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"You know me. I always save the day."
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Heroes sometimes lose. It's the general rule of fiction to the point of being a near Omnipresent Trope, with a few exceptions. A loss provides the hero a chance to learn valuable lessons like humility and resilience, an opportunity for Character Development, and keeps the villains fresh and threatening. After all, losing in Acts 1 and 2 doesn't mean a hero won't beat the villain in Act 3.

And then there are these heroes. These heroes never win.

Ever.

A Failure Hero might make some headway against a rival in the first or second round, but the rival neatly trounces them before the end credits, sometimes thanks to a Diabolus ex Machina. (The latter is especially common in potentially series-resolving situations.) Any "wins" he does pull off are ambiguous and open-ended, further the villain's plan, or blatantly make things that much worse for the unwitting hero. This, of course, tends to rob a given episode or movie franchise of dramatic punch when the viewer's reaction to a hero making steps to resolving their lifelong goal is "You're Just Yanking Our Chains!"

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Behind this is usually the idea that the hero sucks that much. Plus he's the hero; the side of good is in an eternal struggle with evil! This is especially common in comedies where the hero is a failure of some kind or where advancing his goals would end the show.

The loser counterpart of Invincible Hero. Not as prevalent as its sibling, but still common enough to warrant its own trope. The Small Steps Hero will become this in a truly Crapsack World.

Please note that being saddled with the pesky Status Quo Is God or Failure Is the Only Option tropes isn't enough to qualify someone as a Failure Hero; they must fail at not only the thing the shows says they can't succeed at but at nearly everything else due to continual plot contrivances.

Compare Useless Protagonist, Heroic Wannabe, Super Loser, and Super Zeroes, the latter being the comedic version. Contrast Invincible Hero. Usually falls prey to What Measure Is a Non-Badass?, and may lead to the utterance of the Eight Deadly Words or Too Bleak, Stopped Caring. Also see Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, the evil counterpart.

