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"It is the episode of any given TV show long past when they've jumped the shark, and they go, 'Well, let's do the It's a Wonderful Life episode!'"
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After the movie It's a Wonderful Life, a device whereby an external force (usually supernatural) intervenes in a time of crisis to show the character facing said crisis a Flash Sideways of how things would have been had one key part of the past gone down differently. Most often, the change is that the character in question had never been born. May occur as part of a Near-Death Experience, or following Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter. Episodes with this plot usually take place around Christmas time, because It's a Wonderful Life takes place around Christmas. If a show hasn't done a Yet Another Christmas Carol episode yet (or if they have already done so), they'll be doing this one.

Usually the character learns that everyone they know would be worse off without them. The most common subversion is that everybody's life is better. The world is usually governed by the Butterfly of Doom; regardless of how minor the change, there is rarely a middle ground or a world which is only slightly different, to the extent that the character's absence, no matter how seemingly insignificant or small, will result in a complete Crapsack World in which there is little hope whatsoever. Also closely related to Necessary Fail.

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This may be a Dead Horse Trope. Nearly half the examples below are subversions of some sort, most commonly the above subversion used for parodic effect.

A Sub-Trope of Whole Plot Reference (so anything less than the plot is merely a Shout-Out).

Requires a Ripple Effect-Proof Memory.

Compare For Want of a Nail. Sister trope to Yet Another Christmas Carol, "Gift of the Magi" Plot, Christmas Every Day, and How the Character Stole Christmas. Also compare Judgement of the Dead, which may involve a similar accounting of the character's deeds, but going back to change things isn't on the table. Contrast Suicide for Others' Happiness.

And here and here is a re-creation of It's a Wonderful Life using clips from TV episodes that referenced It's a Wonderful Life.

May or may not be related to It's a Wonderful Failure.

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    Anime and Manga 
  • The final episode of Serial Experiments Lain shows a world in which Lain does not exist (in contrast to scenes from the first episode, before all the weirdness)... and then the viewer realizes that this is not a mere possibility, but a reality Lain created by erasing herself from existence. Although she did leave her BFF Alice with a tiny figment of memory of her, only large enough to make her wonder for a second if she has seen Lain before.
  • The fourth Haruhi Suzumiya novel and The Movie, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, is one long Wonderful Life story for Kyon, except he didn't actually ask for it, he's not the one being retgonned, and the "angel" responsible is affected by the changes as well... It does happen around Christmas, though.
  • Played straight for a sequence in the final episode of Kimagure Orange Road, where Kyousuke steps into a world where he never existed: Madoka would've stayed as a ostracized delinquent, Manami and Kurumi would've been total bratty half pints, Yuusaku would've been a delinquent too and Hikaru would be his girlfriend...
  • Rika in Higurashi: When They Cry's "Saikoroshi-hen" wakes up in a new world after a Near-Death Experience, in which none of the tragedies involving Oyashiro's curse happened. Her parents are alive, Satoko's parents are alive, Satoshi is still around, and Rena's parents never divorced. However, as a result, Keiichi never came to Hinamizawa, Satoko and her other classmates bully Rika, Hanyuu is absent, and the town will soon be flooded due to the dam project never being stopped.
  • The Big Bad of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure part 6 uses this as the basis for his plan; he plans to create a world where the Joestar family never existed and Dio reigns supreme.
  • The End of Evangelion had a characteristically disturbing variant of such a scene filmed in live-action, but it was ultimately cut (it can still be found floating around the Internet). In it, Shinji witnesses a world in which Misato, Rei and Asuka (who is inexplicably sleeping with Toji) go about their lives without ever having known Shinji. Here they all lead bleak, aimless existences, are almost suicidally depressed and take some time to share their incredibly cynical philosophies on life and love. Shinji eventually recognizes that this is not reality (just like the unrealistically happy high-school romance anime alternate universe of episode 26). It's not entirely clear whether the audience was meant to infer a Wonderful Life-esque lesson about how their mere existence can impact the lives of those around them, or just be depressed and disturbed.
  • Count D in Pet Shop of Horrors shows Leon what would have happened if he, and not his childhood friend, would have grown up to become a bank robber, slowly stripping away everything that makes his life worthwhile. Spoiler: The exact same thing as happened with his friend is what, granting Leon's wish of wanting to understand why his Childhood Friend shot himself rather than shoot Leon AND his wish to have died in his place. Count D doesn't take kindly to that kind of shit.
  • Cardcaptor Sakura has an odd variation: during the climax of the first half, Yue shows Sakura a future where she'd still exist, but it'd be as though she had never existed, not even to her closest family, just to show her what's at stake for the final judgment.
  • In Yo Kai Watch, this is the modus operandi of the sinister Yo-Kai duo Kin and Gin. They invoke this by sending Nate's closest Yo-Kai friends back in time before he met them.
    • In "Jibanyan's Secret", when Nate gets annoyed with Whisper and Jibanyan exercising, he and Jibanyan have an argument which ends with Nate kicking him out. After some convincing from Whisper, they go search for Jibanyan. Little do they know, Kin and Gin send Jibanyan back to the last day of his life as an ordinary house cat, reuniting him with Amy. In the past, Amy's mother becomes verbally abusive due to Dismerelda's presence, and Jibanyan, as Rudy, realizes that Amy did care deeply about him. But it turns out that a race of grim reapers planned to kill Amy for whatever reason, with the very truck that took Rudy's life. In the end, Jibanyan chooses his fate and realizes that Amy actually called herself lame.
    • They return in "Whisper's Secret Past", sending Whisper and Jibanyan back to medieval Japan. In that time, Jibanyan is a normal cat, while Whisper relives his days as Nonuttin, a Yo-Kai who constantly inspirits Naoto (who is very likely to be an ancestor of Nate) to blabber about something that may or may not be true. Several time warps later, Nonuttin finds himself as an advisor to a powerful shogun as a war is about to begin, and he later becomes his tactician Whispocrates. But some of the shogun's allies turn on him, which could lead to his inevitable death. In the end, Whisper confesses to the shogun of him being full of hot air, and the shogun is touched by this as he asks Whisper to help him one last time.

