could also count. From the outside, she's a wild, powerful, intensely-confident Pirate Girl who has her friends wrapped around her little finger. As time goes on, though, it becomes more and more clear that her desire to live up to what she believes her ancestor is has turned her insensitive to the point of a Jerkass Sue, which has driven away all of her friends, including her crush and her moirail, something she claims to not care about but which she really does. Despite acting confident, she lapses into worrying Self-Deprecation at times. Also, as Terezi points out, she can only manipulate people through mind control, since she's too impatient and reckless to actually play people properly. Basically all of her plans fail, and the one thing that actually does go right for her—becoming God Tier—only happened when Aradia beat her up in revenge for killing her and left her to bleed to death slowly...and then it all ended up being pointless anyway, since the one time it would have actually helped, she is killed beforehand, since, even if she won, Karkat and Terezi would still have died. In the end, the one person who had ever believed in her, John, later admits that she was just some weird psychotic girl who kind of had a crush on him one day a long time ago. Ouch.
  • Jason "Ace of" Spades in Last Res0rt has this one all wrapped up. Celebrity soldier-turned-Second-in-Command Executioner? Check. Crack shot? Check. Looks great shirtless? Check. Always, always insists on wearing—or at least carrying around—that fur-trimmed jacket? Check. Beaten as a child by his Djinn mother? Che—wait, what was that last one again?
  • Artie of Narbonic has undertones of this. He is 6+ ft tall with a perfect body, has an IQ that is literally beyond human possibility, has won several genius grants, is quite successful as a novelist, and as of Skin Horse, is seen to have an endless stream of one night stands with other gorgeous men. Hell, as of Skin Horse he is described exactly by the trope description if you add Civil Rights Leader to the list. But on the inside, he is nearly continually disappointed with himself and struggles to deal with his dual nature as a human and a gerbil and his place in the transgenic community. He isn't quite completely broken, but he is as close as you can get without becoming so.
  • Played with in UnOrdinary. Before Seraphina met John, she was indisputably the top student in school in abilities, academics, and reputation. However, this came with a greater deal of pressure and judgment from her peers. In the present story, Seraphina's peers in Wellston see her like this since she started hanging around with John and no longer caring too much about her grades or reputation. However, Seraphina feels a lot better about herself than she did before.
    • As it turns out, John himself is also one of these. While a skilled hand to hand fighter and owner of one of the most powerful abilities seen so far in the series, he also has serious trust issues and a vicious Hair-Trigger Temper that is in no way whatsoever Played for Laughs. There are several signs that he's suffering from PTSD. He's an interesting case in that he's perfectly aware of it, hence why he refuses to make his The Ace status public because he knows he's the worst possible person to be saddled with the social status and authority that comes with being King - worse, he knows it from experience.
    • It's implied in one conversation that this is enforced among god-tiers. As described, Seraphina used to be obsessed with perfection, while Arlo's obsessive drive to maintain social hierarchy essentially kickstarts the plot. In both stances it is much for the worse of the both of them. Some characters briefly wonder if crippling god-tiers psychologically is not a way to keep them under control.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Nanase is, in the words of her cousin, "athletic, smart, trilingual, can kick the ass of anyone who messes with her, is theoretically good looking enough that most people are nice to her by default (I wouldn't know because she's my cousin) and when she's not burned out, she's an insanely potent magic user." However, she deals with serious self-confidence and honesty issues brought on by her mother's less-than-stellar parenting, and her initial attempts at proving her self-worth and becoming independent really only succeed in pushing away and hurting the people around her (Ellen especially). After Sister II, she starts to rectify the "Broken" part, ironically as part and parcel of temporarily losing access to her magical powers.
  • Sweet Home: Hyun used to be popular, smart, athletic and an all round good guy. Then another classmate came and made everyone else in the class beat him up and cut him off, making him the sullen, cut off jerk he is at the beginning of the story.
  • I Don't Want This Kind of Hero: Young Jeong strove to be The Cape to the extreme—someone so utterly devoted to heroics that they discarded their personal humanity. To the extent that she had her lover (willingly) kill himself so that he could never tie her down. Unsurprisingly, she's now barely better than the villains she's supposed to be against.
  • Purple Hyacinth: Lauren, as she lost her parents and best friend to the Phantom Scythe as a child.
    • This definitely applies to Kieran as well: despite his prowess as an assassin and his confident, charming front, he clearly has some major issues of his own.

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 
  • Atop the Fourth Wall: Linkara has more than a few elements of this. He's a nice-looking hero with wonderful toys and True Companions around him — but he wants so badly to be a good guy and to think that he's much more than his Channel Awesome co-workers. He has a Small Name, Big Ego: his number one priority seems to be whether the fans watch him or not and his Comedic Sociopathynote  is far creepier than the others because whereas they embrace it, he denies it. The post-Entity storyline has people calling him out on how broken he is, and tell him that he's close to becoming an outright villain.