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Examples: Spoilers Ahoy

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Whenever Koyomi Araragi of Bakemonogatari attempts to solve a problem with his fists, expect him to lose, and pretty badly as well. While he is often helpful, he rarely resolves the problems of the girls he attempts to help out, and sometimes his Chronic Hero Syndrome decisions exacerbate the problem, as seen in the case of Nadeko Sengoku. This is mainly because he doesn't want to BE heroic at all; what he really wants is to make a Heroic Sacrifice, so he is subject to many problematic moments over the story.
  • Kuro from Black God ends up falling into this, since she rarely wins, and the few times she DOES win is either against very early opponents, due to a Deus ex Machina, made moot anyway by plot events, or several of these at once. Probably because, much like Yuusuke Urameshi, even she has problems catching up.
  • From Black Lagoon, one gets the sense that Rei Hiroe is a sadist from the fact that Rock is never going to learn that trying to do good in the Crapsack World he voluntarily entered will always end in tears.
  • Fate seems to be against the main heroes in Bleach.
    • Ichigo Kurosaki could not seem to get a break after the Soul Society arc. He suffered a crushing defeat by Yammy (someone he should've easily been able to beat) on behalf of his inner hollow's interference and was later beaten to a bloody pulp by Grimmjow during his invasion. Later a weaker Grimmjow (he had lost an arm) had beaten him again (once more due to his hollow, but this time it was because he couldn't use his hollow mask) and would've killed him had Rukia and Shinji not interfered. Later when Orihime was abducted by Ulquiorra, he suffered another crushing defeat by Ulquiorra which would've certainly meant his demise. Only after Grimmjow had Orihime heal him was when he was able to beat Grimmjow. However, the moment was brief as Nnoitra was able to wipe the floor with him and Nel before having his right-hand Tesla pulverize him. Once again, it took someone else's interference for him to proceed (in this case it was Kenpachi). Even after all that, Orihime was kidnapped by Stark and brought to Ulquiorra, who once again was able to beat Ichigo easily and only through the intervention of his inner hollow was he able to kill Ulquiorra. After that, he fell victim to another power lapse and Yammy (who has become more powerful) was able to gain the upper hand and nearly kill him before Kenpachi and Byakuya intervened. It wasn't until his fight against Aizen that he finally secured a victory (granted he needed the aid of Urahara and Yoruichi, but still) and even then he ends up losing his powers.
    • Yasutora "Chad" Sado got hit with this just as badly, if not worse. He was already defeated by Shunsui rather easily and was unable to even make Nnoitra flinch. The latter was able to easily defeat him. Not to mention Yammy was able to make quick work of him in his pre-release state.
    • Rukia Kuchiki as well, though she wasn't hit nearly as hard as the former two. She was barely able to beat Aaroniero and was beaten by Yammy as if she were cannon fodder. One could argue she suffered this as early as the first arc as she was captured, unable to use her shinigami powers (she gave most of hers to Ichigo and as a result was weaker).
  • Saya Kisaragi of Blood-C takes Failure Hero to a whole new level. She has an innate talent for killing the Monster of the Week... after said monster has managed to viciously slaughter everyone she was intended to protect. She does manage to save a girl from the Eyeball Elder Bairn in the park but scares her to death when she tries to help her while covered in blood. Considering the ultimate fate of the town, however, this probably didn't amount to much. She does become perfectly competent in the movie. Her incompetence from the TV series is brought by Fumito having drugged her to hinder her abilities.
  • While Clare from Claymore is introduced as a badass demon hunter with a cold attitude, it appears most of the reason for her existence the entire rest of the series is to show how much more awesome her comrades are than her. This is in huge contrast to Vegeta who despite suffering from the Worf Effect all the time still manages to show a much stronger performance than Goku overall.
    • Albeit understandable, as she's ranked dead last by the Organization.
    • As a matter of fact, most of the heroes in the series spend the majority of their battles being Curb Stomped and horribly mutilated by every other baddie they face. It's not even an uncommon occurrence for the warriors to outright lose their fights, or even die without ever having their conflict resolved. Though one could argue that this makes the series a tad more realistic — if you were to go up against an army of all-powerful demons with only half their blood keeping you anywhere close to even footing, you'd damn well better expect them to mop the floor with your half-breed ass.
    • Though, many of Clare's early failures are justified by the revelation later on that she focused all of her training on fighting Awakened Beings — while all the Claymores tend to get curb-stomped by them, she's usually able to fight far above her weight class when they're involved.
  • The main cast of Cowboy Bebop rarely ever manage to successfully bring in a bounty, and never as the focus of an episode. Most of the bounty heads they go after end up dead before they can be brought in, and when they don't, something else inevitably happens to make it impossible for the bounty to be collected, such as the bounty head turning out to be an artificial intelligence or the bounty having been placed under false pretenses. On the rare occasion that they do collect a bounty, the property damage and medical expenses incurred in the process guarantee that they won't come out ahead... assuming that the payout isn't so paltry as to barely count as pocket change.
  • Digimon Frontier: The Royal Knights Saga has the entire legendary heroes being straight up beaten up by the titular Royal Knights for 9 episodes straight doing little to no progress in stopping their attempt. However, perseverance ultimately pays off.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Yamcha suffers this way due to The Worf Effect. Early on, he was used in each Tenkaichi Budoukai to show off how amazing some new character was. This continued with successive new enemies killing or almost killing him first to prove their threat level. After Android #20 impaled him through the chest, Yamcha decided just to call it quits for the day and start rocking a yellow Miami Vice suit. He still ended up being murdered (again) by the Big Bad an arc later.
    • In Dragon Ball Z, every non-Saiyan fighter (or more specifically, every fighter not named Goku or Gohan) suffers this by the start of the Frieza Saga. Even Piccolo, who gets two hefty powerups, is still only good for holding off a major foe for an episode or two before being disposed of. Vegeta suffers a similar fate, despite being a Saiyan and second in strength to Goku. Vegeta practically exists to show that being a Saiyan with cosmic levels of power still isn't enough to make a dent in the enemy for long, and you have to have heart like Goku has instead.
    • Gotenks is hyped up to be the warrior destined to save the universe from Majin Buu, but he utterly fails at doing so, getting his ass handed to him by Fat Buu and losing to Super Buu because he was too busy showboating and trying to make himself look cool. This continues into Super, where he doesn't contribute anything useful whenever he appears; he gets literally spanked by Beerus, defuses before he can even throw an attack at Frieza because of his time-consuming posturing, and is curb-stomped by Copy-Vegeta's base form. It's to the extent that in the Tournament of Power, Goku and Vegeta decide right off the bat that after Gotenks screwed up so badly while fighting Super Buu, there's no way in Hell they're trusting him to try to save the world again.
    • In Dragon Ball Super, Future Trunks gets this hard. For over a year, he fights Goku Black and loses every time despite his best efforts. Black also gets stronger every time they battle, making victory for him more impossible. After going to the past to get help from Goku and Vegeta, he still can't beat Black and Black has a powerful ally, Future Zamasu, who is an immortal. During their second battle, he learns that Black specifically chose his timeline to punish him for breaking the time taboo and creating a new Time Ring when he saved Goku from the heart virus. All this frustration and anger causes him to transform into a new form of Super Saiyan… which only puts him on par with Black and Future Zamasu, and he's quickly overwhelmed. Then, just when it seems he finally won against all the odds thanks to unconsciously creating a Spirit Bomb from all the survivors on Earth, merging it into his sword, and slicing Merged Zamasu in half, it all comes crashing down when Merged Zamasu's soul fuses with the multiverse and kills everyone in it except for a named few. What's left is erased by Future Zen'o, leaving Trunks' timeline nothing but an empty void. Except for Future Mai, Trunks literally lost everything.
    • Goku has been inflicted with this since Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, despite all the new amazing power-ups he has achieved throughout the new era of Dragon Ball. He loses twice to Beerus, he loses to Freeza in Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ and only manages to kill Freeza thanks to a Deus ex Machina. However, this is a Pyrrhic Victory as Goku has a great desire to defeat his enemies in a fair one-on-one fight, and him killing a Freeza was a cheap shot that he didn't earn by himself. This trend continues in the Super anime, where he manages to lose twice in the Tournament of the Gods of Destruction, gets another Pyrrhic Victory against Copy-Vegeta (Monaka is the one who saved the day, not Goku), he never wins against Black or Zamasu, and in the Tournament of Power, Goku ultimately doesn't win the tournament and has to take down Jiren in a mutual triple ring-out with Freeza's help. In Dragon Ball Super: Broly, Goku gets his ass whooped by Broly for a good portion of their fight and ultimately resorts to Fusion to defeat him.
  • Loof and Gin in Genma Wars have a hard time saving or protect anyone. Over the course of the series, they lose their respective loved ones, their attempts at heroism backfire spectacularly, and Gin's attempt to liberate his village from an tyrannical ape leads to the Genma retaliating without mercy. When they decide to join forces with their half-siblings to destroy the Maoh King, all of them except the two perish in the fighting and they can't even defeat the Maoh King themselves; it's his own wife Parome who kills him. Finally, when they travel back in time in order to undo the future they came from, they discover the Genma have already controlled the past (roughly modern times) and are completely powerless to stop them from causing a nuclear war that destroyed civilization. All their efforts are rendered null as they return to their native timeline only to discover nothing was changed.
  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters: Haruo Sakaki fits this to a T. In the trilogy's first two movies, he genuinely wants to do what's best for the sake for his people, which comes along with his Fatal Flaw of wanting to destroy Godzilla and reclaim Earth for mankind, in order to rebuild civilization. Despite careful planning, most of his actions indirectly and directly lead to more deaths when he miscalculates the possibility that he killed the right Godzilla, disregarding the fact there could be another; and blows up Mechagodzilla City with people still in it. However, he'll still try to pursue his revenge, but due to lack of resources, manpower, and little to no strategic value aside from piloting the Vultures, it seems pretty nigh impossible or hopeless since the same strategy to use the EMP on the dorsal fins didn't work this time when Godzilla temperature rose and melted the EMP harpoon. By the end of the second movie he gives up his chance to Mutual Kill Godzilla Earth to save Yuko, but she is left in a coma — making his endeavor entirely fruitless and sending him into a Despair Event Horizon. By the end of the third, he's completely failed to meaningfully change the situation on Earth in any way, most of the survivors of humanity are dead, and Godzilla Earth still rules the planet.
  • The first season of Hell Girl tries to shake up its formula of every Victim of the Week using the Hell Correspondence to damn both their tormentor and themselves to hell by introducing Hajime, a tabloid reporter who discovers the Hell Correspondence and starts trying to prevent people from using it. Except that nothing really changes, because he fails every single time. The only person that he manages to stop from using it is his own daughter.
  • As a result of How the Mighty Have Fallen, this ends up being the fate of Jotaro Kujo in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean. In Stardust Crusaders, Jotaro was The Ace who never lost a single battle he took part in, and while he lost a few times in Diamond is Unbreakable, he was still a very successful fighter who ultimately saved the day in the end. In Stone Ocean, however, he's beaten by just a single swipe from Whitesnake while trying to protect Jolyne Cujoh, his daughter, leaving him comatose for the majority of the part, and when he returns for the final battle, he pushes Jolyne out of the way of Enrico Pucci's Flechette Storm, causing him to unceremoniously die while seeing Jolyne get critically injured, leaving him to die with the knowledge that he couldn't save his daughter, who ends up dying along with him not too long after.
  • Kinnikuman in his early appearances was so pathetic that monsters wouldn't even bother attacking Tokyo if he was the only hero they'd get to fight. Fortunately for him, things start improving for him in the first Choujin Olympics arc.
  • Land of the Lustrous: Phosphophyllite is a relatively weak gem that wants to fight on the front lines with their fellow Lustrous. Despite Phos' attempts to be of use, they near almost always fail in the tasks they are assigned. Even with the augmentations they get later on to strengthen their body (legs at first, then arms, eye, and head), Phos is never strong enough to save the one person that needs help most; every mentor Phos has learned under was taken to the Moon under their watch, and they're gradually losing their original self despite their protests to the contrary.
  • Macross Delta: The Chaos mercenary group has done nothing but lose in some way. None of their long-term strategies work against the Windemere Kingdom and more than once they are forced on the defensive or just run away. All the heroes tend to get is motivation to do better next time... and they're lucky to even achieve that! It does make their victory at the end of the series a lot more cathartic, though.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory: Kou Uraki only manages to fight his main antagonist to a draw two times, and ultimately fails to avert the Colony Drop at the end. Then again, can't derail what comes after it, can we?
  • Naruto: Repeatedly applying The Worf Effect to secondary cast members without giving them any wins has this side effect. Sakura Haruno and Rock Lee arguably have it the worst, made all the more poignant by how very hard they try to avoid failure.
  • Shuzo Matsutani from Now and Then, Here and There attempts plenty of heroic stuff, but doesn't accomplish anything at all. In the first episode, he fails to rescue Lala-Ru from the giant robot snakes, then he is captured and tortured. Ultimately, it's Lala-Ru who defeats the Big Bad, not Shu. And the final shot gives the impression that Shu should have just stayed home and not talked to Lala-Ru on the smokestack. Remove him from the series and very little would have changed.
  • Luffy from One Piece got hit with Failure Hero status hard in the Sabaody, Impel Down, and Marineford story arcs. First, he failed to protect his crew at Sabaody from an admiral and his subordinates, and they all nearly died only to be saved by Kuma, who traumatized Luffy by separating his crew one at a time before his eyes, before sending him off. Just when he was ready to reunite with his crew, he finds out that his older brother is about to be executed in less than a week, forcing him to break into the most dangerous prison in the world to save him. He is then defeated in said prison by the warden and left to die by poison. Luffy is saved, but it costs him ten years of his life and because it took him so long to recover he failed to reach his brother in time before he is transported to his execution ground. After fighting his way out, Luffy escapes the prison, but he had to leave behind one of his friends to do it. When Luffy finally reached the war zone, he is promptly beaten up by every strong person there and is pushed past his physical breaking point. He is forced to risk his life further by taking more adrenaline just to keep going. When Luffy did finally succeed in saving his brother, Ace died in his arms saving him from a killing blow from one of the admirals. To say the least, Luffy had a terrible week. The entire experience convinces him and the others that they're not yet ready for the New World, and they spend two years training.
  • A good number of the Hero Association members from One-Punch Man fall into this trope. It's very rare for anyone other than Saitama to defeat a major villain. Especially notable are Genos, Sneck, Mumen Rider, and Darkness Blade. Mumen Rider at least has the excuse that he's a muggle who's punching way above his weight class — and he knows it. His Chronic Hero Syndrome just won't let him stand aside. He's not even an example of The Worf Effect because he's just a regular joe riding a bicycle. Without a license. That being said, there's one thing he did succeed at: if he hadn't pulled a You Shall Not Pass! against the Sea King to protect a shelter full of civilians, the Sea King would've slaughtered them before Saitama could arrive.
  • Ash Ketchum from Pokémon can be considered this due to his many, many league losses (except for the oddly-structured Alola League), as well as never making headway against the local villain teams or unaffiliated nasties like Hunter J. Some see Journeys as an apology saga because of his extremely low loss rate against important returning characters.
  • Pretty Cure
    • Both Nagisa and Honoka were reduced to this during the last stretch of Futari wa Pretty Cure with the introduction of Illkubo. From here on, every episode consisted of the girls getting stomped by him who ended taking back all the Prism Stones, effectively undoing everything the duo of Magical Girls did during the entire season.
    • Princess Hime/Cure Princess of HappinessCharge Pretty Cure! is this, especially at the beginning. Her first appearance has her being knocked into a transition transformed stage by a Monster of the Week, who ends up being destroyed by another Cure, who promptly lays her ass out for being The Load. Three episodes later, she's still this as the Rookie Pretty Cure Megumi/Cure Lovely is racking up some pretty impressive kills while Hime's on her back. It seems that Chypre was a little premature in "Weakest Pretty Cure in History" calling.
  • In the second season of Princess Tutu, Duck sees herself as this due to being locked out of the loop and thus not understanding what's going on, and feeling unable to help anyone or stop what's happening since she can only react to events already in motion. Fakir helping her out of this mindset is a key moment in both of their character developments.
  • Re:CREATORS: Despite their intelligence and familiarity with stories, the Creators and the good-aligned Creations constantly come up short in everything they do and when they do succeed at something, it's often at a great sacrifice. Mamika, Aliceteria and Sirius all fail to kill Altair, Selesia only stops Charon at the cost of her life and the whole Elimination Chamber Festival ends up being hijacked by Altair to increase her power. The only reason the series even has a happy ending is because the Creators bring Altair's Creator, Setsuna, Back from the Dead, which convinces Altair to give up her plan to destroy the world and instead go with Setsuna into another dimension where they can be together for all eternity.
  • The Rising of the Shield Hero: This trope fits the three "Cardinal Heroes" that are Ren, Itsuki, and Motoyasu like a dirty, wet glove (Though the first two have some redeeming qualities, especially for Ren who is usually able to hear Naofumi out for what he has to say for most of the outrageous claims made against him, they don't have much going for them to solidify themselves as "True Heroes" like Naofumi does, even with the copious amounts of horseshit he receives from both snobbish Nobles and the Holy Church personnel). Throughout many, many, many events their stupidity is on full display for a fair number of people to see, including their own separate party members, showing incompetence after incompetence (one especially digging their graves of dignity big time after a certain Leeroy Jenkins-fueled event of their own doing no less...!) of just how pathetically "shallow" they are, not even worthy of their "Cardinal Hero" titles, unlike Naofumi, who fittingly likes to call them by their MUCH more appropriate nickname of the "Three Cardinal Stooges" instead.
  • Invoked In-Universe with Sakura Hagiwara from Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!. Since her debut in Pro Wrestling, she has done nothing but lose, in the same way: she is put in a Boston Crab hold and dragged away from the rope, and, unable to get out of the Boston Crab, she gives up. She had 50 losses this way so far. Her fans diminish with each loss, and the audience starts booing her... until she got dragged into a Training from Hell where she's forced to stop giving up or else her mentor will break her bones via Boston Crab (doesn't take 'give up' for an answer) and afterwards, she would avoid the booing and instead being cheered despite her losses. Rinse and repeat 15 times afterwards until she gets her own Finishing Move and then she started avoiding the trope.
  • Much of Willem’s backstory in WorldEnd: What Do You Do at the End of the World? Are You Busy? Will You Save Us? revolves around this trope. In the past, he was one of humanity’s chosen heroes who fought in a war against the godlike Visitors in order to protect his adopted family. After defeating one of the last Visitor’s guardians, he was petrified due to the side effects of the forbidden spells he used. Upon being awoken 500 years later he discovered that his Heroic Sacrifice meant absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. In spite of winning their war against the Visitors, humanity was wiped out by the 17 Beasts not long after he was frozen. Sadly, he continues to play this trope straight throughout the series, ultimately losing his Love Interest when she sacrificed her life to save him from the Beasts. Ironically, his most successful heroic act is a result of him intentionally taking on the role of a villain.
  • Osamu from World Trigger is what happens when you take a regular, normal character and put him in a superpower infested hellhole. Quite practically everyone is stronger than Osamu, even the girl he swore to protect, and he has to consistently be helped and saved during fights. This very barely get better through the series, as Osamu's power progression is painfully slow, taking several dozen episodes to be able to beat even the weakest of his enemies. The saving grace he has is that he's willing to work hard...But that can only take you so far.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Batman Vampire series, Batman started off fighting to save Gotham from Dracula and his ‘family’ of vampires, but by the third volume in the trilogy Batman himself has become a far more terrifying vampire than even Dracula, his old heroism practically forgotten as he is consumed by his thirst for blood, leaving his allies to join forces with the remaining villains to kill him, rather than wait until all the criminals are dead and Batman starts killing innocents himself.
  • The titular character of Captain Alcohol fights several villains and only defeats one of them. In fact when he attempted to save a Damsel in Distress, he had to be saved by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
  • Empowered frequently crosses into this trope. Especially in her earliest stories. She is a perennial loser who is constantly getting captured and tied up by supervillains, even bush leaguers like Glue Gun Gil and regular old non-super thugs. In fact it isn't until about the middle of the Vol. 1 that the reader actually sees Emp succeed at anything. Even when she does succeed it often backfires on her or her victory goes unnoticed by her fellow capes. Like when she defeated a supervillain that had taken out most of the Superhomeys by ramming him with a Humvee she ended up tangled in the seatbelt and Major Havok, despite being unconscious at the time, took credit for Emp's victory. Then again when the Capey's were besieged by Fleshmaster aka dWARf! Emp single-handedly defeated him and saved the day!...And then her teammates promptly accused her of being the real mastermind behind the whole thing. All that being said, in one volume Emp went up against Deathmonger and totally mopped the floor with him. Major Havoc doesn't believe her and calls BS on the whole affair, while Captain Rivet is skeptical, but the Superdead defended her and named her as their liaison with the superhero community, so that has to count for something.
  • One of the back-up strips in Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham featured a scathing parody of Alpha Flight called Awful Flight. The heroes were depicted as incompetent and useless in the story, being distracted from solving Canada's acid rain crisis because they find an American dollar bill and use it to buy root beer, the ending narration snarkily implying that they'll never get around to solving the acid rain problem.
  • The titular protagonist of Rat-Man. He rarely wins, most of his victories are ridiculous (he defeated the Mud Man by getting him to clean his shoes before entering) or are made meaningless by his own idiocy (an early story shows him inflicting a Curb-Stomp Battle on a gang that had kidnapped an orphan for ransom, only for him to pay the ransom. The gang's boss can't move due to the sheer idiocy of what has just happened), the few that aren't end up getting him worse than before, and when he finally has defeated both The Shadow and the Greater-Scope Villain Mr. Mouse, the Sequel Hook reveals that he's about to become the new host of the Shadow.
  • Skull Island: The Birth of Kong: Aaron Brooks in this Kong: Skull Island sequel graphic novel. From the moment he leads his team to touch down on Skull Island, things go totally south for them. He can't save any of them from being killed one by one until he's the expedition's Sole Survivor. He really does try to save the Iwi from the Mother Longlegs, but his firearms don't make much if any difference and it's only Kong's intervention that saves the day.
  • Jon/Skeleton Man from Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose is this in spades. Besides the fact that he's in a world full of dragons, witches, The Fair Folk and worse, his ineptitude is legendary. The most notorious example is probably when he's forced to stop pursuing a cadre of homicidal ghosts because they refuse to tell him the address of their next victim. His only consistent victories are over grave robbers and vandals (which are surprisingly common in Salem).
    • Tarot has shades of this. Over the course of the series, her effectiveness in battle is heavily degraded to the point where she can be stripped naked in a duel with her Evil Counterpart, a random fish minion in her own home, and animated snowmen. She'd have died several issues ago if not for the fact that her opponents need her for something, taunt her, or are Too Dumb to Live.
  • The heroes of Watchmen are all too human, and all too caught up in their own flaws and vices to really function as superheroes when it counts. One past iteration of the Minutemen gets disbanded before it even starts, thanks to the Comedian giving them all one long "Reason You Suck" Speech about their ineffectiveness, and by the time the present-day heroes show up to stop Ozymandias' plan, it's already gone off without a hitch, and everyone (except Rorschach) agrees to keep it a secret, despite the horrific devastation and lives lost as a result, because Ozymandias believes such a tragedy would unite nations and stave off an impending nuclear war. And it's implied that they fail to even do that, since Rorschach makes sure to leak the information in a journal where the press can find it.

