When a normal, run-of-the-mill failure just isn't enough.
This is about something that should be fairly straightforward and typical for a character but then goes horribly, HORRIBLY wrong in a manner probably thought impossible. 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: fail in a manner that's so bizarre that it's impressive. We're not talking, "Villain tries to shoot one of his mooks but misses." We're talking, "Villain tries to shoot a mook but misses and the shot ricochets off two walls, smashes the control panel of his Doomsday Machine, and lands in a structural support inches from the mook's head; breaking it, causing the whole base to come crashing down, and the mook is the only survivor." A failure so ludicrously, unexpectedly awesome 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, 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), From Bad to Worse, For Want of a Nail, and What an Idiot!. 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.
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- 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!
- 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 try to attack again. And the rolls another one.
- CBS Sports' weekday radio broadcast The D.A. Show, hosted by Damon Amendolara (9 AM - 12 Noon ET), always ends with the "Epic Fail," spotlightling 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.
- MSF High Forum:
- In the roleplay, there was once a round of combat where eight people, of the same level, were fighting each other...and no one hit ANYONE.
- There was also a round of combat that took three to four days to roll, where nobody hit anybody, with eight combatants? This qualifies.
- 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 A Gs 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 themself.
- 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 Tabletop Game/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 P Cs. 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 and forcing the bard to risk his own life to pull him to safety. Honorable mention to the four trolls who rolled a combined six on their stealth checks, which the GM ruled consisted of covering 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 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.