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Karmic Twist Ending

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"Ethan has spent the last ten years doing incredibly stupid and dangerous things, with very little consequence. The end of him had to be, ultimately, a result of his own doing."
Tim Buckley, author of Ctrl+Alt+Del

Imagine, if you will, that a character does something despicable or foolish. Perhaps they were acting in an immoral way; perhaps they merely dared to rally against fate / the gods / the futility of existence / their own humanity. Whatever the reason, the universal kismet doesn't like it, so something totally unexpected but poetically just happens at the end to drive the lesson home, hard. Such endings are all but explicitly moralistic; it isn't enough for the universe to bring a situation to a just resolution, it has to resolve the situation in such a way as to both reveal what the moral of the story is and "demonstrate" the correctness of that lesson. This is a Karmic Twist Ending — a Twist Ending designed to force An Aesop.

Much of the power of this trope derives from the twist at the end; it isn't merely unexpected, but it suddenly puts established plot elements into an entirely new light, revealing them to be loaded with new meaning via the connection to the aesop. Sometimes these connections are causal or logical, and sometimes they're merely metaphorical. Such a sudden shift of meaning is essential to the trope.

Some examples include:

Whatever the case, the ending always makes the lesson to be learned abundantly clear in the end.

It's worth noting that when many people claim that a situation is an instance of 'irony', they mean that this trope seems to apply to it. Often this usage is applied to actual situations, and denoting this trope with 'irony' is one of the most familiar ways to apply the comfortable sense of narrative closure found in fiction to real life. Some who are supposed to know about this sort of thing think that this is an incorrect usage of the term, and the rest are familiar with the term "situational irony".

Compare Earth All Along, Tomato Surprise, "Fawlty Towers" Plot. The Evil Counterpart to this trope is Cruel Twist Ending. When an ending of this kind is only used in an adaptation while being absent in the source material, it's Adaptational Karma.

This is a Spoilered Rotten trope, which means that EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE listed below is a spoiler by default and will be unmarked with a tag. This is your last warning, only proceed if you really believe you can handle this list.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Hell Girl is fond of Twist tropes, here are a few. In this show, if you send someone to hell, you will go to hell when you die.
    • An episode where a girl becomes extremely bitter at her teacher. He reads one of her notes aloud and blames someone who wasn't involved for it as well, writing it down in his book (which he claims goes on their permanent record). She starts to believe that he's just trying to mess with people and talks about rumors of him ruining people's opportunities to get into good high schools. She listens to her MP3 player in class and he takes it and writes it down. She comes back for it and he tells her he threw it away. She sends him to hell. Afterward, her friend runs up to give her her MP3 player back, saying that the teacher told her he was just joking and he would eventually give it back. They look at the book on the ground to find that it was empty aside from a few doodles. The girl transfers out and is never seen again.
    • A girl becomes known for doing wiccan type stuff, which eventually leads to people asking her to put curses on other people. While she was a nobody in the past, this gets her a lot of attention including from an ex bully. She starts doing requests for this girl. The ex bully eventually tells her to kill someone who was stalking her. The girl tries her hardest to kill this person using her curses, but it doesn't work (in universe the minions of Hell Girl realize that these were all coincidences in the first place) and is put under a lot of pressure by the ex bully. The girl uses Hell Link to send the stalker to hell. The ex bully thanks her for finally coming through, only to reveal that the guy wasn't a stalker, that was just a lie to get her to curse him. He was actually just a guy that she found creepy.
  • Mahou Gyoushounin Roma has these as its primary theme:
    • A boy is desperate to be the stand-out player on the basketball team, but is constantly in the shadow of the one other boy who is better than him. He buys a magical artifact allowing him to "erase" the other boy from history, thus becoming the best player himself. But before he can play a game, he is erased by the former third-best player on the team, who is now in the same position.
    • A boy is desperate for a girl to fall in love with him, and buys a magical card that will guarantee her love if he passes it to her. He hides the card in a bundle of books to give to her unnoticed, and they fall in love... except she was already in love with him, and passed him a similar card just beforehand.
    • Just when you think they're becoming The Un-Twist or Cruel Twist Endings, though, a poor boy buys a magical coin which gives a 50:50 chance of the bearer having exceptional luck or facing disaster. Having won a motorcycle with his luck, but then had a family member injured on a bad flip, he tries to distance himself from it; but his sister discovers the coin, flips it, and is interrupted when he throws it in the ocean, saying the risk to others isn't worth the chance of a magical break. This shocks Roma, as the magical energy she normally drained from the Aesop victims is instead lost. And the final frame shows the coin lying at the bottom of the ocean — luck side up.
  • When it doesn't feature Downer Endings or Cruel Twist Endings, Zekkyou Gakkyuu does this.
    • In the story Supplements for the Brain, a young girl wishes to be as smart as her best friend, but no amount of studying seems to help. She finds a magazine ad promising a supplement that will boost brain power and make the user smarter without even trying. After she gets her pills, she is instructed to write down her progress daily, and above all, only take one pill a day. She follows suit at first, but when she overhears her classmates and friend wondering if perhaps her sudden good grades is a result of cheating, she takes an entire fistful of pills at once out of spite. The next day, she even surpasses her best friend in test scores and smugly rubs her face in it, thinking it's all thanks to the pills. When she goes home that day, she finds a letter from the company, saying that she has broken instruction and they will be coming to collect her to run some tests on her brain. As she hides, terrified and alone, in her house, she receives a message from her friend, apologizing for thinking she was cheating and admitting that she was just really jealous because her friend made everything look effortless while she herself had to study all day. Realizing that she was wrong about her friend, and that she spitefully took the pills for nothing, the girl breaks down and does nothing as the company takes her to their labs to run tests on her brain—presumably forever.
    • In Kasako-san is Coming, two girls meet a ghost named Kasako-san, a spirit missing her umbrella who will kill anyone sees her in three days unless they present her with her umbrella. The girls spend three days looking for it and finally find it on the third day. But the girls are always competing with one another, tied in everything in their gym class, and each thinks that if they alone present the umbrella, the other will be killed and they won't have anymore competition. After a brief struggle, one girl successfully steals the umbrella from the other, leaving her to be spirited away by Kasako-san. Then, some weeks later, that girl is stopped on her way to school by a new spirit missing an umbrella and willing to kill anyone who doesn't appease her—the friend she betrayed.

