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Evil Will Fail

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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."
Mahatma Gandhi, showing a bit of Confirmation Bias

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.


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    Comic Books 
  • 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.

    Films — Animated 
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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. Worse, he has no regrets over his life of crime other than getting caught.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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 Pyrrhic Villainy, because while evil can be triumphant for a time, it can never be happy, and it inevitably causes its own downfall as a result.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire is well-known for its good characters being punished for doing good, but often, the mindlessly evil don't fare much better. 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 cares more about appointing people to positions of power who are loyal to her (and only her) than ones effective at doing their jobs. Not only that, but as soon as she falls from power, the "loyal" people she appointed immediately turn against her, the only exception being Mad Doctor Qyburn, presumably because no sane/competent ruler would let him perform his experiments.
    • 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 both averts this and plays it straight: 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.
  • 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 disfunctional 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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' 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 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."
  • 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.
  • 1984 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 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.
  • 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 three villainous protagonists in The Canterbury Tales' "The Pardoner's Tale" end up killing each other due to their greed.
  • In Harry Potter, what always sets Voldemort back is his inability to understand The Power of Love.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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 — pretty much 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. Its 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 another underling into a combined monster form.
    • 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 The Starscream couldn't hold back his urge to backstab somebody at the worst possible moment.
  • 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.
  • In Stargate Continuum the Goa'uld, under Ba'al, have become an unbeatable force. However, the treacherous nature of the Goa'uld rears its head, and Ba'al is literally stabbed in the back, which ultimately leads to the end of the Goa'uld empire.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."

    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 
  • 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 even 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
    • Vampire: The Requiem: Belial's Brood always fail to grow truly powerful and influent like the main playable Covenants because they are satanistic Fully Embraced Fiends who just won't acknowledge the need for the Masquerade— meaning the authorities are usually fast to catch and kill them.
    • Werewolf: The Forsaken: the Pure haven't exterminated the Forsaken yet despite widely outnumbering them because they can't get along with each other. Moreover, one of their three tribes, the Ivory Claws, have a major case of Fantastic Racism and practice selective breeding... which means they struggle to maintain their number. And another one, the Predator Kings, are Evil Luddites who hate and reject modern technology as a trick from humans to "cheat"- meaning they are fighting like animals and cavemen in a setting where everyone else has no qualm using Post Modern Magic.
    • Mage: The Awakening: The Seers of the Throne still have yet to defeat the Orders of the Pentacles because they are a lazy, corrupt Decadent Court whose practice of encouraging backstabbing actually almost destroyed them once. The backstory in their supplement reveals they had pretty much already won after the Fall of Atlantis, only to almost immediately nearly destroy themselves with infighting — and by the time they finally managed to place some semblance of rules to save their organization, the Pentacle had already recovered enough to be a threat to them once again.
    • Hunter: The Vigil: Most Slashers only survive either by constantly being on the move or living in remote locations because their Axe-Crazy tendencies make them terrible at socializing and blending in (even social-oriented ones like Charmers can only keep their Mask of Sanity for so long before someone accidentally brings up their trigger), and their killing spree inevitably end up bringing attention from the authorities and Hunters.
    • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • Another Bethesda creation, 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 just about 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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, of course.

    Western Animation 
  • In the X-Men 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 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.


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