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Meaningless Villain Victory

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"You're telling me that I'll die soon, now that I'm more powerful than anyone? I'm gonna...die!?"
Kuja, Final Fantasy IX

The Bad Guy Wins, but the win is pointless.

A Meaningless Villain Victory occurs when there's a last second caveat that renders the whole point of the villain's win moot:

However it plays out, the audience can rest assured that evil never pays, and the villain has just blown a boatload of his evil resources on a Snipe Hunt.

Often involves a Literal Genie or Prophecy Twist. In folklore, a Deal with the Devil can often be broken in this way. This is generally a form of All for Nothing.

In short, this can best be described as The Bad Guy Wins + "Shaggy Dog" Story.

Also known as a Quibble; arguably synonymous with Exact Words. Compare to Pyrrhic Victory and And Then What?.

Not to be confused with Off the Table, the trope formerly known as Pound of Flesh. This trope was formerly known as Pound of Flesh Twist.

Compare Victory Is Boring and You Can't Thwart Stage One.

As this can be a Death Trope and/or an Ending Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Adolf, a Nazi officer named Adolf Kaufmann completes his mission to get his hands on the documents that prove Hitler's Jewish ancestry to finally destroy them, after having spent most of his life looking for said papers. Immediately after, Kaufmann is told that Hitler died and Germany has surrendered. Kaufmann realizes that what he's holding is now just useless trash, and has a Villainous Breakdown that his entire life has been wasted.
  • In Azumanga Daioh, Yukari and Nyamo bet ten thousand yen on the outcome of the School Festival. Yukari's class wins, Nyamo hands her the money... and then Nyamo points out that Yukari borrowed ten thousand yen from her a while back. Yoink!note 
  • Bleach was rather infamous for this in its two major arcs where Aizen and Yhwach were the primary antagonists. Both villains basically defeat anyone who gets in their way and achieve all their more immediate goals, with Aizen successfully fusing with the Hōgyoku and becoming a transcendent being and Yhwach killing and then absorbing the Soul King, only for the both of them to be defeated at the very last second by Ichigo before they could go on to secure a complete, irreversible victory (by forging an Ouken and merging all three worlds back into one, respectively).
  • Devilman. Ryo/Satan succeeds in Killing All Humans and killing Akira/Devilman. However, the entire point of killing all humans was for demons to retake the Earth, which is rendered pointless as all demons were wiped out in the conflict as well. He also didn't want to kill Akira, because he still loved him and wanted him to join his cause instead. Not to mention that even this Pyrrhic Victory is rendered completely moot when God and His heavenly hosts hit the Reset Button on the entire planet shortly afterwards.
  • An early episode of Dinosaur King has the heroic D-Team and the villainous Alpha Gang compete against each other in a game show for a hefty cash prize. The Alpha Gang end up winning after the D-Team are forced to throw the game to deal with a dinosaur that gets loose in the studio, but the prize money is destroyed when they try to return it to their headquarters. The episode thus ends with no winner at all, much to everyone's despair.
  • Dragon Ball franchise:
    • Dragon Ball Z:
      • Freeza successfully gathers all the Namekian Dragon Balls thanks to the Ginyu Force and wishes for immortality. Problem is, the Namekian dragon Porunga only understands the Namekian language, which Freeza does not speak, rendering him unable to summon Porunga or make wishes. And to add insult to injury, he killed almost everyone who did speak Namekian.
      • Vegeta manages to overcome the aforementioned language barrier by getting Dende to make the wish for immortality, but the genocide of the Namekians (which Vegeta contributed to) has been so stressful to Guru, creator of the Namekian dragon balls, that he dies right as Dende is making his wish. The dragon balls are tied to their creator's life force, so they become useless lumps of rock and Vegeta remains mortal. Just as a pissed off Freeza arrives looking for someone to kill.
      • In the movie Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone, the villain Garlic Jr. actually obtains immortality... before being sealed in an empty dimension. He does escape, however, as he can channel power from a celestial object in the main series dimension... but Gohan destroys the celestial object and sends Garlic Jr. back into that dimension, this time for good.
      • Despite being killed early on in the Cell Saga, Dr. Gero ultimately achieved his lifelong goal: Goku died at the hands of Cell, his greatest creation. Of course, right afterwards, Cell is killed by Gohan, and Goku comes Back from the Dead seven years later, with power that completely dwarfs Perfect Cell to boot.
    • Dragon Ball Super: At the end of the Future Trunks Saga, Zamasu ultimately manages to wipe out humanity in Future Trunks' timeline after becoming a universe-spanning Eldritch Abomination. But his victory is immediately undone thanks to Goku being friends with Zen'o, which allowed Goku to call him in and resulted in Zen'o erasing him from existence. What's more, in the end, he was unable to kill his most hated enemies and, with the knowledge of what happened, Whis makes sure Zamasu's future self is stopped before he can enact his plans while Future Trunks and Mai live happily in a Close-Enough Timeline. In the end, despite the bleak scenario and final results, Zamasu's plans ultimately amounted to nothing.
  • Fairy Tail: When the crew goes off on an S-Ranked mission to save an island from a curse that turns people into demons, they find that there is a demon on the island that was sealed away in ice, and the villains are trying to thaw it out. The villains manage to get the ice melted, only to find to their horror that the demon inside was already dead. Turns out being frozen in ice for several years is fatal, even to demons. The villains end up in a mix of shock and grief that their victory was instantly rendered worthless.
  • Fruits Basket: The entire series was kicked off due to a bet between Akito and her Abusive Mom Ren; said bet involved allowing Tohru to stay at Shigure's house to prove that the Sohmas' Hereditary Curse cannot truly force them to love their God, Ren surmising they would rather bond with an All-Loving Hero stranger like Tohru than an abusive Psychopathic Womanchild like Akito. Ultimately, Ren wins; as she predicted, the Zodiac members gravitate towards Tohru and bond with her because she treats them far more decently than Akito ever did, thus proving to her once and for all that the Zodiacs' bonds with her as their God were fake and forced on them by the curse. Ultimately, however, her victory is pointless, since Tohru also extends friendship to Akito, allowing her to move past her mother's manipulations and find a chance at happiness while Ren is left alone, miserable, and either ignored or outright despised by the Sohma family at large.
  • The anime version of Great Teacher Onizuka had the episode where he puts Tomoko in a beauty pageant. The thing is rigged by an entertainment company and their ringer wins thanks to them stuffing the ballot but Tomoko made such an impression that the crowd loves her more. The ringer will quickly fade to obscurity.
  • The Gundam franchise has quite a few.
  • Idolmaster: Xenoglossia: In the second-to-last episode, Chihaya, desperate to get Imber back, turns herself into energy and actually merges with Imber, which would pretty much guarantee that she won, except that Imber won't have it and fires her essence back out not long after, killing her as a result.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure really loves this trope. Some worthwhile mentions:
    • Phantom Blood: Dio manages to kill the hero, Jonathan Joestar, and steal his body, but is trapped inside a coffin at sea for 100 years while Jonathan's wife and unborn child live on. Also, fusing with Jonathan's body leaves him physically weaker than he would be otherwise and indirectly causes Jonathan's descendants to gain powerful Stands along with him.
    • Battle Tendency: Kars acquires the Complete Immortality he sought so hard for thousands of years, but is blasted into space with no way of returning to Earth. The cold vacuum starts to freeze him and he begins turning into stone, and then he slowly loses his mind as he drifts through space for all eternity.
    • Stone Ocean: Enrico Pucci achieves the power to kill Jotaro and Jolyne, ending the (direct) bloodline of Joestars for good and rewriting them out of reality. Then he is killed before he could do the finishing touches, and reality reshapes again and the dead protagonists get reborn in a new reality without their original memories. This also ultimately turns all of Dio's victories into an example, as all they end up accomplishing is a timeline where the heroes escape his grasp.
    • Steel Ball Run: Diego Brando (from yet another alternate dimension) beats Johnny Joestar soundly, steals the Holy Corpse, and wins the first prize of the race, but Lucy Steel doesn't let him get away with it. None of Diego's plans mattered once Lucy appeared and killed him, as Diego's death not only eliminated him from the race and forfeited all of his winnings to Pocoloco, but because he died, the good fortune that comes with storing the Holy Corpse under the Trinity Church ultimately went to nobody, not to mention Johnny later taking the Corpse Parts out and bringing them to Japan. Plus, AU Diego is defeated when Lucy brings him the head of the original Diego, causing the two to explode due to the rule of Never the Selves Shall Meet.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (2005), Agahnim finally manages to send the maidens and Zelda to the Dark World to open a portal between it and the Light World on behalf of Ganon, but the Demon King has no intention of honoring his end of their bargain and kills Agahnim.
  • Little Witch Academia (2017) has Professor Croix finally manage to unlock the Grand Triskelion, AKA the world restoration magic. Too bad that, without the Shiny Rod, it's nearly useless, amounting to a small twig that can only be used for party tricks. As Croix can't even so much as touch the Shiny Rod without it zapping her, a Villainous Breakdown ensues.
  • By the nature of the work, Lupin III is excessively fond of these. Since Lupin is a criminal, technically a villainous character, and chased by a good guy upholding the law, examples are limited to when a third party is competing against Lupin and the gang.
    • Emmanuelle in Bangkok: Lupin allows Fujiko and Emmanuelle to fight over the treasure, a box made to contain the Scripture of Immortality or the "Fountain of Youth", as it might otherwise be known. It's crumbled to dust.
    • Another caper, "The Sleight Before Christmas", had Lupin and the gang managing to steal a vintage and priceless wine and swap it with a garden variety one along with a crate that they think is money. However, when they drink the wine itself, they find out it tastes horrible (which likewise saved Zenigata's hide, as it kept the U.S delegates from tasting it), but that crate turned out to be filled with dolls which were supposed to be delivered to kids for Christmas. At least Lupin realizes his mistake on this and air-dropped the dolls across the land as an apology.
    • The treasure of The Castle of Cagliostro is an ancient Roman city perfectly preserved beneath a lagoon, priceless but simply too big for Lupin to steal. The mechanism to drain the lagoon is designed to crush to death whoever activates it, so the Count gains the treasure only to be killed before he can so much as see it. And while Zenigata successfully blows the whistle on the counterfeit "goat" bills, The Stinger reveals that Fujiko stole the templates from the printing presses.
  • My Hero Academia sees All For One, in Tomura Shigaraki's body, confront Cathleen Bate, the Pro Hero Star and Stripe, to obtain her Quirk New Order. He ultimately manages to win, but Cathleen gets the last laugh: as her Quirk is being taken, she gives one final order: New Order will rampage against All For One and all of the Quirks that he has stolen until it burns out, meaning not only does All For One lose New Order before he can use it at all, but it takes out some of his other Quirks, resulting in him suffering a net loss.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Yep, Instrumentality goes down. ...but people can leave at any time. So why bother?
    • And before that Kaworu effortlessly breaches Terminal Dogma and comes into contact with Adam...only to discover that it's not Adam at all, but Lilith, rendering his mission pointless.
    • Gendo executes the last stage of his plan to bring about Instrumentality, only for Rei to disobey him at the last possible second. Instrumentality carries on, but not on Gendo's terms, and instead of being reunited with Yui, he gets Eaten Alive by Unit-01 (maybe?)
  • One Piece:
    • Happens in the Dressrosa arc, chapter 742: Usopp is the only person left who can knock out Sugar and return all the people she transformed into toys to normal. He tries to stand up against her bodyguard Trebol, but gets thoroughly beaten. However, Sugar feeds him the grape she assumed was poisoned to get rid of him (it's actually spiked with an ultra-spicy substance). The result is Usopp screaming in absolute agony while making a spectacular Nightmare Face, scary enough to make her scream and faint in turn, rendering her victory moot. Comes up a bit again later when Usopp weaponizes her newly-gained trauma to save Luffy and Law by launching a projection looking like said face to render her unconscious again, all while unlocking Haki.
    • While the World Government got away with summoning a Buster Call on Ohara for trying to translate the Poneglyphs and research the Void Century, their victory was rendered utterly meaningless over time by a number of factors: one, Nico Robin survived the destruction of Ohara, the event driving her to complete the research her colleagues died for; two, the very act of wiping out an entire island, civilians included, just for researching history, galvanized Monkey D. Dragon into forming the Revolutionary Army, an organization dedicated to fighting the World Government's injustices across the globe for the next twenty years; and three, the research texts used by the scholars of Ohara that they dumped into a lake that the Marines conveniently ignored would end up salvaged by the giants of Elbaf, who eventually shared them with Dr. Vegapunk so that he would independently continue their research in secret.
  • Pokémon: The Series:
    • In the Kanto episode "Pokemon Scent-sation", Team Rocket manages to get away with Erika's supposedly rare perfume while everyone is busy trying to put out the fires that resulted from their bombs. However, it's revealed that said "perfume" was actually just one ingredient required in making the secret perfume — the essence of Gloom (i.e. very stinky).
    • An episode during mid-Johto "Control Freak" had Team Rocket get their hands on an ancient queen's scepter that could control Pokémon and Jessie uses it to control Ash's Pikachu, except it turns out that the scepter only works within where the boundaries of the queen's home village were, meaning Jessie can't take Pikachu out of or control any Pokémon outside that area.
  • In Puella Magi Tart Magica, while Isabeau de Bavière was the final obstacle, Minou remained a bigger threat till the end of the series. She succeeds in capturing Tart and have her excuted by fire, but she has lost her sisters due to her actions, her beloved mother is dead, and Minou's goals have been thwarted. Her last words indicate that she will commit suicide soon to be reunited with her beloved mother.
  • In The Rising of the Shield Hero, King Aultcray and Malty seek to deprive Naofumi Iwatani, the Shield Hero, of any possible advantages in order to keep him a destitute and impoverished nobody, and latch onto him owning a Slave as a Party Member as a reason to demonize Naofumi, conveniently ignoring the fact that they were the ones who made slavery legal in the kingdom. Having beaten Naofumi in a challenge that resulted in him losing his slave and removing her Restraining Bolt, the recently-freed Raphtalia berates and yells at them for doing this, citing that while she was purchased as Naofumi's slave, she was but a Slave to him in-name-only and that she saw Naofumi for the kind man that he really was, and as such willingly goes back to Naofumi's side to prevent him from falling into a Despair Event Horizon, resulting in Naofumi and Raphtalia's bonds with each other deepening as it helps stabilize Naofumi's troubled mind.
  • The extended ending of Shaman King shows this to be the case for Hao Asakura. His reason for wanting to become the Shaman King was to eradicate humanity and create a perfect world where only those who can see spirits, the Shamans, are allowed to live, since his real Shaman mother was killed 1000 years prior due to human prejudice and superstition. He actually manages to become the Shaman King as the heroes fail to stop him in time and kills the entire cast... Just for him to realize, after witnessing the arrival of all the major and minor characters' souls (including the supporting main cast, Hao's allies, their Spirits and characters already dead to begin with) and his own mother, that he's lost his hatred for humanity. Not that he ever admits this though, as he claims he's still willing to wipe out humanity, but not before observing it for a while as the new God. The various sequel series show that he's still in observation.
  • In Soul Eater, the heretic witch Arachne spends a good deal of resources sending an army to an island where the good guys are also assembled, all to recover the Demon Tool BREW. When her right-hand man finally succeeds in recovering the mystic tool, it turns out that it is broken beyond repair. However, it is subverted in that Medusa had actually switched the real BREW out for a fake. BREW itself was still usable and eventually falls into the hands of another villain, but as far as Arachne is concerned, it is played straight. Even so, BREW being broken doesn't actually change Arachne's plans at all. She may not have the working tool, but her enemies don't know that, so she is able to use the empty threat of using the tool as a way to lure her enemies into the open when they attempt to stop her from using it.
  • The Touhou Bougetsushou manga has the God-Mode Sue Watatsuki sisters utterly stomp Reimu, Marisa, Sakuya, Remilia, and even Yukari Yakumo herself. A pity their victory's price included a significant amount of favors to their old teacher Eirin Yagokoro, put them in a shaky political position, and did absolutely squat to stop Yukari's actual plans.
  • Transformers: Armada: Megatron has just successfully killed Optimus Prime, but it had left him empty as he has no rival anymore, and spent that next few episodes doing nothing till Optimus is resurrected.