    Comic Books 
  • Tharg's Future Shocks from 2000 AD typically ended with such a twist. If the main character is warmongering, bigoted, greedy, etc., you can be sure that something will come back to bite them by the end. One of the best, by Alan Moore, goes like this: A werewolf on a virtually eternal space flight to an off-world colony looking forward to feasting on everybody else on board whenever the spaceship passes a lunar body finding out the hard way that every passenger and crew member on the vessel is also a werewolf and was hoping to do the same thing (and Earth's space command post happy to know that they've finally figured out a way to get rid of all of the planet's werewolves).
  • The ending of Amazing Fantasy #15. It might be one of the all-time famous examples of It Was His Sled, but the death of Uncle Ben, one of the only two people Peter Parker cared for, certainly qualifies for this trope because it resulted from Peter's own apathy and selfishness.
  • A common occurrence in EC Comics, just a few examples (there were dozens in total) include:
    • In "The Trophy", a hunter who displays trophies of the heads of various animals he has killed is made into such a trophy himself when he is captured by a crazed man.
    • In "Half-Baked!" a cook who enjoys slowly broiling lobsters alive and later murders a lobsterman who he's been stealing from is in a car accident and burned alive.
    • In "Gone... Fishing!" a fisherman finds a candy bar on the beach and bites into it, only to reveal that there's a hook inside. He soon finds himself being dragged into the ocean by a fishing line.
    • In "A Grim Fairy Tale" a pompous King and Queen forbid the townsfolk from killing the rats that overwhelm the kingdom. Eventually an angry mob captures them, shoves live rats down their throats and sews their mouths shut, causing the rats to eat their way out of them.
  • Marvel Comics thrived on this trope, or tried to, in its pre-superhero days. The company's 1950s anthology titles — Strange Tales, Journey into Mystery, Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense — were stuffed with short strips that aimed for a Karmic Twist Ending or a Cruel Twist Ending. Transparently inspired by EC Comics and then The Twilight Zone (1959), the strips were weakened by repetitiveness and sheer lack of quality. Steve Ditko was an especially prolific producer; he floated an entire series that presented five such strips a month every month in 1961-1962. It wasn't a success; fortunately, he and Stan Lee took a different direction with the final issue: Amazing Fantasy #15.
  • In the 1970s, DC Comics had a short-lived comic titled Plop!, in which a crew of ghoulish-looking folks present stories, all of which end have that kind of ending. For example, a kindly old man is actually a secret grave robber who visits funerals only to inventory the jewelry of the deceased. However, when the doctor tells him his time is coming, he's frantic to avoid the same treatment at the hands of his apprentice, so he stipulates that he be buried only in everyday clothes. Alas, he forgot that a dentist who believed the man's public image had given him a free overhaul. And in the last scene, the apprentice is happily bashing out the gold teeth from the old man's corpse. After each story, the presenters cackle over the misfortunes of the characters before going on to the next story. Naturally, at the end of each issue, something goes "Plop!" on the presenters as well.
    • This particular variant (hideous narrators and all) was a staple of pre-Comics Code Authority horror comics, particularly those published by EC Comics.
    • Later comic series like House of Mystery did these out of nostalgia for the old EC Comics horror lines like Tales from the Crypt and its sister titles, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, and Shock SuspenStories.

