A franchise or series has an entry end on a major climactic moment or shocking event that indicates that things are going down in the next installment. Yes, coming up next is a huge shake-up in the status quo, or the Final Battle, or the answers to one of the biggest mysteries of the series.
Except... no. The next video game, book, or film isn't about any of that. Actually, the next few stories aren't about any of that. Instead of a proper sequel, we get prequels, interquels, spin-offs, and remakes. The creators just don't want to resolve the storyline they left their audience on years ago, and so leave them staring at a Cliffhanger Wall.
The reasons for this may vary. Maybe the creators just want to flesh out other elements of the world first, to better setup the resolution. Perhaps they have a serious case of writer's block and can't think of a satisfying resolution, so they're stalling until they can. Or they wrote themselves into a corner, but like the story too much to actually retcon the events. Whatever the case might be, creators must be careful — if the audience decides that the cliffhanger will never be resolved, then they may decide to abandon the series entirely.
To qualify for this trope, a series should have a minimum of two entries released after the cliffhanger installment that don't pick up where that story left off, or at least some combination of a prolonged Sequel Gap and a plot unresolving entry. Either way, the creators must have released other works in that franchise afterwards. If they didn't, you've just been Left Hanging instead. Can overlap with Non-Linear Sequel if a series that started off going in chronological order begins to permanently jump around the timeline.
Sub-Trope of Anachronic Order. Can overlap with Sequel Gap, where a significant amount of time passes between any releases. Compare and contrast with Stillborn Franchise, as the franchise does continue, but it nevertheless neglects to further the storyline. Not to be confused with Capcom Sequel Stagnation, where the intervening time is filled with a multitude of Updated Re-releases rather than any new stories.
- Ever since Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force was quietly canceled in 2013 (in the middle of a chapter, no less), the primary timeline of the Lyrical Nanoha series has never advanced past its last chapter. Instead, the creators have only published interquels like ViVid Strike! and outright alternate timelines, like the Reflection and Detonation movies and the INNOCENT games.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion ends with Homura stealing Madoka's powers, becoming a devil, and gaming control of the world while trapping everyone in a Lotus-Eater Machine and erasing their memories. But despite this ending being done specifically to set up sequels, with the "Concept Movie" being the planned sequel film, said film has yet to come out. Instead, all the subsequent works have been spin-offs such as mangas, mobile games, and Drama CDs, none of which take place after Rebellion.
- The Fast and the Furious: The third film in the franchise, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, was followed by three interquels — Fast & Furious, Fast Five, and Fast & Furious 6 — leaving it chronologically the last film for nine years. It wasn't until the release of Furious 7 that the timeline moved forward again.
- The Marvel Cinematic Universe films have generally been released in chronological order. However, Avengers: Infinity War ended on a massive cliffhanger in which Thanos successfully uses the power of the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all life in the universe. Between that film and Avengers: Endgame, there were two movies (Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel) set before Infinity War.
- Foundation and Earth ends with half of the path to the Second Empire yet to come, and reflections about how humanity might have to face new threats. However, Asimov never continued further, and instead wrote two prequel novels.
- The Kingkiller Chronicle has not received a proper sequel since 2011. Instead, Patrick Rothfuss seems content with publishing side stories, like the short stories "How Old Holly Came To Be" and "The Lightning Tree", the novella The Slow Regard of Silent Things, and even a podcast mini-series — all while assuring the waiting fans that he is working on the next (and final) full installment of the Kvothe trilogy.
- George R. R. Martin released the last mainline A Song of Ice and Fire novel A Dance with Dragons in 2011. Since then he's released no fewer than six books set in the universe but fans are still waiting for him to release the last two planned mainline novels The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring.
- Lampshaded in Sledge Hammer! At the end of the first season, the producers were sure the show would be cancelled so they decided to literally go out with a bang. At the end of the last show of the season, Sledge accidentally detonated a nuclear bomb. Then, much to everyone's surprise, the series was renewed. The first episode of Season 2 started with a repeat of the Season 1 ending where Sledge blew himself up, before showing a "Sledge Hammer: The Early Years!" Title Card; the remainder of the series would nominally take place five years before the events of Season 1.
- For 18 years, the last entry chronologically in the Star Trek franchise was the final TNG film, Star Trek: Nemesis. After that, the franchise saw the Ultimate Universe "Kelvinverse" films based on a reboot of TOS, before returning to the "Prime" timeline with the Star Trek: Discovery television series. Even then, Discovery was a prequel to the original series. At least until the third season, which would Time Skip to the late 32nd century, moving the timeline forward once more. Star Trek: Picard, set several decades after Nemesis, would also debut around the same time.
