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. 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 cause an Audience-Alienating Ending if it's handed poorly.
This is a Spoilered Rotten trope, which means that EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE listed below is a spoiler by default and will be unmarked without a tag. Only proceed if you really believe you can handle this list.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Films Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Western Animation
- 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 GoDaddy.com 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- Similarly, the Give Yourself Goosebumps books all have far more bad endings than good endings for the reader. Many involve the player dying horribly (getting Eaten Alive is pretty common), but readers can also end up permanently transformed into something awful (ex: an insect, a monster, or an immobile-yet-self-aware statue), enslaved or imprisoned, getting hopelessly lost, or simply missing out on the whole adventure.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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."
- Neuroshima: "Mercury" type campaigns are supposed to rely heavily on those.note
- Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan is a Deconstruction of the various ways the media treats disabled characters— and especially how it likes to kill them off. And yet, it's set up in such a way that because of a fake-out death scene early in Act 2, the audience isn't suspecting that Cripple Billy really will be dying of tuberculosis. It also happens just when things are looking up for him.
- Bible Black has this twice in the White Room ending, where you and your teacher are constantly fighting to stop the villain and her cohorts, and are subjected to a number of punishments that you get through using your wits and quick thinking. The two of you manage to reach the main villain at the last moment before she escapes her Deal with the Devil, the teacher pulls out a gun, and...hesitates, being unable to shoot until its too late. The villains win. Cut to a few days later and you show up late to class, pull out the gun, and shoot the villain in the head point blank, as well as her lead cohort. You tell the truth, get deemed insane, and locked in a white room at a psych facility, but are satisfied with justice being served. Youre then told you have a visitor, and its the villain, completely unharmed.
- 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-HeelFace 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.
- Happy Tree Friends: In "Out on a Limb", Lumpy gets his leg pinned under a tree and is forced to amputate it with a spoon. The process takes him hours but he finally does it, reducing the spoon to a useless piece of bent metal in the process... Only to realize that he accidentally cut off the wrong leg, and the episode ends with him getting ready to do it all over again with a dinky little paperclip.
- Puffin Forest: The finale of the Curse of Strahd campaign saw the Shenani-guys successfully kill Strahd, install a new ruler, and part ways on good terms. Then the DM got to the epilogue. The new ruler turned out to be just as evil as Strahd and proceeded to break Garo's will, forcing him to become her subordinate as she slowly strangled the life and hope out of Barovia. Gouda was cursed by her patron to "always be the hero", meaning she is doomed to wander the Demi-planes of Dread for all eternity, spreading chaos in her wake. Krusk will follow Gouda for the rest of his life, unaware of just how damaging her actions are. Only Boshack had a happy ending.
- 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!
- 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.
- "What If Wertham Was Right?" uses this trope for an absolutely vicious Take That! against Fredric Wertham's hypothesis about comic books inducing violence in children, widely publicized in Seduction of the Innocent and cited as a major contributor to the creation of the controversial Comics Code Authority. The premise being that Wertham's claim was true instead of being based on falsified data, the comic shows three kids discovering some comic books in the woods with one of them taking one home, only for the military to be called in when the book is discovered. The effect of the comics is demonstrated when the boy becomes a homicidal Enfante Terrible who slaughters all but one of the soldiers and his father, and is about to kill his mom as well when the surviving trooper shoots him down. Only afterward is it noted that there were multiple comic books, and it's then shown that many other kids have been turned into murderous berserkers as well. In the end, the mother and the soldier, the latter having turned his gun to his head, can only watch in horror as the entire neighborhood is overrun.
A now-deleted reply on Tumblr: I wouldn't be surprised if this is what people literally think about most entertainment media.