    Asian Animation 
  • BoBoiBoy: In a second season episode, Adu Du tries to defame BoBoiBoy by creating a talk show attacking BoBoiBoy. In the end, the show is aired and watched by four and a half people, which is enough for Adu Du to consider it a win. Except it turns out the people who watched it are people who wouldn't believe or get the anti-BoBoiBoy message.note 

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man:
    • In issues #74 and #75, Silvermane successfully forces Dr. Connors into deciphering the Ancient Tablet by holding his wife and son hostage. Connors uses the information to create a potion for Silvermane to drink, who finds himself having become younger, in fact, in the age of his prime, when he could even take out Man-Mountain Marko. His victory isn't so meaningless at first, until he starts to grow younger still, given the body of a 20-year old, where the weight of his punches against Spider-Man start to feel weaker, eventually deteriorating into that of a pre-teen kid, and finally, an infant until... nothing. Spider-Man himself even sheds a tear for him.
      Silvermane found the youth he sought... and the prize will be his— forever!
    • Another early Spider Man story had the Green Goblin orchestrate a complicated plot to get large numbers of gang members arrested, thus weakening the gangs enough to let him take over. It worked a little too well - so many gang members ended up arrested that there weren't any gangs left for Gobbie to take over!
    • In Spectacular Spider-Man issues #15-#20, the villain The Queen, who has the power to control anyone with an insect-gene, takes a romantic interest in Spider-Man after he impresses her in their fight, and desires to have him as her mate and father of her children. She technically succeeds when she mutates Spider-Man into a Giant Spider, putting him under her total control where he accepts his role as her mate. Unfortunately for her, the mutation was unstable due to his body changing too quickly and rejecting the process, causing him to "die" right in front of her shortly after she finally had him by her side. Though Spider-Man is revived shortly after this, Queen realizes she can't have him as her mate and attempts to kill him herself.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
    • A Carl Barks story has Uncle Scrooge unwittingly signing a contract in which he agrees to give the Beagle Boys all of his fortune if he fails to deliver unharmed a dozen eggs from a rare kind of egg-laying rabbit. The Beagle Boys then try to destroy the eggs through various means throughout the story, but although they actually succeed in shattering the eggs in the end, the eggs are revealed to actually be chicken eggs, rendering the contract void.
      Scrooge McDuck: "So, you villainous Beagle Boys misrepresented the cargo. The contract is no good."
    • A Little Something Special: Thanks to teaming up with Scrooge's other enemies, Magica DeSpell actually obtains her goal of stealing Scrooge's #1 Dime, which she needs to melt down for a special amulet. However, Scrooge points out that the spell specified the first dime of the world's richest man, making it worthless when the rest of Scrooge's fortune has been stolen by the Beagle Boys.
    • Magica DeSpell runs into a similar problem: she gets the dime, but in circumstances that render it worthless in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, she time-travels back to get the dime. She succeeds in taking it... but since she took it before it was paid to Young!Scrooge, it wasn't the first dime earned by the world's richest man. She's forced to Set Right What Once Went Wrong to ensure that it will have any value in the future.
  • DuckTales: In a one-shot story, all of Scrooge's efforts to get first pickings at a hill of gold in a native king's territory come to naught as Flintheart manages to get it instead...but it turns out there is no gold on the hill; it's a hill covered with golden flowers which make any would-be plunderer sneeze for months.
  • Superman:
    • In one story, Dracula fights Superman. Dracula succeeds in hypnotizing him so he can get close enough to drink Superman's blood and gain his immense power — only for it to turn out that because Superman is solar powered, when he drinks his blood, his head explodes.
    • One Silver Age story has Luthor making a scheme to rob Fort Knox, and one of Superman's robot doubles goes to try and stop him. However, due to flaws in the robot's AI, it falls for Luthor's scheme and Luthor easily escapes with tons of gold in tow. Luthor is initially overjoyed to have defeated his nemesis... but when he finds out it was a robot, and he only won because the robot wasn't as smart as the real Superman, he's so disgusted by the hollowness of his victory that he gives the gold back.
    • The Black Ring: Luthor becomes a Physical God at the climax, just as he'd wanted, but he cannot use the power for negative purposes. This is largely fine by Luthor, who uses the power to banish suffering from the universe... until he finds out that he can't harm Superman. He winds up throwing away everything he'd spent the series working for so he could attack Superman again. Total time with unlimited cosmic powers: less than 5 minutes. To top everything, that was his final appearance in the pre-Flashpoint continuity.
    • Last Daughter of Krypton: Supergirl defeated Simon Tycho's private army, beat him up, got her stolen Sunstone back and blew his space base up. As for Simon Tycho himself, he lost the lower half of his body because of the explosion. Still, because he got a sample of Supergirl's blood completely by accident, he thinks he came out on top.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog Issue #7, Sonic and his friends are trying to find a treasure chest hidden away by Uncle Chuck, believing it to be a key tool in defeating Robotnik. However, he swoops in and steals it away before the Freedom Fighters can get their hands on it. It is then that Sonic remembers that what was inside the box was of sentimental value. The next panel has Robotnik having a hysterical Villainous Breakdown after finding out it was Sonic's bronze baby shoes.
  • Justice League Adventures, the comic-tie in with the "Justice League" series, in issue #15 had Kanjar Ro hired by Kromm and Sayyar, two Warlords who were in "war games" with Queen Hyathis. Kanjor Ro ends up capturing Hyathis' latest prize, the Gamma Gong, and the Justice League as well. Kanjar Ro uses the Gamma Gong to entrance Hyathis' people, and loot her trophies. When Ro seems he'd get away with his loot when the Gong's destroyed, Hyathis gives him a proposition Batman advises her to: join the Warlords in their games. This gives Kanjar Ro "respectability" as it means he's no longer scurrying around like a thief; but Queen Hyathis then reminds Ro he's limited in the use of his loot. And that she'd watch him, Kromm, and Sayyar to make sure they don't cheat from here on. To help with enforcement of this...the Queen shows her new allies — The Justice League!
  • The Wacky Races story "The Scavenger Scramble" (Gold Key #7, April 1972) had a big purse up for grabs to the winner (a "big purse" interpreted as a cash prize as per standard race). Dick Dastardly wins, and he receives the prize — a big, flowery ladies' purse. It’s not entirely meaningless though since he finally won a race in this continuity, something he never did in the series.
  • In Watchmen, Adrian Veidt's plot to end the Cold War by faking an alien invasion is completly successful. The US and USSR unite, and the characters who learn his plan discover too late to stop him. On the other hand, it's not clear if the false peace would actually last in the long run, and Rorschach's journal could possibly reveal the conspiracy to the public. Doomsday Clock confirms this. The journal is found and reveals Veidt's actions to the public, forcing him to go on the run. The false peace falls apart and nuclear war is about to go down.
  • In The Transformers: Combiner Wars: Starscream successfully pulls a False Flag Operation by setting loose Menasor on Caminus and appearing with his own combiner to save the day. In the end, he comes out on top, ready to expand his position of ruler of Cybertron onto other Cybertronian colonies forging his own empire. However with the conclusion of the Combiner War, two of the titular combiners are still loyal to the Autobots, and the only Decepticon one is Devastator whom Starscream cannot control. In addition he must retain his Villain with Good Publicity act by sharing his power with representatives from the different colonies, and as future series show he's put up against a number of other shady and shrewd politicians.
  • In Death: The High Cost of Living, the villain manages to steal Death's symbol, her ankh, and gets away with it, under the impression that it's an artifact of great power. Turns out it really is just a symbol; Death buys a new one from a street vendor and all is well.
  • Astro City has the Junkman, who found himself in one of these when he managed to pull off his perfect heist. He makes off with seven million dollars while robbing a bank in the Superhero Capital of the World, and initially, he's gleeful that he left no evidence whatsoever... but then he realizes that he didn't become a supervillain to make money, but to prove that his life still had purpose and society was wrong to throw him away. While the money was certainly enjoyable, it meant nothing if they couldn't trace the crime back to him. Fittingly, he gets out of this by inverting the trope; he returns home and kicks off a new crime spree, then lets himself get caught so he can go on trial and tell the world exactly how he pulled off his genius plan.
  • In a story from Bernie Wrightson: Master of the Macabre the Villain Protagonist is a jealous 49'er who murders his partner and takes all his possessions, such as his dog note  his rifle note  his crate of whiskey note  their whole haul of gold dust note  and his woman. note 

