A character is driven to become the best there is — the richest man in town, the best martial artist in the world, the emperor of the galaxy...and succeeds.
But, along the way, the character winds up abandoning or betraying everyone and everything they ever valued. They will inevitably wind up bitter and alone, having fulfilled their great obsession, but pondering everything they lost in the pursuit — just before losing the thing they obsessed over too. ("If only I'd never left the family farm/talked to that man/become a model/signed that contract/etc.")
This is often a form of reversed Wish Fulfillment for the viewer, as the average person wants to be able to think that the things they don't have (such as an abnormal amount of money, power, skill or beauty) won't lead to happiness, conveniently forgetting how, in real life, there are plenty of poor, enslaved, stupid and ugly people that are unhappy. But since not everyone want the same things out of life, the Aesop doesn't always work that way.
A variant is for a character to achieve immortality, i.e. Who Wants to Live Forever?, and/or ultimate power i.e. God for a Day, and become suicidally bored over how meaningless everything is when it's so easy.
This phrase originates from the Chinese proverb "高處不勝寒/高处不胜寒"Note , which literally means "it's cold at the top (of a mountain)", and describes the loneliness people in high positions experience. A similar proverb, huipulla tuulee, "it's windy at the (mountain) top", exists in Finnish, implying being on the top is both lonely and precarious.
Often ends in a form of Karmic Twist Ending.
The natural conclusion of Ambition Is Evil and Being Evil Sucks. May overlap with Pyrrhic Villainy and/or Everything but the Girl. Contrast Celebrity Is Overrated, In with the In Crowd, and The Last DJ. Characters who are Married to the Job are especially at risk of having this happen to them. If the character merely gets a whole load of mental problems from trying too hard, he'll become a Broken Ace.
- In one chapter of Sgt. Frog, a missive from headquarters results in Private Tamama (temporarily) becoming the new leader of the squad. He promptly goes mad with power, and ends up throwing the Hinatas, Moa, and all his squad-mates in the brig. While the others manage to make themselves comfortable, Tamama ends up bitter and alone.
- The Emperor in Photon has been the sole and absolute ruler of the galaxy for a few thousand years, and it became so boring that he allowed one of his subordinates to hatch a plan to achieve ultimate power and depose him, just so he'd have someone powerful to fight at the end.
- Coyote Starrk from the Espada in Bleach. All of the ten Espada represent an aspect of death; his is 'Loneliness' because his enormous powers tended to drain the life out of any other Hollows who came near him and resulted in all of them avoiding him like the plague. He eventually split his soul into two seperate beings just to have someone he could hang out with: the other part became his Fracción, Lilynette Gingerback.
- In Chapter 422, Ichigo claims that Aizen was lonely at the top all along. When he and Aizen fought, the only thing he could sense from Aizen's zanpakatou was "solitude", which is supported by the databooks. He believes that the Hogyouku, rather than rejecting Aizen as a master, had finally granted Aizen's true wish: to be a "normal" Shinigami. Why it felt the way to do this was to give him more and more power until the very last second when it takes that power back is anyone's guess. The claim also tends to lose some impact given his previous and subsequent arrogance, and the fact that all of his actions were explicitly in the interest of becoming a god.
- Both Unohana and Kenpachi were revealed to be this before they first met. They were both killing criminals, desperately trying to find a Worthy Opponent. When they found each other, they both felt the rush and fear of battle. In fact, this was what caused Kenpachi to become a Blood Knight. However, even as a child he was stronger than Unohana, and his fear at being unable to experience that rush again caused him to subconsciously limit his power, along consciously limiting it with his eyepatch. Causing him to do this is what Unohana, even to this day, considers her greatest sin and regret.
- Subverted in Death Note, where Light is shown to betray anyone and everyone in order to get to the top and become the god of the new world. One would expect that in the end, everyone is shown realizing this and turning against him - however, it is shown that even years after his death, there are still many worshipers who greatly mourn his death. It's implied that successfully killing L has left Light bored and depressed, because good ol' L was the only person as smart as Light (and thus one of the few people he could relate to on any level). The sheer joy he expresses when he thinks he's found a replacement for L, and the rage he expresses when the new L doesn't live up to his expectations add to this interpretation.
- Hotohori from Fushigi Yuugi. And he felt like a bird in a golden cage.
- Axis Powers Hetalia: Prussia's rant about being happy by himself during the Christmas Special is often interpreted as this.
- Izaya from Durarara!!. Unsurprisingly, being a gigantic, manipulative asshole tends not to win over a lot of friends.
Namie: Would you please refrain from using me to comfort your ego just because everybody in the chatroom but you has friends to eat hotpot with?
- Legend of Galactic Heroes: When Reinhard finally becomes the Emperor, neither his best friend Kircheis nor his big sister Annerose are there to witness it.
- He still has Hilda at his side, of course, having even worse social skills than Yang, the clod does not see it
- Arguably subverted. He eventually gets a clue and marries Hilda. It's even theorized in-universe that his early death less than a year after taking over the known universe was either because of this trope hitting him fatally hard, or to avoid it (there being nothing else to conquer).
- He still has Hilda at his side, of course, having even worse social skills than Yang, the clod does not see it
- Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt: Surprisingly enough, Garterbelt. In his past life as a gangster, he eventually became strong enough to become the mayor of his city, but he quickly grew bored of it. So bored that, when a mob came to kill him, he didn't resist.
- A Certain Magical Index:
- Accelerator is one of these types. He's the number one esper in Academy City (and the world) and almost literally nobody can touch him unless he consciously lets them, which caused many assassination attempts and experiments on him, turning him into a rather lonely sadist. He got so desperate that he joined an experiment to try to raise him up to Level 6, believing that if he could have ultimate power, then nobody would ever try to fight him again and he would finally be accepted. He's really jealous of Touma, as while Touma is powerful enough to beat him, Touma also has lots and lots of acquaintances.
- Othinus is a Physical God, and under certain circumstances can even be omnipotent. She had no friends; all of her henchmen follow her out of fear or because she offered them something. Touma eventually realizes that all her actions stemmed from a desire to find someone who truly understood her. Since she didn't believe the world held such a person, she was desperate enough to want to destroy and recreate the world. Touma proves that he understands her, causing her to pull a Heel–Face Turn.
- One Piece:
- An omake did this when it imagined the Straw Hats as mobsters. They each end up killing each other (except for Nami, who dies of happiness after seeing so much gold) until the only one left is Luffy, who at first is ecstatic over having all the meat to himself...until he realizes how lonely he is without anyone to share it with.
- World's Strongest Swordsman Mihawk. His expression is always stern and he rarely ever acts unless it's out of some form of curiosity. Being the best swordsman in the world has obviously left him with not much to do while waiting for a half decent challenger. And he is so far above the next best swordsman that really digs at him. It's been shown that the last worthy challenger he had was over a decade ago in-universe. The challenger was Shanks, back when he had two arms. When Shanks lost his arm saving a younger Luffy from a Sea King, he was no longer a strong enough opponent for Hawk-Eyes. Later, when Zoro tries to fight Mihawk, he's effortlessly defeated...yet Mihawk saw potential in him, and is now hoping someday Zoro will be able to meet him at the top and give him his first true challenge in over a decade.
- In Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, The Hero is the World's Strongest Man. Archer reveals that Hero's great power means that it is difficult for him to connect with others, and no one can truly fight by his side because they would be irrelevant.
- Kill la Kill has this happen to Ryuko, except in this case she helps her friend Mako's family (who she lives with) become successful by making Mako a club president, using Honnouji Academy's bizarre system that dictates a student's social status based on their academic performance. Once Mako nets them their own mansion, the family becomes so addicted to their new lifestyle that they stop having the warm, lively dinners Ryuko enjoyed sharing with them when they were poor.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: Asuka was the best pilot in the series... but she also felt extremely lonely.
- In Rebuild of Evangelion she is frustrated by this, changing the reason for her frequent lashing out and condescending attitude from the trauma of seeing her mother turn insane and finding her dead body after suicide in the original series.
