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Future Loser

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Above: Porky Pig in high school.
Below: Porky Pig now.
Where do the years go...?

"Doing manual labor for a geek we used to make fun of? This isn't supposed to happen until we're, like, 30!"
Dash, Danny Phantom, "King Tuck".

The Big Jerk on Campus who makes The Protagonist's life impossible presumes that his popularity and success in the academic world will translate into success in business, sports, and politics, and everyone else will be there to lick his boots.

Irony says otherwise.

Through the magical agency of Time Travel, prophetic dreams or a nearby example of Retirony, we (and occasionally he) find out they'll become a broken shell of a man whose life has been reduced to menial jobs and is the target of constant derision or, worse, being forgotten. Often he endlessly laments his Glory Days because, for once, high school really was the Best Years of Your Life.

If this leads to an epiphany, expect it to be short-lived, since We Want Our Jerk Back!, regardless of how doomed it will make his future. If it sticks, expect a gradual shift into Jerk with a Heart of Gold. Usually The Protagonist will be the one to get the epiphany, and try to sympathize with or treat the Jerk Jock better (this doesn't last long either, but may lead to an Odd Friendship or understanding). If any Character Development happens, expect it to be subtle and far-reaching.

Sometimes given a twist with the character who seems to have it all made and be on the fast track academically becoming the loser. (This is an Inverted Trope, Not a Subversion.)

If taken to extremes, the writer may be working out issues or giving a Take That! against Dumb Is Good.

A sub-trope of Future Foil. See also Fallen Princess, Humiliation Conga, Jaded Washout, Odd Friendship, and Retirony. Contrast Future Badass and Ridiculously Successful Future Self.


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    Anime & Manga 

  • Jon Stewart used this in his standup in response to school shootings. He figures the best way to convince kids not to shoot up high schools is to convince them that it ends. So what he proposes is taking them on a time travel field trip to their twenty anniversary high school reunion.
    "See that fat, balding, alcoholic guy in the ill-fitting suit crying in the corner? Captain of the football team."

    Comic Books 
  • Empowered has this in a kind of Imagine Spot, where kid Emp meets her future superheroine self.
    Kid Emp: Why do I have such a big butt as a grownup...? How did I wind up so old and f-fat...?
    Current Emp: Thanks a lot, younger version of me.
  • In Paper Girls, when the future version of Erin meets her younger self, she worries she'll be seen as this, due to being overweight, single, and stuck at the same job for nearly 30 years. Her past self, however, doesn't care about her weight, enjoys her new job, and thinks boys are gross anyway. Conversely, Erin's clone from the far future isn't pleased with the older Erin's figure.
  • Robin Series: When a jock who is usually pretty mellow picks up a geeky kid and says he's gonna go give him a swirly in response to some of his peers goading Tim points out that the nerd is the type of person the jock in question is likely to work for in the future and the jock takes that as an excuse not to go through with it.
  • Spider-Man: The infamous and despised One More Day had this as part of the plot, showing Peter two versions of himself from worlds where he never became Spider-Man. One was a fat, nerdy software developer who had "turned his anger inwards", while the other was a rich, successful but also bitter and resentful businessman who had "turned his anger outwards".
    • On Earth X, Peter is an overweight, middle-aged loser who's become stiflingly overprotective towards his daughter after MJ's death, but at least here he's not alone; both Wolverine and Jean Grey are just as washed-up and pathetic as he is.

    Fan Works 
  • Central in Saruman of Many Devices shows Saruman the (canonical) future where he ends up as this — his army destroyed and he himself stabbed by his former minion while attempting to take over the Shire out of vengeance — as a means to get him to go along with his plans for progress.
  • Happens quite a bit in stories by Flower princess11. If someone was a bully without any real redeeming qualities and/or plans for their future (or just some character that the author didn't like), they will end up as this. Bonnie Rockwaller (from Disney's Kim Possible), Dash Baxter and Paulina Sanchez (from Nickelodeon's Danny Phantom), and Olga Pataki and Summer (from Nickelodeon's Hey Arnold!) are some specific examples—to go into greater detail:
    • Bonnie dropped out of college at one point to marry Señor Senior Junior (one of Kim's enemies who became her boyfriend during the show's final season). However, the marriage ultimately fell apart and they divorced. Bonnie was also Tricked into Signing papers that left her with no money from Junior and his dad once the divorce was finalized. Without any money or a college education, Bonnie was forced to move back in with her family and get a job in order to have any kind of income. But because of her abrasive nature, Bonnie was fired from a bunch of jobs before ultimately working at Bueno Nacho as a cashier. She was also forced to settle for marrying a man with far less wealth than the Seniors, as she ends up with Ned, the restaurant manager, with whom she has two children: a daughter named Tawnie and a son named Ned Jr. (Bonnie also makes Ned take her last name when they get married). While Ned tries being a good parent to their kids (and Ned Jr. seems like a Nice Guy for the most part), Bonnie's pretty neglectful and clearly tries living vicariously through her children, particularly Tawnie (who's basically just a clone of her mom).
    • Neither Dash nor Paulina had any actual plans for a life after high school—Dash had openly admitted this to people in both the fanfics and the original cartoon series. However, this ends up coming back to bite them because by the time of their adulthood, their lives have really gone downhill—Paulina was disinherited by her parents at some point, forcing her to get a job in order to have any kind of income, while the best that Dash could do (once he attempted to actually make something of himself) was get a job at Casper High as the gym teacher and football coach, working under a classmate that he relentlessly bullied back in high school. Also, though Dash and Paulina had children (a son named Dash Jr. and a daughter named Paola) and got married, they eventually divorced. Dash Junior also seems to be well on his way to becoming like his parents, due to his dad's influence. Paola, thanks to influence of her grandparents, has become the White Sheep of the family.
    • Olga and Summer both tried pursuing careers as actresses (theater acting for Olga and film/TV-acting for Summer), even moving to New York City and Los Angeles, respectively, at some point in their lives to have a better chance of it. However, they failed to make it big as actresses and were forced to find other jobs (and move back to their hometowns) in order to help support their familiesnote . While it's unknown what Summer does for a living, Olga was forced to go back to working as a schoolteacher—and by the time her "baby sister's" oldest child is in 4th-grade at P.S. 118, Olga's working at that same school as a 5th-grade teacher. Also, neither Olga's nor Summer's families appear to be that financially well-off, especially when compared to Helga and her familynote .