    Comic Books 
  • This was done in the french comic book "Si seulement" written by Rodolphe. A writer whose name is Joe Horton finds himself in different realities after he discovered a mysterious room in his basement with five doors (one for each reality) . In the first part of the scenario, he never saved his sister from an enraged dog, thus killing her and becoming a singer. As a result, his wife does not recognize him and his son does not exist. In the second part, his cowardice was worse as he never stood up for his girlfriend and failed to protect her from being bullied and raped by a group of thugs. He ended up as a cafe owner, married to an unfaithful woman who abused him with her lover. In the third part, he was incarcerated due to a fire he created at a neighbor's farm, thus killing a horse. He became a corrupt politician. It was better that the fourth part, when he died while trying to save his sister, which allowed her to become a famous painter. In the final part, he was also put in jail and became a sadistic person, murdering children . He finally finds his old life back, coming to the conclusion that he has a wonderful existence.
  • J. Michael Straczynski's new run of Wonder Woman, "Wonder Woman: Odyssey", is "It's a Wonderful Plot". It's surprisingly still fresh ground for comic books. In it, Wonder Woman finds herself in a parallel timeline where Paradise Island was destroyed when she was a child and she was smuggled to Man's World as a baby and raised in the streets and alleys by the few surviving Amazons. Slightly subverted, as instead of just witnessing "the world without Wonder Woman", she'll be living it, and fighting to regain her old status (thereby repairing the timeline).
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
    • Don Rosa did a story about Donald Duck, "The Duck Who Never Was", based on this trope to celebrate his 60th birthday. Donald, who's been feeling down on his luck even for him, spends his birthday trying to get a job at a museum; he's immediately laid off for exceeding the retirement age due to a nearsighted curator misreading his application. As he leaves, he bumps into an urn and releases the "birthday genie," a powerful spirit that grant one wish to a person if that person releases him on their birthday. Donald gets upset and wishes that he'd never been born, and the birthday genie grants his request—and Duckburg instantly transforms into a miserable, graffiti-riddled hellhole. Nearly everyone Donald knows is worse off. Because Donald didn't get kidnapped by a talking wolf, Gyro Gearloose accidentally blasted himself with his own intelligence-reducing ray, robbing him of his inventing skills and forcing him to become a miserable farmer. He bought said farm from Grandma Duck, who had to give up the property because Gus never came to work for her. Instead, Grandma works as Daisy's secretary; Daisy herself has become a successful romance novelist, but she only writes her books to make up for her horrible loveless life, and spends all of her time shut away in Scrooge's (former) Money Bin, which she's turned into her printing plant, hating the world and drinking heavily (the latter is implied through some empty bottles she throws at Donald). Gus, meanwhile, is a skinny, broke loser living on the streets—without Donald to become Scrooge's heir, the billionaire was forced to hire Gus, who lost the legendary Number One Dime to Magica DeSpell on his first day on the job. This broke Scrooge's spirit and led him to lose everything to Flintheart Glomgold, who's slowly draining Duckburg of its resources through a combination of naturally large taxes (which the Duck family once paid) and outsourcing to Africa. The only person who's still rich and successful (much to Donald's chagrin) is the impossibly lucky Gladstone Gander, who continues to win sweepstakes and prizes on an hourly basis—the trouble is that Huey, Dewey, and Louie had to go to live with him without Donald to care for them. As a result of Gladstone's lazy attitudes, overindulgence, and philosophy of Hard Work Hardly Works, the boys have become massively obese couch potatoes who think that any sort of movement besides eating takes too much effort. Finally, the Beagle Boys, who lost their motivation for robbery when Scrooge went broke, have become dirty cops in the extreme, and one brother is even the mayor. Donald rushes back to the museum and begs for the birthday genie to reverse the spell; he does so, and the now-enlightened duck returns home to find a surprise party waiting for him.
    • There was another Donald story with a similar premise, but only in the loosest of terms. For one thing, the story takes the Good Angel, Bad Angel trope and turns it Up to Eleven, with the two actually being depicted as (magical?) creatures living in Donald's brain. The bad angel, fed up with how the good angel seems to always influence Donald, beats him up and ties him into a closet, then disguises himself as the good angel. What does this have to do with this trope? Well, the angels' recent conflicts inside Donald's brain have resulted in Donald demonstrating bipolar disorder-like behavior, so all his friends and family (plus Gladstone) hold a meeting which Donald eavesdrops on and thinks is about how much he sucks as a person. Furious, he wishes that he was never born, and the bad angel (disguised as the good angel) shows him what life would be like without him... and everybody's happier (i.e. Daisy is Happily Married to Gladstone, Huey, Dewey and Louie are in Scrooge's custody). Just as this little tour ends, the good angel breaks free, beats up the bad angel in return, and shows Donald what would really result (Daisy leads an empty life married to Gladstone; Gladstone thinks that Daisy is way too controlling; Scrooge is contemplating putting Huey, Dewey, and Louie in juvenile hall, etc.). And before you ask, no, this was not a fanfiction.
    • Huey, Dewey and Louie are preparing dinner for New Year's Eve in a geriatric care home using money provided by the Junior Woodchucks. They send Donald with the money to buy food, but he loses the purse. Donald decides Duckburg would be better off without him and seems to prepare to commit suicide, but is interrupted by his guardian angel (not the angel from the previous story, by the way). The guardian angel shows him how a new year's eve in Duckburg would be without him: Huey, Dewey and Louie live in an orphanage, are constantly bullied by their peers and are unable to celebrate new year's eve in peace. Daisy is dating Gladstone (again), but is unhappy with how Gladstone takes her to a horse racetrack rather than a restaurant and feels Gladstone doesn't really care about her. Scrooge has no friends or family and when he decides to invite his staff to a dinner party, he finds that none of them is willing to spend more time than necessary with him.
    • And another time (Donald Duck comics will ruminate any trope to infinity) there was an inversion where Donald made the wish that he were alone without all his friends who were annoying him. No points for guessing he didn't like it when the wish came true, though there was more to the plot than that.
    • And one more: Donald gets to see what Duckburg would be with his hypothetical twin brother existing instead of him. Since the twin is randomly a clichéd Big Brother Is Watching dictator, this makes him feel better about being who he is. It's like the story changes clichés mid-swing.
  • The Mickey Mouse Comic Universe has "It's a Wonderful Christmas Story", which surprisingly only spends one page (of fourteen) on this trope as presented by Santa Claus. In short, Chief O'Hara had to resign after failing to capture the Blot and now directs traffic while Casey took over as the chief. Goofy has homeless because he never had a best friend to look after him. Horace went to jail after becoming involved in a pyramid scheme. Clarabelle faithfully visits him as often as she can. Minnie is in an one-off relation with Mortimer, while Morty and Ferdie spend their time at daycare when Felicity and Frank get overwhelmed. Pluto's fate is explicitly left open and a boy Mickey saved earlier in the story is now in a wheelchair. Mickey's Arch-Enemy Pete is mayor of Mouseton and owns most of its business. Notwithstanding that some characters are worse off, the comic's narrative presents things bleaker than they are. Morty and Ferdie seem to have fun at the daycare, the boy's still bright in his wheelchair, and things certainly worked out for Casey. There's not even a reason given to believe Pete's still a crook.
  • Mad Magazine is fond of this trope. They tend to favor people with political power, especially the current president of the time.
    • The Monroe comic had a chapter with this plot. In it, everyone is happier and better off without Monroe; even the guardian angel admits absolutely everything is better for everybody. In the end, Monroe decides to continue living, because "misery loves company."
    • MAD also does this for Bill Clinton, with Richard Nixon as the angel sent to him (he has a right wing but not a left one). This being Mad, it's far less heartwarming and more of a political satire than most examples (For example, when Nixon mentions the part about no one being a failure if they have friends, he mentions the quality of Clinton's friends), with Nixon's praise being backhanded at best, and suggesting some might have been better off if Clinton hadn't become President.
  • Hilariously double-subverted in the post-Zero Hour Legion of Super-Heroes: Brainiac 5 gets a view of what the Legion would be like without him, and it turns out to be an idealized Silver Age-style world in which the other Legionnaires are just kids in a "hero club." After confirming that, yes, their lives are in fact better without him, Brainy chooses to go back anyhow in order to go on making their lives as miserable as they make his.
  • A Flintstones comic had Fred find that he hadn't received a Christmas bonus. Fred gets depressed about this, somehow gets even more depressed and starts going on a walk without knowing where he's headed - toward a tar pit. The Great Gazoo then yanks Fred out of time at the last minute and takes him to a world to show Fred what things would be like if he never existed (Fred protests along the way that he didn't wish that he was never born, Gazoo retorts saying Fred posed an interesting "what if" and didn't want to pass it up). They arrive in a world where Bedrock is a lot larger and is now known as Slaterock, Barney has an administrative position at Mr. Slate's business and Wilma is married to Mr. Slate. Gazoo then shows that all is not as it appears to be. Slaterock grew up "too big, too fast" and crime is now way up. Betty is single and homeless because she never met Barney (because Fred introduced her to him) and Barney is quite lonely and spends his nights in the office depressed. Pebbles is a spoilt brat and Wilma is unhappy with her marriage. Gazoo then takes Fred back to his own time, where he declares that he's alive...and in pain having fallen into the tar pit. He returns home now more appreciative of his family and Mr. Slate arrives with Fred's bonus, saying his secretary forgot to put it in his pigeonhole.
  • Issue #16 of Cartoon Network Presents featured a Top Cat story, "It's a Wonderful Strife", in which both T.C. and Officer Dibble, tired of putting up with each other, wish they'd never come to the city. The both of them are then shown alternate realities by their guardian angels, played respectively by Huckleberry Hound and Snagglepuss. Huck shows T.C. that, without guidance from a crafty leader, his gang has to resort to crime for sustenance, and Snagglepuss shows Dibble that if he never became a police officer, T.C. would be an anarchist bossing around the entire police force.
  • In Grant Morrison's Batman story "Last Rites", set between Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis, Bruce is given false memories of a life in which his parents weren't killed. Jim Gordon and Dick Grayson are dead. Bruce is a dilettante doctor, coddled by Martha and a disappointment to Thomas, especially when he falls for a patient who turns out to be Selina Kyle, distracting him while she robs the surgery.
  • In another Batman story, "The Sacrifice", the Phantom Stranger shows Batman what it would be like if his parents didn't die. He gets the family that he's always dreamed of, but without Batman, Gotham City has fallen to ruin under the constant gang wars controlled by supervillains, Commissioner Gordon has become a bedridden quadriplegic after being tortured by one of these gangs, Ra's al Ghul has conquered much of Eastern Europe, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and Dick Grayson is on death row for the murder of Tony Zucco.
    • Several years prior, Ed Brubaker did a similar story for Batman: Gotham Adventures, down to the Phantom Stranger playing Clarence. Despite being geared toward a younger age-bracket, this world-without-Batman is arguably even bleaker. Dick Grayson ends up working for Tony Zucco, Tim Drake works for the Joker, Harvey Dent takes payoffs from Zucco while remaining unaware of his Split Personality, and it all ends in Gordon's death at the hands of The Joker (who strangely still exists even though there's no Batman to punch him into that vat of chemicals).
  • In Nodwick, a plot like this appears when a well-meaning but somewhat naive angel (who is naturally named Clarence) attempts to save Nodwick from his henchman existence by offering to take his soul for good, and tries to convince Nodwick by showing what would happen if he were to die for good. Bad Future ensues. He then attempts to invoke this trope by replacing members of the party one by one to find a better Alternate Universe for Nodwick (replacing Nodwick put another henchman in an even worse stew than Nodwick, since he was taller and therefore a better Human Shield, replacing Yeagar put an Ogre in the party who ate Nodwick on a regular basis, and Arthax was replaced with a necromancer, who heavily reduced Nodwick's death count with some unfortunate implications). The angel is eventually forced to acknowledge that Nodwick is a Cosmic Plaything designated to deflect misery from everyone else around him, and leaves things as they were.
  • Issue #15 of The Simpsons comic, A Trip To Simpsons Mountain, played with the trope without actually going through the plot; the story being about Grandpa telling the Simpsons children a story from his childhood, about how he went out to look for his father, who had gone missing — though he proves to be a somewhat Unreliable Narrator as he tends to confuse his own life with things he'd seen on TV. Towards the end of the story, young Abe finally finds his father, standing on a bridge and crying and saying he regrets wishing he'd never been born; only to grow ecstatically happy when Abe calls him "Dad" and asks him to come home. Cue Bart, who has been listening to the story: "C'mon, Grandpa, I've seen that on TV, like, a million times!"
  • In one issue of the Ren & Stimpy comic, Ren gets fed up with Stimpy's idiocy and wishes they had never met. Jiminy Lummox offers to show Ren the life he would have had without Stimpy; In this other reality, Ren is a rich and powerful businessman without peer or equal, and Ren loves it. When Ren wishes to stay, Lummox insists that Stimpy be given his own wish in return; Stimpy just wishes Ren the best, and Ren, touched by Stimpy's kindness, admits that Stimpy is his best friend. Lummox takes this as a cue to set everything to normal, leaving Ren furious. "The heart never lies." "MINE DOES!!"
  • Issue 13 of I Hate Fairyland starts as an Origins Episode for Larry, as he dreams of how he first became a guide and met Gertrude, but quickly veers into this trope as he dreams on what could have happened if she had never arrived in Fairyland. He becomes a megastar, acting as a guide to countless great child heroes, but eventually cracks under the pressure, having a public meltdown as he descends into alcoholism, which costs him his job. It ends with him as a homeless junkie who shoots himself to end his misery, before waking up from the dream.
  • Archie Comics: Subverted in one story. An angel shows Cheryl Blossom what things would be like if she hadn't moved to Riverdale. It turns out that the other characters are better off without her. Betty becomes a supermodel dating a prince, Archie is vice-president at Lodge Industries and Happily Married to Veronica, who is now much less selfish and even involved in all sorts of charity work, and Jughead is the mayor. In the end, Cheryl misses the point and decides that making their lives more complicated is her purpose in life, so she goes back to the life she has. And the angel gets demoted.