    Comic Strips 
  • Parodied in a Bloom County story arc. Oliver invents a device that turns people black (as in, of African descent) and tests it on an unwitting Steve Dallas. A couple of strips later, Steve finally noticed and, when talking to Binkley, theorizes (while imitating Rod Serling's iconic narration) that it's a Twilight Zone-style event where he was turned black in return for his occasional racism. The strip ends with Binkley remarking "Ooh, sounds like a good episode!" while Steve searches the bushes for Serling.

    Fan Works 
  • Shows up as a recurrent theme in the stories written by Chloe and Parker in Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail:
    • In Chloe's tale of the wish-granter, the protagonist becomes so obsessed with catching the titular creature that he's willing to kill his rival — only to discover too late that said rival is his best friend, who was trying to get him to give up his quest before it destroyed him. He then catches the creature and wishes to see his friend again, only for it to briefly shapeshift into his friend's form. It then curses him to keep chasing after it forever.
    • Parker's reimagining of The Little Match Girl has her saved by a demon, who then takes her back to her abusive family to slaughter the lot for the way they mistreated her.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus uses this to kill off a character after revealing him as Evil All Along. Trapped in the Imaginarium and pursued by a lynch mob, the villain in question tries to survive the noose with his usual trick of swallowing a small metal flute to breathe even while hanging. But before the mob catches up with this villain, Parnassus makes him choose between the real flute and an easily breakable replica. He chooses wrong.
  • Double Subverted in Kind Hearts and Coronets. The story revolves around a man who attempts to become the Duke of Chalfont by murdering everyone (but one) in line to inherit the dukedom. Then he is sentenced to death for the one murder he didn't commit. He is exonerated at the last moment, but as he leaves the prison, he realizes that he left his memoirs—describing the murders he actually committed—in his cell.
  • Layer Cake ends with the protagonist, a cocaine dealer, having risen to become leader of his own gang, eliminated his rivals, and gotten the girl - and, as he gloats as he walks down the steps of his club, having done all this without ever revealing his name. Seconds later a minor character shoots him dead. No Honor Among Thieves, dude.
  • In Right at Your Door, after a biological weapon goes off, one guy hermetically seals his house and refuses to let anybody in, including his wife. In the end it turns out that the virus can infiltrate the house... and concentrates in there, so the government seals the house from the outside and kills the guy. His wife, being outside in fresh air, is implied to be treatable in the end.
  • Saw 3D's ending is a notable departure from the Saw franchise's typical use of Cruel Twist Endings. After the climax, Hoffman managed to win over the police in his final schemes before escaping the city, including finishing with Bobby's game and killing Jill. Just as he was going to the airport, Gordon, revealed to be Jigsaw's most entrusted accomplice with a plan to take out Hoffman, gets in his way (alongside Brad and Ryan, the survivors of the film's opening trap) and captures him, then locking him up to die in the bathroom where Gordon had previously been imprisoned in by Jigsaw during the first movie.
  • Tales from the Hood ends with the trio of thuggish gang-members learning from their mortician host that "This...ain't no funeral home!"
  • In Wild in the Streets, a group of twenty-somethings and teens manages to exile everybody over 30 to retirement camps. Then at the end, a group of kids starts scheming to exile everybody over 10.


By Author:

  • Roald Dahl:
    • The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar digresses to suggest "what a competent writer of fiction would have done" for the sake of a Twist Ending: to give Henry, who used his powers of X-Ray Vision for personal gain, some inventive manner of Karmic Death. In this suggested ending, Henry, feeling a pain in his chest, uses his X-Ray Vision to see all his internal organs and a blood clot slowly moving towards his heart. But Henry's story is not fiction (so Dahl claims), so it must continue to the actual, not-so-dramatic ending. In fact, this kind of twist occurs in many if not most of Dahl's short stories.
    • In William and Mary, this trope gets pulled twice over; first, the titular Jerkass protagonist William dies, and Mary is happy, because he was an emotionally abusive spouse and now she'll be free of him. But then, it turns out that William volunteered for a science experiment that preserves his life as a Brain in a Jar. And then it turns out that he can't really enforce his demands on her anymore, so while he's still alive, Mary feels no fear of him anymore, and resolves to enjoy her life and do all the things that William would prevent her from doing, all while he's incapable of doing anything but helplessly watching as she defies his will.

