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Cruel Twist Ending

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"It's not ironic, it's just mean!"
Bender, Futurama


A Twist Ending that serves no purpose other than to be excessively cruel.

The Cruel Twist Ending is basically the Evil Counterpart of the Karmic Twist Ending: in the latter, the twist is a form of divine justice, a bad thing happening to stop a bad person from getting away with it (or a good thing happening to someone who deserves it). In the former, it's just Finagle's Law: the universe is a mean place and wants to hurt you. Often, a Cruel Twist Ending is what happens when a writer attempts a Karmic Twist Ending, but fails to carry it off. It can be used for cruel irony and very dark humour but has to be undeserved and unsatisfying in order to be different from the karmic one.

Most common in genre anthologies with a darker tone such as The Twilight Zone: Tales of the Unexpected, Tales from the Darkside, Monsters, The Outer Limits (1995) (so often, in fact, that "Outer Limits Twist" was the previous trope name), etc.


Lighter-weight versions come up very often in shows where Failure Is the Only Option, especially when the show has run for a long time, and the writers need to contrive more and more extravagant reasons why the protagonists can't win. It can also be used as a shock subversion of a stereotypical happy ending. If it's overused, it becomes a Mandatory Twist Ending. If the ending makes you wonder what the point of the story was, it can come across as a Shoot the Shaggy Dog. A particularly dark version can lead to Too Bleak, Stopped Caring. The Diabolus ex Machina also often gets involved. And Then John Was a Zombie is often an example. Compare Not Quite Saved Enough and Sudden Downer Ending. May causes Ending Aversion if it's handed poorly.

Note: This is a Spoilered Rotten trope, that means that EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE on this list is a spoiler by default and most of them will be unmarked. This is your last warning, only proceed if you really believe you can handle this list.



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  • An awareness campaign about child dyslexia showed a young boy sitting listlessly through a prizegiving ceremony at school, aware that he hasn't done well enough in any of his classes to receive a prize. Suddenly, his name is called, and he discovers he's won a prize for art and design (the only subject that involves little reading and writing) - then finds out his prize is a book token.
  • British charity St. John Ambulance, which trains people in first aid and provides voluntary first-aiders in the community, ran an advert showing a father undergoing cancer treatment. He survives, but then at the party intended to welcome him home from the hospital, he chokes to death because no one knows how to do first aid. The intended message was that the death rate from cancer is only slightly higher than that for people who could have been saved by basic first aid knowledge.
  • A controversial ad intended to run during the Super Bowl featured a puppy named Buddy getting separated from his owner and trekking a long distance to return to her. She is happy to see him...because she just sold him on her GoDaddy-hosted website. The ad drew ire from many viewers, with some activists accusing it of promoting puppy mills, and it was withdrawn.
  • The commercial for Capcom's Beat 'Em Up Bundle features three kids playing Capcom games at an arcade in The '90s, when suddenly Captain Commando appears beside them and asks them if they want to play those games at home. The kids say yes, so Captain Commando opens a time portal and brings them to 2018, where they can play those very games on the Nintendo Switch. Everyone's happy, but Cap then mentions that the portal's one-way only, meaning that the kids will never go back home again.
  • This British advert depicts a man being released from prison determined to improve his life and reconnect with his young son. He devotes himself to finding employment while spending time with his son and manages to get himself a job. With his ex-partner wishing him luck, things are looking bright...until the morning he is due to start work, as he is unable to get out of bed due to arthritis and is seen struggling to even move as his new boss gives up on him.

    Anime and Manga 
  • ∀ Gundam: It's a Distant Finale for all Gundam series up to that point. How? Apocalypse after apocalypse reset humanity. It makes every ending of every Gundam series up to that point a Shoot the Shaggy Dog story.
  • The Future Trunks arc of Dragon Ball Super. Merged Zamasu has been defeated by the combined power of everyone left on earth, and though most of humanity is dead the remaining people can now work to rebuild the world, hooray! ...And then the sky turns black, getting covered by clouds that have Zamasu's face in them, and it's revealed that every living thing on earth except our heroes are now dead, as the immortal Zamasu is attempting to become the universe itself, and his influence is even bleeding into other timelines, meaning all of existence is at risk. Ultimately, the only solution our heroes can think of is for Goku to ask for help from Omni-King Zeno...who sees the situation, dismisses it as "hideous" and promptly annihilates Trunks's entire timeline. Goku and his friends manage to get back into their time machine and escape back to their own timeline, but Trunks's world is gone forever, meaning that all of his efforts throughout the entire arc were meaningless.
  • The Fist of the North Star OVA Legend of Kenshiro ends with this. The Big Bad who was thought to be dead turns out to be Crazy-Prepared and in his last breath destroys the city Kenshiro was trying to save. In the final moments of the movie, Kenshiro is the only survivor and can't do much but cry and scream into the ruins. The only thing that saves the ending from complete despair is the sequence that comes after, which has him making his way to a certain village, home to a certain pair of adorable kids and menaced by a certain mohawked scumlord, while "The Road of Lords" plays.
  • Girls Go Around: The final chapter reveals what has been hinted at, but the full extent can still be quite shocking. The loop created by Chihiro will continue, as Kyousuke's loop on the day of graduation will only end when he kills himself to keep the others safe. There can be no happy ending, with Kyousuke and Chihiro repeatedly going through loops of regret.
  • Hell Girl:
    • Midsummer Chart: The main character of this episode works at a food store and is depicted as a self-centered jerk who gets angry at nearly everything, planning to send people who've aggravated him to hell for petty reasons (including one guy just for dating the girl he was lusting after). He draws violent comics about these people. Mid-episode, he meets a girl who he seems to have chemistry with, and though he starts to draw self-obsessed Wish-Fulfillment comics about her as well, he is shown to actually start caring about someone else's feelings. He enters these comics into a contest and actually wins. On a bike ride home, he notices the girl who lusted after trying to jump off a bridge. In a Heel–Face Turn, he turns back around immediately to try to save her. She tells him her boyfriend played her and three other girls as well. He comforts her and walks her home, afterward he vows to send her ex to Hell for what he did to her and the three other girls, feeling that it's wrong to break a girl's heart. But he can't, because HE is being sent to Hell by the girl who he just saved. She regrets telling him about what happened and fears that he'll tell everyone.
    • Another episode revolves around a girl about to use the Hell Correspondence to punish an evil old woman who's holding her dogs and the puppies one of them had hostage (and has already killed one of the dogs) in exchange for making the girl her slave. Meanwhile, Hajime tracks her down to try and stop her from doing so. In the end, the police storm the woman's house and arrest her, and it seems like Hajime succeeded...until the girl discovers that the old woman had killed the second dog and all of the puppies, and pulls the string on her curse doll anyway, damning both the old woman and herself to Hell.
    • Hell Girl does this a lot. Like the first episode of Season 1, the first episode of Season 2 is about a cute school girl getting bullied. Unlike the Season 1 episode, however, the girl or none of her classmates know who's doing the bullying. Her school locker is filled with caterpillars. Her uniform and text books are filled with writing, calling her horrible names. And she is stalked and harassed whenever she is alone in school. A school nurse notices and feels sorry for her. She befriends her and things seem to be looking up. Then a female classmate shows the girl the nurse's office, which is filled with the stuff that was used to bully her. The nurse then reveals herself to be a Psycho Lesbian who is obsessed with her, right down to having a mannequin that looks like the girl. She threats to pour acid on her face, if she doesn't agree to join her in terrorizing other students, starting with the girl who revealed she was the bully. She gets sent to hell.
  • Many episodes of Kino's Journey follow this.
    • One episode where Kino helps a stranded group of people survive a harsh winter, we found out they were slave traders who had eaten their previous haul and look to enslave Kino to make up for it.
    • Another episode has Kino visiting neighboring countries who used to constantly be at war. When Kino asks how they achieved peace, she finds the opposing countries have made their battles into a game in which both countries see who can slaughter the most inhabitants of an adjacent defenseless village. And just to twist the knife further, the "innocent victims" in that village have taken to senselessly murdering travelers, simply as a means of venting their frustration.
    • In another episode, Kino finds a country so likable that Kino nearly breaks the three day rule of staying in one place, yet the townsfolk mysteriously refuse to let her stay longer. When Kino leaves, the next day she wakes up to find the country destroyed by a nearby erupted volcano.
  • The post-apoc manga Meteor ends like this. Throughout the entire series, characters try to find food, shelter, locate their families...and most die before they can achieve this. Then the few survivors left reach a village, but everyone there starts to go insane. Then some government officials arrive and say there was no end of the world, but the town and the village were used as experiment-grounds for new weapons and drugs, and that the seemingly-insane people will be given proper treatment in their hospital. But the protagonist wants to take the sweet little boy, who went insane and ran off earlier, with them, and she and Alpha Bitch go to find him. But in trying to catch him, the protagonist and the little boy fall off a cliff, becoming gravely-injured. The protagonist calls up at a-bitch to help them...only for the girl to run back to the rescue-helicopters and lie that both the protagonist and the boy went crazy and died. The manga ends with the protagonist screaming and crying for help as the last of the rescuers leave before sadly accepting her and the boy's fates as they slowly bleed to death.
  • Most chapters of Nightmare Inspector generally seem like they'll end happily, with the client apparently getting over their nightmare's troubles, until some reveal or twist comes out of nowhere and sends things into a Downer Ending, or a bittersweet one at best.
  • One Piece: Luffy ran a "rescue Ace" mission for several dozen chapters to save his brother from being executed, sacrificing years of his life and culminating in his arrival at Marineford during the Paramount War, where he was out of his league and sustained even more injuries. And after everything Luffy went through to save him—after he'd successfully freed him—Ace was goaded into a fight and died anyway, becoming the first named character in the series to die onscreen outside of a flashback.
  • Paranoia Agent. Just one example: was it really necessary to kill Kozuka just to prove he wasn't Shonen Bat/Lil' Slugger? Maybe, maybe not. But he would've committed suicide anyway. Have a nice day!
  • Downplayed in Parasyte. Everything seems to be wrapping up nicely, Shinichi's got a happy life now. However, in the final chapter, the serial killer the police had enlisted to help spot parasites comes back for Shinichi, and after almost slitting Murano's throat, he tosses her off the top of the roof he's cornered them on. Cue panels of Shinichi reaching for her and failing, until it's revealed it's all in Shinichi's head and he was able to grab her arm with the help of a still-dormant Migi. The manga ends on a positive, if very abrupt, note.
  • Platinum End: After a new God is finally chosen, the last two chapters are spent watching him observe Humanity. When he views Humanity's numerous ills, he questions his and Heaven's roles in their development, and ultimately decides to leave the fate of the world in Humanity's hands to see if they would do better without which he accomplishes through celestial suicide, nuking himself, Heaven, and the angels...whose existence turned out to keep Humanity running. The manga ends with every last human on Earth dying from youngest to oldest.
  • Viewers of Saikano often comment that if you want a happy ending to the series you should stop after Shuji and Chise skip town and go on the run from the military, because the final three episodes go quickly, horribly and tragically downhill after that.
  • The three-chapter manga School Mermaid ends with the protagonist watching in horror as her best friend eats their mermaid-ified classmate, and is then coolly informed that she, the protagonist, will be turned into a mindless mermaid herself, and is dragged screaming by the other mermaids through the floor—her last sight being her best friend smiling cruelly at her with blood dripping out the corner of her mouth. The final few pages, focusing on the best friend, reveal that in a few days time, she'll kill and eat the protagonist too.
  • The Shadow Star manga ends with Shiina's mother being killed, her best friend killing herself, her boyfriend dying of cancer, her monster partner dying, and then Shiina fully realizes her God powers and decides to destroy the entire planet and reboot the world with her and another girl's children. And this is AFTER they've defeated the Big Bad.
  • At the climax of Ken's war on the White Dragon Clan in Sun-Ken Rock, Yumin suddenly realizes, from out of nowhere outside of a seemingly bogus accusation by an antagonist, that what she really wanted all along was not to destroy her father's yakuza organization, but to take it over instead. Embracing her true nature, she blasts her beloved Ken out of the building. It is downplayed, however, in that Ken manages to survive the long-ass fall and eventually rebuilds his mafia empire by taking over America.
  • Almost every episode of Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories ends this way. Without a doubt each episode has a Downer Ending.
  • Shoujo horror anthology Zekkyou Gakkyuu makes heavy use of these as well.
    • One of the earlier examples being The Kind Mama's House, in which the child protagonist discovers her online friend, "Mama", is apparently stalking her and plans to kill her mother so she can be the protagonist's "real" mother. She manages to rescue her mother and demands Mama go away, and she does...only to show up in the protagonist's house days later, having decided simply to kidnap the girl, just like she did numerous others before her.
    • One of the special chapters Guard of the Mountain has a small group of camping-trip students getting lost with their teacher. They make it to a little camping ground and the owners merely ask them all to be 'on their best behavior' while staying. People begin to disappear and the owners turn out to kill people, who do not treat nature well, by littering or other means. After running away and falling, protagonist Hitomi finds herself taken in by a young couple and she realizes that she's managed to get away, only for the couple to bring her to the previous, dangerous camping grounds. And an extra page shows that the murdering owners opened up a beach house, implied to continue their little 'test' on people.
    • The Girls and Boys story has Yuuki think that boys have it easier, as they don't bully each other or gossip a lot and wishes that she'd be a boy and promptly finds herself in a parallel world, where she is 'Yuuki-kun'. But she soon realizes that boys are just as likely to bully and gossip about each other, sometimes worse than girls do. To top it off, Yuuki realizes that she still feels like a girl, even in a boy's body, and falls for 'his' best friend, Inoue. During a confession, turns out that this world's male Yuuki had a crush on Kaho, but then the entire class begins to tease Yuuki over being gay for Inoue and Yuuki ends up beating his tormentors to death with a chair. Wishing for things to go back to normal, Yuuki finds herself back as a girl and is intent on just being happy with the person she is...only to learn that the same thing happened here (with the original male Yuuki having confessed to Kaho and being teased as lesbos) and Yuuki has killed several of her classmates with a pair of scissors.

    Comic Books 
  • In an issue of the Disney Adventures magazine, there's a Gamebook story that takes place during the voyage to Treasure Planet. The worst of three endings results in Flint's map being eaten by a space octopus, thereby putting the whole story of the movie to a grinding halt. Ouch.
  • A motion comic for the movie I Am Legend has an Indian girl hiding in a bunker with her family while the plague rages on outside. But her boyfriend is out there. Determined to save him, she sneaks out and finds him okay. When she returns however, the family will not let her back in, no matter how much she begs that she's not infected. Eventually the door opens, and she finds the entire family has been turned. She kills them all to put them out of their misery. However, the final shot of the short reveals that she, in fact, was infected, and she had killed her family while hallucinating that they had become monsters, due to the way that the infected see humans.
  • Johann's Tiger, the first issue in Garth Ennis' War Stories has one. After spending the majority of the issue trying to keep his crew alive so they can surrender to the Americans before he can commit suicide by Soviet for his atrocities, the tank commander is thrown from his Tiger tank by his crew as they encounter a large group of Soviet heavy tanks. In the end, he's captured by Americans, the only one of his crew that's left alive. In the end, he'll either be executed for his crimes, or have to spend the rest of his life living with what he did.
  • Planet Hulk seemingly ends on the happiest note possible for the Hulk; he's now a respected king of Sakaar, has a wife with child on the way, loyal Warbound friends, and has brought peace to his kingdom. Then the shuttle that brought him to the planet explodes, killing almost everyone except the Hulk and his Warbound. The Hulk can't have a happy ending or else his story is over, hence the sudden Kill 'Em All to lead in World War Hulk.
  • The last issue of Runaways volume 3 had Chase suddenly reunited with an inexplicably-resurrected Gert...only to get hit by a car mere seconds later. To provide an extra kick in the teeth, it wasn't even the real Gert.
  • Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Negative Exposure is a mini-series following Daily Bugle photographer Jeffrey Haight. While Jeff has had some success as a professional photojournalist, publishing a book of crime photos due to his connections in the police evidence locker (his girlfriend is a cop who works there) he has never met his true goal, landing a photo on the front page. He's obsessively jealous of Peter Parker, a "stringer" (slang for a freelance photographer, or amateur), because Peter always gets great and dramatic photos of Spider-Man on the front page out of what Jeff attributes to luck, while Jeff's careful planning and studious work never does the trick. (Jeff clearly can't put two-and-two together.) Eventually, after his goal becomes an obsessive rivalry against Peter, Doctor Octopus takes notice of Jeff's attempts to photograph him, and feigns interest in his work, arranging a prison interview. Jeff lets the flattery go to his head, and against his better judgment, is tricked by Ock into aiding in Ock's escape, Ock persuading him to convince his "contact" to let Jeff place a device on his impounded tentacles so he can remotely control them. (Jeff assumes Ock is giving him a chance at the photo shoot of a lifetime.) However, Ock kills several civilians when he escapes, and threatens to kill more as Spidey finds him; Jeff eventually has a Heel Realization, and uses his camera's flash to blind the villain, but after Ock is defeated, he's still arrested, his girlfriend dumps him, and his life and career are ruined. Here's the cruel twist: He convinces Spidey to submit the pictures he took, and he does make the front page, the picture getting there the one that went off when he flashed it in Ock's face. Then he realizes why it's such a good photo. It looks exactly like something Peter would have taken. As a final kicker, Ock is seen reading the story in his prison cell in the last scene. "Excellent!" he says, admiring the great photo of himself.
  • Star Wars Tales #17, "Dark Journey" is the story of a Jedi Master who ignored her orders to return to Coruscant at the start of the Clone Wars, having become embroiled in the pursuit of a Dark Jedi named Kardem, a serial killer who targets Twi'lek women and also murdered her secret lover. Eventually she comes face to face with Kardem and engages him in a lightsaber duel. As it transpires, she is the real killer, having caught her lover in the arms of a Twi'lek woman and murdered them both in a secret rage. She created the Kardem personality to reconcile her actions with her breach of the Jedi code, but it takes control whenever she encounters a female Twi'lek. The "Dark Jedi" she encounters is actually a Jedi knight dispatched by the council to bring her in. As soon as she kills him, she regains consciousness, assuming that Kardem has struck again and killed a Jedi knight, and resolves never to stop until the killer is brought to justice.
  • Tales of Telguuth, another 2000 AD comic, was also fond of this. While sometimes people who meet an untimely demise in the ending twists are punished for their wicked deeds, just as often these people aren't evil in any way and are simply victims of the dark world of Telguuth.
  • Tharg's Future Shocks from 2000 AD sometimes end with these twists, although the Karmic Twist Ending is more common. Some of the more interesting ones include:
  • This happens in X-Men: Messiah Complex. The heroes have the baby, Cable is going into the future to raise her and hopefully save mutants one day, and suddenly Bishop gets up and shoots Cable in the head! But wait, he already started travelling through time, meaning the bullet passes through him and hits Professor X right in the head instead. The comic ends with Scott Summers saying the X-Men are dead. However, this ends up being a subversion in another series shortly after where we find out his body disappeared in the last panel because of one of the other mutants there and his life is saved.