    Fan Fiction 
  • The Katawa Shoujo fanfic "The Greatest Gift of the Heart" picks up from the Bad End of Hanako's route, and shows what would've happened if Hisao had never had his heart attack and ended up at Yamaku. In this fic, he befriended the other girls and Kenji, and without him, they end up lonely, miserable and plagued by their personal problems, while Hanako committed suicide.
  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fanfic "The Turtle Who Never Was" puts Michelangelo through the Wonderful Life plot, courtesy of two spirits (taking on the forms of Splinter and Shredder) who argue whether Mike's made a positive difference on the lives of everyone around him or not, and consequently take him on a trip to an alternate reality where he'd never been born, in order to find out. Although Michaelangelo initially feels like he really just made his brothers' lives harder, such as Donatello being even more brilliant and Raphael more focused now that Splinter could spend more time helping him work on his temper issues, Mikey learns that a hero he saved during his time as 'Turtle Titan' now retired after the brainwashing was broken because he was ashamed of the innocent people he killed, and Mikey also witnesses the death of his pet cat Klunk as Mikey wasn't there to adopt him. When Michaelangelo returns to 'reality', Splinter also notes that, while his brothers were more successful without him, they were more successful as individuals, encouraging his son to consider whether the turtles would be happier as individual successes or as one family.
  • The Kim Possible fanfic It's a Ronderful Life sees Ron wish he'd never been born because he feels that he's screwed up Kim's life after a company sued him and Kim for the destruction of a space shuttle during a recent mission, forcing Kim to take on more talk show appearances and accept demeaning jobs like modelling for Smarty Mart to pay the fees. However, Ron's 'guardian angel' reveals that, despite Ron's concerns, he has made Kim's life better; without Ron to keep her grounded, Kim became particularly arrogant about her abilities, provoking her enemies even further until Drakken and Shego defeated her during the events of "Bueno Nacho", with Drakken subsequently lobotomising her father and stripping her mother of her medical licence, leaving Kim emotionally and psychologically shattered. On a wider note, Ron's parents are divorced, Rufus is owned by Ron's would-be cousin Shawn, Bueno Nacho collapsed without the income generated by the creation of the Naco, Timothy North (the Fearless Ferret) is living on the streets as he suffered a mental collapse without Ron's help, Bonnie has become fat after she developed an eating disorder after Brick Flagg became one of Drakken's mind-controlled soldiers, Wade designs equipment for Drakken while under a mind-control chip, Felix's chair was taken to reverse-engineer the systems and he struggles to get by even with Monique's help, and the Yamanuchi School has been turned into monkeys under the control of Monkey Fist.
  • In the Ouran High School Host Club fanfic, It's a Wonderfully Splendid Magnificent Life, Tamaki, with his mother ill and his grandmother preventing him from seeing her, wishes he'd never left France. Kotoko grants him this wish and lets him see what would have become of the rest of the club had he not left France, which causes him to reconsider, especially when he realizes that not even he and his mother are happy there.
  • In chapter 14 of the A Certain Magical Index fic Twist Of Fate, Kuroko (who hates Touma) and Awaki accidentally wind up in a world where Touma had never been born (they were both in the middle of teleporting, causing them to be unaffected when Touma got Ret Goned). They are guided by a mysterious man named Moses who is unaffected by changes in the timeline. Without Touma, this is a Crapsack World to the extreme. Academy City is a military state, World War III raged, and practically everybody Touma helped is dead, insane, etc. When they manage to restore the timeline, Kuroko finally lets go of her grudge, noting how important he is and how much she and her friends owe him.
  • The Saki fanfic A Wonderful Life, has Yumi doing this the night of her and her teammates' defeat in the individuals; when she wonders whether she would have done better had she gone to a different school. Nodocchi shows Yumi a future in which she wins the tournament for Kazekoshi, at the cost of Tsuruga being unable to even enter, and Momo resigned to being isolated and invisible. Unlike most examples, however, Nodocchi reveals that she can't offer Yumi the possibility of accepting the alternate future (although Yumi would have said "no"), and Yumi wonders if it was All Just a Dream.
  • The two Smurfs fanfics It's A Wonderful Smurf and sequel A World Without Gargamel has an imp named Mandrake the Mischievous who loves to make other people miserable, and who gives the It's A Wonderful Life treatment to Brainy (with Clumsy tagging along for the ride) in the first story and Gargamel in the second. In both cases, his main goal is to prove that his target has led a worthless life... but things don't develop as he'd planned.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic "A Hearth's Warming Carol", Rainbow Dash wishes that she was never born after she gets all of her friends upset with her. Princess Celestia then appears and uses her magic to show Rainbow Dash what Equestria would be like without her. In this alternate universe, Rainbow Dash sees that her friends' lives are different due to her not being there to perform her first sonic rainboom from the episode "The Cutie Mark Chronicles," that helped her friends discover their hidden talents. Rarity is a jewel thief, Applejack is a cold hearted business-pony, Pinkie Pie is a depressed rock seller, Twilight lives all by herself in a cottage in the mountains where she studies magic day and night, and Fluttershy is dead.
  • In the Hey Arnold! fanfic Without You Helga feeling that everyone would be better off without her, wishes she was never born, which unfortunately comes true. Here she not only learns what has become of her family and friends without her presence, she also must find a way to return to her universe and fix what's gone wrong because of her wish as well.
  • In the Les Misérables fic It's a Wonderful Life, Javert, Clarence appears to Javert at Pont Au Change and shows him how different the story would have been without him: Had Javert not been a guard in Toulon during Valjean's incarceration, he would have succeeded in one of his escape attempts and thus would have never met the Bishop of Digne and turned his life around - instead, he turns to crime, is summarily arrested and sentenced for life; Because of this, Valjean never becomes monsieur Madeleine, and M-sur-M declines into a decrepit cesspit with corruption and misery and prostitutes marking every alley; Among them is Fantine, who gets arrested and released after her brawl, but now with a bad reputation to go with her name - she dies of consumption soon after and her corpse is robbed and left forgotten; Without Fantine to provide for Cosette and Valjean to save her, the Thenardiers throw her out and she freezes to death. And lastly, without Javert volunteering to spy the students, the barricade falls earlier and the students are exiled instead of executed, which only leads to another, bloodier attempt some years later. However, this does nothing to dissuade Javert from jumping into the Seine, since it does not solve his moral dilemma - he is only convinced into living when Clarence shows him the future where Valjean dies, and Javert chooses to live to prevent Valjean's unjust death.
  • "Superior Spider-Man: Take Two" is a Spider-Man fanfic that essentially answers the question, "What If? Peter Parker was able to get his body back from Doctor Octopus at the end of 'Dying Wish'?" Before dying, Otto begs Peter, "Don't throw your life away the way I did mine," prompting Peter to start making changes in his life. The following story follows the plot beats of Superior Spider-Man, only with Peter as Spider-Man instead of Otto. At one point, after accidentally causing the death of the criminal Massacre and later being goaded into brutally attacking Jester and Screwball, Peter chose to take a leave of absence from being Spider-Man in order to get his head on straight. At one point, a small portion of Otto that was still inside Peter's mind visited him in a dream, giving him a vision of what would have happened if Peter was never bitten by the radioactive spider; he wound up working for Oscorp, until being callously fired by Norman Osborn. In his quest for retaliation against Osborn he would end up becoming an alternate version of the Green Goblin. After this dream, Peter resumed his life as Spider-Man, his sense of purpose restored.
  • Your Life is Wonderful Charlie Brown is a Peanuts fanfic where resident Butt-Monkey Charlie Brown, feeling more distraught than ever during the holidays is shown what great impact he has made on his friends' lives. Some of the things altered without his intervention are Linus being a Shrinking Violet, Pigpen being an overdressed Jerk Ass, among many other alterations.
  • The Animaniacs fanfic It's A Warnerful Life double-subverts this. At first, it appears that everyone is better off without Yakko, but it turns out that that couldn't be further from the truth - without "major patients" like the Warners to keep him busy, Dr. Scratchansniff is fired; Mr. Plotz is happy - Too happy, to the point where he gladly signs away millions of dollars to shady businessmen; with no Warner Brothers to lust after her, Hello Nurse feels as though she isn't pretty enough, so she lets herself go; the other toons like Slappy Squirrel and Pinky and The Brain were not hired for the show because Yakko wasn't around to recommend them; and without a big brother Dot and Wakko were easily caught and kicked out of the Studio - not only are they homeless, it's actually stated that they're going to die.