- Scrapped Princess: Celia Mauser is a literal example, as she presides over the world as its caretaker, though the rest of humanity has come to revere her as their god and have created a religious order in her name. They're unaware that she's a woman, or that she's spent the last five millennia completely alone. That's because the realm where she exists lies above their world and is devoid of all other life; including fauna.
- Aomine in Kuroko no Basuke. He loved basketball and worked hard at it, but as he got better, his opponents stopped posing any challenge and began to practically give up before they could even play. No one can pose a challenge, so the sport he once loved becomes boring.
- In K, the Kings tend to lead very lonely existences due to their immense power and the fact that no one besides other kings can truly understand them. The Silver King muses on this at the end of the first season. He probably lives this trope more than any of the rest - he literally lived alone in a blimp for 70 years because of his power. But after the Slate is destroyed, he gets to live as a normal person with his new family. This trope is a big part of why they're okay with losing their powers - that and the constant threat of Super-Power Meltdown.
- This is basically the premise of One-Punch Man, the main character Saitama strove to become the strongest hero there is, and he succeeded. Now he's basically a Physical God with nothing in the setting coming even close to giving him a challenge and as the title says, he ends all of his fights with one punch. Even foes who take more than one punch aren't much of a challenge because then he just puts a little more force behind his punches and that's that. As a result, Saitama has basically lost his passion or drive for almost anything as he knows he'll never truly feel the thrill of a good fight. It's a Deconstructive Parody of Action Anime though, so it's all Played for Laughs.
- In Kaiba, Popo sets out to conquer the universe with the express motivation of providing a better life for his friends and family. By the time he reaches his goal, he's Brainwashed or alienated all of his friends and his mother dies due to his carelessness, rendering the entire scheme All for Nothing.
- At the start of Yuri!!! on Ice, Viktor Nikiforov is the undisputed god of mens' singles skating, with a closet full of gold medals and throngs of fans all over the world. He's also isolated, lonely, and aimless, due to spending all his time and energy on competitive skating, to the point that he ditches his whole career to pursue a connection with Yuuri. Yuuri Katsuki and Yuri Plisetsky are lesser examples, both top skaters whose prowess came at the cost of friendships, familial bonds, and dating.
- This trope summarizes the plot line of Ex Machina rather succinctly at least the abandonment of everything in pursuit of the dream although he never does make it to the top.
- In the comic Timespirits, a space pirate has the Curse of Success - she succeeds at everything she tries, gets everything she wants. And she gladly gets the curse removed because, as she puts it, "I am so incredibly bored!"
- Ozymandias in Watchmen, hidden under dense layers of ego and posing for the eyes of history. The reveal is his insecure last exchange with Dr Manhattan, who gives him no comforting words or reassurance as he was hoping.
- The title character in Cerebus the Aardvark. He is told to his face, by someone in a position to know (albeit someone later revealed to also be far from objective), that he will "die alone, unmourned and unloved" about a third of the way through.
- Scrooge McDuck near the end of Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, when he is an embittered old man estranged from his family. This is actually a recurring issue throughout Life and Times where Scrooge's victories are at best bittersweet because while he triumphs, he's also inevitably left without anyone to enjoy his victories with. Best shown in Chapter 4, where his friends immediately turn on him out of envy once he strikes it rich; Chapter 8, where he finally makes his fortune but loses the love of his life; Chapter 9, where he becomes a Stranger in a Familiar Land because his travels have changed him too much; and Chapter 11, where for the first and only time he seeks to make money dishonestly, which ultimately costs him his family. Although he later/in other books somewhat subverts it or simply just ignores it: The book itself ends with Scrooge rebonding with his family and rekindling his lust of adventure as well as beeing reminded of his past skills as a self-made-duck. In later works his family is never really bothered by his wealth, he is always finding more adventures and they usually follow. Due to this attitude and/or his extreme greed he also lives no better than they themselves and will happily attend family gatherings, go camping or fight with his nephew rather than dining in fine restaurants, sleeping in high-class hotels or sending some bodyguard. He might be at the top, but he doesn´t show it.
- Marvel's Thanos attempts to impress Lady Death by collecting the six Infinity Gems, and with them becoming her equal so she will finally speak to him. However, after he succeeds she still remains silent, one of her servants explaining that by becoming all-powerful he is now her superior.
- Legion of Super-Heroes: Brainiac 5 is the most intelligent person in history. His childhood was spent in the care of robots because his society rejected him as an aberration, and many of his teammates are hostile because he isn't sociable or nice. Cause you learn to be sociable and nice when you have no contact with living beings and are punished for displays of emotion for the first twelve years of your life.
- In the short story in My Little Pony Micro Series Issue #3 Hayseed Turnip becomes a rich man, but he's still alone and unhappy.
- In The Smurfs story "The Finance Smurf", the title character becomes the richest Smurf in the world near the end of the story when all the Smurfs leave behind the village along with all their money...but now with nobody to share his good fortune with, he instantly becomes sad and lonely.
- Obelix finds this out the hard way in Obelix and Co..
- Shinji And Warhammer 40 K:
- One of Shinji's deep fears.
...for what he wanted most was a friend, not a slave.
- Mentioned by Asuka several times. In chapter 22 she quotes the trope word by word. And in chapter 37 she says that being at the top feels cold and lonely.
- It is mentioned in chapter 33 that both Shinji and Gendo feel like this.
- One of Shinji's deep fears.
- The Hunter realizes he is this after hanging around the four for several days in With Strings Attached.
- Light/Kira in the Death Note fic A Cure for Love God-Emperor of Mankind and most miserable he's ever been in his life. Mello and Near imagine Kira sitting on his throne having a grand old time being worshipped. More like snorting coke, killing the staff, and missing L.
- My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfiction sometimes likes playing with this trope in relation to Luna and Celestia.
None of the Trust teams had any friends of supporters come with didn't you notice? I don't think Applejack's the only Trust farmer who's completely isolated on her farm. I'd rather have my friends than a pile of bits and nopony to care about me.
- In At the Top, Twilight comes to Princess Celestia and wants to know if it is lonely at the top. Celestia notes that it isn't lonely at the top anymore, with Luna, Cadance, and Twilight around. It ends with Celestia revealing that it is a lie; it is very lonely at the top, a fact Twilight is soon going to find out, as she has long since surpassed everypony else in Equestria.
- In the Lunaverse story Carrot Top Season, Carrot Top diagnoses the Apple Trust as suffering from this.
- Pony POV Series: In one of the many alternate universes glimpsed in the Well of Truth, Trixie has become Empress of Equestria. She is known as a benevolent ruler, but she eventually bursts into tears because everypony sucks up to her and blindly agrees with everything she says instead of really trying to be her friend. It doesn't help that she got this way by making a deal with Ispita, the Spirit of Temptation and she knows it's all her fault.
- In Harry Potter and the Natural 20, Milo looks into the Mirror of Erised and sees himself having achieved his dream of being the ultimate mage. He then realizes if this were to happen, everything would be meaningless and he would have no real relationships.
- Renee Fromage in the special Animalympics; he was already a world-class athlete by the time he entered the games, but the song "Love's Not For Me" strongly implies that reaching his status meant sacrificing any chance of a meaningful relationship. The Imagine Spot starts with Renee abandoning a street-corner cafe to chase after the gold medal. At the song's end, he reaches the medal...but when he finds the rose he discarded earlier, his expression goes My God, What Have I Done?, and Renee begins desperately looking for someone, anyone in the black void he finished in.
When all is said and done / And there's nothing left to do / Alone again / But where are you?
- In the animated adaptation of Daisy-Head Mayzie (from Dr. Seuss), the titular character ends up feeling lonely after reaching fame and fortune. She eventually left it all to go back with her friends. Shortly before the storu, the narrator says out loud to the public that friendship is more important than fame and glory.