    Fan Works 
  • Jaune Arc, Lord of Hunger: During Star Wars: The Old Republic, Jedi Knight Nariel Pridence set out to hide Nihilus's mask (which contained his soul) in the Unknown Regions where no one would ever find it. Determined to stop her, Nihilus's spirit sacrifices what little strength he has left to kill Nariel and set her ship off course. Nariel's ship is looted by smugglers not long after, who take the mask to their hideout on Volik... a remote planet in the Unknown Regions. The smugglers later abandon their base and leave Nihilus's mask behind on Volik where it sits untouched for thousands of years... exactly what Nariel wanted in the first place.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act IV: Despite Tsukune and the gang's best efforts, Hokuto ultimately succeeds in his plan to resurrect Alucard, who proceeds to go on a rampage to destroy the world. Of course, right after he succeeds in doing so, Hokuto is killed by Tsukune, and in the penultimate chapter of the act, Tsukune and co. figure out Alucard's weakness and destroy him, rendering Hokuto's victory utterly meaningless.
  • Left Beyond has plenty, regardless of who you think the villains are. The Millennium Force score two with the capture of a prototype Spider Tank and the destruction of what they thought was the Omega mainframe... but this has no strategic effect in their favor since the Spider Tank is inferior to regular tanks in the flat terrain, and the Omega had been cloud-based for years when the old mainframe is destroyed. The Omega deal a crushing blow to Satan... just before Jesus scours the Earth of all life anyway. The Other Light conquer Russia and Western Africa... but mostly because the other two factions let them do so since the territories are no longer strategically relevant. God succeeds in fulfilling all the prophecies, and revels in the glory of judging humanity forever... but post-humanity gets on with life.
  • In the final Ruby and Nora story, Cold, Salem manages to acquire all four Relics and use them to awaken the God of Destruction, Void, and finally obtain godhood like she was promised, only Void isn't planning on keeping his promise and strips her of her powers. Not long after, Ruby manages to destroy Void with the power of the Silver Eyes, making everything Salem did all for nothing, followed by her meeting her end by Winter's hand.
  • In the Miraculous Ladybug fanfic Power Trip, Lila's main goal is to prove to the people she's manipulating that she's a better class president than Marinette by making their annual class trip one to Disneyland Paris. Even without the help of the majority of the class, she manages to secure permission and raise enough money for the trip, and even manages to get Adrien to return her affections in the process. However, shortly after they get back, it's revealed that Marinette took the classmates that were excluded from the class trip (and a few others) on an even better trip: a tour across the United States. Lila is forced to spend the rest of the summer watching her enemy have a far better time than her...and to add insult to injury, one of the friends Marinette makes on the trip exposes Lila's manipulations, causing her to lose all the influence she had amongst her classmates.
  • In the Undertale fanfic Monster in the Mountain, Frisk never went to the Underground, and thus Asriel Dreemurr could collect all the souls of the Underground by the time of the story starts. However, in every timeline he reveals himself to humanity they always succeed in almost killing him, forcing him to stay in the Underground against his will. Except it was never a permanent issue and often even triumphed over them and even conquered the world. Double Subverted However, as he found no lasting fulfilment in any timeline, as he had deprived himself of anyone who would love him through his actions.
  • In the Total Drama fanfic Deserving, during the free-for-all hunt for the million-dollar briefcase, Courtney has a choice between letting Duncan fall off a cliff or grabbing the prize money. She chooses the latter, but during her victory interview, her lawyers show up to collect their expenses for getting her back into the competition, which add up to so much that she's left with just $20. Duncan also dumps her for choosing the money over him and hooks up with Gwen instead.
  • Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail: Simon, after becoming Destruction, killed Chloe and Tuba in order to become the True Apex, but he learned the hard way that A) his Destruction form only works in the Fog Car; if he tries to leave it, he returns into a human where everyone on the Train wants his head for all of the atrocities and the audacity of killing Chloe of the Vermillion, B) Atticus resurrected Chloe with his Pendant of Life, and Tuba's death opened Hazel and Grace's eyes to the Apex, and C) he gets killed off shortly thereafter by the Phantom who was actually Sean, the Apex kid who he dismissed as "Weak" for dying, and drowns in Toluca Lake, alone, like Chloe predicted.
  • In Vengeance of Dawn, trying to win back her former status as Princess Celestia's student and her mentor's love, Breaking Dawn successfully carries out an elaborate scheme to make herself look like a hero, gets her hooves on the Elements of Harmony, defeats Twilight in the process, and appears at a crucial moment to save Celestia from being captured by foreign zebra soldiers. The second Celestia is freed, she hits Dawn point-blank with a restraining spell, reveals that she is aware of every horrible thing her former student has done up to this point, and makes it very clear that Dawn has crossed the Moral Event Horizon in her eyes. Even when Dawn escapes and tries one more time to prove herself by trying to save Canterlot with the stolen Elements, they fail to work because she is not worthy of them after the crimes she's committed.
  • The Fairly Oddparents fanfic Discovery has what could be considered more of a "Meaningless Unwitting Pawn Victory". Tootie, jealous that Timmy won over Trixie, is given a Love Amulet by Juandissimo, which she uses to make Timmy hers. Later, during Trixie and Tootie's fight, Trixie points out to Tootie that if she only has Timmy through the Love Amulet, all she really has is his body rather than Timmy himself (since he's basically a mindless slave with the Love Amulet on). Tootie realizes Trixie's in the right and removes the Love Amulet from Timmy.
  • Loved and Lost has a variation in that while the villain does manage to achieve victory early on, it's his actions afterward that render that victory moot. Prince Jewelius seizes the Equestrian throne after helping Twilight Sparkle capture Queen Chrysalis and her Changeling army (which he himself helped invade Canterlot before double-crossing them) by exploiting the tense atmosphere of the aftermath and the emotionally-driven behavior on the part of everypony involved to turn the Mane 6 sans Twilight, Shining Armor, and the princesses into hated scapegoats for enabling the invasion to occur (though in fairness, Villain Has a Point is also in play), getting them all exiled and leaving him free to manipulate Twilight as he sees fit. One week later, however, it's shown that he's decided that it isn't enough to simply have power, a bride in the form of Twilight to father powerful heirs with, and the acclaim of Canterlot's citizens - he also wants to ensure his success by having Celestia and Cadance killed off. After luring the fugitives back to Canterlot and capturing them again, however, he gloats about his success to their faces which motivates them to try and spring Twilight out of the peril that she and the rest of Canterlot deny ever being in despite their warnings. On top of this, he also forgets to capture Luna, who suspected that the heroes were being lured into a trap and split from the rest to avoid it, allowing her to free the others starting with saving Celestia from her Public Execution. In the ensuing chaos, all of the Changelings also escape, but Jewelius, believing them to be incompetent without his leadership, focuses entirely on punishing the escaped heroes which are now the public's smallest concern (partly due to the citizens and Twilight beginning to forgive the fugitives and especially Celestia who gave them all a touching apology speech), and eventually lets his sociopathic pettiness get the better of him in all of the events to follow, causing Twilight to have a Jerkass Realization and cut off all ties with him. By the time the dust has settled, not only has Jewelius lost his authority and the respect of absolutely everypony he manipulated into turning upon each other, but a vengeful Chrysalis has served him a gruesome Death by Woman Scorned as well.
  • In a canon omake for Underdressed and Overpowered, All for One successfully takes over Shigaraki's body, only to learn the heroes had already successfully captured him and he's currently in an identical cell as All for One's original body.
  • In King Nothing, Justin wins Total Drama Action and gets the million dollars. However, everyone hates him because he has revealed himself to be a manipulative, backstabbing liar — even his parents. Even after he graduates, he still can't get a job because no one will hire him, and finally turns to a drinking habit. Eventually he runs out of money and the last we see of him is working as a janitor at some crappy bar, while having lost his good looks as a result of his alcoholism.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Aladdin, Aladdin tricks Jafar into wishing for life as an all-powerful genie. Jafar makes the wish, and Genie grants it — not telling the villain that "phenomenal cosmic power" comes with "an itty-bitty living space". Jafar is trapped in his lamp as a magic servant for eternity and then imprisoned a second time in the Cave of Wonders.
  • In The Boxtrolls, Snatcher does get a white hat, and he does taste cheese in the tasting room in the end. That tasted-cheese causes his allergy (along with the rest of his built-up allergic reaction) to do him in.
  • Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie: Mr. Krupp's efforts to put George and Harold in separate classes in order to destroy their friendship end up becoming this due to the fact that they're next-door-neighbors and therefore could hang out after school.
  • Cars ends with Chick Hicks winning the Piston Cup because Lightning McQueen forfeited his own chance, stopping just short of the finish line to go back and help the third racer whom Chick caused to crash. That plus Chick's gloating over his victory may have ensured that this win is his last.
    • This ends up being subverted in the tie-in game, which takes place the following year and season. With The King retired, Lightning and Chick are duking it out for the title; Lightning is clearly the crowd favorite though, meaning Chick still lost whatever respect and credibility he had with the move, which wasn't much.
    • The third movie reveals that Chick signed a deal to host his own TV series about the racing industry, and, still having learned nothing, he uses the show as an outlet to attack Lightning at every chance he can get.
  • The immortality one is fairly common: in Heavy Metal 2000, the Man Behind the Man gets his immortality... of course, he then gets sealed in a chamber that can only be opened from the outside with a key lost in the depths of space.
  • In Kung Fu Panda, Tai Lung does get the Dragon Scroll eventually. But it's blank. Or rather, it has a mirrored surface to show the reader It Was with You All Along. Po gets the message, Tai Lung doesn't, and gets his tail kicked by Po because of it.
  • In Megamind, the eponymous Villain Protagonist finally accomplishes what he's been working toward for years: killing Metro Man. The thing is... now what? He's literally spent his entire life trying to beat Metro Man at something, anything! Well, Metro City is finally his for the taking. But that quickly loses its novelty. His life now direction-less, Megamind decides he needs to create a new super hero to fight against! Of course, this goes horribly right...
  • Ratatouille: Skinner manages to get Linguini's restaurant shut down... so he, Colette, and Remy start a new one that becomes just as successful.
  • In Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, the ruthless and Secretly Dying Amanda Waller sends the titular Suicide Squad to get a MacGuffin, the Get Out Of Hell Free card, that allows one person to escape Hell no matter how bad they were in life. The Suicide Squad eventually complete their mission and return the card to her... after Deadshot has used it for Bronze Tiger. The card only works on one person and can't be duplicated, so it might as well be a Monopoly card for all the good it will do her.
  • In Toy Story 4, Gabby Gabby's plan is to steal Woody's voice box and use it to repair her own. She's been left on the antique store's shelves for decades and believes that Harmony, a girl who frequents the store, will buy her if her voice box works. Woody willingly gives up his voice box to Gabby Gabby, who uses it to attract Harmony's attention. Unfortunately, Harmony leaves her on the shelf, to Gabby Gabby's sorrow. Gabby Gabby is sympathetic enough that the trope gets subverted: Woody persuades her to come with him to the nearby carnival, where Gabby Gabby finally gets Happily Adopted by another young girl.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: On paper, Lex Luthor's scheme to kill Superman worked. He can hardly enjoy this victory, however, because Superman died a hero and his reputation is at an all-time high. Also, Lex has been arrested for treason and his assets are seized by the government. Batman and Wonder Woman, inspired by Superman's Heroic Sacrifice, set out to form the Justice League - using Luthor's own data on metahumans to find them. And the cherry on top? Superman is not even dead, just in a healing coma. It isn't until The Stinger of Justice League (2017) reveals that Lex at least managed to escape by having someone else take his place, while currently arranging a meeting with Deathstroke on his yacht.
  • Back to the Future Part II: Biff Tannen's plan to change his future with Gray's Sports Almanac was supposed to grant him an idyllic life in his old age in 2015, but instead when he comes out of the Time Machine he seems to be in pain and in a deleted scene keels over dead shortly afterwards and is Ret-Gone. Word from Gale and Zemeckis is that what happened is that Biff was killed by his wife Lorraine at some point in the alternate 1990s his meddling created when she finally became fed up with his Spousal Abuse, with the same .38 revolver he used to kill George McFly. So in the end his scheme ended up with nothing.
  • In Big Fish, Edward Bloom gets inadvertently caught up in a bank robbery when his old friend Norther decides to rob the place while talking to him in line. Norther takes the guard's gun and tells Ed to clean out the vault. Unfortunately, this robbery took place at one of the corrupt Savings & Loans in the 1980s, so the vault was actually empty. The woman opening the vault even tells Ed that he can't tell anyone about this.
    Norther: opens a small envelope "This is it? The whole vault?"
    Edward: "'Fraid so."
    Norther: sighs "Edward, it's still got your deposit slip on it."
    Edward: "Well, I didn't want you to leave empty-handed..."
  • Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China succeeds in his goal of marrying both Grace and Miao Yin and becoming mortal again, but he forgot what "mortal" actually means — namely, that he can die. Which Jack Burton then proceeds to make him do.