  • The Codename: Kids Next Door fanfic Zuzu's Petals features Number 362 feeling frustrated about The Chains of Commanding, and that because of her feelings of being unable to do normal kid stuff, she wishes she was never Supreme Leader. In a neat twist on the concept though, the story is more about Rachel deciding what she values most: being a kid or growing in her own life choices. For example, the KND never collapsed without her, her brother never became touch sensitive, Tommy never had to quit the KND and Rachel herself gets to stay with her original squad. However, Tommy is still selfish and entitled without learning selflessness to sacrifice himself for the organization. Also, Number 1 took over after Chad, and thus couldn't go looking for Number 0 during the grandfather crisis. This meant Nigel died killing Grandfather by tricking him onto the moonbase and then detaching it to the sun, and following this, Sector V broke up.
  • The Rizzoli & Isles fanfic Thanks for the Wings uses this; Maura Isles, feeling unappreciated by her friends and family after donating a kidney to her half-sister, is treated with a view of the world where she was never born. As a consequences, several of the charities she supported have raised far less support than they did with her presence, her adopted parents' lives are fundamentally emptier without her presence, Angela Rizzoli is a bitter woman living in a poor apartment without Maura able to offer Angela use of her guesthouse, Tommy Rizzoli is in jail as Jane was never inspired by Maura to find the evidence that would clear him of the bank robbery (as depicted in "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"), the Rizzolis has a poor reputation in the department after the Boston Marathon shootings led to a riot with Frankie being made the scapegoat for subsequent events (whereas Jane ran with Maura and caught the killer in "Born to Run"), Frost and Korsak are simply colleagues as Frost never got over his issues with dead bodies without Maura's help while Korsak has health problems now that Maura was never there to subtly inspire him to make better dietary choices, Susie Chang's confidence in her abilities is constantly undermined by Maura's 'replacement' of the competent but ruthless Doctor Potter, Frankie died during the raid on the police station (as shown in "When the Gun Goes Bang, Bang, Bang"), and Jane is unhappily married to Casey Jones, her confidence shattered when Hoyt took her hostage and she had to be saved by Casey (as opposed to "Remember Me", where Maura was taken hostage with Jane and thus gave her friend someone to save), Jane feeling that she will never grow beyond her current limits even if she leaves Casey.
  • The Bones fanfic Every Time a Bell Rings gives Doctor Temperance Brennan a chance to witness a world like this. While Camille Saroyan and Lance Sweets are still alive, they are fundamentally depressed and alone as Cam never moved away from New York and Sweets never bonded with anyone in Washington, while Cam's would-be adopted daughter Michelle is now stuck in an abusive foster home as she drove Cam away during the investigation of her father's murder without Brennan's encouragement to convince Cam to try again. As for the rest of the team, Jack Hodgins was killed by the Gravedigger, Angela is a penniless artist forced to prostitute herself to pay her rent, and Brennan's father and brother are still on the run, with her brother unaware that his youngest would-be step-daughter died of cystic fibrosis years ago because he doesn't dare get back in touch and Brennan was never there to give the little girl better medical care (no reference is made to what happened to any of Brennan's interns without her role in their lives). Worst of all for Brennan, the would-be love of her life, Seeley Booth, is trapped in a thankless relationship with his old partner Tessa, the two only staying together because of their daughter Joy, while Booth's life falls apart due to him succumbing to his old gambling addiction, and Brennan's glimpse of this other world ends with Booth being killed when he tries to go after a wanted criminal on Christmas and gets shot.
  • In the Friends fanfic It's a Mondler Life, Monica, feeling depressed and unappreciated, is visited by a spirit who shows her a world where she was never born. As a result, Ross is still his excessively geeky self and living with his parents without Monica to inspire his personal development so that he could marry Carol in the first place- as well as Rachel and Chandler never learning to appreciate his better qualities-, Rachel is on the verge of divorcing Barry after an unhappy marriage, Chandler is stuck in a miserable marriage to Janice with his friendship with Joey the only reason he hasn't killed himself, and Phoebe fell into a career as a prostitute and drug-addicted porn star without Monica's help, which culminates in Phoebe committing suicide.
  • This storyline plays a part in Chapter 14 of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic Season 9, set in a world where Buffy and Angel got back together after Angel regained his humanity following the final battle of "Not Fade Away". At Christmas that year, Xander Harris is left feeling depressed about the current state of his life, pondering if he is really needed any more as he witnesses the rest of the gang bonding so well without really registering his presence, prompting the spirit of his long-dead friend Jesse to appear to him and show him a world where he was never born. While Sunnydale still exists as the First Evil never had the opportunity to mount the large-scale attack against the Slayer line, this is because Buffy died for good when confronting the Master (although he was staked by Angel shortly afterwards), and since then, every subsequent Slayer has only lasted for a year before being killed in the line of duty, with current Slayer Renee- who is Xander's girlfriend in the 'real' world at this time- noting that Sunnydale is now regarded as the Slayers' graveyard. As well as these dead Slayers, Willow has been turned into a vampire by Spike, Cordelia died when she attended the demonic frat party, Drusilla was killed by Kendra before Spike killed Kendra in revenge, Jenny Calendar died in a car accident during the cursed candy incident, several students were poisoned by the bitter cafeteria worker, and Slayers are still only one at a time, as well as Angel remaining in Sunnydale with Giles and Oz rather than relocating to Los Angeles.
  • The Worst Witch fanfic Actions have Consequences has a variation of this for Ethel; feeling that Mildred is replacing her in Esmerelda's affections, she wishes that Mildred had never come to Cackle's, and finds herself in a world where she, Sybil and Maud are attending a different school, but Esmerelda and the teachers at Cackle's are dead, Enid only attended Cackle's briefly, and nobody has heard of Mildred. After spending a few weeks in this world, Ethel learns from the spirit that granted her wish that, in this timeline, she was briefly Head of Year upon arrival only to be 'demoted' when her actions led to Enid's expulsion a few weeks into her time at Cackle's, and Esmerelda, Miss Cackle, the Great Wizard, and most of the teachers died when the academy was destroyed by Agatha when Ethel helped Agatha to attack the school. Ethel is horrified when she learns that the divergent moment is when Julie Hubble was struck by a car while pregnant with Mildred, killing Julie and her unborn daughter before Mildred could even visit the school, thus erasing her impact on Ethel's life.
  • "Now I'm (Not) Here," Chapter 22 of Play The Game, has Aegis take Nimja to a world in which he was never born after multiple accusations are made against him that he is, essentially, a rapist and a pedophile due to his Casual Kink. While Nimja, being Nimja, doesn't get depressed or upset by these accusations, it does leave him wondering what would happen had he never existed. The results are devastating. OGiNiM, with no one to relax him, graduates from college with a degree in creative writing, but becomes a drab, harsh, not at all cheerful man who has practically given up on life. HyDrO has been Driven to Suicide, because as a result of Nimja not existing, she never met OGiNiM and never fell in love with him. Slang is a die-hard paranoic and panphobic who fears everything, but instead of doing so in his usual Shrinking Violet way, he is a cynic. Nimja, Inc., obviously, does not exist. HyPN0se has also been Driven to Suicide, and while this is Dramatic Irony as the audience knows that HyPN0se has crumbled under the whim of his abusive mother, Nimja is simply saddened that he's dead. As for the Spoken, they are still hidden, as Nimja never found them- but now they're also extremely lonely. Crowe in particular has given up his love for puns entirely, with no one to share them with.
    • And that's just the main cast. Nimja's other, Real Life fans are affected as well. Many of them have comitted suicide or have become extremely worried about everything. Oh, and not to mention: everyone's human. Except for Nimja and the Spoken. Nimja is naturally so devastated about this that he immediately begs for Aegis to send him back to his regular universe. The entire episode was made to thank Nimja for everything he has done for the Gamers, and the last words we see in the episode, as opposed to the usual "RECORDING END: WAKE," are the following:
    TO NIMJA:
    THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING YOU'VE DONE FOR US IN OUR LIVES.
    WE WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME WITHOUT YOU.
    YOU ARE NOT A RAPIST.
    YOU ARE NOT A PEDOPHILE.
    YOU ARE OUR FRIEND.
    FROM ALL OF US TO YOU: DANKJEWEL.