- After the cancellation of Twin Peaks left the show with a massive cliffhanger, David Lynch decided to follow up the show with a movie. Infamously, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me decided to focus on the events leading up to the series premiere, barely alluding to the show's finale, leaving events unresolved for twenty-five years before The Return finally put it to rest. Sort of.
- Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere had quite a mindfuck of an ending (basically casting doubt that anything that happened in the game had any basis in reality), and no game from the core "Strangereal" continuity of Ace Combat has ever advanced the timeline beyond the third game to clear up just what exactly happened afterward.
- Assassin's Creed zig-zags this quite frequently. The fifth game, Assassin's Creed III, was followed by Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, which focuses on the previous protagonist's grandfather. Assassin's Creed Rogue takes place between the two games (technically occurring between the first few sequences of III, which focused on Connor's father Haytham, but prior to the part of the game focused on Connor himself), while the next two games (Unity and Syndicate) occur chronologically in order. Then Assassin's Creed Origins depicts events that occur around a millennium before the events of the first game, with the subsequent Assassin's Creed: Odyssey taking place 400 years before that (with the DLC of Odyssey revealing the protagonist is the ancestor of Origins protagonist Aya). This would be followed by Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, set between Origins and I. This is zig-zagged because the Anachronic Order of the games only applies to the historical segments, with the modern day segments and their advancement of the Myth Arc continuing in chronological order.
- Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, the chronologically last Castlevania game, ended with two possible endings, one of which had Soma lead a normal life, and one which saw him take up Dracula's mantle. The franchise produced only prequels after that, before being completely rebooted with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
- Devil May Cry: The second game ended with the protagonist, Dante, going through an apparent one-way motorcycle trip to the Demon World. The epilogue cutscene implies the plot twist of him returning as Lucia hears a motorcycle engine outside the Devil May Cry shop, but he's never shown on-screen to confirm it. The following game, Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening, was a prequel to the series. The next game after that, Devil May Cry 4, also used to be a cliffhanger wall, taking place between DMC1 and DMC2. For more than a decade, the series did not follow up on that ending, and it's only until the Before the Nightmare prequel novel of Devil May Cry 5 where a Hand Wave was given to explain how Dante made it out of the Demon World - a portal "hole" just appeared in front of him, allowing him to return. In order to make the continuity more consistent with that ending, DMC4 was also retconned into being a sequel to DMC2 instead.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006) closed out the 3rd Era in the Tamerilic calendar with the death of the last of the Septim emperors. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) jumped a couple centuries ahead to year 201 of the 4th era, and hinted at a major war between the remnants of the Empire and the Aldmeri Dominion brewing, which was not resolved by any of Skyrim's Downloadable Content. The Elder Scrolls Online (2014) was a spin-off Prequel, set in year 582 of the 2nd era. Then came another spinoff The Elder Scrolls: Legends (2016) set during the Great War 25 years before Skyrim. Then The Elder Scrolls: Blades (2020) set 21 years before Skyrim in 4E 180. Bethesda are presumably reserving any updates to the timeline for The Elder Scrolls VI, which as of 2022, has a single short teaser trailer and no announced release date.
- Half-Life 2 is legendary for having its "Episode 2" expansion (2007) end on one of the most well-known cliffhanger endings in gaming, with developer Valve promising that an "Episode 3" would be coming soon. It didn't. It would be followed-up after 12 years with the interquel Half-Life: Alyx, which only partially resolved the cliffhanger with an In-Universe Retcon of Eli Vance's death via Alyx's deal with G-Man that essentially moved past the cliffhanger by mere minutes to end on yet another cliffhanger; this one once again promising that Half-Life 3, the whole deal about Aperture Science's Borealis ship, the impending Combine reprisal against Earth, and now rescuing Alyx from the G-Man will get addressed. Eventually.
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty ended in a big Twist Ending concerning the overarching villains, the Patriots. Instead of explaining right away, Kojima decided to make the next game, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, a prequel, itself followed by another prequel by another production team. MGS3 did not explain the ending of 2 in any way, and in fact seemed to contradict it, until Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots came out and revealed the Twist Ending was a total lie.
- Metroid Fusion ends with Samus causing the destruction of the B.S.L. station and the planet SR-388 in order to stop both the Federation's secret cloning research on Metroids and the spread of the deadly X Parasites, leaving her future relationship with the Federation unknown beyond an in-universe acknowledgement that she will most likely have to face trial for her actions. Fusion would remain the last chronological entry in the Metroid series for almost two decades (2002-2021), with the time between it and Metroid Dread being filled with a bevy of interquels (five Metroid Prime games and Metroid: Other M), remakes (Metroid: Zero Mission, Metroid: Samus Returns), and even a pinball game. Dread, while serving as a Grand Finale to the story started in the first game regarding Samus's history with the Metroids, left the plot thread of the Federation's possible antagonism to Samus untouched upon.