    Eastern Animation 
  • In Time Masters, a ragtag bunch of space travelers are thrown back in time 60 years by an Omniscient Council of Vagueness made up of space aliens. Turns out that the little boy, Piel, is actually the same person as Silbad, the cheerful old man with them, and they just represent two different times in his life. Silbad has a Burial in Space all because the aliens felt it was right. Unnecessarily cruel?

    Fan Works 
  • Danganronpa: The Immersive Learning Program ends on a Cliffhanger with the titular Immersive Learning Program crashing, and the fate of the surviving students unknown. However, a single Hope Spot precedes this with Kaede reaching for Shuichi's hand. Unfortunately, the fourth chapter of the sequel Danganronpa: Academy of Discontent reveals that neither Shuichi or Kaede were able to get out in time, and were in fact two of the only three people not to do so, resulting in it becoming this instead.
  • In DOOM: Repercussions of Evil, the protagonist is suddenly transformed into a zombie with no explanation or foreshadowing.
  • In the story within a story of Equestria: A History Revealed, the fic's version of the end of the Hearts and Hooves Day legend certainly qualifies as this.
    • The name of the book that the legend came from should have tipped somebody off, as it was supposedly titled "How the Sea-Pony Wished Upon a Star and Unknowingly Started Racial Prosecution Under An Emergent Fascist Regime: A Collection of Filly’s Tales and Legends That Start Off Whimsical But End in Destruction and Death".
  • On the Danganronpa fic Fangan Ronpa: Universal Despair Sale follows an alternate cast in an alternate school in the US, as usual Monobear appears and they are forced to kill each other in the Mutual Killing in the Mall of Monomerica. It mostly follows the same structure of the game: six chapters, and trials, except that in the last chapter when the remaining survivors defeat the Mastermind and earn their freedom, and then after having their last night at the mall remembering their fallen friends and vow to never forget about them once they're out just to end up in a different room, not the mall but not outside either, being part of a new batch of students and Monobear's voice:
    Upupupu...It's time for round two!
  • The Powerpuff Girls fic Immortality Relapse which actually gave two cruel twists, one for the first story Immortality Syndrome and one for its own. The first comes midway though the story when Bubbles accidentally splashes some Antidote X on a revived Butch. This negates the murderous tendencies that came from being killed and revived when the Puffs were recreated. but Bubbles goes into shock when she realizes in the first story they managed to subdue Buttercup that way and Buttercup was trying to warn them before she was killed again in hopes of fixing the problem. But that pales in comparison to the ending, when it looks like they had stopped Boomer from activating his doomsday machine, but he remains alive long enough to turn it on and kill everyone on the planet. Some last-minute actions by the Professor allowed Bubble to be revived but she now the last living being alone on Earth.
  • New Appreciation starts with Julian Bashir discovering his coworkers find him annoying and getting a replacement everybody hates whilst temporarily assigned elsewhere, and continues with the universe compounding the lesson by dumping Colonel Bashir on them. At the end, the senior staff throw a little 'welcome back' party for the Bashir native to their universe, he and Garak get a Relationship Upgrade...and the very last line reveals that this is still Colonel Bashir. Given how he talked about killing his counterpart if they ever met, the 'original' Bashir is almost certainly dead, and probably never even knew how everyone else really felt. And the fic implies that Garak had a hand in arranging the original's transfer and replacement, making it even worse...
  • Pokemon Strangled Red has an in-universe example. In the eponymous hacked game, the aftergame consists of a giant cruel twist. After winning the championship, Steven first loses Miki in an accident, then he turns into a monster in trying to bring her back to life, and finally kills Mike by strangulation.
  • Sonic X: Dark Chaos has Sonic and his friends defeating Dark Tails and saving the galaxy. JUST KIDDING! Dark Tails' death allows an entire race of even worse Lovecraftian horrors to finally escape. Which they do - and then promptly exterminate nearly all life in the universe.
  • One arc of You Got HaruhiRolled! ends with Emiri having joined the Anti-SOS Brigade, giving them enough strength to kill all of the good guys except for Kyon and his family, and dooming the entire world. And all because Kyon told Emiri to Be Herself. It's retconned away in the next chapter due to Negative Continuity, but still...ouch.

  • 13 Sins: Subverted! At the end it turns out Elliot's wife got challenged as well, but she declined to eat the fly and threw it away. The movie ends with Elliot sporting a relieved smile in response to this.
  • After.Life: Deacon ensures that Anna gets buried alive with Paul thinking she was already dead. Then Deacon tells a drunk (and possibly drugged) Paul to go see for himself that she's really dead. He goes and digs her up just in time to save her from suffocating and everything seems like it will end well. Then it turns out it was all a hallucination and he ends up on Deacon's morgue table with Deacon telling him he really died in a car crash on the way to the cemetery before injecting him with the same drug Deacon injected Anna with at the start. So Anna dies in a grave, Paul will join her soon, and Deacon gets away with everything.
  • Alien: Covenant: Just as it seems like everything will turn out fine in spite of the deaths of most of the crew, Daniels discovers all too late that David has replaced Walter and will continue to experiment on the thousands of colonists aboard the Covenant while they remain in stasis as she herself falls into a cryosleep.
  • Berkshire County: Kylie managed to kill the adult intruders, and is recovering in the hospital. The child intruder is also given a chance at a normal life, only for him to be taken by a man with the same mark on his arm as the other intruders. When Kylie wakes up from a nap, she finds everyone in the hospital except her is dead, and there are more pig-masked killers in the building with her now.
  • The ending of Brazil. Hurrah, Sam has escaped from interrogation by torture and left the city with his girlfriend! Except he hasn't. He's gone hopelessly insane in the torture chair, and is hallucinating the whole thing. Ironically, he has escaped the torture...because there's not a lot of point interrogating him any more. The ending is so shocking that some versions of the film delete it.
  • Bunni: Paige has survived nearly being murdered by Chris' mom, and despite having recurring nightmares about the ordeal, she seems to have made a comfortable life for herself raising her and Chris' son. Then Chris shows up at her door to take his son away from her.
  • As is the last non-infected survivor in Cabin Fever. Hilariously, his last words are "I made it! I fucking made it!"
  • In Canyon, the female protagonist performs a mercy killing on her dying husband, only to have a rescue chopper appear seconds after he dies.
  • Carnosaur. The protagonists manage to defeat all the dinosaurs threatening their town and kill the Mad Scientist who unleashed them. Government agents and soldiers burst in, execute them all, and burn the town to the ground to prevent news of the incident from spreading.
  • The Cavern. The two remaining survivors find a leaf, which they try to use to get out of the cave and call for help, only for them to be dragged back in by Petr, and later towards the end of the film, he brutally kills one of them and rapes the other, with the film ending right there.
  • The original ending of Clerks: After Dante goes through hell on Earth during what was supposed to be his day off, a robber comes in and murders him. The end.
  • The Count Yorga series loved these in its movies despite all the heroes' efforts and killing the title character. Endings are as followed...
    • In the first movie Two of the male protagonists are dead and the last one finds the damsel with Yorga. He manages to stake Yorga (albeit accidentally) and saves the girl. However even with Yorga dead, his victims don't go back to normal. Meaning a female friend who was turned by Yorga remains as an evil vampire. She and another vampire bride come after the two but the protagonist chases them off with a cross. No sooner then when he turns around however, the girl he saved reveals she's now a vampire and lunges at him. The last shot of the movie is the bloodied face of the protagonist from the aftermath of the feeding.
    • The sequel once again had nearly all the rescuers dead and a number of their female friends turned into vampires and under Yorga's command. The last rescuer is able to find the girl and they try to escape. Only to be cornered by Yorga. He takes the girl and leaves his vampire brides to finish the rescuer. Just as Yorga is about to bite the girl, the rescuer escapes and chases the two to the balcony. A fight ensues where Yorga is staked and killed. All seems well and the girl hugs her rescuer, however she pulls back and sees that he's deathly pale and has bite marks on his face (apparently having been bitten by the brides and the vampirism just now taking hold). Instantly he forgets about rescuing her and goes for her neck, dooming her to become a vampire which he was trying keep Yorga from doing not seconds ago. If that wasn't bad enough, Tommy, an orphan Yorga hypontized to help him is still under the vampire's control and stripped of his morality meaning he's not afraid to kill. Plus none of the vampires in the movie save Yorga was staked. Meaning they'll soon spread their vampirism to the defenseless orphanage next door and likely to the rest of the town as well. Just...sheesh.
  • The Crazies (2010). By the time the movie's over, the two surviving residents of Ogden Marsh have been through hell and back just to survive the events of the movie, watching every single one of their family and friends die. The movie ends with the two finally making their way to an adjacent town free of infection, only for it to be revealed that a military satellite has been watching their every move, and now the military is going to repeat the exact same "containment protocol" all over again — but this time, in the much larger city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It's even worse than if the movie had ended with Kill 'Em All.
  • At the end of Dead Snow the last survivor Martin has appeased the Nazi zombies by giving back the gold they were after and weakly makes his way to his car. Then he finds the coin Hanna hid in his pocket. Cue Oh, Crap! face and zombies smashing through the window. The end.
  • The UK Ending to The Descent. Sarah merely hallucinated escaping the cave; there is no exit. All along the characters have only been descending further down, without any way out. Waking up right where she lost consciousness, Sarah goes on to imagine her dead daughter sitting in front of her with a birthday cake, as the crawlers are homing in on Sarah to eat her alive.
  • The Descent Part 2. One character escapes the caves alive, but then out of nowhere, a minor character appears, knocks her out with a shovel, and drags her back to the cave. The best explanation critics have come up with for this is that it's a Sequel Hook.
  • Drag Me to Hell has Christine apparently having escaped being pulled into hell by the Lamia, by posthumously gifting the cursed artefact that summoned it to the dead gypsy woman who cursed her. Unfortunately, the ending reveals that the envelope she stored the artefact in was swapped with another one, meaning she gave the wrong item to the gypsy and is pulled to eternal damnation anyway. Even if Word of God tries to imply it's a Karmic Twist Ending as Christine is a nice gal who starts doing terrible things to save herself, it's still one hell of a Gut Punch.
  • In Dresden, the main character (a British pilot) manages to laboriously survive the bombing of Dresden with serious injuries and escapes back to England. After the war, he flies back to see his true love (and their child)...when his plane crashes. So, he is the a voice-over.
  • Ex Machina first appears as though it will end on a happy note, with Ava free, her abusive creator Nathan dead, and she and her rescuer Caleb becoming a couple and starting a new life together. It appears to be leading that way in the closing scene of Ava putting on skin and clothes to cute music, in a Call-Back to a previous scene where she dressed and asked Caleb to be her date, until she locks him in Nathan's room and leaves. He has no hope of escape with the power out, Nathan dead, the windows too tough to break, and no one else in the world knowing he's here or what was happening in the compound.
  • In Fallen, Denzel Washington's character Hobbes sacrifices his life to destroy the villain. The villain escapes at the last minute; this was foreshadowed in the opening of the movie. Not to mention that Hobbes' reputation is completely destroyed—he'll be remembered as a psychotic cop killer who murdered his own friend. It's also implied heavily that Azazel will spend the rest of his son's life hunting him in order to visit the same fate upon him.
  • Final Destination 5. So the movie sets up the main couple overcoming a breakup and surviving Death's design and coming through stronger than ever...until it's revealed the movie is a Stealth Prequel to the first Final Destination and the couple dies horribly in the first movie's plane crash accident. All the films end this way, but this one burned, considering it was a Surprisingly Improved Sequel. And the only other character who survived Death's design by accidentally having someone else take his place is sitting at a bar and talking to another dude...who reveals that the guy who took his place was terminally ill and about to die anyway, and then the plane turbine crashes through the ceiling, killing him.
  • Fractured: Ray manages to rescue his wife and daughter from the Organ Theft hospital and they drive home...only for the audience to learn that Peri actually died from the fall that broke her arm and set the trip to the hospital in motion, and Ray accidentally killed Joanne when he had a serious concussion from the fall. Ray actually kidnapped an emergency patient and his family's bodies were in the car's trunk the whole time.
  • The Funhouse Massacre: In the aftermath of all the carnage, Laurie and Sheriff Kate are carried off in an ambulance together. Then Laurie spies the knife hidden up the sheriff's sleeve, and screams. The first stinger reveals that "Sheriff Kate" was actually Eileen "The Stitch-Faced Killer", wearing the sheriff's face as a disguise.
  • Subverted in Green Room when one of the Neo-Nazi's vicious attack dogs seems to be about to kill the injured two survivors of the carnage after going missing for half of the film, only for the dog to instead lay down next to its dying owner.
  • R. L. Stine's made-for-TV-movie, The Haunting Hour, had this ending. The protagonist reads a poem out loud that, when done so, awakens a murderous, man-eating monster. After it captures a popular girl from school, a pizza man, and the protagonist's brother, she and her male friend pour blood on it, causing its multiple heads to kill each other in hunger, and free the victims. She and her brother then burn the poem in the fireplace before going up to her room to sleep. Later that night, the parents discover the poem, having reconstructed itself, in the ashes, and read it out loud. As they laugh about how silly the poem sounds, there's a creaking noise on the porch...the protagonist opens her eyes in terror...and all the lights in the house go out. Cut to black. Voiceover: "Happy Halloween..."
  • I, Daniel Blake: After months of misery, the titular Daniel has finally got the appeal he needs to get his benefits sorted...only to suffer a massive heart attack and die minutes before its due to begin.
  • Identity, it appears that Ed has managed to kill Malcolm's murderous identity while sacrificing his own life and leaving only one survivor, making the movie seems like a Bittersweet Ending. But then it turns out that Ed had killed the wrong person, his sacrifice was in vain, and the murderous identity was still alive to kill the Final Girl while causing Malcolm to kill one of the psychiatrists.
  • Insidious:
    • The first movie has the main male protagonist, Josh, save his son, Dalton, who was trapped in a Dark World known as The Further. After finding their way back and Dalton returns to his body (they were astral projecting), Josh is faced by a lady ghost he had once met as a child. Josh then confronts her, affirming that he is unafraid of her. Cut to Josh's family having dinner in the kitchen while he has a conversation with the lady who had helped them. As the lady feels something amiss and grabs a camera, she is strangled to death by Josh. Josh's wife then enters the room to find the dead lady and the camera. She picks up the camera and is shocked when she sees, not a picture of Josh, but of the lady ghost. And then "Josh" grabs her by the shoulder...
    • Subverted by the sequel: it turns out that Josh doesn't kill Renai at the end of the first film. Elise's spirit not only forgives him for murdering her (since he was possessed by an evil spirit and was trapped in the Further), but helps him break free of his possession by killing the movie's Big Bad.
  • The ending of the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the heartbreaking scene where Bond and his newly wedded bride Tracy are sitting in his car when Blofeld, Bond's archnemesis, drives by and has her assassinated, and she dies in his arms].
  • The Lair of the White Worm has an example overlapping with And Then John Was a Zombie. One of the heroes takes a serum to prevent a Viral Transformation after the leader of the vampiric Snake People bites him. At the end of the movie, he finds out that the drug he took wasn't the antidote after all, and the final shot shows him baring his new serpentine fangs.
  • Life (2017) has this. The plan for the two surviving members of the crew is to take the ISS's two remaining escape pods, shooting one into deep space with a crewman and the extremely voracious hostile alien life form while the other escapes to Earth. However, collision with debris causes the plan to go the opposite direction. The guy in the pod with the alien is sent to Earth where he's freed by a pair of well-meaning Vietnamese fisherman, while the other female crewmember is sent flying into deep space with her pod's navigation systems out, leaving her to scream helplessly as her pod takes her off into the black with no apparent way home. Plus the end of humanity is likely assured by the alien's presence on Earth.
  • Little Shop of Horrors: both the original 1960 non-musical film and the musical stage play end with both the protagonists Eaten Alive by the killer plant, and an army of murderous plants wiping out all of humanity. This was filmed for the much better-known 1986 musical film but then was replaced with a more heroic ending after screen tests showed it caused audience opinion to plummet. The original ending was retained as an alternate ending which becomes an extremely cruel twist for anyone used to the regular version of the film (although some consider it Fan-Preferred Cut Content, especially since its production values are remarkably high as it was fully intended to be the original ending). Ironically, for anyone who was used to the original versions, the released 1986 version would have been seen as having a positive twist ending.
  • Living Dead Series:
    • The last survivor in Night of the Living Dead (1968) is mistaken for a zombie and shot dead. It's deliberately left unclear whether the protagonist was actually mistaken for a zombie, or if the rednecks saving the day just saw a good opportunity to shoot a black guy without a fear of punishment. It wasn't originally deliberate, since Ben's part was written for a white man. George Romero is fine with taking credit for the alternate interpretation now, though.
    • And in Night of the Living Dead (1990), the black guy really was a zombie, while the Jerkass who'd left the others to die spoke when the heroine found him, proving himself to be alive. She shot him anyway, as payback.
    • The Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake ended this way through the credits. The heroes escape via a boat. Then during the credits, a few very short scenes play out. They start off celebratory and quickly devolve into them having no provisions that aren't full of maggots, finding zombie heads in a cooler they hoped was full of food, infighting, and then finally ending in a Bolivian Army Ending as a incredibly large horde of zombies descend on them when they try to debark.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe
    • In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos succeeds in acquiring the Infinity Stones. Then Thor appears and impales Thanos. Unfortunately, Thanos still had strength to use the Gauntlet; all it took was a snap from his fingers, and half of all life in the universe is wiped out. This includes most of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Hawkeye’s family, and most tragically, Spider-Man, who fades away in Tony Stark’s arms. Fortunately, the sequel manages to reverse most of the damage Thanos did through the snap by bringing all of its victims back to life.
    • Ant-Man and the Wasp: In an overlap with Yank the Dog's Chain, the first of the two post-credits stingers consists of Scott going to the Quantum Realm to retrieve "healing particles". Seconds before he is due to be returned to the normal world, "The Snap" from Infinity War occurs, vaporizing the entire Pym/Van Dyne family and leaving Scott stranded in the Quantum Realm with seemingly no way out.
    • Spider-Man: Far From Home is just as cruel as Ant-Man and the Wasp. Spidey's saved the day, got the girl, had a vacation. What could go wrong? Oh, how about J. Jonah Jameson suddenly showing up with doctored footage framing Spider-Man for the death of Mysterio and revealing his identity to the world, courtesy of Mysterio himself even if he really might be dead?
  • In The Mist the main characters leave the doomed grocery store in a car. When the car runs out of gas, the father takes a pistol, and shoots everyone in the car, including his own son. Out of bullets and unable to kill himself, he notices the mist dissipating, and hears a strange noise which turns out to be the military, destroying the monsters. So, if he had waited literally one minute before killing everyone, they all would have survived. What makes it worse was the realization that one of the objects in the background of the reveal scene is army-standard temporary housing. They weren't being followed by the military, they were driving through a military outpost! One film critic was so bothered by the ending that he spoiled it (with ample warning) in his review to keep people from being blindsided by it.
    • In the original novel it ends more ambiguously, with the father, son and some extras having fled the grocery store to an uncertain fate. Stephen King has gone on record saying that he absolutely loved the film's ending, however, and wishes that he'd thought of it himself for the novel.
  • In the Our Werewolves Are Different flick Mulberry Street, the protagonists discover that the infected rat-people become human again at sunrise just minutes after they finish killing off their own rabid-rodent loved ones in self-defense.
  • The ending twist in Murder by Numbers seems a heck of a lot like one of these. Yay! The evil villain who reminded Cassie of her abusive husband has met his richly deserved death! Justin's turned to the side of good! He was just a misunderstood and lonely teenaged boy! PSYCH. It was him all along, sorry. Have fun in prison. (Though it's not exactly a twist at all if you have enough knowledge of foreshadowing and/or the Leopold and Loeb case. Which, sadly, did not end in a shootout in an abandoned cabin.)
  • No One Gets Out Alive: Ambar survived her encounter with the Endritch Abomination and killed Becker and Red. However, when she's about to leave the building, she feels compelled to stay, implying she may now start sacrificing other tenants to the monster now.
  • In The Orphanage, it turns out at the end that the protagonist's child, who vanished early in the film and inspired a long and arduous search effort, was accidentally locked in a secret room in the basement and died there. Then again, the protagonist seems relatively happy when she kills herself and becomes matron of an orphanage of ghost children.
  • Peelers: Blue Jean and Logan ride off on Blue Jean's motorcycle with Carla's baby after blowing up the strip club, hopefully destroying any remains of the pathogen still inside. However, on the road, Logan notices the black substance on his body, indicating that now he's infected. Possibly due to the infection, he then drops the baby on the road while they're still moving.
  • Extraordinarily cynical WWII movie Play Dirty has the British raiding party arrive at the German fuel dump they've been sent out to destroy, only to find that their superiors back at base have decided that they no longer want it destroyed (the Allies have broken through German lines, and they want the fuel for themselves) and leaked their mission to the Germans. The mission goes disastrously and the only two survivors flee to nearby Benghazi. Their arrival coincides with the British Army invading the city, and since they're wearing German uniforms they're "accidentally" gunned down by their own side while trying to surrender.
  • Rabid Dogs (aka Kidnapped), directed by Mario Bava, ends on an incredibly grim and ironic note. The film centers around a savage gang of robbers who take a father and his sick child hostage while trying to flee Rome. Towards the end, the father suddenly pulls out a gun and kills off the remaining gang members. And so it seems like his and his son's ordeal is over. Until it's revealed that the "father" is actually a kidnapper who's been holding his so-called "son" for ransom the whole time.
  • In The Rapture, Sharon, a former swinger who joined a Christian cult, has a vision of her dead husband beckoning her to the desert. This is interpreted as God asking for her to wait for Him there so she can be taken up to Heaven when the Rapture happens. She and her daughter go to a desert and wait for a couple weeks, but she starts to question if the Rapture will actually happen. When Sharon runs out of food and loses her patience, she shoots her daughter, is arrested, and loses total faith in God. The twist is that the Rapture actually happens; when she and the officer who arrested her are in Purgatory, the daughter shows up and says they can get into Heaven if they love God. The officer states his love for God and goes to Heaven, but Sharon refuses to love God after what has happened to her. Her daughter then fades away asking if she knows how long she'll stay in Purgatory, and she replies "Yes...forever." Then it slowly fades to black with no music playing over the credits. The feeling you get after watching this movie is similar to getting slapped in the face.
  • The Bruno Mattei killer rat movie Rats: Night of Terror. It seems the protagonists have been rescued at the last moment by other people who survived the nuclear holocaust. Then one removes his gas-mask revealing they're Rat-People.
  • The French black comedy The Red Inn is about a family of 19th-century innkeepers who kill their guests to steal their money. The only guest that knows the truth is a priest who can't expose them because he got the information during a confession he was tricked into performing. The plot devolves into a series of progressively wackier shenanigans as the priest tries to get the other guests out of the inn alive, leading said guests to think first that the priest is crazy, then that he is the serial killer. The police are called and they arrest the priest. Thankfully, they discover an older body, free the priest and arrest the innkeepers instead. In the final scene, the guests pack and leave the inn, only to fall down a ravine to their deaths when they cross a bridge the innkeepers had sabotaged earlier just in case their planned victims managed to escape.
  • Remember Me, if not for the ending, is a heartwarming tale about a man's path towards rekindling his connections to his family. What happened to him? Well, he was told by his father to go to his office one Tuesday morning. And he did. Said Tuesday was on September 11, 2001. Guess where his father's office was.
  • The Return of the Living Dead. The protagonists evade the zombies and send a message to the military, asking for help. The town gets nuked in response.
    • Worse yet, it's implied that the zombie infection is now going to spread via the nuclear fallout. That's right: even nukes can't stop it.
  • In Right at Your Door, the main character spends the entire film scrupulously keeping his home sealed from the toxic ash outside his house, only to be told by The Government that actually, this just incubated the virus, making him doomed to Death by Irony. Then they cart away his wife, hit him on the head, and suffocate him.
  • Saw
    • In the first film, Jigsaw has been killed, and Dr. Gordon has escaped to seek help for himself and Adam...only for the dead body that's been in the room the entire time to get up, reveal he was Jigsaw all along, and leave Adam to rot.
    • The fourth film had Rigg charge in to save the day, which resulted in the death of Eric Matthews and electrocution of Detective Hoffman and Rigg himself being fatally shot. Bad enough by itself, but that's when Hoffman disconnects himself from his own trap, and reveals himself to be Jigsaw's second apprentice.
    • William in Saw VI manages to make his way through his tests alive and having learned the lesson he had been meant to learn about respecting life...only for the son of a man who died because of his past decisions as an insurance agent to kill him when given the choice between that or forgiveness.
  • Screamers: The last survivor escapes the planet after a number of horrifying revelations (and gruesome deaths) and falls asleep, safe at last...turns out, the teddy bear he kept as a souvenir is also a Screamer.
    • The movie was based off of Philip K. Dick's "Second Variety", where the girl the protagonist saved was actually one of the Second Variety robots, but that story straddles the line between cruel twist ending and Karmic Twist Ending, with its closing revelation that the robots, once they destroy humanity, are already preparing to destroy one another.
    • The sequel, Screamers: The Hunting, reveals that the last survivor deliberately caused his ship to burn up in Earth's atmosphere. Possibly a case of Heroic Sacrifice, although the true cause is not revealed. Plus, he fails to tell anyone about the new varieties of screamers. And the sequel ends with our heroine (the daughter of the hero from the original), leading a really advanced, human-like screamer to Earth. And she's pregnant with his bladed robot offspring.
  • Strange Nature: All of the births of deformed creatures in Kim's hometown have been exposed, the Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a thorough investigation into the cause, and Kim, Brody, Joe, and Michelle have moved to a new town, away from all the contamination. Plus, Kim's given birth to a new healthy baby, so it all seems alright, right? Well, the baby has a functioning eyeball on the back of her left shoulder. When Nikki and Jodie gave birth to their deformed children, they had seizures, their skin started peeling off, and they died. So chances are the same fate now awaits Kim.
  • Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood: Evil vampire queen is defeated and the film's love interest is rescued. Except it turns out she was vampirized and was living in sunlight using sunscreen lotion. Which makes no sense considering the evil vampire queen had set her up for some sort of ritual and her and her entire clan was wiped out, so if she was vampirized why did she stand there while all her brethren were being slaughtered?
  • Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, has this example in the third and final story. A down on his luck artist witnesses a gargoyle-like creature killing and eating one of his drinking buddies late at night. He tries to run, but the creature captures him. The creature agrees to spare his life, if he promises not to tell anyone what he witnessed. He agrees. Not long afterwards, he meets an attractive woman walking alone at night. He takes her back to his place, warning her that it's dangerous. The two get to know each other and soon enter a relationship. Because the woman happen to have connections in the art world, she helps his career take off. Years later, the artist is now rich. He married the Mysterious Woman and has two kids with her. Not able to get what he witnessed that night out of his mind, however, he draws the creature in perfect detail. He tells his wife about it, making it clear that the creature was the reason he insisted she come home with him that night. The twist comes in, when the women reveals that she is the creature in human disguise and that he broke his promise. She transforms back into the gargoyle creature. The children also turn into gargoyle creatures. She kills him and flies off.
  • Time Bandits: You think it's all over with a nice Or Was It a Dream? The Wizard of Oz type ending—then the parents open the microwave "Mum, Dad! It's Evil, Don't Touch It!" So of course they touch it- BOOM!! smoke rises from two black spots where the kid's parents used to be. End film.
  • The Tortured (2010): In this Robert Lieberman film, a man who kidnapped, tortured, and murdered a six-year-old boy is kidnapped and tortured by the boy's parents. Except not. Towards the end, we find out that the prison transport (which the parents crashed in order to get their hands on the murderer) was in fact carrying two inmates: the killer, and a man who was there for mere tax evasion. Due to his injuries from the crash, the couple mistook him for their target. So they've spent half the movie horrifically torturing an innocent man, who manages to escape only to kill himself because the torture psychologically broke him into thinking he was a monster. The real killer is taken back into custody to await parole, and the couple disappears to avoid getting caught, with the implication that their actions will take a serious toll on their mental health.
  • Trick Or Treats: Linda and Christopher have managed to kill Malcolm, and Linda goes to report his death to the police. Then Christopher takes an interest in Malcolm's knife, picks it up, and jumps at Linda to attack her with it. Freeze frame, end movie.
  • The ending of Troll 2 was probably trying for this, but it ended up not really making any sense.
  • In both the original book and first (American) adaptation of The Wave (1981), the moment that the kids that are members of the titular school movement discover that their teacher has essentially converted them into thinly-veiled Hitler Youth as a social experiment to demonstrate how peer pressure can cause bad things, they all collectively do a My God, What Have I Done? In the German remake The Wave (2008), this revelation causes Tim, the loner of the class, to instantly Freak Out and pull out a gun because being part of the movement had finally allowed him to connect with his peers and he desperately wants to not be alone again. When the teacher manages to talk him down from hurting anybody else, Tim instantly shoots himself. The film cuts to credits as the shell-shocked teacher is arrested and taken away.
  • The Wicker Man (1973) is iconic for its use of this trope. The protagonist rescues the missing child he's been searching for, only to discover psych! She and the entire island were in on it the whole time! The letter he received was part of an elaborate ruse to lure him there so that he can be offered as a sacrifice. He is then burnt alive as the islanders sing merrily.
  • Would You Rather: Iris wins Lambrick’s twisted game, only to return home and find that her brother Raleigh, who she did this for, has committed suicide.