    Fan Works 
  • Blackjack from Fallout: Equestria - Project Horizons. Nothing ever goes right for her: everyone in the Equestian Wasteland she helps or saves winds up mutilated, raped, or killed anyway, every wrong she rights turns out to be a mistake, and to top it off she's painfully aware of her inadequacies and despises herself for them.
  • Maria Nitzschmann, (aka Miho Nishizumi from Heimatfront. She's a BDM conscript who's tasked with delivering several tanks to the front, but things quickly get out of hand, and she's in charge of a mostly female group of combatants who do what they can to ensure that Germany gets more favorable terms in the post-war peace talks. Unfortunately, even apart from the Foregone Conclusion involved, Maria faces much steeper odds than Miho with all of Miho's weaknesses and none of her strengths. Since Maria's only qualification for commander is knowing more about tanks than is socially acceptable for a woman in Nazi Germany, she's lucky to even survive.
  • Everyone not affiliated with the Drekis Legion basically gets hit hard with this trope in The War of Drekis. Sentinels, Marauders and Fallen alike, even with a three-way Enemy Mine alliance going on, fail to impede the advancement of the Drekis Legions' goals in any meaningful ways.
  • The Case Closed fanfic Dominoes has a few examples, but as Yuusaku isn't a perspective character and his goals are still ambiguous, Hakuba ends up the most obvious. Despite being a lauded Teen Genius, detective, and superhero, Hakuba fails even at things he should be good at throughout the first and currently sole story arc. By the arc's climax Hakuba's failed to even perceive the majority of the arc's criminal case until someone else explains it to him in the last chapter; failed to impede the arc's secondary villain from freely doing what he wants; failed to manage/control Shinichi, someone under his covert protective custody; failed to actually protect Shinichi; failed to protect the kidnapped children like he promised Shinichi; failed to have a meaningful impact in the protection of Tokyo during the Black Hole Crisis, and didn't even manage to obtain either nullifying agent (neither greater nor lesser). About the only "successes" Hakuba leads his team to achieving are the death of the fireball "monster" in chapter 1 and assisting in the slew of minor incidents during the early gravity anomalies of the Black Hole Crisis, and even those are tinged with personal failure in hindsight.
  • How the Light Gets In: This is Dean's assessment of Oliver and the rest of Team Arrow, feeling that they have a tendency to attract various supervillains to the city, but consistently fail to stop them before they launch a terrorist attack and get a lot of people killed. Hanna even goes on a rant about it (see Quotes page).

    Films — Animated 
  • The title character of 9. 9 first turns on a literal killing machine despite all evidence at the time saying his actions would be a bad idea. The machine kills 2, whom they were trying to rescue in the first place. Later, when 7 and 8 are kidnapped, he orchestrates a plan to both rescue them and destroy the machine. 8 ends up dead while the machine still works, which proceeds to kill 5 and 6. He comes up with yet another plan which involves sacrificing himself. But this changes when 1 shoves him out of the way and gets the ax instead. Despite that, he did finally achieve success when he used the talisman to defeat the machine.
  • In The Black Cauldron, Taran so wants to be a Knight In Shining Armour, but at almost no point in the film does he successfully do anything useful with his own skills: He loses Hen Wen almost immediately after being entrusted with her; when held captive by the Horned King he only escapes with the help of Eilonwy and the magic sword; and he unwittingly brings the Black Cauldron into the Horned King's hands by getting it from the witches with whom it probably would've been completely secure (as well as giving away the potentially story breaking magic sword in the process). At the end of the film, Taran actually acknowledges that he's a failure as a warrior and forfeits his chance to become one in order to resurrect Gurgi.
  • Frozen (2013): Not only does Elsa accidentally freeze Arendelle over, but she also ends up accidentally turning her sister into a solid block of ice despite everything she did to avoid it. She nearly wins her fight against the Duke of Weselton's soldiers, but at the last minute, Hans stops her.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Batman (2022): In a stark contrast to the Invincible Hero he is often portrayed as in the comics and other films, this interpretation of Batman can't catch a break. Almost certainly intentional as Batman is early in his career in this film and still trying to figure out his methods and what he stands for:
    • Batman manages to stop only one of the Riddler's murders, and even then, only unintentionally by being the person Riddler intended to kill and not being where Riddler expected him to be. And by escaping death himself, Alfred nearly got killed in his stead.
    • Likewise, he doesn't personally find the rat or uncover the central criminal conspiracy, with Riddler doing all the legwork and giving him a nice trail of breadcrumbs to follow, and the single most important piece of the puzzle coming from Selina who somehow tracked down and subdued Officer Kenzie without Bruce's help.
    • It is all but stated that Bruce's failure to properly manage the finances of his own company kept him from realising that Falcone and his co-conspirators pilfered his parents' charity for the funds needed to sustain their conspiracy many years ago and in turn put the biggest pieces of the puzzle together.
    • On suspicions that Penguin is the rat, Batman chases him down and interrogates him, but his theory turns out to be wrong, and he is forced to let him go without solid evidence.
    • And finally, his failure to connect all the dots in Riddler's plan result in Batman being too late to stop Riddler from destroying the sea wall and flooding the city.
    • Arguably, his only successful heroic acts in the film are scaring off the gangsters in the opening, saving the mayor's son at the funeral, rescuing Selina from Falcone and preventing her from killing him, and saving the civilians at Gotham Square Gardens from Riddler's followers and the flood waters at the end.
  • When the bird apocalypse happens again in Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, Bill gathers together his survivor friends and decides that he needs to rescue as many people as possible, before demonstrating that he's absolutely horrible at it and should've just holed up somewhere. Despite traveling around to numerous locations, his group only manages to save one person, who just dies later (hell, at one point he goes into a silent film theater to see the audience under attack by birds...and then just leaves without even trying to save anyone.) Near the end of the movie, his group finally reaches a zoo that the birds aren't attacking (apparently because the zookeeper understands that they're attacking because of global warming...or something.) Rather than camp out and wait for things to die down, Bill ignores his complete failure of a track record and decides that he has to find more survivors, before leaving and getting two more of his group killed before the end of the movie (one of which dies within seconds of them leaving the zoo.)
  • Elektra Natchios in Daredevil (2003) ends up making things worse for Matt than she intended. She believes that Daredevil is responsible for killing her father, so she sets out to murder him. She attacks him under false pretenses and injures him, before learning that she was wrong. When she finds out who Bullseye is, she sets out to kill him instead of take Matt's advice to run or even help him. Because of her blind rage, Bullseye takes advantage of her, defeating her, gutting her and then giving her an unwanted kiss. She does improve in her own spinoff, but she never gets her rematch with Bullseye (and because film rights returned to Marvel years later, never will).
  • Both Professor Anbronsius and his assistant Alfred from The Fearless Vampire Killers are so terrible at their jobs of vampire hunting, they fail in killing a single vampire, but they end up spreading vampirism to the rest of the world by bringing a vampirized Sarah along with them.
  • Theseus from Immortals never once succeeds at anything throughout the film. He's not able to protect his hometown, he's not able to save his mother's life, he repeatedly needs divine intervention to save his life after making idiotic decisions, and not only does he fail to keep the Epirus Bow away from King Hyperion but he's actually the reason it falls in the king's hands in the first place. It is true he manages to take down Hyperion in the end, it's not until after Hyperion's plan has gone off without a hitch and the Titans have been released. Theseus could quite honestly have just sat the entire movie out and the events wouldn't have changed much, if at all.
  • Indiana Jones succeeds at very little in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He loses the golden idol to Belloq at the beginning of the film, which perfectly exemplifies Indy's failures throughout the rest of it: the Nazis are always a step ahead of him or manage to turn his successes into their own, culminating in the Nazis obtaining the Ark of the Covenant, the very thing he had been trying to prevent the whole time. Indeed, it's possible that, without him, the Nazis would never have obtained the Ark at all. Indy doesn't even get to save the day at the end, since it's the Ark itself, not Indy, that defeats the villains. Finally, he can't even keep the US government from locking the Ark away instead of putting it in a museum. This isn't to knock on Indy, though, because it's clear that he gives everything his absolute best, and we love him for trying. A lot of people love to point out that the entire flick would have ended the exact same way had Indy just stayed at home, but don't forget he at least saved Marion who otherwise would have been tortured to death by Toht. Of course, the Nazis were also following Indy when he went to visit Marion, so they might have never found her without his help.
  • In Inferno (1980), the main character Mark does absolutely nothing that contributes to the villain's death. The villain dies in a fire that she unintentionally set through one of her murders. All that Mark does is explore the building and escape it while it's burning down.
  • James Bond:
    • In Skyfall, Bond fails at every objective he has during the movie: he leaves the MI6 agent to die; loses the MI6 hard drive; allows an assassin to kill a politician; fails to get information from said assassin; fails to protect the mole; falls into Silva's trap; fails to stop Silva escaping; fails to stop several deaths in Parliament; loses Skyfall Manor; kills Silva instead of letting him rot in prison; and finally fails to protect M. The only positive thing that can be said is that he survives. In a sense this is exactly the way Ian Fleming first conceived of Bond.
    • The Man with the Golden Gun. Other than killing Scaramanga, Bond doesn't accomplish all that much.
    • Goldeneye: Former MI6 agent turned Big Bad Friend Alec Trevelyan/Janus points out Bond's Fatal Flaw for womanizing, tendency to lose close allies on missions, preference to his mission and England over friends, and whether he has qualms killing men.
  • Reid in The Lone Ranger may have killed the bad guy, but he utterly failed to save the Commanches from being massacred, although given their historical fate, there's an overlap with Doomed by Canon here.
  • Brad and Janet in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At no point in the narrative do they even come close to stymieing Frank at anything he wants to do. In fact, if the credits didn't identify them as "a hero" and "a heroine," most people probably wouldn't even notice.
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming: Peter Parker/Spider-Man spends most of the movie trying and failing to prove himself as a hero, getting in over his head with villains beyond his abilities and creating more problems than he solves. He nearly gets all of his friends killed by mishandling a dangerous Chitauri weapon in Washington, and causes the destruction of the Staten Island ferry by trying to handle Vulture on his own, after which he is rescued and harshly reprimanded by Iron Man. Even in the climax, he loses his Final Battle with the Vulture, and only proves his worth by saving the latter's life after his suit malfunctions and nearly kills him.
  • Huff in Stone Cold. All his plans to stop the Brotherhood with proper police procedures fail, and while he shoots all the bad guys by the end, their big plan succeeded.