- The Ogre Battle series kept hinting that there was going to be a confrontation with The Man Behind the Man, who was behind the troubles of all the games. Actually, two of them — the Sage Rashidi and the country of Lodis. And... they don't. Further aggravating this was that the first game in the series was Episode 5. Only Five, Six, and Seven have been released... along with a few Gaiden Games.
- The third game in the Professor Layton series, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, ended on a To Be Continued sequel hook about mysterious happenings at Luke's home, but the next three games ended up being a prequel trilogy. In an odd turn of events, the timeline does move forward after this, with Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy, but said game is a Distant Sequel starring Layton's daughter whose story doesn't address that plot point at all.
- The last canonical game in the Quake series is Quake IV (2004), which ends with the sergeant telling Kane "Kane, you have new orders." The next game in the seriesnote would be Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (2006), a prequel Gaiden Game based on the Enemy Territory series, which was eventually followed by Quake Champions (2017), a Massive Multiplayer Crossover Hero Shooter with Arena FPS features. A proper sequel to IV has yet to be developed.
- Resident Evil: Between Resident Evil Code: Veronica and Resident Evil 4, there was Resident Evil 0 (a prequel to the first game), as well as a remake of the first game and several spin-offs like Gun Survivor and Outbreak.
- With the exception of the 3D titles (one of them being the Distant Finale) and VI (a non-canon Dream Match Game), all the Samurai Shodown games are set before the events of SSII, making the timeline somewhat difficult to follow.
- Canon-wise, the last Serious Sam game in the timeline is 2005's Serious Sam II. Since then, there have been spin-offs, lots of ports and remakes, and two mainline prequels in 2011's Serious Sam 3: BFE and 2020's Serious Sam 4, but an actual sequel to IInote has yet to materialize.
- Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, the third game in the Star Ocean series, takes place 400 years after the events of the first two games. It gained notoriety for having a rather infamous plot twist that breaks the immersion of the hi-tech Space Opera setting the entire franchise had built up, and also has a highly confusing ending that is lampshaded by the characters themselves. The general negative response of the game's events resulted in the fourth game, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, being a prequel to the entire franchise. Likewise, the fifth game, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, is an interquel that takes place 200 years after the second game, and the sixth game, Star Ocean: The Divine Force, is set 46 years after the fifth. This still leaves plenty of room in the timeline to develop future installments before the developers have to address the plot twist of the third game.
- Street Fighter:
- For a long while, the Street Fighter III series (1997-1999) was considered the last chapter of the SF story. Street Fighter IV (2008) and Street Fighter V (2016) both occur after the events of Street Fighter II but before III, even though the very tight time frame of events between games led many to consider them more as a retconning of the events of III. It wouldn't be until 2023's Street Fighter 6 that the story finally continued past the events of III.
- To a lesser extent, Street Fighter II itself was this, as following this release (1991), Capcom would only put out updated versions of the game, which was then followed by 1995's Street Fighter Alpha, an interquel between the original Street Fighter and its much more recognizable sequel.
- The Alpha series is something of an inversion, though heavily downplayed. With the III series launching in 1997, the Alpha games' own buildup to the events of II was briefly put on hold. The final installment, Alpha 3, would release in 1998, sandwiched between New Generation/2nd Impact (1997) and 3rd Strike (1999).
- No games go past Suikoden III in the Suikoden series; despite its loose ends, all subsequent games are prequels or Alternate Universe works.
- Valkyria Chronicles II indicated that there was going to be a second war with the East European Imperial Alliance, the villains of the first game. The next two numbered entries took place at the same time as the first game, while Valkyria Revolution was an Alternate Universe Gaiden Game.
- South Park did this intentionally: The first two-parter of the series was to reveal who Cartman's father is. Of this two-parter, the first half became the last episode of Season 1, which meant that the other half wouldn't be aired before the start of Season 2. To top this off, instead of going with said second half of the two-parter, South Park opened with a Terrance & Phillip special.
- Infinity Train: In Book 3, after learning that she's actually a denizen of the train rather than a passenger, created by Amelia in an attempt to recreate her lost love Alrick, and feeling betrayed by Grace, Hazel agrees to leave with Amelia to be quarantined as part of her work cleaning up the messes she made as the Conductor. However, Book 4 doesn't follow up on this, instead being a prequel taking part in the 1980's about two passengers unrelated to anything in any of the previous books, and the only thing that ties it together is that it happened during Amelia's takeover of the train. Book 5 would have been another prequel focusing on how Amelia became the Conductor, and would have answered several of the fan's questions along with future books, but the show was unfortunately cancelled, so we never get to find out what happens to Hazel.