  • A very, very common trope in Choose Your Own Adventure books, which take an extreme amount of pleasure in describing in great detail how many ways you get killed, even when everything up to the very last sentence leads you to believe that you reached a good ending.
  • These show up in the similar Nintendo Adventure Books as well. In one particular ending, you can have Mario knock down a brick wall with a hammer you found earlier in the quest (collecting certain items is necessary in all of these books)...after reading an entire page, the wall collapses on him in the very last sentence.

    Light Novels 
  • Many of the volumes of the Vampire Hunter D novels have Downer Endings, but the end of the longest story, the 4-part Pale Fallen Angels was downright sick. Although many died, D has slain the evil vampire lord, the children are safe from the evil Guide, Taki is safe from being sacrificed and the good, evolved vampire Baron Byron Balazs is planning on forging the first links of friendship between the Nobility and mankind. Then, with no warning or preamble, a hypnotic suggestion planted in Taki causes her to attack Byron, he rips out her throat instinctively while defending himself and in his shame he hires D to kill him, which D does without hesitation. Apparently you just can't have a happy ending in this series.

  • Very common in the short stories of Charles Birkin. Examples:
    • The Lesson: A couple leave their young son with his uncle while they are hosting a party. The child ties up his uncle (who is drunk) and puts a plastic bag over the man's head to pretend he is an astronaut. When the parents find him, they are angry that he got drunk while taking care of their son. They decide to "teach him a lesson" by leaving him tied up while they go out - but then they get into a car accident. The badly wounded mother tries to tell hospital staff that the uncle needs help, but can only manage to say the word "bag", making the nurses think that she wants something from her handbag. Meanwhile, at home, the little boy is wondering why his uncle doesn't want to play any more ...
    • Marjorie's On Starlight features orphan Marjorie going horseriding with her adoptive sister, who is a cruel bully. It's hinted that something bad will happen to the sister - but instead she torments Marjorie about her dead parents, causing Marjorie to react, her horse to bolt, and throw Marjorie straight into the path of a steamroller that runs over her head.
    • The Mouse Hole: In occupied France during WWII, an incompetent Resistance fighter known as "The Mouse" causes an innocent man to get shot by Nazis. The Nazis soon arrive at the man's door, and his mother is forced to hide her wounded son inside the oven. However, the soldiers think she is actually hiding The Mouse in there, and light the fire. The Mouse doesn't care and just chalks it up as another death for the cause.
    • Hard to Get begins as a comedic story about an army officer trying and failing to seduce a beautiful woman in a restaurant. Then it's revealed they belong to a race of bloodsucking aliens that have taken over the earth, and their meal is a still-living human woman who has been tortured and trussed up to be served at the table.
    • T-I-M: A woman collapses in an accident at home and begs her young son to call for medical help. However, he gives the operator the wrong name, and ends up being connected to the speaking clock (a recorded service). He doesn't realize who he is talking to, and his mother lies dying on the floor unaware of what's really happening.
    • Spawn of Satan: A woman moves to a town where gangs have been stirring up racial hatred. There's an initial twist when we discover that her husband, who soon arrives to join her, is black. The real twist is when the woman suffers a fatal heart attack while driving, causing her to run over and kill a white child. Her husband is gruesomely lynched in revenge by the gangs.
    • Fairy Dust appears to be a sweet little tale about a woman reading Peter Pan to her young stepson. At the end, she convinces him that he can fly like Peter Pan, and lures him into jumping off an 80-foot balcony so that her own child can inherit the family estate.
    • Old Mrs Strathers: An elderly woman is paralysed and unable to speak following a severe stroke. She discovers that her son is about to be murdered by his wife, who is cheating on him. The son is poisoned, and the old lady struggles to her feet. There's a brief Hope Spot...then she falls head-first into the fireplace. The wife and her boyfriend get away with the murder, while Mrs Strathers is horribly mutilated and is sent to a work house because there's no one left to take care of her.
    • The Finger of Fear: A rich, miserly alcoholic is upset that she's obliged to pay for her housekeeper's child to have dental treatment. She ultimately comes up with a "solution", and has her chauffeur drive a box over to the dentist's surgery. It turns out to contain the child's severed head; the miser having figured that this would be cheaper than sending the whole child to the dentist.
  • A Dutch YA horror book ("Beyond the grave") by author Tais Teng had a particularly jarring example. After the teenage heroine has spent the entire novel trying to collect the three Artifacts of Doom on the orders of the villain (even visiting the underworld in the process), she is captured by him after she befriends and falls in love with the bearer of the last one, a teenage boy. He goes to collect the Reality-Writing Book to get her back in a Hostage for MacGuffin exchange when he discovers that his younger brother (who's just learned how to write) used one of the pages to spell out "THE SUN GOES OUT". Nothing gets resolved, all life on Earth is just going to expire in an endless ice age. The end.
  • In the short story "Coffee" by Simon Bestwick, an overworked employee is Driven to Suicide through sleep deprivation caused by drinking too much coffee and then being unable to sleep at night. However, the employee (never given a name or gender) is forced to stay at the company as a zombie, because they are not allowed to leave without an appropriate notice period. They're also disciplined for spending too much time at the coffee machine, and can't have any more coffee.
  • In the short story collection, The Dark Side of the Earth, every single story except for the last one ends with a cruel twist. The story Silent Pursuit easily takes the cake: The lead detective rides the subway one night and, out of sheer luck, sees the murderer knocking a woman unconscious on the last train. He races to get there before he can get off and a fistfight ensues, culminating in the detective throwing the murderer out of the window and into the river. He helps the victim up and, when they get off the train, they are surrounded by policemen pointing their guns at him and ordering him to let her go. Because the real murderer is dead in the river, the woman is unconscious, and he can provide no genuine alibis for the dates of the other murders, all present evidence points to him being the real murderer; and he will never be able to prove otherwise.
  • In The Deptford Histories novel The Oaken Throne, Ysabelle has just decided to abandon her status as the Starwife and run off with her true love, Vespertilio. She had rejected him before but now regrets doing so. As she is rushing to him and passionately proclaiming how she truly feels, she skids to a stop when she sees him lying dead. He had been murdered in the brief time she'd left him alone. The novel ends with her weeping over his corpse.
  • In Jeff Long's The Descent, capsules containing a deadly bioweapon are seeded through the sub-Pacific underground world by a genocidal Corrupt Corporate Executive. Just as it appears the capsules will remain unactivated, averting the annihilation of both the hadal natives and their defenseless human captives, their contents are unwittingly released by the only two human characters in the novel who want to spare hadal civilization.
  • Ray Nelson's short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning" (loosely adapted into the movie They Live!) tells the story of a man who singlehandedly saves Earth from a huge alien conspiracy and then drops dead at eight o'clock the next morning. That is, if you forget the aliens gave him the implanted hypnotic suggestion to die early on and the rest of the story is his The Last Dance.
  • Many Goosebumps books end with this, although most of them are merely Twist Endings.
  • I Am the Cheese revolves around a teenage boy on a bike ride to see his father in another city. The ending reveals that there was no cross-country adventure, and that the trauma from watching federal agents murder his parents broke him and trapped him in a mental "Groundhog Day" Loop, where he relives the same bike ride around the mental hospital grounds over and over while envisioning it as a grand trip. And to take it even farther, the ending strongly implies that the Government Conspiracy feels he's outlasted his usefulness.
  • Tana French's novel In the Woods. Main character homicide detective Robb and his partner Cassie have figured out who the killer is but don't have enough evidence to prove it. They set up a trap to get the killer to confess to Cassie. The trap works perfectly, Cassie plays her part brilliantly, even working the Irish equivalent of a Miranda Warning into the conversation, and they get a full confession of the entire plot on tape. Then the twist comes...the killer was the victim's teenage sister, and she's only 17, not 18 as the detectives had initially believed. This means everything she said outside the presence of her parents is inadmissible. She gets away with the murder, and the case destroys not only Robb and Cassie's careers, but their friendship as well. The book ends with Robb alone and miserable.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, almost. The Gentleman with Thistle-down Hair intended to curse Lady Pole to die shortly after being released from his enchantment, as it is "very traditional." She gets lucky.
  • In Julian Jay Savarin's Lemmus novels, the seemingly hospitable planet Terra (a.k.a. Earth) is revealed to have a malign influence on colonists from an advanced Galactic civilisation, causing them to become violent and warlike. Those who possess immunity are ruthlessly killed, but not before arming a Doomsday Device to destroy the planet. Even then the Galactic civililisation refuses to give up on the planet, and uses advanced technology and time travel to evolve a new race of humans in the hope that they will overcome the evil influence. It doesn't work; after millennia of conflict the planet is destroyed in a nuclear war. The last survivor, seeing two Galactic observers in radiation suits, believes them to be Jesus and Mary and curses them with her dying breath. Only then do the Galactics admit that they have failed, and blow up the planet's sun.
  • The Machineries of Empire has an underplayed example; at the end of Ninefox Gambit, the Fortress of Scattered Needles is conquered and Cheris breathes a sigh of relief that she'll finally be rid of Jedao and her life will return to some semblance of normalty, only for Kel Command to send a fleet and kill everyone in an attept to get rid of the undead general once and for all. Cheris is the only survivor and she ends up being possessed by Jedao.
  • "Megan's Law" by Jack Ketchum has this ending. The story revolves around a concerned father turning vigilante when a convicted rapist/child molester moves to the town. Eventually, the father murders the guy - and then we discover the father himself is abusing his own daughter; he just didn't want any "competition" for her.
  • Mistborn: The Original Trilogy
    • In The Well of Ascension, our main character Vin finds the titular well after looking for it, due to believing that she is the Hero of Ages. And then everything goes to hell when the mist spirit that's been hanging around the entire book fatally wounds Elend, Sazed is attacked by the Brainwashed and Crazy Marsh when trying to find Vin to stop her from doing anything hasty, and Vin enters the Well of Ascension, where she gives up the power of the Well in order to follow the prophecy, even if it means letting Elend die...only to free an Eldritch Abomination that was trapped there and manipulated the entire prophecy so that someone would give up the power and free him. When Sazed reads the true prophecy later, having beaten Marsh for the time being, he loses his faith in all of the religion he's studied over the years.
  • At the end of My Sister's Keeper, Anna finally gets medically emancipated from her parents...and is then killed in a car accident, yet her kidneys — the organ she had been asked to donate earlier in the book, leading to the aforementioned emancipation quest — are perfectly intact to give to her sister, rendering her actions pointless.
  • Never Let Me Go ends with all the efforts of both the clone protagonists and the clone-rights activists who had been working behind the scenes since before the book began being nullified and reversed after a Mad Doctor uses illegal means to create genetically perfect children, a scandal that turns the general population against cloning. This is never foreshadowed at all prior to The Reveal.
  • Point Horrors Darker and Edgier UK version Point Horror Unleashed had a few of these.
    • The Hanging Tree ended with the titular tree seemingly chopped down and the rest of the forest saved, and protagonist Willow heading off to college with her boyfriend. Several years later they use the tunnel built underneath the forest where the tree once stood, see it's evil personification in their windscreen and fatally crash into the tunnel wall.
    • Scissorman ends with the teenaged protagonists discovering their stepmother is the titular monster as she serves them their pet rabbits for dinner. She uses this fact to Scare 'Em Straight.
    • Amy ends with the titular character swapping places with the protagonist Annie, leaving her to die in the morgue while she lives her life instead.
  • Nicholas Fisk's book A Rag, A Bone, and a Hank of Hair, although written for children, has an extremely dark final twist. Brin, the protagonist, has been interacting with the "reborn" family cloned from the past and living in a historical simulation, and come to appreciate their way of life more than his own futuristic lifestyle. So, great, he's learned about historical people, right? Well, no; Brin is then told that he is also a Reborn, but was raised from birth in the future society rather than the simulation. The fact he ended up preferring the historical lifestyle is taken as a sign that, even with no preknowledge and given every advantage, Reborns cannot be integrated with the future society and are thus useless to it. He and the Reborns are locked inside the simulation, and then all blown up.
  • "Bess", one of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The story stars a horse raiser named John Nicholas who has just one of his horses (the titular Bess) put down. He decides to come to Bess's skeleton and pat her skull. There is a rattlesnake living inside the skull that gives John a fatal bite on the arm.
    • This particular storyline is actually Older Than Print, going back to (at least) the story of Oleg the Wise's death from the 12th century Russian Primary Chronicle.
  • "Slowly" by Fay Woolf: A six-year-old boy has been trapped under the wreckage of a collapsed fairground ride, and rescue workers fight to free him. They do manage to get the machinery off him, but then they discover it's cut him into a pile of severed body parts, which rain down onto the rescuers.
  • In Antonia Michaelis' The Storyteller, the plot of the story details that there has been a string of murders in Anna’s hometown and her love interest Abel, has been framed for the murders. It turns out that Abel really is the murderer and he ends up killing himself once he is cornered by the police. The story then ends with Anna taking care of Micha, Abel's younger sister and imagining that she is living with a different Abel from the one she knew.
  • The book version of Struck By Lightning: The protagonist dies in the end, he also doesn't get into the university of his dreams (and the only one to which he applied), the entire school hates him, his literary magazine failed miserably, and he never got to make it out of Clover.
    • It is also implied to be a good thing because he finally decided it is better to manipulate others than to be suppressed and got hit by a Bolt of Divine Retribution.
    • And his mom said: "Since opposites attract, I would like to think that he was so positive the moment he died - so happy, he pulled that bolt right out of the sky."
  • Through Darkest America by Neil Barrett, Jr. goes over the top with this one. In this After the End scenario, large animals have gone extinct leading most meat to come from "stock" semi-feral (possessing no language skills) humans who are implied to be mentally deficient. Early in the story, the protagonist's sister is sent to "Silver Island," a government-run facility dedicated to having the best and brightest restore the wonders of the pre-catastrophic world—the thought of her flourishing there helps the protagonists to weather a series of tragedies. It is revealed at the end of the novel that the story for Silver Island is a cover—its actual use to force those selected to breed with stock, preventing inbreeding.
  • In Hector Hugh Munro (Saki)'s The Unbearable Bassington, the last chapter ends with Francesca Bassington getting word of her son Comus's death; it horribly sours the ironic tone of everything that has gone before, while Comus is a poor excuse for a tragic hero. And a few moments later that the other love of her life, her treasured Van der Meulen painting, is "a splendid copy, but still, unfortunately, only a copy".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark? has the episode "The Tale of the Chameleon", featuring Tia and Tamera Mowry as the protagonist and her evil clone. The episode ends with the girl's friend being forced to decide which one is the real person - and choosing wrongly. The clone keeps her human body, while the girl is changed into a chameleon and left to drown at the bottom of a well.
  • Black Mirror has them frequently, although sometimes it's hard to determine if the cruelty was deserved. For instance, Series 3 has two in a row:
    • "Black Mirror: Playtest" features a man participating in a Brain–Computer Interface test in order to generate a properly scary experience for a horror game. After experiencing his worst Adult Fears and two fakeouts involving him thinking he left the game, he's finally taken out and sent home, only to find his mother is showing symptoms of Alzheimer's, one of the many fears explored in the game. He breaks down in tears upon realizing this. You'd think it would end there, but it gets worse: He never started the game in the first place. The man died within 0.04 seconds of strapping himself in due to leaving his cellphone turned on. The staff notes he spent his last moments convulsing and calling out to his mother.
    • "Black Mirror: Shut Up and Dance" had some people who were manipulated into doing things (from simple delivery to a Duel to the Death) to prevent their secrets from being leaked online. After the main character successfully completes his final, bloody task, they still have the data released to humiliate them one last time. Interestingly, the episode also seems to aim this trope at the viewer. At first we're lead to believe that the teenager protagonist was an innocent kid who just happened to be recorded as he was having A Date with Rosie Palms. At the end it's revealed he's actually a paedophile who was caught watching child pornography.
    • Season 4 pulls this off again in a particularly cruel fashion with "Black Mirror: Crocodile". In a society where people's memories can be viewed by a device called an "adjuster," a woman starts a murder spree to erase all evidence of a crime she commited. As she's walking out of the house of the couple she recently killed, she comes across their infant son, and the implications are clear. At the ending of the episode, which confirms she has indeed killed a baby to get away scot-free, it's revealed that the kid was blind. Meaning he wouldn't have seen anything incriminating her in the first place. And to make everything even worse, she killed all those people in vain anyway, because it turns out that the technology works on the family's guinea pig and the police were able to use its memories to track her down. Wow.
  • One of the short stories featured on Crackanory had a man pass out drunk on his stag night only to wake up in an abandoned hospital and under attack by three zombies. At first he is running scared of the zombies and fears for his life but eventually realises he will eventually be killed by just running and must survive for his future wife's sake. Thus he manages to kill the zombies and escape the hospital. He leaves fully expecting a zombie apocalypse outside however he is met with laughter from his mates. It turned out that they had set the whole thing up as an elaborate stag night prank and the zombies were actually actors hired by them. As a result he was now facing a triple murder charge instead of a wedding. The ending implies he goes on to kill his mates too via the camera ominously focusing on his weapon.