    Literature 
  • This is Darth Vader's perspective on himself at the start of Dark Lord—The Rise of Darth Vader, set just after Revenge of the Sith. He turned to The Dark Side to save Padmé, and what does he have to show for it? Padmé is dead by his own hand, as are most of his former colleagues, he himself has undergone an Emergency Transformation into a cyborg trapped in a walking iron lung, and his Master is also disfigured. Vader sinks into a depression that Palpatine finds irritating and counterproductive, and the Emperor spends most of the book telling Vader to get over himself — the galaxy is theirs, they won.
  • Prince Bifalt in The Great God's War spends the first book managing to do the exact wrong thing at every turn. Feed some starving peasants? They were enemy spies. Set an ambush for his enemies? Their advance was a diversion from their real plans. Tell the truth about his goals to the caravan master who saved his life? He's actually working for the scheming sorcerers who disapprove of those goals. To make it worse, Bifalt is perfectly aware of how lousy his track record is, but that just makes him more angry and frantic, and thus prone to making even worse decisions.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has Brienne of Tarth, no matter what her task is she either fails or circumstances make things impossible for her to fulfill them. She was tasked with protecting Renly, but he was killed by a shadow assassin that she couldn't stop . She was then tasked with exchanging Jaime Lannister for Sansa Stark on behalf of Catelyn Stark. But Jaime loses his sword hand, and the Starks are all killed. Now she has to find Arya Stark and keep her safe, but Arya has now left Westeros for Braavos, and things go downhill for her when she meets Lady Stoneheart AKA the resurrected Catelyn Stark.
  • In The Stormlight Archive, King Elhokar is one of these, and he eventually comes to realize it. No matter how much he tries, he always seems to make bad decisions and alienate his allies or family, to the point that he gets quietly sidelined by his much more competent and well-meaning uncle, Dalinar, who effectively turns Elhokar into a Puppet King. He eventually asks Kaladin, who is a Failure Knight himself, how he manages to be such a good hero. Elhokar does eventually shake off this, however, when he manages to get out from under his uncle's shadow and lead a mission of his own under his own authority. It ends up getting him killed, though not through any fault of his own.
  • What else would you expect from a series with a title like Timmy Failure? However, Timmy's Defective Detective nature and inability to solve a crime are always Played for Laughs.
  • In a variant of this trope, Out of this World by Lawrence Watt-Evans is a rather vicious Deconstruction of both High Fantasy and the Flash Gordon style of sci-fi, so the hero fails because he's just an ordinary person in the real world and the stuff he's trying to do is only possible by the Theory of Narrative Causality. (At times the book swings towards Deus Angst Machina, particularly when the villains rape and murder his wife and his daughter.)

    Live Action TV 
  • The Boys (2019): Although he's an Anti-Hero at the best of times, the Deep. Anytime he does try to do the right thing, it goes hilariously wrong. Take for instance his rescue of the dolphin and the lobster.
  • For much of Castle Beckett had this problem with regard to her mother's murder. Though she slowly makes progress, she almost always loses her cool and is easily caught off guard by events. She finally is victorious outright in Season 6, gaining enough evidence to bring down the mastermind.
  • Cobra Kai: Johnny Lawrence's personal life is a mess and over the course of the first four seasons he fails in almost every objective he has. Although he coaches Miguel to victory in the first season's All Valley tournament, this is a Pyrrhic Victory as it comes at the cost of turning Cobra Kai into the exact kind of Thug Dojo they were in the original films. In Season 2, he lets his rivalry with Daniel get completely out of control, which leads to Miguel being hospitalised and Kreese stealing his dojo. In Season 3, he does succeed in helping Miguel overcome his paralysis, but his relationship with Robby deteriorates to the point that he ends up making a Face–Heel Turn and joining Cobra Kai, and Johnny loses his climactic fight with Kreese and has to be rescued by Daniel. In Season 4, he fails to put aside his differences with Daniel until it's too late, gets the crap beaten out of him by Terry Silver, drives Miguel to run away from home, guides Eagle Fang to a distant third in the All Valley and fails to coach Sam to victory in the final against Tory. However, he does get a bone thrown his way when he manages to reconcile with Robby at last.
  • John Wiles' tenure producing Doctor Who edged into this. "Mission to the Unknown" (the handover episode) was a Bottle Episode where a bunch of people die at the hands of Daleks and the Doctor never shows up. "The Myth Makers" is a comedy story that ends with most of the endearingly well-characterised guest characters being slaughtered in a sudden, horrific bloodbath and the time travellers having no choice but to abandon them to escape. "The Daleks' Master Plan" ends with every heroic guest character dead, two companions Killed Off for Real, a planet reduced to an arid desert, and the remaining companion saying What the Hell, Hero? about the Doctor's methods. "The Massacre" involves Steven having virtually no idea what is going on for most of the story and the Doctor failing to save anyone's life from an atrocity he knew was going to happen. Only "The Ark" has a happy ending and that features the Doctor ruining everything just by arriving on an alien world by spreading an alien virus to the last remaining humans, and his attempts to fix this problem end up causing a race Happy In Slavery to Turn Against Their Masters. The Doctor is straight back to having a generally more competent role once Innes Lloyd takes over, and "The Celestial Toymaker", "The Savages" and "The War Machines" all show him using his intelligence to create a relatively happy ending.
  • Everybody Hates Chris. The title of the show alone should already give you a clue what the title character is.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • How the Lannisters see Jaime after he returns; King Joffrey and Cersei both note that they survived a siege without him and the war was won without him playing a major role and he for his part, sat out of it as a captive and returned as a cripple. This is amplified furthermore when Joffrey gets poisoned at his own wedding in full view of everyone, with Jaime unable to do anything but watch. It's worse in the TV show because his book counterpart wasn't even present at King's Landing at the time. And then his actions directly lead to Tywin's death. Harshly, but accurately summed up by Cersei:
    Cersei: Tyrion may be a monster, but at least he killed our father on purpose. You killed him by mistake.
    • Jon Snow increasingly sees himself as this as the story goes on. Every battle he leads is a complete disaster where he gets saved at the last minute by something he didn't know about, but then he gets credit for the victory anyway. The result is that he keeps failing upwards through a series of ever more disastrous "victories". His arc in the last two seasons consists mainly of trying to get rid of all the power he keeps accumulating since in his own view he's not in any way qualified to lead.
  • Heroes can't seem to write a good guy who isn't one of these, with Peter and Mohinder getting the worst of it (and Hiro beginning to catch up). On the rare occasions they aren't carrying the Idiot Ball or Villain Ball or doing a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, they're up against opponents heavily favored by Diabolus ex Machina. It's no coincidence that characters like Angela Petrelli, Noah Bennet, and Sylar — ranging from morally ambiguous to downright evil — tend to be extremely popular, given that they have been shown actually succeeding at their goals on a fairly regular basis.
    • It feels like the Writers constantly throw the idiot balls at Peter because, let's face it — if he actually knew how to use his powers correctly he would be a God-Mode Sue, while the others... the writers just don't know how to write dramatic tension.
  • Stanley H. Tweedle of Lexx. He's a cynical Dirty Coward whose every action seems destined to ultimately blow up in his face, and if not for Zev/Xev and Kai he probably would have ended up dead many times over. The best argument he can make to defend himself when the fate of his soul was on the line was that he tried, but even that is not enough to convince even himself he deserved to go to heaven.
  • Walt Breslin, one of the main characters in Narcos: Mexico. After being the narrator of the first season, in Season 2 he and other DEA agents embark on Operation Leyenda to avenge the death of agent "Kiki" Camarena. While they do manage to capture and kill the Torture Technician who actually committed the deed, they continually fail to seriously impede Felix Gallardo's cartel and eventually are almost completely wiped out when they walk right into a trap. Breslin himself doesn't even seem to understand why he's embarking on this crusade, with the suggestion that he's mostly doing it to fill a void in his non-existent personal life and Kiki's death (who he didn't know personally) is nothing more than a half-hearted excuse. Felix is ultimately deposed simply because the Mexican government withdraws its protection, even giving Breslin a stinging "The Reason You Suck" Speech from his jail cell. This continues in season 3 as Breslin sacrifices his own happiness and personal honour to take down the cartels and achieves very little. In the end he is unable to to even save the live of an informer.
  • Ninja Warrior competitor Katsumi Yamada has not only never managed to obtain Total Victory but from the 14th tournament on he hasn't even manage to complete the first stage. The fact that he's focused his life completely on this (which cost him his job and his family) makes it all the more heartbreaking. Nevertheless, he is considered an All-Star, and fans (as well as the other All-Stars) continue to cheer him on for him to one day reach on top of Midoriyama.
  • Oz:
    • Beecher's efforts to do the right thing generally blow up in his face and make things worse. His attempt to comfort Hill after his mom dies just pushes him back into drugs, his advice to Saïd to embrace his rage leads him to a mental breakdown, and his efforts to bury the hatchet with Schillinger by reuniting him with his long-lost son results in a paranoid Schillinger having Beecher's young son killed.
    • McManus's efforts to help the prisoners reform almost always fail, either due to Devlin's influence or his own pettiness.
  • In Season 3 of Person of Interest Finch is this, completely ineffectual at stopping the creation of a second machine, without the restrictions of his own creation. In Season 4, once that AI goes fully online, he is also unable to prevent it from very nearly killing his own creation.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017): A case that happened by the adaptation. The VFD's role is expanded, meaning that the organization is present and its existence is made known from the very start. What happened is that the series went on to follow the same idea as the books and the VFD's attempts at helping the Baudelaire Orphans constantly fail. As of the end of Season 2 about 10 members of the organization were killed by Olaf and Esmé. Out of the 4 members left, none of them have scored a meaningful victory against Olaf, and Lemony is believed to be dead by the organization.
  • The Three Stooges in spades; no matter what kind of situation you place them in, they will always find a way to completely botch up the given task in their own indomitable style. Nobody can fail as epically as they can.
  • It's often conceived that in the Ultra Series this is effectively the lot of the defense team in any given series — to spend the first twenty minutes of every episode throwing everything they've got at the Monster of the Week to absolutely no effect until Ultraman shows up and saves the day in the last five minutes. How true this is varies from series to series, as defense teams can range from utterly incompetent (such as ZAT from Ultraman Taro) to being a Badass Crew (like the Night Raiders from Ultraman Nexus).
    • This was lampshaded in one of the last episodes of the original Ultraman, in which Ide feels Science Patrol is useless because Ultraman is always the one who saves the day in the end. It leads him to not trying at all during the episode's monster climax and just deciding to wait until Ultraman arrives to kill the kaiju (which results in the pointless death of one of their allies). Earlier in the episode, Hayata (Ultraman's human host) had stated that Ultraman only appears if nothing else can be done and that there were many times that Science Patrol were critical in helping Ultraman save the day.
    • In Ultraman Mebius, the Ultramen make it clear that they are there to protect the Earth, but really want to fight alongside humanity as equals. Mebius usually gets to kill the Monster of the Week at the end of the episode, but his allies in defense team GUYS often help to pull his butt out of the fire during the battle and are usually the ones to neutralize the monster's special abilities.
  • Wallander seems to be this, especially in the Kenneth Branagh version. He's basically a Swedish Shinji Ikari. The moment something goes right for him in his personal or professional life, it is certain to ultimately end in tears. Usually Wallander's, who cries in literally five out of six episodes of the six-episode series. Because he fails. All the time.

    Multiple Media 
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Thor starts to fall into this from Thor: Ragnarok on. Thor struggles mightily and gains a host of new allies against superior foes and unfavorable odds, but consistently comes up short, first against Hela and then twice against Thanos. His meager victories are either overturned immediately or rendered meaningless. By the time of Avengers: Endgame the defeats have worn him down to a shell of his former self.
    • Avengers: Infinity War: The Avengers, the Guardians and their allies spend the entire movie repeatedly failing to stop Thanos from acquiring each of the Infinity Stones, carrying out his promised Badass Fingersnap, and exterminating half of the sentient life in the universe. They do, however, get a Curb Stomp Cushion in the form of defeating the Children of Thanos and the Outriders. Further, it is implied by Doctor Strange that this series of events is the only conceivable way they have any chance of ultimately defeating Thanos. This was later confirmed to be true in the followup.
    • Iron Fist (2017): Out of all the Defenders, Iron Fist's first season outing was the least impressive. All of his achievements were short-lived and most often manipulated into: becoming the Iron Fist was for the wrong reason and he couldn't achieve full power; becoming Danny Rand was only possible because of Harold's manipulation; taking down Gao and Bakuto was entirely inconsequential because Gao got away unscathed and Bakuto can resurrect himself. The finale also implied that his leaving his post as the Gate Guardian led to a Hand invasion and the disappearance of K'un-Lun. That being said, he's able to enjoy some success come The Defenders when most of the Hand is destroyed, although that doesn't explain what happened to K'un-Lun.
    • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Most of John Walker's attempts to be a hero end up failing spectacularly. He fails to stop the Flag-Smashers' theft of two 18-wheelers filled with supplies, failed to interrogate one of their associates (who spits on his face too), and both of his attempts to bring in Karli Morgenthau end up making things worse for everyone and got Lemar killed. He finally stops being one when he stops trying to be Captain America and starts being himself.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Often, the story would depict one of Calvin's many imaginative alter egos, such as the superhero Stupendous Man, the space explorer Spaceman Spiff, or a meat-eating dinosaur like Allosaurus. However, no matter what they would almost always lose because the "foes" they faced were real people with much more power than Calvin, like his babysitter, his parents, or his teacher. For example, he tries to write a test using Stupendous Man's superior intelligence, but his Paper-Thin Disguise fools no one and Stupendous Man doesn't know anything Calvin doesn't so he fails the test anyway and gets in trouble for creating a commotion on top of that.
  • Averted in Garfield, where Garfield's owner Jon finally gets the girl of his dreams after 28 years. In these 28 years, however, all of Jon's plans to get a relationship fail horribly. Even when he scores a date, you can bet that either he, Garfield, or the environment would ruin it.
  • Peanuts: Charlie Brown so often plays this trope straight that other characters are surprised whenever this trope is subverted. He often fails through no visible fault of his own, in ways that are explicitly stated by other characters to be physically impossible. This doesn't stop them from blaming him.
    • In his last animated special, Charlie Brown wins a game of marbles and gets back Rerun's marbles from a bully. Lucy could not believe it.
    • He wins a motocross competition in one of the animated shorts... though his prize is less than impressive.
    • After endlessly trying to kick a football only to have Lucy pull it away, he finally kicks the damn football while taunting Lucy in It's Magic, Charlie Brown.
    • There's a baseball game that Charlie Brown's team wins. He does a happy dance while cheering, "I won! I won!" The person he's saying this to responds, "You won?"
    • The first full-length movie with the Peanuts gang, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, specifically revolves around Charlie Brown's role as an eternal failure, demonstrating that even when he wins, he ultimately loses.
  • The newspaper comic version of Spider-Man has always been this. He's utterly incompetent and completely ineffective. It's not at all unusual to have a street thug get the drop on him and knock him out with a piece of debris they found nearby — despite the fact that his Spider-Sense should make this virtually impossible. He's often shown more likely to just sit around and watch TV and many of his storylines have been resolved despite Spider-Man's involvement.
  • Tom the Dancing Bug sporadically features Sam Roland, the Detective Who Dies. Each appearance gives us another case of Sam dying before solving the crime. Sometimes before answering the phone to get a new case.

    Podcasts 
  • No one is making successful rolls in the Cool Kids Table game Homeward Bound 4. Everyone is really stupefied about why science would engineer such terrible dinosaurs.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Cited as one of the main reasons why WCW went under in its later years; every single Face that tried to go up against the Heel stable NWO invariably got ruthlessly squashed, including Sting, Ric Flair, and even in one of its most infamous moments in history Goldberg, who was a Showy Invincible Hero before. It was almost a ridiculous cycle of kicking the dog and then yanking its chain just to get it back into kicking range. Sting seemed to have the nWo beat... and then it resurged. Flair returned and The Four Horsemen were reformed... and they did nothing. Bill Goldberg was, well, Bill Goldberg... and Nash beat him with outside interference. Nash was all right though because his nWo was opposed to Hogan's... and then the Finger Poke of Doom happened.
  • They're called Jobbers for a reason — the very few occasions when a dedicated midcarder ever achieves anything remotely resembling success, their hopes are quickly dashed.
  • Taking the trios concept from its Mexican origins Up to Eleven, Dragon Gate can largely be described as several power stables competing for dominance, with the few "good" groups usually coming up short. Most likely, the "rudo" stables end up imploding due to their own internal conflicts.
  • Ring of Honor had a case where a number of factors combined to create a team of Failure Heroes. Early in 2007, longtime Tag Team partners Austin Aries and Roderick Strong split, with Strong forming the No Remorse Corps alongside hot new talents Davey Richards and Rocky Romero. Aries, the Face in this feud, teamed up with the less established wrestlers Matt Cross and Erick Stevens. Unfortunately, Aries was soon forced to leave ROH for a few months due to contract obligations with TNA — leaving Cross and Stevens woefully outmatched by the No Remorse Corps. Wrestling logic dictated that the NRC get the early advantage in the feud, but without Aries around, Cross & Stevens had no credibility to begin with. By the time Aries returned, Cross and Stevens had already lost to the NRC so many times that nobody could get excited about their comeback.
  • In TNA EV2.0 had been this since day one, whether if it was during their feud with Fortune (led by Ric Flair) or Immortal (led by Hulk Hogan). Whatever victory they managed to obtain was only short-term as they lost many of their key members, including the FBI, Sabu, Rhino, and Raven.
  • Ted DiBiase Jr. slowly become a Failure Villain. Lampshaded by his girlfriend Maryse, who even accused him of causing her to lose matches by association and outright called him a loser. On the 1/26/11 edition of NXT, however, he did finally managed to score a win. Who? Daniel Bryan! Cleanly. And Maryse actually complemented him! And his rookie Brodus Clay won the Fatal Four Way elimination match! ...But wait! That match Brodus won? The winning rookie had the opportunity to switch Pros! Brodus then pointed out all of DiBiase's failings before ditching him for Alberto Del Rio. And to add insult to injury, he took him out with the Tongan Death Grip! After this DiBiase leaned more into Face territory and started to gain more actual victories. He never got out of the midcard, but still got clean wins every once in a while.
  • Montel Vontavious Porter went through a similar situation during a heel run, losing every match he had for a very long period of time (albeit for different reasons ranging from legitimate failures to outside interference and flukes). Story actually implied he was becoming bankrupt as a result of this, leading him to gradually gain audience sympathy and eventually get cheered with great enthusiasm as he finally started to gain wins as a face.
  • On paper, Daffney's All-Star Squad seemed capable of reigning in the heels running roughshod over SHINE by the twelfth show. In practice, the three core members often act without Kimberly and Amazing Kong, leaving them outmatched and or outnumbered by the heel stables, who aren't above teaming up against them. Their luck hasn't been much better in SHIMMER, where Daffney was lucky to simply escape Sweet Saraya's pseudo faction.
  • Big In USA in Pro Wrestling NOAH. Beloved by the crowds, consistently awarded by the promotion's staff, respected by most of their opponents but they keep finishing at the bottom of the annual Global Tag league.
  • Johnny Gargano has fallen into this, as he never seems to be able to win a title match despite showing that he is capable of doing so. It didn't really reach this point until he lost two straight takeovers to Evil Former Friend Tommaso Ciampa, the most recent for the NXT Championship (which Ciampa managed to win in the first place thanks to him, by the way), both due to his recklessness. It's quite telling that The Velveteen Dream, then a heel, was able to get the Full Sail crowd to go from chanting "Johnny Wrestling" to "Johnny Failure."
    • While he's since won some singles titles, he has yet to successfully defend one. Taken Up to Eleven when he randomly chose Leon Ruff to get a shot at his North American title, in an obvious bid to break the curse, and Ruff won the belt on a roll-up pin (helped by a distraction from previous champ Damian Priest).
  • Ayako Hamada was this in 2017 when she won AAA's Reina de Reinas only to lose every match she had as champion and lose the belt after being choked out by a pipe wielding Taya Valkyries.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is enforced for PCs in CthulhuTech. Published adventures advise the GM to never let the players win because this would clash with the Cosmic Horror Story mood the game wants to create.
  • Depending on codex and writer, the Imperial Guard of Warhammer 40,000. Conscripted by the billion, given laughably inadequate equipment, following moronic plans by incompetent (if not outright traitorous) generals and of course, executed whenever they complain, piss themselves at the horrors they're facing or think of a way to win that isn't the way the Imperium has been doing for the past few thousand years. All for nothing, as the Imperium steadily crumbles further.
    • Anytime an army is victorious over Chaos could count as this, as the Ruinous Powers are actually strengthened whether or not they win (one is worshipped whenever blood is spilled, another by both pain and pleasure, one has so many plans running that the failure of one just means another can now function, etc.).
    • The Craftworld Eldar, to the point that they are depicted as a Dying Race even in their own Codices. All but the most arrogant and delusional Eldar know that they are totally screwed, but keep fighting anyway since the alternative would be to just lie down and accept extinction.
    • A serious contender for the most blatant example of this trope is the Lamenters, a Space Marine Chapter cursed with extremely bad luck. Apparently, they are cursed by fate or by the Ruinous Powers to be the single unluckiest chapter in the history of the Imperium of Man. Even when they win a battle, it will be through great sacrifice or that victory will make way for an even bigger defeat. Still, the fact they're still committed to the protection of humanity in the living nightmare that is the 41st Millennium is worthy of admiration.