- The film Megamind has Megamind winning over his nemesis falling under this trope.
- A quite literal example of this happens in Wreck-It Ralph where Ralph gets the medal he wanted, returns to his game, and gets the key to the penthouse which he was told he would never get but had to destroy Vanellope's racecar to prevent her from racing (breaking the little girl's heart in the process). And Fix-It Felix has left the game trying to find him and didn't return, causing the other Nicelanders to panic and abandon the game — which is about to be unplugged. The irony of this is that Gene was the one who challenged Ralph to get said medal in the first place, when really all Ralph wanted was to be accepted as a part of the game. So both are pretty much at fault here.
Ralph: This is not what I wanted!Ralph: I don't know, I just... I was just tired of living alone in the garbage.Gene: Well, now you can live alone in the penthouse.
- The film Citizen Kane is the archetypal example. One of the reasons why Kane tries to desperately cling to his wife, and eventually comes true when she leaves him. It's also the meaning behind 'Rosebud'- his life, though successful, was so unhappy that the greatest time in his life was when he was a child and playing with his sled.
- In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker turned to the Dark Side to not only bring peace and order to the galaxy but to save his beloved wife Padme, ultimately suffering near-fatal injuries in the hopes of achieving these goals. The news that not only is she dead but he himself killed her and (he thinks) her unborn children shatters Anakin; the only thing he can utter after waking up is a gut wrenching Big "NO!", leaving him to become the Empty Shell Darth Vader.
- Star Trek Beyond starts with Kirk dealing with this. Jim Kirk, a person who by his nature is fairly gregarious and easygoing, feels hemmed in and isolated by the responsibilities of command, and even his interactions with his close friends are a bit muted at the beginning of the film. By the end, he's reacquainted himself with the sense of excitement and wonder that led him to Starfleet in the first place.
- Blondie Johnson: Blondie finally makes it to the top as a gangster, but the pain of leaving Danny behind makes the victory bittersweet.
- The film Scarface (1983) culminates with the title character, Tony Montana, alone after killing or alienating everyone who helped him get to the top of Miami's drug trade (those who didn't get killed by Sosa, that is) through his increasing paranoia brought on by his addiction to his own product. He is killed at the end of the movie, but not before making a balls-out final stand and blowing away a good number of Sosa's assassins in the process.
- Michael Corleone in The Godfather, with the added twist that, initially at least, he didn't even want to be the head of the 'family business'. It becomes the focal point for the final movie in the trilogy. Michael Corleone tries to repair the relationship with his wife and children now that he's legit in the eyes of the public (which was his ultimate goal for the family). He goes to a Catholic Priest and confesses his ultimate sin of having his older brother Fredo killed. He finds a worthy successor to take over the business when he's gone. And just when things are looking up, his daughter gets killed by his enemies, breaking him for good.
- Iron Man: Initially, Tony Stark. He is the richest man in the world (and no slouch in the looks and the brain department), who can essentially order beautiful women for... dinner. However, he has absolutely no family to speak of, and even Pepper doesn't really count as a friend so much as an insanely loyal employee, and when he admits this to Yinsen, he sadly remarks that Stark is "a man who has everything and nothing."
- The biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers posits that Peter Sellers' life came down to this; by the end he's sadly watching home movies of him with his family and friends — all either dead or distant — and mourning all he's lost, and the only art he accomplishes in his final years that means anything to him is getting the film adaptation of Being There made. (Sellers was in fact an intensely nostalgic man, but he wasn't that lonely at the end of it all.)
- George Simmons in Funny People is a famous and successful comedian internationally recognized through his movies, but he comes to realize that he's gradually pushed away everyone who ever cared about him, his movies are Lowest Common Denominator rubbish, and he's doomed to die a lonely and empty failure if he doesn't change his ways. Played with, however, in that it's not just achieving fame that is responsible for him being this way, but deep-seated emotional problems and self-loathing which stems back to way before he became successful.
- Played with in that it's implied that their emotional problems are part of what makes the characters good comedians, at least initially. Meaning that to get the top you have to be somehow lonely in the first place.
- This is the point of the classic British film Room At The Top.
- Nicolas Cage's character in The Family Man, although he doesn't realize it until he's shown what might have been had he not embarked on his high-powered Wall Street career.
- Nicolas Cage plays this role again in Lord of War. His character (based on a real person) becomes the most successful illegal arms dealer in the world, but at the cost of losing his brother, his wife, and being disowned by his family whom blamed him for his brother's death. Like the Interpol Agent who has been chasing him throughout the film said: "I'd tell you to go to hell, but you're already there."
- Daniel Day Lewis's character at the end of There Will Be Blood. But he outright says that he prefers it that way.
There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone.
- Tracy Flick in Election. Dave even tells her when the two are dating.
- Team America: World Police: Kim Jong-Il has a Villainous Lament song about this, though he believes he'll solve the problem with even more power.
- Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network created Facebook and becomes a billionaire but loses his friend, his mentor and everyone else who was important to him.
- Trying to get rich under NZT’s influence, Eddie manages to alienate Lindy, the only person who truly cares about him, leaving him with the Corrupt Corporate Executive and The Mafiya.
- Eddie’s ex wife also dumped him while she was under the NZT’s influence. Eddie would have not contacted her if not for his own problems with NZT.
- In the epilogue of Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer, Conan is seen sitting on the throne he had been promised in the first movie. However, his dark expression and pensive pose show that it has brought him no comfort.
- The King of Qin in Hero (who will become Qin Shi Huangdi after the end of the film) has secluded himself alone in his palace as he plans his empire and uses the term gua ren (寡人), literally meaning "lonely person" to refer to himself. To be fair, this is the term traditionally used by Chinese emperors to refer to themselves, but since Qin Shi Huangdi is the first emperor, the film insinuates that it was he that began this practice.
- Mentioned by name and quickly inverted in a musical scene in Prey for Rock & Roll: "They say it's lonely at the top, lemme tell you man it kills at the bottom."
- Implied to be the case with Tyrell in Blade Runner, who is seen sleeping alone in a bedroom without any pictures of children or paramours nearby. This comes across as Rule of Symbolism (he presumably has people in his life, but is still lonely).
- This is ultimately Willy Wonka's problem in 2005's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In order to follow his childhood dream of becoming the greatest chocolatier in the world, he had to defy his dentist father — and the latter ultimately decided I Have No Son and moved away, house and all, so that Willy could never go back even if he wanted to. Later, he had to sack his original workforce to protect his recipes from being stolen and copied by rivals, and found substitute workers in the Oompa-Loompas, who are the closest he has to friends. In the present, Mr. Wonka has No Social Skills and insists that the heir he chooses via the Golden Ticket tour follow his lead and abandon his family. Charlie eventually helps him realize his mistakes and emotionally connect with others again. Note that this trope only applies to this particular adaptation — in the source novel and other versions, Mr. Wonka is eccentric but, in his unique way, well-adjusted and happy to be who he is even if he doesn't have conventional relationships with others.
- In Click, all Michael wanted was to get a promotion so he could provide better income for his family. Due to the Universal Remote being stuck on auto-pilot and fast fowarding him through his lifetime, he eventually succeeds in becoming head of his company. But is divorced from his wife, isn't really "there" as his kids grow up (with the threat of his son turning out just like him) and wasn't there for the death of his father, which his auto-pilot self coldly brushed off in their last meeting. Luckily though he's given another chance to live his life without the use of the remote to focus more on his family then his work.
- The Dark Tower: Roland reaches the Dark Tower and climbs to the top, saving everything in existence from extinction along the way—but Roland himself is condemned to repeat his life over and over for the cruelties he committed in the name of this goal. It's implied that he only has to do it till he gets it right.
- Dragaera: In the "bored with power" variant, sorceress Sethra Lavode in Steven Brust's novels creates an alternate persona, Kiera the Thief, who doesn't use her powers initially as a means of getting information, then continues the act because of the excitement of actually facing challenging situations again.