  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: In one episode, a baby is found suffocated inside his father's car while he was at work. He forgot to drop the baby before going to work...or did he? It turns both parents are carriers for the lethal, untreatable Tay-Sachs disease and that they had another baby who died from the disease; the new baby started showing symptoms of the disease despite seemingly being born healthy, so the parents arranged to leave him in the car because this would kill him faster and less painfully than languishing his last days from Tay-Sachs. At this point the parents are guilty of murder, locked up for it, and their family plans and reputations destroyed. Then it turns out that the symptoms the second baby had were not from Tay-Sachs, but from accidental and easily treatable poisoning, and the parents unwittingly killed a perfectly healthy child.
  • A staple of the short lived horror series Darkroom:
    • "Stay Tuned, We'll Be Right Back" - a man digs up a old radio that allows him to send messages back in time, saving his father from a fatal mission in World War II...and assuring an Axis victory.
    • "The Bogeyman Will Get You" - a teenage girl (played by a young Helen Hunt) becomes suspicious of her nighttime-hours keeping neighbor, believing he's a vampire. She confronts him about it, under the light of a full moon...
  • Deadtime Stories, while aimed at a slightly younger audience than even most kid horror, still features cruel twists in every episode. Some of them are very minor and are just "boo, something else scary happened" (e.g. a giant spider is killed, but suddenly a frog jumps out of the sink; a ghost stops haunting two kids because her doll was returned, but a new doll suddenly opens its eyes). Others imply the characters are still in major danger. However, the show tones down the scariness by implying that the stories are just stories being read by a babysitter to two kids.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Journey's End" gives all but two of the protagonists a happy ending: The Doctor Did Not Get the Girl and loses his best friend, winding up alone again, and Donna's memory must be wiped to save her life, undoing all of her Character Development and self-confidence and causing her to lose even the memories of the best time of her life.
    • "The End of Time" has the Tenth Doctor trying to prevent a prophecy of his demise which will come at the hands of someone who will "knock four times". This seems to refer to the Master, who has a four-beat drumming sound (the heartbeat of a Time Lord) constantly in his head, and nearly ends all of creation when he uses it to resurrect the Time Lord race. After saving the day, Ten is overjoyed to have escaped his fate, only to hear four taps: his companion Wilfred has become trapped in a radiation venting chamber, and to save him, Ten must take his place, accept his fate, and regenerate into the Eleventh Doctor. Ten's reaction shows that he's fully aware it's this trope. Wilf offers to stay in the chamber instead, since he's an elderly man who doesn't have much life left anyway, but of course the Doctor would never kill an innocent man to save himself.
    Tenth Doctor: I don't want to go.
    • "The Angels Take Manhattan" ends with Amy and Rory defeating the Weeping Angels...but then another Weeping Angel appears and sends them back in time, separating them from the Doctor forever. While it was definitely this trope for the Doctor, the episode also makes it clear that it was Happily Ever After for them.
  • In a Farscape time travel episode, John & Co finally manage to Set Right What Once Went Wrong and return to the future. Unfortunately,the best alternate they managed to create still led to a group of peaceful women and children being horribly slaughtered, when they'd survived in the original timeline.
  • Fear Itself heavily favored the cruel twist ending route during its short run:
    • "The Sacrifice": A man manages to kill a vampire, freeing the last survivor of an isolated town whose inhabitants have been sacrificing their own happiness to keep the vampire at bay for centuries. Then at the last minute, it turns out that he was bitten. (This is perhaps foreshadowed, however, with the fight that shows the vampire's power to teleport and turn invisible — or, at the very least, move so fast that it might as well be — meaning that it could have bitten him at any time.)
    • "Spooked": A Rabid Cop confronts the childhood trauma that led him to be such a monster, and refuses to cross over the line to become an actual murderer, and, now aware and able to deal with the trauma of his past, swears to live a better life and do the right thing from now on. Then he's accidentally shot dead by his partner.
    • "Family Man": An accident somehow switches the souls of an auditor and family man and a fleeing serial killer called "The Family Man", trapping them in each other's bodies. The protagonist finds himself staring down the death penalty and a world that despises him, while his family is in the hands of a monster (who, while he claims he wants to look after "his" family, is clearly a ticking time bomb from his psychosis). When the protagonist finally escapes, he makes his way to his house and engages in mortal combat with the impostor. And then he's shot dead by a policeman. But wait...! The auditor finds himself back in his own body: the process is reversed. He's saved! And turns out the impostor has already murdered the protagonist's wife and son and assaulted (and probably raped) his daughter. The daughter survives and fingers him as he breaks down in sheer horror and despair. He's escaped one level of hell only to plunge headlong into an even crueler one, and there's no escape from this. One of the proposed titles of this trope was the "Family Man Twist", by the way.
    • Which one "New Year's Day" falls under is really up to the individual viewer. The twist: Our heroine, who has been spending the entire day trying to survive a zombie apocalypse and get to her friends' apartment, while being followed by her zombified boyfriend, turns out to have been a zombie all along. When she and her boyfriend get to her friends' apartment, they eat them.
    • At least "Community" gives us a warning at the start with an In Medias Res scene of the protagonist running away in fear. However, this doesn't even come close to justifying (let alone explaining) his legs being cut off by his inexplicably brainwashed wife!
  • The Haunting Hour TV series has these endings in nearly all of their episodes.
    • The first example was in "The Dead Body", in which the main character strikes a deal with a new kid in school to help him prank a couple of bullies. Afterwards, the new kid insists that the main character "owes him". It turns out, the new kid is a ghost, and the main character is sent back in time to prevent his death. The main character does so...only to die in the ghost's place, and the now living ghost returns to the present to live out the main character's life.
    • In "The Girl In the Painting", we follow a girl named Becky, who dreams of living a better life than the one she lives now. Becky finds a mysterious painting with real characters living inside of it who want her to come to their world so she would live a better life like she dreamed of. Becky gets swept up in her dreams and enters the beautiful painted world. Then it turns out that the people inside of it wanted to use her to feed a monster inhabiting their world so they wouldn't get eaten themselves. The episode ends with Becky getting Eaten Alive and revealing that the titular girl inside the painting doesn't like her own world, questioning why Becky would want her life.
    • "My Old House" has a young girl named Alice moving away from her sentient house, who's also her only best friend since she has a fragile relationship with her parents. She soon runs away from her family to live with the living building forever so she can finally be happy, but she soon sees that her own parents are desperately searching for their missing girl, proving that they do indeed love her. Upon realizing the mistake she made and knowing that her romanticized life with her house won't be as fantastic as she thought it was, Alice finally parts ways with her living house peacefully. Unfortunately, it turns out that the house refuses to let her leave and murders her (possibly) by absorbing her body within its walls so she'll be a permanent part of it forever. Alice's parents never find their daughter and a new little girl moves into the house as the episode closes out with the House implying that it'll kill again.
    • "Lotsa Luck": After trying to prevent an evil leprechaun named Seamus from stealing his soul, Greg uses the last of his three wishes to wish that he never met the leprechaun, thinking that this'll undo all the damage. However, it's rendered moot because Seamus reveals that Greg's soul belongs to him anyway because his own great grandfather offered Seamus his grandson's soul anyway as tribute so he could keep his own. The episode ends on Seamus lunging at Greg to rip his soul out by force.
  • Season three of Heroes ended such a note, with Angela's prophetic dream that Matt Parkman would save her son turning out to have a different meaning once they realize that Nathan is already dead. Then, to make things worse, the teaser for season four hints that their efforts to realize the prophecy through brainwashing Sylar into believing he's Nathan might not take.
  • Highlander: The Series: Tessa Noel was saved by Duncan from an evil Watcher, only to be gunned down in a random act of street violence not even five minutes later.
  • Hollyoaks had an episode where, after Jade Albright waits nervously for the results of a biopsy to see whether she has cancer, the test comes back negative. Jade celebrates her sixteenth birthday with everyone she cares about, gets together with her crush, and her foster family formally adopts her. Various problems of her friends and sister get resolved too. Everything's happy - and then it's revealed the entire episode was a daydream as Jade sits in a doctor's office, where she's just been told she does have cancer (and, therefore, that the resolutions for her loved ones were equally imaginary).
  • House had several:
    • In "Saviors", after everything seems wrapped up, complete with music from Hugh Laurie, House hallucinates Amber telling him that he's not losing his mind.
    • In "Both Sides Now", House realizes that Cuddy helping him detox and then sleeping with him was another hallucination...and then both Amber and Kutner show up.
    • In "Fall from Grace", it turns out that the patient whom the team has saved is actually a cannibal and a Serial Killer. He fled the hospital before the FBI agents who just arrived could catch him.
  • How I Met Your Mother: The finale: After a whole season of build up, Robin and Barney are married, after 9 seasons Ted meets Tracy, he decides to stay in New York and the gang can stay together. Yay! Then Barney and Robin divorce, Barney goes back to his broken, playboy ways, Robin splits away from the gang abandoning a devastated Lily and Tracy dies leaving Ted a single dad. And after nine seasons of Will They or Won't They? and Ted finally learning to let go of his Robin obsession before it destroys his chances of finding happiness by turns out that the whole series was him trying to smooth-talk his children into giving him permission to go after Robin again. No wonder fans reacted so badly that they preferred the alternate ending, which omitted the twist.
  • In the Season 17 finale of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, unit sergeant Mike Dodds is shot on a domestic violence call. The injury is serious, but he comes through the surgery and even seems to be in relatively good spirits in the ICU afterward, and everything is leading up to a happy ending. A few scenes later, he suffers a fatal stroke due to blood clots from the injury. The Hope Spot really just makes it so much more wrenching.
  • Examples from Lost:
    • "Exodus": The raft crew are found by a nearby boat. They've finally found rescue! Oh, wait. It turns out The Others are in fact REAL and "the boy" they were coming to take was Walt, not Aaron! Within the next few minutes, the raft is destroyed, Jin and Sawyer's fates are left unclear, Walt is taken, and Michael is left alone in the dark waters screaming for his son.
    • "Exposé": The episode begins with the deaths of Nikki and Paulo. As the other survivors try to discover what killed them, we are treated to flashbacks, gradually approaching the present day. It turns out that they're NOT dead, just in a severe state of paralysis from a spider bite. Their friends don't know this though, and bury their fellow castaways alive.
    • "Through The Looking Glass": The survivors have made contact with the approaching freighter, ten Others are dead and Charlie has avoided his predicted death. Then, one of the Others turns out to be Not Quite Dead, the freighter is revealed to have not been sent by who they think it was, Naomi is back-stabbed by Locke (literally!), and Charlie dies in a Heroic Sacrifice. On top of all that, the episode's Jack-centric flashbacks showing him broken and suicidal are actually flashforwards, showing that he does eventually do what he's been attempting for three seasons and escape from The Island...only for it to be a poisoned chalice and completely destroy his life. So much so that he manically attempts to return! To say that the final scene completely changed the show for good is an understatement.
  • Played for Laughs in Married... with Children. Every time a character has a shot at real happiness something completely random comes out of nowhere just to destroy their chances. Being a Sadist Show this trope makes it humorous.
  • M*A*S*H: "Abyssinia, Henry". Colonel Henry Blake is finally about to be shipped back stateside, escaping the nightmare of the Korean War. Except that he gets shot down by enemy fire before he gets there. Famously, none of the cast knew this was going to happen until the scene was filmed.
  • Every story from Night Visions ended this way, but a few episodes deserve special mention because their protagonists aren't in any way evil, or even mean-spirited. There's no Laser-Guided Karma here, just the universe being really nasty:
    • "Now He's Coming Up the Stairs" had Luke Perry as a psychiatrist who could heal mentally ill people by absorbing their problems and neuroses onto himself. He uses his powers to help a child who, after being in a car accident with his mother, believes that the victim in the accident is after him; the boy constantly chants "Now he's coming through the woods, now he's coming through the yard, now he's coming in the house, now he's coming up the stairs." The psychiatrist takes on the boy's paranoia, which heals him, and even manages to fight off the delusion of the dead man attacking him and the family—except he doesn't. He's actually gone irreversibly insane and is trapped forever in his own head, repeating the "Now he's coming through the woods" mantra. The last shot is the psychiatrist rocking back and forth and reciting. The end.
    • "If a Tree Falls..." has three college students accidentally drowning in a car accident—but since no one saw them die, they're still alive. One of the kids has strong religious convictions and can't bear the pressure of keeping their secret, so he decides to free his body from the wreck and move on to Heaven. You might expect that he succeeds, with his friends eventually realizing he was right—but the exact opposite occurs: he accidentally releases his two colleagues' corpses, which sends them into the afterlife, but in doing so sends the car plummeting to the bottom of the lake where they crashed, where it can never be found by anyone. He's now trapped on Earth forever, functionally immortal and completely alone.
    • "Neighborhood Watch" is particularly effective, as it relies on realistic Adult Fear rather than supernatural elements. A close-knit community is sent a letter with a warning that the newest occupant of the neighborhood is a dangerous child molester. A father, seeking to defend his daughter, eventually kills the man, and the other neighbors back him up...and then a second letter arrives, telling everyone that the first letter was a mistake, and the murdered man was completely innocent.
    • "Harmony" has a drifter who wanders into a town where music and singing is outlawed due to fear it will attract a monster. The drifter and a like-minded mother and child try to convince the townspeople this is nonsense, but they form an angry mob and attack them. Against all odds, the drifter manages to sing "Amazing Grace", and nothing happens. The townspeople joyously start singing and celebrating him as a hero for banishing their superstitions...then the monster shows up and kills them all.
    • "A View Through The Window" has a farm surrounded by an impenetrable forcefield materialize in the desert. The military investigates, and finds that the farmers inside cannot see or hear them, while they can only see and not hear them. One soldier, depressed by the loss of his family, observes the farmers and begins to fall in love with a lovely woman among them who seems to be as sad and lonely as he is. The soldier notices that the forcefield goes down for brief periods at a time. Eventually, when the forcefield goes down, the soldier jumps into the farm, deciding there is nothing left for him in his original world and wanting to be with the woman. The inhabitants immediately transform into hideous monsters and tear him to pieces. His horrified comrades try to save him, but the forcefield goes back up before they can. The monsters then start testing the forcefield, waiting for it to go down again so they can escape to the outside world.
    • "My So-Called Life and Death" focuses on a moody teenage girl who is stuck on vacation with her Dysfunctional Family, including her controlling mother, her meek, ineffectual father, and her bratty Pyromaniac little brother (who gets away with everything). The girl develops a crush on the handyman next door, but he doesn't seem to notice her at all (and, when she tries to touch him, passes right through her). She tries to tell her family that their neighbor is a ghost, but her mother insists there's no such thing as ghosts, and yells at her to stop ruining their vacation. Undeterred (and excited by the idea of romancing a ghost), the girl finally succeeds in making contact with the handyman — only for him to scream and run away in terror, because she is the ghost. Her brother set fire to the family vacation home one night, killing them all in their sleep; the handyman is the house's new owner, trying to repair the damage. The girl confronts her family, but her brother denies that he's done anything wrong and her mother angrily and fearfully demands she continue to uphold the charade that they're a normal family on vacation. The episode ends as the girl sits down to lunch with her family, her mother cheerfully stating that she hopes their vacation lasts forever — and giving her daughter a hard look when she hesitates to agree. The entire family is trapped in a fantasy, unable to move on, because their matriarch can't face the reality of what happened to them or the role she played in it. What's worse, their daughter is stuck in the company of a family she not only cannot stand, but now knows is responsible for her death.
  • Once Upon a Time: "The Queen is Dead": Snow and Charming spend the whole episode searching for Rumple's Dagger before Regina and Cora Find it. They do, but then Regina and Cora appear with Snow's maid, Johanna, captive, demanding they hand over the dagger or Regina will crush Johanna's Heart. Snow gives them the dagger, and Regina puts Johanna's heart back into her body. but then Cora throws Johanna out the window, killing her anyway. Is it any wonder why Snow finally retaliated and cursed Cora's Heart and tricked Regina into putting it back in, thus killing her the very next episode?
  • The Outer Limits (1995) was so fond of this ending that the viewer could assume any given episode would end this way—and be right more often than not. It was the original Trope Namer because of how often it was used. Some notable examples:
    • "Tempests": In order to save a space colony, a man must figure out which of the two realities between which he's switching are real, the seemingly perfect one or the darker one. He makes the "right" choice - and we find out that both worlds are Lotus Eater Machines. His real situation is much worse: he's cocooned by giant spiders and slowly being eaten, and as a result of his failure everyone presumably dies.
    • "The Deprogrammers": A group of humans beat alien brainwashing and eventually manage to take down the villain — just as a rival alien had arranged, as it turns out. Once they've done his dirty work for him, they're turned into his Brainwashed slaves.
    • "Hearts And Minds": A group of soldiers fight the good fight against bizarre invading insectoid beasts, only to find that the "medication" given to them by their leaders is making them see their actually-human enemies as bugs. They lay down their weapons and try to talk to the enemies...who promptly kill them all, being under the influence of similar drugs and seeing our protagonists as monsters.