  • In The Book of Eli, Big Bad Carnegie has gone through great lengths to wrest the book from Eli. He finally has it in his grasp and has a locksmith open it to find that it's in Braille. And he can't read Braille. This turns into a Humiliation Conga when it's revealed that his town has totally slipped out of his control because he sacrificed almost all of his men to get it, the blind woman he's been abusing for the whole film tells him to shove it when he tries to get her to read the book to him, and finally, a relatively minor wound he suffered earlier in the film is now badly infected, and he's likely to die from it if the uprising doesn't kill him first. Meanwhile, Eli memorized the book after reading from it every night for 30 years, so the good guys can start printing their own copies as they please. Protip: Don't piss off God.
  • In Bram Stoker's Dracula, Dracula has Mina panting like a dog and begging him to turn her into a vampire by the end of the second act, but he refuses. His centuries of planning comes to nothing by his own decision.
  • The Craft: Nancy successfully invokes the spirit and earns astonishing power. But she abuses it too much and she's punished by Mannon - ending up in an asylum with no magic left at all.
  • In The Doberman Gang, a group of criminals train a pack of dobermans to commit an ingenious bank robbery. They succeed. But by the end, only one of the criminals is left. The person who trained the dogs is gone, and since he was the only one the dogs trusted, the criminals are unable to recover the money. The dogs escape, carrying all the loot with them.
  • DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story: At the very end of the film, Peter reveals that he sold the deed to the Average Joe's gym to White Goodman for $100,000. Which he then bet on his own team to win. At 50 to 1 odds, that leaves him with 5 million dollars. When Goodman claims that he's not selling Average Joe's "for all of king Midas's silver", Peter points out that he can just buy Goodman's gym instead (which is a publicly traded company, so buying all the stocks effectively means he owns the company), allowing him to regain Average Joe's and fire White with one fell swoop.
  • The Great Race: Professor Fate wins the race, but only because the Great Leslie deliberately let him to prove a point to the heroine Maggie. Upon learning this, Fate launches into a rant.
  • Heartbreakers Barbara successfully swindles the Conners out of every penny they've ever stolen. But as a result, Paige gets out of the conning business and ends the film in a Maybe Ever After situation with Jack. Max meanwhile still ends up with Dean, and the end of the film implies that they are going to con Barbara out of the money she stole.
  • The Indiana Jones movies almost always do this. Despite, and often because of, Indy's best efforts, the bad guys obtain their prize, only to be killed by it, usually in horrible ways.
    • Raiders of the Lost Ark has Belloq and the Nazis successfully obtain the Ark of the Covenant, but Belloq wants to perform a ritual with it to ensure its authenticity first. The ritual ends up eradicating Belloq and the entire Nazi unit.
    • Donovan succeeds in forcing both Henry Jones Sr. and Indy (his initial plan and his backup) into leading him to the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but his lack of archaeological and theological knowledge leads him into being tricked by Elsa into drinking from the wrong cup and he dies. Then Indy and Elsa find the real Grail, but the knight guarding the Grail informs them that it can't be removed from the temple. Elsa tries anyway and dies for her efforts.
    • Spalko achieves her goal in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of attaining knowledge from the aliens. However, the information she receives is too much and she disintegrates while begging them to stop.
    • In Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Jürgen Voller manages to get the titular device and accomplish his objective of traveling back in time, but the Dial of Destiny is set to carry travelers to only one location: the Siege of Syracuse in 213 BCE, many centuries before modern Germany even exists, let alone the Nazi regime Voller wishes to save from losing in World War II. And then Voller is killed by the Roman army, sealing the Stable Time Loop that was foreshadowed well in advance.
    • The lone exception is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; the artifacts there only kill Mola Ram because Indy invokes Shiva and causes them to superheat.
  • The Maltese Falcon from the film and the book of the same name. Supposedly a gold statue disguised as lead, turns out to actually be lead. The people obsessed with it (to the point of being willing to kill for it) decide that it must be a copy and the original must still be out there somewhere.
  • From the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Discussed in The Avengers (2012). Tony Stark points out the futility of Loki's plan, because even if he wins, he's never going to be able to rule over anyone. Humanity would rather just keep fighting until the bitter end. And the Avengers, regardless of whatever else happens, will be gunning for him:
      Tony: You're missing the point — there's no throne, there is no version of this where you come out on top! Maybe your army comes, and maybe it's too much for us, but that's all on you. 'Cause if we can't protect the Earth, you can be damn well sure we'll avenge it.
    • This is the titular hero's strategy in the final battle of Doctor Strange (2016). Using the Eye of Agamotto, he is able to trap himself and Dormammu in a time loop that resets every time Dormammu kills him. So Dormammu can kill Strange again and again and again, but every time he does the loop is reset and Dormammu can never make any progress towards his actual goal of subsuming Earth.
    • Played with in Black Panther: While T'Challa undoubtedly wins the actual fight between himself and Killmonger, he also concedes that Killmonger is partially right—and Nakia is completely right—that Wakanda should do more to help the world. Perhaps it would be best described as a Meaningful Villain Loss.
    • In Thor: Ragnarok, Surtur succeeds in destroying Asgard, after everyone save Hela had fled. Downplayed, as he did destroy their homeworld, however, his ranting and raving seemed to indicate he thought he was doing more than destroying empty buildings. Meanwhile, Hela becomes the undisputed ruler of Asgard shortly before Surtur blows it up.
    • Avengers: Infinity War:
      • Inverted. The heroes make one last attempt to stop Thanos' plan by destroying the Mind Stone, killing Vision in the process. They succeed in doing so, but Thanos just happened to possess the Time Stone and uses it to reset things. Vision is brought back to life, only to immediately die again as Thanos rips the Mind Stone out, along with a good chunk of Vision's head. Then Thor skewers the Titan in the chest, but Thanos just chides him for not going for the head, snaps his fingers with the Infinity Gauntlet, and achieves his goal of culling the universe.
      • Also subverted when the Red Skull informs Thanos and Gamora that to get the stone you need to sacrifice something you love. Gamora starts laughing, because Thanos long since stopped caring about anyone but himself... then it turns out that, nope, he really did care for Gamora enough that killing her counts as a sacrifice.
    • Avengers: Endgame begins three weeks after Infinity War and plays it straighter. Thanos got exactly what he wanted and has retired to "the Garden", but doesn't seem to enjoy it much as everyone he'd want to share it with is dead and he has burned nearly half his body when he used the Gauntlet again to make the Decimation irreversible. It's also inverted because the heroes find him and Thor swiftly kills him, but of course, it's already too late. Ultimately played straight by the end of the same film when the Snap is undone anyways, making Thanos' work all for naught, save maybe for some petty collateral damage.
  • In The Northman, Prince Amleth's Evil Uncle kills his father and usurps his throne. Soon after the ensuing Time Skip, it's revealed that the kingdom ended up getting annexed by King Harald Fairhair of Norway with Amleth's uncle exiled to Iceland. And this is before Amleth's Roaring Rampage of Revenge even starts.
  • Ocean's 11 (the original) has something like this: Danny and crew are the protagonists, and they're not exactly "villains" in the usual sense (though they are criminals). Their plan to rob the casinos goes off like clockwork, but in the end the money is destroyed (they do manage to give the widow and children of a friend $10,000 first, so it's not a complete loss).
  • And on Ocean's Thirteen (a sequel to the reboot), Terry Benedict (as the one helping fund the Bank heist) managed to obtain what he wanted (Teddy Bank's humiliation), but his cut of the heist and his reputation as a man who makes all of his enemies pay if they double-cross him is lost because the team donates the cut's money to a homeless kids' camp and he cannot do anything about it without risking being painted as a monster by the media.
    • To be fair, they only do it because he tries to double-cross them. They just see it coming and make sure the double-cross fails.
  • Oldboy: The main villain, Woo-jin, spends decades plotting his revenge on Oh Dae-su for accidentally revealing Woo-jin's incestous relationship with his sister and her resulting suicide: locking Oh Dae-su away for 15 years, killing multiple people, and tricking Oh Dae-su into having sex with his own daughter. Once his revenge is complete, Woo-jin is satisfied for all of five seconds...before realizing that revenge did not bring him any closure for his sister's death, and with his quest complete he no longer has anything left to live for. Thus, Woo-jin proceeds to blow his brains out.
  • Orphan: First Kill: Esther successfully kills Tricia and Gunnar to have Allen all to herself, but her disguise falls off at the worst possible time and he rejects her, prompting her to murder him too and start over with another family (presumably the ones before the Colemans).
  • In the movie version of Richie Rich, Big Bad Lawrence Van Dough finally gets Mr. and Mrs. Rich to open the Rich family vault, resorting to attempted murder and kidnapping in the process. Van Dough strolls into the vault, only to find that it's filled with priceless possessions of the Rich family that would be of no monetary value like baby pictures, a tricycle, and bowling trophies. Despite being the richest family in the world, the Rich family vault doesn't contain a single cent of money. When Van Dough angrily demands to know where the money is, Mr. Rich simply says that it's in banks, the stock market, and real estate, not sitting around in a zero-interest vault on their property. Van Dough does attempt to kill the Rich family there, but Richie and Cadbury foil that plan, too.
  • In Rocky V, Tommy casting Rocky aside in favor of sleazy promoter George Washington Duke gets him fame, the heavyweight title, and presumably money (although considering that the man Duke is an analogue of is absolutely notorious for cheating and ripping off his fighters, that last one probably shouldn't be automatically assumed). However, Tommy's fame is short lived; betraying Rocky makes the press and fans alike turn on him, and getting arrested after losing to an aging Balboa in a street fight probably means that Tommy won't profit from his actions nearly as much as he expected to, if at all.
  • A twist occurs in the underrated comedy Screwed. Miss Crock's assistant, Chip, steals the money intended as the ransom in the fake kidnapping of main character Willard, but is busted when one of his accomplices uses one of the bills to buy flowers, not aware of the serial number practice.
  • She's All That has Alpha Bitch Taylor Vaughn actually winning Prom Queen, despite Laney being the favourite. But unfortunately for Taylor, high school is nearly over and it's implied everyone despises her. So she can enjoy this victory, because pretty soon she'll have no more power over anyone and they won't have to put up with her anymore.
    • Likewise done in the Netflix adaptation He's All That. Sure Padget loses and has to get "Loser" tattooed on her arm, but Cameron gets one too for solidarity and they get to run off together. Meanwhile Alden gets humiliated in front of the whole school and, once the main characters get their tattoos, she's promptly forgotten.
  • In A Simple Plan, the brothers played by Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton kill a lot of people, including their third partner and his wife, to get the money they found in the crashed plane, ending with Thornton forcing Paxton to kill him, as it's the only way for the plan to work at that point. Unfortunately, it turns out the money was the ransom in a kidnapping, and the serial numbers are on file at the FBI, making the money useless.
  • Spartacus provides a more nuanced (albeit historically suspect) example. The Roman Republic defeats Spartacus's slaves, installing Marcus Licinius Crassus as dictator and starting the road to Empire. Yet Crassus can't enjoy his victory, both from personal insecurity and realizing how weak his grasp on power is. Crassus's final scene has him fretting over his protege, Julius Caesar, whom he predicts will one day overtake him.
  • Spree: Kurt's plan to gain more followers by murdering people on a livestream succeeds, but he gets killed just after reaching his target of 50k.
  • Star Wars:
    • In Rogue One all of the main characters get killed by the Death Star at the end. However, they've already given the plans to Leia, so the horse has already escaped the barn by the time the Empire kills them.
    • In The Empire Strikes Back, the Empire completely kicks the Rebel's asses during the Battle Of Hoth and destroys their base. Luckily, all of the non-redshirt characters manage to evacuate in time.
  • Magnificent Warriors have the local townsfolk of Kaal, together with the heroes, finally defeating the Japanese army, only to be informed by the Japanese commander General Toga that a second, larger Japanese platoon, including tanks, are on their way. So the citizens decides rather than fighting back, they'll let the Japanese take over the town... after burning it to the ground. With General Toga being forced to answer for his failures to his superiors when the reinforcements arrives, rendering the entire Japanese occupation pointless. While General Toga is the Sole Survivor, he will have to answer to the Japanese Army over the entire failed occupation and probably take responsibility over the whole waste of time and resources.
  • Sagat and Dee Jay escape at the end of Street Fighter with M. Bison's personal fortune, except the currency is in the now worthless Shadaloo dollars.
  • Tin Cup: Roy's stubbornness causes him to score a 12 on the final hole, as he keeps trying to hit an extremely difficult shot that he insists he can make (and indeed he did initially make it on his first try... until a gust of wind rolled his golf ball into the water), and this obviously costs him any chance of victory at the US Open and causes him to finish behind his Smug Snake Rival David, who laughingly comments Roy really knows how to go down in flames. Roy simply replies, "Nice par, Dave", as David had settled for playing for a par and refused to take any risks that might improve his score, despite knowing from the start that he needed to score better than a par on the final hole to win the tournament. So David might have won the competition between the two of them, but he still ultimately lost the tournament, and his jerkass behavior during the tournament wound up being the final nail in the coffin for his relationship with Molly, who leaves him for Roy. When Roy has a brief Heroic BSoD about the whole thing, Molly points out that in a few years practically nobody will remember who won this tournament, but they'll remember Roy's 12 and the drama of him trying over and over again to hit a nigh-impossible shot until he finally did it with his last ball. Also, his boldness was part of what made him win her heart and his overall score still grants him an automatic spot in the next year's Open, where he gets another chance to win a tournament and beat David all over again.