By Title:

  • In the short story "Give Her Hell" by Donald Wollheim, a man who abused his wife and daughter all the time makes a Deal with the Devil to prevent his crimes from coming to light. He continues to beat up his wife, consigns his rebellious daughter to an asylum, with measures in place to keep her there after his death, and he thinks he got the better end of the deal by making the devil reincarnate him after his death. Only on his deathbed does he learn that there are certain rules about such reincarnations - the life must be one of a person already born. Also, the person must be related to him and of opposite gender. His daughter fits the bill perfectly.
  • At least three Goosebumps books:
    • A Shocker On Shock Street: The TV ending at least; the book ends on a Cruel Twist Ending, as the two protagonists find out they're robots and are deactivated by the girl's "father" to be reprogrammed. In the TV episode, the two wake up again and decide to kill their creator after putting them through so much torment and trying to replace them with new versions.
    • Click: The protagonist has abused the universal remote to suit his own ends. When he's confronted about this he tries to use the device against the accuser but it doesn’t work properly, so he presses the "off" button in frustration, and the entire world vanishes as he finds himself in a black void. Then the battery runs out.
    • The Cuckoo Clock of Doom: The protagonist has been abused by his Annoying Younger Sibling all his life, with the biggest event being when she triggered the titular Artifact of Doom and caused him to come within an inch of being Ret Goned out of existence. Luckily, he manages to set it back to normal — but, because the clock is missing the year in which his sister was born, she is the one who winds up Ret-Gone. Needless to say, although he says he'll "think about" bringing her back, he obviously settles for his new Close-Enough Timeline.
  • In "ICU" by Edward Lee, a man working for a criminal syndicate and specializing in kiddie porn loses An Arm and a Leg in a confrontation with the police. He expects a lifetime in a comfortable federal prison with reasonable immunity from harm... until it turns out he's been captured not by the police, but by a rival syndicate. These guys have a strict no-no on CP... an amputee getting a twelve incher up his, however, is quite in line with their regular repertoire.
  • "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant contains one of the most famous literary examples. A beautiful and haughty woman insists that she can't attend a ball without fine jewelry and borrows a diamond necklace from a wealthy friend, only to lose it. Not wanting to admit her blunder to her friend, she and her husband buy a replacement necklace and have to spend the next ten years doing grueling work to pay off the debt. By the end of these ten years, she's lost her looks from all the hard labor she did and finally tells her friend the truth about the necklace — whereupon her friend tells her the necklace was actually a fake (only made of glass) that cost a tiny fraction of the money paid to replace it.
  • In The Picture of Dorian Gray: The protagonist's wish is granted and his painting ages and becomes ugly instead of him. This drives him to sin (which makes the portrait ugly), and when his Ignored Epiphany makes the painting even uglier instead of more beautiful because of his vanity, he destroys the painting, inadvertently killing himself.
  • Another classical example is The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin. The story concerns a young gambler who wishes to gain the secret magic formula of getting three good cards in a row from an elderly countess. After she refuses to tell him, he ends up threatening and frightening her to death, and is then visited by her ghost with the secret (probably in a nightmare). Wishing to marry his much wealthier sweetheart, he places all of his money on a bet. Magic formula works (probably by coincidence), but gambler loses everything because he picks the wrong card by mistake (or because he is cursed by the dead countess).
  • From Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, "The Bed by the Window". Richard and George are two bedridden old men in a nursing home, sharing a room. George's bed is by the window, and he spends his days describing what he sees for Richard's benefit. But Richard grows jealous of the view he's missing, and eventually hides George's medication so he dies of a heart attack. With George gone, Richard asks to be moved to the other bed, finally gets to look out the window himself, and sees... the brick wall of the building next door.
  • In the short story "Silent Hostages'' by Paul Gallico, two criminals escape from prison and murder their way across the country. When they stop in a small, isolated town to take hostages, they soon find that all of the citizens in town are mannequins. It is revealed that the town is about to be destroyed in the testing of a nuclear bomb which is going to be detonated in a few seconds. An extra layer of irony is added when it is revealed that they got into the town because the man who was supposed to be guarding it abandoned his post to comfort his dying wife in hospital after the criminals shot her and their children.
  • In Isaac Asimov's short story "Star Light", two people plan The Perfect Crime. They intend a Blind Jump with a large amount of a substance that's valuable on any planet, and from there, to get to the nearest inhabited planet and sell it. One of them murders the other, makes the jump... and ends up close to a recent nova. Nowhere nearly close enough for it to harm him, mind you, but enough for the autopilot to notice it. Since it has to determine the ship's position before the second jump... well, with that new bright star there is no matching location, meaning the computer will attempt recalculating until the passenger starves to death. After all, the dead guy is the one who programmed the computer - and the murderer even left the weapon behind.
  • Stephen King's Thinner is also a pretty good example, if tending toward a Cruel Twist Ending. Rather than a Monkey's Paw wish, the story revolves around a curse brought on largely by the main character's irresponsibility. In the end his curse is removed and placed into a pie; whoever has a piece will be cursed. In what is possibly an even less responsible move, he leaves the pie in his own refrigerator overnight. When he finds that his wife (who he wanted to eat the pie) and daughter (who he very much didn't want to eat the pie) have eaten some, he says "to hell with it," and eats some too. The End.
  • The short story "Those Three Wishes", by Judith Gorog, is a literal case of Be Careful What You Wish For. The selfish and spoiled protagonist is granted a wish, and uses it to wish for 1000 more wishes. Later, when reminded of a test she forgot to study for, she facetiously blurts out "I wish I were dead."
  • There is a Japanese fairy tale where a lazy man hears about an island of one-eyed men, so he decides to go there, kidnap one, and make a living from The Freakshow. Turns out a two-eyed man is quite a freak show for the one-eyed men themselves...