    • "Straight And Narrow": An exclusive private school brainwashes its students for use as mercenaries, similar to the movie Disturbing Behavior, which it predates. The one student who is immune to the process manages to escape and tell authorities — who prove to be alumni, and drag him back to undergo the procedure (now corrected to work on the likes of him) as the assassination he'd tried to prevent is successfully carried out.
    • "Quality of Mercy": A captured space pilot comforts the girl he's imprisoned with when the aliens start turning her into one of them. To give her hope, he says there's a secret reserve force waiting to strike at the aliens. Just what she wanted to hear, because she was a spy, and they're changing her back into an alien.
    • The writers continued that story in "The Light Brigade" just to squash any hope the viewers had. Due to the aforementioned episode, the aliens begin winning the war. In a last-ditch effort, humanity tries to surprise attack the alien homeworld with a planet-killing WMD. The fleet is ambushed and the ship carrying the device is crippled, and everyone is killed immediately or knocked unconscious and given a fatal dose of radiation which will kill them soon. The hero manages to unmask a traitor, get to the destination and drop the bomb before his ship can be boarded. Unfortunately, the ship had been turned around whilst everyone was unconscious - the hero has just heroically ensured that the bomb was dropped on Earth!
    • "Dead Man's Switch": A fleet of alien spaceships are seen heading toward Earth. Knowing they might be evil, a Doomsday plan with a Dead Man's Switch is prepared, with five people in individual bunkers sharing the responsibility to prevent the doomsday plan from being enacted (should it become unnecessary) by regularly pressing a button to keep the doomsday device from turning on. The five people in the bunkers are gradually killed off in variety of ways. The brief hope for peace is extinguished when a second fleet of colonization ships is found and the button pressers lose all contact. They die in their separate bunkers one by one until the last one remains. He finally decides to let it happen when he gets a message from his commander telling him they defeated the aliens with a new weapon. He stops the Doomsday Device at the last second and is told to keep pushing the button until they can disarm it. The last scene shows the aliens who used the commander as a puppet eating his brains over the glowing red ruins of DC.
    • "Mind Over Matter": A man creates an AI machine to reach into a female coma patient's mind to help wake her up. It's a living dream and he falls in love with her cute avatar in the dream. Occasionally during this therapy they are attacked by a grimy evil looking version of the woman he believes is the AI attempting to take over. In the end he strangles the evil woman. The patient then dies because the cute avatar was the AI all along.
    • "In Our Own Image": An android programmed to be a soldier who wants to live a life of peace escapes from the lab and gets a ride from a random lady he carjacks. She helps him escape and attempt to get the items he needs to remove his safeguards and be free. At the last second before he's truly free, she reveals she was one of his programmers and shuts him down. She wanted to see what he could do before she stopped him. Unfortunately for her and humanity, he had identified her beforehand, turns himself back on, kills her, and starts a robot uprising. This may also count as him giving a Karmic Twist Ending. If humanity is going to act like this, then he needs to teach them a lesson.
    • "Nightmare": A team for special mission is captured and interrogated on their mission to place a Doomsday Device on their foe's home planet. The aliens are interrogating them about the mission and the device and attempting to reverse engineer the device. The creator is one of the persons being interrogated, and in going over how the device is triggered activates it with an override to prevent it from being disarmed. At this point it's revealed it's all been an elaborate simulation to see how they would stand up under stress and they've been on Earth the entire time. Since they've trained so hard with the bomb, they had to use the real bomb with an inactive trigger to simulate it correctly. The creator noticed and fixed it as part of her manual override. Cue Earth-Shattering Kaboom. This example shows the contrast between the original series and the revival. "Nightmare" is a remake of an episode from the original series which had a similar plot with the "it was a simulation" twist at the end, but didn't have the whole thing with the bomb.
    • "The Surrogate": A woman becomes a surrogate to a family via a private medical facility. She joins a support group for surrogate mothers there and becomes suspicious. Standard Town with a Dark Secret plot, right? Suspecting her baby will be a monster or something else she contacts an FBI agent who at first thinks she's crazy. The actual babies are never seen, and the surrogate mothers don't like to talk about them afterwards. When the big day comes and the FBI agent busts in to stop the evil birth...Only to discover the entire thing was a breeding operation for aliens. The alien's birth occurs when the alien growing in her womb eats all of her except her skin. And it's still hungry for more, ending with the FBI agent getting eaten too.
    • "Gettysburg": A time traveler sends three young men at a Battle of Gettysburg reenactment back to the actual battle. One of the young men was a Southern fanatic who thought the South should have won and the battle was glorious. Being in the real battle under an insane commander dying of meningitis disabuses him of the notion. The time traveler sought to teach him that Aesop, because otherwise he would shoot the first black U.S. President in 2013 when the president spoke at Gettysburg due to his Southern sympathies. The time traveler, however, dropped his device and the insane commander accidentally activated it, causing him to be transported to the future where he then shoots the president while he attempts to shoot the Lincoln reenactor.
    • "A New Life": This episode's premise may remind some fans of Shyamalan's The Village. Two married couples join a cult that resembles Puritanism, because their lives have become unfulfilling. The problem is, no one remembered how they reached the forest they were brought to, because the cult leader knocked everyone unconscious en route. At first, the protagonist seemed okay with his new life until the cult leader borrows his child and brands him. After the protagonist gets his son back, he panics and convinces his wife to flee from the village with him. Soon, they realize the forest's edge is blocked by a force field, and stay on the run, but their branded child was used as a tracking device. As a result, the couple was discovered by the cult leader and captured. For fleeing, the protagonist would be executed, so he helped convince his male friend (played by Jeremy Sisto) to help him escape and de-activate the force field. The plan goes well at first until the two of them find a teleporter. The protagonist volunteers to enter, while his friend protects his wife. After entering the teleporter, the protagonist was transported to a dark room with several robed people. The people in robes? Oh they're aliens. They also claim that the forest is inside a spaceship, they've already left Earth, and they plan to use religion to encourage people to breed for the next 500 years...which is when they'll reach their destination and use the humans as slave labor. Of course, the protagonist gets killed for knowing too much, though his partner met a grisly end. The cult leader burns him at the stake to urge people not to rebel. Even better? His wife watches him get roasted.
    • "Breaking Point": A guy makes a time machine and travels a few days into the future, but finds out his wife is dead. Horrified, he returns to the present and tries to protect and warn her. His wife refuses to believe his stories of time travel, and eventually, he loses his temper and accidentally kills her. Anguished, declaring himself a monster, he decides she would have been better off without him, so he travels back to the day they met and kills his past self before he met her, erasing himself from existence. It was all for nothing. In the new timeline, it turned out that his wife had been contemplating suicide and meeting him that fateful day had saved her.
    • "First Anniversary": Two best friends are both married to kind, loving women who look like supermodels, so they think life is good. But one day, one of them goes nuts, claims that the women are monsters, then commits suicide. After the funeral, his friend is baffled, until he starts to feel revulsion whenever he's around the girls (when he tries to kiss his wife, he smells and tastes something nasty). He fears that he's losing his mind, until the girls feel they have no choice but to confess. They are really aliens that crash landed on Earth. Since they can't leave, they decided to blend in and live the rest of their lives peacefully as human women. The reason his friend called them monsters and that he's feeling disgusted by them is that prolonged contact with them causes the person to develop an immunity to their Glamour. His wife tries to persuade him that no matter what they look like, they are still the nice women they befriended and fell in love with. Sadly, when he becomes completely immune to the illusion, their true form is so hideous that he suffers a complete mental breakdown. The women move on and seduce two new guys, meaning the cycle will repeat itself roughly once a year.
    • "The Grid": A man on a road trip stops at another city and finds that an evil organization has installed the buildings with antennas that emit a mind-controlling signal as a sort of Take Over the World plot. Since the protagonist is immune, the brainwashed citizens are ordered to kill him. He escapes and returns to his hometown, intending to call the cops, only to find more antennas. His brainwashed wife shoots him.
    • "The Human Factor": On the first ever colony on Ganymede, a robot suddenly rigs the reactor to blow up. The robot explains that since Humans Are the Real Monsters, its logical course of action is to destroy the colony and prevent humanity from expanding beyond Earth. The crew manages to deactivate the robot and save the reactor, though all but one die in the process. The survivor receives a message from Earth. World War III broke out, and nukes have wiped out a lot of the planet (including the survivor's family). A shuttle carrying the President and other officials is heading for Ganymede and will arrive in a few months. In despair, the survivor re-rigs the reactor to blow and turns the robot back on. He tells the robot it was right, then offers to play chess to pass the time until the colony is blown to kingdom come (though this one skirts Karmic Twist Ending a bit).
      • It turns into an outright cruel twist ending if you accept it as a true sequel to "Phobos Rising" instead of just another Clip Show episode attempt for Arc Welding unrelated episodes. Said previous episode had a true Karmic Twist Ending, as the Martian colonies destroyed each other thanks to rampant paranoia in the wake of a catastrophic event that ended up with the two factions declaring a truce, and just to twist the knife in further, the general giving the news to the sole survivors of each colony tells them that all of Earth is looking to Martian colonies as a symbol and example of cooperation and solidarity.
    • "Ripper": In Victorian London, a man goes on the trail of notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper. He eventually discovers that the Ripper is actually an evil Body Surfing alien. While it is in the body of an old woman, he fights and stabs it, only for the alien to exit the body and escape. The police arrive and arrest the protagonist, assuming that he is the Ripper. The alien, in a new body, visits the protagonist in the asylum and promises to find his family and kill them before leaving.
    • "Blank Slate": A man with amnesia is pursued by mysterious agents for the device he's carrying. A woman is caught up in the events and teams up with the man. While on the run, they slowly fall in love. Unfortunately, when his memories come back, it turns out that he was working with the bad guys before. Reverting to his original evil personality, he betrays the woman and returns the device.
    • "Birthright": The protagonist believes he has thwarted an alien invasion...only for the taxi driver to reveal himself as one of them and capture him. The infiltration was more widespread than he thought.
    • "The Voice of Reason": A man appears before a government committee to warn them about alien infiltrators. They dismiss him as a nut. Suspecting the official who opposes him the loudest is an infiltrator, the man shoots and kills him, hoping to expose his alien nature. The official was human and a complete muggle, and the man is arrested. And it turns out the protagonist had managed to convince him that aliens could be a legitimate threat, and killed his ally. Nearly everyone else in the committee is an alien, and they silently thank the man for getting rid of that guy, allowing them to take full control and further their invasion plans. (And this was the Clip Show. Even the clip show has a nasty ending.)
    • "A Special Edition": A guy appears on a talk show to present evidence that the government is performing illegal cloning experiments. The government cuts off their signal and sends armed thugs into the studio. The guy, cast, and crew try to escape, but are eventually captured. A clone of the guy appears and gives a fraudulent report that "disproves" the guy's evidence. The clone mocks the protagonists, claiming that the masses are stupid sheep who believe anything they hear, so his fraudulent report is already making them forget the truth. The guy, cast, and crew are all shot to death by the clone.
    • "Human Trials": A group of soldiers sign up for a top secret mission. To "weed out the wimps", the soldiers are placed in virtual reality simulations (the kind where you can feel everything) of battles, natural disasters, etc. Those who die, crack, or give up in the simulations are eliminated and sent home. In the end, only one soldier makes it. After the round of congratulations, he eagerly asks what his mission is. He is then informed that there was no mission; For Science!, they were looking for someone really tough so that they could use him as a guinea pig to test the limits of human endurance and willpower. He is forcibly plugged back into virtual reality and subjected to nightmarish tortures as the technicians and military officials look on with Lack of Empathy.
    • "Manifest Destiny": A spaceship investigates a distress call from an abandoned spaceship. While exploring it, the crew begins to grow paranoid and insane, one by one. The doctor tries to figure out what is going on, but is too late and succumbs as well. The alien virus that caused this is unknowingly sent to Earth. This does overlap with Karmic Twist Ending seeing how the virus was the result of humanity destroying the aliens so they could colonize their homeworld for themselves, with the doctor comparing it to how the wars with Native Americans ultimately caused syphilis to be carried to Europe.
    • "Final Appeal": A woman time travels to the future and is arrested because technology is banned. She goes on trial and tries to convince the leaders to bring technology back, because she has seen futures where humanity is screwed without technology. A second time traveler arrives with a nuclear bomb and threatens the leaders to keep technology banned, because he had seen futures where humanity ended up screwed over because of technology. After a long debate, the leaders decide to lift the ban and everyone seemingly convinces the second time traveler not to kill them and to return to his own time. He leaves...but leaves the bomb behind and it explodes, wiping out the city.
  • Tales from the Darkside:
    • "The Cutty Black Sow". A young boy's dying grandmother instructs him in a rite to ward off an evil Celtic demon that claims the souls of those who die on All Hallow's Eve. The boy obediently performs the rite, putting stones in a fire marked with the names of his family members. His Bratty Half-Pint little sister knocks the stone with his name out of the fire, which according to the myth, means that his soul will be taken by the Cutty Black Sow. The rest of the episode consists of him jumping at every sound and seeing a pair of yellow eyes through windows...until the end, where his parents come home from Grandma's funeral and his father comes up to tuck him into bed. Where's the twist? He embraces his father, relieved that it's over...and his father turns into the Cutty Black Sow. The boy is paralyzed with fear as the demon leans over him. Yeah, that's what you GET for trying to save your grandmother's soul, kid!
    • "Effect and Cause": An aging hippie with a broken leg and her boyfriend witness the world's chaotic nature coming to a head, with things spontaneously happening, appearing and disappearing at random. They're both amazed, but she is really excited to be seeing the nature of the very universe. So...what does the universe do? Spontaneously change around the furniture as she walks around, causing her to fall and land on her broken leg, spontaneously cause some events that make the cops come to her house, spontaneously turn on the gas on the stove, and cause the broken doorbell to cause a spark and blow up the house while she can't do anything but watch it all unfold. Pretty vindictive for random chaos.
  • Tales from the Crypt has had some nasty ones.
    • "Abra Cadaver": In revenge for a prank that ruined his career, surgeon Marty poisons his younger brother Carl and injects him with a drug before he dies. Carl's body is hung on a meat hook, drained of blood, and scalped in an anatomy demonstration...all while he's fully conscious, yet unable to move, speak, or feel anything. It's an elaborate prank staged by Marty to demonstrate how his drug preserves brain function after death. However, Carl suffers a heart attack in shock; Marty injects him with a larger dose. The drug works, but Carl is left helplessly witnessing his own real autopsy. The kicker? Contrary to Marty's previous claim, the sense of touch isn't the first to go—it's the last.
    • "Three's a Crowd": A man believes that his wife and best friend are having an affair, leading him to eventually murder the both of them in a drunken rage. But just as he attempts getting rid of her body, he stumbles right into a surprise party that she and the friend had planned for him. And the reason? All to announce that they were going to be parents. So thanks to a misunderstanding, the man has now murdered his wife, his best friend, and his unborn child.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): Perhaps the best illustration of the difference between a Karmic Twist Ending and a cruel-twist ending are two episodes with virtually the same plot: a man manages to apparently become the last man on Earth, but cannot enjoy it. (In the second case the man finds he finally has time to read all the books he wants — until he breaks his glasses.) It's the same twist in both episodes, but in "The Mind and the Matter", the man is a Misanthrope Supreme who wills everyone else away, making his eventual fate karmic justice. In "Time Enough at Last", however, the man is a timid man who is ridiculed by his wife and boss for reading books, and who only survives a nuclear holocaust because he locked himself in a bank vault as the only way he could get some peace. In this case, the world screws him over just to be mean. The Other Wiki claims that he was being punished for being antisocial, and for daring to think that humanity being wiped out had a positive side. Make of that what you will.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985) has "A Little Peace and Quiet", in which a woman finds a pearl necklace that can stop time, like in the old TZ, but uses it to stop time immediately before Soviet missiles impact her town, leaving her with a choice of being permanently stuck in a frozen world or starting time again only to be vaporized.
  • The Twilight Zone (2002) was much more into cruel endings than karmic ones.
    • The very first episode featured a rebel-lite teenage girl destroyed by the above-mentioned sealed-off modern community with the obligatory nasty secret, and along the way helps her younger sibling become an accomplice to a fairly grisly act. There was no sci-fi in her fate, more Sopranos — and the sick twist is, in her depiction, she was no more a 'true' rebel than the oldsters in the original TZ's "Kick The Can" were really all that old. The would-be "rebel" many RL parents would be happy to get has some tattoos and some 'tude, and that's really about it.
    • There was the time travel episode where a woman decides to kill an evil dictator as an infant by posing as his nanny. The baby was Adolf Hitler, and she succeeds. However, another nanny who saw what happened replaces the baby with another child, the implication being that the new child is the Hitler we had to deal with. It would have been a good episode, if it weren't for a very bad case of Critical Research Failure: the baby Adolf is the cherished son of his proud and well-off father, who is able to afford a nanny in the first place; the real Hitler's father was a civil servant, he didn't have a nanny, and the pair were not close.