    Film — Animation 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Back to the Future:
    • In the first movie, Biff in has gone from George McFly's bullying supervisor to waxing George's car, after Marty goes back in time and teaches his dad to stand up to Biff. It sort of works out for everyone, since Biff now has a little humility and runs his own detailing business. Of course he isn't fantastically rich, but at least he doesn't own the world.
    • Biff is still hiding some deep resentment for George and his family, though, because his elderly future self in Part II steals the DeLorean and changes history much to George's detriment. Though, by Word of God, not as much as he would have thought. The Future Loser Biff is still shown to be a much better person than the Rich Bad Future Biff, who is cruel, corrupt, vindictive, and a murderer.
    • They also mention in the Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy featurette that the chest pains and collapse he goes through after returning to 2015 are possibly the result of Lorraine shooting him dead sometime in the early '90s — either because she was sick of his abuse or she found out that he murdered George. In any event, regular Biff may be a loser by 2015, but rich Biff, for all his money and power, ends up dead by then.
    • Marty's first fear when Doc appears at the end of the first film, insisting that he come to the future and fix things? That he and Jennifer will grow up to be, if not losers, then at least "assholes". That turns out to be the truth (at least until they fix things). Marty is provoked into a car race in which he hits another car. The owner sues, Marty breaks his hand, he gives up on his music, and Jennifer only marries him out of pity. By 2015 he ends up with both kids in jail or he gets fired, or both. The ending of the third film, in which Marty rejects the race and the "You're fired" evidence vanishes, implies that things will turn out better now that Marty's learned some humility.
  • Disney's The Kid (2000) has a young boy encounter his future self. After running through everything his future self got wrong, the boy shouts, "I grow up to be a loser!" Played for irony, since the future self is wealthy, successful and respected (and a huge asshole), while the kid is chubby and unpopular with low self-esteem. The joke is that his priorities as an adult were very different from what they were as a child. And then subverted in the end, when they both encounter their older self, who now embodies both of their ideals: still successful, but now also happily married, with a dog and a pilot's license.
  • Played with in the film Anger Management. The schoolyard bully that made Adam Sandler's character's life miserable grew up to be... a Buddhist monk. Who, despite being a monk, still thinks that Adam Sandler's childhood humiliation was hilarious. Adam Sandler ends up getting his revenge the old fashioned way — by beating the crap out of the former schoolyard bully.
  • 13 Going on 30: After she body-switches to the future, the 13-year-old main character discovers that the super hunky jock she desperately wanted to date in the past is now a fat, balding taxi driver, played by Jim Gaffigan. "Call me!"
    • The main character herself is a variant on this trope: though in many ways a success, and having everything she wanted in her life when she was 13, she's miserable and has lost track of what's really important in life. The movie ends with her realizing she hates who she becomes in this timeline, and finding a way to return to her youth and try it all again, living a much better life and avoiding the mistakes of the other timeline.
    • Meanwhile, the best friend who has a crush on her and whom she's always ignored has grown up to look like Mark Ruffalo.
  • In Fucking Åmål aka Show Me Love, Agnes' father tries to comfort her in this way. He tells her he recently went to a class reunion, and all the bullies had turned into nobodies, while the former nobodies had quite decent lives and careers.
  • At the end of Can't Hardly Wait its revealed Mike Dexter's future includes losing his football scholarship after drinking too much, being forty pounds overweight, and losing his job at a car wash when incriminating Polaroids surface.
  • Happens repeatedly in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion:
    • Billy Christiansen takes the gold: going from popular hunky jock dating the popular girl in school, to a slobby failure who nails drywall for a living and whose wife is pregnant with (he suspects) another man's kid. And he still thinks he can bed Romy since she had a crush on him back in high school—and this is despite the fact that the last time he saw Romy, he had publicly humiliated her for a laugh.
    • His wife Christie deserves a mention too. She carried on her spiteful Alpha Bitch ways 10 years beyond highschool, retaining her Girl Posse who copy her every move, so she never grew out of her teenage bullying - but the reunion reveals her life is a pathetic shell of her past glories. She's an unfulfilled housewife with an unhappy marriage to an unfaithful sleazy loser, her only outlet in life is having baby after baby (which she pretends to be thrilled about), she never got the career she wanted, and to add insult to injury, all the people she tormented in high school are happy and fulfilled, and the minion she used to boss around has a high flying career in fashion.
    Christie: You're just jealous. Because unlike a certain ball-busting dried up career woman, I might mention, we're all HAPPILY MARRIED!
    Lisa Luder: That's right, Christie. Keep telling yourself that.
  • In Central Intelligence, Calvin was king of the school and voted "Most Likely to Succeed." He grows up to be a mid-level accountant and considers his life a disappointment, though his (smoking hot) wife tries to assure him that he's doing pretty well (and is a little insulted to boot).
  • Vinnie (Nick Nolte's character) in Simpatico was a cocky Con Man with a hot girlfriend in his youth. Twenty or so years later, he's a pathetic drunk living in a dirty hovel and obsessing over videotapes of his glory years, or else stumbling around town telling Blatant Lies about being a private investigator in doomed attempts to get the locals to take him seriously.
  • In The World's End, Gary King, the self-professed king of his hometown, grew up into an aimless alcoholic whom his friends find irritating. Unusually for this trope, he's the protagonist of the film.
  • In I Am Number Four, Sam comments that Mark is in "the third year of the best four years of his life".
  • Young Adult: Former prom queen Mavis doesn't seem like a loser at first, she's got a nice job as a writer of Young Adult fiction and she has a nice condo in the city. But it's a total front; in actuality she's an alcoholic wreck constantly on the verge of being fired and secretly pines for high school, and those who see past the facade tend to pity her.
  • Neighbors: Teddy is well aware of the fact that he's on the road to becoming this.
  • Grosse Pointe Blank: Martin Blank's high school bully tries to reignite their bully-victim relationship at their 10 year reunion. Blank brushes him off and finds the attempt to be a pathetic indication of what the bully has going on in his life. Later, the bully returns and tries to read his sad, terrible poetry to Blank. There's a heavy ironical subtext; the bully seems to be trying, however half-assedly, to be a better person — it's implied he wrote his dreadful poetry as part of some sort of recovery program — despite all the mean things he did in high school. Meanwhile, Martin has been doing far worse things, for far longer, and is only now really beginning to question whether killing people for money is really the best he can do.
  • More of a "Future Jerk": In the Swedish time-travel movie "Flykten till Framtiden", Svante (the main character) helps his friend Bengt buy up properties in 1973 so he'll be rich in 2016 and can pay for Svante's life-saving heart surgery. Unfortunately Bengt becomes a total sellout (completely turning 180 on his former revolutionary/communist ideals) and reneges on the arrangement, even refusing to see Svante at all. It takes another trip back to convince Bengt to stick to the plan, which replaces the corporate empire with a medical research foundation.
  • Brad Wilson from Superman: The Movie is a Jerk Jock who bullied Clark in high school and rivaled him for Lana Lang's affections. By Superman III, he's now a pathetic drunk working a security job (which he's terrible at) who tries, and fails, to rekindle a relationship with Lana. Instead, she leaves for Metropolis after Clark gets her a job at the Daily Planet.
  • Beautiful Girls: Tommy, a former hockey star who was popular back in high school, now works a dead-end job as a snowplow driver and cheats on his girlfriend with the girl he used to date in high school, who's stuck in an unhappy marriage and is just as miserable as he is.