  • In Thomas by Robin Jarvis, the protagonists meet a magician and find themselves caught up in a quest to defeat an evil cult hoping to resurrect their demon master by recapturing the pieces of a magical egg from which he will hatch. The heroes end up prisoners, helpless witnesses to the dark ritual... except it goes wrong. The magician gloats to the confused baddies that they've fallen into the goodies' trap — the Big Good knew this would happen one day, so he and his followers spent years enchanting the egg with goodness so that it would destroy the demon instead of reviving him if the heroes failed to stop the cult. Unfortunately, it turns out that demonic abominations are good at improvising...
  • Star Wars Legends novel Millennium Falcon does it twice in a row. The Heroes and their competitors are looking for a location of something "of immeasurable value". The Heroes get to it first and find an old relic made of common materials. The competitor then arrives and explains that the item had collector's value to him all along. But then he discovers that the item is actually a replica and the original relic is still out there somewhere — a Shout-Out to the Maltese Falcon, on which the plot was based.
  • The Bad Beginning, first in A Series of Unfortunate Events, ends with Violet successfully arguing that a marriage contract to her evil cousin wasn't signed "in her own hand" because she used her non-dominant hand (and thus it wasn't her true signature).
  • Occurs at the very end of The Dresden Files: Ghost Story, when Harry ultimately realizes that, although he is the Winter Knight, Mab still doesn't have any actual power over him, allowing him to retain his free will and enabling him to determine how or even if he follows Mab's orders.
    • This is different from the original Winter Knight, who was punished for allying with Summer, his supposed mortal enemies. As long as he doesn't commit treason, Harry is completely unbound. When Mab is told that he knows of this, she goes from creepy maternal to outright scary slave-owner in seconds, and Harry laughs in her face.
  • The original plot of The Merchant of Venice, the former Trope Namer, is subverted in the Star Trek novel 'Dark Mirror'. Picard reads a mirror universe version of The Merchant of Venice. In the Mirror Universe Shylock gets his pound of flesh because no one would really think you can really get a pound of flesh without shedding blood. They weigh it, it is too much, and they laughingly say he can take some of it back.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • A Clash of Kings: Theon and his Ironborn raiders capture Winterfell but they are too far away from reinforcement and resupply. He is Made a Slave by Ramsay Snow.
    • Everything starts going to hell for the Lannisters right after their apparent victory over House Stark in the War of Five Kings, rendering it pointless. Joffrey is poisoned. Tyrion snaps after being falsely accused and convicted of his murder, his family and kills Tywin. Cersei runs the Seven Kingdoms into the ground with her incompetent leadership and is overthrown by the resurrected Faith Militant that she authorized. Meanwhile, House Stark isn't quite as dead as everyone believes, with some of the surviving Stark children poised to take a level in badass.
    • Ser Gregor kills Oberyn Martell but Oberyn had poisoned his weapon and Clegane dies a long and painful death.
    • The Freys and the Boltons massacred the Starks and their bannermen in the Red Wedding which earned them new titles from the Iron Throne. However, this made them become easy targets by the Brotherhood Without Banner and everyone in the Riverlands and the North who like to remind them that "The North Remembers".
    • Archmaester Gyldayn's Histories: Word of God says Aegon II was a villainous usurper who is recognized in the history books as the rightful king, but he lost his family, their dragons and his life after reigning for only two years.
  • In the Left Behind book Kingdom Come, Abdullah Smith points out to Sarsour the futility of Satan's and The Other Light's plan to overthrow God by telling him that even if Satan has a chance of winning, he wouldn't be able to resurrect all the people who died as martyrs for The Other Light because God hasn't given Satan the power to do so.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort spends a large portion of the book looking for the Elder Wand, and eventually takes it in Dumbledore's tomb. The Elder Wand transfers its allegiance to the one who defeated its last master. Voldemort assumed that this meant 'to kill' and so he killed Snape, who had killed Dumbledore. However, Snape wasn't really the one who had defeated Dumbledore, as it had been planned out beforehand. Draco Malfoy, who had broken through Dumbledore's defenses and disarmed him, was the real master of the wand, although he didn't know it. Then Harry defeats and disarms Malfoy, meaning that the Elder Wand is his. Then when push comes to shove, the Elder Wand refuses to act against its master, and Voldemort's own killing curse backfires on him.
  • In Starlight and Shadows, various factions of evil drow attempt to steal a powerful magical artifact called the Windwalker from Liriel. Liriel's main nemesis, Shakti, eventually succeeds in claiming it; but by that point its magic has been exhausted and it is worthless.
  • Pride and Prejudice has Wickham succeeding in nearly ruining Lydia's reputation, and Darcy hurriedly pays him off to marry her. Although the two of them are living off Jane and Bingley's estate by the end, it's implied that even they are growing sick of them. The final time we see the couple in Joe Wright's film implies that the marriage will probably end in Domestic Abuse.
  • The Silmarillion: after 500 years of struggle, the last remaining Sons of Fëanor, Maedhros and Maglor finally get the two remaining Silmarils. In the process, they lost their father, all their brothers, their kingdoms, their followers and, thanks to them committing genocide against other elves on three separate occasions, they've made enemies of the entire world, and they reject the Last-Second Chance offer for them to return to Valinor for trial (where they may eventually be reunited with their dead family). And when they try holding the Silmarils in their hands? The gems burn them due to all the evil they've done, so they can't even hold them without feeling unbearable agony. Maedhros ends up throwing himself off a cliff with his Silmaril, while Maglor throws his away and spends the rest of his days Walking the Earth lamenting their folly, too ashamed to ever face another living being again.
  • In Haunted (2005), a reporter ruins the life of a Former Child Star turned veterinarian and gets a hefty fee for the story, but his dog gets sick and he doesn't know any other vets so it dies.
  • For three consecutive books in the Journey to Chaos series, Gruffle tries to kill Eric. It even becomes his Unfinished Business. Then he finally succeeds at the end of Transcending Limitations. Unbeknownst to him, Eric plotted with another reaper to thwart him. This reaper felt indebted to Eric and so travels to the Abyss, at Eric's request, to revive him moments after Gruffle took his disembodied soul there.
  • In Without Remorse, though the Americans end up with leverage to get the return of the captive soldiers from Vietnam, the Russians still managed to break some of them and extract highly sensitive information from them, and even with the loss of the interrogation records, the interrogator can reproduce much of the data from memory. But it doesn't matter. Everything he got from the captives was high level strategic stuff that likely would never be used unless WWIII broke out, and since the Americans know that he knows, all of the leaked plans will be changed long before anyone finds a way to exploit them.
  • In Five Little Pigs, Elsa succeeded in killing her lover Amyas and framing his wife Caroline for the murder. Even when Poirot deduces that she was the culprit instead of Caroline sixteen years after the murder, he admits that he doesn't have the concrete evidence to get her convicted. However, Elsa still feels like she ultimately lost because not only did Caroline's serene acceptance of her fate deprive her of any satisfaction she might have gained from watching her love rival get punished in her place, but her own life has been empty and devoid of joy after Amyas's death with her being unable to love any other man.
  • The second book of Renegades ends with the Anarchists successfully stealing Ace Anarchy's helmet, which would let Ace recover all of his powers. Unfortunately, at the same time the Renegades capture Ace, rendering the helmet completely worthless.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Gollum finally gets his hands on The One Ring again, only to fall into Mount Doom and burn alive with it. In the books, he becomes careless and while jumping for joy slips off the edge, while in the film trilogy Frodo fights him over the ring and they both go over the edge, though Frodo is able to grab the ledge.
  • In Girls Kingdom, when Asuka wins the Salon Struggle, Misaki genuinely thinks that Kagura will have to give up the Sky Salon. However, it is then revealed that this was just the first round, and Asuka will have to beat at least three other people: The Kokonoe twins and Himeko. Asuka valiantly goes forth against the twins, despite knowing that there's no way she can win, and, in the end, her attempt to take over the Sky Salon fails.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The final episode of Alias has Sloane finally achieving immortality... only for Jack to sacrifice himself in an effort to seal Sloane beneath a mountain for all eternity.
  • Illyria of Angel nearly laid claim to the world. She sacrificed her immortal demon form, high priest, and a good chunk of power in order to access the alternate dimension where her demonic army awaited her command. Only Wesley managed to follow Illyria as she prepared to unleash the army... only to find that her army had fallen into ruin, leaving her with nothing. Illyria was at this point so powerful it's not clear she even needed her army to conquer the world... but the fact that the army was long dead shocked her into realizing that her time had come and gone. She proceeded to hang out with the heroes because she had nothing better to do. An extra case of this because it turned out that she was too powerful for her new form, which led to her being depowered so she could survive. Even if she had kept her army, at best she'd have been only slightly more powerful than them. At worst she'd have died shortly after conquering the planet.
  • An episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? involved a mummified Egyptian princess and a ring that would grant eternity. Towards the end of the episode, the bad guy corners the main characters and their father, threatening to burn down the museum if they don't give him the ring. After giving him the ring, the villain decides he'll burn down the museum anyway so that the good guys can't tell the authorities on him. However, the male protagonist decides to ask the bad guy if he'll put the ring on first to see if it makes him immortal. The bad guy does so, but after glowing a few colors, he gets turned into a statue and the father says that the villain got what he wanted, immortality.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): This becomes a plot point with the Cylons' whole plan to destroy humanity as laid out in The Plan. It turns out that the Cavils orchestrated the whole thing because they were angry at their parents, the original Five Cylons, for giving them human bodies. They even went so far as to wipe their memories and put them on the Colonies so they could experience their destruction first-hand and realize that Humans Are Bastards. By the end of the special one of the Cavils realizes that wiping out humanity isn't going to make their parents suddenly change their minds and adore them instead. His brother completely ignores this epiphany and pledges to deactivate the other one before continuing on his genocidal quest to get their approval.
  • Cobra Kai:
    • At the end of Season 4, this happens to Tory. Sure she wins the All-Valley Tournament, but she overhears that Terry Silver bribed the judge to be biased in her favor and realizes she should have lost and the judge not seeing that foot go out of bounds wasn't just luck. Furthermore John Kreese goes to prison and Terry Silver takes over Cobra Kai meaning the dojo that she looked up to has become exactly what she hated. Both realizations shatter her resolve and belief in Cobra Kai as a dojo, rendering basically everything she did there meaningless.
    • Same goes for Kreese himself in season 4. Thanks to Tory's victory, the Cobra Kai dojo as a whole is awarded the Grand Prize, but he doesn't get to enjoy his victory for long. Silver soon reveals that he framed Kreese for aggravated assault and attempted murder, leading to his arrest and Silver acquiring full control of Cobra Kai, which he plans to franchise. Kreese had also made a gentleman's bet with Daniel to close down Miyagi-Do if they lost the tournament, which Daniel flat-out refuses to do (it helps that Silver's bribery means he shouldn't have to) and recruits Chozen to continue the fight against Cobra Kai.
    • At the end of season five, Kreese makes an escape from prison in hopes of getting revenge on Daniel and Johnny. He doesn't find out until after he's escaped that he was about to be released anyways because Silver's frame-up was exposed and Silver has been arrested, meaning his conviction was overturned… and since breaking out of jail is a separate offense, he's now wanted regardless of his innocence in the assault and going to be put away again if caught. Worse, Cobra Kai has just imploded as a result of Silver's aforementioned exposure and arrest, meaning Kreese doesn't even have any allies or students to rely on anymore.
  • CSI:
    • Hannah West, a sociopathic Teen Genius and the Arc Villain that made Sara Sidle quit being a CSI (for a while) because she got fed up with the horrors of the job. On the second time she appears, she manages to frame her brother for murder and place him in jail for the rest of his life because that way she will always have him under control and be the only girl he will ever have contact with, and she rubs this in Sara's face. Hannah's victory becomes meaningless because her brother, the only family she had left after their parents died, commits suicide out of despair and the fact it's the only way he sees he will get out of under Hannah's thumb, leaving the little girl (who has a severe case of Intelligence Equals Isolation) to live the rest of her life completely alone.
    • A handsome young dwarf who was engaged to be married is murdered by hanging. The girl he was engaged to was the average-height daughter of two little people, with her father very proud that she'd beaten the odds and not inherited dwarfism. It turns out that the father considered her fiancee to not be tall enough for her, and knew that any child of their marriage would have a 50% chance of being a dwarf, so the father killed him. Except his daughter was already pregnant with her fiancee's child, making that he'd only succeeded in denying his future grandchild - dwarf or otherwise - a loving father.
    • In another episode, two teenage BFFs suffer a car crash that leaves one dead and the other terribly injured, face mangled and unable to speak or write. It's discovered that the survivor was driving and is culpable for the accident. The grieving mother sneaks into the hospital and murders her in vengeance ... only for the investigators to discover that the one she killed was her own daughter, who'd swapped IDs with her slightly-older and similar-looking friend so she could get into a No-Minors-Allowed nightclub.
  • In one episode of The Dead Zone, the villains are after the cargo of a crashed plane. All they know about the cargo is that it was insured for millions of dollars. They force Johnny to help them find it at gunpoint, and they do ultimately get their hands on it, but it turns out to be a crate of 3-year-old computer chips. Given how fast computer technology becomes obsolete, they're essentially worthless.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Hand of Fear", Eldrad the Kastrian, having long ago been executed by his people for attempting to usurp rulership of Kastria, is resurrected on Earth many centuries later. He returns to Kastria to become its ruler, only to find the planet entirely dead. A final message from King Rokon (the king who Eldrad planned to usurp) crowns him 'King of Nothing'.
    • In "The Five Doctors", Time Lord President Borusa, having manipulated the Doctors into granting him access to Rassilon's tomb, claims the reward of immortality promised to the winner of the game of death. Rassilon grants it, which, unfortunately for Borusa, takes the form of being turned into a living statue.
    • The topmost scenario is repeated in "Dragonfire" when Kane finally frees himself only to discover that he's outlived everyone he wanted to take revenge on, and promptly commits a very gruesome suicide.
  • An episode of The Dukes of Hazzard has the Duke Boys in a race for buried treasure against Boss Hogg and Roscoe. This is one of the few times that Boss Hogg manages to come out on top, only for the buried treasure to be worthless Confederate money.note 
  • At the end of the second season of Fargo, Mike Millegan finally manages to claw his way up the ladder of the Kansas City Mafia, but instead of the throne that he'd imagined, he ends up with an office chair. And a desk. And very few opportunities to commit violence. It turns out that the higher echelons of the Kansas City Mafia are moving away from the kind of bloodshed that allowed Millegan to thrive and instead turning their focus to more respectable pursuits like banking and finance.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • In season 6, Walder Frey finally defeats the Tullys and Starks then Arya Stark feeds him his sons in a pie before killing him. He also dies oblivious to the fact that Sansa Stark and Jon Snow have taken the North back.
    • Queen Cersei Lannister
      • After decades spent attempting to wield power through others, (first her drunken, apathetic King of a husband and later her children) Cersei finally grabs the reins of power for herself at the end of Season 6. Too bad nearly every single region of the Seven Kingdoms is involved in either open or covert rebellion against her, Cersei's family and the throne have utterly bankrupted themselves, her armies are in tatters from "winning" the war, her beloved children are all dead, and everyone around is looking to pile on, including old enemies, new rivals, and even supernatural threats. Good luck, Cersei. Enjoy it while it lasts.
      • In the end, Cersei really doesn't. Her sole true achievements in the final season, killing Daenerys' friend in front of her via execution and one of her two surviving dragons via her underling, ends with Daenerys fully embracing the Targaryen madness and unleashing the full might of her armies and remaing dragon upon King's Landing. It's more than a Curb-Stomp Battle, it is a massacre, and Cersei is forced to first declare surrender to the North and then try to run away... only for her to find out the escape tunnel caved in and then finally get crushed by a collapsing ceiling.
  • The Australian children's education program Infinity Limited had a group of trouble-shooters helping a pet shop to use a new computer for inventory control while their "rival" company (and comic relief), Vortex Ventures with Valerian Vortex and Arthur Plankton tries to win a competition where you need to guess the number of a certain product which would fit into a sports stadium. After Vortex and Plankton fiddle with the shop's computer in an effort to get it to calculate the number, they end up accidentally ordering a huge amount of "plankton" fish food. Arthur wins the contest by simply guessing a number and Valerian immediately assumes ownership of the money... then the Infinity Limited people arrive, having figured out who ordered all of that Plankton. The money they won will just cover the cost of all that fish food...
  • At the end of the second arc of Kamen Rider Zero-One, Gai Amatsu manages to buy out Hiden Intelligence, leading to Aruto leaving the company. However, the very next episode after this happens reveals that the HumaGear and Zero-One technology, which is what Gai really wanted, is patented, not under the company, but under the Hiden family name. Aruto proceeds to simply start a new company, allowing him to resume his activities as a Kamen Rider.
  • LazyTown: Robbie successfully makes off with a trophy in "My Treehouse" only for it to break immediately.
  • The Man in the High Castle: In the finale of season 3, Hawthorne Abendsen explains to John Smith that the Nazis' plans to invade other dimensions and all the effort they put into building an Interdimensional Travel Device will be for naught, since people can only travel to dimensions where their counterparts are dead.
  • NUMB3RS: In the episode "Democracy", the FBI faces a hedge fund investor who rigged an election, and then arranged for all but one of the witnesses to be murdered and has someone else take the fall so he walks free. However, Charlie publishes the math used in the case, so that election officials would know what to look for and stop any other rigged elections.
  • Root in the Person of Interest season 2 finale finally finds The Machine, but its hardware components have all moved long ago.
  • Power Rangers Cosmic Fury: Zig-Zagged. Lord Zedd achieves his goal of becoming the most powerful being in the universe, and is immediately canned by Bajillia Naire. She plans to use his supercharged evil soul to eliminate the concept of goodness from existence. The Rangers talk to Zedd inside the container, explaining that if the energy wave happens, he will cease to exist and not get to experience, much less rule over, the transformed cosmos. Zedd eventually chooses self-preservation and surrenders. Hard cut to him gloating over the dead bodies of the Rangers, when who should show up but his wife, Rita Repulsa. Zedd believes he's has beaten the Rangers, but in fact, the Rangers have sent him to live out his Fate Worse than Death.
    Blue Ranger: The guy has serious issues.
  • Red Dwarf: In the final BBC season this is used against the heroes: Having been imprisoned for stealing and destroying a Starbug, their attempt to escape and prove their innocence demonstrates to the captain that their story is true, exonerating them regarding the theft. But it also demonstrates that they had improperly accessed classified personnel files, a crime carrying exactly the same penalty. (The files would have revealed the Captain bribed his way up the career ladder, which explains why he was looking for the loophole.)
  • The prequel series to Spartacus: Blood and Sand shows just how much effort Quintus and Lucretia went through to achieve prominence with their ludus - including murdering Quintus's own father. The end of the prequel shows them celebrating their newfound success - only to cut to the last shot of the first season where the two lie dying after the gladiators have rebelled. The shot practically screams Was It Really Worth It?.
  • Lucas North from Spooks. He succeeds in selling the Albany file to the Chinese, but in the process destroys the life he built and causes the death of the woman he loves. And to top it off, the weapon Albany is a blueprint for turns out not to work.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode "Gambit", a militant Vulcan seeks an ancient weapon, and it's as deadly as expected. But Picard realizes that the weapon is based on emotion, so when the ancient Vulcans embraced logic and emotional control, the weapon was abandoned; by suppressing their own emotions, the Enterprise crew easily apprehends the villain.
    • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Who Mourns for Morn?", a band of thieves who the barfly Morn used to work with tries to find the loot he helped them steal (and swiped from under their nose) in a famous heist after he tried Faking the Dead (because the statute of limitations was up and he knew they'd finally be coming for him), dragging our good old Ferengi friend Quark along for the ride. Ultimately, they fail to force Quark to help them, but turn on each other as soon as the loot is in their hands. Quark is ecstatic that now it's all his nice and legally... but it turns out Morn had long ago extracted the valuable parts from it, leaving behind a bunch of Worthless Yellow Rocks, rendering the thieves' search moot, even if they had succeeded in finding it. Then turned around for Quark when Morn comes out of hiding after the other thieves leave and gives Quark a sizable portion of the material that he had extracted and had kept in hiding elsewhere the entire time in order to make it up to him.
    • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Author, Author" does a What Measure Is a Non-Human? plot involving the Doctor's property rights to a holonovel he's written. His publisher argues that the Doctor cannot own his work, as, legally, a holonovel is the property of the artist who created it, and an artist is defined as "a person who creates an artistic work". Going against the handful of precedents set in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the courts find that the Doctor doesn't count as a person, which ought to disqualify him. However, the victory is a hollow (or holo) one for the publisher, as the courts instead decide to expand the definition of artist, so that personhood is not a necessary precondition... which turns a loss into a similar hollow victory for the doctor, who's now legally an artist, but still no person.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • In "I Shot an Arrow into the Air", a group of astronauts crash-land on an asteroid. The villainous Sole Survivor kills his crewmembers and takes their water, only to find out that it was Earth All Along. They crashed in the Nevada desert.
    • "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" features a band of crooks who pull off a gold heist and put themselves in suspended animation to avoid the Statute of Limitations, sleeping for 100 years. The rest of the story deals with the lengths each member goes to (culminating in every one of them dying) trying to get the most gold. Then we learn that gold is worthless, because it can now be manufactured.
    • A famous example is "The Silence" in which a snobbish Colonel bets a fellow club member in desperate need of money that he can't keep quiet for a year. When despite all odds the man actually succeeds and goes to collect his money, it turns out that the Colonel is broke and can't pay him his winnings — however, the man had his vocal cords severed so he could win the bet.
  • Aaron Echolls on Veronica Mars is revealed as the murderer of Lily Kane at the end of Season 1. At the end of Season 2 he goes on trial and his Amoral Attorney manages to slime Veronica and Keith Mars both and create reasonable doubt by casting suspicion on Duncan Kane, who's fled with his daughter and isn't around to defend himself. Echolls walks away a free man. And as soon as he gets to his hotel room, he's killed by Clarence Wiedman, acting on orders from Duncan who's been monitoring the trial from a distance.
  • At the end of The Wire, Marlo survives and keeps his freedom and money, on the condition that he not return to the drug scene... which is all he really cares about. He's last seen walking out of a high-class party and antagonizing two random thugs on an empty street corner who don't even know who he is, simply unable to let go of the Game. It's clear that he will inevitably end up in jail or in the morgue, unable to enjoy his riches.
  • In one episode of The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle is tasked with looking after his aunt's kingdom while she's away. Taking advantage of the situation, he decides to use underhanded tactics to convince those from other lands to annex their lands to "his" kingdom. Eventually, all that's left is a small hill where The Cat in the Hat is, but TCITH won't give Yertle said hill, so he devises an offer for TCITH, with it being increasingly large parts of the kingdom until Yertle offers him the entire kingdom, which TCITH agrees to. Yertle gets the small hill, but since he gave the entire kingdom away for it, it's all he has now.
  • In Xena: Warrior Princess, she realizes that Ares killing Eli has sealed the Olympians fate because the human race will not continue to worship gods who murder the innocent.