  • The country music standard "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia". The song starts off as the narrator talking about a murder that occured in Georgia with a man murdering his unfaithful wife. The narrator mentions in the chorus that an innocent man was hanged. Near the end of the song, you learn that the innocent man was the betrayed husband. The true killer is the innocent man's sister. She killed her sister-in-law for cheating on her brother. So basically an innocent man was killed for a murder his sister committed. And she allowed her brother to die for her crime.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Zany gag strip and Funky Winkerbean spinoff John Darling (in)famously ended with the title character having his career ruined without ever achieving his dreams and then, completely out of the blue, being murdered on live TV by a crazed gunman. This was partially motivated by Tom Batiuk being in a contract dispute and wanting to discourage his syndicate from claiming and using the character, but Batiuk later stated the the primary goal was to give the strip (which was on the verge of cancellation due to the TV pages - which the comic was usually run on due to its TV-oriented humor - being crowded out by the explosion in cable channels) a dramatic sendoff rather than let it "wimp off into the sunset."
    • This turned out to be mere foreshadowing. Two years later, Funky Winkerbein itself (as well as Crankshaft to a lesser extent) made the jump from a zany gag strip to a depressing and grim drama where Cruel Twist Endings are the norm.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Neuroshima: "Mercury" type campaigns are supposed to rely heavily on those.note 