    Films — Animated 
  • This is the plot of Shrek Forever After. Shrek is tricked by Rumplestilskin into signing a contract that gives him a day as a real ogre in exchange for a day from his past. Unfortunately, the day taken away is the day he was BORN, creating a world where Rumplestilskin rules Far Far Away, ogres are hunted and repressed, Puss in Boots is fat, and Donkey is treated like a regular mule.
  • The story "Mickey's Dog Gone Christmas from Mickey's Twice Upon A Christmas has Pluto running away after being punished by Mickey by being sent to his doghouse. Unlike the real movie, it is subverted because Pluto is not eliminated from existence or being shown events through flashbacks, but he does see from Santa and his elves what Mickey's life is like without him.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Trope Namer It's a Wonderful Life of course. The main character, George Bailey, finds out that his absence from the world has kicked of many For Want of a Nail situations. Without him, no one was around to save his younger brother, Harry, from drowning in his childhood, and because Harry wasn't there to perform a heroic act on the battlefield in World War II, several soldiers he would have saved are now also dead. Furthermore, as George was not there to oppose Mr. Potter's predatory loan schemes and development plans, the quiet and idyllic Bedford Falls has turned into a Vice City named Pottersville, and as he was never there to meet his wife, Mary, she has ended up alone and unhappy.
  • Richie Rich's Christmas Wish has the entire plot of the film based on this, as Richie wishes (with a wishing machine) that he never existed.
  • Bedazzled (1967) is maybe an unconscious parody - a poor shlub is tired of his nowhere life, tries to end it all, the Devil (an angel of sorts) intervenes and offers the chance to wish up an alternate existence (not once, but seven times) which gets him to see his old life is better than the alternative. The Devil was a Jackass Genie, that's why the alternatives were so bad.
  • Mr. Destiny, an '80s comedy starring Jim Belushi, Linda Hamilton and Michael Caine in the Clarence role, subverted this trope a little; Jim Belushi's character always bemoaned the fact that he blew a game-saving play in high-school baseball, and Caine changed history so that he made the game-saver instead. Belushi then sees his life changing; he's now the Vice-President of the sporting goods company he's working for, and married to the boss's daughter, but it turns out he's having an affair with a psychotic temptress, and his real wife from his old life (Hamilton), the one woman he truly loved, is married to someone else.
  • The Nicolas Cage film The Family Man has the subverted/inverted version. His character is shown how much fuller and happier his life would be had he stayed with his girlfriend after college rather than moving to London and starting his rich-but-lonely life and career as a high-powered stockbroker.
  • The plot of The Butterfly Effect is one of the most famous (and cruelest) subversions/deconstructions of this trope. The protagonist's life has been really depressing, and all his friends are worse off than before he met them. He uses his Mental Time Travel abilities to correct his past mistakes, but they each end up making things worse for them and/or himself. Accepting that they really are better off without him, he eventually decides that the only way to make them all happy is to remove his presence from their lives entirely. The director's cut was even worse; in that version he travels back so he dies in his mother's womb, just so his loved ones can live their lives without his damaging influence. There's a line from the doctor indicating she's had half a dozen miscarriages like that one...
  • The educational short A Case of Spring Fever (these days more famous for being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000) features a variant where springs are the missing element. Gilbert gets frustrated with fixing his sofa springs, and idly wishes he'd never have look at another spring again—so Coily the Spring Sprite grants his wish to teach him a lesson. The horrors of a world where nothing works because there are "No springs!" eventually makes Gilbert ask to undo his wish.
  • Second Glance is a Christian youth film where the protagonist wishes he wasn't a believer. The next morning an angel shows up to let him experience his life as if he'd never been a Christian. And bonus points for the protagonist supposedly having to live as a non-believer, while his new life is being explained to him by an angel.
  • The movie 16 Wishes subverts this: Abby gets a wish that transforms her into an adult, causing her to see what her friends' and family's lives are like without her in them. She realized was such a brat that everybody was actually better off without her. She promptly changes her ways after undoing the wish.
  • In the Danish arthouse film Reconstruction, the protagonist sleeps with another man's wife and wakes up in a world where he never existed.
  • The Santa Clause 3 uses this plot for the second half of the movie. Jack tricks Scott into wishing he never became Santa and they are both transported back in time, allowing Jack to put on the original Santa's coat so he can become the new Santa. In the new timeline, Scott's family has become a bunch of miserable cynics who resent him for being a workaholic at his office job and causing Laura and Neil to divorce, Jack Frost has turned the North Pole into a Vegas-like resort that completely commercializes Christmas and parents have to pay to put their children on the nice list, making them (including Lucy) into greedy brats.
  • There's an inversion in Donnie Darko, although you can only see it by contemplating the ending. At the beginning, the schizophrenic Donnie was saved from a completely inexplicable accident by one of his visions of an "imaginary" friend. In the ending, having somehow discovered the secret of time travel and having seen what happened to other people when he lived — most of it was actually pretty positive until the end when people died — he rewinds the movie's events and is back in bed right before the accident, finally at peace as he waits to die. Apparently in the more explained version he's also/instead saving the world this way.
  • The 2002 TV film It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas is a direct take on "It's a Wonderful Life". After a series of leading mishaps Kermit wishes he was never born. A guardian angel named Daniel shows him what the world would be like and what his friends would be up to if Kermit was not around. Once again similar to the original film, every character has a different lifestyle without Kermit having been there to join the group together.
  • The trope is played with in the TV film Journey Back to Christmas; Hanna, a nurse in 1945, is feeling useless and depressed in her role, as her husband has been declared dead and she feels as though she has no real impact on the world. When a mysterious comet passes over her town, Hanna is sent forward in time to 2016, where she spends some time meeting the residents of her home town before an old man who was her orphaned patient as a child tells her about his life since she 'vanished'; he was adopted by a rich couple after Hanna returned their dog to them the night she went missing, the dog owners went on to open a shelter for other dogs, and the family that have been hosting her in the present are actually the descendants of a couple she introduced when the man was in hospital and the woman was a fellow nurse. He explicitly concludes that the reason she was brought to the future was to witness the impact she would have on the lives of those around her. At the conclusion, Hanna learns that she will return to her time when she discovers a letter she will write to her now-senile best friend/colleague dated August 1946, travelling back to the past when the same comet that sent her forward in the first place passes over again as part of its seventy-one year cycle.

    Literature 
  • The Trope Namer is loosely based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern called The Greatest Gift.
  • The Sweet Valley Twins series played the trope entirely straight in a Christmas special book, in which Elizabeth wishes she'd never been born and promptly receives a visitation from a quirky guardian angel who shows her a vision of what life would be like. It's heavy on For Want of a Nail scenarios based on Elizabeth's actions in previous books, but also contains a couple of more nonsensical changes: the club of shallow, popular rich girls is transformed into a vicious girl gang, and Elizabeth's sister Jessica goes from bubbly, stylish, and popular to shy, geeky, and pathetic.
    • Subverted in a Sweet Valley High Super Edition, "Winter Carnival" where Elizabeth becomes annoyed with Jessica's forgetfulness/selfishness when it causes a rift in her budding romance with Jeffrey French during a winter festival at a ski resort. Elizabeth is upset and leaves, angrily wishing that Jessica wasn't around to mess things up. When she arrives home, she finds out that Jessica is dead. With Jessica gone, everyone in Sweet Valley is depressed and spends a lot of time remembering Jessica's bubbly personality and forgetting about Elizabeth. She wakes up and realizes that it was All Just a Dream and makes up with Jessica and Jeffrey.
  • Animorphs did this in one book, with Jake making a Deal with the Devil with Crayak to Cosmic Retcon the timeline so that the Animorphs never received their powers in the first place. Subverted slightly in the fact that the kids end up winning the war with the Yeerks FASTER without their powers, but it's largely due to Cassie being "sub-temporally grounded", which seems to give her some degree of reality-warping powers when she isn't in her "right" universe. Even with that, most of them die in the process.
  • Parodied in More Information Than You Require, and given as Prince Albert's motivation for introducing Germanic pagan influences onto the English Christmas and becoming a Funny Foreigner.
  • A variant in the Discworld novel Jingo, when Vimes accidentally picks up his Dis-Organiser from the wrong timeline immediately after making a difficult decision; while the Vimes depicted chooses to go on a ship and try and rescue Constable Angua, allowing him to avert the war by introducing a disruptive element in Klatch, the alternate Dis-Organiser gives a running comentary on what's happening in the universe where Vimes stays in Ankh-Morpork and tries to work within Rust's regime. In this other world, the Klatchians invade and the entire Watch gets killed, ending with Vimes himself. (Presumably, made even worse by the Dis-Organiser in that universe telling Vimes how much better things would be going if he'd gone to Klatch.)
  • The Star Trek novel First Frontier is about a group of aliens (who turn out to be sentient descendants of Earth dinosaurs who were rescued by the Preservers) using the Guardian of Forever to avert the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs. This erases the human race from history (and the dinosaurs' descendants ended up nuking themselves out of existence anyway). When the Enterprise is protected from the time change and sees what the galaxy would have become without humans, it's basically "It's Humanity's Wonderful Life", a Crapsack Galaxy in which the Romulans' total domination is only challenged by the Vulcans helping the Klingons build suicide-attack missiles against them.
  • Journey to Chaos: At the beginning of Looming Shadow, Eric and Tasio discuss this trope. Tasio said he expected Eric to find him earlier when he was at a wedding helping the bride and groom get over mutual cold feet. Eric sarcastically asks if he did this trope but oriented towards the future (if they backed out of the wedding). Tasio replies negatively, "that would be ridiculous".
  • In the Nikos Kazantzakis novel The Last Temptation of Christ, the last temptation itself is when an angel rescues Jesus from the cross and shows him how his life will be as just a regular human being, instead of the Son of God. But, the angel is actually Satan. The similarity to It's a Wonderful Life was actually one of the reasons that Martin Scorsese's long-planned film adaptation finally got greenlighted.

    Music 
  • The storyline of the Billy Joel music video for his song "Second Wind".
  • Beethoven himself gets this in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concept album Beethoven's Last Night. It involves a tenth symphony and Mephistopheles.
  • The Gwen Stefani song "Wonderful Life" plays with a less fantastical version of this trope, referencing the impact a now-missing lover had on the narrator's life.
    If you only knew what you gave to me / Now you can't be found

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Alex had "It's a Wonderful Crisis", where Alex's boss commits suicide and Alex takes over his job as head of MegaBank. Cyrus then returns as an angel to show Alex how much better everyone else would have been if he had never been born. Ultimately, Cyrus is revealed as demon and the whole thing is a plot to send Alex and Clive to hell.
  • An early Over the Hedge arc had Verne meet an angel (4th class) "quantum mechanic" who stated that he was accidentally born some 400 years too early and his very presence in that time was causing global warming, preventing Martha Stewart from earning a Nobel Prize, and generally bringing about the apocalypse. Before having his soul put on ice Verne is allowed to say "goodbye" to RJ, and ends up shoving him out of the way of a piece of space junk thus making him a necessary part of the timeline.

    Puppet Shows 
  • In It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, an angel shows Kermit what would happen to The Muppets in a world where he never existed. Unfortunately, he's not too sure how to bring them back.
  • An episode of The Basil Brush Show has this happen. After Basil spends all of the money on cosmetics (namely, for looking after his "brush"), he and his friends risk having to stay in the flat without electricity or heating. Whilst the others go off caroling, he starts feeling sorry for himself on a bridge. An old man (later shown to be Santa Claus) shows up and shows Basil that he makes lots of people happy, but Basil doesn't get it and wishes he was never born, so the old man sends him to a reality where his thieving cousin now does his show and where the people he helped and now in worse situations. Basil learns his lesson and after begging to exist again ends up in his own reality again. He goes home and finds everyone celebrating Christmas as one of his flatmates found a note with a large sum of money, conveniently.
  • Sesame Street has a direct-to-video Christmas Special, Elmo Saves Christmas (1996), which plays with this trope. After Elmo saves Santa Claus while staying up late, the former is presented with a snowglobe that grants wishes. Elmo uses the snowglobe to wish that it could be Christmas every day, and Reality Ensues: it starts innocently enough, as Christmas mixes with other holidays such as Easter and the 4th of July, but a year later, all the stores are boarded up, Big Bird can't see Snuffy, the carolers strain their voices from singing too much, Christmas trees are an endangered species, and everyone in general is utterly sick of the holiday and can't afford to give real presents anymore. Bonus points for including lots of direct references to the Trope Namer, culminating with Bert and Ernie in shock watching the scene from the movie where George comes across, well, Bert and Ernie. ("What's the matter with you two guys? You sang to me here on my wedding night!") This doubles as a Fandom Nod to the people who think that the Muppets are named after the characters from the movie, which the creators deny.

    Radio 
  • Adventures in Odyssey two-parter "It's A Polkenberry Christmas" did this to George Barclay (fittingly enough, as the Barclay family were based on the characters from It's a Wonderful Life). The first part has George's life in tatters - the church can't pay its bills because Ellis (the clerk) has mislaid the cheque; the landowner refuses to sympathize; Stuart (his youngest son) falls off his bike and has an injury, prompting George to chew out the mother of the boy who was teaching him to ride the bike, which in turn leads to him being chewed out by the husband afterward. George eventually ends up on a bridge wallowing in his thoughts of pity. Meanwhile, Mr. Whittaker and Eugene, who are visiting the family find that George has gone out and, fearing the state of mind he's in, decide to look for him. They go their separate ways and Eugene finds George on a bridge, thinking he's about to throw himself into the river. Ironically, Eugene slips on the ice and falls into the river, and George has to go in and save him. After doing so Eugene takes George back to the motel where he's staying with Mr. Whittaker, only to find their clothes are now dry as if they'd never been in the water at all, the receptionist doesn't remember Mr. Whittaker ever checking in with Eugene (and he isn't on the computer record either) and the receptionist, a classmate of Jimmy's (George's eldest son), doesn't remember working with him on a class project. Things go downhill from there: no one recognizes George, Ellis is a thieving street bum and the church has been turned into a golf course. Eugene postulates that George's attitude and the incident with the river is what sent them into this version of reality. They then phone up Mr. Whittaker (who is at Whit's End in Odyssey, as in this reality he had no reason to come to Polkenberry Falls), who tells George that he lost faith in God, is estranged from his wife, is himself missing and Stuart was never born. Unable to accept what is happening, George chews out Eugene, who refuses to take any responsibility. Enraged, George attempts to find his family using phone books in a library, only to attract the attention of the police. Evading capture, George wishes he was alive again, and ends up back in the river with Euguene, realising the experience was All Just a Dream. They return to the household where the church congregation has gathered the money required to pay off the debt and George celebrates Christmas with his family. And the "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings" line get parodied as well.
    • A previous episode features Donna wishing Jimmy was never born, and ends up having a day where Jimmy was never born at all. Donna finds that being an only child isn't all it's cracked up to be.
  • Old Harry's Game subverts this in the second episode of series two, in which Satan, an ex-angel, asks Thomas if he has seen the film before taking him to see "all the crap things that did happen because he was born".
  • In the February 2, 1947 episode of The Jack Benny Program, Jack goes to see It's a Wonderful Life and calls it improbable. Later that day he hits his head and has a dream sequence in which he sees what the world would be like if he'd never been born. Don Wilson is a farmer, Phil Harris is playing at crummy dives, Dennis Day works for Fred Allen, and Mary Livingstone, who had been flirting with Jack before the dream began, is married—to Frank Nelson!

    Tabletop Games 
  • One of frequent "Good Game Master Pro Tips" in RPGT is playing out a "zero" variant(s) for adventures — what would happen if Player Characters don't appear at all? What would happen if PC start their quest and then only blunder aimlessly? This forces GM to check and "pre-cache" at least some of necessary sources, creates a frame of reference for NPC reactions and helps to see the world as working on its own, i.e. find and draw the fine line between "heroes" and "Mary Sues".
  • Vampire: The Requiem has a particularly nightmarish example. The Ordo Dracul is a bunch of vampire mad social scientists, and they invoke this trope by killing a random joe and see how life goes on without his presence. This is one of the factions that the player character can join.

    Theatre 
  • Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge, Christopher Durang's Affectionate Parody of classic Christmas stories, features the typical subversion, with the title character learning that everyone's much better off without her.
  • In Foggerty's Fairy, an 1881 play by W. S. Gilbert, Frederick Foggerty's Fairy Godmother Rebecca grants his wish that his ex-fiancée, Delia Spiff, never existed, in hopes of preserving his relationship with current fiancée Jennie Talbot. Spiff's removal has many unintended consequences, including Jennie's engagement to Foggerty's friend Walkinshaw and both men having relationships with Man-Eater Malvina de Vere, culminating in Foggerty about to be committed to an insane asylum. The examination of causality is ultimately abandoned when Foggerty coerces Rebecca into simply restoring his former circumstances while maintaining Spiff's elimination. This work predates the Trope Namer by several generations, and audiences were confused by the unfamiliar storytelling device.
  • A complicated inversion in Harry Potter And The Cursed Child: The plot hinges on Harry and Draco's sons Albus and Scorpio going into the past to prevent Cedric Diggory's death during the Triwizard Tournament. The first time they do so, Ron and Hermione never got married, the relationship between Albus and Harry is even worse, and Cedric is still dead. The second time, they decide to hex Cedric directly, causing him to become a Death Eater and murder Neville, meaning Harry died for good due to Nagini functioning as the last Horcrux, and Voldemort ruling supreme (and with Umbridge in power). In the ed, they try to undo their meddling, creating a Close-Enough Timeline.