    Theatre 
  • Ash doesn't win a single Pokemon battle throughout the entirety of Pokémon Live!. He's knocked out by Jigglypuff's song, and Giovanni soundly defeats Pikachu. The only reason he makes it to the end is Mewtwo's sudden appearance.
  • Tanz Der Vampire: Professor Abronsius and his assistant Alfred travel to Transylvania to rid the world of vampires. They never kill a single vampire and by the end, all but two of the characters have been turned into vampires.

    Video Games 
  • The Player Character of Bendy and the Ink Machine fits this trope. To shorten this entry, here's a list of Henry's successes in the game and why they don't disqualify him: Chapter 1 — he turns on the Ink Machine and gets Bendy's attention. He does escape the Ink Demon, but while he's doing so, he falls through the floor, just a few feet from the open door that would have let him escape the studio. Chapter 2 — he drains ink from a stairwell, which he does not get to use due to a Tap on the Head. He also escapes Bendy for the moment and meets up with Boris. Chapters 3 and 4 — he completes Susie's errands, and he may or may not kill his old friend, Norman Polk. Not only does Susie end up betraying him by sabotaging the elevator he and Boris are on, but he helped her set up her sickening surprise for him. That is, he's forced to help her make his pal Boris Brainwashed and Crazy, with no chance of an "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight getting him out of killing his friend. Chapter 5 — he escapes from his prison using directions left for him, but he ends up slaughtering Joey Drew's victims and then going after Bendy. He manages to kill Bendy, but this leads to a cut-scene that lands him right back at the beginning of the game, ready to go looking to turn on the Ink Machine and attract Bendy's attention. It gets even worse with the New Game+ bonus, where Henry keeps the device that allows him to view the game's secret messages. At the start of Chapter 1, there are tally marks that make it look like Henry's been through this loop over a hundred times and has been failing to escape. He always falls through the floor as he approaches the exit. He and Boris always fall with the elevator. He can never save Boris. He's the one who left himself the messages to help him escape his prison and defeat Bendy, but he can never save himself or anyone else from the studio's endless loop. On the plus side, he has legitimately figured out what happened to several individual workers not obvious in the main story — at least enough to identify who most of the coffins belong to.
  • Leon Belmont from Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. Even before starting a new save file, the narration has no qualms pointing out that Leon renounces his title in the Crusades, and all the benefits that would come with that title, just for a chance to save his beloved, Sara Trantoul, who had been kidnapped. Long story short, the quest does not end well. Even after Leon defeats the game's primary antagonist, Walter Bernhard, his best friend and fellow crusader, Mathias Cronqvist, appears and reveals that he basically masterminded the events of the game, just to spite the very god that the two men had fought in the name of during the Crusades. Killing his own betrothed at her own request to stop her from turning into a vampire, being betrayed by his best friend, and sworn revenge turning empty since the act empowered the traitorous best friend... Leon just can't catch a break, can he? Poor guy.
  • Chrono Cross's Serge unfortunately became this trope after his third Nice Job Breaking It, Hero. There's a reason that why that trope was named after him in The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Clichés.
  • Mike Dawson in Dark Seed II. While he was competent and knew what he was doing in the first game (even if it was only because the player used a walkthrough), in the sequel he seems to struggle with things that shouldn't really be too problematic and gets himself into situations that could be easily avoided. His attempt to stop the Dark World invasion, something he achieved handily in the first game, is implied to be badly botched. The ending is left ambiguous, but it doesn't end well for him, either way.
  • Disco Elysium is themed around the idea of failure. Your player character is a Defective Detective with Impossibly Tacky Clothes and a life-ruining alcohol addiction who is usually funny (and sometimes heartbreaking) to watch screw up, and the game's system gives you the ability to fail at most tasks and yet continue finishing the plot. (The tagline of the game is 'Become any kind of detective you want — even a bad one!'). However, a lot of your character's failures end up being happy accidents that turn out better than the successes would have done; in a way, the game plays with this trope by making the player character's failure-themed nature allow him to grow and succeed in ways more typically competent cops never would.
  • Compared to the other Disgaea protagonists Mao of Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice comes off this way due to the game's unfocused plot. Most of the actions he takes throughout the game either end in failure or don't really move him closer to his goal of defeating his father. Multiple endings show him succeeding at something where he failed in the main plot, only to show that success doesn't work out for him either.
  • Unlike the Warden and the Inquisitor, Hawke in Dragon Age II is this. Sure, the Warden and the Inquisitor face some setbacks in their journey, but it seems that Hawke faced the worst of this trope throughout the second game. Fails to save his/her sibling in the beginning. Fails to keep his/her remaining sibling safe. Fails to save his/her mother from a serial killer. Fails to stop the Qunari attack on Kirkwall. Fails to prevent the Mage-Templar War. Fails to properly kill Corypheus. Essentially, Hawke tries to stand against massive wave after massive wave and most of what they achieve is getting soaked to the bone. Even their one unambiguous success (the Deep Roads expedition which makes them rich) turns out to have disastrous effects in the long run thanks to their discovery of red lyrium, and potentially gets their remaining sibling infected with the Blight. The best that can be said for Hawke is that their actions at least prevented bad situations from becoming many times worse. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the Nightmare demon taunts Hawke with the fact that nothing s/he did made a big difference and that s/he couldn't even succeed in saving Kirkwall. And depending on the player's choice, he/she may die there by remaining at the Fade, with the entire Hawke family being wiped out for good or their living sibling being the last Hawke.
    • Though if Hawke survives the events of Inquisition, the ending of the Trespasser DLC will reveal that he/she eventually returned to Kirkwall as its Champion and helped it rebuild with the help of his/her Best Friend Varric, who is now the Viscount of Kirkwall, and their fellow companion Aveline. Their efforts did amount to something, it just took a long time to get there.
  • The Vigilants of Stendar in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are an order dedicated to routing out daedra worshipers and whatever monsters threaten the innocent. Unfortunately, their choices of in-game armaments make them fairly ineffective, and they will usually end up being killed by whatever it is they're fighting.
    • In the base game, one member investigates a house, with the help of the Dragonborn, where he thinks daedra worshippers are hiding. Only too late does he discover that said house is being watched over by Molag Bal, one of the Daedric Princes (essentially gods among the daedra), and Molag Bal forces both him and the Dragonborn to fight each other to the death.
    • In Dawnguard they try to take on the Volkihar clan of vampires of screen. Not realizing that they are far, far stronger than any of those they've dealt with before. Resulting in the headquarters and leaders of the Skyrim branch of the order being wiped out. In a quest if you side with the Dawnguard, another of their members gets enthralled by a sorceress and brainwashes the rest of his party into doing her bidding.
  • In Epiphany City, Lily initially fails at everything she tries to do, mainly due to circumstances beyond her control. The prophecy lampshades this, calling her a failure but also a diamond in the rough.
  • Failman, the star of a Flash point-and-click game. He saves all of the problems... to create even bigger ones.
  • The Deputy in Far Cry 5: despite undoing most of Joseph’s plans and schemes, none of the endings see them actually defeat him. Even worse, in the canonical ending, Joseph brainwashes them — the results of which can be seen in Far Cry: New Dawn as the Judge.
  • Isaac and his son Matthew in Golden Sun and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. Every single decision that they make unfortunately leads to world destruction and/or furthering Alex's plans. And there's nothing they can do about it. This combined with their Heroic Mime status and the Draco'ed villains makes them the least popular of all 16 Golden Sun protagonists within the fandom.
  • The goal of the game in the Interactive Fiction title Inhumane is to enter a pyramid full of traps and get killed by every single one. Even if you succeed in all of this, the throwaway in-joke about the author's math teacher destroys your mind when you try to exit the pyramid with the treasure.
  • Rean Schwarzer in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel probably beats almost everyone in this list where he ends up losing in his games three times despite being the protagonist of the series for four of them. From the first game alone, he doesn't stop the leader of the terrorist group from assassinating the chancellor and occupy his school because it turns out that said leader is one of his dear classmates who has a Humongous Mecha of his own (Rean does have one as well at this point) but is clearly trounced by his years of experience compared to Rean's day one inside the Divine Knight. Then in Cold Steel II, he fails to bring Crow back to the academy because Crow, who was the leader of the terrorists in the first game, sacrifices his life to save the crown prince who is being used as a battery for an Eldritch Abomination. Oh and the chancellor that Crow tried assassinating faked his death throughout the Civil War so he ends up on top despite not showing up for most of the game. And finally in Cold Steel III, he fails to stop putting the giant turtle back to sleep as he was overpowered by it and his sword is useless against the might of a beast sent by the goddess to guard her treasures which forces his friend, a young girl, to sacrifice her life to become the Sword of Plot Advancement for him. He then gives in to his Superpowered Evil Side and kills the beast instead of putting it to sleep, causing the Erebonia country and maybe its neighboring countries to be affected by the curse that was kept at bay by the beast. In the fourth game he succeeds in destroying the curse, allowing others to stop the war, but in one of the two possible endings he has to commit suicide to do it, and in both endings he was only able to pull it off because Chancellor Osborne was deliberately trying to lose, as he had ended up positions where he could have crushed Rean's faction at multiple earlier points and chose to let them go so that Rean could end up in a position to stop him.
  • A problem in the Metal Gear series after Metal Gear Solid, which applied via retcon. Anything the main characters do advances the Ancient Conspiracy's goals somehow. If the series didn't get a sequel after 3 it would have been a The Bad Guy Wins Downer Ending to the series. Used in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. The main character Raiden is told before the ending that all his actions have been scripted and defeating the Big Bad would just help the group that has been forcing people to against their will. As a result, before the final fight against Solidus Snake, Raiden tells the Patriots AIs he prefers not to fight and is threatened with the death of his girlfriend and an infant if he is murdered. In the end, Raiden has to defeat Solidus, leaving the other conflict open for the next games.
  • Mortal Kombat:
    • Taven in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon is sent on a quest to halt the titular event that will destroy all of existence. Not only does he find out that his brother went crazy with power and murdered their parents with Taven unable to do a thing to prevent it, his quest turns into a failure since the elemental being he was supposed to defeat in order to gain godhood and stave off Armageddon turned out to have been long tainted and the canon victor of that game turned out to be Shao Kahn. That ended up leading to the whole timeline being rebooted.
    • Raiden becomes this in Mortal Kombat 9. His actions to change the future only makes things worse; he loses the trust of Liu Kang, gets many heroes killed through his indirect actions to change the past, and only barely wins the battle because the Elder Gods arrive to help him at the last moment.
  • Rameses. There are even conversation choices where you can stand up to the bully, insult the toadie, or defend The Woobie, but the PC will nearly always reject them with a variation of "Why bother? I couldn't do that anyway."
  • Good people finding the strength and resolve to make a difference in a troubled world is one of the key themes of Overwatch, but you probably wouldn't realize that if you had to gauge the difference the heroes have actually made. Ultimately, Overwatch itself initially fell due to the heroes being unable to handle their own internal strife, and its in-story reputation in the wake of its fall is one of futility and misguided leadership. Each encounter they've had with the villains in the time since has, one way or another, ended in the latter's favor, and what few accomplishments they have been able to retain either came at a cost or are inconsequential to the greater conflict. In all fairness, the core premise of the story is about the heroes getting their act together and regrouping, and a big recurring theme is coping with your failures and rising up from them, so there is a very good chance they can turn things around. Still, this trend has been holding steady for two years, and a lot of characters have failed in ways that just seem pointless without offering them any appreciable development, which can make following the lore often just feel exhausting.
  • Otus in Owlboy, already considered a failure and constantly chewed out by his mentor Asio even before the game starts for real, goes out of his way to do things right but it always happens to backfire or accomplish nothing: chasing a troublemaker while on watch duty in Vellie actually gives an opening to the Sky Pirates that assault the village, he is then sent to re-activate an ancient device that happens to be worn out beyond repair and no one will believe it and still punish Otus for failing, he then infiltrates the Dreadnought during the siege of Advent to sabotage it from inside, only for Molstrom to nearly kill him and destroy Advent by himself... While he does fulfill the role of activating the Anti-Hex and thus saving the world, he only had to in the first place because he interrupted the one who was going to do it anyway due to a misunderstanding. His net effect on the plot is nil. There is one possible exception to this at the end of the game: By delaying the Anti-Hex ritual, he gave Nostrom enough time to arrive into the scene and try to stop Otus from finishing said ritual...which gets him killed in the end. So Otus is indirectly responsible for getting rid of the main antagonist of the game and avenging Advent and countless others killed by the pirates over the course of the story.
  • Of the three heroes of Pathologic, the Bachelor, Daniil Dankovsky, comes off the worst. A wealthy thanatologist from the Capital who is harried by his political enemies, Daniil is placed in charge of the outbreak by The-Powers-That-Be, while a second letter from his home lab shows that they are planning to destroy it. His every attempt to solve the outbreak is opposed, even by his own allies. His attempts at quarantine are sidestepped, local taboo prevents him from gaining a sample of the disease, and the disease itself is truly undefeatable... by him. His fellow healers, the Haruspex and the Changeling, are each able to come up with a solution to the plague that doesn't involve reducing the town to ruins, although neither is perfect.
  • Canonically, the Hanzo Shinobi in Senran Kagura do spend an awful lot of time on the back foot and dealing with opponents who "Weren't really trying", but this is presented as a series of hardships leading to a well-earned victory. Then you play as a different faction, and the "heroes" of the setting come across as utterly incompetent — they never pull the same "not trying" trick, and are the only team to lose clean every time.
  • Walker from Spec Ops: The Line. His attempts to be a hero, save Dubai and thwart Konrad all end in failure, and despite his protests to the contrary it's 100% his own fault (and yours.) By the end, he's accidentally killed Dubai citizens with white phosphorus mortars, destroyed Dubai's only source of water, dooming the surviving inhabitants to die in the harsh desert sandstorm, gotten his squadmates killed, and in the end Konrad was Dead All Along and the voice in the radio taunting him for most of the game was in his own head.
    • Konrad himself turns out to be one as well. He defies his orders in order to help the people of Dubai, and after six months of draconian military occupation he realizes that his efforts only made the situation worse and and takes his own life.
  • This is the fate of Troy from Struggling. He seems to be making decent headway in the game but ends up in a Mushroom Samba situation, allowing him to be recaptured by the scientists he escaped from and put right back to square one by the end of the game. Not only that, but the gods he helped along the way were captured as well, making his whole journey a "Shaggy Dog" Story.
  • Tales of Berseria has a villainous example. Not in a Minion with an F in Evil way; Oscar Dragonia is the first non-Big Bad antagonist to get a name, being in charge of the Hellhole Prison where Velvet was being kept and brings her to a standstill when they clash using a variety of powerful artes while espousing his loyalty to the one person Velvet can't stand. In short, he has all the trappings of a classic Tales of... rival character, and then the rest of the game happens. His entire story is one failure after another. An unwanted spare of a noble family, he was made to join the Abbey to give them more influence, but his career has been unknowingly propped up by his beloved sister — who, despite being a baseborn bastard, has more clout in the Abbey than him. He passed over a prestigious assignment because he felt the other candidate deserved it more; instead of being rewarded, he ended up in charge of Titania, which is a dead-end shithole of a post. What looked like skillful use of powerful Artes during Velvet's escape was actually Oscar jumping straight to tactics of last resort just to slow her down, and the only clean hit he gets was a cheap shot. After being beaten and disfigured by Velvet, he's reassigned to the boonies and not heard from again for half the game, where his sister has petitioned for him to get a safe-but-important gubernatorial role in the sticks. He's not there a week before Velvet causes him to utterly fail at every aspect of his assignment, including not being fought because Velvet knocks him out mid-sentence with a single kick. This results in him being "asked" to act as a candidate for a powerful but completely untested new arte; despite finally putting up a boss fight with a prototype he was apparently compatible with, it ultimately goes completely haywire and he has to be killed in self-defense. It's not for no reason that his title in his final battle is "Failed Oscar".
  • One of the sample comics in WarioWare: D.I.Y. Showcase features the titular "Failure Man", who attempts to stop an asteroid from crashing into Earth. It goes as well as you'd expect.
  • Leonard in White Knight Chronicles, the actual main character of the duology. Despite possessing the power to transform into an indestructible 20-foot tall walking tank whenever he feels like it, he frequently fails to achieve his goals or take any action that isn't a direct response to the words or actions of another character. Although he succeeds at rescuing Princess Cisna, ending the civil war in Faria, helping Caesar end the plague in Greede, and repelling a few invasions from The Empire, he fails to save Lena, he only succeeds at saving the princess after multiple failed attempts (including one where she was successfully rescued, only to be re-kidnapped five minutes later), fails to notice that every time his friend Kara disappears the evil Black Knight shows up (though to be fair, only Eldore ever noticed this, out of everyone in the party), obtains two different special mythical knight-slaying swords but fails to ever actually use either of them for any knight-slaying.... Yeah, it's safe to say Leo probably has more fails than wins to his name. But the worst comes in the latter half of the second game. Long, spoiler-filled explanation 