    Theme Parks 
  • In the end of Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem at Universal Studios, it seems as though the riders will finally be able to serve as one of Gru's Minions...until one Minion ends up crashing into the ray gun, which transforms the riders back to normal.

    Video Games 
  • In the Fighting Game Akatsuki Blitzkampf, Anonym's ending is this through and through because right after she defeats the Big Bad Murakumo...she's at the receiving end of her Arch-Enemy Mycale's Grand Theft Me.
  • Ben and Ed: You play as Ed the zombie, who has befriended a young boy, Ben, in an apocalyptic world. Ben is captured and used as bait for Ed to follow in a difficult and deadly obstacle-course game show. Once the show is stopped and Ed escapes to find Ben, they embrace. Then it turns out that Ed was never really Ben's friend, and he wasn't chasing after Ben to rescue him. He only saw Ben as a potential meal and Ed devours him alive.
  • The ending of BioShock Infinite, once you can parse out the Mind Screw: you've defeated Comstock, driven back the Vox Populi, and destroyed the siphon that limits Elizabeth's powers. Well, you've defeated one Comstock, out of an infinite number of alternate universes. "You" are not the first Booker to be called to Columbia - the Lutece twins have brought over a hundred alternate Bookers to take down Comstock, but you are the first to succeed at killing even one. And, as it turns out, Booker and Comstock are alternate universe versions of each other, decided by whether he is baptized following the Battle of Wounded Knee. To kill all Comstocks permanently is to snip the rose at the bud by drowning Booker at his baptism, which destroys Elizabeth, his at-that-time-unborn daughter, as well. There's the implication that some version of Booker and baby Elizabeth somewhere survived this process, but no confirmation is ever given.
    • Episode I of the DLC Burial at Sea, which began as a What-If story of Booker and Elizabeth in Rapture, is just as brutal in its ending. The "Booker" you play as is actually a Comstock, who accidentally killed Elizabeth while trying to kidnap her and moved to Rapture to escape. Elizabeth came to Rapture partially to find a girl she was searching for (who was turned into a Little Sister), but primarily to kill you. Which she does, via Big Daddy. Before, as the beginning of the next episode reveals, being killed herself.
  • Can Your Pet? It's a cutesy, minute-long Nintendogs-esque game, but with chicks instead of puppies. The shock in the ending comes into full circle once you realize that the game's title is NOT a typo.
  • In Chzo Mythos' 7 Days A Skeptic you survive the murderous rampage of an unstoppable killer, and get to reach the rescue ship in time. You reach them only to find that they have actually come to arrest you for murder as you have actually been an impostor of the character the entire time, and for convenience, they charge you with the rest of the murders as well. The best part? 6 Days a Sacrifice implies you were the killer after all.
  • Most of the Multiple Endings in the Clock Tower games are this. Didn't find Lotte before boarding the elevator? Lights cut out and you hear Scissorman's laugh. Went to the wrong location to look for the demon statue? Jennifer's found dead in her room and someone's behind the door. Didn't bother to check that suit of armor? It unavoidably falls on you an hour of gameplay later and kills you instantly. The list goes on and on for this series.
  • Crackdown: You've spent the entire game tearing down the three gangs who turned Pacific City into a hellhole, brought peace and hope back to the people, and the Director congratulates you for a job well done...then surprise! It turns out the Agency was Evil All Along. They supplied and supported all three gangs and ran the city's police force into the ground, all from behind the scenes, to create the very problem the Agency would be needed to stop. The Director gloats that you are the harbinger of a new world order and that Pacific City is just the beginning.
  • Cyber-Lip, a Neo Geo sidescrolling shooter, has the time honored plotline of 'Humanity builds super-computer to fight evil aliens, super-computer itself turns evil and destroys Earth, one/two guy(s) must shoot everything including berserk computer.' In the rather sparse ending, it turns out that the super-computer was NOT evil, just reprogrammed. As the heroes fly back to their home base, their leader congratulates them on a job well done - and mentions how there are no more obstacles in their way just as he gives a nasty smirk while his eyes glow red. That's when it hits you that you've done just as the aliens wanted...
  • Darkest Dungeon: After losing your sanity by acting as mission control to the most fucked-up dungeon crawl in human history, choosing which half of your party to sacrifice during the final boss battle, and defeating the Eldritch Abomination responsible for controlling every monster your ancestor created, you finally discover thatyou killed a redundant organ. The Darkest Dungeon is in fact an egg that takes up most of Earth's core, one which feeds off of the cycle of life itself. When the cosmic beast inside is done incubating, it will destroy the Earth in an explosive hatching. Crushed by the horror of everything, you commit suicide, only for another descendant to show up. Why and how they are there is left unknown. Of course, it is the aforementioned horrible abomination that made humanity saying this, and there is plenty of space and a few reasons to believe it's just spitefully lying.
  • Dear Mariko: Mariko's boyfriend just broke up with her. You spend the whole game rooting for the protagonist against the scary stalker woman who's been going Yandere over her boyfriend and trying to kill her. But at no point in the game was it ever said that the protagonist was Mariko...the game just set it up such that you'd assume so, only for it to come crashing on you in the True Ending.
  • The 1st Loop endings of DonPachi. Congratulations! You've been fighting and killing your allies this whole time! Sucker!
  • DOOM (2016) has the Doomslayer survive insurmountable odds, discovering his origins, trashing Hell to a bloody pulp, destroying the source of the demonic invasion and defeating Olivia Pierce in her Spider Mastermind form and finally he comes back to Mars just for Samuel Hayden to take the Crucible from him, announce that with it he can resume researching (and exploiting) Argent energy, and using the last charge of the Cyberdemon's core to teleport the Doomslayer to parts unknown just to get him out of the way. Cue the sequel...
  • Drakengard is infamous for this. Heavy spoilers follow, obviously.
    • In Ending B, the protagonist's dead sister is placed into one of the "Seeds of Resurrection" in an attempt to bring her back to life, but instead she's reborn as a giant flying monstrosity. After one of the hardest boss fights in the game, the player is presented with the sight of the protagonist holding the body of his sister in his arms, as dozens more of her clones rise up into the sky from other Seeds, ready to destroy humanity.
    • In Ending C, the dragon who was the protagonist's loyal companion throughout the whole game is forced to break the pact and fight the protagonist to death. Upon your victory, the protagonist leaves the temple only to find that the world outside is overrun with dragons exterminating the remaining humans. He is then shown clutching his sword tightly and charging into the fray, presumably ready to die in a hopeless battle.
    • In Ending D, the whole party including the protagonist and the dragon are killed by enemy forces one by one. The last surviving party member seals himself, the Queen of the monsters, and the whole city in a timeless zone for an eternity.
    • In Ending E, the protagonist, his dragon and the monster queen are transported into modern-day Tokyo, where an infamously difficult battle using rhythm game controls takes place. After defeating the queen, the protagonist and the dragon are shot down by JSDF jet fighters. The last frame of the game is the dragon's body impaled on Tokyo Tower, accompanied with a "Thank you for playing". Even worse is that this ending is what leads to Nier, as the body of the queen ends up becoming the source of that game's "White Chlorination Syndrome".
  • Eversion plays with this. That princess you're out to save? She's an Eldritch Abomination who will eat you alive. But if you collect all the gems, it turns out you're an abomination too - which makes for a surprisingly good ending as you and the princess fall in love.
  • Fantasy Zone: Guess what? The commander of the enemy soldiers was actually Opa-Opa's dad!
  • Far Cry:
    • The bad ending for Far Cry 3 is almost comically brutal. By choosing to side with Citra, you slice the throat of your girlfriend, younger brother, and all your other friends before making love to each other. Shortly after the deed is done, Citra stabs you in the chest, having obtained the seed of "the ultimate warrior", and you basically have killed your friends for nothing.
    • Far Cry 5 plays mostly like its two predecessors, until you've witnessed all three endings and realize there's absolutely no way to bring the Big Bad to justice. You either capitulate right in the intro cinematic, let him get off scot-free during your final confrontation and assumingly get yourself brainwashed into killing all your friends afterwards, or you arrest him and thus trigger nuclear armageddon out of absolutely freaking nowhere, which means this raving lunatic was right all along. Doesn't get much more unsatisfying than that. Fortunately, everything is rectified in Far Cry: New Dawn, where not only does that game's hero defeat the villains there, but also finally deals with the previous villain.
  • Triple subverted in Golden Sun: The Lost Age. At the end of the game, the heroes fight a giant three-headed dragon so they can cast the Mars Star into Mars Lighthouse and restore Alchemy to the world. Once they defeat it, it's revealed they just killed a fused form of Isaac's kidnapped father and Felix and Jenna's kidnapped parents. Then they activate the Lighthouse, and the eruption of Mars energy brings them all back to life. The heroes return home to find that Mt. Aleph has erupted, destroying their entire hometown of Vale and everyone in it, including Isaac's mother and Garet's entire family. Then it's revealed that the Wise One evacuated all of the inhabitants to safety, and everybody joyously reunites.
  • Just like most of the Goosebumps books in the main series, Goosebumps HorrorLand ends this way. Just as everything seems to work out fine, what with your character, their friend, and the little girl they rescued managing to escape the titular Amusement Park of Doom to freedom against all odds, the last moments of the game reveal that the little girl, Gigi, is The Great Gargantua, and now that she's free, she plans to trun the whole world into her own personal HorrorLand.
  • The ending of Grand Theft Auto IV. In the penultimate mission, the player is offered the choice of doing a drug deal with the Big Bad or taking revenge on him for all the things he's done. Niko's cousin Roman will lobby you for the former and Niko's girlfriend Kate will push for the latter. The cruel twist is that whichever path you take, the character who suggested it (ie the one the player listened to and is more invested in) will die at Roman's wedding.
  • Perhaps the most surprising ending in the history of video games due to its humorous and lighthearted mood throughout, near the end of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 you take part in a rather gruesome series of events where you have to destroy everyone your character holds dear with the game making you feel every horrifying action. Finally, when you approach the final boss, she simply laughs about how you've basically played into her hands all along as an Unwitting Pawn to the end of Gamindustri, which is the opposite of what you were trying to do in the first place, and now it doesn't even matter if you defeat her because the entire world's going to collapse and everyone's going to die. Roll credits. Fortunately, this is NOT the true end.
  • Immortal Defense: after everyone on your planet is wiped out by the Bavakh due to Aa misleading you in order to save his planet, you decide to help the Bavakh fight and defeat Aa, becoming a hero to the Bavakh instead. You're then contacted by your granddaughter who informs you that they survived and are rebuilding your world. Naturally, you return to defending them from the Bavakh. The ending reveals that your granddaughter was a hallucination, there is no rebuilding, and you've been defending a dead world by mass murdering the Bavakh who previously saw you as an ally. You play the final chapter of the campaign as an Pathspace spirit, insane due to being alone for several hundred years, mindlessly shooting anything that wanders into that area of space until the Universe ends.
    • Aa gets a Cruel Twist Ending too. He assumes that the destruction of your preserved body will kill you in Pathspace, and tries to achieve this by sending the ship holding his preserved body to kill yours. But when that ship is destroyed, he realizes that you and he are trapped in Pathspace permanently. Unable to face that, but also unable to die, he decides to just.. do nothing. Forever. (Although if you reach the hidden chapter of the campaign, you discover that he didn't manage that.)
  • Jinxter's famously bad ending. The game begins with the player character about to be run over by a bus, and then awaking in a mysterious, magical world where they become one of its guardians. If you successfully save the world, it turns out you didn't die and awaken in another world; you're quite alive, and the folks in the other world have no idea what was happening on Earth. They helpfully teleport you right back to where and when you left from - that is, right in front of the bus, to your immediate death.
  • Knights of the Old Republic, due to a long line of retcons, Character Derailment, and Depending on the Author.
    • The True Sith set up the Mandalorians to go rampaging. Revan and Malak defy the Council's cowardice and inaction by trying to stop the invasion. He Who Fights Monsters kicks in, they start falling to the Dark Side, and whip out a Colony Drop weapon so horrific that even the Mandalorians are shocked by its brutality. The one Jedi who refused to go Sith with them is brutally cut off from the Force, and comes back to the Council to offer an olive branch, only to get spit on and told "get out." Revan goes on a rampage through known space, ostensibly to "unite it" against the bigger threat (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero), only for the Jedi to set up one hell of a plan in response. No matter how you play it, in the second game you're now playing that outcast Jedi. The Sith and the Republic are in complete ruins, Revan's vanished to force-knows-where, everyone either distrusts you or wants to use you for something, and no matter HOW Exile works the angles, the Council is still dead, the Republic is still a mess, and you're still about as popular as an X-Man at an anti-mutant rally. Kreia rubs it all in with her last speech. And the new game, 300 years later? The big threat Revan was trying to stop emerges from hiding, beats the crap out of the Republic...and it's stated "on panel" that Revan and Exile were never seen again after their respective games, meaning they likely died horribly and pointlessly.
    • It gets worse in Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO-sequel. Republic adventurers will rescue Revan from prison and Mind Rape, so that he can enact his black-ops mission to kill the majority of the empire. Imperial adventurers will find Revan losing to The Corruption, now on the verge of committing genocide (Ironically, this WOULD kill the empire but not the more important source) and has to be put down. Bonus points for having Revan's last words directed at Malak and him finally recognizing the fully-corrupted jedi as a friend. Also, the Exile was killed pointlessly by a Sith just to Kick the Dog and prove he's a bastard. And even after that, Revan's dark spirit returns in an attempt to awaken the Sith Emperor that would have resulted in the latter consuming the galaxy and succeeds, with Vitiate later consuming all life on Ziost and plunging the galaxy into an even greater war with a big secret army out of nowhere.
    • From the same story: a minor plot on the first world was the quest for a group outcasts for the Promised Land, a forgotten colony that would have protected them from the orbital bombardment that destroyed their world. In the MMO you find out that while it kept them alive, the shelter was destroyed and their descendants eked out a miserable existence for a few generations before all being killed by toxic waste poisoning.
  • In the second part of Left 4 Dead's comic for The Sacrifice, Zoey discovers that the carrier gene which has allowed her to avoid the infection is passed on by the father. She then recalls that at the start of the zombie ordeal, she killed her father after he was bitten, on his request, since he assumed he would turn into a zombie and wanted to die as himself, having no idea he was a carrier.
  • Live A Live drags Oersted through the mud. Oersted ends up killing the ruling king, having been tricked by an illusion to believe him to be the dreaded Demon King, and gets ostracized by everyone. His few comrades die and then Straybow, an old friend of his, turns out to have orchestrated everything to ruin Oersted. Oersted is forced to fight Straybow to the death and wins, but he can finally rescue his beloved fiancée, Alicia...only for her to yell at him for having supposedly abandoned her, having killed her father and lover, meaning Straybow. And then she proceeds to commit suicide. Everything Oersted fought for and having held onto the hope that even one single person may still believe in him, he utterly breaks and decides that, if everyone believed him to be the real Demon King, then he might as well become the Demon King.
  • With the Extended Cut Downloadable Content for Mass Effect 3, it added in the Refusal ending. In it, Shepard refused to activate the Crucible (or shooting the Catalyst), preferring to go down fighting against the Reapers. Without the Crucible, galactic civilization fell to the Reapers. If it weren't for Liara's warning, the next cycle wouldn't have succeeded in defeating the Reapers.
  • In Maze 5: Sinister Play, Sophie escapes from the horror scenario Reality Warper twins placed her in and is reunited with her best friends JP and Dario, who were placed in scenarios of their own. After she hears their stories and questions the improbability of their survival, they comment that they "kinda died" in actuality and then turn into the twins, leaving her alone and weeping by the side of the road.
  • The true ending of Mogeko Castle. Seriously game, after everything that Yonaka had gone through, you should've just finished the story when she reunites with Shinya and arrives home to blood everywhere. That's a Cruel Twist Ending in itself, and ending it there probably would've made the story make more sense than what ensued. After Yonaka Mercy Kills Shinya, it's revealed that SHE'S being read to by King mogeko, meaning either her mental state is so deteriorated that she's haunted by the trauma in her life...or despite her efforts, she's once again a prisoner of Mogeko Castle. Yonaka can't catch a break!
  • My Little Pegasus: Kizuna DoPonyPachi. Win against Angra Mainyu on 1st loop? TUTORIAL COMPLETE.
    • Clear the Tsuujou loop? It was All Just a Dream and Equestria is still in danger.
    • Clear the obscenely hard Ura loop and defeat the True Final Boss? All your friends are dead.
  • Congratulations, you've finished NieR, destroyed the Shadowlord and rescued your daughter. Even if it did turn out you're both Artificial Humans and the Shadowlord was the "real" Nier. Then you read Grimoire Nier and realize that the human race will go extinct in a generation without the Shadowlord. Oh, and Yonah is still dying of the Black Scrawl.
  • The sidequests of NieR: Automata are fond of these. To name one example: "The Wandering Couple". You spend much of the quest-line helping this pair of Resistance androids, who wish to leave the Resistance and just eke out a peaceful existence together, until finally they decide that they can't survive on their own and that they need to reformat themselves in order to return to the Resistance. Cue The Reveal: This entire set-up was just an elaborate ploy by the female android to get her boyfriend to get reformatted, so she can erase his personality and reconstruct it into a form more to her liking. In fact, this is her sixth time doing so. And you can't intervene to stop it, so she gets away with it.
    • Many of the weapon stories in the game end this way. Here's a notable example:
    One day, a hawk lost its way in the woods. Its proud wings soon grew weak as it tried in vain to find its way home. As death approached, a songbird took pity on the hawk and did its best to offer aid.
    The songbird slowly nursed the hawk back to health. The beautiful sight of the small white bird nestled in the elegant wings of the hawk soon made it the envy of all the creatures in the forest.
    When the hawk was fully healed, it knew it was time to leave the forest. But before flying away, it promised the songbird it would one day return. In turn, the songbird gave the hawk one of its shining feathers as a token of friendship.
    As promised, the hawk eventually returned-but with a human in tow. "Well done," said the human. "These feathers will sell for a great price at the market." Then he slew the songbird in one blow and plucked its carcass clean.
  • The Ninja Warriors (and its remake The Ninja Warriors Again) has your prototype ninja robots kill an evil dictator who has taken over the country using evil mutants and robots...only for your ninjas' leader to make them self-destruct to blow up the dictator's estate, and then he takes over the country with completed versions of the robot ninjas. It turns out that the new government was no better than the one you overthrew.
  • Subverted in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. Right before the final battle with Jasper Batt Jr., Batt reveals to Travis that Henry, Shinobu, and Sylvia were all brutally Stuffed into the Fridge by having some Mooks deliver him their severed heads on platters. And then right before Batt goes all One-Winged Angel, Henry shows up...and reveals that the heads were just very good replicas. And then Sylvia saves Travis from his fall from the top of Pizza Batt tower. Shinobu is nowhere to be seen, but given that the other two didn't actually die, it's likely that she's okay as well.
  • The final book of Odin Sphere, Armageddon, is just the whole story going completely and utterly pear-shaped after everybody's personal stories wrapped up nicely. Even if you win and get the Good Ending, it's still extremely bittersweet.
  • In Prince of Persia (2008), Elika is sworn to keep Eldritch Abomination Ahriman contained in his prison. Her father trades his soul for Elika's life and releases Ahriman, which you and Elika spend the entire game undoing. When Elika dies during the final boss fight, the Prince (read: YOU) resurrects her (sans deal with Ahriman, but still releasing him) after Elika explicitly told you not to.
  • The Golden Ending of Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Battle Pentagram: Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, and Kyoko all help Homura defeat Walpurgisnacht, and they all survive. Then The Stinger reveals it was All Just a Dream Homura had before the events of Rebellion. Things go downhill from there.
  • The ending of RayStorm, particularly on 13-Ship Mode in its stinger, reveals that not only did you succeed in squashing the Secilian rebellion and sent the entire space colony of Secilia plummeting towards certain doom leaving what remains of its population to die, but that Earth, all R-GRAY craft, and the entire R-GRAY development team have all been wiped away too! Absolutely nothing hints at this, by the way.
  • Red Dead Redemption provides what is essentially a cruel twist epilogue. The main story ends with John making a valiant Last Stand against the corrupt lawman who had been pulling his strings all game long, dying in a hail of gunfire in order to give his wife and son enough time to escape their doomed ranch. It's cruel, to be sure, but not exactly a twist given that John repeatedly acknowledges that he's led a life that would likely result in just such an end. He accepts this fate throughout the story on the hope that no matter what happens to him, he'll be able to secure a safe and prosperous life for his family and ensure that his son grows up to be a better man than John himself. But after the finale mission ends, a cutscene transitions to the epilogue, set 3 years later, and shows that John's wife Abegail has died and his son Jack is a bitter, vengeful outlaw whose only remaining goal in life is to hunt down and kill the man responsible for his father's death. In spite of all of John's efforts, his family is destroyed and Jack has become everything John didn't want for him to be, essentially rendering all of his efforts throughout the story pointless.
  • River City Girls does this Played for Laughs. Kiyoko and Misako tear through River City, pummeling various people in the process in search of their boyfriends Kunio and Riki, who were kidnapped. The girls defeat the final boss and survive a crash landing to find Kunio and Riki at the spa the girls crash landed at. They were never kidnapped, they were there the entire time. Even more, the boys are dismissive of the girls. Turns out that, surprise, Kiyoko and Misako are Clingy Jealous EX-Girlfriends! Subverted in the alternate ending added in a patch, where Riki and Kunio instead ask the girls out for burgers.
  • At the end of Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf, just when both you and Ralph think he won and finally got himself a sheep, not only did it turn out that it was actually Sam disguised as a sheep, preparing to punch Ralph once more, but it also all turns out to be just a dream, and he has to return to the routine of unsuccessfully trying to steal sheep from Sam. He's visibly unhappy about it.
  • In the Adrift game The Sisters, you play through the entire game only to find out that your character is a murderer, and the girl who kills you during the ending is actually the ghost of your victim getting revenge.
  • At the end of Soldier of Fortune: Payback, Alena Petrova hits you with a fire extinguisher and steals the secret device you just recovered. Apparently, she was The Mole of another terrorist group. The Shop intercepts a conversation between her, some unknown person, and the Not Quite Dead Moor, but the signal is lost midway. It is doubtful that this cliffhanger will be resolved, due to the game's poor reception and performance. Or maybe it was meant to be Left Hanging.
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed's dark side endings are this.
    • The first game has Starkiller killing Darth Vader and trying to kill Darth Sidious, but the Emperor crushes Starkiller with the ship his Love Interest is flying, while he sees all the corpses of the rebel leaders. Starkiller survives but is turned into a new servant of the Emperor much like Vader was with life-sustaining Sith Stalker armor. This leads to the DLC Alternate Timeline storyline, in which Lord Starkiller takes part in events seen in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, killing Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi and corrupting Luke Skywalker into joining The Dark Side, implying he's going to train him to kill the Emperor, much like Vader supposedly intended with him.
    • In the second game Starkiller is killed by a dark-side clone of himself who was apparently invisible and observing the battle with Vader all along. Juno Eclipse, Kota and most of the rebel fleet are killed while Vader orders the dark apprentice to find and destroy the rest of the alliance. This also leads into a different Alternate Timeline storyline, in which Luke died on Hoth and the Dark Apprentice is sent to Endor, where he kills Han Solo and Chewbacca, and then confronts Leia, who due to her brother's death was the one who was trained as a Jedi instead. Despite this, she is killed too. And the Emperor reveals he is aware of Vader's secret attempts to train an apprentice of his own, uses Force Lightning on him, and sends an entire fleet of Imperial ships to Endor with the purpose of killing the Apprentice. Both storylines end on something of a Cliffhanger though.
  • Starshot: Space Circus Fever ends with Starshot reporting to Starcash that Virtua Circus has been severely compromised and its director Wolfgang has been captured. But as soon as Starcash leaves it turns out that Starshot was a hologram and the real one has been imprisoned offscreen at some point since the final boss fight! Cue a "The end?" screen teasing a sequel the developers didn't even intend to make. The implication is that the latter parts of the final battle after Starshot is scanned and cloned were all a simulation.
  • Terranigma: After Ark has destroyed Dark Gaia, his light version tells him that since he was a creation of Dark Gaia, he is now doomed to vanish too, alongside his village and all his friends and family. The kicker: He only set out on his journey in the first place to keep them safe, and instead he's doomed them all.
  • Throne of Darkness: The daimyo guiding you actually wants you to defeat the Dark Warlord so he can claim the immortality potion, become the next Dark Warlord, and then immediately brainwashes you and your party into his mindless zombies. Yep, you just spent the whole game becoming an Unwitting Pawn to an Evil All Along guy; that's just mean, even compared to the game by which this game is inspired.
  • Trails Series:
    • In Trails In the Sky FC, our heroes have beaten Colonel Richard, stopped his coup and getting him to use the Black Orbment to take the Aureole. When you're in the middle of the celebration party, Estelle leaves to go get some ice cream for herself and Joshua, and Professor Alba comes to speak with Joshua. He then reveals himself to actually be Georg Weissmann be an anguis of Ouroboros, reveals that they came too late to stop Richard to stop his unintended contribution to their plot, and then gives Joshua his fuzzy memories of his time before joining the Bright family, revealing that he was an Enforcer of Ouroboros, and that he was a mole, giving Ouroboros information about the Bright family and the Bracer guild, with Weissmann erasing his memories of doing so afterwards, leaving Joshua in a Heroic BSoD. Later that night, Joshua is preparing to leave, Estelle finds him at the gardens of Grancel Castle, intent on confessing her feelings to him, and Joshua says he's going to tell her his whole past, after which he tells her that he's going to leave and gives him his prized possession and what he calls "all that remains of his heart", his harmonica. She confesses her love to him in an attempt to get him to stay, he kisses her, but he gives her a sedative when he does and leaves as he says he's always loved her. The credits roll with Estelle remembering all of her times with Joshua. For an adventure that was incredibly lighthearted, this was a shock to say the least, and it comes right out of left field.
    • In Trails of Cold Steel III, after the events of the summer festival, Class 7 is invited to the imperial palace. While there everything takes a turn for the worst. It's revealed that there is a curse in Erebonia that makes people act irrationally, and one of its victims is Ash, who is revealed to be a survivor of Hamel. Ash proceeds to shoot the emperor and is captured. Chancellor Osborne then frames this and other recent events as the work of Calvard for the sake of starting a war with them. Class VII learns that Osborne and Ouroboros are planning to enact the Great Twilight, and that another member of the class, Altina, was kidnapped to be made a sacrifice for bringing it about, and then one of the bells from Crossbell starts ringing, which transforms the Imperial Villa into the Gral of Erebos and causes monsters to start popping up all over the place in Heimdallr. The characters descend the Gral, with their friends outside fighting against all but the strongest of the antagonists in the game. We learn that Sharon has fulfilled her contract with the Reinfords and is now fighting for Ouroboros again, and that Alisa's father is not only alive, but also the leader of the Gnomes and one of the people trying to make the Great Twilight a reality. After a fight with a corrupted Holy Beast is concluded, Olivert, Toval, and Victor show up seemingly to save the day, until the airship they're in explodes. And then when Altina is about to be sacrificed, Millium sacrifices herself in her place and becomes the Sword of the End. Rean, in a blind rage and completely overtaken by his ogre power, takes the Sword and kills the Holy Beast with it, kicking off the Great Twilight. And then when he goes for Osborne, he is stopped by all of the other Awakeners in the area, which includes Osborne himself. Osborne does a Neck Lift on Rean, and then the game Smash Cuts to the credits.
  • The Witch's House: In the true ending, it turns out that the player-character, Viola, is actually the witch, Ellen, who has stolen Viola's body. Everything Trying to Kill You in the house? That's Viola trying to stop Ellen and reclaim her body. In the end, Ellen-as-Viola escapes the house, gloats to the pursuing Viola-as-Ellen that she'll be Viola now, and then Viola's father shows up and shoots her-as-Ellen. Ellen then walks off with Viola's father, giggling as they leave her bloody corpse behind. Worse, even if 'Viola' had managed to stop 'Ellen', reclaiming her body would have been impossible since the spell to swap bodies required consensual trust, trust which both lacked at that point — Ellen due to never having it to begin with, and Viola as a result of Ellen's heartless betrayal.
  • Some of the Multiple Endings you can reach in The Yawhg turn out this way. You can think that you've done everything right, only for something to happen right at the end that feels like it completely invalidates all you accomplished.