  • Dream Machine: Ryan Dresden. He was a hotshot Hollywood film producer, but eventually his drug habit got so bad he destroyed all his personal and professional relationships. He ends up working at Dream Machine because a third-rate cable network is the only place that will take him.
  • Critical Role gives us Percival de Rolo. The character in the party with the best rolled stats, the first person in the world to invent a gun, an objective genius in several ways, lucky beyond belief, and lethal enough to keep up with the rest of his party despite lacking all but a few magic powers. But he's also obsessed with revenge, struggles to relate to even his best friends, shows a heavy disregard for his own life and soul, has panic attacks behind closed doors, and for much of the campaign believes redemption is impossible for both himself and his enemies.

    Real Life 
  • American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton—whose face is on the ten-dollar bill—was the ultimate Broken Ace: he was one of the few famous Founders not to come from a land-wealthy family. Hamilton went from a poor orphan boy in the West Indies to Revolutionary War hero and father of American finance out of his sheer force of will. Meanwhile, his father left the family when Alexander was ten, his mother died of yellow fever two years later, his cousin who was supposed to take care of him and his brother committed suicide, one of his best friends died in battle, his eldest son died in a duel, causing his eldest daughter to become mentally unstable. Contemporaries routinely described him as cocky, strident, fiercely opinionated, and hot-tempered yet there is much evidence to suggest that for most of his adult life he was chronically insecure about his humble origins and being a bastard child and that he was constantly haunted by fears of not amounting to much as a statesman.
  • General George S. Patton was one of the most famous figures of World War II, both for his brash, domineering attitude and the fact that he was a brilliant General. However, he also struggled a great deal with his self-esteem and believed he would never live up to his father's reputation. Other portrayals, like the film Patton, show him as, while a charismatic and competent leader who wanted to do right by his country and capable of inspiring those around him, also very violent and unflinching PR nightmare who despised cowardice and rarely cared about how his harsh words would be received by his superiors or the media until it blew up in his face.
  • Michael Jackson was the King of Pop and had a star-studded life. Deep down, though, he didn't want to be a star; he wanted to have a real childhood.
  • Ernest Hemingway was a renowned writer but had a miserable life. Traumatized by war, unable to stay in a romantic relationship, he eventually killed himself.
  • Voice actress Mary Kay Bergman is a particularly tragic example of this trope. She was a Woman of a Thousand Voices who most famously voiced every female character on South Park and was the official VA for Disney's Snow White, and mentored the likes of Tara Strong and Grey DeLisle. Unfortunately, she has been suffering from bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, and according to her husband was convinced that she was losing her talent, culminating in her suicide in 1999.
  • Pete Wentz. Member of one of the most popular bands of the 2000s, crush for thousands of teenage girls from 2005-2007 — Rolling Stone called him "the RPatz of his time" — excellent lyricist, suffers from bipolar disorder and nearly took his own life in 2005 just before his band got huge.
  • Professional golfer Tiger Woods: During the Turn of the Millennium, he experienced a meteoric rise to the top spot in golf, not just among his contemporaries but of all time. He won an unprecedented number of major and minor tournaments, coming one win away from achieving a Grand Slam (winning all four major golf tournaments in one year), which no one has completed under the current requirements. Then his infamous sex scandal broke in 2009, where he was revealed to have at least a double-digit number of mistresses, leading to a divorce from his wife, a shift in public perception from awe and admiration to ridicule and suspicion, and a career slump that he has yet to recover from.
  • As far as baseball goes, Alex Rodriguez is probably the #1 example. While one of the greatest power hitters of all time by pure numbers, A-Rod is a confirmed PED (Performance Enhancing Drug) user, so all of his numbers are automatically suspect. Until Jenry Mejia of the Mets, A-Rod was the first and only person to get multiple PED suspensions in the MLB. Add into that his reaction to being caught using PEDs was to sue Major League Baseball instead of doing something reasonable like apologizing or even explaining it. And that is aside from his severely unsportsmanlike conduct, like shouting into a fielder's ear as he was running past him to make him miss a popup. To this day, Rodriguez remains one of the most divisive players in the sport, even though he has retired as of the 2017 season.
  • In both the past and the present, Louis XIV was and is known as the glorious Sun King of France, who redefined the French monarchy and achieved much for his kingdom. But behind the glorious image he sought to project, things were not quite so wonderful. Louis struggled with loneliness, anxiety and depression, and was heavily burdened by The Chains of Commanding. His second wife wrote of him often needing her comfort.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: