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Doomed Predecessor

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Searching caves and Ancient Tombs for artifacts is the bread and butter of any Adventurer Archaeologist. During such a mission they are likely to find the remains of a less fortunate explorer who went into the Temple of Doom looking for the MacGuffin ahead of our hero. The defining element of such a Doomed Predecessor is that they are a tragic example of a Chekhov's Gunman (or Chekhov M.I.A. if the character was just noted as missing), as our hero knew about their existence; either they met earlier on or they were mentioned in a myth or the news to have gone on but never returned from their quest.

Usually, these characters got trapped in a chamber but didn't have the means to escape. Perhaps they were not as smart as our Guile Hero or they were missing a vital piece of the Dismantled MacGuffin to activate the secret door mechanism. Anyhow, they failed their quest and probably died a Cruel and Unusual Death all alone in a Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere. For the extra bit of tragedy, writers will often make these characters fail right before having reached their destination.


Note that this trope is not entirely exclusive to archeological settings. A similar principle can apply to mystery or action-adventure stories where some previous person investigating the mystery or conducting some mission has also met an untimely end.

Doomed Predecessors are likely to be an indispensable source of clues and items. Expect them to have a key, map or manuscript in their possession which our hero has to pry from their cold, dead hands.

Sometimes the Doomed Predecessor poses as an Evil Counterpart to our hero, as their objective was personal gain instead of the artifact's historical value, making their death inevitable and well deserved.

Compare the less personal This Way to Certain Death when random corpses (or parts thereof) line the way to the Treasure Room, reminding the hero and the viewer of the apparent dangers ahead. Also compare Redundant Researcher, a foil for our hero, who did all the groundwork to unlock the ancient secrets but fails because, well, he is not the hero. Also compare Send in the Search Team.


This is a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead.


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    Comic Books 
  • In the backstory of Grant Morrison's Batman, the British government sent a superhero team to the Maldives back during the Falkland War to try and prevent one of their former agents from using the war as a cover for his escape from prison. It didn't go well. Years later, Batman, Batwoman, El Gaucho, and the Hood travel to the same place to find the same operative and come across the corpse of the Iron Lady, one of the members of the British team.

    Films — Animation 
  • The first Hot Wheels Acceleracers movie briefly mentions that Dr. Tezla sent other drivers into the Swamp Realm before the main cast (unbeknownst to them) and that the original drivers couldn't find a way out. A scene or two later, the car of one of those drivers (a secondary character in World Race) is seen half-submerged in a swamp (although according to Word of God, another faction secretly rescued the lost drivers).
  • The Incredibles: As Mr. Incredible is trying to escape from Syndrome's island, he takes shelter in a cave and finds the skeleton of fellow superhero Gazerbeam, whose disappearance had been noted in a newspaper several scenes prior. Mr. Incredible notes that Gazerbeam wrote a word on the cave wall with his Eye Beams: "KRONOS", which turns out to be Syndrome's computer password. And then he hides behind Gazerbeam's corpse to evade detection by a drone, accidentally making Syndrome believe he is dead.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Goonies, shortly after finding the map to One-Eyed Willy's treasure, they find a news article about a local treasure hunter Chester Copperpot who sought out the treasure and disappeared looking for it back in 1935. They later find his remains in the cave system leading to the Treasure Room. Apparently, Copperpot fell victim to one of the Durable Deathtraps. On him, the kids find explosives to set up some booby traps of their own and a skeleton figure which they use to unlock a Secret Room later.
  • At the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones is well aware he's not the first person to find the lost temple in Peru. When he finds it, he says "This is it. This is where Forrestall cashed in." While navigating the temple, Indy intentionally triggers a spike trap to find Forrestall's corpse impaled on it.
  • Escape from L.A.: Snake Plissken is ordered to rendezvous with the only known survivor of the previous strike team once he makes it to L.A. island. He eventually finds the soldier's corpse in a Den of Iniquity being used for target practice by a gang of Neo-Nazis.
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1959 adaptation: Arne Saknussemm, who both made the MacGuffin and marked the trail the protagonists follow, died centuries before the story and his skeleton is found in Atlantis pointing to the Door to Before.
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: The beginning of the film has Alex O'Connell and Roger Wilson searching a tomb previously discovered by the explorer Colin Bembridge. They find his impaled body not too far inside.
  • The Man Who Would Be King plays with this. It has the two Anti-Hero main characters journeying through an area, relying on documents from a British mapping party. They eventually find a loan survivor from that party, who was stranded in the area due to a landslide that wiped out all of his companions, which of course raises the question of how the map they used to make it that far made it back to civilization.
  • The Pyramid: The party enters the pyramid through a somewhat out-of-place tunnel. They later realize it was dug by an earlier expedition when they discover the body of one of those explorers. His Apocalyptic Log (dated almost 120 years earlier) describes how he and his companions were trapped inside and mentions an escape route they'd been looking for.
  • Interstellar: In the mission to find a suitable planet to take humanity after the anticipated Homeworld Evacuation, the first planet they land on, an ocean world, contains floating debris from the ship of the initial explorer, destroyed by a tidal wave. Later, the astronaut on the third planet is also dead when Amelia reaches it, from a landslide, according to the tie-in novel.
  • The Cave: While the main cast never knew about them, the opening scene does show another party trying to explore the caves and being attacked by something. One of the modern-day mutants plaguing the heroes has the same tattoo as one of those men.
  • Sunshine: The Icarus II and its crew are being sent on a space mission to the sun, and near the end of said mission (although fairly early in the actual movie), come across the wreckage of the ship that was sent before them and its Straw Nihilist Sole Survivor, who tries to keep them from accomplishing their mission.
  • Mystery Road: As Jay investigates the dead girls, and their possible connection to a drug ring, he finds out that Bobby Rogers (another local policeman) had been around asking some of those same questions, and investigating the same people before being murdered the previous year.
  • Hot Fuzz: Angel is replacing an officer named Popwell, who suffered a nervous breakdown and apparently committed suicide. It eventually turns out he made much the same discoveries as Angel does later in the movie, but wasn't fortunate to survive the Neighborhood Watch Alliance's attempt on his life, finding the mans body in some tunnels.
  • The sixth Lake Placid film has some environmental activists going to investigate alleged pollution at an area couple of friends contacted them about. They find the dead body of one of those friends, and an Apocalyptic Log of the other one before they start being attacked themselves.
  • In Pandorum. Two Colony Ship crewmen are awoken from cryogenic sleep in the middle of a disaster and find their shift-mate Cooper's cryo pod empty, indicating he woke up before them and left to fix or explore the ship. The Hero stumbles across Cooper's skeleton shortly into his own adventure.
  • Predator: Dutch and his team find the skinned bodies of several other mercenaries who had been sent on the same mission before them, and disappeared. While they (and the audience) hadn't been told about that earlier team, it is somewhat foreshadowed by the behavior of their leader, Dillon.
  • Predators has the prisoners of the Predators game preserve planet find the body of a previous victim (a man named Drake according to the tie-in comics) surrounded by stake traps he had made in a failed attempt to vanquish his attacker, with no sign of how the predator bypassed them.
  • The Hills Have Eyes 2: The National Guard trainees arrive to resupply Colonel Redding and the three scientists who were attacked at the beginning of the film. They find one dead body, two mortally wounded men, and the bloodied wallet of the fourth in the surrounding area instead.
  • Cold Skin: When the protagonist arrives for his new job as a weather technician, on an island with no other people besides a lighthouse keeper. Gruner the lighthouse keeper claims that the previous technician died of plague, although it quickly becomes apparent that the monsters that emerge from the ocean every nigh are the true cause. Then it turns out that the previous technician is Gruner, it was actually the previous lighthouse keeper who was killed under unexplained circumstances while the weatherman assumed his identity in order to stay on the island once his tour at the weather outpost was up.

  • In The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas find the corpse of a Lord of Rohan who previously attempted to brave the Paths of the Dead, who died horribly trying to find the way out again. Aragorn identifies him as somebody who was trying to win an ill-advised wager.
  • In King Solomon's Mines, the protagonists find the frozen body of José da Silvestra, the 16th-century explorer who drew the map that led them to Kukuanaland.
  • The Louis L'Amour book Treasure Mountain features the Sackett brothers reading their father's diary while following the trail he took in search of a gold mine before he and some of the others involved were murdered. Interestingly, the story focuses primarily on the search for the doomed predecessor, with the treasure being a bonus.
  • Congo: A previous expedition, which sent back some satellite photos, was lost shortly afterwards and the main cast find the body of one in a Nairobi morgue (having been spotted and picked up by a charter plane while stumbling through the jungle with mortal injuries) while another turns up alive, but Driven to Madness (to the point where some suspect he'll die soon) in a village they stop at. Later still, they find the camp of a rival expedition they've been interacting with overrun by the hostel gorillas, with everyone in it killed. [[Congo The film adaptation]] also featured them discovering a dying colleague and the bodies of others, although there, the main characters weren't as much trying to complete the original expedition as they were Seeking the Missing, Finding the Dead.
  • The Dick Francis novels have a couple examples of this.
    • For Kicks has the narrator hired to investigate some suspected chicanery at horse races, after a previous outside investigator (a racing journalist) died in a car accident. As the events of the novel continue, he begins to realize that it probably wasn't a car accident. After being captured by the villains, he (truthfully) tells that that he's told someone else about what he found, and that killing him won't save them, but they reply that the previous man said the same thing (untruthfully) to try and save his life, so they think he's lying to.
    • Flying Finish has a rare example where the doomed predecessor actually appears for a while and interacts with the narrator before disappearing. About a third of the way through the novel, one of the narrator's coworkers mysteriously disappears while on an overseas flight, raising his suspicions about what's going on. Later, after being kidnapped, he finds a message that very coworker scratched into the wall while being held prisoner, and when they try to make him Dig Your Own Grave, he finds his friends murdered body at the bottom of the grave, and would have been buried with him if he hadn't escaped.
  • Three Sparks a Predator short story features seven samurai Only two of whom survive the story being sent to kill a predator in feudal Japan. The local village leader reveals that many other prestigious samurai have travelled through the village attempting to do the same and all died. Sure enough, they find several samurai's bodies as they journey into the woods, including that of a respected warrior named Hojo Murashige. The predator "honored" Murashige by ripping out his head and spine as an indication that he was a Worthy Opponent after the samurai managed to cut off one of its fingers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Thunderbirds: In The Uninvited, the archeologists find a pyramid. After they enter, the door closes, leaving them trapped. They have a moment of Oh, Crap! when they notice a skeleton just inside the door.
    Lindsey: You don't think...
    Wilson: Yep, this guy tried to get the door open too. He never made it.

    Video Games 
  • Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis has two of these characters:
    • The avid explorer Dr. Sternhart is first introduced at Tikal (Mexico) where he steals a stone disk from Indy and takes off to discover Atlantis on his own. Irony wants it that Indy later discovers the corpse of Sternhart on Crete where he got locked up inside a cave and starved to death. He leaves behind the worldstone he stole from Indy and a staff, both of which help Indy to advance further in the game.
    • Archaeologist Bjorn Heimdall went to Iceland to dig for Atlantean artifacts, as he believed that Iceland was used by aliens as a spaceport. He is being visited by Indiana Jones and Sophia Hapgood early in the game but is not happy to see them, preferring solitude. He discovered a coil-like device resembling an eel although he would not determine what it was. When Jones and Hapgood later return to see him, they find Heimdall frozen to death, having stayed inside a cave too long while attempting to excavate the eel. However, the poor archaeologist had managed to expose the figurine, allowing Jones to take it.
  • The Broken Sword series:
    • Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars has Klausner, a German who went to Marib, Syria, to find one of the clues necessary to discover the location of the Sword of Baphomet. He found the clue, a lens, in a secret chamber in Bull's Head Hill, but the door closed behind him, leaving him trapped inside. We learn that his fingertips were scraped raw from trying to dig his way out. When George arrives at the chamber, Klausner had died of hunger and dehydration. The lens in his possession is needed to complete a puzzle later in the game.
      George: Klausner has been pretty smart to get this far... but still, he was dead.
    • The Nazi character Gehnen from Broken Sword: The Serpent's Curse is first mentioned in the Distant Prologue, set in 1937, where he gains access to information about the Tabula Veritatis. We learn that he spent weeks making notes and studying maps before disappearing without a trace. Some 85 years later, George and Nico find his corpse in a secret cavity at Santa Cova. He got trapped there because of a missing object, a medallion now in George's possession which leads the way out of the cave. Gehnen Ate His Gun before dying of dehydration. Next to his corpse, George finds the Tabula Veritatis and also a map with clues to the location of the "Paradise" that Gehnen scripted down before his death.
  • In King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, Alexander learns of a knight who found a way to challenge the Lord of the Dead to resurrect his dead girlfriend. Alexander finds his corpse in the Land of the Dead later on, having failed his quest. Alexander picks up the knight's gauntlet with the ritual challenge written on it which he uses to challenge the Lord of the Dead.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Morrowind:
      • A Mages Guild quest has you visit the Dwemer ruins of Nchuleftingth to check in on an excavation team whose report is overdue. The father/daughter team has lost their native guide, who disappeared further inside the ruin, and that he has the report. After completing a puzzle using Dwemer cranks, you find his body and can recover the report.
      • Several Tribunal Temple quests send you off to dangerous places to recover holy relics from fallen crusaders. These relics typically take the form of artifact-class weapons and clothing. While you only need to recover the relic to satisfy the quest, there is nothing stopping you from taking revenge while completing the crusader's original mission.
    • Skyrim:
      • While exploring the abandoned Dwemer city of Blackreach, you can find the corpse of Sinderion, an alchemist who previously appeared in Oblivion. His journal indicates that he undertook an expedition into the city in order to investigate a new subspecies of nirnroot that had mutated within the caverns, and expresses his hopes that the monsters that now live in the city would allow him to gather samples unhindered.
      • During the quest "Darkness Returns", you explore the Twilight Sepulcher, a temple to the Daedric Prince Nocturnal, and learn that two of the last visitors were a pair of thieves named Anders and Nystrom, who posed as Nocturnal cultists while planning to heist some treasure. Nystrom's corpse is found near the entrance, with a journal advising you on how to proceed through the sepulcher safely, while Anders is found in a dry well near the sepulcher's end, along with a note revealing that he slit Nystrom's throat and starved to death because he couldn't escape the well without Nocturnal's artifact, the Skeleton Key (which your character has acquired during the previous quest).
      • The Dawnguard DLC adds the quest "Lost to the Ages" in the Dwemer ruins of Bthalft and the Aetherium Forge within. Inside, you encounter the ghost of Katria, an adventurer who died trying to locate the forge. She will act as a guide throughout the quest. Humorously, you can find her dead body in the ruin. If you take Katria's clothes when you examine her corpse for her journal, she will comment about her lost dignity.
  • The Rainbow Shell questline of Chrono Trigger has you find an explorer in the Middle Ages, then find his grave 400 years later. You then talk to his ghost, who tells you that he found the shell, but it was too big for him to retrieve.
  • In Hexen II, the start of each hub contains a message from a person named Tyranith, who attempts to, like you, kill Eidolon and his generals. The last hub starts with a message with Tyranith explaining the Already Undone for You (you still have to fight the generals, so the message explains Eidolon has an artifact that resurrected them), and saying they probably won't survive for long. A few rooms later, you stumble across Tyranith's corpse.
  • In the Dark Arisen DLC for Dragon's Dogma, Bitterblack Isle is littered with the corpses of previous Arisen who came before you. A major sidequest involves collecting stone tablets containing their memories, which offer hints as to how they died.
  • The first part of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak focuses on following the trail of the Coalition's last expedition into the desert, led by chief science officer Rachel S'Jet's brother Jacob S'Jet. The wreckage of his carrier is found on mission three.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender overlaps this with Bus Crash. Aang and company find Wan Shi Tong's giant library alongside esteemed anthropologist Professor Zei. When Wan Shi Tong sinks his library, Zei chooses to stay behind because he can't bear to leave without all the knowledge in it. Seventy-odd years later in The Legend of Korra, Wan Shi Tong tells Jinora that the last human who wanted to stay is still there. Cut to a shot of Zei's skeleton.
  • In The Simpsons episode "King of the Hill", as Homer prepares to climb Springfield's Murderhorn, Grampa tells him of how he once tried to climb the mountain until he was betrayed and left for dead by his partner. Later, during his climb, Homer finds the frozen corpse of said partner in a cavity near the top, and he finds out from his diary that Grampa actually betrayed him.
  • In Futurama episode "The Sting", the Planet Express crew is sent to retrieve honey from an extremely dangerous space bee hive, a mission that claimed the lives of the Professor's previous crew. The crew goes on Leela's insistence, as she wants to prove them to be a better crew than the previous ones. While in the hive, they find the wreck of the previous Planet Express ship, and within it a recording of its captains' last words... which consists of a nearly verbatim repeat of Leela's previous claim before being cut off by loud buzzing and terrified screaming.
  • In the DuckTales (2017) episode "The Impossible Summit of Mt. Neverrest", Scrooge and the triplets find the skeleton of famed mountaineer George Mallardy in a cave on the titular mountain with "Curse you McDuck!" scrawled on the wall next to him. Leading Scrooge to reveal that he'd made a previous attempt to scale the mountain and hired Mallardy as his guide, and who had cut him loose halfway up the first cliff. Scrooge is understandably bitter about that and emphatically steps over Mallardy's remains to show that he made it further up than him.


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