    Visual Novels 
  • In Katawa Shoujo, in Hanako's route, Hisao's attempts to help Hanako consistently make her psychological problems worse, a fact truly driven home after playing Lilly's path, where Hanako's complexes are much less severe and she opens up to Hisao a lot more. Ultimately, both Hisao and Hanako come out of it as stronger people, but it's one hell of an Earn Your Happy Ending.

    Webcomics 
  • Collar 6 struck the protagonists with this for its second major arc. Any fight was either lost or interrupted, which lead to them getting captured twice. The first time, they would've spent the entire arc in captivity if their maids hadn't come to bail them out. Ultimately, they could have stayed home and the whole thing would have worked out for the best, if the bad guy's plan didn't require kidnapping Laura and a sudden Greater-Scope Villain that required stopping.
  • Curse Quest: Implied with the Owl Hunter, he doesn't seem competent enough to actually take down the owl-bear he was wrestling, and is openly seen crying at the convention after failing to do so. Walrus also gives off similar vibes, considering he didn't do anything to hurt the owl-bear despite trying to fight it and getting launched at a tree.
  • Homestuck: anything that Karkat Vantas wasn't guaranteed to fail at due to You Can't Fight Fate, he managed to bungle on his own, with the exception of calming Gamzee down and a few other things. When tasked with creating a universe-frog, he wasn't patient enough to do the job right and ended up giving the poor thing cancer (although waiting any longer may have made the game unwinnable, due to the black king becoming exponentially harder to beat the longer the game goes on). When he tried to lead his group to victory, he managed to keep at most five of them alive from a group of twelve. His efforts to prevent the creation of a Hero Killer God of Evil were kicked in the head by destiny, and his dating life has been kind of consistently disastrous. Even his childhood dream of joining the Threshecutioners was doomed from the start due to a) his mutant blood colour and b) the destruction of the universe, and his efforts to learn programming ended up killing his lusus. It's no wonder the guy hates himself so much and is so consistently pissed.
    • Ironically enough, many of his failures seem have side effects that turn them into successes, for example, the robotic Aradia clones that came from doomed timelines that were attributed to his failures were essential to win, and Aradia also states that the Mobius Double Reacharound virus was essential to winning as well. Similarly, many of his successes turn into horrific failures — the ectobiology that he was initially successful with later making the game unwinnable, for example.
      • Other examples include Calming Gamzee prevented the other trolls from offing him, and considering Gamzee is one of the main sources of problems for every group of protagonists... this... isn't a good thing. Not only that, Vriska speculates that if attaining Godhood is related to attaining your species equivalent of maturity, then Karkat's efforts to keep his murderous race of friends together may have kept most of them alive for as long as it did, but had he been a BAD leader, half of them would have killed the other half but the survivors may have gotten FAR more power as a result.

    Web Original 
  • Splendid from Happy Tree Friends. Without exception, he kills every single person that he tries to save. Lumpy is another example, though he at least has occasional bursts of competence.
  • The Nostalgia Critic very rarely gets what he wants or wins anything. The "hero" part is downplayed, as he's not a particularly good person.
  • In Red vs. Blue we get Tex who was created from the Director's memory of his dead girlfriend. Since said girlfriend died in battle, the memory and thus Tex herself have that failure deep-seated within them. As a result, despite being perhaps the most badass character in the entire series, she fails just about any mission that has actual importance no matter how hard she tries.
  • Roadkill's hosts, David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan, qualify as this. Usually, not only will the zany car build fail as they're attempting to do whatever they had planned with it, it will usually fail in a spectacular manner. The on-the-spot makeshift repairs that they make to get the vehicle back on the road usually don't last too long, either.
  • Deconstructed with General Ironwood of RWBY; As much as he wants to make the world a better place, most if not all of his decisions and actions fail to accomplish anything worthwhile, and whatever successes he has are undone by his poor planning or are part of the Big Bad's overall plan. People in-universe wonder why Ironwood is still allowed to have his position, and Jacques Schnee notes that on top of abusing his authority, Ironwood hasn't really earned the trust he demands. Furthermore, Ironwood's repeated failures leave him frustrated, but not only does he refuse to learn from his defeats, his semblance almost compels him not to by strengthening his resolve to carry out a task while also minimizing the ramifications any negative consequences will have on his psyche, meaning he's doomed to keep applying his flawed methods no matter how often they fail.
    • Ozpin, being the Deconstructed Character Archetype of the fantasy mentor, shows himself to be one of the worst Big Goods in fiction. Almost all of his decisions in directly opposing evil have backfired on him and other people, and his tendency to keep secrets from even his close allies gets them in trouble when it turns out they really needed that intel. Oz, early in the series, admits that he's "Made more mistakes than any man, woman, or child", and he's not kidding.

    Web Serial Novel 
  • Statless and Tactless: Kyle is styled like an archetypal pulp-era adventure hero, very much the group's most obvious good guy. He's also spread so thin on skill points that he's pretty much incapable of succeeding in any task he attempts.

    Western Animation 
  • Racing cartoons tend to have one of these characters:
    • Wacky Races' Dick Dastardly, despite being as lukewarm a Villain Protagonist as you can possibly get, definitely falls into this trope. Even in the rare instances he conquers his obsession to cheat, he still manages to become a Boring Failure Hero. He actually managed to win once, even to the narrator's surprise.
    • His Expy Phantom Fink suffers the same problem; when he does win, the prize is absolutely horrible.
    • No matter who wins in Yogi's Space Race, something happens to make the prize undesirable. One wonders why the racers keep coming back.
  • The Action Girl main character of Æon Flux would often die at some point in her animated shorts through her clumsiness and Too Dumb to Live tendencies, and even if she made it to the end she'd often still fail her original objective, her only accomplishment over the mission being having mowed down tons of random mooks. The show is a deconstructive parody of Cyberpunk action films.
  • Archer. His luck/skill during missions is almost always just enough to ensure that he lives to screw up another one. It gets to the point where villains will sometimes hire him to foil their own plots because they're so sure he'll fail.
  • The Boondocks:
    • Huey was this in "The Passion of Reverend Ruckus" and "It's a Black President, Huey Freeman". The reason? Cause he couldn't get a ride.
    • Riley in "Shinin" because he couldn't get his chain back from Butch Magnus. All of his plans to get the chain back failed and when he had help from Flonominal, Butch overpowered him too. He did get the chain back, but only because it was worthless and Butch couldn't get any money off it.
  • The title character of The Buzz on Maggie. Mostly everything she tries to accomplish fails or backfires in her face.
  • Chuck Jones' interpretation of Daffy Duck was meant to represent a polar opposite of Bugs Bunny, constantly attempting to take on The Ace role, be it a super hero, a western sheriff, or a detective, only to get his ass handed to him by even the most incompetent of villains, with real heroes Bugs or Porky usually clearing things up. Other directors occasionally placed Daffy as a bumbling hero as well, though it varied whether he was an actual failure or not.
  • Season 2 of The Dreamstone flanderized Rufus and Amberley into Invincible Incompetent variations, making it apparent that most of their victories against the Urpneys in Season 1 were because the latter were too ineffectual to even put up a fight against two children. Just by slightly upping their game, the two Noops became useless or outright made the situation worse, always relying on their far more powerful comrades or dumb luck saving them after they screwed up. Season 3 had them gradually become competent again, though some episodes make it apparent they got an easy target.
  • The protagonists of Ed, Edd n Eddy. Not only do Eddy and his crew fail at their attempts to scam kids, they also completely fail at legitimate ventures or even completely innocent goals like gaining a little respect from their friends. The constant teasing and harassing of their Jerkass neighbors only rubs salt into the wound. In the movie this is subverted. The other kids finally accept the Eds into their group after seasons of turmoil.
  • Freakazoid! has a Show Within a Show called Hero Boy, a parody of Astro Boy, where the eponymous hero always fails in comic fashion. In the one episode we see, he tried to beat the Kaiju attacking Tokyo by ineffectually beating its foot before it brushes him off with nary a second thought. It also happens to be Freakazoid's favorite show.
    • The Huntsman is something of a downplayed example, as he'd probably be very competent... if he ever got to do anything.
  • Invincible (2021): Compared to the original Guardians, Robot's New Team is a bit of a disaster from the get-go, with them barely tolerating each other to be a proper team. So far their track record hasn't been kind to them even when they "win." Episode 5 goes into this when Black Samson and Robot chew the team out for celebrating defeating the Lizard League, but ignoring the fact there were SIGNIFICANT civilian casualties in this fight, the two going into detail (with holographic reference) on the numerous ways they could have minimized civilian casualties. It's telling that neither Cecil nor Omni-Man have much faith in the team. The team sort of gets their act together when coming to Invincible and Titan's rescue, eventually defeating Machine Head's hired supervillains. However, they do end up being severally brutalized in the fight, with Monster Girl and Black Samson being maimed and in critical condition. However, despite this being a victory, in the grand scheme of things this makes the team appear even more incompetent, as they almost died to what was (in essence) a "street-level" threat, and only survived because the most dangerous member of Machine Head's thugs simply got bored and left, and the Guardians are *literally* supposed to be the first and last defense against world ending threats.
  • Johnny Bravo's titular protagonist may as well be the paradigm of this trope. Despite being the Hunk, he is rebuffed by almost every woman he flirts with and instantly receives a smackdown from them. On top of that, he also fails at even the most mundane tasks and is even beaten up by people about half his size. The fact that he doesn't even get a happy ending in the series finale says a lot about his constant failures.
  • Poor Shining Armor from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Since Militaries Are Useless and The Worf Effect are constantly in play so Twilight Sparkle and her friends can save the day via The Power of Friendship, every conflict ever where he attempts to fight ends with him swiftly and effortlessly defeated. It doesn't help either that his two strengths, creating shields and leading, are soundly outdone by his wife and sister, leaving him no real area to shine with his expertise. Similarly, his wife Princess Cadance spends most of her time as a Damsel in Distress defeated by whatever threat appears and needing to be saved by Twilight. In fact, across eight seasons the closest the two of them ever get to genuine victory are situations where they combine their talents. In the final battle, Twilight Sparkle effectively tells them to stay home so she and the other heroes can deal with it instead.
  • One of the most notable examples in South Park was Wendy Testaburger in "The Hobbit". She first tried standing up for Lisa Berger after Butters called her fat and later tried to tell Butters the truth about Kim Kardashian using photoshop. Naturally, it makes things worse and the tables are turned on Wendy, who is unable to fight back against the issue. In the end after some convincing from Kanye West, she tearfully makes a photoshop photo of herself. Long story short, the photoshop trend got the best of her.
  • Whenever the lead character in SpongeBob SquarePants takes his examination for his boating license, Spongebob will almost inevitably either fail the examination, or manage to get his license... until some technicality comes up and Spongebob's license is rescinded and he has to take the course over again, much to the anguish of Mrs. Puff, who is stuck with once again teaching Spongebob.
  • The main theme of The Venture Bros., where all the characters are failures, both heroes and villains. It really says something when even the most badass character on the show, Brock Sampson, is a failure. Brock was a promising college football player who had to quit school because he accidentally killed a man on the field. Then he goes off to OSI, where he gets paired with a guy tagged as a crazy conspiracy theorist by the department. Despite being as awesome as he is, he gets assigned guard babysitter duty to Dr. Venture, a washed-up, sociopathic Omnidisciplinary Scientist, and his Cloud Cuckoo Lander kids. He's viewed as just about as much a waste of great potential in his field as Dr. Venture in his own. On top of everything, he can get any woman on the planet, except the one woman he actually loves.
    • Much like Brock, Dr. Orpheus initially seems like anything but this trope, being genuinely a highly skilled sorcerer with a multitude of arcane powers. However, it eventually gets pointed out that he's had to spend his whole life studying to acquire his mystic abilities, neglecting every other aspect of his life, and with them he's ultimately accomplished... absolutely nothing.
  • Wakfu: Yugo never seems to able get a total victory over the arc villains. With Nox, Yugo actually DID beat him, at least after he successfully tapped into the power of the Eliacube, but before he could finish Nox off, he was distracted by Ogrest's roar (they had been teleported to Ogrest's mountain) and that gave Nox enough time to warp behind Yugo and finish HIM off. The only reason Yugo "won" was because Nox's plan would never have worked, and he only had enough Wakfu to travel back 20 minutes in time. With Qilby, Yugo puts up a rather good fight with his newly found powers courtesy of Phaeris and the support of the Eliatrope children, but it simply isn't enough. The only reason he wins is because Qilby's twin sister, still inside their Dofus, turns on Qilby and tells him how disgusted she is with his actions. Spurned by the only one he cared about, Qilby simply gave up as Yugo locked him inside the Eliacube again. With Ogrest, the opponent is simply too strong for even the combined power of Yugo (empowered by the six Eliatrope Dofus) and Sadlygrove (awakened as the god Iop), especially after he summons the six dragons connected to his Primordial Dofus. They only win the day because Otomai, Ogrest's creator/father, manages to remove the six Primordial Dofus within Ogrest's stomach and convince him to let go of his anger. With Oropo, he remains completely outmatched despite absorbing power from the Eliacube and the six Eliatrope Dofus which Oropo claims is due to how he knows all of Yugo's moves and abilities, but with centuries of retained experience to hone them, alongside having all the wakfu of the Eliotrope race on top of having the power of the Eliacube and six Eliatrope Dofus himself, and barely manages to stall him for a few moments. In the end, it's Lady Echo who finds a solution. Although it should be taken into account that Yugo is still a child by the standards of his own biology and still put up a huge fight before going down. There’s also the fact that every villain, had the Eliacube in their possession which give them an even bigger boost in power that they’ve already had over Yugo. It's very likely that his enemies are only winning because he's trying to punch WAY above his current weight class. If Adamai's abilities in season 3 are any indicator, by the time Yugo reaches biological adulthood, he'll possess something close to Superman levels of power. In that case, odds are no one short of Ogrest or a fully-powered Oropo would have been able to lay a finger on him before he stomped them into the ground.
  • One of the major problems most fans have with Young Justice is that no matter what the heroes do, it almost never matters. They usually end up soundly defeated, and on the rare occasions that they do win, it just furthers the villains' goals somehow.


 
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Alternative Title(s): Boring Failure Hero, Failure Heroine

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Rocket Monkeys

Yeah, not even the THEME SONG itself holds back on how useless our "heroes" are.

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