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Angel, the Fang Gang rescues a woman who was newly changed into a werewolf from a group of people who consider the flesh of newly turned werewolf a delicacy. When she bites The Mole scientist as Angel is taking her away, Angel dryly comments that, now all they have to do is wait a month. The scientist begins pleading for his life as the mooks take him away.
  • Parodied in The Ben Stiller Show, by the sketch "Low Budget Tales of Cliched Horror", which spoofed the Tales from the Darkside episode "Devil's Advocate" (which starred Ben Stiller's father Jerry Stiller). The sketch focuses on a shock jock who hates his listeners (almost as much as he hates himself) and gets tormented by Satan (who refuses to show himself as he thinks "it will be a lot scarier for you to imagine what I look like"), and in the end Satan reveals the shock jock is in hell and gives him his ultimate punishment: being turned into a demon and... being trapped in a mildly hot room. The shock jock is less than impressed.
    Shock Jock: I think maybe I should fall into a fiery pit or be engulfed by something. I think it should be something more— I dunno, maybe insects should eat me or something. I feel like it should be— I dunno, is it just this? I'm not even hot.
    Satan: Look, we are in a recession. I'm on a budget!
  • Gilligan's Island: Played with in "Plant You Now, Dig You Later". Gilligan digs up an apparent treasure chest while digging a barbeque pit for Mr. Howell. After resorting to many unscrupulous lengths to get the treasure, including trying to bribe the Professor in his role as judge, Mr. Howell finally resorts to buying everyone's shares in the chest. When it's opened, it turns out to be full of cannonballs. However, the other Castaways decide it wouldn't be fair to force Mr. Howell to pay them, given that they all thought it was treasure.
  • A few episodes of The Haunting Hour had this ending. Although the show favored the Cruel Twist Ending because it had more scares, this ending did pop up in the episodes that revolved around Jerkass protagonists. In "Wrong Number", a girl named Steffani loves to bully others, including an old lady who lives next door to her apartment. In the end, said old lady turns out to be a witch and the grandmother of one of the kids she bullied. She punishes Steffani by trapping her in her own phone as a video. The witch sends the video to her granddaughter and she promptly deletes it.
  • Early B&W Lost in Space episode. Creepy skeletal star ship wreck contains a device which will grant all wishes. No-one seems to notice the surviving bulkhead and door in the back of the wreck. Too many wishes (or irresponsibility) result in the door slowly opening...
  • Medium:
    • In one episode, the Villain of the Week had a particularly clever method of killing his victims: he would strike them with the faucet taken from their own bathtub, then use plastic sheeting to transfer their bodies to the tub so as to avoid leaving any blood in the house, replace the faucet, and turn the water on, making it appear that they had simply slipped in the shower and hit their head. Even though Alison knows he did it and has convinced the District Attorney of it, no-one can arrest the guy because he's simply too good and leaves no evidence that it was anything but a tragic accident. While he escapes to a tropical country and seems to have gotten away with it all, the universe sees fit to ensure that not only does ''he'' slip and bash his own head in the next time he takes a shower (in the only legitimate "accident" he was ever involved in), but also takes care to inform Alison of it in her dreams. She seems happy that things have been sorted out karmically.
    • Another, more arguable, another medium begins interfering with Alison's dreams, preventing her from helping people as she normally does — he believes he's karmically "keeping the balance" because Alison's precognition is an unfair advantage. In the end, the ghosts of all the people he stopped Alison from helping come after him, because if he hadn't interfered, they'd still be alive (and unable to harm him). Whether this is karmic justice or a subversion is not clear.
  • Night Visions usually went for a Cruel Twist Ending, but on occasion it had one of these, such as in "Dead Air", where it turns out that for the entire episode, the Jerkass Dumbass DJ that enjoyed playing his callers and coworkers for fools and stringing them along for his own amusement had himself been strung along for the entire episode by a disturbed caller who happens to be a Voice Changeling, who desires to pull a Break the Haughty on the guy... with a knife. Better yet, the caller admits he wouldn't have come after the guy if he hadn't been insulted and cut off in the middle of his call.
  • The Outer Limits (1995) does this fairly often, though not as much as the Cruel Twist Ending.
    • "Afterlife": Linden Stiles allows himself to have his DNA spliced with alien DNA found from a body at a crash site thus transforming him into a human/alien hybrid with enhanced senses. He is allowed to escape the government facility so as to be hunted down. When he's caught and about to be executed, the aliens arrive and kidnap Stiles while at the same showing signs of disappointment at the army, revealing the entire events to be a test which humanity has failed.
    • "Bits of Love" has a nuclear war survivor living in a bunker with holograms for companionship. Even though the holograms think and feel emotion like him, he treats them with incredible disrespect, saying things such as that they are not real, so their opinions don't matter. In the end, the holograms reprogram themselves to completely ignore him and create a holographic society for themselves. The man lasts about a minute before he cracks from loneliness.
    • "Second Thoughts" has a guy regularly murder people and use a device to absorb their memories and intelligence. He is greedy for knowledge. He makes the mistake of absorbing the mind of a suicidal artist, which causes him to go crazy and shoot himself in the head.
    • In "New Lease", two scientists invent a device that can revive the dead. They test it on various cryogenically frozen animals, then a person, but they find that every test subject can only last a day before it dies again. When one of the scientists is killed by a mugger, his partner decides to bring him back so they can have one last day together. The revived scientist, unable to let go of his desire for revenge and feeling he has nothing to lose, wastes the day tracking down the mugger, ignoring his friend and his family. When he finds the mugger, he murders him in public. To his horror, he finds out that the problem all along was the cryogenic freezing; having been revived as a fresh corpse, he's going to get to live to be arrested for the murder and most likely sentenced to life in prison.
