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Joker Immunity

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"Do you have any idea how many suits I go through because of these situations?"
"I know Darth Vader's really got you annoyed,
But remember if you kill him then you'll be unemployed"

Let's face it — some Big Bads are popular enough that it might be a bad idea to kill them for real. Because of this, even though the good guy usually beats him, the villain always finds a way to come back. It's a specific form of Contractual Immortality, which could be for any one of a number of reasons:

  • The villain is so popular and lucrative that getting rid of him risks losing the fans' interest in the franchise. This is especially true in a Villain-Based Franchise or works where defeating the villain is the Series Goal, so killing off the villain will effectively end the series.
  • The story exists in Comic-Book Time, so even though it seems like the villain has been active for a long time, we're really seeing a short reign of terror stretched out over several installments.
  • The installments are in Anachronic Order and the villain's death has already been established or shown; logically, he'll survive any story that occurs before then chronologically.
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  • The villain is a real person Ripped from the Headlines who isn't dead yet; this is rare nowadays, but you see it often in Wartime Cartoons, where the characters fight Adolf Hitler but can't kill him because he hasn't died yet in Real Life.
  • The villain is very heavily identified with a particular hero, and their exploits are thus part of the hero's overall story. This is what happened with the Trope Namer, the Joker; he's so influential to Batman that killing him off would essentially rob the series of a big part of its identity, even if it could continue in theory without him.

In-Universe, the explanations tend to be somewhat flimsier. The strongest such explanation is that heroes with a strong moral code against killing aren't just going to kill the villain — even if doing so makes things easier on them in the long run — because that would place them on the same level of immorality as their nemesis. Writers who go overboard with this trope risk losing the audience's patience, undermining the hero's perceived effectiveness, or forcing the villain over the Moral Event Horizon such that the audience will demand his immunity revoked, but Joker Immunity can be revoked eventually, if the villain indeed crosses the Moral Event Horizon, suffers Villain Decay, or gets overshadowed by something even more evil (who will often revoke the immunity himself to show how much of a threat he is). Out-of-universe, this tends to happen only when the villain has either declined in popularity or the writers are running out of ideas for new stories with him. Or a villain's immunity may be revoked in the Grand Finale.


The heroic equivalent is an Invincible Hero. Compare Villain: Exit, Stage Left (where the heroes stop the villain's plan but do nothing to stop him escaping); Cardboard Prison and Tailor-Made Prison (where the heroes think they've stopped the villain but he breaks out of confinement); and occasionally Villain Sue (who has Joker Immunity for all the wrong reasons). Strongly related to Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated and its subtropes, as well as to the Death Is Cheap trope (a.k.a. Comic Book Death). Contrast Superhero Movie Villains Die (villains who otherwise have Joker Immunity get Killed Off for Real in the film adaptation). See also Just Eat Gilligan (someone other than the direct villain has the immunity); Popularity Power (the character gets his way because the fans like him); and Karma Houdini (the villain escapes legal and cosmic punishment).

No Real Life Examples, Please! Standard procedure for villain tropes; you can't really call a Real Life figure a villain, nor are there cosmic fanboys who can save you from death.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Pokémon, James and Jesse of Team Rocket try something villainous Once per Episode and always fail, but they're always back to try again. This in spite of them occasionally being last seen in situations where No One Could Survive That!, only to be right back at it next episode with no explanation as to how they survived. Over time, their consistent failure to do anything meaningful has led to Villain Decay, so on the rare occasions that Ash actually bothers to tell the authorities about them, they're not considered a priority (at least compared to their more villainous teammates). They're also very adept at escaping custody. Their boss Giovanni shares this immortality, surviving Mewtwo's destruction of Team Rocket's headquarters without so much as a scratch in Mewtwo Strikes Back.
  • Inuyasha was infamous for its repeated use of Naraku, who's the only antagonist still causing trouble after several hundred issues, despite half of feudal Japan wanting his head. Author Rumiko Takahashi knew the fans wouldn't believe he would be gone unless he was Deader Than Dead, so Kagome wishes what was left of his spirit out of existence along with the Shikon no Tama.
  • The three main bandits in Koihime†Musou. Simply why can't the Black-Haired Bandit Hunter just kill them?
  • In Bleach, Aizen was the Big Bad for about 400 chapters. His eventual defeat left room for a vague comeback because he's not dead, only depowered, partly because he actually has complete immortality.
  • Orochimaru from Naruto just won't stay dead or sealed, even if he can be Put on a Bus for quite long periods.
  • Monster's sequel Another Monster shows that Johan Liebert is still inexplicably active.
  • The end of MW shows Michio Yuki is still around.
  • Katsuhiko Jinnai and the Bugroms from El-Hazard: The Magnificent World always ran away so they could return in future installments.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Yami Bakura consistently comes back from defeat. By the Duelist Kingdom arc, he is believed to have been sent to the card graveyard, but he takes over Mokuba's body, gets banished again, and comes back a second time at the end of the arc. Yami Marik banishes his soul to the Shadow Realm in the Battle City arc, but he returns to normal when Marik is defeated. In the last arc, multiple versions of him return as the Big Bad; only here is he finally destroyed for good.
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's has Divine, Aki's Evil Mentor. His confrontation with Dark Signer Carly ended with him plummeting about thirty stories from the top floor of the Arcadia building; somehow, he survived, and appeared in a later episode, only to be swallowed by Earthbound God Ccarayhua. Word of God claims that, despite not appearing again, he survived that too, recovering along with the other victims of the Earthbound Gods, but that doesn't mean he was a Karma Houdini; he was quickly caught by Sector Security and hauled to jail.
  • Hao from Shaman King has been defeated and killed in ages past over and over; not only does he keep coming back, but he also retains his knowledge from his previous lives and grows more powerful each time. Even at the end of the series, after becoming the Shaman King, he's not turned good, but merely been convinced to wait a bit and see how humanity is doing, instead of just killing everyone outright. In the anime, this is finally averted has Yoh kills him in the end.
  • If any villain in Digimon deserves this designation, it's Myotismon. Like the vampire he resembles, he just refuses to stay dead. After being blown to little bits by Angewomon, he returned as VenomMyotismon. Then he was torn apart by WarGreymon, only to return in the Sequel Series as MaloMyotismon. And of course, being a Digimon, he Took a Level in Badass with each evolution, as if he needed it, having defeated the DigiDestined multiple times even in his original form.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Death Is Cheap in Dragon Ball Z, but that same Plot Armor doesn't extend to villains, except for Vegeta. Originally just intended as an Arc Villain, his popularity caused him to survive his intended death and return to act as a supporting villain for the next major saga, surviving multiple brushes with death before he's killed by Freeza. And then he's brought back to life when a wish is made to revive all of Freeza's victims, and joins the main cast as the Token Evil Teammate for the series, with all the Plot Armor to be expected if he were one of the good guys. After a Face Realization in the final arc, Vegeta makes a Heroic Sacrifice that was once again intended to have him Killed Off for Real, but once again his popularity has him brought Back from the Dead again, but by this point he's made a full Heel–Face Turn so the trope no longer applies.
    • A better example would be Freeza. No matter what happens, Dragon Ball doesn't have a cat in a Hell's chance of ever getting enough of Freeza. Originally introduced as the main villain of the Namek Saga, Freeza shows up as a minor villain in the following saga, and thanks to his immense popularity, has unceasingly returned to the franchise through the non-canonical movies, anime filler and GT. After his grand return as the main villain in Resurrection 'F', Freeza had major appearances in the Tournament of Power and DBS: Broly. At this point, Freeza is a deeply-rooted part of the lore who is unlikely to go anytime soon, having become not only the most iconic villain of the franchise, but also the closest thing that Goku has to an arch-nemesis.
  • Sword Art Online has an organizational case of this with Laughing Coffin, a gang of player killers who show as early as the Aincrad arc. With Sword Art Online shut down, several members escape unscathed and able to torment the heroes. It takes several more arcs and the former brass getting stopped to finally make dents in Laughing Coffin.

    Fan Works 
  • Referenced in The Two Sides of Daring Do. Apparently, Yearling's audience complains about Ahuizotl having Joker Immunity. It's also justified with the real Ahuizotl; he's actually immortal and can't die.
  • Soul Eater: Troubled Souls gives Medusa Gorgon Joker Immunity. She survives expulsion from Rachel’s body via Majin Hunter by using the same spell she used to live in her battle against Stein and Spirit. Now, she is the Arc Villain of one of the fic's darkest Story Arcs. This woman refuses to stay dead.
  • Ask Ernst Stavro Blofeld survived death at least three times. He survived getting his neck apparently snapped when it hit a branch while he was bobsleighing, being in the middle of his oil rig lair while it burst into flames, and being dropped down a factory's chimney from a helicopter while wheelchair-bound.
  • Invoked and subverted in Absolute Power Sucks Absolutely. Deus is aware of how Joker always seems to get away and knows it's because of his popularity in the comics. So when the two of them meet while the latter is in the middle of a mass murder spree, the first thing Deus does is wipe Joker from existence.
  • Discussed and subverted in Kara of Rokyn. After Lex Luthor's latest plan has almost succeeded in killing Superman and taking over the world, Lois Lane complains that he'll be thrown into a cell, which he will break out of time whenever he wants, and then he will start the cycle over again. Then she is told Luthor has passed away.
    Lois: And all that'll happen to him is that he'll go back to jail.
    Superman: Lois.
    Lois: All that’ll happen, after all this, almost killing you a hundred times, almost conquering the world, is that he'll go back to a nice, comfortable cell that he can break out of, anytime he wants, and–
    Superman: Lois. Lex Luthor won't be going anywhere.
    Lois: What? What are you saying?
    Superman: Lex and I, we've done a strange dance for thirty years or so. I'm not sure who was leading, most of the time. We always wondered how long the dance would last. Now, I know. Lex Luthor and I... we've just had our last waltz, Lois.
  • A Diplomatic Visit: Discussed in chapter 12 of the sequel Diplomat at Large, where Daring says that this is the narrative reason why Caballeron keeps escaping - she needs recurring villains to make the stories more exciting. The in-story reason (and the truth, based on her real life, though the readers don't know that part) is that he really is just that good at escaping from the guards.
  • In It's An Unliving, Destiny of the Endless steps in before the Self-Insert Black Lantern can kill the Joker. Subverted when Destiny explains it was the best chance to talk to himnote  and allows him to kill the Joker.
  • In Shazam story Here There Be Monsters, Mary Marvel expresses frustration at the endless "Fighting super-villain > Turning them over to the cops > Fighting them again when they invariably break out of jail" cycle which has been going on and on during the last fourteen years. It is frustrating, tiresome, and something the Marvels cannot do anything about because they are not killers, and all in all their nemeses have not murdered anyone so far... as long as they know or are able to prove.
    Mary Marvel: Both of the guys think their Sivana is the worst, but I can tell you, Mom, Georgia has got to be the nastiest one of the pack. She's actually killed somebody, do you know that? Took a newspaper editor and shot him in cold blood. They couldn't pin the rap on her, but we know she did it."
    Edith Bromfield: "Why don't you put her away?"
    Mary Marvel: "We do, but they never stay in for very long. They know so much. They can always cook up a new way of getting out of jail. In the old days, Doc Sivana could even walk through walls. Can you believe that? Even I can't do that. It's more like, we go out there, we dance with them, and we bring them back home when the dance is over."
  • Funeral For A Flash: The Flash and his Rogues have become so accustomed to -and indifferent towards- the "Rogues commit new crimes after serving their sentence/breaking out of jail, and Flash inevitably catch them once again" cycle that the latter have developed tricks such like hiding their loot in anticipation of their eventual and assured capture.
    One of the tips was: always stash a good portion of your loot where it won't be found when you get sent back to the joint. Because, fighting the Flash, you were inevitably going to be sent back to the joint. But you'd also get out, and it paid to have a nest egg.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • As many Slasher Movies are part of a Villain-Based Franchise, their antagonists tend to have severe Joker Immunity. These include Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Michael Myers of Halloween, Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th, and Chucky from Child's Play (who explicitly references his immunity in Bride of Chucky, gloating that he can always come back from death). These characters are all extremely difficult to kill, and even when they are killed, they always are resurrected somehow. In fact, the ending of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was altered to ensure that Freddy survived (which really pissed off Wes Craven). Discussed in The Monster Squad where the dad is confused by how horror movies keep having all these sequels when the last one was said to have killed the villain once and for all. The Scream franchise averts this, however. Even though Ghostface appears in every film, it's always a different person assuming the identity (usually two people per movie), as they are always killed off.
  • James Bond:
  • Most kaiju have this ability, Godzilla being the best example. Future appearances had him dropped into lava, or blown up by some super-weapon. He always returns to menace Tokyo (and other cities) again. However, the continuity for Godzilla movies is loopy at worst, tenuous at best. The original monster killed by the Oxygen Destroyer often stays dead, and it's an all new mutated monster attacking this time. Or time traveling aliens messed with history. Or they abandon all notion of the '54 Godzilla existing and that Godzilla is the first encounter (as in Shin Godzilla).
  • Harry and Marv from the first two Home Alone films qualify. Special mention goes to two particular scenes in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, where Marv has bricks repeatedly thrown to his head, and later, electrocuted, while Harry's head is lit on fire, where he attempts to put it out in the toilet, not knowing it was full of kerosene, causing an explosion around him.

  • The Chronicles of Narnia:
    • C. S. Lewis manages to subvert this trope in Prince Caspian, where the villains' plan to resurrect the White Witch fails after all. The movie played this up even more.
    • In The Silver Chair, a villain shows up who appears to be the White Witch resurrected, but it's uncertain whether it's really her; nobody was left at the end of Prince Caspian to follow through on Nikabrik's plan, but she was the last member of her race (by her own doing), so it's not as if she could conceivably be a different witch.
  • In Warrior Cats, Tigerstar takes this to the logical extreme, since he keeps appearing even though he dies in the first series. However, his limited interaction with the living world makes him much less of a threat then when he was alive, and his involvement in the earlier books of tPoT was somewhat lacking. Eventually, after four series, they do manage to finally make him Deader Than Dead.
  • Averted in the Magic: The Gathering novels for the Ravnica setting. The leader of House Dimir (Ravnica's Big Bad) was actually arrested and killed at the end of the first book. But this bites the heroes in the butt in the third book, when it's revealed why Ravnica has experienced a rash of major disasters: because the complex system running the world was dependent on having a Big Bad.
    Agrus Kos: So I should've just let Szadek drain Selesnya's life away? That makes no sense.
    Grand Arbiter Augustin IV: It is a paradox.
  • In the Harry Potter books, the Series Goal is to defeat Lord Voldemort, so obviously he can't be killed until the end of the last book. Their encounters earlier in the series mostly consist of trying to avoid getting killed. Justified by the fact that the main characters are eleven years old in the first book and have just begun learning magic, while Voldemort is an adult generally regarded as one of the most powerful Wizards in the world. Even if they wanted to fight they really aren't prepared for it until much later in the series. Additionally in the second to last book it's revealed that it's impossible to permanently kill Voldemort until his Horcruxes are destroyed. Thus killing the Big Bad early wasn't actually an option until after the heroes Fetch Quest in the final book to gather and destroy said Horcruxes.
  • Artemis Fowl and Captain Holly Short will stop being tormented by Opal Koboi when readers stop finding her mania amusing. And considering all she's survived so far, it doesn't look like that world's most insane pixie will be going anywhere any time soon. In the final book, she finally gets a rather nasty death in which her black magic essentially eats her from the inside out.
  • Visser Three (or, after his promotion near the end, Visser One) in Animorphs ended at least two books in some kind of highly ambiguous, possible-death situation only to reappear in later books.
  • Downplayed by Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events, as he is rarely in explicit danger; what he repeatedly avoids is arrest, which serves the same goal as ordinary Joker Immunity. The straight form of this trope is subverted in The End, where he dies in the thirteenth chapter of the thirteenth book, and there's still one chapter left.
  • The Man in Black (a.k.a. Richard Fannin, Randall Flagg, Marten Broadcloak, etc.) from The Dark Tower seems to have a form of Joker Immunity. He always turns up again even if defeated, and none of the protagonists are able to kill him. Mordred, however, gobbled him up because he was hungry, effectively ending his immunity.
  • Black Company has Soulcatcher, chronic backstabber, who cannot be killed off no matter what the villains try despite being their primary source of grief. Similarly, the Limper can escape or survive punishment from both the good guys and the bigger villains, until it stops being funny and he's Killed Off for Real.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's The Rolling Stones Hazel Stone is considering killing off the bad guy in a TV Series she created, but realizes unless she also wants the hero to die too (the series ends because the hero no longer has a purpose), you have to bring in Son of Villain, with bad breath as bad as his father and balls of steel to match.
  • The Space Pirates Rat and Jolly U in Alice, Girl from the Future. The author actually does kill off Jolly U in the first book featuring the two, but the First Law of Resurrection applies and Jolly U appears in later books alive and well without any explanation of his survival. Further on, they become firmly fixed in the plot as Alice's best-known enemies, escaping punishment after each defeat to reappear again (leading to Fanon assumptions that there is no death penalty in the franchise's universe). In the later books, they are friendly enemies with Alice, so they don't want to kill her anymore and she doesn't want them dead.
  • Fairies Of Dreamdark has an interesting variant: the heroes go out of their way to seal demons in the demon bottles instead of killing them because demons have souls just as fairies do, so killing them would just leave them running around the Moonlit Gardens and ruining that for all the dead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Alias, both Julian Sark (whose constant escapes eventually become a Running Gag) and Arvin Sloane (who, at one point, manages to survive his own execution) enjoy this immunity.
  • Arrowverse:
    • One villain who simply will not die is Eobard Thawne, aka the Reverse-Flash. While other villains in the franchise have come back via resurrection, Thawne is unique in that, no matter how many times he is ostensibly erased from existence, he always comes back. Even after the Black Flash caught up with him in the Season 2 finale of Legends of Tomorrow, and it seemed like his luck had finally run out, he eventually turns up on Earth-X, working with the Nazis just for kicks. When Barry comments on this, Thawne doesn't even bother with an explanation, and just handwaves it via the Timey-Wimey Ball. In the Season 5 finale of The Flash (2014), an explanation is finally given, as he explains that the Negative Speed Force which gives him his powers is somehow immune to the alterations to time, unlike the regular Speed Force, so it protects him.
    • Lex Luthor in Supergirl (2015) also has some form of this, as after being killed off, the Monitor resurrected him for an important role in Crisis on Infinite Earths (2019).
  • Bones.
    • Christopher Pelant. He keeps escaping and Booth even nails him in the head and leaves half blind. He finally gets his Plot Armor revoked in season 9 when Booth kills him.
    • Broadsky qualifies too with his repeated escapes during season 6. Booth finally takes him alive.
  • Several villains from Buffy the Vampire Slayer evade death repeatedly, including Spike, Dru, and Darla (who technically dies about four times over the course of Buffy and Angel, but only the last one takes).
  • "Dead Larry" Sizemore of Burn Notice, partly because of his badass spy skills and his relationship to The Hero, partly because he's just too cool to kill off. In the season 5 summer finale, it looked like death had finally caught up with him. Then a newspaper article said that two people had been found dead. There were three people in that building.
  • Doctor Who:
  • On Farscape, off-and-on Big Bad Scorpius was only supposed to be part of a two-episode arc, but he ended up becoming very popular and kept returning, even after being shot and buried on screen. The show also started making a point of how he's a Crazy-Prepared Magnificent Bastard, which helps explain how he keeps surviving. He even earned a Promotion to Opening Titles after we learned that he's actually a Well-Intentioned Extremist with an enemy in common with the heroes.
  • Jerome Valeska on Gotham, who might well be the series' incarnation of the Joker, is stabbed through the throat and dies. He gets better a season later, which is even more of a hint that he might someday adopt the nom du guerre Joker which is the only thing missing as he is for all intents and purposes a fully grown Joker in personality and motivation. His immunity is finally revoked late in Season 4, when he's finally Killed Off for Real, but not before setting in motion a plan that drives his twin brother Jeremiah insane, allowing him to become the show's version of the Joker.
  • Wo Fat in the original Hawaii Five-O always got away at the end of the episode, to the point that the series finale was, and could only be, McGarrett hunting him down to arrest him personally — except the final shot shows he has a file in his shoe. Similarly in the reboot.
    • It's Wo Fat's notorious Joker immunity more than any other that's being parodied in The Simpsons "Spin-Off Showcase" segment "Chief Wiggum, P.I.", in which Big Daddy escapes very slowly.
      Principal Skinner: He's gradually getting away, Chief.
      Chief Wiggum: Ah, let him go. I have the feeling we'll meet again, each and every week. Always in more sexy and exciting ways.
  • On Heroes, Sylar seems to have the universe bending over backwards to keep him alive, largely because he's a very popular character. He was originally intended to be killed off at the end of Volume 1, but since then he's survived:
    • Being technically killed off at the end of Volume 3, only to appear at the start of Volume 4 without so much as a Hand Wave (which came eventually but was pretty stupid).
    • A kill squad getting the drop on him in the Volume 4 opener, only for them to inexplicably use tasers instead. What's particularly dumb is that they had discussed beforehand how to make him Deader Than Dead.
    • Getting knifed in the back of the head in the penultimate episode of Volume 4. He survived that by getting back up right away, which completely violates the show's established rules of regeneration. They Hand Wave this by saying that he shapeshifting in a way that moved "the button" that turns the brain off — which implies that he shifted his brain stem to his rear end or something.
    • Getting knocked unconscious in the Volume 4 finale, which gives the heroes a single chance to end him for good. They blow it when Angela and Noah order Matt Parkman just to erase his memories and force him to assume the life of Nathan Petrelli, whom he had Killed Off for Real. This lasts for four episodes before Sylar reverts to his old self.
    • Not one, but two Heroic Sacrifices in Volume 5, neither of which work. Nathan's involved jumping off a building; it was undone before he even hit the ground.
  • James Horton in Highlander seems to die twice, but comes back both times. The first time, Joe got him to a hospital; as his brother-in-law, he didn't want to stand and watch him die. Macleod finally did off him for real the third time.
  • Ben Linus from Lost is too adored by the fanbase to get rid of. He lies, manipulates, and murders to his heart's content. He's tried to kill Locke so many times we lost count, and he succeeded in season 5. He's killed (directly or indirectly) four main characters by the end of the show. Despite this, Sayid is the only one to actually try to kill him — but Ben is a child when he tries, so the attempt not only fails, but is also implied to make Ben what he is today.
  • On MacGyver (1985), Murdoc the Assassin keeps "dying" in over the top ways (dying in a collapsing building, diving off a mountain after cutting his own rope, plunging into a fiery pool after being electrocuted, carelessness with dynamite, drowning in a flooded mine shaft, driving a Jeep off of a cliff). But even though he's pronounced dead each time, they never find his body and just rationalize that he couldn't possibly have survived that. It's never adequately explained how he just keeps surviving certain death. After a while, MacGyver starts to assume that if there isn't a body, Murdoc will turn up to try to kill him again, an expectation that's the cause of increasing tension as time goes on.
  • Multiple episodes of Merlin end with Morgana unconscious or incapacitated, yet Merlin and the other good guys never take the opportunity to finish her off, despite the tremendous damage she has caused.
  • Zig-zagged with Moriarty in Sherlock. He manages to survive the stand-off in the Season 1 finale, but is apparently killed in the Season 2 finale; most expected this death to stick, seeing as he was Killed Off for Real in the Sherlock Holmes story it was based on. However, he ends up returning in the Season 3 finale, which surprised everyone in-universe, and Sherlock is convinced he's still dead and it's just a very elaborate recording. In the season 4 finale, he suddenly shows up, and his scene goes on for several seconds before we realize it was set five years previously; the show is playing on the audience's expectation of his Joker Immunity.
  • On Smallville, Lex Luthor has been shot, stabbed, and mindwiped. He's had the Fortress of Solitude collapse on his head reducing him to an Evil Cripple, and he's been blown up in a truck explosion shortly afterwards. The series concludes with his resurrection from the dead, which was of course, a Foregone Conclusion. It's been suggested, but not outright confirmed, that his immunity derives from his Green Rocks-given ability.
  • Apophis is like this in the early seasons of Stargate SG-1. When they finally manage to make his death stick, Anubis takes on the mantle. Apophis's final death was rather definitive (his flagship was rammed into a planet at high speed with Apophis trapped on its command deck), but even then Colonel O'Neill is only 99% sure he's really dead. Anubis was even harder to get rid of because his incorporeal "half-Ascended" state made him physically invulnerable.
    O'Neill: Son of a bitch! Someone's gotta teach that guy how to die.
  • On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Weyoun is killed off at the end of his very first episode. The character proved popular enough to bring him back, but they did so by cloning him; we eventually meet five different clones of Weyoun throughout the show's run. He's not Killed Off for Real until the finale, after the destruction of his cloning facility left him Out of Continues.
  • Supernatural: Lucifer never ceases to return to torment the Wincesters. He's been consigned to the Cage built by God for him in the deepest pit of Hell multiple times, been torn out of his vessel by Amara, had his new vessel physically fall apart on him, been marooned in the Apocalypse Universe (twice) and actually killed by his brother the Archangel Michael in Dean's body - and none of it has ever managed to keep him down for good.
  • John Graves Simcoe in Turn is portrayed as a bloodthirsty psychopath, and frequently gets into situations in which he is at the mercy of people who have plenty of reason to kill him. Nonetheless, he manages to weasel, finagle, or simply get lucky an implausible number of times, partly because he is a delicious villain, and partly because he is based on a real person who survived the war and went on to become an able administrator in Canada.
  • In Van Helsing (2016), Sam was a cunning serial killer when human and knows the group and their weaknesses, so it makes sense that he'd be particularly dangerous as a vampire. However in addition to being extremely lucky, he also appears to be physically almost indestructible for no reason the show even hints at. A single bullet can severely impede most vampires, while Sam was hosed with gunfire and seemingly only bothered to fall over to lure them closer, and another vampire pronounces No One Could Survive That! about a fall that barely slows him down. This is finally justified by The Reveal in the Season 3 finale that he's a potential Elder.
  • In The Walking Dead, the Governor kept coming back after a number of seemingly fatal defeats. His immunity is eventually revoked in the Season 4 mid-season finale, where he is Killed Off for Real during another attack on Rick's group at the prison.
  • The Cigarette-Smoking Man from The X-Files has been "presumed dead" multiple times and it never seems to stick. He's "dead" again at the end of The New '10s revival, but another revival would be needed to see if this time was the one.

  • The song "The Cat Came Back" plays the trope for laughs (and named its own trope in turn). The feline nuisance will come back no matter what anybody does to get rid of it. Some versions have the cat actually die eventually (for reasons almost entirely unrelated to the owner's attempts to dispose of it, like in the original, where it somehow dies after hearing an organ grinder’s song), only for it to come back as a ghost.
  • Played for laughs in "Scary Song", by the Frankenstein Drag Queens from Planet 13:
    The boogeyman only wants to take your life
    Can't kill him off, he'll just come right back in Part 2.

  • In Norse folklore, Thor repeatedly battles the Midgard Serpent, yet prior to Ragnarök it always escapes.
  • In Egyptian Mythology, Set is spared the full wrath of Horus when his mother Isis takes pity on him, and he is allowed to flee. Thus, in the Egyptian mythos, evil could be defeated temporarily, but never permanently.
  • The Mark of Cain in The Bible is often interpreted as having given him Joker Immunity. In the text itself, however, God never states that Cain won't be killed; just that if he does, whoever responsible is going to get a Fate Worse than Death.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The Undertaker is the embodiment of this trope in the world of Professional Wrestling. During his career, he has been locked inside several flaming caskets, been buried alive, had his career ended following high profile matches, and at least once died and ascended to Heaven. Despite this, he always returns, once Mark Callaway's nagging injuries have recovered or his holiday time is up. Promos for his match against Mark Henry at Unforgiven 2007 explicitly billed him as "The Man Who Can't be Destroyed".
  • Edge is a Heel who made a name for himself by always coming back (and being a Karma Houdini in the process); not even Hell can stop him.
  • Vince McMahon, being the owner of WWE both in Kayfabe and in Real Life, naturally gave himself Joker Immunity which only he can revoke. This makes him extraordinarily powerful, especially given that he can revoke any wrestler's own immunity as well. In-Universe, he's survived such events as limo explosions which allow him to take breaks from television in real life. As he plans to run the company until the day he dies, it's unlikely we'll ever see him revoke his own immunity.
  • Subverted by Kaiju Big Battel; they really did kill off their Big Bad and Series Mascot, Dr. Cube. People thought he might have Joker Immunity when he came back thanks to Time Travel, but it was later revealed that this Cube was an impostor wearing his helmet.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The tarrasque embodies this trope as the memetic "nigh-invincible monster" of the game. It takes a Wish spell on top of massive damage and disintegration to make them stay dead. With Wish gone in fourth edition, the description of the tarrasque outright states it to be impossible to kill permanently without launching it into outer space. One campaign setting is dedicated to its functional immortality; the one civilization that did defeat it uses it as a never-ending food source (which also mutates them horribly, but whatever).
    • Strahd von Zarovich has his own personal Revolving Door Afterlife. He's played the starring role in two 1st Edition modules, a pick-a-path book, an entire 2nd Edition campaign setting, and a 3rd edition hardback adventure; in most he winds up destroyed at the end, yet it never seems to take. Ads for the hardback actually urged 3E gamers, "This time, make sure he's DEAD dead!"; yet the Count's back 'gain in 4E, for a board game and appearance in Open Grave.
  • The Quori in Eberron are designed to have Joker Immunity. They are spirits possessing mortal vessels, so the host's death does not kill the inhabiting Quori. Their actual bodies live in another plane of existence which cannot be reached by normal planar travel. This makes them an ideal enemy to throw repeatedly at the party.
  • Numerous characters in Warhammer 40,000 can and have been killed, but due to the general nature of the Warp, this is rarely permanent.
    • Eldar Phoenix Lords live on within their armor, their spirit inhabiting the next person who wears it until they are killed.
    • Lucius the Eternal (and most probably other Champions of the Chaos Gods) is effectively immortal, as anyone who kills him becomes him, becoming yet another person trapped within his armor.
    • The Daemon Princes and Greater Daemons (also present in Warhammer) can never be killed, only banished to the Warp where they can be summoned again.
    • The Tyranid Swarmlord can die, but if it does, its consciousness will be reabsorbed into the Hive Mind and stored until the Swarmlord is needed again.
    • Kharn the Betrayer was actually killed during the Siege of Terra by Imperial forces, but Khorne deemed him too worthy of a champion to slip into the realm of the dead and granted him a perpetual body. No one has been able to kill him since.
  • In Warhammer, Vlad von Carstein had a magic ring that would allow him to resurrect every time he was killed, so no matter how many times the Empire thought they put him down, he and his undead hordes would return. Unfortunately for Vlad, his son Mannfred betrayed this secret to the Empire, who sent a master thief to steal the ring before Vlad was destroyed for real during the Siege of Altdorf.
    • Nagash the Undying didn't get that name solely because he invented necromancy; he was killed four times in the old Warhammer universe, and not only did he come back every single time to wreck havoc on the world, he survived the universe collapsing and being reborn to become the de facto God of Death in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, the nation/world/culture/force of Phyrexia has Joker Immunity. It affected the storyline of most of the game's sets and was the unambiguous villain of a dozen of them. When it looked like they were finally defeated for good, one single drop of oil on Mirrodin was enough to ultimately turn that world into New Phyrexia. Worse yet, any plane Karn has been on is potentially infected.
  • In Rippers, the Count is given a handwaved escape from the climax of the book, temporarily fooling the heroes into thinking he was slain while really misting himself as he was staked. Apparently, having another vampire lord rise to villainy wouldn't have proven sufficient motivation for the Harkers to form a group of hunters in the setting.
  • The Servitors of the Apocalypse in Deadlands. The designers, understandably, didn't want PCs making things difficult by slaying them all, so they made up the most difficult quests possible: e.g. Stone can only be re-killed by the bullets that killed him (which are in him), and Reverend Grimme can only be killed by his original magic stick (which he threw into the sea and is not the one he carries).
  • The card-based version of Marvel Super Heroes has a section in the rules acknowledging that only lame, unmemorable villains actually die, and otherwise it goes down a list of possibilities to explain how a villain who seemingly died in the campaign is back later.

    Video Games 
  • BlazBlue's Big Bad Hazama not only has Joker Immunity, he even resembles the Joker with his green hair and maniacal laughter. He's explicitly dead, but is kept alive by people's hatred of him. And as it's a Fighting Game series, leaving him off the roster will just attract the fans' ire. Specifically:
    • In BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma, he's hit by Hakumen's Time Killer, which should theoretically eliminate his future lifespan until the heat death of the universe. His boss Izanami also seems to just want to leave him to die. He still survives this via self-Observation, though on a time limit.
    • In BlazBlue: Central Fiction, he gains a third form by hijacking Hakumen's armor unit (which originally belonged to him in the first place) in order to get over his Living on Borrowed Time state. Ragna finds a way to yank the soul out of that unit and evaporate it from existence. This implies that the other two units (or at least Terumi) have had their immunities revoked, as this resolves a major plot point for Ragna. That said, Hazama is still probably okay as long as he doesn't antagonize Ragna again.
  • Carmen Sandiego can't be caught, at least not for long, no matter which medium she appeared in. The kid's game show came the closest; if the contestant won, she would be captured, but she will have freed herself by the time the next game starts.
  • Zig-zagged with Dracula in the Castlevania series. He spent most of the series being defeated and resurrected over and over again, before finally being defeated off-screen in 1999 — and then being reincarnated as Soma Cruz in Castlevania: Chronicles of Sorrow. It's hinted that he gets stronger each time he returns. It's enough to discourage at least one member of the Belmont family, who tries to refuse to fight him (only to learn the hard way that he can't).
  • Kane from Command & Conquer has survived from the 1950s to the 1990s without aging, survived an Ion Cannon strike, and a metal pole to the chest, all while manipulating the Scrin into invading Earth.
  • In the Crash Bandicoot series, Dr. Neo Cortex has survived numerous supposedly inescapable demises; then, again due to the series' slapstick nature, this is par for the course for the series' Rogues Gallery, which includes the Evil Twins being eaten by Evil Crash in Crash Twinsanity). It helps that Cortex and a lot of other villains are Iron Butt Monkeys.
  • Danganronpa's Monokuma always comes back to start another killing game. The first game, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, has Monokuma/Junko Enoshima seemingly killed, but she comes back as an AI in Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, where she is seemingly killed again. In Danganronpa 3 Side:Future and Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, this is subverted as she is dead for real in the former (although her influence still lingers), and in the latter the sixth trial has her coming back, but it's not the real Junko, it's Tsumugi cosplaying. The "real Junko" never even existed: she is fictional in the V3 world, just like everyone from the previous games and the games themselves. According to Tsumugi, anyway.
  • Averted in Deus Ex, where nearly every boss can be killed before the big confrontation. Sometimes they can be killed while they are still aligned as friendly and through surreptitious and underhanded ways.
  • The title villain of the Diablo series has already returned from defeat twice, and it's a safe bet that he will have Joker Immunity for as long as the series lasts. Firstly because the lore suggests that he cannot be destroyed, only imprisoned. And secondly because Blizzard would have to rebrand their rather Villain-Based Franchise.
  • King K. Rool in Donkey Kong Country has survived getting blown up, punched through windows, attacked by sharks, falling into a volcano, electrocution, destruction of his home country (by his own actions), and just getting beaten up by the Kongs over the course of many games and spin-offs, but he keeps coming back for more. It looked as if he was gone for good when both Returns and Tropical Freeze used different villains, but then he appeared as a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (though that game obviously has no bearing on DKC's continuity).
  • No matter how many times the Pilot blows Hibachi to smithereens in every DonPachi, it's back and flooding the screen by the end of the next game.
  • Executioners' Final Boss, Cannibal Ed Bujone, survives his defeat (a Taking You with Me destruction of the factory) purely because Word of God said he's the developers' favorite character. He has a particularly Unexplained Recovery when he surprises the heroes as they celebrate their victory in a fine restaurant.
  • The Bacterians as a whole from Gradius are extremely hard to kill. Though this is justifed, whenever they are defeated, pieces of them will scatter throughout the galaxy, and eventually they begin to regenerate and start their invasion anew.
  • Final Fantasy:
  • William Afton of Five Nights at Freddy's is the Purple Guy- the serial killer responsible for all the child killings and haunted animatronics that form the foundation of the series. He dies three times throughout the series: His first death is when he fell victim to a springlock failure: He eventually possesses his own corpse and becomes Springtrap: 30 years after his original death, he seemingly dies for good when Fazbear's Fright burns down. Three games later, it's revealead he survived, although badly damaged. Pizzeria Simulator ends with Afton and the remaining animatronics dying in a second fire: But he barely survived it, and the next game, Ultimate Custom Night, is William being tortured in his nightmares. He eventually escapes this form of punishment to, being scanned into a VR game as a virus, and as of now, he's still alive. The third game's trailer said that William will always come back, and William is sure as hell determined to make this statement come true.
  • In House of the Dead, Caleb Goldman continually comes back, even in the fourth game. However, it becomes a subversion when it turns out that his appearances are just flashbacks and recorded messages. Similarly, the Magician has also returned several times as a Bonus Boss, solely because of his popularity.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • Axel seems to die toward the end of Sora's Story Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, only to be revealed to have survived in Reverse/Rebirth. He seemingly dies in the prologue of Kingdom Hearts II, then comes back again and actually dies at the end of the game when Sora travels to The World That Never Was. He was scheduled to actually die in the prologue; his popularity with the fans bought him some extra time. He returns in 3D, now going by his old human name of Lea.
    • The main villain, Xehanort/Ansem, is very hard to get rid of. Sora kills his Heartless in the first game, but Chain of Memories makes it clear that he's still bumping around inside Riku's mind. He returns in Kingdom Hearts II with his Nobody, Xemnas; Riku also takes his form, having somewhat lost his battle with his darkness. Both are defeated by the game: Xemnas is dead for good, and Riku is back to normal. However, according to Word of God, this just means his Nobody and heart will merge to form a whole person again (like Axel/Lea), and Xehanort will eventually be back for another round. The prequel game Birth by Sleep reveals that he's been doing this for a while now, having stolen Terra's body after being defeated for the first time. Kingdom Hearts III, touted as the Grand Finale of the Xehanort Saga after nearly two decades of buildup, sees Xehanort finally get his immunity revoked, albeit under his own terms. Defeated by Sora and his friends after a grueling, multi-stage battle, Xehanort bows out peacefully and departs for the afterlife after some coaxing from an apparition of his old friend Eraqus. Even then, due to the Me's a Crowd nature of Xehanort's schemes, it can be argued that he isn't truly dead given that Xigbar, one of the many vessels for his heart, is still alive by the game's end and ready to bring a new plan to fruition—albeit one with a different goal in mind, since Braig/Xigbar was actually Luxu from Kingdom Hearts χ all along and manipulating Xehanort for his own purposes.
    • Maleficent is killed in her dragon form in the first game, but when her pet Diablo brings her cloak to the three fairies, their sheer terror of her is apparently enough to resurrect her in II. She then does the same for Oogie Boogie. The really confusing case is Ursula showing up again.
  • In The Legend of Zelda, Ganondorf/Ganon continues to appear in the series, no matter how many times he gets killed. It happens often enough to have named a trope about situations where a new Big Bad turns out to just be a patsy for a resurrected Ganon. It's even a plot point; although Link and Zelda are Legacy Characters and the different games have different Links, the Ganon in each game is the same entity. The sole exception to date is the Ganon in Four Swords Adventures who is a reincarnation of Twilight Princess's Ganondorf... who is, in turn, the Ocarina of Time Ganondorf, having been ousted as a Treacherous Advisor to the Hylian Royal Family by a time-traveling Link but surviving his execution due to the Triforce of Power.
  • Subverted in The Legendary Starfy. Ogura is killed off in the third game after performing a Heroic Sacrifice, and stays that way for the following two games (both of which have brand new villains).
  • Mega Man:
    • Dr. Albert W. Wily from Mega Man (Classic) always avoids total defeat. When Mega Man finally lands his ass in prison, he easily breaks out of it (albeit six months later). In Mega Man 7, Mega is literally a trigger pull away from killing Wily once and for all, but when Wily brings up the First Law of Robotics (a robot must never harm a human), he hesitates just long enough for Bass to save him. In Mega Man 8, after Mega's apparent (and American-exclusive) sanity break, Wily never actually gets cornered, so Mega doesn't get to try killing him again (Duo takes care of things, keeping Mega from a final blow). Mega Man 9 apparently has Mega back to his Thou Shalt Not Kill attitude for no readily apparent reason, but then, considering he lost his charge shots and his slide ability, it's no wonder he's lost a few other things.
    • In the Mega Man X series, Sigma keeps getting killed — sometimes he dies twice in a single game. But as he's a sentient computer virus, and there's all sorts of robots for him to take over, he won't ever stay dead (though he sometimes doesn't return with all his mental faculties intact, as infamously seen with the "Zombie Sigma" in Mega Man X6 after stretching himself thin during the Eurasia Incident). His immunity is finally revoked in Mega Man X8, where he's blown up on the Moon, finds that there's nothing to take over on its barren surface, and dissipates harmlessly and somewhat anticlimactically. Zero-era supplemental materials pour (more) salt on the wound by having X use the Mother Elf, a "Sigma Antibody Program" created from Zero's data, to completely eradicate the Sigma Virus, deleting Sigma's existence (and finally ending the Maverick Wars) for good.
    • In the Mega Man Zero series, Doctor Weil/Vile's Joker Immunity is explicitly part of his ability set; he has eternal life and Nigh-Invulnerability (through regeneration) as punishment for his earlier crimes. He appears to be really dead in Zero 4, but his remnants pop up again as the driving threat of the Mega Man ZX series, Model W.
  • Revolver Ocelot, the only surviving boss from Metal Gear Solid, went on to plague Snake in every subsequent game. In his second appearance, he evades doom by wearing a kinetic shield, making him literally immune to bullets. The prequel focused on his early career in Spetnaz, so you can assume he's safe in this outing; but even then, Hideo Kojima can't leave well enough alone, lobbing bullets, bees, rockets, explosions, planes, and who knows what else at poor Ocelot. He survives everything, even a few tight scrapes with Big Boss himself, who consciously spares Ocelot's life (as he feels a certain kinship with a fellow "Son of The Boss"). Ocelot finally dies in Metal Gear Solid 4.
  • Ridley in the Metroid series has appeared in every game in the series except for Metroid II: Return of Samus, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and Metroid Prime: Hunters. Interestingly, he's usually The Dragon rather than the Big Bad (literally, in his case), and gamers have noticed that in most of his defeats, they Never Found the Body. That said, he's also Samus' Arch-Enemy more than any other Big Bad (including Mother Brain), as he is personally responsible for the attack that destroyed Samus' homeworld and killed her parents. Also, the games are in Anachronic Order, so in some instances his survival is a given no matter what you do to him. In internal chronological order:
    • He is seemingly killed the first time you fight him in the first Metroid (and in Metroid: Zero Mission).
    • His next appearance is in Metroid Prime as Meta Ridley, implying that he survived with the help of robot tech; in that game, the player never actually sees him die. He appears to be "killed" at the start of Corruption, only to return as Omega Ridley, the guardian of the Pirate Homeworld Leviathan. Players noticed his shadow flying away for a sneaky split second.
    • The remake of Metroid II, Metroid: Samus Returns has him show up as the true final boss of the story. His Meta Ridley armor is mostly cast off, but he still maintains some — mostly on his along his spine, wings, left arm, and right leg. It's theorized that his Phazon exposure as Omega Ridley helped heal the organic parts of his being, hence why he's almost fully organic again here — a form known as Proteus Ridley.
    • He next appears in Super Metroid, apparently in his original form after having finally healed enough to cast off his Cyborg Prosthetics entirely. Word of God points to his defeat in this game as the point where he's Killed Off for Real, seeing as Zebes was destroyed in an Earth-Shattering Kaboom, but that doesn't stop clones of him from showing up in future games.
    • In Metroid: Other M, a cloned Ridley appears, gets wounded by Samus, and is consumed by the Metroid Queen. He dies a lot faster than the original did. This game also speculates that the original was very good at playing dead, implying he may have still survived.
    • The clone's drained, frozen husk turns up in Metroid Fusion, where he is consumed by an X parasite; you fight him as Neo-Ridley. As this is an X parasite mimicking Ridley, it's about as powerful as the original but explicitly isn't him; the boss's inclusion (as is the suspiciously Super Metroid-like area he appears in) is likely just Pandering to the Base.
  • Monkey Island's Ghost Pirate LeChuck always finds a way to come back for every new game, despite explicitly dying at the end of almost all of them; as the Voodoo Lady notes, true evil can never be destroyed completely. The first game implies that he was undead to begin with; he gets revived by voodoo as an explicit zombie for the second game, and in subsequent games, he becomes a demon who can escape the pirate afterlife. For his part, Medium Aware protagonist Guybrush knows that LeChuck can't die because they need him for the sequels; in The Curse of Monkey Island, he begs LeChuck not to kill him because he's also necessary for the sequels (and to prove his point, asks LeChuck if he's ever heard of Bobbin Threadbare).
  • Mortal Kombat, being a game populated with bad guys whom you defeat in particularly gruesome ways, naturally gives nearly everybody Joker Immunity. The most egregious is Big Bad Shao Khan's survival in the reboot; The Hero Liu Kang punches straight through him and all his lieutenants surrender, but the next scene shows Shao Khan limping back to his throne and announcing his next evil plan. It takes the Elder Gods' intervention to get rid of him at the end of the game, but Mortal Kombat X implies he's still alive and kicking: one set of Mirror Match dialogue for Ermac suggests the emperor's soul is now part of the myriad collection of fallen warriors comprising Ermac's being. This Sequel Hook is seemingly negated when Kronika, the Big Bad of Mortal Kombat 11—and perhaps even more of a Greater-Scope Villain than the One Being—uses her powers over the flow of time to engineer a Cosmic Retcon so that she can guide history along its "rightful" course, only for the resulting Time Crash to bring a MK2-era Shao Kahn into Kronika's circle. This doesn't last long, as the Kitana from the same time period ultimately ends up defeating Kahn in battle, culminating with her going for the jugular. For added measure, the game ends with Fire God Liu Kang (Liu Kang imbued with Raiden's powers) going through with a clean wipe of the timeline in response to Kronika's (attempted) meddling, meaning it's entirely possible Shao Kahn will end up being Ret-Gone'd in the rebooted timeline.
  • Saya from Namco × Capcom, Endless Frontier, and Project X Zone. No matter how many times Reiji Arisu kills her, she always seems to come back.
  • In the first No More Heroes, Travis Touchdown slices Destroyman in half; this doesn't stop him from returning in the sequel as two separate people (New Destroyman) with cybernetics replacing the missing halves.
  • For a robot, Dr. Nefarious from Ratchet & Clank is surprisingly indestructible.
    • Even as an organic lifeform he proved to be unkillable: he got knocked into a bunch of gears and machinery by Captain Qwark and was presumed dead but instead he was transformed into a robot. In a later confrontation he's decapitated by Qwark, who tosses his head in a trash can (where his butler Lawrence rescues him from and later reattaches his head back to his body). Years later in Up Your Arsenal, he fights against Ratchet who fires at him with machine guns, missile launchers and all sorts of futuristic weapons that barely leave a scratch on the doctor. Nefarious then controls the Biobliterator which turns into a gigantic mech that is destroyed by Ratchet, Clank and Qwark. The mech explodes in a spectacular fashion, but Nefarious and Lawrence manage to teleport to an asteroid floating in space while still being able to breathe and are left stranded.
    • Years later in A Crack in Time, the asteroid finally crash lands on planet Zanifar in the Polaris Galaxy (though not before coming in contact with the ruins of the DreadZone Battledome). Nefarious survives this crash landing and sets up his base of operations, the Nefarious Space Station, in Polaris. Ratchet and Clank confront him there yet again, where Nefarious suffers a complete mental breakdown after his defeat and his broken down body is left there as the space station explodes. Word of God says that Nefarious was originally meant to be killed off here, but Sony wanted the series to keep going so the comic book series and All 4 One explained that Lawrence teleported Nefarious away just before the station exploded.
    • Even in the alternative continuity of Ratchet & Clank (2016) Nefarious, in his organic form, refuses to die. After betraying Chairman Alonzo Drek, he confronts Ratchet, Clank and Qwark at the climax of the film and is about to kill Qwark by using the RYNO. Ratchet uses his wrench to knock Nefarious into the Deplanetizer, sending him crash landing on planet Umbris where he's transformed into a robot yet again. Somewhat subverted in the tie-in video game where Ratchet and Clank fight Nefarious in an ultra-mech, knock him into the Deplanetizer's artificial supernova where he appears to be incinerated and finally killed off. Of course the game is Qwark's retelling of the events from the original game and the player knows that Nefarious shows up in Up Your Arsenal so he probably survived this event as well.
  • Albert Wesker from Resident Evil. He gets impaled by a Tyrant in the end of the first game, but it's just used to activate the virus that he injected himself early on that gave him his powers. In 5, he manages to survive from Jill's Heroic Sacrifice. That is, until he dies for real in the end.
  • Rocket Knight Adventures: Although the Big Bad always dies at the end of each game, Axel Gear does not.
  • SNK's Geese Howard is an odd example; in the continuity of The King of Fighters, he's alive and well, but in his home continuity of Fatal Fury and KOF's own Alternate Continuity, the Maximum Impact series, he's dead. And even then, he's appeared in games where he's canonically dead in the form of "Nightmare Geese", a much more powerful "spirit" version of his normal self.
  • Doctor Robotnik/Eggman from Sonic the Hedgehog hasn't even been in prison for his crimes (except for the one time he broke in deliberately), so he's always back to fight the heroes in the next installment.
    • Most games have him surviving otherwise inescapable explosions with little more than Amusing Injuries. Most egregiously, his Death Egg burst into flames and crash-landed on Angel Island in the climax of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but Sonic 3 reveals that he started work on his next scheme almost immediately after that.
    • Shadow the Hedgehog seemingly subverts his immunity; in three possible endings, it's implied that Shadow breaks his neck after defeating him. However, these endings were subject to Cutting Off the Branches and Eggman survives to the Last Story.
    • The ending of Sonic Generations shows both the modern Dr. Eggman and the classic Dr. Robotnik trapped together in the same nowhere-space outside time, explicitly trying and failing to find a way out. Both are perfectly fine when we next see them in Sonic Lost World and Sonic Mania respectively, despite Sonic Forces confirming that the time travel plot of Generations did happen, in some fashion, at least.
  • In the Star Fox series, rival team Star Wolf is more resilient than any villain, always coming back from defeat for another shot at you — sometimes in the same game. They've survived things other than defeating you; in the default ending of Star Fox Command, Star Wolf flies into an acidic ocean to attack the enemy base and come back in one piece. The only exception is Star Fox: Assault's Corneria level where Fox rides on Wolf's wing, where he will die if you fail to protect his ship.
  • Any Star Wars video game in which you fight against Darth Vader, either in his TIE Fighter or a lightsaber duel, Vader can't be killed. In games that depict the Battle of Yavin (the 1983 and 1998 games), Vader's TIE fighter can be shot and hit but it will spin out of control; or after his hit points are depleted, he will veer off. Vader's wingmen can still be killed with one shot, however. You aren't told explicitly that you won the lightsaber duel with Vader in the 1998 game, but when he runs out of hit points he does acknowledge that "The Force is strong in you but... you are not a Jedi yet."
  • M. Bison in Street Fighter can't stay dead. Akuma's iconic Dynamic Entry moment in Super Street Fighter II Turbo, where he pulls the Raging Demon on Bison, was retconned away, as Street Fighter IV: The Ties That Bind shows Bison killing himself to avoid capture at the hands of the heroes. Even then, his soul hovers around post-mortem until a suitable replacement body can be made (much like the aftermath of Alpha 3), leading to his inclusion in the events of Street Fighter IV. In his next chronological appearance, Street Fighter V, his current body appears to show signs of degradation (again, like in Alpha 3) and Bison seemingly dies at the end of "A Shadow Falls" following his battle with Ryu. However, the Capcom Fighters Network profile for "Phantom Bison" (Bison's consciousness manifested through Psycho Power whenever his body is destroyed) as well as the Character Stories for Ed and Falke, two of Bison's potential hosts, indicate that he's still around even after the fall of Shadaloo.
  • Bowser from the Super Mario Bros. franchise seems to enjoy complete immunity to death. Otherwise it's very hard to explain how he comes back from falling off a chandelier, being melted to a skeleton in lava, getting crushed beneath a giant wedding cake, falling into a star, or any of the other crazy things that happen to him throughout the saga. Sometimes, though, it's really weird:
    • In Super Mario Galaxy, which provides the "thrown into a star" example, Bowser ends up apparently dying for real, except the entire universe gets sucked into a black hole, resulting in a Big Crunch and a new Big Bang, which recreates the universe — including Bowser.
    • Super Paper Mario reveals that he's one of the four heroes (along with Mario, Luigi, and Peach) who are destined to stop Count Bleck from destroying all worlds. Near the end, when Bowser is seemingly crushed, Peach says she isn't worried about him because he isn't easy to get rid of and has survived worse. She's right; he just crashed through the floor.
    • In New Super Mario Bros., Bowser is seemingly killed three times over the course of the game and has to be brought back to life each time. He "remains" Dry Bowser for the second fight, so it's implied that he spent the entire game in-between those battles in skeletal form.
    • In Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, you are actually tasked to save Bowser from otherwise certain death by activating his body's desperation Hulk Out. In the other Mario & Luigi installments, he always survives his fights with the brothers while one-off villains like Cackletta and Antasma are killed in battles that play out the exact same way gameplay-wise.
    • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door lampshades the phenomenon; during the stages where you play as Bowser, he has infinite lives.
  • Mara Aramov from the Syphon Filter series gets headshot twice, but survives until Dark Mirror.
  • Wild Dog from the Time Crisis series. Despite being blown up in every game you fight him, he always comes back for more. Lampshaded by Alan and Wesley in the third game:
    Wesley: Wild Dog?!
    Alan: Don't you ever die?!
  • Eliphas the Inheritor of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War is supposed to be dead in Dark Crusade, but due to his popularity, he was inexplicably resurrected for Chaos Rising. He gets killed there to then he's resurrected again. The same happened to the wonderfully hilarious Gorgutz, who canonically didn't win any of the campaigns he appeared in, but keeps getting away; he hasn't shown up yet in Chaos Rising, but there's no evidence he's dead either.
  • There are several World of Warcraft villainous characters who are all but guaranteed never to be permanently killed due to being fan favorites, Sylvanas Windrunner probably being the biggest.

  • Both used and averted in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, which is partially inspired by Batman. Certain villains won't seem to die at the end of the story arc despite the Doc not considering prison an option for his foes, including Ronald McDonald, Dracula, and King Radical. However, in the "DARE" arc, which was more inspired by 80's action movies, the villain dies NOT!, and Doc shows no mercy toward pirates.
    • When the creators decided to call it a day, almost every bad guy in the comic had their immunity revoked and got killed off. The only two exceptions were Sparklelord, who was content to simply leave after taking care of Radical and too powerful for the heroes to kill anyway, and a very minor lobster-man mobster who was literally told to get lost because nobody cared about what happened to him.
  • Oasis from Sluggy Freelance fits this trope perfectly, regularly returning from the dead. The comic even lampshaded the trope after another of her deaths. "Yes, a dynamic character with a proven ability to return from certain death falls from a great height leaving no sign of a corpse? Yeah, We'll never see her again."
  • The cast of Adventurers! are aware of this trope. When Khrima's fortress is destroyed in an accident fairly early in the strip, Ardam asks Drecker if he thinks they've seen the last of him. Then they both burst out in laughter.
  • Jack Noir/Spades Slick of Homestuck. We have seen four different incarnations of the same Archagent, and the only time one of them was seen dead was in an averted timeline. Andrew Hussie even goes so far as to somehow rescue Spades Slick from the destroyed A2 universe and nurse him back to health in an as-of-yet unspecified location.
    • Played literally with the revelation that Gamzee cannot die, not because he's God Tier, but because he's a clown.
  • Inverted in Crushed The Doomed Kitty Adventures. As MMORPG characters, the protagonists can't be permanently killed; they just respawn at the nearest temple. Villains and monsters, however, have but one life to live. The first Big Bad's plan is permanently undoing this, allowing the villains' greater numbers to win the day.
  • In Scandinavia and the World the countries are naturally hard to kill; however, this is really done with Nazi Germany, a nation that "lived" for twelve years but still comes back to scare the crap out of Germany.

    Web Original 
  • Dr. Insano from The Spoony Experiment arguably becoming a Breakout Villain for Channel Awesome as whole, has made a number appearances in other reviewers' shows as well as his series of origin, and his popularity and Laughably Evil nature means it's unlikely he'll ever be killed off. Even Noah Antwiler's departure from Channel Awesome hasn't removed him.
  • Atop the Fourth Wall:
    • The series' original Knight of Cerebus Mechakara, whose introductory arc ended with him getting turned to scrap, only for him to rebuilt by Lord Vyce and sent after Linkara and destroyed a second time; the episode's commentary by Lewis Lovhaug stating he had plans to use him again in the future. Sure enough, Mechakara returned in To Boldly Flee with no explanation for his recovering, Word of God being he regenerated with the magic coin. In short, it's unlikely he's finished.
    • Likewise Lord Vyce; Linkara originally abandoned him in a parallel dimension, only for Vyce to turn himself into living data and infect Linkara's Robot Buddy Pollo. After getting Thrown Out the Airlock, he spends several real-world months uploading himself into Comicron-1note , making it look like Linkara's benevolent A.I. Nimue was going HAL-9000 on him. Nimue gets restored and apparently deletes Vyce in a Battle in the Center of the Mind, but the end of the episode reveals that Vyce downloaded himself into the body of one of his Mooks and escaped. At this point, the immunity gets lampshaded by an angry Linkara, who rants that he's spent the last five years dealing with this villain and he's sick of it.
  • Jack Slash from Worm has survived as leader of the Slaughterhouse 9 for more than 20 years, carving a blood swatch across America even as every other member of the group has been killed and replaced. It's actually a secondary power. His power subconsciously communicates with the minds of other parahumans, allowing him to understand how to manipulate them to bring out their worst urges and alerts him if other parahumans are attacking. It also causes other parahumans to hesitate when they have a clear shot at Jack, rationalising away their reason for not attacking then, serving as a deconstruction of Plot Armor. Jack doesn't actually know that he has this ability; he thinks that he's just that good at figuring out what makes a given person tick. Between this, and Siberian and Bonesaw making him Nigh Invulnerable he always manages to avoid his well-deserved death. Even at the end of the story he's not technically dead.
  • Ask That Guy with the Glasses. Ask That Guy has had a fatal heart attack, passed out from drinking his own blood, shot himself in the mouth, and been erased from existence by Doug Walker. He's always back by the next scene. Until the finale, that is.
  • SCP-682 of the SCP Foundation, as the entire point of 682 is that any attempt to kill it (or even send it to another universe) will fail.
    • Defied with SCP-3922, where they killed the Joker in The Killing Joke so thoroughly that it lasted for three hours, which has lead to other supervillains of Batman's rogues gallery to surrender out of fear. To enforce it even further, they captured Alan Moore and forced him to say this at gunpoint:
    Alan Moore: "...really, really, really, honestly, 110% perma-dead, will not come back, will not be resurrected, will not have his death retconned, has no backup plans, no machiavellian schemes to turn anyone else into his successor, and will not be missed, so if you're going to ask us to bring him back, don't, or suffer the consequences."
  • This page of Texts from Superheros, showing the in-universe consequences when someone tries to ignore Joker's own Joker Immunity.

    Western Animation 
  • In action shows geared towards kids, the hero rarely kills, for obvious reasons, allowing villains like Dr. Drakken from Kim Possible or Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget to be let off the hook every time.
    • Well, that, and both of the listed villains (among others, of course) are masters of Villain: Exit, Stage Left and the Cardboard Prison, assuming they even get directly involved to start with. In fact, the closest Gadget ever came to apprehending Dr. Claw was likely the show's humorous opening sequence (and even then, it was a booby-trap left by the villain).
    • And in the case of villains like Dr. Drakken, or Dr. Doofensmirtz from Phineas and Ferb, they can be a bit bumbling and comical, if not pathetically incompetent, and have someone else do the dirty work for them. Killing them would be unreasonable because they are Affably Evil.
    • In another case with Mumm-Ra in Thunder Cats, he's shown that the Ancient Spirits of Evil's power can allow him to survive As Long as There is Evil.
  • Interestingly Disney seem to have granted this to Shere Khan of The Jungle Book (despite being killed by Mowgli in the original novel). The Disney animated adaptation and its sequel are among the very few films in Disney Animated Canon to omit a Disney Villain Death, while he is about the only villain not to be killed off in the Live-Action Adaptation. He is also a recurring Anti-Villain in TaleSpin and Jungle Cubs.
  • Instead of being sent to jail, most Batman villains are sent to an easily escapable insane asylum.
    • One episode of Batman: The Animated Series featured a guard at the asylum fired for his (relatively minor, all things considered) abuses of the prisoners. He then quickly became an incarceration-themed Knight Templar supervillain called Lock-Up.
    • Then there was "Judgement Day", where a new vigilante called the Judge was giving more severe punishments to criminals, and actually trying to kill them. Batman pressures a politician who was helping the Judge, saying that the Judge would kill someone eventually. The politician fires back, saying that the people of Gotham just would not care if Two-Face, or Killer Croc or any super-villain gets killed off as opposed to being sent to a Cardboard Prison they'll just escape from. He gives Batman due credit, but he reiterates that the people want something permanent.
    • Clayface has had at least two onscreen deaths only to get back up later.
    • In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Harley Quinn was assumed to have perished in her final battle with Batgirl; even the now elderly Barbara Gordon doubted she could have survived. Turns out, she did (maybe hanging out with the Joker taught her a few things) but the experience did cause her to retire from crime permanently.
  • In Batman Beyond, the villain Mad Stan points out how he'll just break out of prison and keep coming back over and over after Batman foils his latest terrorist bombing, prompting Batman to beat him to death. It was really Barbara Gordon getting a hallucination from the villain Spellbinder; Mad Stan was alive and returns in another episode.
    • That said, the series has a startling tendency to avert Joker Immunity a number of times, mostly because Terry is unable or unwilling to save villains from themselves, most notably the returning members of Bruce's Rogues Gallery: Mr. Freeze, Bane, Ra's al Guhl, and ironically the Joker himself in The Movie. It's subverted with the new generation of the Royal Flush Gang, who go through more Villain Decay with each appearance until they completely fall apart.
    • The most notable exception to that rule is Inque; Terry actually said "She's been dead before" at one point ("Inqueling").
  • Averted with Professor Milo in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, who is eaten by his abused lab rats after being turned into cheese by the Spectre. Played straight with most recurring villains.
  • Vilgax from the Ben 10 franchise. He's been strapped to a missile, thrown into the void of space, trapped in another dimension, and had a spaceship explode in his face three times — but the squid-faced bastard just keeps coming back. Even in the future, when future Ben tore Vilgax to pieces and froze what was left, Vilgax was quickly revived and no less dangerous. Naturally, this is frequently subject to Lampshade Hanging.
  • Ernie the Giant Chicken on Family Guy always returns for another round of his eternal blood feud with Peter Griffin, despite having suffered a twenty-story fall (although Peter himself survived that), been eviscerated by an airplane propeller, suffered massive cranial trauma, and being set on fire WHILE being impaled up the anus by a giant spike.
  • Deconstructed in-universe in the fifth season of Samurai Jack. Fifty years in a zero-sum game have utterly ruined both Jack and Aku; Jack has grown cynical and broken from fifty years of being unable to kill Aku (losing his magic sword along the way doesn't help), whereas Aku has gone increasingly insane and depressed from being unable to kill Jack no matter how many minions he has to throw at him. Aku has basically withdrawn and let his horde of minions do the fighting, in the hopes that one of them gets lucky or that time can do the job... except that Jack's temporal displacement and/or additional Time Travel have rendered him immortal, meaning one of them has to bleed out for the stalemate to actually end.
  • Psycho from Max Steel. The man has been blown up, infected with a deadly fungus while trapped in a burning building, thrown into space, and he always comes back. To his credit, Max Steel is savvy enough to not question it and just deal with him whenever he shows up.
  • Albert W. Wily's immunity is even more noticeable in the Mega Man Ruby-Spears cartoon than in the games; his Skull Castle is incredibly conspicuous and immovable, yet the military never once tries to attack it. To add insult to injury, he and his robots slip out of Mega Man's grasp every single episode, no matter how close he was to finally apprehending him. It's a wonder Mega hasn't snapped yet.
  • Metalocalypse's Doctor Rockso the rock n' roll clown. He does cocaine. He is also the only known friend of Toki who did not die before the episode was over.
  • Dr. Doofenshmirtz constantly blows up with his inventions but is never seriously hurt. Some of the time, Perry the Platypus will save him when he is falling, but most of the time, he has terrible things happen to him and just lives. Of course, killing or even injuring Doofenshmirtz in a show like Phineas and Ferb would hardly be a good idea.
  • ReBoot's Megabyte has this in spades. He's in a city that doesn't have the capacity to delete him, protected by a Guardian who doesn't want to (Except for that one time.), and has a much more powerful sister who, despite having ample capability and opportunity to do so, doesn't. Even when they finally manage to get rid of him, he comes back, with whole new powers, and his sister conveniently taken out of the picture not long before.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Sideshow Bob, but that's mainly a case of Cardboard Prison. Well, that, and, as he explained to Edna Krabappel on a date once, he's never actually successfully killed anybody (Mrs. Krabappel looks more than a little disappointed to hear this). This is mutual, as when Sideshow Bob had the chance to finally kill Bart, he can't do it because he's grown accustomed to his face, owing his very existence to hating him.
    • Mr. Burns is an apt representation of the trope with his constant polluting, corporate greed, and mere belligerence. Part of the reason that he is still around is due to making a deal with the devil.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Foregone Conclusion means that any character that's alive in existing material set after the series will survive, but it's most noticeable with Count Dooku and General Grievous, as no matter what attempts any of the protagonists make to catch or kill them, they always survive.
    • Darth Maul, despite not being Saved by Canon proved amazing resilient, actually outliving any of the show's villains who didn't appear in the original trilogy. After returning from his defeat in Phantom Menace, which saw him cut in half by Obi-Wan and fall into a giant pit, he survives the crash of a starship during a failed Villain: Exit, Stage Left. After taking over Mandalore next defeat saw him on the receiving end of an Eviler Than Thou from Darth Sidious, whom sparred Maul's life because he still had plans for him. Those aren't revealed in series, but Darth Maul Sonof Dathomir, based on plans for the unmade final season, revealed it was to use him to lure out his mother Talzin. While Talzin was killed at the end of the comic, Maul survived thanks to Talzin forcing him to flee. During the show's finale, which the writers still treat as canon, Maul would have returned to Mandalore where he would have been defeated by Ahsoka Tano, but not killed, explaining his existence in its sequel Star Wars Rebels where he's found on Malachor. Maul shows by that point he survived for years despite being a fugitive from the Empire, survives getting thrown off a large building and escapes the planet. He went on confront the show's protagonists multiple times in his goal to find the location of Obi-Wan. It's only when Maul does find Obi-Wan that he's finally killed, after Obi-Wan fatally wounds him in a lightsaber duel.
  • In Teen Titans, Slade plays this one straight, but with surprisingly good in-story justification. In the first two seasons, he's The Chessmaster, so the Titans never actually face him directly until the season finales. Season one gives him a Villain: Exit, Stage Left, but season two seemingly averts this trope by actually killing him. His only appearance in the third season is as a hallucination tormenting Robin, and he's specifically resurrected to serve as The Dragon by season four's new Big Bad, Trigon. As a result, this is clearly a case of the writers wanting to keep the villain around because they like him, but it's always justified in-story (which is actually somewhat surprising, seeing as the Teen Titans team used plenty of tropes without bothering to justify them with anything but Rule of Cool).
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003):
    • The Shredder/Oroku Saki/Ch'rell has survived so many instances where he was thought dead, only to come back, that even when he actually does seem to be Killed Off for Real in Turtles Forever, Splinter still doesn't doubt the possibility of survival. Even before his permanent death, when he once suffered a Disney Villain Death, in which he was left inside an exploding building after his exo-suit was disabled, the Turtles don't doubt he survived and display no surprise when he returned. His appearance in the season 3 finale "Exodus" had him Put on a Bus, in the form of leaving him on a remote ice asteroid light years away from any hope of rescue, likely intended to permanent, and he still returned.
    • Baxter Stockman is just as bad. His body's been whittled down to nothing, he's been reduced to a Brain in a Jar, and he still just keeps coming back for more. Leonardo even lampshades it upon Stockman's death in "Insane in the Membrane," pointing out that he's come back from worse and "only time will tell" if it's really the end of him; sure enough, Bishop soon revives Stockman.
  • Most of the villains from The Venture Bros. fall firmly into this category, but Henchmen 21 and 24 really stick out because of the relatively short lifespan of henchmen in the series. It's even lampshaded by them and The Monarch on numerous occasions, with the duo taunting a rookie that he will die on the mission and they won't which, sure enough, he does), and The Monarch pointing out that their best talent is their rare ability to not get killed on missions.
    • It then gets cruelly deconstructed when 24 is abruptly killed accidentally by an explosion. 21 undergoes Training from Hell to become Two-Ton 21, suffers mental stress over the death of his friend, and careens everywhere from henchman, special agent, superhero, and supervillain.
  • Although they've never come close to actually dying, Winx Club's Trix seem to be masters of returning from impossible situations. They get turned into children at one point, but are their regular ages in their next appearance; they get trapped in an alternate reality in the end of the second season (with the items used to open the portal connecting the Magical Dimension to the one they're trapped in destroyed), but are somehow pulled out between the second and third seasons, with the season three premiere featuring them escaping imprisonment within the FIRST FIVE MINUTES; and in the fifth season, they start out imprisoned underwater without their powers (how they ended up in this situation hasn't been explained yet), and are released and have their powers restored by a prisoner shortly after he meets them. Not to mention that they've outlived a god (Darkar), an immortal (Valtar), and the spirits of their ancient evil ancestors (the Ancient Witches) with seemingly no ill effects except the loss of whatever power boost was given to them by their previous master. It's obvious that the reason for being the only villains that haven't been Killed Off for Real and to appear in multiple seasons is their massive popularity.
  • Adventure Time: Despite Finn's claims that he'll "slay anything that's evil", not once in the entire show have Finn and Jake even tried to kill The Ice King (unless you count briefly pondering whether or not to let Ice King save himself in "Ricardio the Heart Guy"). You could make the argument that Ice King is more deranged than outright evil, but Finn doesn't know that until late Season 3.
  • Really, every villain in the Looney Tunes universe qualifies. No matter what injuries they receive, from being shot in the face to being crushed by a boulder, they'll always be back for more. For instance, Sylvester the Cat accidentally gets gunned down by the firing squad intended for Tweety at the end of "Rebel Without Claws." Sylvester rises as he breaks the fourth wall:
    Sylvester: It's a good thing I've got nine lives. With this army, I'll need 'em!
  • On Danger Mouse, it's never clear about Baron Greenback's fate after one of his vehicles or contraptions explodes on him, but he eventually lives to see another day. In "Statues," he is pursued by the statue of Monsieur Smaquing Lippes who wants to make a dish of frog's legs out of him. The ungodly off-screen groan indicates he succeeded.
  • Monstrox, the main antagonist of LEGO's Nexo Knights. He first appears bound to a book, is seemingly destroyed in the second season after a failed Grand Theft Me attempt, comes back as a storm cloud in the third season, then comes back again as a computer virus in the fifth.


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