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Epic Fail

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"There's a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is simply the non-presence of success. Any fool can accomplish failure. But a fiasco, a fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions. A fiasco is a folk tale told to others that makes other people feel more alive because it didn't happen to them."
Opening narration, Elizabethtown

When a normal, run-of-the-mill failure just isn't enough, you need an Epic Fail.

This is when a task that should be fairly straightforward and typical for a character goes HORRIBLY wrong in a manner that defies the laws of probability, and occasionally the laws of physics. It's when a character seems to be facing a pass-or-fail situation, a do-or-die type of test, and then fate hands them a third option: failing in a manner that's so bizarre, it's almost impressive.

We're not talking "villain tries to shoot one of his mooks but misses." We're talking "villain tries to shoot one of his mooks, misses, ricochets the shot off two walls, smashes the control panel of his Doomsday Machine, causes said Doomsday Machine to topple into a structural support inches from the mook's head, breaks the structural support, brings down the whole base in a massive collapse that destroys the villain's lair entirely, and the mook that the villain shot at is the only survivor." It's a failure so ludicrously, unexpectedly bizarre that, despite its status as a failure, it manages also to be admirable for its uniqueness and irreproducibility.

At its best, the trope can give the viewer a much needed jolt out of a sense of boredom, it can produce a laugh out of something you wouldn't think could, and it can inspire a temporary sense of fate or dramatic justice. At its worst, it can become a Deus ex Machina, rescuing the writers from the fortress of logic they have enclosed themselves within with a Hand Wave of "luck".

Often used against those who are Tempting Fate, and sometimes as a demonstration of how monumentally screwed you are in a Final Boss Preview. When epic failures come in forms that shouldn't be possible, they can be examples of Beyond the Impossible. Often this trope comes with an Incendiary Exponent, possibly because of the Rule of Cool. Disaster Dominoes are a common part of such epic failures.

Can overlap with Only One Finds It Fun for when someone tries to please a whole group of people but only pleases one of them.

Compare Critical Failure (a game mechanic meant to represent the normal ever-present danger in any action) and From Bad to Worse. Too Dumb to Live is for when a character dies (or nearly dies) because of their own stupidity. This trope is the norm for Stupid Crooks, and a hallmark of the Disastrous Demonstration. If the Fail is so Epic that reality itself breaks trying to process it, then you've managed to make a Reality-Breaking Paradox. Contrast Flawless Victory.

Not to be confused with Epic Flail (or Epic Frail for that matter), though you can certainly commit an Epic Fail with an Epic Flail if you're not careful.

If you're looking for the trope that used to have this name, it's now Offscreen Moment of Awesome. Since this title refers to a dated 4chan meme from the early 2010s, it's unlikely to be used much anymore.

No Real Life Examples, Please!

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  • Many creative ways of insulting someone's intelligence involve failure at tasks even though it's actually hard to fail at them even if you try. For example "can't pour water out of a boot even if there are instructions written on the heel" or "threw a rock at the ground and missed". Often coincide with Your Mom jokes.

  • Most of the gags in Old Master Q run on this. For instance, one comic has Master Q trying to hammer a nail into a wall to hang a picture... only to accidentally knock a hole through it. A man-sized hole.

  • Kids Praise: The eighth album is a typical 90s baseball story, except that the kids' first game has them lose to their rivals by over 40 points without scoring a single run themselves.
  • Nickelback's "Get 'Em Up", a single from No Fixed Address, is about a Bank Robbery that is foiled before it begins because the would-be robbers forget that banks close on Sunday. They're quickly caught by the police.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic:
    • In "Genius In France", he claims to have gotten a negative number on his SATs.
    • His "I Lost On Jeopardy" also counts as two other contestants mop the floor with him on the show. Al doesn't even get a copy of the home game.
  • Danny Kaye's Dodgers song is from the the Los Angeles Dodgers' perspective, but the bottom of the ninth inning is Epic Fail from the San Francisco Giants' perspective. The Dodgers are up to bat and the Giants lead 4-0. Two consecutive fielding errors land Maury Wills and then Jim Gilliam on base. Jimmy Davis gets a single, as does Tommy Davis (bringing Wills home). Then a third fielding error with implied major confusion turns Big Frank Howard's apparent sacrifice bunt into another four runs, and the Dodgers win it 5-4.
  • Ninja Sex Party: In the song "Dragon Slayer", Danny Sexbang is chatting up a girl at a party and trying to get her to go out with him by telling ridiculous tales about himself, such as claiming that he slew a dragon. In the end, the girl decides to go home with everyone except Dan.
    Danny: Oh, I see you've chosen the football player... and the scientist... and apparently the weightlifter as well... and the dragon... and Ninja Brian... and the Manticore? He wasn't even in this song!
  • The traditional Irish folk ballad "Lily the Pink" can be summed up with this trope, as everyone who tries her "medicinal compound" ends up with worse problems than they started with.