  • A Christmas Carol is all about this. Ebenezer Scrooge Used to Be a Sweet Kid until a number of hardships warped his soul and made him grow up to be a grouchy, reclusive miser hated and feared by nearly everybody. Scrooge's counterpart in the Bad Future is even more of a loser, as in addition to being dead, he's not looked at fondly by anyone: his servants are robbing his now-empty home, his debtors are celebrating his death, and his fellow businessmen are cracking wise at his expense and only contemplated attending his funeral for a free lunch.
  • The title character's liberal use of time travel to prevent this trope in his own life are what fuel the plot of William Sleator's The Green Futures of Tycho.
  • In Woken Furies, Takeshi Kovacs encounters an earlier Brain Uploading of himself; this sociopathic thug who'd just gotten out of the military (from his perspective) is not impressed that his future self isn't a Big Bad in the criminal underworld.
  • The John Grisham novel Bleachers has this end up with the former hot girl that the protagonist dumped his previous girlfriend for. It turns out that despite her being hot and desirable in high school, she now works in Vegas as a waitress at a brothel.
  • Ace, the town bully and criminal thug from Stephen King's The Body, is shown as a fat, pathetic shred of his former self as an adult when the main character returns to his hometown as an adult. This scene is not included in the movie version, Stand by Me.
  • In Ray Bradbury 's story The Utterly Perfect Murder, Douglas, a successful concert pianist, decides to seek out and kill Ralph, a school bully who had tormented him nearly half a century earlier. Douglas discovers that Ralph is now a pitiful, frail, and lonely old man living in near-poverty, and decides that the best revenge is to let Ralph continue with the rest of his miserable life.
  • In Nighttime Is My Time, Laura is on the verge of becoming this. She was considered one of the most beautiful and popular students at Stonecroft Academy, but twenty years on she's struggling both professionally and personally. She went through two divorces - the second of which was extremely messy - is rumored to have struggled with alcoholism, and the IRS is about to seize her house for unpaid taxes. Her acting career is tanking; her biggest role was starring as a ditzy blonde in a popular sitcom, which was cancelled a few years ago, and she's barely worked since; not only is she widely regarded as a one-note actress but she's also nearly forty - while she can pass for thirty it's pointed out she's still considered 'old' by Hollywood standards so there are less roles offered to her. Laura is still honored as a "distinguished alumna" at the reunion, though some think she's the least deserving.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Saved by the Bell:
    • Had the dream version happen to Slater (not a jerk, but definitely a jock), seeing himself as a beer-bellied drunk in a class reunion, forcing him to rethink his life and his "comfort zone" as a jock. It gets downplayed in the sequel series where despite maintaining his physique and being Bayside's football coach, he "supposedly" lives in his car, while all of his other friends have gone on to do bigger and better things, including his ex-girlfriend, Jessie, who's now the school's guidance counselor.
    • At one point, Screech even points out the trope in a tape intended for future students at Bayside.
      Screech: And remember, be nice to us nerds; in twenty years, we'll be the ones with all the money!
  • On Star Trek: The Next Generation Picard dies during an operation due to an old injury from an incident from his rebellious youth of counter-cheating in sports ending in a stab to the heart. Q offers him a second chance if he can avoid said incident by reliving that period of his life. After he succeeds, Q sends him back to the point in his life where the injury would have killed him only to discover that hes a Lieutenant Junior Grade (between Ensign and Lieutenant) instead of a famous starship captain. Q explains that the injury gave Picard a sense of his own mortality which, possibly unknown to Picard himself, motivated him to make his mark on the Universe. The alternate Picard never lived that experience, and as such drifted thought his career, never getting noticed by anyone. Picard then begs Q that he has learned his lesson, is given a second second chance, condemns himself to death after a worthy life... and awakens from his death to discover that Q was just jerking his chain again (or might have actually saved his life). With Q, you never know if it was really All Just a Dream or if he actually sent you back in time. He was almost certainly lying about being God, however.
  • Lindsay Lohan's character on Ugly Betty is a down-on-her-luck former Alpha Bitch whom Betty knew in High School.
  • Boy Meets World: Harley Keiner constantly harassed Cory in the beginning of the series. In the sequel series, Girl Meets World, which takes place when Cory and Topangas firstborn is in junior high, hes now working as a janitor at the very same school Cory teaches, a job that, ironically, Cory helped him get. A whole episode focused on this trope, on how getting your way with cruel words and brute force is not the best way to live, and might bite you back in your adult years.
  • Used with relish in nearly every episode of Cold Case, the usual example being the former High School Mean Girl who's been married twice and extremely bitter.
    • In the episode "Spiders", this is both played straight and subverted. A gorgeous blond girl who was devoted to a white supremacist leader, who was seen years later as overweight in the present; on the other hand, she's overcome her racism (admitting that she had done "stupid things") and has had children with a black man.
  • In "The Walk In" episode of Ghost Whisperer, the ghost is the former captain of a football team that after leaving High School became an utter loser— he dropped out of college after two years when he couldn't keep up, was unable to forge a solid relationship with any woman and switched from low-paid job for another each three or six months. Eventually he committed suicide a few days before a reunion of former students because he was too ashamed to attend... and it became even more pathetic when another ghost stole his body and decided to go to the party as a zombie. Yikes.
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • Robin's ex-boyfriend comes to town (played by James Van Der Beek). Instead of the teen heartthrob she remembers, he's balding and pot-bellied, still lives with his parents, and works a menial job. Good luck getting her to see that, though....
    • Robin herself used to be a (Canadian) rock star; shes now an early morning news reporter. She later ends up a reporter for 24 hour network WWN.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty", an angry middle-aged man named Gus finds himself transported back in time where he meets his child self. After an incident with a bully, Gus tries to get his past life together by convincing his younger self (who doesn't know hes his older self) to have a better relationship with his father (who died as he grew up). Gus then returns to his own time, and hails a cab whose driver happens to be one of the kids that used to bully him.
  • A similar case in Friends, where Formerly Fat Monica got a chance to date a bad boy she had known from high school who was a jerk to her. When she does date him, she realizes that hes immature, lives with his parents and never grew up from his high school days.
  • Jimmy and Christine, two of the main characters from Yes, Dear are this — very popular in high school, attended college but dropped out soon afterward, and, for the most of the series' run, lived (along with their children) in a guest house belonging to Christine's sister and her successful husband.
  • The short-lived My Generation had this as one of its premises. Ten years after the class of 2000 graduated their lives are not where they expected them to be.
    • The popular 'Overachiever' who once could not decide whether he would become a lawyer or a doctor, had to drop out of college when his father went to jail for fraud and they lost their money. He is now a bartender.
    • The nice 'Rich Kid' who was deeply in love with the 'Smart Girl' ended up taking over his father's business and married the 'Beauty Queen'. They live a shallow, unfulfilled existence. Their marriage looks awkward and forced and they seem desperate to recapture the passion they felt in high school.
  • Supernatural:
    • Sam returns to an old school where, after multiple encounters, he laid a beat down on the school bully. Years later, Sam discovers how lousy his life was and how after being beaten, he was bullied even worse, eventually dying from drug addiction. Sam feels guilty, although most wouldn't, as the bully made life for one student so hard that he committed suicide.
    • In "The End" Dean encounters a future Castiel who has been stripped of his powers, and is now a junkie, an alcoholic, and running a cult of the enlightenment-through-sex variety.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Seeing Red", Warren, after gaining incredible powers, runs into an old school bully and beats the crap out of him. It also provides insight into what made Warren so horrible ("Remember how I couldn't stop crying?")
  • Kurt predicts this in the second episode of Glee, when a bunch of jocks are about to toss him into a dumpster:
    Kurt: [glaring] Someday, you will all work for me.
  • Married... with Children:
    • Al Bundy, whose proudest moment in his life is scoring four touchdowns in a single game while in high school.
    • Played straight AND subverted with the Darcy's. Both Marcy and Steve have become fairly successful white collar workers in adulthood, but are shown several times as never having moved on from their loser-ish personalities from their high school years, they merely disguise them with a veneer of professionalism. Both are completely psychologically dominated by the various torments they endured as teenagers.
  • In an episode of 21 Jump Street Doug is bullied by a kid while undercover as a nerd prompting all the detectives to each tell a story of a bully they had when they were younger. Doug recalls painful memories of a bully who made his life hell throughout high school culminating in ruining his prom night with his dream girl when the bully drove off with her in Doug's new car the minute they arrive. Even though he's an adult now Doug can't get over it and decides to finally get some closure by going to where the bully now lives and punching him when he comes to the door. However when the guy opens the door he doesn't recognize him and Doug realizes he's become a poor and bitter loser, unhappily married to a nagging "cow". Doug leaves without taking his revenge on the guy, because life already did.
  • On Unforgettable, Carrie reluctantly goes to her high-school reunion since back in high school she was "Scary Carrie" and did not have any friends. The trope seems initially averted since most of her classmates have done well for themselves. The quarterback is a successful real estate developer and the class stoner actually became a rock star. However, the trope is played straight when she encounters the quarterback's popular best friend who touts himself as a successful family man but Carrie easily sees through the Blatant Lies. After the guy is murdered she discovers that he is divorced, completely broke and trying to blackmail one of his former classmates. As she digs deeper, she discovers that not all of her classmates had happy lives after graduation. She even exploits the trope by making it look like another classmate was also lying about his success and thus is a prime suspect. The killer then tries to frame the guy for the crime not realizing that it is a trap.
  • The Flash:
    • The Reverse Flash, a villain from the future, taunts Eddie Thawne by showing him that he lived his life without having accomplished anything major and failed to marry his girlfriend Iris West, to the point that he is considered a laughingstock by the future Thawne family, all of whom are successful businessmen, politicians, scientists, etc. This backfires in a big way. Eddie decides to kill himself to erase Reverse Flash from existence, as Eddie was his ancestor.
    • Eobard Thawne himself is an example. He was once a major Flash fanboy who suffered a breakdown due to time travel, and is a childish man out to kill the Flash for extremely petty reasons.
      • This is retconned later, although the reasons are no less petty. After gaining superspeed, he planned to unveil himself in a grand way to become the new Flash. But then Barry showed up, chasing a criminal into Thawne's time and saving the day, getting the accolades Thawne desired. So now Thawne can't forgive Barry for accidentally ruining his chance of becoming a famous hero.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia:
    • Dennis Reynolds was apparently very popular in high school, and went by "the Golden God," but even his sister claims he peaked there — nowadays, he tends a dive bar and mooches off his dad's money while hanging out with even bigger lowlives. Later subverted, when we see the gang go to a high school reunion, and nobody recognizes him. The actual former popular kids have to explain to Dennis that nobody but himself called him "the Golden God," and all he did in high school was call people his "minions" and then hang out under the bleachers with Mac and Charlie. Essentially, he just took the same warped perspective with which he views everyday life and applied it to his memories as well.
    • Bill Ponderosa is a more conventional case — in high school, he was fit, popular, and attractive. But in the present day, he's an obese Jerkass divorcee who spends his time alternating between various addictions.
  • Cobra Kai features a Perspective Flip of the The Karate Kid franchise with Johnny Lawrence from the Thug Dojo depicted as an out-of-luck, washed-up former teen karate star frequently drowning himself in alcohol. This is Played for Drama, with Johnny shown to have endured a rough family life and joined the Cobra Kai to get away from it, and resolves to get his life back on track by rebuilding his former dojo, mentoring several teenagers and even making (short-lived) amends with his former rival Daniel LaRusso, who is more successful than Johnny in middle age but has his own personal faults as well.
  • Stranger Things: Steve Harringtons situation in Season 3 both plays this straight and also deconstructs this trope: Hes working at Scoops Ahoy due to not being able to get into any of the colleges he applied at. But hes still very handsome and Adorkable....But almost everyone else in his life sees him as this trope, from his dad to the girls who he used to go to school with. It leaves him with self esteem issues at the beginning of the season.
  • An episode of the 1998 revival of Fantasy Island has a semi-successful journalist come to the island regretting not being more successful as a pro football player and not getting the popular girl he was pining over in high school. Mr. Roark switches him with the star quarterback on the high school football team, and the now-teen experiences short-lived glory and the girl's attention. Then the events fast-forward to modern times with the guy coming to his high school reunion in the same football jersey. He acts like a bigshot, only for everyone else to look at him like a loser. It turns out that he suffered a career-ending injury during his first pro game and now works as a retail clerk, living in a mobile home with his wife (the former popular girl), who resents him. And, apparently, he also has trouble getting it up (yet another point of contention between them). Naturally, he learns his lesson and goes back to that night in high school as himself, telling the quarterback that he intends to make sure that the other teen goes to college.
  • Paper Girls: A huge row happens between Erin and her future self on how Erin sees Future!Erin this way as she's a single, childless paralegal in her forties, when Erin wanted to be in the US Senate and have four kids. Her sister Missy is more the way she'd hoped to be, with a husband, kids and better job. She vows to never become her. Future!Erin scoffs that she's already on the way as Erin quit her paper route after one day.