    • "To Tell The Truth" has a discredited scientist discover that his newly founded colony is about to be wiped out by a solar flare. Given that his discrediting was due to a prediction of volcanic activity that caused the colony to be moved at great expense but failed to occur, no one believes him except his assistant and his mentor. He keeps on raising a fuss, until the colony's security chief reveals that evidence was found of an indigenous alien race when the colony was set up on the most valuable land on the planet - and not only accuses the scientist of being a shape-shifting saboteur trying to break up the colony, but condemns him with a DNA test that shows bizarre readings. He is then imprisoned and threatened with dissection, but the assistant, holding one last ounce of trust in her mentor, meets him in secret and tests him again to reveal that he is in fact human. As time is running out, the scientist, mentor and assistant attempt to escape the planet in the single emergency shuttle - and the scientist is mauled to death by a crazed mob while ensuring the escape of his two supporters. Afterward, the security chief mourns the scientist, and is mocked by the colony administrator for caring about an alien. The chief then reveals that he is the alien saboteur - he used his own DNA to fake the test - and states that it's ironic that the scientist, the only human in the colony he wished he could have spared for being "the gentlest of you", was the first to die, and at the hands of other humans - and then the solar flare hits, wiping out the colony and triggering the rebirth of the alien civilization.
    • "Skin Deep" has a nerdy guy gain a device that lets him change his appearance. He murders a handsome coworker and steals his identity, reveling in his new popularity and hot girlfriend and letting it all go to his head. Some mob enforcers whom the handsome coworker apparently had dealings with and cheated murder him.
    • "Decompression" has a recently elected senator aboard a plane that's going to crash. A time traveler tells him that he has to open the door and leap out, sacrificing the lives of all on board, so he can live to be elected President and usher in a new enlightenment, or else his opponent would be elected and become a ruthless tyrant. In the end, he jumps out with seconds to spare... whereupon the time traveler tells him that he was destined to become the tyrant, and lets him fall to his death while the plane lands safely.
    • "Family Values" has Tom Arnold play a workaholic, neglectful dad. He's annoyed by all the stuff his family wants him to do that keeps piling up while he spends nights and weekends with his boss and clients, so after being (deservedly) relegated to the couch by his wife, he sees an infomercial for a servant robot called the 'Gideon 4000.' He orders one for no money down. Initially, his family is creeped out, but the robot looks out for them and they grow to like it. However, after Tom Arnold sees the thing teaching his son how to play baseball, he sees it as moving in on his family. He can't return it without his wife's signature, which she won't grant. After an unsuccessful attempt to destroy it, the robot points out that he's become nothing but a money faucet because of his neglectfulness and that he's easily disposed of. The episode ends with the dad meekly apologizing to Gideon for forgetting to wear a tie to dinner and a montage shot of several families sitting down to dinner with their Gideon robots.
  • Tales from the Crypt:
    • In "Dead Right", a Gold Digger marries a hideous and abusive man after being told by a fortune teller that he will inherit a large amount of money and then die. This turns out to be a Prophecy Twist — the woman wins the money and then tells her husband she's leaving. He murders her in a rage and then inherits her winnings right before being executed for the murder.
    • In the episode "Top Billing", a struggling actor played by Jon Lovitz competes with his more handsome and successful former rival for a role in a production of Hamlet. When his rival is chosen for the role based purely on his looks, Lovitz's character murders him, and in his absence is accepted to fill in his role... which the murderous director reveals to be the role of Yorick's skull.
    • A similar example happens in the episode "Beauty Rest", in which a would-be pageant queen murders a rival in order to win the contest... only to discover that it's "Miss Autopsy" where the winner is eviscerated and displayed for the audience.
    • "Easel Kill Ya", with Tim Roth as an artist who creates paintings using material from recently killed people. When his girlfriend finds out, she gets struck down by a car and needs a life-saving, expensive operation. The artist tells the hospital staff to get the specialist who can perform it. When his benefactor demands another painting to pay for the hospital fee, he murders a passer-by to create it. Too bad the guy he killed was the specialist, just as the cops find his casually discarded paintbrush.
  • Made famous by The Twilight Zone (1959) (which was the former Trope Namer), though, ironically, it's the episodes that avert this trope that tend to be remembered best.
    • "Time Enough at Last" is famous as an aversion, because of its Cruel Twist Ending, but most of that came about because of Burgess Meredith's sympathetic performance. Without that, Bemis comes across as much more of an asshole and thus the ending as much more deserved and much less sadistic.
    • Averted in one of its most famous stories: "It's a Good Life", about a boy named Anthony with godlike powers. Arguably not as much, however, in "It's Still a Good Life", the sequel to the story in the 2002 series. Anthony has grown up and has a daughter named Audrey. She has powers similar to her father's, but she can also bring things back from "the cornfield." The remaining townspeople (including Anthony's mother) try to turn her against her father, but it backfires and she banishes them all from existence. Anthony winds up saddened by this development, so she brings everything back. The two plan a trip to New York City, as Anthony states Audrey did a "real good thing" — acknowledging he is less powerful than she is and had better think happy thoughts himself. The closing narration reveals that there was no moral. "Just an update from Peaksville, Ohio."
    • In "Escape Clause", a man granted immortality in a Faustian Bargain, having accidentally killed his wife, casts it as a premeditated murder to see what the electric chair will do to him; his lawyer gets him a life sentence instead, and he calls on the Devil to collect rather than face centuries in prison.
    • In "I Shot an Arrow into the Air" the crew of a spaceship crashes on a hot, barren landscape with little hope of being rescued. One of the crew members, seeing that their water supplies are running low, kills the other surviving crew members to take their water. Then he finds out they weren't on a foreign world like they thought, but were actually in the Nevada desert, just a few miles from the road, and he breaks down upon realizing how pointless his actions were. The closing narration even refers to this twist as "A practical joke perpetrated by Mother Nature and a combination of improbable events, practical joke wearing the trappings of a nightmare of terror, of desperation."
    • "A Nice Place to Visit" had an interesting version of this: a bank robber is killed during one of his heists, and is happy to find himself where he gets everything he'd ever want, instead of "the other place" (i.e. hell). Trouble is, he gets everything he'd ever want and quickly grows bored. It turns out he can't do anything exciting (like rob a bank) because he'd always succeed. In frustration, he decides he doesn't belong in Heaven and asks to go to "the other place". The guide retorts that this is the other place.