  • In Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Beethoven's Last Night, Mephistopheles forces Beethoven to give up his 10th Symphony in exchange for not torturing a homeless girl to death. Fate (literally) steps in, and Mephistopheles signs a contract for one copy of the 10th Symphony, written by Ludwig von Beethoven, first son of his parents. However, the composer is actually Ludwig von Beethoven the second, as his elder brother of the same name died shortly after birth. While you could say that they can't pay up and Meph gets a refund? It was implied in-script as the fact that his soul in Heaven could write music and that the tenth symphony of Ludwig the elder (should it ever be written) will belong to Mephistopheles.
  • One Tin Soldier. In it, the people of the valley slaughter the people of the mountain for their treasure (which the people of the mountain had offered to share). They find that the treasure is simply a message stating "peace on earth."

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Norse Mythology: Loki bet his head to the dwarf Brokk on whom could give the Aesir the better gift. When Brokk wins the bet, he demands his payment. Loki at that point pointed out he'd never bet any of his neck, and neither side could agree on what constituted the head and what constituted the neck. Brokk got annoyed by being cheated out of his prize and sewed Loki's mouth shut to stop his word twisting (Loki was unable to argue that it was in any way not part of his head).
  • Piers Shonks, a knight on Mediaeval England, killed a dragon belonging to Satan, who turned up in a rage and promised that "whether you're buried in the church or out, I'll have your soul!" When Shonks died, he was buried in the wall of a church near Brent Pelham, with the inscription "Shonke one serpent kills, t'other defies / And in this wall as in a fortress lies."

  • The Merchant of Venice: Shylock pleads his case in court, and the court finds that, indeed, the contract he made with Antonio is binding, giving Shylock every legal right to extract a pound of flesh from him. However, the court also rules that Shylock is not entitled to any blood. Therefore he would have to take the flesh without spilling a drop of blood, which everyone simply accepts is impossible. Not just that — he asked for a pound of flesh, which also means he can't take any more or less than an exact pound of Antonio's flesh, adding to the impossibility of the task. To rub salt into the wound, he is forced to convert to Christianity by the man he tried to take vengeance on, and he cannot even take his own life to get out of it.
  • Occurs in Beetlejuice: The Musical. Right at the end of the play, Betelgeuse gets exactly what he wants by marrying Lydia and coming back to life. But then, Lydia just instantly kills him again. And since Betelgeuse is now recently deceased, he can be banished to the Netherworld and never escape.

    Theme Parks 
  • In Kung Fu Panda Adventure at Universal Studios Hollywood, the ride's villain, Kang, succeeds in getting the "Liquid of Ultimate Power", but his victory is short-lived as it turns out that it was actually just a bottle of hot sauce, which he experiences the full effects of upon drinking it.