  • In Gorillaz, Murdoc Niccals used to be bullied by a large boy named Tony Chopper (no, not that one!) when they were kids. Eventually, Murdoc learned to fight back with words and from then on, he had no trouble. Tony Chopper now works at a grocery store and regrets being mean to Murdoc because of his present world-wide rock star fame.
  • Toby Keith's "How Do You Like Me Now?" plays with this trope, as he's grown up to be a famous musician while the girl he idolized in high school who never gave him the time of day and married mostly for money is unhappy with her adult life. The video drives it home even harder than the song alone (although the condition of her outfit and hair indicates a downplayed trope).
  • The protagonist of John Mayer's No Such Thing just can't wait to confront the Future Losers with his anticipated success.
  • In Avril Lavigne's Sk8er Boi, the main character was popular in high school but five years down the line is a lonely single mother, while the boy she rejected for being too "punk" is now a world-famous rock star who's apparently dating the singer.
  • Lily Allen's 22 is about a woman whose future looked promising when she was 22; but by the time she's pushing 30, she is miserable, stuck in a dead-end job and desperate for a boyfriend. The video plays with this by showing Allen in the toilets at a nightclub, with her haggard-looking older self reflected back at her from the mirror.
  • One of the Glee cast's original songs, "Loser Like Me" is about how the Glee kids, who are considered losers now, will become successful in the future, while the bullies won't. Finn's verse fits this trope especially well:
    Finn: Push me up against the locker
    And hey, all I do is shake it off,
    I'll get you back when I'm your boss.
    I'm not thinkin' 'bout you haters,
    'cause hey, I could be a superstar!
    I'll see you when you wash my car.
  • In Abney Park's "Letters Between a Little Boy and Himself as an Adult" a child corresponds with his future self via something called a "Chronofax" and is disappointed to learn he becomes a bitter, cynical office drone. On the bright side the ending implies that the letters inspired his adult self to quit his dead-end job and try something new.
  • Cee Lo Green's song "Fuck You" is about a girl, implied to be popular, who the singer had a crush on when he was young, and was spurned because he was a dork. The music video for the song takes place over several decades, showing his attempts to impress her and her laughing at him. The last part of the video has him as an adult, now becoming The Casanova. He drives past her in a flashy car, while she sweeps up outside the diner he used to see her at.
  • Paramore's "Ain't It Fun?" is about a popular kid who has to adjust to the hard life of adult life without their school-age popularity.
  • "Prom Queen" by Molly Kate Kestner is about how the most popular girl in school is actually a sad Stepford Smiler. When she grows up she'll likely be an older man's Trophy Wife and a shadow of her former self.
  • Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" is about the singer meeting old friends from high school who have not lived up to their early promise and just reminisce about their glory days all the time.

  • Biff in Death of a Salesman. He was a the all-start football player with a football scholarship to a good university, "built like Adonis", and his father believed Biff would be a successful salesman because he was well liked, while his bookish neighbor Bernard would not be successful because he wasn't as gorgeous or popular. Instead, Bernard ended up a successful lawyer, and Biff became a farm hand out west who made next to no money. Unlike his father, Biff is sufficiently self-aware to belatedly recognize that he's on a path to nowhere.
    • An important part of the play is that Biff could have had a successful life as well if he did not sabotage his future as an overreaction to finding out what a Jerkass his father was. He could have still flamed out later in life but he never even tried.
    • Willy is a non-school example. In the beginning he treated Charlie and Bernard with disdain but in the end they ended up highly successful and Willy ended up broke with two sons who turned out to be complete failures.
  • Less harsh example in form of Jim O'Connor in The Glass Menagerie—a successful high school football player now stuck in a dead end job as a clerk at a shoe factory. He's a nice guy and he is trying to get out of the rut but he seems to be going nowhere fast, though. Plus, he winds up being an Innocently Insensitive jerk to Laura towards the end of the play. Though in his defense, it probably wouldn't have happened if he knew he was being set up on a blind date.

    Visual Novels 
  • Eventually defied by the protagonist of Double Homework, who either starts a business, gets a decent job, or goes to college. This depends on the epilogue (he even gets engaged if he chooses Lauren).

    Web Comics 
  • In Sluggy Freelance some information from the future convinces Torg that he goes on to become a world famous professor. Turns out he actually plays the Professor in a theatrical rendition of Gilligan's Island that a demon forces people to watch as a form of torture. Riff just didn't have the heart to tell him the truth.
  • Subverted in Least I Could Do, Rayne is actually rather happy with the future that is shown him.
  • In Peter Parker: Foreign Exchange Student, Peter is dismayed at his older counterpart from Amazing Fantasy, who is homeless, divorced, and overweight. He says that meeting him is like "the Ghost of Christmas Future but so much worse!"

    Web Original 
  • In the Whateley Universe, Phase calls out a group of Alpha flunkies, telling them that they've attached themselves to a group of thugs and losers who'll be nothing in a few years, and that their future prospects aren't looking good: all the devisers and gadgeteers will have filed for patents and thus become rich; the Capes will have real superhero jobs; and the Golden Kids will inherit their parents' wealth and go into their businesses. He tells the flunkies to start seriously reconsidering their lives, because their future prospects are very grim. None of them really have a response.

    Web Videos 
  • Atop the Fourth Wall: When Linkara is briefly hurled into the year 2039, he discovers that his future self still lives in his parents' house, still hasn't published issue 3 of his comic, and doesn't even have his trademark brown fedora anymore. Seeing this, Linkara resolves to buckle down and change his life for the better. After he returns to the present and the Delayed Ripple Effect kicks in, Future Linkara is exactly the same as he was before — except now he has his hat back. For extra amusement, the Future Linkara was played by his father.

    Western Animation 
  • Extremely sad version in Adventure Time. Simon Petrikov was a certified badass when he was human, but centuries of being mentally warped by an Artifact of Doom have left him a pathetic, crazy old man who barely even knows how to function anymore. It's pretty obviously meant to parallel the effects of dementia. Which makes for a pair of relatively heart breaking episodes where its revealed (and then flashed back to) how he basically had an adopted daughter, Marceline, but doesn't remember their time together because he sacrificed his sanity bit by bit using the Artifact of Doom to keep her safe.
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: Carl accidentally screws up the future by giving the local Jive Turkey a megalomania complex. When Jimmy, Carl and Sheen travel to the future and find out, they find that Carl's a convicted felon, Sheen's a garbage diver, and Jimmy's become a dumbed-down idiot who has to constantly do work on his mother-in-law's feet (as he'd married Cindy), instead of the ridiculously successful future selves that they should have turned into.
  • American Dad!: Snot is already a loser but his visiting future self in "The Unincludeds" (who was originally successful until their bully went back to Make Wrong What Once Went Right) gets progressively worse as a loser starting with Steve indirectly doing cool things with the party guests and going From Bad to Worse whenever Snot tries to make sure he becomes just as cool. Somehow, this reaches a point where his future self becomes a turtle mutant.
  • Quoted above is Dash Baxter, from Danny Phantom, a popular Jerk Jock who shows a surprising amount of self-awareness. He perfectly knows that high school is the peak of his life and that it will go downhill from here. Which is why he terrorizes nerds (especially Danny) as hard as he does — he wants to get his kicks in while he still can.
    Dash: These are the best years of my life! After high school its all down hill for me! How am I supposed to enjoy my glory days eating mud?
  • The Made-for-TV Movie Dexter's Laboratory: Ego Trip has Dexter traveling to the future, and discovering he became a craven man who is also submissive to his former rival/current boss Mandark. Although as the duo travels forward in time, a Future Badass Dexter recalls it happened because Mandark gained power in their company by stealing Dexter's ideas.
  • The Fairly OddParents!:
    • Luthor Lex, a fairy that bullied Cosmo. He was a jock and ended up being a ballet dancer.
    • Timmy actually causes Crocker to become the nerd version of this, and turn into an Agent Mulder who's fairy-obsessed. Cosmo was going to be the one to mess up Crocker's life, but Timmy ended up doing it anyway.
    • The very first episode of the series, not counting the pilot shorts, portrayed Timmy himself as this when he wished to become a grown-up. Not only does he become bald, fat and middle-aged rather than the cool, muscular adult he imagined growing up into, every attempt at living his idealized adult life backfires, to the point where he ends up in jail. Though as Channel Chasers revealed, in his actual adulthood, Timmy actually resembles his ideal self quite a bit, not to mention he is now Happily Married with two kids, so it's possible his Future Loser self was a result of not growing up naturally, since he still had the mind of a child and never matured properly.
  • A non-jock example: Stewie, in the Family Guy episode "Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story", is 35 years old and still a virgin, lives in a dirty run-down apartment, and actually cried after having sex for the first time with his "girlfriend". His future loser self became that way because his near-death experience in the present caused him to be adverse to taking risks in life, basically making him afraid of doing anything that could be risky no matter how small. Stewie resolves to get over the problem by going back in time and preventing the near-death experience so that he won't become the loser he witnessed.
  • Jerk Jock Brick Flagg from Kim Possible really let himself go during the time-traveling movie A Sitch in Time. But that future got reset'd away. For the record, he wasn't exactly a jerk, just a little more foolhardy than even Ron Stoppable. A Post-Script Season episode proves that after going to college (after trying for seven years), his future apparently might be looking good.
  • Bill Dauterive from King of the Hill. He was once a tall, muscular athlete with long, flowing hair and was popular with both the guys and the girls. However, getting cheated on and dumped by his wife Lenore pretty much destroyed his self-esteem, turning poor Bill into a fat, balding sad sack. A few episodes show that his rut is self-inflicted, and he could get out of it if he only had the willpower to stick with it. It didn't help that Bill was unknowingly part of a Government Conspiracy to turn soldiers into Arctic commandos to repel a potential Soviet invasion across the Arctic Circle (known as Operation: Infinite Walrus), which turned him into the man he is now (though it turns out Bill was the control group, meaning his current state is self-inflicted, though Dale doesn't bother telling him this until after Bill got drunk and stole a tank from his army base.).
  • Looney Tunes, "The Old Grey Hare": Even in the year 2000 Elmer Fudd is still easily fooled by Bugs Bunny.
  • The Looney Tunes Show:
    • Averted in the Class Reunion episode with Daffy Duck. At first, he remembers himself in high school as the Big Man on Campus, and believes that he has fallen from his pedestal since then. But in a twist, its revealed that he was actually the least popular guy in school, and his memories of super-popularity were fabricated by himself to block out the trauma. Hes just as much as a loser now as he was back then.
    • Played straight with Porky Pig, as seen in the trope image. In high school, he was the Big Man on Campus Jerk Jock who picked on dorky Daffy. Fast-forward fifteen or twenty years later, hes now an average Joe Extreme Doormat who is constantly manipulated and taken advantage of by Daffy.
  • My Life as a Teenage Robot: Towards the end of the episode "The Price of Love", popular kids Brit, Tiff, Pteresa, and Sebastian are seen walking past Sheldon's house. Pteresa exclaims that popular people always win in the end. Cut to twenty years later, where Pteresa, her future son with Sebastian, Brit, and Tiff are going to bail Sebastian out of jail (again). Pteresa, Brit, and Tiff are now ugly, with Pteresa wearing oversized glasses and curlers, Brit being obese, and Tiff missing half her hair. The Crust Cousins tell Pteresa that she should have married Sheldon, who is apparently now a billionaire.