- Paul Atreides in Dune Messiah. Even moreso his son Leto II. His grand design relied on purposely alienating himself from humanity, and turning into an ageless giant worm was a good start. After his sister who he shared an empathic bond with died, there was no one left to understand him. The ones who came close could only pity him.
- In the Heralds of Valdemar series Vanyel suffers particularly from this. Between being a ridiculously powerful Herald-Mage, his sexual preferences and his fear of letting anyone close in case they become a target, he has experienced this increasingly over the years.
Vanyel: “Heralds are all lonely; we’re different ... Herald-Mages are one step lonelier than that. Then there’s me.” Magic’s Promise
- In Atlas Shrugged the gifted scientist Dr. Robert Stadler states explicitly that is very lonely on the highest branches of the tree of intellect and is delighted to find “a work of genius that I didn’t create” (Galt’s motor). Life is pretty lonely for the Fiction 500 characters, though it’s implied that only the “intellectuals”, leftist politicians, businessman who can’t operate in a free market and other powerful but talentless people envy them and wish to destroy them, whereas members of the public are not driven by envy and are given hope in an apparently hopeless situation by seeing great accomplishments from productive people.
- The Fountainhead: Gail Wynand's entire life. Ayn Rand set out to do this quite deliberately. Her notes describe him as "a man who could have been", and he himself echoes that sentiment at the end.
- One of William Gibson's short stories, "Dogfight", concerns a player of air combat simulations who's getting old but retains both his skill and a natural charm that allows him to befriend everyone at the local bar. A younger player meets a girl who Does Not Like Men and has a stash of upper-type drugs, and he threatens to rape her so as to intimidate her into handing over said drugs, which he figures will temporarily improve his skill so he can beat the older player. He does—but everyone's certain he cheated, and the older player continues to be the toast of the town while the younger one becomes a social outcast. Also, the older player is a paraplegic war veteran, and being the dogfight simulation champion seems to be one of the few genuine joys he has in life, making the new guy's win seem almost as pointlessly cruel as his attack on the girl to get the drugs.
- Older Than Feudalism: One king of Israel in The Bible, most likely Solomon, lamented in the Book of Ecclesiastes over all the vanity in his life.
- A Christmas Carol: Ebenezer Scrooge. One of the richest men in London, if not England itself, he got to where he is by sacrificing EVERYTHING important. His fiancée left him because of his obsession, his sister died in childbirth, and he is now basically estranged from his nephew (his only surviving family) because despite the man's attempts at reaching out to him, Scrooge has forgotten how to relate to others. Even the death of his business partner Jacob Marley doesn't move him much. Its only when the spirits of Christmas show him that not only will his path lead to a lonely, unmourned death for himself, but also indirectly to the death of an innocent child and the effect his greed has on people around him, that Scrooge decides to turn things around. The epilogue states that in time, Scrooge did succeed in mending the bridges he had burned with the rest of humanity.
- The Great Gatsby in another archetypal example. Only three people that weren't employed by him attended his funeral: Nick (the narrator), his father, and one party guest (out of what was literally hundreds). This, in part, can be largely blamed on Gatsby himself, who secluded himself from social life barring those associated with Daisy, out of his desperate desire for her and her alone.
- Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Cory", and the song of the same title by Simon & Garfunkel. Richard Cory a rich, elegant, successful man who is envied by everyone around him - until he suddenly kills himself.
- Dragonlance: Legends: Of all the Very Bad Things in the trilogy, perhaps the most horrifying is Astinus's description of how absolutely lonely Raistlin will be when he finally achieves his evil ambitions.
- The title character in Jack London's semi-autobiographical novel Martin Eden.
- Harry Potter: Voldemort is an example of someone being UNCARING about loneliness. He has no family having murdered his own father and his grandparents. Most people are downright terrified of him, including a lot of his followers, which is just what he wants. Even though Bellatrix is loyal and attracted to him and a few other followers genuinely love him, he can never love, so the only reason he is lonely is because that's what he wants.
- Judge Dee: When it becomes obvious that Dee is on the fast-track to promotion to Lord Chief Justice of all China, he begins to remember what his father, himself as prominent official, told him in his youth: "It's very lonely, at the top."
- C. S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew: Jadis sums the trope up pretty well, but she actually means it as a sort of self-praise:
Jadis: Ours is a high and lonely destiny.
- Digory notes that his uncle said the same thing, but it sounds a lot better when Jadis says it because she's a seven-foot-tall, dazzlingly beautiful sorceress (who, not coincidentally, nuked her entire world so she could be its sole queen.)
- The Emperor in Shadows of the Apt
- In Freedom, Loki/Gragg realises this of himself. He's the highest-level Darknet operative, but nobody thinks well of him.
- In Warrior Cats, Mapleshade knows that Crookedstar will become clan leader, so she aims to get his entire family killed and make him this. Her plan fails when Crookedstar explains that once his time is over, everyone he cares about will be waiting for him in the afterlife.
- Sister Carrie: The title character achieves her dream of Broadway stardom. This is after she has lost her innocence, become estranged from her family, worked her way through a string of lovers, and watched her self-destructive ex-husband blow through his fortune, wind up homeless, and ultimately commit suicide. Therefore, with the knowledge of all she has lost and the disillusionment it has caused, living her dream can never make her happy. The final lines of the novel sum up her situation perfectly:
In your rocking-chair, by your window dreaming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel.
- Although not really covered in the film, Matt Stover's novelization of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith notes this regarding Anakin Skywalker's transformation to Darth Vader, calling it the trap of the Sith. In becoming Vader, he has lost everything he cares about and he wants to lash out at the Emperor after he tells him the truth of Padme's death, but he lacks even the power to do that. And he finds that he doesn't even really wants to, for the Emperor is all he has.
- Constantius writes the titular Julian a poignant letter to this effect while on his deathbed. Julian had to deal with this even before became Augustus, but more or less reconciled himself with it.
- Jean Valjean's alter-ego Mr. Madeleine in Les Misérables becomes one of the most renowned men in France for his intelligence and generosity, but his acts of charity stem more from penitence than true benevolence. The townspeople quickly turned against him when his identity was revealed, showing no one really liked our trusted him.
- In The Divine Comedy, greedy pope in Purgatory describes how he only sought the position for the power of it, only to find no rest. The Pope then converted and began to love the next life, the one he hopes to reach by ascending Mount Purgatorio.
- In Rome, while Atia achieves the goal she's been aiming for, she finds it's Lonely At The Top.
- Revenge has Daniel who alienated everybody he ever loved to get to the top of Grayson Global.
- Londo Mollari's character arc on Babylon 5.
- The TV movie Star Command: Shane Ridnaur explains this to a cadet. The commanding officer is alone and must appear invincible to encourage confidence among the crew.
- Many, many episodes of The Twilight Zone. "The Mirror" is a famous example. Also "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville", where this trope is one of the protagonist's motives for accepting the Deal with the Devil.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation, "True Q," uses the "boredom of power" version. This trope can also apply to the Borg Queen and her chasing after Picard. Yes, his main purpose was to facilitate the assimilation of Humanity, but judging by First Contact, A certain evil queen was getting lonely.
- Star Trek: Voyager. Discussed in the Flash Gordon style holoprogram The Adventures of Captain Proton! with Mad Scientist Doctor Chaotica pining after fellow Big Bad Queen Arachnia.
- Most Anvilicious example ever: the first season of Degrassi Junior High. Stephanie becomes the most popular girl in school by lying and exploiting her friends — until the season finale, when her victims finally turn the tables on her. Cue flashbacks of every despicable thing she did. Then we see Stephanie crying in the bathroom, and she moans, "I only wanted them to like me!"
- A season of Angel ends with Cordelia rising to a higher plane of existence and becoming, essentially, a goddess. The next season's opening episode shows her in all her god-like glory whining, "God, I'm so bored!" For a good chunk of the next season, she watches her earthly friends assume she's in a better place while trying helplessly to get them to bring her back.
- Doctor Who
- In The Invasion of Time, it looks like the Doctor has done this, abandoning his companion to become Lord President of Gallifrey, and then aiding an alien invasion of his home planet. It all turns out to be a heroic plan.
- Kazran Sardick in A Christmas Carol which, obviously, draws inspiration from the Charles Dickens story.
- Sidney Teal, the eponymous billionaire mugger in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk and the Billionaire Mugger", His chauffeur says that despite having a huge house, incredible riches, and a beautiful wife, Teal was the loneliest guy in the world. Eventually it's revealed that the reason he was performed the mugging that got him shot dead was that he was trying to relive the one moment in his life when he truly felt cool; in college, his friend pretended to mug him and then be scared off so that Teal could impress a date. The same friend went on to have an affair with Teal's wife and to get him out of the way, asked him to stage a fake mugging to impress a girl as an excuse to shoot him.
- During an episode of NUMB3RS, Charlie and Larry went to a funeral of one of Larry's colleagues. Larry laments how the man was brilliant and a genius and yet, there was no one else at the funeral except for the two of them.
- ER: The funeral of Doctor Romano, is attended solely by Dr Corday. Romano was a Jerk Ass to many of his colleagues and patients.
- In Community's inevitable Mafia movie episode, Abed begins a crime syndicate centered around the delivery of highly desirable (but limited) ...chicken fingers. By the end of the episode, 'the family' has become corrupt, bloated and complacent. In the clincher Abed is seen, alone, saddened by the destitution his rise to power has caused. Status quo being God, all is back to rights at the end.
- In the Wizards of Waverly Place movie, Alex wins the Wizard Competition and has Full-Wizard abilities, but this comes at the price of losing the person she cares most about and being left alone.
- Pointed out by Lex in Smallville, regarding his dad (though Lionel doesn't seem to see it this way):
Lex: When my father dies, kings will come to his funeral, but when yoursnote does, his friends will come.
- The mainland Chinese historical drama The Empress Of China culminates in the coronation of Wu Zetian after she eliminated all of her rivals through war, intrigue and backstabbing over the course of the series, resulting in this exchange:
Wu Zetian: And where are my enemies now?Li Chunfeng: All of your enemies are dead!Wu Zetian: Where are my friends?Li Chunfeng: They're all dead too.
- On Glee, this becomes Rachel's mantra. She tells herself that she might as well get used to it if she wants to be famous, but she's mostly trying to convince herself that her lack of friends and the constant bullying isn't really getting to her.
- In one episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will is dropped off by some jerkass jocks in a cemetery after he passes out drunk following a drink off. He, seemingly, wakes up and meets some ghosts who haunt the place. One of whom is a business woman who literally worked herself to death. While she claims she was happy to reach the top, her tone implies otherwise since she never had time for friends or a love life, thus having no family in the process. Will even lampshades it.
Ghost Woman: Hey we may have paid the ultimate price, but we at least earned people's respect.Will: Yes, their last respects.
- In Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Cookie finally gets to spend time with Liza Zemo who's gotten much cuter since her make-over. However he gets into a academic competition with his rival, Evelyn Kwong, and decides to dedicate his time to studying and outdoing her on a test. Cookie succeeds, but this left him virtually no time to hang out with Liza and by the time he finally can, he finds other suitors have moved in to flirt with Lisa since Cookie was too busy to do so. Principal Wright even tells him that while he's happy that Cookie gave Polk Middle School its highest test score in the school district, the next time a cute girl asks him to go have some pizza with her, he should do it.
- In Queen of the South, we know that Tereza Mendoza eventually becomes the titular drug queen, but none of her friends appear in the Flash Forward, which suggests that she lost everyone she ever cared about along the way.
- Randy Newman - Lonely at the Top, which is completely sarcastic, as Newman was nowhere near the top when he wrote and recorded it. On Randy Newman Live, when he sings the lines, "All the applause and all the parades/And all the money I have made," he cracks up laughing.
- The narrator of Jamey Johnson's "Lonely at the Top" (co-written by the late Keith Whitley) is a rising Country Music star who begins to complain about the pressure and fame brought upon by his newfound success. A fellow bar patron offers this wry remark: "it might be lonely at the top, but it's a bitch at the bottom."
- This is the theme of Stars and the Moon, signature song of Jason Robert Brown.
- The basic idea of Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak album, especially the track "Welcome to Heartbreak." "My friend showed me pictures of his kids / and all I could show him was pictures of my cribs / he said his daughter got a brand new report card / and all I got was a brand new sports car"
- A theme in many of Eminem's songs but particularly, "Say Goodbye Hollywood," which contains the lyrics: "I sold my soul to the devil, I'll never get it back, if I could go back I never woulda rapped" and "'Cause all I wanted was to give Hailie the life I never had, instead I forced us to live alienated.'
- The very first sentence of Gang Starr's "Moment of Truth". "They say it's lonely at the top in whatever you do."
- "It Can Get Lonely In My Mansion" by Lemon Demon.
- "To The End" by My Chemical Romance. The first verse is (if you're reading the lyrics literally) about a guy who lives alone in a giant mansion and kills people. Including everyone who attends his wedding. And later, his wife. Then again, if you're killing everyone in your neighborhood...
- "Doomsday Clock" by Smashing Pumpkins.
- Simple Plan's "Loser of the Year."
- "King of Insects" by Assemblage 23 is about this, with a hint of Mayor of a Ghost Town.
- Pain of Salvation's BE album features a character known as "Mr. Money", who actually quotes the trope. "They say it's lonely at the top, and I'm as lonely as can be!"
- The whole point of Billy Joel's "Everybody Loves You Now."
- "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay is about a man who, despite being incredibly powerful (he's referred to as a king) has no friends and is clearly not loved by those he rules over.
Just a puppet on a lonely string. Oh, who would ever want to be king?
- Epic Rap Battles of History - In "Bill Gates vs Steve Jobs", Steve dies. Bill's final verse strongly implies he's now lonely at the top.
You wanna be like that? Fine! Die then!
The whole world loved you, but you were my friend!
I'm alone now with nothing but power and time!
And no one on Earth who can challenge my mind!
- "Everybody's Fool" by Evanescence.
- "King Nothing" by Metallica.
- Suede's "The 2 of Us", whose narrator is "alone but loaded". (Doubles as a Break-Up Song).
- The Icehouse song "Mr. Big". "Something is missing Mr. Big" indeed.
- "It's A Hard Life" by Queen is written from the viewpoint of a man with wealth who still can't find love.
- Imagine Dragons' "Gold" makes material wealth sound like an inadequate replacement for human companionship.
- "Dogs" from Pink Floyd's Animals carries this as a major theme. The high-powered executive who spent his youth clawing and betraying his way to the top will have...nothing at all to show for it at the end.
You gotta keep one eye/Lookin' over your shoulderBut, you know, it's gonna get harder/And harder/And harder/As you get olderAnd in the end, you'll pack up/Fly down south/Hide your head in the sandJust another sad, old man/All alone, and dyin' of cancer.
- The Wall takes it one step further: Pink, the high-flying rock'n'roll star, realizes that he might end up like this unless he stops running away and confronts his monsters.
- Rihanna's "What Now" off her Unapologetic album is about this.
- "Where Gravity is Dead" by Laura Veirs combines a sad riff in G# minor with these lyrics:
"But doesn't it get lonely, riding up there to the sun
On a single raft for one, don't you wish for someone
To pull you on a string, down from atmospheres,
Down into a clearing, to kiss and box your ears?
That's where you found yourself,
Riding into the sun, on a raft made for one..."
- In "Where did you go to my lovely" and "Last of the Breed" by Peter Sarstedt, the story of sucessful woman Marie-Claire becomes this trope.
- The Zac Brown Band gives us Heavy Is the Head. The refrain goes, "Heavy is the head that wears the crown." The second half of the second verse really exemplifies this trope:
"Mad man, blood on the altar
Queen will have his head
His ghost will shake those rattling chains
Long after he's dead.
No soul knows his trouble
High upon his throne
Loved by few and judged by many
He bears that weight alone."
- The song "Washingtons on Your Side" from The Hamilton Mixtape, posits that Wiz Khalifa, after having worked hard to reach where he is, finds himself alone and surrounded by his money (his "Washingtons"), despite what other people say about wealth.
- It has been said that Vince McMahon has no life outside of WWE. He has no real friends, only business contacts. It was once said that his children, Shane and Stephanie, joined the company because they would never see him otherwise.
- Professional Wrestlers in general are known to make a lot of enemies in their field, given it's all about competition— and, unless you're somewhere that values tag teams and/or trios like AAA or CMLL, purely individual competition. High level pro wrestling also doesn't lend itself to interactivity with other human beings. While Dolph Ziggler claims to only work out an hour a day and Booker T claims to get his workout in the ring, Low Ki works out five hours a day and Amazing Kong works out for six. And even in Ziggler and Booker's cases, what they gain in time outside the gym, they lose in that a significant portion of their careers have been in WWE, which puts its talent on the road for 300 days a year.
- Discussed on commentary at Ring of Honor during the Winter of 2010, where it was theorized The Kings Of Wrestling likely met up because they otherwise have no social life, practically living in the gym. The commentators of Remix Pro came to the same conclusion.
- Macbeth: Macbeth realizes that all the power he has gained is meaningless for the evil he has had to do to attain it. His former comrades are revolting against him, his wife is dead, and the events that foretell his death are coming to pass; he concludes that Life "is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." On the very day of his coronation, he laments that by fulfilling the witches' prophecy, he's also ensured that Banquo's descendants, not his, would be the future kings of Scotland. "I'm the one who orchestrated Duncan's murder, and he gets to have the dynasty! Stupid worthless crown!" Even worse, he knew this would happen because the witches told him. Needless to say, it was all downhill from there.
- An Irish play called The Field ends with an old man getting exactly what he wants, the titular field. However, he gets it at the expense of both of his sons, his wife, and any and all respect he had from local townspeople. And, because he wanted the land for the purpose of leaving a legacy to his family, when he does get the field, it's worthless.
- In Wicked, this is the main thrust of the song "Thank Goodness''. Glinda finds that even though she is heralded as a hero throughout the kingdom and fiancée to a man she loves, she feels dissatisfied.
Glinda: I couldn't be happier! That's right, I couldn't be happier!
Though it is, I admit, the tiniest bit, unlike I anticipated
But I couldn't be happier! Yes, I couldn't be happier!
Well, not simply.
Strange though it seems, getting your dreams, is a little bit complicated
There's a kind of a sort of...cost
There's a couple things that got...lost
There are bridges you crossed you didn't know you crossed until you crossed them!
- In Hamilton, Hamilton himself doesn't ever cross into this—most of the show is him trying to become more and more successful and usually doing so. But Eliza begins to feel the strain of her husband's success, constantly asking him why their family can't be enough: since Alex Ham is lonely at the top, Eliza's lonely too.
- Endemic to Ravenloft, the Dungeons & Dragons setting of Gothic Horror; since the Dark Powers seem to enjoy giving bad people new and interesting ways to live an eternity of suck, this is not particularly surprising. To give some examples from its ample supply of Darklords:
- Count Strahd: murdered his brother in order to ensure his own immortality, thereby making his brother's betrothed - who Strahd was in love with - hurl herself over the walls of Strahd's castle.
- Azalin Rex: killed his only son for being "unworthy" (read: still possessing a conscience), and would dearly love to bring him back but his curse means he can't learn new magic, which would be required.
- Jacqueline Renier, who is perhaps the queen of this trope. Intensely monophobic, she has to spend her time with her vicious family, all of whom hate her, and will transform into a wererat in the company of anyone she actually cares for.
- The God-Emperor of Warhammer 40,000. Let's face it. His obsession being the survival of mankind, he has really lost everything: his sons, his closest friend Malcador, the atheism he tried to build up in his Imperium, his self-respect, many other things, now spending eternity living in mind-wracking pain, being kept alive by the Golden Throne he sits on, being forced to watch how everything he built has rotted and become a shadow of its former self... he doesn't have anything left.
- Animal Crossing: Tom Nook is revealed to have been best friends with Sable in the past, but he lost their friendship in favor of running his Cranny (later "Nookington's").
- Twisted Metal 2 Thumper wins the Twisted Metal tournament, and the driver asks Calypso to make him king of the world... unfortunately, everyone else in the world was killed in the tournament, so he's left sitting alone on his throne.
- Final Fantasy Tactics ends with Delita gaining the crown of Ivalice, but his excessive use of manipulation and deceit to get there alienates all his friends and allies. Even his Queen, Ovelia—the woman on whose coattails he rode to get his ass on the throne—is so put off that she concludes she too was just another part of his heartless machinations and attempts to kill him for it. It fails, and he kills her in retaliation. The tragedy—or irony—is increased tenfold in the PSP version, which goes out of its way to remind the player that, yes, indeed Delita loves her and did all this as much for her sake as he did his own.
- BioShock: Andrew Ryan severely buggered up his entire ideology in his desperate attempt to maintain it.
- ''Mortal Kombat has two examples:
- In Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, the second variation happens with Shao Kahn at his end. After he finally realizes his long-held ambition of taking over all of the known Realms, he grows insane out of boredom, as there is nothing left for him to conquer.
- In Mortal Kombat X, General Sonya Blade commands S-F. Too bad that being Married to the Job cost Sonya her actual marriage to Johnny Cage and their daughter's resentment.
- Disgaea 3: An accidental version of this trope shows up in the Almaz ending. Wannabe-hero Almaz defeats Mao and as a reward Mao's father makes Almaz the new overlord. As a result all his friends (even the princess that Almaz loves) leave him, and the game ends with the new overlord all alone.
- Takahisa Kandori of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona accomplishes his goal of becoming a god. By the time you finally encounter him, though, he's in the middle of a Villainous B.S.O.D. and has to be needled into fighting you.
- Invoked example in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, Prince Lacroix takes a moment to confide in the player the lonesome burden of sole rulership of Los Angeles, and how problematic is it because every other vampire in the city wants him out of the way. Except that sole rulership of Los Angeles was his own ambition, and one that remained out of his reach because every other vampire in the city wants him out of the way. His position is in sharp contrast to Nines, whose influence in Los Angeles he finds so intractable because Nines has the respect, loyalty and friendship.
- The second half of Conker's Bad Fur Day, Rare's raunchy Take That! to Nintendo's carefully cultivated family-friendly image, becomes increasingly depressing and culminates in Conker becoming king. He's surrounded by people he hates, and he wants nothing more than to go home and have a beer with his girlfriend - but she's dead, because he forgot to bring her back to life when he had the chance. Conker sitting on the throne depressed is how the game opens.
- Played unusually straight in The World Ends with You in the stinger ending, where Joshua, The Composer, is standing on top of Ten-Four with Hanekoma. The latter tells him he looks lonely, and Joshua is basically told that he can't join the friends he made over the past month because it's not his world. Cue Joshua flying away before Hanekoma can continue. Talk about a downer ending.
- In World of Warcraft, Jastor Gallywix defies this in his official short story Trade Secrets of a Trade Prince. Having alienated the only person he had fallen in love with, and proving that he is scum even by goblin standards, he is still stating that he would not have it any other way.
- Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 has an example of this in the Conquest Ending. Nepgear has killed all the other goddesses, including her sister, to power the Sword of Plot Advancement to kill the evil deity, Arfoire. Ultimately, this leads to her accomplishing what every comicbook supervillain dreams of: the world is united under her rule, but all those of her friends who are still alive return to the places they call home, leaving her to rule alone, and she is willing to use "any means necessary" to ensure peace and prosperity.
Nepgear: This is the dark path that I've chosen to walk alone.
- One of the bad ends of Live A Live involves now-Demon King Oersted empowering his incarnations throughout the timeline to kill the heroes and take his revenge of being used and thrown away like how he went through. Credits rolled as Oersted strolls around the now-empty Kingdom of Lucretia, and it ends with him hanging his head low, now completely lonely without anyone, friends or foes from the past, present or future, and doomed with such fate eternally.
- Armored Core: Last Raven is literally built around this in a way that you are the last remaining Raven after a day's war. The exact circumstances leading up to it vary depending on storyline, but the hardest path requires you to actively hunt down the other Ravens and be the last man standing.
- Dragon Age II - Hawke loses a family member with every step up the social ladder, whether or not you "betray" any of them. In the endgame, several of your True Companions can turn on you depending on whose side you take. The best fit would be siding with the Templars and letting Meredith kill Bethany in the Circle. Congratulations, you get to (temporarily) be Viscount at the cost of the last member of your family. Bethany's last words are even "I hope this was all worth it."
- Ashikaga Yoshiteru from Sengoku Basara 4 turns out to feel isolated due to his position as warrior shogun of Japan, which is why he calls everyone he encounters "comrade", even if he only gets hostility in return. Kenshin asks Keiji to meet him during Keiji's drama route, with the expectation that Keiji will befriend him somehow. It worked.
- Part of Edward Kenway's Heel Realization in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is from him finally admitting this, or at least verbalizing it. For all the wealth that he's gained, near the end of the game Mary Read passed away despite his attempts to rescue her in his escape from Kingston, his crew mutinies against him or ditches him at least twice, and in the end Adewale — who'd been with him from the very beginning of the days of the Jackdaw — has finally had enough of Edward and leaves to join the Assassins... and when he struck down Ben Hornigold, his former friend turned Templar, he was in no uncertain terms told that he'd be all alone in the world.
- Several of the Eternals in Granblue Fantasy have this, and in particular Tweyen. She keeps losing friends out of fear for her power — even most people in her hometown thought she was a monster. Even being in a group of people at a similar power level, she's still pretty lonely as most of them are off doing their own thing.
- Bane's Arcade ending in Injustice 2 has him defeat all the heroes and release all the imprisoned criminals, declaring "No more prisons! No more guards! No more Regime!" However, afterwards he finds that he's already killed all the Worthy Opponents who could have challenged him and there's nothing left to do — which leads him to realize that being the king of the hill is a sort of prison in and of itself.
- Fate/stay night has several of these characters: Saber, who became a king over a court who has no idea she's a woman and had to throw away all human bonds in order to rule, and Archer, who became the "Ally of Justice" he always strived to be but lost practically everything to do so, was betrayed by his own ideal and was consigned to an eternal Ironic Hell as a Counter Guardian. Shirou also has at least one Bad End where this happens to him. Rin and Gilgamesh, meanwhile, are subversions: They're amongst the best at what they do and have practically no peers or friends as a result of single-minded devotion to their goals, but neither are terribly bothered by it.
- This, combined with the obvious communication problems that arise from deafness, is the main reason why Shizune Hakamichi from Katawa Shoujo does not have many friends. She is Yamaku's Student Council President and a Class Representative who takes her responsibilities very seriously and wants to use her position to things to makes the other student's lives enjoyable, but this very same desire makes her come across as bossy to other students and more or less drives everyone else on the Council, including her cousin Lilly, away.
- Gosu: In his late years, while training Gang Ryong, Dogko Ryong noted that as a user of the Divine Heavenly Destruction Techniques, there were none who could really challenge him due to its supreme power.
- Sinfest: The Devil is devoid of any true friends. The Devil wins a race against Buddha and Jesus, only to end up shut in his empty manor after winning while the 'losers' continue to play around outside.
- Homestuck: Subverted with Jack Noir: after he's gained omnipotence, he realizes that he's bored and if he gives into his murderous instincts and destroys everything, he will be bored for eternity.
- Played with in Death Note: The Abridged Series (kpts4tv):
Light: L, why?! Why did you leave me?! Why did you leave me alone with these IDIOTS! *sobbing* And... yeah, I'm over it now.
- In RWBY, Pyrrha Nikos was like this before the series began. She is a world famous athlete, but everybody was intimidated by her strength and skills and would never try to get to know her. Before she met the other protagonists, she had no real friends and no guy would date her. Even the one boy who actually did approach and befriend her (out of ignorance of her status) finds her too awesome to even consider that she might have a crush on him.
- In Epic Rap Battles of History, Bill Gates's tirade against the recently-deceased Steve Jobs is somewhere between this, Antagonist in Mourning, and How Dare You Die on Me!.
- Rin feels like this after his defeat of Haru in their race in 50% OFF episode 18. the other characters remind him, Nagisa most succinctly:
Nagisa: Homeboy, you came in fourth.
- Frequently parodied on The Simpsons, where Mr. Burns will mourn how his wealth had made him lonely. Then, ten seconds later, he'll change his mind and decide wealth is its own reward after all ("Money fight!"), or it turns out he was just pretending to be lonely to catch people off-guard.
Moe Szyslak: Rich people aren't happy. From the day they're born 'til the day they die, they think they're happy, but trust me, they ain't.
Homer: [Thinking] Moe. Wish he'd shut up.
Homer: Let me ask you something: does your money cheer you up when you're feeling blue?
- Subverted, played straight then subverted again in this exchange
Mr. Burns: Yes.
Homer: Okay, bad example. [beat] So let me ask you this: does your money ever hug you when you come home at night?
Mr. Burns: Why, no.
Mr Burns: Good heavens, Smithers. They're not afraid of me. What good is money if you can't inspire terror in your fellow man?
- Of course, in Mr Burns case, it's also because he's so old and evil that he literally cannot survive without malice. His greed and cruelty is literally keeping him alive.
- Azula in Avatar: The Last Airbender, a screwed-up young teen in a Big, Screwed-Up Family, exemplifies this trope. To gain the love of her father, and compensate for perceived lack of love from her mother, she drove herself to become the most perfect daughter that an Evil Overlord could wish for, and succeeded. However, being betrayed by the only two people she had thought she could even begin to call friends when she finally went so far down the evil brick road that even they couldn't stomach following her, eventually being stood up to by her 'weakling' brother, and worst of all, discovering that even after all she'd done her father still wouldn't hesitate to treat her, his supposed 'favorite', as an afterthought to be swept aside and dead-ended in a useless job, she began one of the most epic Villainous Breakdowns in the history of media. When last seen, she'd been defeated by her brother and one of his allies, and was left a broken and desperately frightened child, sobbing and shrieking helplessly in chains before being committed to an insane asylum.
- One of the episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles consisted of them being thrust into an alternate future of the world where the Shredder has taken it over, turning it into a Dystopia. When they finally meet him, he throws himself at their feet and begs to be taken with them to a world where he doesn't rule, since he had no idea how to actually run the world once he got it.
- Pelswick: Used Anviliciously in an episode of which featured a new online school popularity poll. Boyd, the school bully, was at the top of the list and used this to make people wait on him so he'd vote for them to be popular. Pelswick was near the bottom of the list so everyone at school started to avoid him. But soon Pelswick got the idea for everyone to make Boyd mad so he'd vote against them. With everyone together at the bottom, all the "unpopular" kids were able to hang out with thier friends again. But as the only "popular" kid left in school, Boyd wound up alone at the top, as all the "unpopular" kids began avoiding him.
Won't anyone talk to me?(echo)
Could someone vote against me so I can be a loser too?(echo)
- Vlad Masters from Danny Phantom falls under this trope. Despite being one of the richest people in the world (Albeit, one who acquired his fame through less-than-moral means), and one of the most powerful as well, he's also virtually alone (save for his cat Maddie and a few random henchmen) and is both painfully aware that he lost the love of his life and a [surrogate] son to his ex-friend.
- Happens to Ickis in Aaahh!!! Real Monsters after he finds a stash of toenails (monster currency) ironically owned by a hypochondriac millionaire
- Batman ends up this way in the DC Animated Universe, as revealed in Batman Beyond. Though he becomes probably the second-best well-known superhero on the planet, his driven personality ends up alienating many of his allies and doesn't take time to nurture human relations. Then he suffers a heart attack and is forced to retire. He then lives as a recluse for twenty years until Terry shows up. Alfred died of old age, none of his romantic relationships shown in the earlier series panned out, the Bat-Family long since split up and retired after Bruce forbade them to be superheroes, and he's too old and bitter to help out anyone else in the superhero biz. Thankfully, he at least gets a loyal son in Terry, who from the looks of things isn't going to leave him high and dry.
- In the DuckTales (1987) episode "Superdoo", Doofus realizes that while he has gained amazing superpowers, none of the other campers want to be friends with him anymore. So he gets rid of the rock that gave them to him.
- Johnny Bravo ran for sanitation commissioner in "Candidate Johnny". He mentioned the trope when he had to clean up the streets by himself for spending the budget on the party held to celebrate his victory.
- Freaky Stories once featured a wealthy man who was so estranged from his family and friends he willed his entire fortune to whoever bothered to attend his funeral. The only person who did so was a crasher who had no idea of who he was and only needed the bathroom.
- One of the points of the Stop Motion short film MORE.
- A short animation called Man In The Frame has a plot centering around it.
- In Xiaolin Showdown, Raimundo's bitterness at being punished for doing what he thought was right eventually leads to him doing a Face–Heel Turn. He helps Wuya regain her power, and she conquers the world. As a reward, she gives Rai 'every game in the world', but it doesn't take long for him to realize that this trope applies, since he's the only one playing; it eventually results in him returning to the side of good.
- My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic:
- In the episode Equestria Games, Twilight's assigned seat - for the opening ceremony anyway - is a throne at the highest level of the stadium with the other princesses. She briefly gazes down wistfully at her friends seated in a much lower level, who are having the time of their lives with everypony else.
- Implied by Celestia to be the case of Starswirl the Bearded. While an amicable and friendly old stallion, he did not understand friendship like Twilight did, which is why he was never able to finish his master spell.
- Princess Celestia herself actively tries to avoid this. She's the top authority figure in Equestria, but has a playful, teasing side in an attempt to take the edge off of other ponies, either by inviting the Mane Six to the Grand Galloping Gala to deliberately liven it up (or mess it up for her amusement, whichever), and inviting the rambunctious Discord later on for the same reason. She also doesn't like being praised.
- Futurama had Fry briefly become a billionaire after discovering that the 83 cents he had left behind in his bank account 1000 years ago had become several billion in the present day thanks to interest. The wealth ended up alienating him from his friends as he became more and more obsessed with surrounding himself with artifacts from his own time in the 20th century. He realizes this after he is robbed by Mom and her sons and refuses her offer of money and uses the anchovies he bought for a pizza.
- Bojack Horseman suffers badly from this. Raised by two extremely abusive and neglectful parents, Bojack has spent his entire life trying to fill the gaping hole in himself with the approval of the public. As a result, no matter how hard he tries, he's never been able to put the past behind him, and is now a drunken, drug-addicted mess in present day. This finally reaches its climax when he's nominated for an Oscar for his Secretariat movie (though we later find out this was fake), and realizes he still doesn't feel happy, despite having fought for years for this kind of recognition.
- Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales (2017) prior to his reunion with Donald and his grandnephews. He's the richest and most famous duck in the world, but his best days are behind him and he is clearly unhappy with his current life and has no wife, children or friends, only his driver and housekeeper (and the housekeeper's granddaughter) keep him company. Thankfully, that changes.
- Can be Truth in Television. If you set up a goal in life that has an endpoint, you may find that once you've reached that goal you don't know what to do. It depends on the person though. Generally, if you can't be happy with what you have now and make getting more stuff/obtaining fame/getting political power/whatever a goal to try and fill that void it won't work, but if that stuff is just a part of your life and not the whole point you'll probably think it is pretty awesome.
- Officers in the armed forces are generally forbidden to socialize with ratings (people of enlisted ranks), restricting their companionship to other officers. This will inevitably lead into being lonely at the top.
- Howard Hughes died having lived the last years of his life cut off from the outside world due his obsessive-compulsive disorder and general paranoia. He was also a painkiller addict, and his aides intentionally gave him excessive doses so that he would be in a confused state and amenable to anything they wanted to do. All his romantic relationships had failed due to his inability to be faithful, and he'd become paranoid that his accountant and friend was plotting against him.
- Funnily enough, William Randolph Hearst, on whom Citizen Kane was based, by all accounts actually led a much more satisfying life. Hearst apparently realized this was happening to his life and managed to use his money and smarts to avoid it. He created a truly astounding home known as Hearst Castle in Northern California and would invite people he liked to stay. As long as you weren't a dick he would let you stay for months at a time. Not technically buying love and friendship, simply providing one of the best places in the world for it to develop.
- Abd-er-Rahman, the Caliph of Andalusia, did not seem to enjoy supreme executive power all that much:
I have now reigned about fifty years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot. They amount to fourteen.
- As Michael Pritchard once said, "No matter how rich you become, how famous or powerful, when you die the size of your funeral will still pretty much depend on the weather."
- Barbara Hutton, the heiress to the Woolworth fortune. She was the richest woman in the world during her lifetime, but it was a life filled with chronic loneliness and depression.
- deadmau5 has shown this. He has a blog post about not being able to have a "normal" romantic relationship because of his fame, and he's mentioned suffering from depression and anxiety, especially after he broke up with his girlfriend.
- By its very nature, becoming an elite, Top of the Anything, means that you are different from the rest, which means that you have fewer peers. Enforced by online games which restrict players to only playing against those in their same rank, like Red Crucible 2. If your rank gets too high, you'll find yourself playing the same people over and over, and may miss the huge swathes of unfamiliar people at the lower ranks.
- Geniuses could have trouble socializing because normal people may appear to them as complete idiots who can barely grasp the beauty of quantum physics and other things even other "smart" people struggle with. This would lead to fairly common cases of depression unless they make sure to surround themselves with other geniuses. (Naturally, the term 'genius' itself is highly subjective, so this isn't necessarily true for all cases, never mind other exceptions.)
- This often happens to lottery winners. They may now be fabulously wealthy, but between a flood of hangers-on bugging them for money or pressuring them to make business investments of questionable worth, shady accountants, parasitic litigants (often family members and ex-partners) trying to get quick and easy settlements, predatory financial advisers, and other people itching to find ways to take a piece of the pie for themselves, they often wind up losing their ability to trust anyone and cut themselves off from the world as a result. And since many of them become broke again in short order, they could end right back where they started, with their faith in humanity shattered.
- The Emperors of China referred to themselves as "Gua Ren" (literally, the lonely one) because they are both without equals and without fathers.
- Some Truth in Television according to Forbes:
- If this Forbes article seem to indicate, then this is Truth in Television for company CEOs. Here is the gist: They ultimately take the sole responsibility of running a company, they are expected to have all of the answers to all of the questions in regards to their business, they have to keep people together, and the nature of their job is actually very different to even the number two.
- Another issue is that if you are female workers, you will struggle to get your voice heard even if you are an executive, according to this article. It also does not help that female business executives are still the minority.
- Markus "Notch" Persson has stated that his wealth from creating Minecraft and selling it to Microsoft Studios has made his personal life much more isolated.
- Jascha Heifetz – arguably the greatest violinist of all time – according to this documentary.
- The quote at the top was paraphrased and turned on its head by Queen Isabella of Castile, when she thought that her husband's uncle was being too familiar by calling him "nephew": "The King has no friends nor relatives, only subjects." Ironically, Isabella's father had died lamenting that he ever became king.
- On the flip-side, when someone improves his or herself intellectually and/or financially, the individual may end up losing friends due to jealousy and hate.