    Video Games 
  • Capcom Fighting Evolution: Play as Jedah Dohma and for him, victory is assured. Swarms of Q-Bees are assaulting civilians, Kongou and Gi Gi are wreaking havoc, and cities have been devastated. Jedah, rather fittingly, decides to celebrate his triumph... oh yeah, and Dante's about to kill him right there and then.
  • Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow: In the bad ending, Celia successfully resurrects Dracula. The problem is that she accomplished it by pretending to murder an emotionally unstable teenage boy's girlfriend and then goading him into killing her as retribution. Predictably, she is "rewarded" for her efforts with nothing but death.
  • In the Chzo Mythos, this trope is in effect for the Chzo cultists. Chzo finally has the bridge to crossover from the World of Magic into the World of Technology at the very end of the story. However, the cultists vastly overestimated Chzo's interest in doing so. Chzo was more interested in the pain and suffering the cultists inflicted upon themselves in making the bridge, as well as the emotional pain when they realized Chzo never cared about them and was never going to reward them for anything they'd done.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has Allen Marks, who was known to have killed and robbed many wasteland inhabitants for Sunset Sarsaparilla star caps just so he could win a "legendary treasure" from before the war. Once he had collected enough caps, the guardian of the "treasure", Festus, (who was nothing more than a primitive robotic mascot with pre-programmed phrases) allowed him entry into the prize vault. Somehow, he became permanently trapped inside and discovered that the prizes were merely plastic deputy badges for children. Eventually, he succumbs in the tightly sealed vault from lack of oxygen, and his body is found slumped against the wall by the time the Courier arrives. All the caps Allen collected were for nothing, and all the people he killed died in vain.
  • Final Fantasy:
  • In Golden Sun, Alex manipulates both the heroes and the villains into breaking the seal on Psynergy so that he can claim the awesome powers of the Golden Sun for himself. And succeeds. But then The Wise One shows up and informs him that it placed a small portion of the Golden Sun's energy into the Mars Star that Issac carries, rendering Alex's powers slightly less than god-like. Now, being almost omnipotent should be prize enough, except for the fact that the Wise One is omnipotent, and swiftly renders Alex unable to move. It's also a case of Chekhov's Gun: at the very beginning of the first game, the Wise One asks Isaac to show up the Mars Star for a brief moment, and nothing is made of it until that moment.
  • In Half-Life: Opposing Force, black ops are sent to Black Mesa to cover up the incident once and for all by murdering everyone present there, including the Marines previously sent there to do exactly that, culminating in using a nuclear warhead to detonate the facility. The world finds out everything that happened anyway due to there being survivors, and not long after the world is invaded and annexed by the Combine.
  • Jak 3: Wastelander features Veger accomplishing his goals to meet the Precursors, as well as become one of them. But, it turns out the Precursors are actually ottsels, like Daxter. And Veger only learns that after he wishes to become a Precursor, leading him to realize this mid-sentence before he's polymorphed into a fuzzy rodent.
  • The King of Fighters:
    • Both Ángel and K9999/Krohnen end up achieving one in The King of Fighters 2001. Good news: they successfully wounded Foxy, traumatized Kula, and escaped with their lives. Bad news: their employer is rendered essentially defunct and they're now in the same boat as the very traitors they were meant to be hunting. They seem to be handling life on the run well enough by The King of Fighters XV, though.
    • Speaking of XV, the Awakened Orochi Team score such a victory in their ending. They successfully ensure the genocide of the human race, allowing their master Orochi to reclaim the Earth... except that they now have nothing to go do after that and nobody but themselves for company. Needless to say, Chris is the only one celebrating, as both Shermie and Yashiro show some apprehensiveness about what they just pulled off.
  • Killing the Jedi Masters in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and effectively wiping out the Jedi Order results in Kreia confronting The Exile. Asking what, if anything, they have really accomplished. She points out that it's gotten them no closer to defeating the Sith who are hunting them, and questions if it brought the Exile any sense of peace.
  • Ganondorf in The Legend of Zelda gets this twice.
    • Ganondorf's manipulation of Zelda and Link in Ocarina of Time nets him access to the Sacred Realm and the Triforce and neither of them can do anything to stop him... But unfortunately for him, the Triforce has a caveat that unless a person is perfectly balanced with its virtues, they can only possess one piece of it. This means that Ganondorf only gets one third. The most powerful third, yes, but still not quite the ultimate power he had envisioned, and he becomes doomed by fate to forever be thwarted by the owners of the other two pieces (Zelda and Link, for those not in the know), which together overpower Ganondorf.
    • At the end of The Wind Waker, after he beats up Link and summons the full Triforce before him, King Daphnes Nohanson Hyrule comes out of nowhere and touches the Triforce, causing his wish to be granted instead of Ganondorf's.
  • The bad ending of LEGO Island has the Brickster gloating "It's mine! All mine!" before it slowly dawns on him that he destroyed everything, hence there's nothing left to be "all his".
  • Mastermind: World Conqueror: The ending has the Mastermind successfully destroy the Earth... only to realize too late that he's stranded in his escape pod with nobody left to save him.
  • Mortal Kombat: Armageddon: Shao Kahn's arcade ending is the canonical one, as he ultimately wins after the events of said Armageddon by surviving the ascent up the pyramid and follows that by killing Raiden (who sends a message to his past self about the events, thus setting the stage for Mortal Kombat 9). Finding out there's nothing else left to conquer, Shao Kahn is Driven to Madness.
  • Mother 3: Porky gets into the Perfectly Safe Capsule, meaning he can never be harmed. Because of a side effect of time travel, he can never die through natural means. But he also can't leave the Capsule or interact with the world through it, making his victory completely meaningless as the heroes simply leave him where he is.
  • In The Neverhood's bad ending, Klogg succeeds in convincing Klaymen to put on Hoborg's crown and gloats about his victory. Seconds later, Klaymen is corrupted by the crown's power and kills Klogg, declaring himself the Neverhood's new ruler.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door: Grodus succeeds in his goal of getting into the Thousand Year Door and managing to reawaken the Shadow Queen, even successfully managing to dupe the heroes into helping him. However, when Grodus attempts to order the Shadow Queen to destroy the heroes, he quickly learns that Evil Is Not a Toy, as the Shadow Queen effortlessly destroys his body, leaving him as just a head. To add insult to injury, the heroes manage to defeat the Shadow Queen anyways, meaning that even the one part of his plan that was successful didn't amount to anything.
  • Persona:
    • The end of Persona 2: Innocent Sin has Nyarlathotep succeeding in destroying the world with the help of several deluded humans, but thanks to an intervention from Philemon, the heroes managed to bring back the world before he intervened. Then in Eternal Punishment, Nyarlathotep tries again only to be defeated by a new team of heroes, and is banished for his troubles.
    • Persona 5: The Phantom Thieves never manage to stop Shido from becoming Prime Minister, but they do succeed in changing his heart, preventing him from taking any joy in his achievement, ever. Moreover, thanks to this changed heart and the rest of their efforts, his day in court is rapidly approaching.
  • In Pokémon Platinum, the Big Bad Cyrus manages to successfully enslave the gods of time and space for his Godhood Seeker plan but this ends up alerting the god of antimatter, Giratina who keeps the two in balance. As shown in the original duology and the Alternate Universe in Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, he only needed one of the two for his plan, but he overextended himself and ensured that either Giratina or the Player Character would've showed up to make his efforts meaningless.
  • In Silent Hill 2, the Maria ending sees James not learn his lesson, and give into his delusions, accepting Maria as Mary's replacement and leaving Silent Hill with her. Maria's victory is rendered moot as soon as they leave town, with her breaking into a coughing fit, implying that she's doomed to fall victim to illness, like Mary. James ominously warns her to do something about the cough, with the implication that he'll kill her if she does fall ill. Whether by Pyramid Head or James's hand, Maria is to fated to die no matter what.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • In Sonic Riders, Eggman appears after Sonic and co. make it through the Very Definitely Final Dungeon, and when the treasure for which Eggman sacrificed the Chaos Emeralds, the series's go-to Mineral Macguffins, is within sight, he actually holds off the heroes with a laser gun in order to grab the treasure at the last minute. However, when Eggman opens the chest containing said treasure, he finds an ancient prototype Gear in the form of a Flying Carpet, outclassed by every other Gear currently available to the public and therefore worthless to Eggman. At least it was a really nice rug...
    • In Sonic Unleashed, Eggman finally manages to build Eggmanland after alluding to it in some previous games. However, Sonic survives the ensuing gauntlet and defeats him as per usual, with Dark Gaia also giving him his just desserts after it fully awakens.
  • In the Decepticon mode of Transformers: Call of the Future, the Decepticons succeed in getting the Zel Quartz and defeating every Autobot that stands in their way, but Starscream attempts to take the Zel Quartz for himself and it turns out that the Zel Quartz loses its power when removed from its environment without a proper covering. Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge also end up disappearing because their assistance in helping Megatron, Starscream and Soundwave obtain the Zel Quartz before Shockwave found it has altered the course of history.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • In the final case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All, the killer confronts Phoenix with the sadistic choice of getting a sociopathic murderer acquitted and sending an innocent woman to jail, or getting the killer sent to jail but having Phoenix's assistant be killed by an assassin. After some Big Damn Heroes moments with the last crucial pieces of evidence, Phoenix reveals to Shelly de Killer that Engarde taped him killing Juan Corrida, and planned to blackmail de Killer with the footage. This means that Engarde has broken his bond of trust with an assassin that values his bond of trust with his clients above all else, a fatal mistake. It puts Engarde in a Morton's Fork of getting either life in prison with his prized reputation destroyed or hunted by one of the best assassins in the world, with either one spelling Engarde's demise. At his point, Phoenix can choose to either change his plea to guilty and send Engarde to jail right there, or to keep pleading not guilty in the smuggest way possible, stressing to Engarde that this is an act of Cruel Mercy. Either way, Engarde screams in court that he's guilty, claws the hell out of his own face in pure panic, and ends the trial completely humiliated.
    • Case 2 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies has Florent L'Belle, a supposed business partner of the victim commit murder in order to gain access to the Forbidden Chamber and steal the giant chunk of gold contained within. While the killer's plan ultimately works, somebody had already stolen the gold many years ago, so all the killer got for their trouble was an empty room and a murder conviction. And once that comes to light, the killer rapidly gets a series of phone calls in court during their Villainous Breakdown where every one of their business partners backs out of deals, because they don't want to be associated with a murderer, leaving them not only headed to jail but completely broke.

    Web Animation 
  • In episode 35 of No Evil Charles breaks the last piece of the Black Tezcatlipoca but is quickly reminded that Xipe Totec and the Monkeys didn't so much seal the Black in a can, as make it into the can sealing the Red Tezcatlipoca. And it does NOT find him worthy to wield it.
  • In Red vs. Blue, the villains of The Chorus Trilogy get ahold of the MacGuffin they need to kill everyone on the planet... but said MacGuffin is Loyal Phlebotinum that only works for its wielder, in this case General Doyle.. So until Doyle is dead and one of their own can pick it up, they're out of luck.
  • Supermarioglitchy4's Super Mario 64 Bloopers: In SMG4 Movie: Revelations, the Box Club Leader finally gets to the God Box thanks to Melony!Niles, and upon it being opened, immediately jumps in to absorb some its power. It ends up being too much for him to handle and he disintergrates.
    • Bill Cipher vs Discord ends this way; before getting destroyed, Discord reveals he trapped both him and Bill in the Nightmare Dimension, thus undoing the latter's conquest of Equestria. This, combined with the fact Discord can eventually reform and Bill's inability to find anyone who doesn't know enough about him to agree to one of his deals, means Bill's victory is worth absolutely nothing in the end, leaving him to throw a tantrum in the solitude of space.
    • From the same season as the above, Frieza vs Megatron. While the former ultimately takes home the win, his army and fleet of spaceships have both been destroyed and in his haste to win, he's destroyed Cybertron—the very planet he showed up to conquer. Megatron himself points this out to Frieza before the final clash, enraging him to no end. Worse, Frieza's lost both legs and an arm, not to mention a good chunk of blood is dripping from where his abdomen was, hinting that he might not be long for this world either.

  • In an early arc of Antihero for Hire, Doctor Nefarious successfully launches and uses his mind-control satellite, only to learn that he doesn't have the ability to issue orders to anyone the satellite is controlling, making it useless.
  • One strip of Nodwick has Artax deconstruct the fact that villains are experts in planning but always seem to go wrong with the execution which renders any victories moot.
    • An evil warlord raised an army and sacked a celestial temple to lay claim to a powerful artifact. Only to discover that the item can only be worn by a size 1 waist and requires some exotic anatomy.
    • An evil sorceress summoned a powerful elemental storm to lay waste to the enemy kingdom to the west. Forgetting that her castle was on the east side of her domain.
    • The clerics of an evil deity gained the power to foul any liquid they touched and used it to destroy city water supplies. However they forgot that they funded their church primarily through wine sales.
  • During the Time Travel arc of PS238, Zodon winds up tens of thousands of years in the past. He realizes that with his intellect and a lack of any pesky superheroes to stop him, he could easily conquer the world. However, he also realizes that he has no interest in ruling a world devoid of video games or other modern forms of entertainment and opts to freeze himself in a glacier until he reaches the present again, instead.
  • Scarlet Lady: "Animan" ends with Chloé achieving victory in her stated objective of ruining Adrien and Marinette's date. It becomes meaningless because it was more of a friendly outing, and it certainly doesn't stop Adrien from loving Marinette or trying to date her in the future—and, either way, any attempts Chloé might make to date Adrien are bound for failure, since he doesn't even consider her a friend any more.