    Video Games 
  • Chrono Cross screws around with this, and other Alternate Universe tropes, there are two mirror alternate history universes and in one the protagonist is dead, so among other things you can see how things play out with his absence.
    • Or would that be you get see how things play out with him NOT absent, since the reality where he died is the "real" one?
  • Undertale gives an interesting exploration into this trope with Dr. W.D Gaster. Gaster was a character who was Dummied Out of the game's script. In the world of Undertale though, everything to make up the game has an in-universe discussion of gaming tropes, thus Gaster's fate as a cut character was turned into a hidden horror of a brilliant scientist who, after an accident, was Retgone from the world along with people connected to him. Occasionally they flit about between the void of nonexistance and the game world and can only lament their fate and give you cryptic clues about the Doctor. And worse, while Gaster's impact in the world still exists, his accomplishments were simply passed on and credited to other characters (he made the CORE, but in the game it's implied the monsters believe it was Asgore or Alphys' doing) and the world simply kept moving on.

    Web Comics 
  • Subverted in MegaTokyo, because the guardian angel Seraphim did not have enough funds.
  • An invered them in Misfile, where both protagonists lives are better in the altered reality than they were in the original. Ash has a relationship with her mother where as before he never even met her, and Emily may have died if reality hadn't changed. This, of course, just leads to more angst for Ash and ties into the comic's transgender themes. Ash's life would be much better if he could just accept her Gender Bender... but that doesn't mean he should have to.
  • Predictably enough, used in Sluggy Freelance around Christmas 2009, with a short shown on a dystopian alternative Earth, called "It's a Wonderful Life, Citizen". It's about someone who is miserable and wishes he was never born. Because happiness is mandatory in that place, his desire in the sense of no longer existing (in that universe, anyway) is granted, and everyone agrees they're happier without him. The story has An Aesop: Report anyone who's unhappy to the authorities.
  • Sexy Losers hilariously skewers it with the aptly titled "It's a Wonderfully Shitty Life". I was supposed to help somebody?
  • One of the Bug's irrational fears is that this trope will be subverted for him.
  • Housepets! has the arc "It's a Wonderful Dog's Life" where the human Joel (a PETA member who helped kidnap a dog) was turned into a Welsh corgi named King. The arc is more a deconstruction, as the supernatural force who transforms him, "Pete", has no intention to change him back. And with subsequent events, it's unlikely he'll ever be changed back.
  • Butch of Chopping Block had a dream about this, in which he discovered how much better the world would be without him. (The dream ended with him violently killing the angel.)
  • Brawl in the Family featured a rhyming take on the story for Christmas 2013, in which King Dedede wonders if the world would have been better if he had never existed; Pit appears to show him an alternate universe in which Meta Knight (actually Waddle Dee) rules as a dictator. While Dedede's ending is played straight, the arc itself ends with the aforementioned subversion: Pit is showing Waluigi how much better the world would be without him.
    Pit: If you never existed, the world would be bliss! Well, whatdya think?
    Waluigi: WAA! Waluigi hates this.
  • Original Life subverts it. An angel appears to Fisk, and shows him how horrible things would be without him. But it's What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous? at best. The angel can't earn his wings unless Fisk learns a lesson, but the problem is, Fisk is already happy with his life. There's no lesson to learn, because he already knows it. He agrees the world would suck without him, however, stroking his own ego, but it's enough for the angel to say mission accomplished and get his wings.
  • Played with in xkcd here. A ghost comes to show someone what would happen if he gave up fighting about the word "literally". Literally nothing changes.
  • Lampshaded in this strip of Phil Likes Tacos.
  • Dork Tower has an arc where Clearance, the guardian angel of small stores, shows Bill of Pegasaurus Games a world where gaming shops like his don't exist. At first it seems to be better, the dorks have more money and nerds at a high school they visit aren't getting picked on, but then it turns out Igor was able to munchkin his way into the presidency of the United States without gaming to distract him, and he's bent on world domination.

    Web Original 
  • The short video "It's a Wonderful Game" by LoadingReadyRun is a silly take on this trope. The protagonist, in a rage about not being able to defeat the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES once he ran out of new games to play, wishes that Mario had never been made. The result? "Bring him back! Bring Mario back!"
  • ''Captain Estar Goes to Heaven'' — A young woman who leads a hellish life finds a world that may actually be Heaven. She is offered a "Wonderful Life" that she never had ... can she deal with it?
  • The 2010 Nostalgia Critic Christmas Episode You're A Rotten Dirty Bastard parodies this plot. The Critic quits his job due to being angry about there being nothing to review for Christmas. Roger, his guardian angel, comes in to show how other people on the That Guy with the Glasses Team live without his existence, only for everyone to be much better off without him. The Cinema Snob is a giant porn star, Linkara owns both Marvel and DC Comics, The Nostalgia Chick is married and is a major director of films such as Twilight: The Good Version, Angry Joe is the president of the United States who blows up the evil Canada (naturally, killing Phelous) and has publicly executed Tom Green, and Spoony has taken the Critic's job, gives positive reviews to Last Action Hero and Junior, and is loved even by the trolls. When Roger discovers he could have been God's greatest angel and successor without the Critic, he tries to kill him, only to learn that God lied about angels being Immune to Bullets. The Critic realizes he improved his own life and goes back to his old self. All narrated by Santa Christ.
    • Not everyone's lives were better. Technically, Joe did blow up Canada, so the Critic's existence actually prevents more than 33 million deaths - including Phelous's, but that happens all the time anyway. Though if we take Joe at his word, Canada was an evil empire in this alternate world.
      • Which, if true, raises the point that the Nostalgia Critic is also somehow responsible for stopping Canada from becoming an evil empire.
    • Doug Walker said in commentary that he was disappointed to find out this trope had been subverted numerous times before, but still hopes that this is the only rendition where they look at the Angel's life without him.
  • Necro Critic's review of The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Claus both discusses and parodies this this trope. In his previous video, he wished that he had never become The Necro Critic at all, resulting in him appearing as a ghost in a world where he never existed. However, in a fairly unique subversion, his "angelic guide" tells him that his life had practically no impact on the world whatsoever, good or bad. With Necro out of the picture, the only thing that's changed is the fact that his brother/sidekick, Devil Critic, has taken over his role as an internet reviewer. However, Devil later reveals that he only reviewed the movie as a favor to Necro, who presumably disappeared on him because it was THAT terrible. It turns out that Necro's guide was an assassin who lied to him in order to make him miserable and have him accept Devil as his replacement before killing him.
  • Doreen and Maureen's Christmas special merges this plot with Yet Another Christmas Carol, lampshades the frequency of this stock plot, and possibly double subverts it by having Doreen realise that the whole world would be much happier without her...and then taking joy in making everyone miserable.

     Real Life 
  • It's a good technique when your self esteem is rather low to think what Clarence would show you if you were never born, and think of all those who lives would be different or even worse for you not being there. Unfortunately, this technique suffers greatly when used by those diagnosed with depressive mental disorders; it is all too easy to think of everyone who would be better off had you not been born, hence the common trope subversion.

Merry Christmas, building of the Department of Redundancy Department building! Merry Christmas, Trope Co. World Headquarters! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Amazing Technicolor Battlefield! Merry Christmas, Mr. The Scrooge!

Alternative Title(s): Wonderful Life

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