  • The lyrics in Ozzy Osbourne's "Trapdoor" (from his 2010 album Scream) seem to talk about someone that fell victim to his own hubris (and the Nemesis that comes with it).

    Video Games 
  • Capcom Fighting Evolution: Jedah's ending has him succeed in causing The End of the World as We Know It... and he's reveling in his victory to the extent that he has no idea that Dante is about to kill him.
  • The finale of Grand Theft Auto IV. At the finale, Niko is ordered by the mob boss he works for to do a large drug deal with Dmitri Rascalov, the primary antagonist of the game to that point. However, Dmitri's location is revealed, allowing Niko to instead get revenge on him. Roman, Niko's cousin, and Kate, Niko's girlfriend, will strongly suggest those respective options. But whichever one you choose, the character that suggested it will be murdered at Roman's wedding the subsequent mission.
  • Mass Effect: The fate of the Reapers' creators certainly qualifies. As arrogant, godlike tyrants, they became worried their slave races would produce A.I.s that would destroy them, and therefore stop producing tribute. Assuming that the concerns of "lesser species" did not apply to them, they built a considerably more powerful AI and gave it weapons to try and solve the problem. Unsurprisingly, the AI soon concluded they were part of the problem and massacred them, and went on to create the cycle of extinction to justify the circular logic that got its creators killed.
    • When Shepard meets the few surviving members of the creator race in their respective DLC, they demonstrate that this arrogance has not died down even with the 99.9% extinction of their race. They outright still believe that the AI's creation was a success despite the billions of years of needless slaughter it's committed against the galaxy.
  • Produce has Toshio make a Deal with the Devil so that a girl in his class falls in love with him. The Entity won't uphold its end of the bargain and makes it clear to him by subjecting said girl to an endless torment inside of it.
  • Both Sweet Tooth and Dollface get them in the 2012 version of Twisted Metal, whereas Mr. Grimm just gets a plain Cruel Twist Ending. To get into specifics...
    • Sweet Tooth wishes to be transported to where his daughter is so that he can kill her for escaping his initial rampage. He ends up trapped in her casket - she had killed herself 10 years ago.
    • Dollface's fame-seeking tendencies lead her to ask to be sent to the world's biggest runway so that she can be the center of attention. She thinks she'll be sent to a fashion runway. She's actually sent to an airport runway, where she's subsequently flattened by a plane.
  • Undertale has one of these if you go for the Golden Ending after getting the Genocide ending. Without that context, it'd be a Cruel Twist Ending, but given that you sought out and killed every monster you could find, destroyed the world when you ran out, and then sold your SOUL to avoid the consequences, you can't exactly claim it came out of nowhere that the Fallen Child you sold your SOUL to takes over the protagonist's body and is heavily implied to kill everybody again, this time without you. You can get one in the Genocide ending if you choose not to destroy the world. If you do, the Fallen Child kills you, then destroys the world anyway (the former doesn't stick; the latter does).

