There is a moment where a hero, such as a soldier of an elite commando force, barely escapes a high security headquarters with the help of fellow prisoners who have risked everything to help him escape, and now have to be left behind.
However, the hero tells them just before he leaves something along the lines of, "Don't despair, because I'll be back for you all." After considerable struggle, the hero returns to his headquarters and has more adventures until he has convinced his superiors to attack the enemy's base.
So, the soldier's unit returns to the villain's hideout in force and suddenly the prisoners hear the explosions and realize the soldier has returned as promised, and he's brought an army to liberate them!
The trope name comes from General Douglas MacArthur's catch phrase after he fled the Philippines in 1942note when the Japanese invaded, vowing that he would come back in force to liberate the nation, which he did two years later during the Battle of Leyte with a hearty, "I have returned!"
- In The Giver, Jonas promises that he'd return to the Community and Fiona. note
- Speed: At the airport, Jack manages to convince Payne to let him off the bus to arrange the ransom. The other passengers are obviously unenthusiastic at being left behind, but Jack answers "Don't worry, I won't go far." A few minutes later, the hostages look in amazement to see Jack, a cop with apparently no fear, in front of them being towed on a service cart to attempt to disarm the bomb while the bus is in motion.
- In the opening of Solo, Han's Love Interest Qi'ra is captured as they're on the verge of escaping from Corellia. He swears he will return for her as she's dragged off, even joining the Imperial military to become a pilot. After deserting and hooking up with a Caper Crew to get enough money for a spaceship so he can return to Corella to keep his promise, he's surprised to encounter Qi'ra sooner than he expects, working as a lieutenant in the criminal organisation that employs them. Han doesn't listen when it's pointed out that Qi'ra may not be the same innocent girl he once knew.
- Logan. When Wolverine sees a line of Mexican police and Transigen SUV's coming for them, he grabs Xavier and hustles him into the limousine, as Xavier is now a wanted man. Xavier shouts to Laura that they'll come back for her, but Wolverine doesn't have the slightest intention of doing so — until he discovers that she's also a mutant (with the exact same powers as him, to boot), whereupon he realises that this is his problem as well.
- Happens over the course of the X-Wing Series. When Corran Horn is held captive in the Empire's most notorious prison, Lusankya, he befriends the old leader of the other prisoners, a man named Jan. Though Jan saves Corran's life during his escape attempt, Jan elects to stay behind and look after the others. Problem is, once Corran does come back with his squadron to free the rest of the prisoners, he discovers that the Empire had already relocated them to an unknown location - and that Jan was the legendary Rebel general at the Battle of Yavin, Jan Dodonna. It takes Corran years (thanks to distractions such as Warlord Zsinj and Grand Admiral Thrawn) to make good on his promise, a task that involves faked deaths, alliances with old enemies, and an obsessive clone.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- In "Call to Arms", Sisko tells the people of DS9, "I will not rest until I stand with you again," before leaving to fight the Dominion. He also leaves his baseball behind to let Dukat know this too. The writers have admitted it was an allusion to Douglas MacArthur.
- In the finale, "What You Leave Behind", after ascending to the Prophets' plane of existence, Sisko tells Kasidy, his newlywed wife that he'll return soon. And just like last time, he leaves his baseball behind as proof.
- Blake's 7
- At the end of the first episode, a guard on the deportation ship warns his prisoners to take a last look at Earth — it's the last time they'll ever see it. Blake replies, "No, I'm coming back," with a manner that suggests he's just going on holiday. (He does indeed return, but in a subversion his efforts don't result in victory.)
- At the end of "Shadow", Blake encourages someone to form La Résistance on that particular world, saying he'll return in three years and "I expect you to be able to help me."
- Arrow. In the Season 2 flashbacks, Oliver Queen escapes from the Amazo, the freighter used for Dr. Ivo's Mad Science experiments, and promises to return for the other people held captive there. Months later he gets captured in a Play-Along Prisoner ploy and dumped back in his old cell.
Oliver: I told you I'd come back.Anatoli: Fantastic. We're saved.
- Hiroshi Tanahashi at the end of the Ring of Honor-New Japan War Of The Worlds event after he and Jushin Thunder Liger ran off Adam Cole, who was even then taking every chance he got to ruin Michael Elgin's life. The New Japan wrestler who would pursue Cole ended up being Tanahashi's usual enemy AJ Styles though. Tanahashi was back next year to test Elgin, who wanted a spot on the NJPW roster.
- Protoss Dragoons from StarCraft say "I have returned" when arriving on the battlefield. (Although they aren't returning from an absence, per se...) Their counterparts in the sequels, Immortals, prefer "I return to serve", whereas their Shadow Archetype, the Stalker, says "I am here in the shadows" instead. In all cases, they're quite proud to have their role of fire support from beyond the grave.
- This is the entire premise of Mass Effect 3. After the Reapers invade Earth, Shepard has no choice but to leave and assemble an army large enough to stand against the threat, leaving Captain Anderson behind—though he stays voluntarily. When Shepard comes back, there unfortunately isn't much left to save.
- In G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Five-Episode Pilot "The M.A.S.S. Device", Duke made this promise to a woman who helped him escape and he came back with an assault force.
- World's Greatest Superfriends: Superman was trapped in the "Universe of Evil" and just got some vital help from a scientist who asks him to come back one day and free her world. Superman responds, "You can count on it!" The episode ends with the Superfriends' preparation to invade.
- After the failed invasion of the Fire Nation in Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang gives a brief speech along these lines to the soldiers that are forced to surrender before escaping on Appa. Sokka furthermore promises his father that "we won't be apart for too long this time."
- In Robbie the Reindeer Legend of the Lost Tribe, Robbie vows this as he escapes from Blitzen's prison.
- Parodied in the Chuck Jones short, From A to Z-Z-Z-Z, where the main character, Ralph Philipps quotes the Trope Namer, as he promises to return for school the next day.