    Visual Novels 
  • Doki Doki Literature Club!: The normal ending can be easily classified as this. After Monika restores the game and the rest of the characters excluding herself, everything seems to be going well...but unfortunately, when Sayori finds herself alone with the player, its revealed her new position as the club leader transformed her into a meta Yandere just like Monika. A post-Heel–Face Turn Monika decides the Literature Club is a place for no happiness and deletes the whole game to spare her friends from her pain.
  • Raging Loop intentionally does this in its second true ending, A Wedding Celebrated By All. After snagging the final two wolves in a single Feast, where only three humans died in the entire route, Haruaki and Rikako announce their love for one another, he brings Meiko to the police station to hopefully find her home again, then sells all his things so he can live a happy, married life in Yasumizu with Rikako and the rest of the survivors. When he gets back, he finds everyone except Rikako and Nosato with their heads split open. He searches for the other two, and finds them in the meeting hall, where Nosato is holding an axe and babbling about how the wolves are coming...and Rikako hanging from a noose in the center of it. He then kills Nosato and jumps off the cliff at the Hanging Pine. The intentionally part ties in, when it's revealed very late in the game, the entire reason behind the cruel twist was that Rikako was behind the entire event the game is around, which requires the wolves winning the Feast alongside Rikako staying alive. She was responsible for all the death, as the timeline resets upon presumably everyone in the Feast's death. In spite of this, she was having second thoughts; a part of her did legitimately want to live happily with Haruaki.
  • Six Rules is a heartwarming historical fiction short story about two children from Feuding Families who met and became friends...And then bam. Just kidding; it was a horror story all along, with no Improbable Infant Survival. The Minamoto clan is slaughtered by the Taira clan. Yukiri then reveals to a despairing Ryouji that she was manipulating him all along so to get information about the Minamoto clan. Ryuji is then captured and Yukiri mocks him for breaking the six rules before he's executed. Another View reveals she betrayed Ryuji in order to get love and recognition from her family...but the last words reveal that despite her intervention in the death of the Minamoto clan, her family is still cold to her and she's still as miserable as before.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: As a Robot Girl who seeks to be a normal girl with normal relationships, Penny obtaining the Winter Maiden power at the end of Volume 7 appears to conclude her Pinocchio-style journey to become a real girl. However, Watts hacks her in Volume 8 to force her to open the Vault of the Winter Maiden, and then self-terminate. The heroes manage to save her by turning her into a human with the Relic of Creation, fufilling Penny's lifelong dream of becoming a real girl...only for Cinder to unexpectedly subvert her Pinocchio ending by fatally injuring her not even an hour afterwards. The dying Penny declines to be healed and convinces Jaune to speed up her death, thereby allowing her to pass the Maiden power to Winter instead of Cinder.

  • The ending of the side story 'Flower Knight' in Drowtales. A knight quested for years to find a flower beautiful enough to win the heart of his city's queen. He succeeds in finding this flower and brings it back to the city, presents it to the queen and wins her heart. The two live Happily Ever After for decades, producing countless children and rule their city well. The flowers, which have bred, seeded and multiplied and are now owned by everyone in the city then drain the life out of their hosts, killing the entire Knight's family, wife, and city, leaving him the single survivor of his entire kingdom. He sets out to find and destroy the being that gave him the flower and is never heard from again. The cruelest twist? The flowers are still around and threaten to begin their destructive cycle all over again.
  • Loving Reaper: Inverted. For a webcomic that is very tragic most of the time, the endings can sometimes be surprisingly heartwarming.
    • The fox who's drowning in a pool ends up being saved by the teenage girl and Life.
    • A dog, with a seemingly maimed face, is never adopted, and belittled by people who are looking in shelters for dogs. The woman working at the shelter starts getting desperate, and gives up. She ends up taking him home and adopting him.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, Torg's "Greatest Comic Book of All Time" — Gunman Stan McKurt, the guy who shoots evil in the face, vows to kill anyone in order to keep the Gates to the City of the Damned shut. It turns out he's already inside the city and doesn't know it because he can't read.
  • The Platypus Comix story "Vess MacMeal Starring in: The More You Know!" has an ending evoking those of cautionary stories written during the Cold War. The comic traces the introduction of an electronic tablet called, "The Kimwon". As the tale progresses, the Kimwon develops new apps that do everything from streaming movies and TV shows, to scanning groceries, to synthesizing food. These new apps eventually take over all the Americans' jobs. If that doesn't sound bad enough, it also turns out the Kimwon was invented by North Korean Dirty Communists as part of Kim Jong Il's plan to Take Over the World. If that doesn't sound bad enough, Kim Jong Il also reveals that the Kimwon is made of people!

    Web Original 
  • The Grand Finale of Arby 'n' the Chief can be considered this to a degree. Arbiter, having just ripped Master Chief to pieces for killing Cortana, and having heard Tyler being murdered by a Police Officer outside his room, is about to kill himself by jumping out the window of Jon's Apartment from being traumatized by both events, until he is stopped by Claire. Despite Claire reassuring Arbiter that she'll always be there to comfort him, and insisting on rebuilding their relationsip, JUST as it seems it just might work, Arbiter changes his mind and joins Chief in being blown up in a gas explosion.
  • In 'Chuck's New Tux', a Harry Partridge cartoon, the titular Chuck wants to avoid getting his new tuxedo stained. Of course Hilarity Ensues when he slips on a skateboard and narrowly avoids crashing into people carrying food or paint, but just when he thinks he's going to end up falling into a cake, he instead gets brutally impaled on a fence. Audience reaction is practically split down the middle on this one, with some calling it brilliant Dark Humour and others seeing it as disturbing, especially as it really is such a jarring shift in tone from the rest of the cartoon.
  • The Let's Play Grand Theft Auto V episode "The Grand Heist": The Fake AH Crew (Geoff, Jack, Ryan, Michael and Gavin) are able to escape into a Titan and take off with Ray pulling off a Heroic Sacrifice to get them all into the air. It seems things are doing well until the Titan stalls out, causing it to plummet and hit a helicopter flying underneath, destroying the Titan and killing the entire team.
  • The Creepypasta "NoEnd House" ends with the protagonist, after nine rooms of psychological torment, finally escaping into the lobby and claiming his $500 prize. The dissonance between all the hell he went through and the money waiting there as if it wasn't a big deal makes him laugh, and he laughs all the way into his car, down the road, and to his home where a tiny "10" is etched into the door.
  • This short animated film Pig Me, about an escaped slaughterhouse pig and his attempts to get brought like the other animals into a warm and loving household. From one commentator - Caution: If you want the Happy Ending: STOP THE MOVIE BEFORE 6:00.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball:
    • The series has "The Joy", an episode which features a zombifying epidemic in the form of extreme happiness that reduces the infected to mindless smiling idiots who drool rainbow saliva. Grouchy Miss Simian is the only person left uninfected after the Joy claims everyone at Elmore Junior High and discovers a cure by accident—playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." She sneaks out with her tape player to try to reach the P.A. system in the principal's office, and after several near misses manages to get there...only for Gumball and Darwin to emerge from the darkness, grinning hugely, to infect her. She tries to leave a message telling the world the cure but is unable to sing the song or remember its name. The episode ends with Miss Simian smiling and drooling.
    • Subverted in "The Finale": Negative Continuity suddenly breaks down, causing all of the collateral damage, physical and verbal assaults, giant monsters, and other hijinks the Wattersons have caused for two seasons to spontaneously pay them back in pitchforks and torches. The Wattersons come up with a solution - cause even more chaos until Negative Continuity gets a jumpstart - but it basically fails and the mob actively tries to murder them. Seconds before they're about to be torn apart, Gumball laments that there isn't some kind of convenient, continuity-ending superdevice. Roll credits. Except of course, the cut to credits IS what officially fixes the Negative Continuity.
  • American Dad! had the Series Fauxnale "Hot Water" as this. In the episode Cee-Lo Green narrates this twisted tale of Stan buying a hot tub to relieve his daily stress, only to get into hot water when the hot tub begins killing his family and friends.
  • This happens in The Angry Beavers episode Fakin' It. Norbert spends most of the episode pretending that he was sick so he can avoid work and make Daggett wait on him hand and foot. But then, Daggett turns the tables on Norbert by pretending that he's sick. After Norbert gets angry at Daggett for tricking him, they both admitted to each other that they care about each other and made up until it turns out that they both got sick for real at the end of the episode.
  • Played for Black Comedy in the Bojack Horseman episode "Free Churro." Most of the episode is just BoJack giving a monologue about his now-deceased mother, whom he had a very rocky relationship with. Right at the end, the episode reveals that he'd been at the wrong funeral the entire time.
  • Being a Sadist Show with a strong streak of Black Comedy, Drawn Together has several of these endings. But special mention for this certainly deserves the ending of "Little Orphan Hero", where Captain Hero destroyed his home planet in revenge and raped his own parents to erase their memory. Played for Laughs, but still.
  • Futurama:
    • The series specifically references how cruel The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Time Enough At Last" is by taking a parody of the episode to comically extreme lengths (e.g. his head eventually falls off) after which Bender comments that he was "cursed by his own hubris".
    • Seymore Asses, Fry's adopted stray dog in "Jurassic Bark". After an entire episode of Fry trying to resurrect his beloved dog, only to learn it lived to a ripe old age and died of natural causes. He concludes the dog lived a happy life and probably forgot him, and decides to leave it at that. Cue Flash Back during the credits that reveal the dog spent the rest of his life loyally and forlornly waiting for his beloved master to return, just as Fry had asked him to before ending up frozen. Even the writers felt this was needlessly sad and ultimately ret-conned it via Timey-Wimey Ball where there were two Frys thanks to time-travel, one of whom remained in the past as Seymore's owner.
  • Kaeloo: In Episode 92, Stumpy tries to die so he can see what Paradise is like. At the end of the episode, he decides to hang himself, but is sent to Hell as a punishment for ending his own life.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has one not to for an episode but a plot thread. Marble Pie and Big Macintosh had blatant romantic tension in every scene they showed up in together, but Big Mac instead ends up dating Sugar Belle. Rather than have Marble Pie meet someone else or even just leave it at that, it ends on an uncharacteristically mean joke of Sugar Belle and Big Mac kissing with a devastated Marble seeing it and shying away.
  • Regular Show:
    • All of the "Terror Tales of the Park" specials (save for "Creepy Doll", "Death Metal Crash Pit" and "Killer Bed") end this way.
    • “Do or Diaper” revolves around Mordecai being forced to wear a diaper if he doesn't kiss Margaret by midnight on Friday. As they’re about to kiss just before midnight, Margaret instead drops this:
      Margaret: Have a nice week, diaper boy.
    • Mordecai, however, seems pretty happy despite this, since it proved he actually had what he needs to get into a relationship with Margaret.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Several "Treehouse of Horror" segments end this way.
    • One non-"Treehouse of Horror" episode that plays this straight is "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace". Its ending has the Simpsons returning home, thinking the Springfieldians have forgiven them. Instead, the town is there to repossess their belongings. The Simpsons are left with nothing to their names save for an old washcloth the mob missed, which they then proceed to fight over.
  • South Park has several of these endings, but the most prominent:
    • The ending of "Stanley's Cup". Stan's bike is impounded and to get the money he ends up coaching a pee-wee hockey team through the little leagues, and The Littlest Cancer Patient is waiting to see his team win a game. After drawing a first game, a second is scheduled for the interval in a professional one - but the opposing team fails to show up, denying the possibility of a victory. In a Genre Deconstruction of underdog sports movies, the pee-wee team is offered the opportunity to play the second half of the professional game against the Detroit Red Wings. To the cheers of the audience, Stan's team steps out against them. Of course, Stan's team are utterly destroyed, the cancer patient dies with "no hope" of seeing a victory, and the tone of the episode flips perspective, showing the Red Wings celebrating their victory as if they had been the protagonists.
    • Moreover, the ending of the episode "The Return of Chef". At the end of this episode, Chef was convinced of being a pedophile and then dies horribly burned and skinned by wild animals. However, the Super Adventure Club revived him and is transformed into a Darth Vader-esque cyborg who remained a pedophile.
    • "Scott Tenorman Must Die" mixes this with Karmic Twist Ending and Disproportionate Retribution. Scott starts making a prank on Cartman with his own pubic hair, then Cartman tries to convince Scott to give him back his money. When that doesn't work, note  Cartman attempts several plans to avenge the humiliation, but every time he gets Out-Gambitted by Scott. Finally, after a very complex plan that involves Stan and Kyle trying to betray Cartman by telling Scott about what he tries to do, the latter's parents are killed and Cartman made chili with their bodies. And Scott ate the chili without knowing.
    • Parodied in Cartman's Christmas story from "Woodland Critter Christmas". "And they all lived happily ever after, except for Kyle who died of AIDS two weeks later."
      Kyle: Goddammit Cartman!!!
  • SpongeBob SquarePants
    • In "The Bully," a new student at boating school starts picking on SpongeBob and threatens to kick his butt. SpongeBob tells Mrs. Puff about the bullying, but her actions do nothing to help him. Eventually, the bully begins to beat SpongeBob up, but since SpongeBob's a sponge, his body simply absorbs the blows, and the bully eventually collapses from the exhaustion of trying to beat up SpongeBob. Mrs. Puff then enters, sees the bully lying unconscious next to SpongeBob making a fist, thinks that SpongeBob beat him up and tells him that she's going to kick his butt.
    • "SpongeHenge" ends with SpongeBob escaping the jellyfish after ten years, only to find Bikini Bottom destroyed by a windstorm.
    • "Squid on Strike" ends with Mr. Krabs rehiring Squidward and SpongeBob after agreeing to all their terms of negotiation. This would be all fine and good if SpongeBob hadn't taken Squidward's earlier demands to "dismantle this oppressive establishment" a bit too literally. So when Squidward and Krabs arrive at the Krusty Krab, they find it literally dismantled (as in physically demolished) by SpongeBob. As punishment, an enraged Krabs then rehires SpongeBob and Squidward "FOREVER" as his eternal servants. Cut to "One Eternity Later," where Squidward's skeleton and SpongeBob's skeleton are sweeping the Krusty Krab floor.
    • In "Good Neighbors", Squidward buys a security system with the intention of keeping SpongeBob and Patrick out of his house so he can enjoy his Sunday off. When SpongeBob and Patrick's apology cake falls on it, the machine malfunctions and turns Squidward's house into a robot that destroys Bikini Bottom, and once it's shut down the three of them are sentenced to community service every Sunday for the rest of their lives to pay for the damages. SpongeBob and Patrick are excited to clean up the city with Squidward, but he looks like he's about to have an aneurysm.
    • "Gone" is one of the show's most infamous examples. When SpongeBob wakes up in the beginning of the episode, he realizes that everybody in town was gone. Eventually, he starts suffering Sanity Slippage. When everybody returns towards the end of the episode, they reveal that they were celebrating "National No-SpongeBob Day", where they leave town, build a wooden statue of SpongeBob, and set it on fire. Some people (such as Squidward) kick the ashes afterward. Even Patrick joined in on the holiday.
  • Superjail! had "The Trouble with Triples", in which the Twins spent time being bullied and beat up by their elder brothers and then forced to oversee a battle for the jail, due to their lie about conquering it in an attempt to impress said siblings. In the end, due to a convoluted series of events and coincidence, the Twins are declared the winners- but their father whisks them away home, subjects them to painful, gratuitous and boring Mind Rape, and gloats about them becoming the new overlords. Until the Reset Button anyway. Although there may be something more to it.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation: Plucky decides to tag along with Hamton and his family so he can go to Happy World Land. He endured endless problems, including the aptly named Uncle Stinky, Hamton's idiot family antics and a maniac hitchhiker who tried to kill him and Hamton's family, but he finally made it to Happy World Land...only for the Hamtons to decide to go back before even entering the park "because they didn't want to overdo it the first time". Oh, and as a little extra, they gave the hitchhiker Plucky's address because he seemed like a nice guy to them.
  • What If...? (2021): "What If... Zombies?!" ends with Peter Parker, Scott Lang, and T'Challa as the only survivors after everything is said and done. Bruce Banner's fate is uncertain after he Hulks out to clear a path for their jet to take off, but they're on their way to Wakanda with the Mind Stone so they can hopefully cure the rest of the planet... Then it's revealed that, despite Okoye's claims to the contrary, Wakanda has fallen. And among the undead hordes is a zombified Thanos, who already has the other five Infinity Stones.
    • And in the episode What If... Thor Were an Only Child?, it seems to end quite happily. Thor cleans up his planet-wide party mess, sets up a date with Jane, and the Watcher comments how the people in this universe lived Happily Ever After... until a portal opens up with Ultron Drones emerging from it. And their leader? An Ultron who not only has the body of Vision, but also all six Infinity Stones. Even Uatu is taken aback by this shocking turn of events.
      Watcher: Oh dear... Perhaps I spoke too soon...


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Outer Limits Twist


Grim Adventures

An episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy ends rather horrifically with the villain Nergal turning people into his "friends".

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / CruelTwistEnding

Media sources:

Main / CruelTwistEnding