  • Sabrina: The Animated Series:
    • Inverted in the episode "Generation Hex", where all-around Rich Bitch Gem Stone grows up to be the head of a corporation while Sabrina is her lackey who had to sell her magic powers as part of a merger. Played straight in the same episode with Pi, Harvey, and Salem the cat. Pi becomes a monorail driver whose monorails are outdated, Harvey gets a job curling pigtails (on real pigs) after failing the entrance exam to his dream school (a hospital-cum-law school where the students study to be doctor-lawyers), and Salem is still a cat (due to an incident in which he used the Witches' Council's favorite golf course as a public toilet after Sabrina spent all of his kitty litter allowance money), only he's now homeless and walking dogs to pay off his debts.
    • There was also a Christmas Carol style episode in which Sabrina tried to get Gem to reform her selfish ways by showing Gem's future. Gem ends up dying unloved and alone, with her servant actually kicking Gem's tomb and cheering in glee. Subverted in that present Gem couldn't see the problem with this.
  • The Simpsons: Every future episode has Bart (who is a popular class clown and skater boy archetype in the present) as an aimless but upbeat Future Loser. In "Lisa's Wedding" (which looks furthest into the futurenote ), Bart works as a wrecking ball operator and also in a car junkyard, is divorced two times, and hits Moe's tavern and strip clubs. Though he also plans to go to law school later, which honestly sounds delusional. This could have also been a Continuity Nod to the episode "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie" which ended with a Flash Forward that revealed that Bart will eventually become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Another future episode had Lisa as the President of USA, so she could have appointed Bart... According to an episode, the Simpsons are plagued with a "Simpson's Gene" that doom the men of the family to become pathetic losers in the future (though it doesn't stop the show from depicting Bart as crafty). In the episode "Holidays Of Future Passed", Bart lives in a slum, is barely able to hold down a minimum wage job, and following a bitter divorce his sons heavily imply that they would rather spend Christmas with their mom and new stepfather than him.
  • South Park:
    • There's an episode where Stan meets his future self: a lazy stoner who is going nowhere in life. They're forced to live together to the tune of a fake sitcom theme. Then it turns out that some of the other kids met their future selves too, and they're all lazy stoners who are going nowhere in life. These turn out to be actors hired by the kids' parents to scare them away from doing drugs. Inverted at the end of the episode, when Cartman says that he learned An Aesop from the experience, and resolves to turn his life around, lose weight, and be nicer to people. He is then approached by a handsome man in a nice suit, who claims to be Cartman's future self, and congratulates Cartman on making this positive decision, because this was the moment that set him down the path to becoming the rich and successful owner of his own time travel business. Cartman assumes that this is just another actor and tells him that he now resolves to act even worse than he did before, just to spite him. After he leaves, the businessman turns into a fat mechanic. Turns out he really was Cartman's future self after all.
    • The Post-COVID special shows Stan as a 50-year old alcoholic loner whose wife is a sentient Amazon Alexa that he's constantly having fights with. This is in contrast with the other kids who have all grown up to be largely functional adults.
    • In "Return of Covid", Eric Cartman has become one in the revised timeline as he ends up a homeless alcoholic bum who shouts obscenities at people. Even Stan and Kyle feel bad for him, but (understandably) not Butters.
      Butters: (to Stan and Kyle) Now come on, fellas. We can't spend another holiday feeling bad for Eric. There's nothing that could have changed the path he was on.
  • In the Teen Titans (2003) episode "How Long Is Forever?", Starfire is sent into a future timeline, so she ceases to exist for 20 years. Cyborg is broken down and forced to stay connected to the Titan Tower's power grid, Raven is institutionalized, Beast Boy is a balding, paunchy circus attraction, and Robin has become Nightwing, and now works alone. Though with his all-black suit, gruffer voice, and long hair, Robin's unquestionably a Future Badass.
  • Inverted and Played for Laughs in Teen Titans Go!: Beast Boy and Cyborg have a ten-year staring contest, after which they discover (to their horror) that all of the other Teen Titans have gone onto bigger and better things (Robin became Nightwing and married Batgirl, Starfire became queen of her home planet, and Raven ascended to godhood). They build a time machine and change things to a Bad Future instead.
  • The Venture Bros.:
    • This is the defining character trait of Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture, the former naive Tagalong Kid for his super-scientist Gentleman Adventurer father (much like one Jonny Quest) who grew up into a bitter fraud trying to fill his dad's shoes while exploiting his legacy — badly. It's revealed later that many of Rusty's hang-ups can be traced back to the horrible lifestyle his father forced him to lead, and the expectations others placed upon him.
    • Subverted by sorta-brother Jonas Venture Jr... Well, he would possibly be a subversion, as he is ridiculously successful; but being as he didn't even EXIST for a significant period of time, a case could be made that he's just Like Father, Like Son and not a subversion.
    • In a later episode, Orpheus' Master implies that this is what Dean will inevitably become if he and Triana Orpheus get together (at least at that point in their lives), though Clone Degeneration would also play a role. Then again he might also be messing with her like he does with her father. They might fare better if they got together later (after they both grow up some), but Dean may have totally blown that in the following season finale.


Video Example(s):


Romy reunites with Billy

Billy Christianson, a once-popular jock and the object of Romyâs affections is now a drunk, slobbery loser trapped in an unfaithful marriage with Chrissy and works at a dead-end job at her fatherâs construction company. He then tries to seduce Romy, and she pranks him in a similar way he did to her during prom.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / FutureLoser

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