  • Ctrl+Alt+Del:
    • Tim Buckley notes that this was what he intended with his conclusion to the main comic story. Ethan spent most of the comic making horribly dangerous and stupid decisions, so it was inevitable one or more would finally catch up with him (this was partially motivated by Tim finding it difficult to write such an amoral character). A time machine he built is used to show Ethan a Bad Future that came about solely due to his creation of Zeke. Before he can be sent back to stop it the machine overloads, forcing Ethan to commit a Heroic Sacrifice to keep time from falling apart, at the cost of him being removed from time. In the epilogue Ethan manages to make it back, but 80 years ahead of when he left, meaning he completely missed out on his loved one's futures and keeping the broad theme of the original ending.
    • Also happens in some of the story branches of his Space Archaeologist pick-your-adventure arcs.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of Davey and Goliath, Davey's friend Jimmy rushes past an injured girl in order to collect a "Good Neighbor" balloon at a festival. Davey stops to help the girl and as a result, doesn't receive his balloon. The episode concludes with Jimmy boasting that he's a good neighbor since he has the balloon to prove it — and to his dismay the balloon pops right in his face.
  • In the "Wasted Talent" episode of Family Guy where Peter had to get drunk to play the piano, the final scene shows his solitary bookworm brain cell in despair after breaking his glasses, alluding to the Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough at Last".
  • Futurama:
    • This trope was parodied more than once on The Scary Door:
      Guy: Finally! Solitude! I can read books for all eternity! (glasses fall off) It's not fair! IT'S NOT FAIR! Wait, my eyes aren't that bad. I can still read the large print books. (eyes fall out) IT'S NOT... Well, lucky I know how to read Braille. (hands fall off, screams, tongue falls out, head falls off) Hey, look at that weird mirror!
      Bender: Cursed by his own hubris.
    • A second The Scary Door segment piles on one nonsensical twist after another (most of which based on real The Twilight Zone episodes); a professional gambler is hit by a car and wakes up in front of a slot machine. He pulls it and wins big, declaring that a casino where he's actually winning must mean he's in Heaven. He pulls again and wins big again, declaring that a casino where he always wins is boring, so he must be in Hell. Then a man shows up and tells him he's really just on an airplane. The gambler then notices a gremlin on the wing and tries to tell the man, who simply replies "Why should I believe you? You're Hitler!" and holds up a mirror to reveal that the gambler has indeed transformed into Hitler. The gambler/Hitler then begs Eva Braun, who is sitting next to him, for help, but she pulls off a mask to reveal she has the head of a fly. Cutting back to the characters watching the TV show, Bender nonchalantly says "Saw it coming."
    • And in another:
      Mad Scientist: I have combined the DNA of the world's most evil animals to make the most evil creature of them all!
      (He pours the DNA mixture into the cloning machine and it activates. The door opens and out steps...)
      Man: (completely deadpan) It turns out it's Man.
      (Scare Chord)
    • Then there's this parody:
    • A later episode had a Brilliant, but Lazy scientist invent a robot to do all his work and fulfill his social obligations. When the robot starts winning Nobel Prizes and the love of the scientist's family:
      Scientist: If only I'd programmed the robot to be more careful what I wished for! Robot, experience this tragic irony for me.
      Robot: (falling to knees) NOOOOOOOOO!!
      (the scientist sips a beer and sighs contentedly)
  • The Simpsons took a twist on the Twilight Zone episode "A Kind of a Stopwatch" in "Treehouse of Horror XIV". Bart and Milhouse find a stop watch that stops time, make mischief, and break the watch. Unlike the Twilight Zone episode, they are able to repair the watch using a guide — and they take 15 years to fix it.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "I Heart Dancing", Squidward becomes so fed up with SpongeBob ruining his dance practice that he makes him do an impossible routine, tiring him out. Squidward manages to get the part he wants- but this, unfortunately for him, turns out to be for a show run by his rival Squilliam, who promptly forces him to do the same routine he did to SpongeBob.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Twilight Zone Twist


Everything Wants to Live

When Mr. Wright plans on replacing his two creations, his creations don't want be to disposed of, so they plan on taking matters into their own hands.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / TurnedAgainstTheirMasters

Media sources: