Follow TV Tropes


Evil Will Fail

Go To
The meek beget riches, the wicked beget failure.

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it — always."

The Big Bad has just finished consolidating his power or conquering nations, or maybe he's had a few decades to construct a Dystopia, and all seems to be going well for him. The plucky heroes are trying to bring him down, but he's on a roll, and no one's going to stop him now... except maybe himself.

Suddenly his subjects seem a bit less cowed by his killing and imprisoning their loved ones, and his every effort to bring them in line just make things worse. One or two of his plans don't quite go off as expected, thanks to infighting between his lieutenants. And maybe his paranoia is getting the better of him, and he's starting to let slip the civil facade that keeps him from being an utter monster.

At the end of the day, the villain's downfall comes not just from the efforts of the heroes, but also from the very nature of the villain's twisted, amoral way of life. Without that specifically being addressed, this would just be Justice Will Prevail.

This trope is rather rare, only appearing in odd mixes of realism-meets-idealism. On the one hand, it may seem naive to imply that a system won't work just because it's morally offensive. On the other hand, there is no perfect Evil Empire in history like the ones we often see portrayed in fiction, because simply put, nothing is perfect. Just as a Stepford Suburbia rubs us the wrong way in their eerie sense of too-perfect "goodness," a completely devoted following of faceless foot soldiers in a well oiled machine of an empire ruled by a tyrant with complete control over his subjects smacks a bit of fairy-tale "evil."

Ultimately, this is a trope in a story that reminds us that battles aren't always won by the genius of the victorious general, but also the mistakes of the defeated one. Note that this doesn't have to be about a large group of evil: it could just as easily be an individual. Whether it's an excess of Greed or Pride that does the villain in, valuing negative-sum interactions, a mentality of always defecting on the Prisoner's Dilemma, or the simple fact that victims of oppression will eventually rebel, Evil as a lifestyle or system cannot endure.

Super-Trope of Villain Ball, No Honor Among Thieves, Dystopia Is Hard, Sanity Has Advantages, and Enemy Civil War. A more specific version is Hoist by His Own Petard. Similar to, but distinct from, Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing.

Inversion of No Delays for the Wicked. Aversions can be examples of Evil Virtues, Pragmatic Villainy, or outright Karma Houdinis. Compare Fascist, but Inefficient and Being Evil Sucks.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • As part of its deconstruction of several tropes relating to the Black-and-White Morality trope, Avesta of Black and White takes a pretty bleak look at this trope. It is revealed that in order for this kind of morally binary system to work as portrayed in most fantasy, then the whole system has to be rigged with free will being removed from the equation. This is best exemplified with the supposed Big Bad Nadare who is fated to always fail regardless of her actions. Her sole purpose is to simply act as an administrator for this farce of a system and to be a Final Boss for whatever hero faces her down, after which her death will trigger the reset of the world to start the whole thing over again, just with the roles switched. And as she is the de-facto leader for the rest of the forces of evil, including the other Archdemons, this ends up extending to them as well with all of them being in the dark on how true victory is impossible for them. However, in a massive subversion, Nadare had used her position as an administrator to set things up in such a way as to where the only way to beat her is to be stronger than the system itself, and as she has the karma of eternal failure, fate itself will make it so that whatever hero manages to kill her will be powerful enough to challenge the very architects of the system. In short, she set things up so that her final failure would be the ultimate middle finger to the powers that be.
  • Being a more realistic take on the mecha genre, often times in Gundam the reason the villains fall is less because of the heroes and more due to their internal politics consuming them from the inside out.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam sees the Zeon high command completely collapse on itself in the final arc. It starts with Gihren Zabi killing his father Degwin after he tries to negotiate peace with The Federation. This leads to his sister Kycilia, tired of his scheming, executing him in turn. Unfortunately for her, Gihren's Cult of Personality was effectively the only thing holding Zeon together, and her killing of him leads to most of loyalists deserting in the opening stages of the Final Battle, leaving her with much less troops than she had before. Kycilia herself is later killed by Char via beam rifle, and the final fight of the series isn't with any of the Zeon leadership but with Char, The Rival, with the Principality of Zeon having effectively fallen under the weight of its power struggles.
    • The final episodes of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam see the Titans' brutal and oppressive tactics costing them their support from the Earth Federation once they're fully exposed. Now an illegal organization and with dwindling resources, the Titans wind up forced to ally with Axis Zeon, the very forces they're supposed to be fighting against, before being finished off in their final battle against the AEUG. In a twist though, it's not the good guys who come out on top at the end of the series, but another evil - Neo Zeon. Speaking of which...
    • In Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, the Neo Zeon comes quite close to crushing the Earth Federation and conquering the Earth Sphere towards the end. Before they can achieve victory however, they get eaten out from the inside by an Enemy Civil War, which gives the EFF and AEUG an opportunity to launch a joint attack to finally take them out.
    • The Zanscare Empire are definitely the most vicious and destructive faction in the Universal Century, but this only contributes to their downfall. By the tail end of Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, Fonse Kagatie's brutal policies towards failure have led to most of their key officers plotting to usurp him. While none of them succeed, they do do enough to cripple the empire from within, leading to the destruction of their superweapon and their forces being demolished in the final battle above Earth.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz: Gihren-Expy Dekim Barton's ambitions are thwarted when his self-serving ambitions come to light. His figurehead, Mariemaia, refuses to go along with his plans while one of his soldiers ends up shooting him after overhearing his maddened rant and realizing he's been fighting to conquer the Earth Sphere for Dekim and not to uphold the legacy of Treize.
    • Zig-zagged in season 2 of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. Gjallarhorn's corruption leads to a Civil War within the organization, which ends with the Big Bad restructuring it into a more democratic organization for sheer efficiency's sake. At the same time, the Big Bad himself gets away even though he was also highly corrupt, having elected himself the sole leader of the now reformed Gjallarhorn and become a Villain with Good Publicity for his policies and for helping to end the human debris practice. The villain was smart enough to see this trope coming and curb it before it could happen.

    Comic Books 
  • The Black Ring has this with Lex Luthor. He's brave and intelligent enough to go toe-to-toe with the most powerful beings in the universe, and come out on top... but even without Superman there, he foils himself by being petty and spiteful. In the finale, he gains omnipotence, but throws it away after a few minutes because he isn't allowed to hurt Superman.
  • Scrooge McDuck prides himself on being "tougher than the toughies and sharper than the sharpies," but moreso the fact that "I made all my money square." Scrooge's greed may be intense, but he's not so lustful for money that he'd ever cheat someone out of something (unless they tried to cheat him first). Scrooge contrasts this in-universe with his foil, Flintheart Glomgold, who is a Corrupt Corporate Executive of the first order. Scrooge inevitably comes out on top, and loves to rub it in Glomgold's face about how the evil tycoon attitude will always come back to bite him. Even after years upon years of losing to Scrooge, Glomgold refuses to listen.
  • Thanos, Marvel Comics' resident Omnicidal Maniac, is so smart and powerful that he has been outright stated as being capable of losing only because he knows, deep inside, that he doesn't deserve the power he seeks, thus unconsciously sabotaging his own plans, giving the heroes openings to strike at him, etc.
  • Similarly, Doctor Doom is motivated by an intense egomania that drives him to attempt to conquer the world and kill that blasted Reed Richards, but that very egomania prevents him from recognizing his own mistakes and frequently leads to his own defeat.
  • Norman Osborn essentially became the most powerful man on earth for two years (six months in-universe) in Dark Reign. Unfortunately for him, his mental instability and arrogance eventually led to his downfall more than any single hero ever could, and everyone except him knew it was going to happen.

    Fan Works 
  • Discussed in Eleutherophobia: Slaughterhouse-Five, where Tom explains to Jake's class of military cadets that the Yeerk Empire was doomed to fail because its authoritarian power structure caused its subjects to be too afraid to question authority... though the Animorphs running around and breaking things certainly didn't help.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Incredibles: Syndrome tries to set himself up as a superhero to prove that the world doesn't need supers by letting loose a robot on a major city, which was already programmed to outwit and stop supers. Unfortunately for him, Syndrome doesn't realize that means the robot's smart enough to stop him, too, immediately shooting the controls from Syndrome and incapacitating him. It's left to the Parr family and Frozone to stop the robot, saving the day and restoring the public perception of supers, too.
  • In The Lion King (1994), it's shown that, even if Simba hadn't shown up and pulled a Rightful King Returns, Scar's rule over the lion pride would have collapsed anyway since he'd driven the pridelands to the point of ecological ruin. Either the lions would have turned against him and left, the hyenas would have turned on him and ripped him apart for making them scapegoats, or everyone would have died along with him when the food and water ran out. Simba showing up when he did just put a more dramatic end to Scar. And all because his rule revolved entirely around him being in charge and letting the hyenas who recognised his claim blindly, have everything in turn. No policies. No effort. No care.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Avengers:
    • Coulson tells Loki that no matter what he does, he will not win against them.
      Coulson: You’re going to lose. It's in your nature. You lack conviction.
    • Also, later on, Tony does the same thing.
      Tony: There's no throne. There is no version of this where you come out on top. Maybe your army comes, and maybe it's too much for us, but it's all on you. 'Cause if we can't protect the Earth, you can be damn well sure we'll avenge it.
  • In the film version of the musical Camelot, Arthur tries to convince Mordred that evil winds up destroying itself. He claims the best that evil can ever get is a Meaningless Villain Victory, because while evil can be triumphant for a time, it can never be happy, and it inevitably causes its own downfall as a result.
  • GoodFellas: The three characters:
    • Tommy's Hair-Trigger Temper makes him murder a made man without permission, one of the biggest breaches of the mobster code, which gets him unceremoniously shot in the back of the head (so his mother can't have an open casket for him).
    • Jimmy decides to kill his associates after the heist to have the entire haul for himself, which proves to be his undoing.
    • Henry gets greedy and sets up his own operation that gets him arrested. Despite having no regrets about his life of crime, he ultimately helps bring down the Lucchese family for good by testifying against them in court, since it's the only way to avoid spending decades in prison for drug trafficking.
  • Hobo With a Shotgun: As The Drake mocks The Hobo, who he has stuck in a manhole and prepped for decapitation by car, The Hobo tells him: "Drake... Eventually, evil will turn against evil. It'll wipe itself out. Leaving nothing but wreckage and fucked up memories!"
  • In The Prestige, stage magician Angier's steady descent into his revenge-fueled obsession ultimately culminates in betrayal by his engineer and closest friend, who no longer agrees with his methods and goals.
  • Star Wars: A New Hope: "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers." The Empire's 0% Approval Rating directly contributes to the Rebel Alliance's success, to the point where long before he had a personal stake in the conflict, even Luke, the resident of a backwater world with far more pressing local problems than Imperial oppression, took it for granted that it was an evil worth fighting against. While the Rebel Alliance in A New Hope has been reduced to a few small bases with no real fleet to speak of (Rogue One confirms this, with only a handful of ships larger than corvettes, sallying out on a critical mission, and all getting destroyed at Scarif), by Return of the Jedi they can field a massive fleet of hundreds of cruisers in the final battle at Endor, visually illustrating that the rebellion did become stronger.
    • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, including books and video games, too much infighting among the Sith led to the Rule of Two, which restricts the existence of the Sith to only two at a time: the Master and the Apprentice, who eventually tries to usurp the Master by killing them and taking their place, only to take on an Apprentice they know will one day try and kill them. If they weren't so evil that they couldn't coexist peacefully, they could easily grow in numbers and become virtually unstoppable. Darth Bane, the founder of the Rule of Two, noted that the Sith were at least as much of a threat to one another as the Jedi were.
    • The "doomed to fail" rule of the Sith has been averted twice — the Old Sith Empire, and its successor set up in the Unknown Regions. Both had plenty of infighting as well but both lasted more than a millennium, and functioned relatively well, though that said, they were usually not quite as evil as the ones that fell apart. Aside from them, Bane's Sith Order managed to last 1,000 years in secrecy and was still around for a while after the death of Palpatine, if as a shadow of its former self. The other orders lasted long enough to do significant damage to the galaxy at large in each of their turns.
      • That being said, both the Sith Empires were plagued by both literal and metaphorical backstabbing, to the point where they were almost as much of a threat to themselves as the Jedi were, with non-Sith Lord bureaucrats often being the most effective at getting things done (the Sith are almost chronically unable to support one another for very long before they start betraying each other).
    • After Palpatine and Vader were killed, it's explicitly stated in multiple sources that had the various Grand Admirals banded together and attacked the Rebellion/New Republic, they would have overwhelmed them. However, the power vacuum led to everyone with more than one Star Destroyer declaring themself a warlord and setting up their own power base. This made it pretty simple for the New Republic to pursue a "divide and conquer" strategy. As it is, by a decade after Endor, the Empire is on its last legs; just fifteen years after Endor, what's left of the Empire comes to the New Republic to request an armistice.
  • Terminator: Due to the rather fatalistic nature of the franchise Skynet always ends up causing Judgement Day despite the humans attempts to avert it (at most, they can delay it). Fortunately, this also means that Skynet is destined to eventually lose in the Bad Future. The first movie outright states that the human resistance managed to fatally damage it, and that it sending a terminator to kill John Connor was a last-ditch Desperation Attack. While it does manage to delay its destruction by various Time Travel schemes, it still always loses in the end.
  • At the end of The Wicker Man (1973) The Bad Guy Wins, when protagonist Sergeant Howie learns that the whole purpose of his presence on the island was the be used as a Human Sacrifice to the pagan gods to revitalize the failing crop harvests. However, just as he is about to be left to burn alive in the titular Wicker Man, Howie tells Lord Summerisle that he believes the real reason for the crop failures is bad farming practice, so by relying on Human Sacrifice instead of addressing the actual problem, Summerisle is just setting them up to fail again next year... and if Howie's sacrifice doesn't work, then the people would consider Lord Summerisle himself to be the only worthy sacrifice. But that still won't solve the farming problem, so in the end both the villain and [1] the island are doomed no matter what.

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four is a notable inversion of this trope: the evil Big Brother governments of the world have things so completely under control and so tightly locked into their plans, that the book ends with the "resistance" depicted as a myth and the protagonist of the story successfully brainwashed into obedience. Although the appendix does talk about Ingsoc in the past tense, implying that in the end, evil failed after all.
  • The three villainous protagonists in The Canterbury Tales' "The Pardoner's Tale" end up killing each other due to their greed.
  • Invoked by Chronicles of the Necromancer. Jared is a rotten ruler, with a 0% Approval Rating — refugees are pouring out from his country, and one by one he's pissing off all of his neighboring rulers. Which means Martris has no trouble finding supporters to help him seize the throne.
  • Once someone is in Purgatory in The Divine Comedy, they are destined to reach Heaven, no matter how many serpents and demons try to stop them.
  • Subverted and lampshaded in Dungeons & Dragons. The Drow culture is made of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder because their goddess enables their behavior. However, she also is the thing that keeps their society functioning since the goddess knows that otherwise, their society would collapse. However, it is still played somewhat straight in that the only thing keeping the Drow culture together is literal divine intervention and without it, would've ended quickly: the glimpses that are provided in the novels show a culture that's far too dysfunctional to survive in a situation where they weren't beset by enemies from every direction, much less in the Death World of the Underdark.
    • Played straight in the Dragonlance setting and novels, however, where it's a fundamental truism that "evil turns upon itself".
  • In Harry Potter, what always sets Voldemort back is his inability to understand The Power of Love.
  • In King Crow, Cormac's "prophecy" amounts to this:
    "Tell me, do you believe your position to be secure?" Cormac asked the tyrant softly.
    "Who says it isn't?" demanded Bregant, looking about.
    "Listen," said Cormac. "My visions have told me the fate of all tyrants such as you. Beware the knife at your back, the mole at your feet, and the weapon that breaks in your hands. You will never be safe. Even the hills are crowned with fire, and that fire will come to consume you."
  • The Lord of the Rings has a quote by Gandalf: "Oft evil will shall evil mar."
    • Indeed, this is rather prevalent in Tolkien's work, if somewhat subtly. Saruman's grasping of the Villain Ball by destroying Fangorn Forest leads to the Ents marching on Orthanc and destroying it. An even greater example is that Gollum, driven mad by obsession with the Ring, bites it off Frodo's finger, dances around in glee... and plummets into the Crack of Doom, thus destroying it. At one point, Frodo (wearing the Ring) had stated:
      "If I, wearing [the Ring], were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or cast yourself into the fire. And such would be my command."
    • Later, Frodo (while wearing the Ring, which it's implied was speaking through him) commands him that "if you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom." The Ring was destroyed by its own malice.
    • And in the very beginning of the Silmarillion, Eru Iluvatar says to Melkor:
      "And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined."
  • In Mariel of Redwall one good character chastises an evil one for thinking he'd ever win, since it's evil's nature to defeat itself. The series shows that villains are generally too power-hungry and back-stabbing to ever actually be efficient in the long run. Half their defeat comes from this without any effort by the good characters at all.
  • The gang in Valley of Fear is inherently unsustainable because their extortionist practices drive out the smaller businessmen, who are being steadily replaced by big magnates who will not be so easily cowed. Too bad they think The Complainer Is Always Wrong.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire is well-known for its good characters being punished for doing good, but often, the evil fare little better; the ones who truly succeed are generally either the ones sensible enough to keep their evil in check, or those who pair the goodness to get genuine supporters with the cunning to see the snakes before they're bitten. It includes a large plethora of varied shades of "evil," but whenever one of the really bad ones takes power, various things go to hell in a handbasket for them as a result of their generally callous and power-hungry worldviews.
    • Joffrey Baratheon is a Spoiled Brat who has no sense of self-control or restraint, making enemies of both the rich and the poor, just because he loves to flaunt his power and his prestige. This gets him assassinated by poison. Because he's such an asshole, nobody is really sure who did it (because everybody has some reason to do it by this point) and nobody cares enough to find out.
    • Cersei can't stop the downward spiral of her city because she's amazingly paranoid and appoints people based on perceived loyalty to Cersei herself rather than competence, because she sees any sign of the latter (usually in the form of questioning WTF she thinks she's doing) as a sign of betrayal. Unsurprisingly, this also meant that she replaced the truly loyal people with people who were just really good at lying to her, and after she falls from power, they all desert. The only exception is the Mad Doctor Qyburn, presumably because anyone saner than Cersei would be demanding his head on a pike sooner or later.
    • The Freys legally get away with breaking Sacred Hospitality at the Red Wedding but fail to realize that this means that basically everyone believes them to have crossed the Moral Event Horizon (and are mad that with precedent for breaking hospitality now no one can feel safe as a guest) and now wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire- so when the Starks' remaining loyalists hunt them down in revenge, nobody stops them.
    • The posthumous caligula, Mad King Aerys, whose insanity caused him to alienate everyone in the Seven Kingdoms and eventually got him killed by a member of his own Kingsguard, Jaime Lannister, who he ordered to burn down the entire city of King's Landing when it looked like they were about to lose the war.
    • By the end of the fifth book in the series, Ramsay Bolton's continual aversions of his father's Pragmatic Villainy are undermining their entire family, and it seems very unlikely that any rule of his would be sustainable.
    • Tywin Lannister zig-zags this: politically, he is a paragon of Pragmatic Villainy, and his many extremely ruthless decisions are always well-planned, and consequently he is one of the most competent and long-lasting rulers in the books. Personally, however, he is too arrogant or hateful to accept when he really is in trouble, and it gets him killed by his own son Tyrion who he always despised and dismissed as a worthless freak.
    • In Westeros's history, the reason both Rhaenyra and Aegon II lost the Dance of the Dragons is that they were both such pricks that they kept either turning valuable supporters and/or the smallfolk against them and losing their positions. The war ultimately ended with Rhaenyra betrayed and killed, but Aegon poisoned by his own supporters shortly thereafter because he threatened to mutilate his child relations and absolutely refused to negotiate even when the other side were at their doorstep with overwhelming force. And Alicent Hightower, who started the whole thing in the first place to place her son Aegon II on the throne, only succeeded in the most technical terms while also getting him killed young without any direct heirs.
    • Maegor the Cruel managed to destroy several rebellions despite Westeros hating him almost as much as Joffrey with the power of his dragons but was eventually found dead on the Iron Throne. The identity of his killer remained a Riddle for the Ages because an answer would require somebody to care enough about him to investigate.
  • In The Stand, Randall Flagg's half of civilization begins to deteriorate when the presence of so many volatile personalities mix in one society, fear stops being as effective for control, and every minor failure makes the Big Bad himself go into fits of rage and lose his focus, causing errors in judgement.
  • Often appears in Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • The Thrawn Trilogy in the ''Star Wars Expanded Universe" employs this to great effect. Thrawn's not an outright horrible person, but it's a series of unethical actions — double-crossing Mara, deceiving the Noghri, trying to manipulate the smugglers — that lead to his downfall due to changed allegiances.
      • It's also implied that the only reason the Empire can pull off as much as it does is that Thrawn is less evil than his predecessors like Vader and Isard. Unlike them, he doesn't execute subordinates on a whim or waste resources on his vanity, meaning more is available to bolster the military.
    • The Revenge of the Sith novelization explicitly states at one point that the Jedi Order has been keeping itself in condition and passing on ways to defeat a Sith threat which is like that of the Old Sith Empire. Meanwhile, the tiny 'true' Sith order has always been either undetected or underestimated, and in the end Yoda comes to believe that the entire time they've been evolving to attack and take down the much larger Jedi Order. That's been their tight focus. The Galactic Empire that the Sith came to command was not itself Sith, mostly, but Palpatine's mishandling of his people was a big part in how the Rebel Alliance was able to form. It also has this to say, after several meditations on the nature and the power of evil:
    "The dark is generous and it is patient and it always wins – but in the heart of its strength lies its weakness: one lone candle is enough to hold it back. Love is more than a candle. Love can ignite the stars.”
    Corran Horn: That may be. But I know the one thing you don't. You're never going to win. You destroy those who oppose you, and what does that leave you?
    Exar Kun: The faithful.
    Corran Horn: From among whom arises a rival. You have a schism.
    Exar Kun: And I destroy the heretics.
    Corran Horn: Yes, you do. And again and again that cycle repeats itself and you let it go on because you've forgotten the most fundamental truth of reality: Life creates the Force. When Kyp destroyed Carida, he diminished your power. When you destroyed Gantoris, you diminished your power. You're a predator over-grazing your prey, but you can't stop because the dark side fills you with this aching hunger that will never be satisfied.
  • The Sword of Truth series includes an empire that is completely oppressive to individuality and self-interest. As a result, when a high-ranking member falls in love and is confronted with the dissonance of what he feels and what he believes, he commits suicide.
  • This is the fundamental hope of the protagonists in Victoria—or at least, their right-wing extremist point of view. The various political strawmen they oppose are set up as looking formidable and powerful, but the book sets forth the view that they will eventually crumble under their supposed corruption and reality-denying ideologies, while the ideology of the protagonists (which they claim isn't an ideology, but merely common sense) will eventually prevail.
  • The Wheel of Time: The Dark One chooses followers for the one trait he understands — selfishness. As a result, his forces are wildly dysfunctional: his Forsaken constantly backstab each other for their own ends, his lieutenant is a Death Seeker, and his legions need to be bound as Keystone Armies to be controllable. Over and over, the heroes win because they care about more than just themselves and are willing to risk themselves for the greater good.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: After the Centauri Republic conquers the Narn homeworld, Centauri ambassador Mollari demands that Narn ambassador G'Kar be ejected from the Babylon 5 Advisory Council (since he represents a government that no longer exists). Before leaving the council chamber, G'Kar invokes this trope:
    G'Kar: No dictator, no invader can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power, tyrants and dictators cannot stand. The Centauri learned that lesson once. We will teach it to them again. Though it take a thousand years, we will be free.
  • In Breaking Bad, every major player in the drug game — the Cartel, Gus Fring, Walter White — ends up falling due to infighting and a basic lack of trust among associates. Generally speaking, the closer to the black end of the Black-and-Grey Morality spectrum they are, the harder they fall. The DEA, while hard-working and occasionally heroic, mostly just picks up the pieces of the various turf wars and occasionally knocks off some low-hanging fruit.
  • Game of Thrones: House Bolton, probably the most unambiguously cruel and evil house in the series, is destroyed by their own penchant for cruelty and backstabbing nature after the last remaining member Ramsay Bolton, who killed everyone else in the family, gets fed to his own dogs when his Karma Houdini Warranty runs out. Furthermore, despite their faction's successes Joffrey Baratheon and Tywin Lannister are killed as a result of their evil actions.
  • A very frequent trope in Super Sentai and Power Rangers. It originated in J.A.K.Q. Dengekitai, and was codified in Denshi Sentai Denziman: the villain groups will tend to tear themselves apart as much as the heroes defeat them, if not moreso. The reasons vary; sometimes it's a simple case of The Starscream, sometimes it's a full-on case of Enemy Civil War, sometimes one of the villains is hiding an Awful Truth from the rest that inevitably gets exposed, sometimes the Big Bad is just a Bad Boss, and sometimes it's simply that none of the villains like each other and will regularly indulge in backstabbing. Oftentimes, the heroes will take advantage of this, though depending on the circumstances they'll still be on the defensive anyway.
    • Taiyou Sentai Sun Vulcan: The only members of Black Magma to be defeated without involvement from other villains are the Zero Girls. The rest end up in the Enemy Civil War that subsumes the organization in the final few episodes. Queen Hedrian and Hell Saturn kill each other in a power struggle for control of the organization; Inazuma Ginga gets disposed of by Hell Saturn's ghost; Amazon Killer is crowned the new ruler but, unhappy about being the new Puppet Queen for the Omnipotent God, reveals its location to Sun Vulcan before committing suicide, allowing them to go and destroy it.
    • The downfall of the Reconstructive Experiment Empire Mess in Choushinsei Flashman comes less from the Flashmen themselves and more it getting destroyed from within by a three-way Enemy Civil War, provoked by their ruler's egocentrism. By the time the Final Battle rolls around, it's hardly much of a final battle at all. Both Sir Cowler and Lah Deus had been picked off by the Flashmen in the episodes before, the Laboh is heavily damaged and unable to fly, the only remaining members of Mess (not counting the leftover Zolohs) are Lee Keflen and Leh Nafel, and the Mess are purposeless now that Lah Deus is gone, having existed solely as a means to transform him into the Ultimate Lifeform. Although Keflen has his own ambitions, the best he can do is create one last Monster of the Week to fight the Flashman before going down in what amounts to not much of a fight.
    • Choujuu Sentai Liveman — the Liveman don't defeat Volt so much as outlast it. (It's worth noting that, given when it was made, this isn't a metaphor for the Cold War so much as the ruthlessly competitive element of then-modern society.) The ways in which Bias squandered his (at first) loyal Lieutenants' time with competition rather than coordination and cooperation — all the way up to just before the finale — made Volt's ultimate self-implosion inevitable.
    • Chikyuu Sentai Fiveman has the Zone Army falling apart at the seams when it's revealed the seeming Big Bad, Empress Meadow, was in fact an illusion, created by the Genius Loci serving as the Zone's Supervillain Lair, Vulgyre, for the entire series. It's real goal was to obtain the death energy of 1000 destroyed planets so it could transform into its Super Galactic Beast form. Doldora has a complete Villainous Breakdown at this revelation, and Vulgyre ends up turning her and Zaza into a combined monster form.
    • The Space Pirates Balban Seijuu Sentai Gingaman are undone more by infighting and backstabbing than anything else, as Illiess' plot to remove Budoh from command sets off a chain of events that leads to the Gingaman reclaiming the Lights of Ginga, which not only costs the Balban their best chance to revive the Daitanixnote  but also helps the Gingaman deal with the Balban's strongest members and eventually leads to Budoh's death; for her treachery, Illiess is killed and Bucrates, the Balban's wise guy, is kicked out for cooperating with her. Desiring revenge, Bucrates trains Hyuuga to destroy Captain Zahab's immortality-granting jewel, which in the end helps him and the heroes do so, meaning Illiess singlehandedly brought the downfall of her organization out of greed. Even more pronounced is that the Balban were defeated the first time for this exact same reason as their Majins fought one another so much they couldn't work together to fight the original Gingaman, leaving them to be defeated and sealed away (which is why this time around, Zahab insisted each one of the factions take turns trying to defeat the Gingaman).
    • In Power Rangers in Space, evil would actually have won if not for the fact that villains don't exactly get along very well. They were only defeated because Darkonda couldn't hold back his urge to take control of the United Alliance of Evil by killing Dark Specter with a planet-destroying missile that was intended to vaporize Earth, with Dark Specter retaliating by taking Darkonda with him before he blew up completely, thus leaving Astronema as the sole main threat left and giving Andros an opening to more easily infiltrate the Dark Fortress and eventually destroy/purify all the villains by killing Zordon and letting his energy travel through the universe to end the threat of the Alliance once and for all.
    • Power Rangers RPM averts it — despite an Enemy Civil War that went on in the later episodes, Venjix remains ultra-powerful, and still succeeds at his plans (mostly by way of having turned half of Corinth into his sleeper agents; he'd only followed the usual playbook to disguise this) and only by sheer luck do the Rangers finally stop him...and The Stinger implies he's still hanging on in some fashion. This, however, took a long time to pay off.
  • The Goa'uld from Stargate SG-1 are this in spades — since using their sarcophagus to extend their lifespans indefinitely also makes them crazy evil (and by that we mean both crazy and evil), it was inevitable their empire would come crashing down eventually; it took the SG-1 team to make the dominoes fall. They were kept in check for a long time by Ra, but when he got killed, this meant an Evil Power Vacuum to be filled, and Apophis took over; no matter how many times SG-1 or another Goa'uld seemed to kill him (which, as Thor pointed out, meant that SG-1 simply kept upsetting the balance of power among the other System Lords), he tended to come back least until season 5, when the Replicators (whose threat had prevented the Asgard from just wiping the Goa'uld off the map ages ago) finally took care of him. After that, the once-mighty Goa'uld empire began a swift trend downwards in terms of threat, though they managed to stick around for some time after.
    • This culminated in Stargate: Continuum where the Goa'uld, under Ba'al, have become an unbeatable force (thanks to Ba'al's time travelling). However, the treacherous nature of the Goa'uld rears its head, and Ba'al is stabbed in the back, which ultimately leads to the final end of the Goa'uld Empire.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "Mirror, Mirror", Kirk asks Mirror Spock about the Halkans' prediction that the Empire's subjects will eventually overthrow it. Mirror Spock concurs that the Empire will inevitably fall, a conclusion he states with the same matter-of-fact logical demeanor as his main universe counterpart.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): "The Obsolete Man" is about a librarian named Rodney Wordsworth, condemned to death for his "obsolete" skillset and belief in god. He requests his execution to be carried out by setting off a bomb in his apartment, and during his final hours, he is visited by the Chancellor who issued his death sentence. Wordsworth traps the Chancellor in the room with him; though he attempts to keep a brave face, the Chancellor eventually breaks down and begs to be released. Though Wordsworth spares the Chancellor and calmly faces the explosion to come, his execution was being televised, so other members of the state were able to see the Chancellor's display of weakness. The evil state the Chancellor so worshiped turns on him for his cowardice. As he is dragged away by a mob of people proclaiming him "obsolete", narrator Rod Serling gives this quote:
    "The Chancellor, the late Chancellor, was only partially correct. He was obsolete. But so was the State, the entity he worshiped. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under 'M' for mankind... in the Twilight Zone."
  • In The Wire season 1, the nature of "The Game" of drug dealing has everyone looking out for themselves, to the point where innocent bystanders or even friends who might pose a risk have to be dealt with. It's this repeated brutality that ends up winning allies for the investigation team again and again from players who want out after someone they care about gets hurt.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The ancient religion Zoroastrianism actually has this. The world has not one, but two supreme godsnote . One is Ahura Mazda, the God of Good and represents every benevolence. The other is Angra Mainyu, the God of Evil and represents every malevolence. Although both are equal in power and position, Angra Mainyu will lose in the end, because of the self-destructiveness of being evil.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Chronicles of Darkness: The main reason almost all the truly evil factions in the setting still have yet to win is because they tend to have self-destructive practices.
  • Princess: The Hopeful (fan-made):
    • The reason the All-Consuming Darkness still has yet to actually exterminate the Hopeful despite having destroyed their entire Kingdom centuries ago is that, being a Background Magic Field that warps people and urge them to follow their darkest tendencies, its servants usually are Stupid Evil depraved psychopaths who do a very poor job at keeping a low profile, to the point Dark Cults usually get found out and taken down by the authorities even without a Princess around to fight them. The backstory actually reveals they used to be routinely Curb-Stomped when Princesses were at the peak of their power, and only managed to get in their current dominating position because the Hopeful Kingdom was suffering infighting at the time.
    • In a lesser example, the reason Alhambra can't rule the world as they'd like to, despite their magic and stash of pre-Fall relics, is that they depend on exploiting it for Wisps to keep Alhambra itself safe and utterly refuse to compromise Alhambra (and I don't just mean compromising Alhambra's safety or morality; they won't even move the damn place out of the Darklands so they don't have to steal Wisps anymore) in favor of the "rebellious provinces." If nothing else drives them away (and the Court of Storms are more than happy to volunteer to take out the trash) their Wisp-harvesting will inevitably ruin their new territory, forcing them to retreat once again.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Comes up most often with Chaos. Because the nature of Chaos is a constant state of change and conflict, the Chaos Gods chief concern is waging war on one another in a conflict called the Great Game, and they only stop fighting for brief periods to deal with mutual threats. This war, by its nature, can never have a lasting advantage by one of the aggressors and can never end, unless an outside factor disrupts it. While the metaphysical aspect can seem a bit abstract, this often manifests in followers of the respective gods having very hard times working with one another, as they have a strong inclination to look down on and fight one another. This is further aggravated by the fact that human forces of Chaos are disparate groups, ranging in size from a handful to tens of thousands of soldiers, and each group is trying to attend to its own goals and interests rather than advancing the interests of Chaos as a whole. The most successful forces that follow Chaos are usually a large group united in their worship of a single deity, secular and use Chaos as a tool, or, in at least one case, worships Chaos as a pantheon and actively discourages worshipping one deity over the others. Despite all of this, Chaos remains on of the biggest existential threats to every other faction.
    • Of the Chaos Gods Tzeentch, the god of change, "magic", and plotting, is manipulating millions or billions of pieces across the galaxy in just as many or even more plans. It's speculated he's driving the galaxy toward some unknown goal, but the notion is dismissed by reasoning that he would die if his plans succeeded in some ultimate goal, because he'd have nothing left to plot against. So, he actually creates plans to run contrary to each other and sabotages his own plans so they'll always backfire even if they can succeed by complete accident. All four of the major Chaos Gods qualify as Mad Gods, but even among them Tzeentch has a reputation for being crazy and unknowable.
    • Malice may be a Mad God also, but ironically he's much more predictable than Tzeentch because he's a Knight Templar whose sole purpose is to destroy all of Chaos, which paradoxically includes itself, hence the "Renegade God" epiphet that the other four bestow on it. The reason being that Chaos, even if it were united and finally emerge victorious in its war against the Imperium, will inevitably burn itself out anyway and end up causing its own destruction. Just like Khorne is the God of Bravery and Valor, Malice is the God of Balance and Justice. The big irony of Chaos is that it is created by beings that yearn for salvation from that which they themselves created.
    • Also to a lesser extent, the Orks. Orks are too divisive and chaotic (not Chaotic) to really form a large-scale cohesive unit for too long. Most Ork WAAAGH!s that don't get ground to a halt tend to fall apart to infighting after its leader dies or if it runs out of enemies to fight. It's often said that they'd fully and swiftly conquer the galaxy if they ever unite under one banner. During the conflict of the War of the Beast, that exact scenario nearly happened as the Ork Warlord known as "the Beast" instilled enough discipline and intelligence into the Orks that they were only stopped by the Imperium after it martialed nearly everything it had to kill the Beast.
    • This is actually averted by the Dark Eldar, Necrons, and Tyranids.
      • Life for the individual Dark Eldar can be extremely hazardous, they're one another's worst enemies, and they might be insane by every reasonable standard. However, their predatory nature has lead them to thrive by preying on the other inhabitants of the galaxy. In contrast to other Eldar groups, the Craftworld Eldar are struggling to stave off extinction, Harlequins aren't too interested in recruiting, Eldar corsairs who simply haven't reached the level of success Dark Eldar have, and Exodite Eldar who are equivalent to back country bumpkins, to the point that many have forgotten that they were initially a starfaring species. Jury is still out on the Ynnari, who are too new and whose loose partnership with the Imperium is still too fresh to see if it's a help or a hindrance.
      • Necrons are functionally immortal in most respects, so they'll continue even long afterwards if the galaxy otherwise becomes stripped of life. Many are doing well enough in either rebuilding their empire or independant fiefdoms. The main concern of many Phaerons is to see the Necrons returned to galactic supremacy while stopping Chaos and preserving life in the galaxy. Not much use in ruling if they have no servants, and many still require a lot of test subjects in pursuing experiments to return them to flesh.
      • The Tyranids' ultimate goal is simply to eat up all the life in the galaxy and move on to the next. It's assumed they've done so at least once before, and the entire galaxy is fighting them tooth and nail for survival, and it's a galaxy with a lot of experience in fighting one another. Still, the 'Nids' defeat isn't a sure thing.
    • Also the Imperium, the "good guys", are subject to this. While the Imperium has withstood trials and tribulations for nearly 12,000 years, but the main thrust is that it's ultimately failing by inches. The Golden Throne (a keystone artifact keeping the Emperor "alive" and running enough systems to keep the Imperium functioning) is at risk of failing, the numerous threats might overwhelm it one day, a broken webway gate is being held and stills threatens to flood Earth with daemons, it's run by an incompetent council, and the only thing keeping it safe is the millions of lives expended each day to keep the numerous threats at bay. And many of its own leaders are prone to corruption, incompetence, or some form of treason, making sure any gains aren't a sure thing unless the Imperium expends even more lives to bring errant leadership under control. The most famous example of their leadership is the tale of Lord Commander Macharius, who conquered a swathe of worlds to the edge of the Imperium's "safe" FTL navigation range, beyond which his own men refused to go. After his death, the many military officers he left to occupy conquered worlds declared their secessions, and had to be reconquered.

    Video Games 
  • In Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, this trope is Richter Belmont's Shut Up, Hannibal!:
    "But people cannot be ruled by power alone! The sacred, the honorable, the loved, those things can rule humanity. Something evil will eventually FALL TO RUIN!!"
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: The Big Bad, a Nightmare Fetishist for the concept of despair, sets up a Closed Circle where some students are manipulated into murdering each other or become prisoners forever. Their plan works as always, but they cannot understand that every student that survives becomes more difficult to manipulate and they Can't Catch Up with the hero: The Mole they planted makes a Heroic Sacrifice and becomes a Doomed Moral Victor. The Big Bad tries to kill the Amateur Sleuth and blame the Great Detective, causing the Amateur Sleuth to become a Messianic Archetype. In the Final Battle, they try again to get every survivor to betray the Messianic Archetype, incapable of realizing that this works only once and they would not do it a second time. Even when the Big Bad still manages to control the situation, and they could easily retire and learn from their errors to torture their prisoners later, they cannot conceive that idea, so they prefer to destroy themselves because they are a Nightmare Fetishist for their own despair.
  • The Elder Scrolls has the case for Potema Septim, the "Wolf Queen" of Solitude, in the backstory. Married off the Jarl of Solitude by her brother, Emperor Antiochus Septim, Potema was a prime Manipulative Bastard and Chessmaster. She lied to her new husband and got his son exiled to ensure that her own son, Uriel III, would take the throne of Solitude, and in time the Ruby Throne of all Tamriel. When her niece, Kintyra II, was declared heir instead of Uriel III, Potema engaged in a bloody conflict known as the War of the Red Diamond, and after years of violent conquest and inciting rebellion in Skyrim, Hammerfell, and High Rock, she captured and executed Kintyra II, put Uriel III on the throne, and killed anyone who disagreed. However, the loyalist forces, led by her other brother Cephorus, did not stop and fought against this puppet Emperor, with Uriel III himself dying a scant year or so into his rule when his caravan was intercepted by an angry mob who burned him to death. Upon hearing the news, what little humanity that remained in the Wolf-Queen was snuffed out, and her fury against the new Emperor Cephorus was terrible to behold. In her madness and spite, she began consorting with Daedra, and raising the dead on both sides as zombies and skeletons to fight for her. Stories of the Wolf-Queen being tended to by skeletal chambermaids, Lich advisors, and vampire lieutenants spread like wildfire, while any living servants who dared to offend her being sacrificed in bloody rituals to dark gods or worse. Her horrified allies abandoned her in droves. Eventually none who lived called themselves allies of the mad Wolf-Queen, and Solitude became a land of death. After alienating everyone else in Tamriel, their armies marched into Solitude and laid siege to the capital. Potema eventually died in her castle after a protracted, decade-long siege.
  • Fallout has brought this up a number of times, namely when talking about Raiders.
  • This happens regarding Caesar's Legion in most of the endings in Fallout: New Vegas. With no industry or agriculture to speak of and an outright rejection of most technology or science, the Legion lasts only as long as it has the charismatic Caesar to lead it. Once he dies (either from being killed by The Courier or as a result of his brain tumor), his successor isn't able to keep things functioning and it quickly falls apart.
  • Invoked in Freedom Planet; a cutscene midway through the story mode has Brevon finishing off a random vigilante, who forcefully states that men like him "will always fail". Brevon makes his disagreement clear, though the vigilante is proven right by the end.
  • Discussed by Kreia multiple times with the Exile in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Kreia herself is not above showing Cruel Mercy — as a morally-gray Evil Mentor, she's in opposition to the Sith because Kreia finds their omnicidal tendencies to be a spectacular waste of time. Kreia much prefers to be practical, not even really opposed to altruism as long as it helps achieve her own goal. Even so, Kreia believes that the Sith are inevitably going to lose to the Jedi in the long run. In Kreia's mind, this isn't because the Sith's "survival of the fittest" mentality is necessarily wrong. It's more that the Sith's plans are pointlessly self-destructive, and their Chronic Backstabbing Disorder and lust for power are the root causes of their own downfall. In Kreia's words, "to be united by hatred is a fragile alliance, at best". When the Exile learns that Kreia used to be a Sith and turned from evil — kind of — the explanation behind this philosophy becomes more clear.
  • Knights of the Old Republic implied and discussed this trope at several places. Jolee is not as overtly "good" as most of the party members as he's fought through Exar Kun's war forty years prior, and believes that heroes and tyrants come and go, historians pick up the pieces, and while things will work out in the end, it's better to prevent a "couple rough centuries" than to passively wait. It's also shown though the Korriban quests where your fellow prospects can either get themselves killed by making a quick and foolhardy power grab or be convinced that this life isn't what they wanted. The capper is Ajunta Pal, the ghost of one of the first exiled Dark Jedi who became Sith Lords. Ajunta explained that while the Sith Lords were proud and powerful, they eventually fell to infighting and that the Valley of the Dark Lords is what's left of their palace, destroyed as the fraternity fell to infighting and destroyed one another, collapsing their stronghold down upon themselves. One of the party members can express this reaction to the story.
    "I suppose that's the nature of the Dark Side. Power, but no longevity. Eventually it just consumes itself."
  • The Evil Elder Powers from Nexus Clash have this in spades, as worlds shaped by their hands tend to burn out and die quickly on account of them being personifications of ideals like Chaos, Selfishness, and Violence. They still win the most often. Subverted in that all of the Elder Powers, even the benevolent ones, have flaws in their ideologies that cause their worlds to come apart eventually, which forces another cycle of the Eternal Recurrence that drives the series.
  • Comes up a lot with the Nazis from Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. The world has just too many different people in the world for you to subjugate without them all banding together to destroy you, and not even your ill-begotten Nazi super-tech can prevent that.