  • At the climax of season two in Acquisitions Incorporated, Binwin and Jim are down and the party is barely alive. Omin, as a final resort, tries to use an encounter power. And proceeds to roll a one. With some divine intervention from Aeofel, he gains a re-roll and tries to attack again. And then rolls another one.
  • The entire reign of the Roman emperor Didius Julianus, as portrayed in Totalus Rankium (and their historical sources). Julianus purchased the Imperial title from the Praetorian Guard, who had just murdered his predecessor, and spent his short reign panicking as the general Septimius Severus marched on the capital to take it off his hands. Several Zany Schemes (including, but not limited to attempting to train circus elephants to fight and hiring magicians to curse Severus) utterly failed, and Julianus was killed only two months into his reign. And There Was Much Rejoicing.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The Muppet Show:
    • In the Edgar Bergen episode, Gonzo the Great wrestles a brick blindfolded...and loses.
    • In the Nancy Walker episode, Kermit is home sick, so Fozzie is in charge; he proceeds to nearly blow the theater up, then delays the next act until the audience leaves - almost - and then messes up the introductions in a way that somehow causes "At the Dance" and "Veterinarian's Hospital" to go on at the same time. And this is just before the first commercial break...
    • In the Loretta Lynn episode, the Muppets try to perform a song titled ''The Rhyming Song''. Almost none of the lyrics they sing rhyme, and when they do, they rhyme ''song'' with ''song''.
    • In the Lynda Carter episode, in honor of Lynda's "Wonder Woman" character, Scooter and some of the other Muppets are inspired to take a correspondence course on "How to Be a Superhero." Scooter reads a chapter of the instruction manual, Invincibility Made Easy, that teaches about learning how to fly. After stating that all they need to do is believe that they can fly, Scooter encourages Gonzo, Link, Fozzie, and Lew Zealand to "step off the ladder and float to the ceiling.'' Cue all four Muppets falling flat on the ground.
    • Professor Bunsen Honeydew has Epic Fails all the time, much to the regret of his hapless assistant Beaker. In one episode, his fireproof paper proved even more flammable than regular paper, but even worse, his invention of flammable water (used by Beaker when he tried to put it out) worked perfectly.
    • Possibly the most epic fail of all was the one where the cast turned the show into a Birthday Episode for Kermit. Not only was it not Kermit's birthday, it was about four months later. (Not even close.)
  • Sesame Street:
    • In a Season 5 episode, Big Bird joins the adults for a game of hide and seek; he isn't good at hiding, so he becomes the seeker instead. However, once Big Bird finishes the count, he somehow ends up falling fast asleep, leaving the adults to continue without him.
      • You think that's bad, a later episode has just him and Elmo playing hide-and-seek, and Big Bird takes someone's suggestion to look "everywhere" literally. Resulting in Big Bird managing to somehow walk all the way to Alaska and back....on foot! Note that Sesame Street is part of New York City! One can only imagine how Elmo and Gabinote  aren't both dead of starvation by the time they're finally found.
    • Episode 1416 begins with Olivia and David building a new desk to surprise Luis as a renovation for the Fix-It Shop. They take the parts outside to build, Big Bird realizes this makes another surprise for the builders — after Luis arrives, the two realize since they built the desk outside, they are unable to bring it inside.
    • In Episode 1650, Big Bird hosts a "Meet Mr. Snuffleupagus" party as one of his many plans to get the adults to meet Snuffy and prove he's not imaginary; while everyone he invited does come to the party, he realizes he forgot to invite one important guest: Snuffy himself.

  • CBS Sports' weekday radio broadcast The D.A. Show, hosted by Damon Amendolara (9 AM - 12 Noon ET), always ends with the "Epic Fail," spotlighting the worst call-in of the morning.
  • In The Men from the Ministry after General Assistance Department's ends up with surplus of 75 pence, Sir Gregory demands that it must be lost or else there will be budget cuts. An attempt at getting rid of it ends up with the surplus of 800 000 000 pounds.
  • The Navy Lark gives us an example of epically failing trying to fail. Captain Povey was stuck with his mother-in-law for the weekend, when he desperately wanted to go out with the rest of the unit to a pub. So he "arranges" for Sub-Lieutenant Phillips to take HMS Troutbridge out for a run, with the confidence that Phillips will inevitably crash the ship, giving Povey the excuse he needs to escape. For once, Phillips can't hit anything, even with the rest of the crew trying to help by sabotaging the steering. He ends up circling another destroyer 42 times flawlessly. Then, Povey's mother-in-law gets laid up with the flu, and he is free to go. THEN, and only then, does Phillips manage to crash the ship.
  • This radio segment from This American Life is about a production of Peter Pan that becomes an utter fiasco in which the flying apparatus smacks the actors into the furniture, and Captain Hook's hook flies off his arm and hits an old woman in the stomach. By the end of the evening, firemen have arrived and all the normal boundaries between audience and actors have completely dissolved, with many in the audience hoping the performance gets even worse as it wouldn't be as fun otherwise.
  • Bleak Expectations: At the beginning of series 3, Pip Bin is abducted and tortured for a prolonged period by Mr. Benevolent, and his loved ones make no real effort to save him (Harry Biscuit does try to invent a means of saving him, but suffers "a touch of the old inventor's block"). Pip is utterly incredulous when he learns that Benevolent has in fact been torturing him inside Bin's very own home, in a room his sister had been using day-in, day-out the entire time. And, as Harry admits, they could hear him screaming for help.

  • During the battle royale in Yu-Gi-Oh! East Academy, Marcus screws up his entire strategy twice by misreading his own cards.
  • Destroy the Godmodder has many such events, the first notable one being the reapers. A massive army of them gets summoned, what happens? The godmodder mind controls them into changing sides. It isn't the worst offender either.
    • It turns into this for the godmodder later on, and everyone gets a slice of the action with the Glitch.
    • The Virus in game 2. Seems like a great idea, it gives the AGs a fair boost… and then gains self-awareness. And decides it wants to kill everything.
    • And then there's ninjatwist's Blood Pact charge, also from the second game. It would allow the godmodder a heal of 1 HP for dealing 150,000 damage to his own side and giving the player in question a permanent +1 bonus to his charges. This was done after the Game Master told him it wouldn't work and during Act Four, where the godmodder was invincible to attacks and capable of summoning and attacking that in one turn. It says something when the Game Master not only instantly gave a player a fourth action to kill him, but allowed everyone else to do so, marking the first time in the entire series a player was directly attackable outside of summoning themselves.
  • In this sadly truncated Doctor Who-themed Mafia game, the Weeping Angels come off very badly. How badly? The only player to die was their most powerful player. Their attempt to kill one player got busted because said player turned out to be the Doctor. Attempts to get in close with said player (who they didn't know was the Doctor) to bust open a potential good guy network killed the aforementioned most powerful player. Ouch.
  • In NobodysHome's run of the Pathfinder Adventure Path Rise of the Runelords, two natural ones and a Critical Failure deck resulted in Tsuto Kaijitsu knocking himself out with his own Stunning Fist and provoking opportunity attacks from the PCs. The group ended up painting Tsuto's miniature silver and giving it as an award to the worst fail of the session. Some recipients include:
    • Xanesha blinding herself, swinging the Curb-Stomp Battle the other way.
    • Two ghouls biting each other instead of their living prey.
    • Halek the barbarian knocking himself out, forcing the bard to risk his own life to pull him to safety. Honorable mention to the four trolls who botched their attempt to hide so badly the GM decided they'd covered their heads with fungus thinking "If I can't see you, you can't see me!"
    • A trio of annis hags blowing their saves and concentration checks when Hi's Fireball interrupted their Forcecage.
    • A zombie literally knocking another zombie's head off.
    • A stone giant fighting in a ritual challenge accidentally hitting the spectating paladin. Twice. The giant now had to fight the paladin and was promptly smote to death.
    • A Hound of Lamashtu tripping itself and hindering its two packmates, to the point where the bard could fight all three and win on his own.
    • A player laughing so hard at a reveal that he fell out of his chair.
    • A lich's right-hand zombie horribly failing a save-or-die, which scared the lich so badly he didn't dare confront the party.
    • A lamia running through a Blade Barrier, then knocking herself back through it.
  • In the first season of Critical Role, Vex is trying to retrieve a diamond at the bottom of a cliff, and enlists Keyleth's help. Due to a series of comically bad choices, Keyleth just dives from the top of the cliff, only barely missing the sheer edge. She turns into a goldfish, thinking it will somehow guide her towards the water. It does not, and Keyleth ends up splatting into the ground for 363 damage. For reference, this was more than double her maximum starting HP, which instantly killed Keyleth with No Saving Throw.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Double Homework, almost everything Henry says and does tends to fall under this. He thinks the “Ivy League” is a gardening competition, “boy-boy stuff” is stuff that guys like to do, and “cirrhosis of the liver” will turn his liver into a cloud.
  • Can come up with the second guitar lessons that the protagonist of Melody gives to the title character. He gives Melody an instrumental piece to play, and the player can select the difficulty. If he picks a “hard” piece, Melody will completely bomb at playing it, notwithstanding that she has been playing guitar since childhood.

ARGH! Don't you hate it when that happens!?

Alternative Title(s): Epic Failure, Doing It Wrong


"Got Him As Good As He Got Me"

When driving home drunk at night during a snow storm, Homer accidentally rear ends the back of a car. Despite his car being wrecked, he looks on the bright side that he got the other car just as bad...until he saw that it was MARGE's station wagon, in their own driveway!

How well does it match the trope?

4.65 (17 votes)

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