    Web Comics 
  • Discussed in The Order of the Stick, Elan's father Tarquin knows he's eventually going to be defeated, but he is currently living the high life and will eventually go down in such a blaze of glory a story will be written about it, which freaks Elan out as those are the kinds of stories Elan loves as a bard. Tarquin's downfall comes from being too much of a Control Freak in regards to making himself the Big Bad to Elan's The Hero and using his twin sons as pawns in that story. This costs him a valuable friend and ally and his own mental state after Elan tells him outright Tarquin is only an Arc Villain.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, once Princess Azula actually gets the power she desires and becomes Fire Lord, things quickly go downhill for her even without Team Avatar's intervention. Driven by paranoia, sociopathy, and the pain of betrayal from her former "friends", she banishes all her servants, alienates her closest allies, starts seeing things, and overall plummets into Villainous Breakdown.
    • In The Legend of Korra, season 4 sees Kuvira undone by her own hubris. She systematically goes from state to state in the Earth Kingdom, occupying the country with her own loyal troops, and instituting puppet governors, as a means of seizing power for herself as a dictator. As the other nations are in no position to interfere, being an internal Earth Kingdom matter, both they and the true Earth King are powerless to stop her. She would have been completely successful had she not flown too close to the sun by invading the United Republic, with an army that could not match that of the United Forces were it not for her Humongous Mecha, which Team Avatar manages to destroy.
  • In Jackie Chan Adventures, this is the Fatal Flaw of Shendu, who is chronically treacherous in his unwillingness to share power (like with his demon brethren) or riches (like the lost treasure he promised to reward the Dark Hand with for restoring him). This betraying habit costs him important victories and advantages at different points of the series. After he betrays the Dark Hand at the end of the 1st season, they follow him all the way to China in order to steal their promised reward and unknowingly bring with them Jade, who turns out to be crucial in Shendu's defeat. In the 2nd season, Shendu has been reduced to a spirit and forced to work for his siblings, who all give him a hard time for never freeing them from their centuries-lasting imprisonment. In the 3rd season, he refuses to give Daolon Wong the reward he promised for resurrecting him and is ultimately brought down when Wong's desire for revenge is serious enough to make him reveal the spell created to imprison Shendu after being stripped of his own powers and arrested and by the end of the series, he's trapped in the demon realm fighting his own son.
  • Necrafa, the Big Bad of Mysticons, is ultimately defeated when her Dragon Dreadbane has in his possession the Macguffin that can destroy her, and is ready to hand it over to her on the sole condition she reciprocates his feelings. Being a Bad Boss who despises him, she can't even tell him "I love you" in a convincing manner and, when he understandably hesitates, she just devolves into threatening him and shooting him with magic blasts. Realizing she never loved him, he just drops the Macguffin, allowing the heroes to get it.
  • In the Season Five finale of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Starlight Glimmer narrowly averts this trope because as it turns out, her time travel plot for vengeance against the Mane Six (Stopping Rainbow Dash's Sonic Rainboom, thus preventing them from getting their connection) would lead to the world being destroyed several times over, which she never takes into account until Twilight shows her the damage of what she's really doing.
  • In X-Men: The Animated Series, this accidentally sets off the "Beyond Good and Evil" four-partner. Cable attacks Apocalypse's stronghold in 3999 AD, but the immortal genocidal warlord lures him into a trap to steal his enemy's time portal device, and prepares to execute Cable. He taunts Apocalypse that there will always be those who oppose his plans and that he can never truly win. Apocalypse ponders it for a moment, and acknowledges that he has been fighting the "inferior beings" for many thousands of years and still hasn't won, despairing that he might be stuck like this for all eternity like Sisyphus of Greek myth. Then he uses his new powers and inadvertently ends up in the Axis of Time, the very nexus of all timelines, where he can undo everything to recreate it according to his own design. And he still fails.