    Western Animation 
  • The Action Man (2000) finale has Dr. X able to accomplish all of his goals. He’s gained superhuman abilities, doesn't need food or air any longer, and becomes Nigh-Invulnerable... and then Action Man traps him on an empty rock floating in the immense vastness of space with no means of escape. He actually does scream Action Man's name one last time as the rock drifts away from earth.
  • Adventure Time:
    • At the end of Season 4, The Lich tricks Finn into opening a portal to Prismo's Time Room. He then uses the one wish that anyone who enters the Time Room gets to wish for the extinction of all life. However, since Finn and Jake followed him through the portal before he made the wish, they weren't affected and also got wishes. Coaxed along by Benevolent Genie Prismo, Jake wishes that the Lich had used his wish to send Finn and Jake back home. All of the Lich's schemes and trickery to get to Prismo's Room are instantly rendered moot.
    • And in Season 5, he makes a grand impact by successfully unleashing a jailbreak in the multiverse's #1 Superjail, but since Finn defeats him he's not around to lead the criminals into destroying the multiverse, so they're busy spreading plague and endless disease and all kinds of malicious life, the exact opposite of what he wanted.
    • The spin-off Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake reveals the timeline the aforementioned wish to destroy all life created still exists, leaving a version of the Lich that succeeded there. Except not only was any sense of satisfaction robbed from the Lich with the fact he has nothing more to do, but his underlying motive of doing so (to appease his god GOLB) was never going to get him any approval because he mistakenly believed GOLB was an intelligent God of Evil instead of an Almighty Idiot that could never comprehend his work. By the time Fionna, Cake and Simon find him he's so despondent he can't be bothered to kill the new life that showed up, having accomplished nothing but create a dead universe.
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers had this with "Chained." Sure, they got the untrusting townspeople to hand over Gooseman, they free their leader, Macross, and the gang can now get their cache of rare starstones. They get the stones, but the stones degrade quickly when exposed to ultraviolet light (and they buried the cache in a desert - meaning the stones start crumbling as soon as they unbury the box), and then some townspeople led by sympathetic settler Annie show up armed and sporting for a fight seeing as the gang did trash their settlement on the way in. Macross and the gang high-tail it, leaving Gooseman behind, but they get nothing for their trouble.
  • In one episode of Adventures of the Gummi Bears, a villain tries to get control of the Great Book, by stealing Zummi's medallion. In the end, after Zummi outright gives him the medallion, he promptly tries to kill the Gummi Bears... and is himself incinerated instead, since "Nothing in the Great Book can hurt Gummi Bears."
  • The Amazing World of Gumball:
    • In the season 4 finale "The Disaster", Rob finds a remote that can be used to control real objects and uses it to ruin Gumball's relationships with all his loved ones, make his parents get divorced, and very nearly kill Penny, before pausing time to reveal himself for a confrontation. He then uses the remote to open a portal to the Void, and tries to eject Gumball, but the remote doesn't work and Rob assumes it's broken. He then tries a second plan: he throws the remote into the Void, forcing Gumball to jump in to try and find it so he can fix everything. It turns out one of the batteries had just fallen slightly out of place; Gumball finds it, fixes it, and rewinds time back to the beginning.
    • Happens again in the follow-up "The Re-Run". Rob actually manages to make things even worse than last time, leading to Gumball's parents reverting to babies, Anais getting erased from existence, Darwin turning back into a regular fish in the middle of a mall and then suffocating to death, and Gumball getting trapped in the Void with him. However, when Rob sees that even after everything he's done, Gumball is still willing to risk his life to save him from being trapped in the Void for eternity, he has a fit of conscience and rewinds time to undo all the damage he's done and destroy the remote before he had done anything with it.
  • American Dad!: After Hayley and Jeff absconded with $50,000, Roger tracks them down and begins harassing them to get the money (mostly by just making a really annoying sound over and over, which drives them crazy). After an elaborate chase around the world, they finally give in and give him the money... or what's left of it, since they spent most of it trying to get away from him.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: One of Azula's major motivations, alongside sticking it to her older brother Zuko, was to become the Fire Lord as their father Ozai's successor. She gets her wish in the series finale, but only after the extreme lengths she's willing to go to get there cost her the respect of the few people in her life who genuinely care about her. Then once she's finally crowned Fire Lord, Ozai promptly installs himself as the Phoenix King and the Fire Lord's superior, making the Fire Lord nothing more than a puppet figure. The realization that she's basically thrown away everyone close to her for nothing drives Azula to a Villainous Breakdown.
    • In the sequel series, The Legend of Korra, the end of Season 3 sees Zaheer achieve his goal of dispatching the already corrupt and incompetent Earth Queen, resulting in the Earth Kingdom descending into chaos, but in the process he's lost everyone he cares about and ends up in prison for his crimes. What elevates this act from a Pyrrhic Victory to this trope is Kuvira promptly installing herself as the dictator of the newly christened Earth Empire, and thus taking over as the new Big Bad of the fourth season. To add insult to injury, he also tried to get rid of the Avatar for good as part of his scheme, which incapacitated Korra to the extent that she wasn't able to deal with Kuvira when she otherwise could've, allowing the latter to become a far more oppressive and monstrous despot than even the Earth Queen could've hoped to be - and for someone who values freedom as much as Zaheer does, spending life in prison is nothing compared to the knowledge that the only thing he succeeded at in the long term was making an already bad global situation even worse. When Korra visits Zaheer in prison and calls him out on all of this, Zaheer admits that she's absolutely right, and redeems himself by offering her some covert assistance in cleaning up Kuvira's mess.
  • Back to the Future: In "A Friend in Deed", Biff finds a deed saying he owns the Parkers' land. After Marty and the boys have gone back in time to fix it, Thaddeus Tannen still succeeds in getting Wendell Parker to sign over his land to him to save his wife, and he still manages to run off and bury the deed where Biff Jr. will find it in the present. However, because Marty gave Wendell a pen full of disappearing ink, the signature doesn't show up and the Parkers keep control of the extorted land.
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold ends with Bat-Mite screwing over the show to get it cancelled so that a darker, more serious Batman series will be made in its place. The new series focuses primarily on Batgirl, and as Ambush Bug points out, a serious Batman series has no room for Silver Age silliness... like Bat-Mite himself. Bat-Mite realizes his mistake seconds before he is erased from existence.
  • In Beany and Cecil, Dishonest John invites himself to Beany and Cecil's show to watch the Show Within a Show "Defective Story" (a detective show starring dogs), because he's read that The Bad Guy Wins. In the episode, a criminal named Doberman (Alias "The Pincher") kidnaps a popular actress and is pursued by detective Fido Vance. Doberman seemingly ends the episode a Karma Houdini by shaking off Vance and asbsconding with the actress, but the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue shows Doberman has become an unhappy Henpecked Husband slaving over chores and feeding a litter of puppies. Beany and Cecil are delighted, and Dishonest John is forlorn, at this turn of events.
  • Ben 10:
  • Codename: Kids Next Door:
    • The episode "Operation: C.R.I.M.E." had a boy pretend to be able to predict the future so that everyone else in school would be in detention and he'd be first in line at the cafeteria before the good food runs out. He succeeds in his scheme, but finds that today's lunch is a lima bean sandwich rather than the pizza bagels he desired.
    • Invoked by the heroes in the episode "Operation: C.A.K.E.D.T.H.R.E.E." which starts out as Sector V trying to steal the Delightful Children's birthday cake, like normal. However, a bunch of chickens that Sector V was going to use end up doing their business on the cake, at which point Sector V decides to leave. The Delightfuls (who didn't realize what happened) are confused, but go along with their plan of eating their cake on live TV for all the children of the world to watch...only for no child to be jealous or upset, but rather utterly grossed out.
    • In "Operation: R.O.B.B.E.R.S.", the Six-Gum Gang manage to succeed in stealing everyone's spelling homework and give it to the Delightful Children. However, the first paper the teacher reads is Numbuh 4's, whose horrible spelling causes the Delightfuls to get detention.
  • Danny Phantom:
    • In one episode, Vlad succeeds in becoming mayor, but after being tricked into injuring Danny, he has to undo various actions he did to avoid bad publicity.
    • In the Grand Finale, Vlad reveals himself as a ghost and offers to save the world from the approaching asteroid for complete domination. Unfortunately for him, the asteroid is comprised of material that not even ghosts can touch, with Vlad leaving the planet knowing he'll be hunted if he returns.
  • DC Animated Universe:
    • In Batman: The Animated Series, shy researcher Jervis Tetch is infatuated with his co-worker Alice, who does not return his interest. He uses his mind control research (earlier demonstrated to work just as well on humans as it does on mice) in order to secure the perfect Wonderland date with her (including putting her in an appropriately-themed outfit). When Batman shows up, he calls Tetch out on it, pointing out that any part of her personality that might have attracted him has been suppressed by the mind control stuff, leaving her as a perfectly compliant but utterly blank doll. Tetch has a breakdown, blaming Batman for forcing him to resort to such measures.
    • In an episode of Batman Beyond, after Terry had to take off his mask to rescue a young boy from a fire, the boy reveals on the news he saw Batman's face. This gets the boy captured by Kobra agents to have his mind scanned to recreate Batman's face. By the time Terry reaches them, they completed the face recreation and the leader mocks Batman that his identity will be revealed to Kobra before jumping into a Snake Pit. That is, until Terry sees the face Kobra made was actually the face of the boy's action figure.
    • Justice League:
      • In "Hereafter", Superman is sent to a Bad Future in which the only human remaining is the immortal Vandal Savage. In this timeline, not long after Superman's apparent death, Savage had completed a device that granted him control over gravity, in his bid to dominate the world. However, it worked too well, disrupting the gravitational balance of the solar system, and resulting in the extinction of most life on earth. Savage had reflected on how meaningless his ambitions were for tens of thousands of years after the fact.
        Savage: I should never have done it.
        Superman: Done what?
        Savage: This. I destroyed the world.
      • Unlimited's "Patriot Act" has Wade Eiling, having used a Super-Soldier formula to become a hulking behemoth, attack a parade where the Justice League sent a number of its members to show support. His intent was to defeat the League and prove the danger of superpowered individuals, and he delivers a brutal Curb-Stomp Battle to the Leaguers present—but ends up accomplishing the exact opposite of his goals. As it turns out, all the Leaguers present were Badass Normals with nothing but tech and magical equipment at best, and yet still managed to Hold the Line through sheer gallantry in the name of protecting the civilians. And, as is pointed out, Eiling's attempt to prove that the Justice League are dangerous metahumans resulted in him becoming a dangerous metahuman, which the Justice League exists to combat. If anything, his attack actually raises the profile of the Leaguers involved, who were previously seen as C-List Fodder who were picked for parade duty in the first place for not being involved in anything important at the time: the crowd goes from disappointed to hailing them as true heroes.
  • An episode of Doug involved a soapbox derby that many of the kids take part in that has a top-secret mystery grand prize. When Bebe and Chalky end up in trouble towards the end of the race, Doug and Skeeter decide to turn back and save them, allowing Roger to win the race. However, as Doug puts in his journal at the end of the episode, Roger won the mystery grand prize that everyone thought they wanted, a week as vice mayor, a.k.a. a desk job where Roger has to do paperwork for Mayor White.
  • The Dreamstone: Played with. There are actually moments Zordrak succeeds in sending nightmares to the Land of Dreams, and while he does actually savor that victory, the negative effect it has on the heroes is so short-lived (to the point of sometimes being offscreen) and usually met with a far more brutal retaliation (a few instances the Urpneys managed to send dreams they were met with a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown), that it's hard not to view it as this trope. This is especially evident for the Urpneys, who usually hate their job and usually the best they hope out of a victory is that it keeps their Bad Boss from lashing out at them.
  • DuckTales (1987):
    • Glomgold manages to beat Scrooge in a race to gain the wishes of a magic lamp, using the first wish he sends Scrooge to a deserted island and while gloating about his victory, he accidentally uses the second wish when he said he wishes to see the look on Scrooge's face and ends up on the same island. Angered that he's stuck with the person he hates the most, Glomgold shouts that he wished him and Scrooge never found the magic lamp, thus hitting the Reset Button.
    • In another episode, Glomgold succeeds in taking ownership of a mine filled with hundreds of diamonds, and sends Scrooge to take ownership of another mine filled with nothing. Just then, a volcanic eruption occurs that blasts all of the diamonds in Glomgold's mine towards Scrooge's side, leaving Scrooge with all of the diamonds and Glomgold with zero.
  • DuckTales (2017):
    • Ma Beagle manages to get her hands on the Lamp of the First Genie before Scrooge and his ally Djinn. Except, there is no genie, so all Ma Beagle got was an old oil lamp.
    • The grand finale becomes this for Bradford Buzzard. After spending more than twenty years of his life enacting the perfect plan to rid the world of adventure, it comes to fruition when he gets Scrooge to sign a magically-binding contract that he only gets to keep his family if he agrees never to adventure again. Sadly for him, the contract accepts the McDuck/Duck family's interpretation that "Family is the greatest adventure of all," which renders the contract meaningless.
  • The dream demon Morpheus in Extreme Ghostbusters too late realizes that he was invulnerable as long as he stayed in dreams. When he became corporeal, he became vulnerable to the Ghostbusters' weapons.
  • In The Fairly OddParents! special "Timmy's Secret Wish", Foop succeeds in making Timmy look like the worst godkid ever and having all his wishes undone, including Poof. However, he learns too late that as Poof's anti-fairy, he gets erased from existence too. This brings Ascended Fridge Horror into play when many wondered what would happen to Foop if he succeeded in erasing Poof.
  • Fanboy and Chum Chum: The original Random! Cartoons short had Berry the Ice Monster agree to thumb wrestle Fanboy for the last of the Frosty Freezy Freeze in Fanboy and Chum Chum's possession. Berry wins, but finds out after being handed the cup that it's already empty due to Chum Chum drinking it all.
  • Fender Bender 500: The Fender Bender racers were in Russia to compete for "The Red Square Prize". Dick Dastardly won, and the prize was a red square instead of that Red Square.
  • Free Willy: In an episode, Jessie and Willy are looking for a lost treasure and lose it to the villain. Then, it is revealed the chest actually contains whistles.
  • Gargoyles:
    • In "The Price", David Xanatos discovers a method to immortality based on the cauldron of life story. He kidnaps Hudson as a plan to test the formula by forcing him to bathe in it first, but Hudson is able to escape. Afterwards, Owen decides to dip his right arm into the formula. It's discovered that the formula does work, only it turns the person into ageless, solid, stone. Owen's arm remains turned to stone for the rest of the series. Good thing he was really Puck in disguise and can easily neutralize the effect with his magic.
      Xanatos: What does the legend say? Whoever bathes in it will live as long as the mountain stones. How literal minded.
    • "Metamorphosis" has Xanatos gain the loyalty of several humans mutated into creatures similar to the Gargoyles, and they don't appear again until well into the show's second season, which ends with them turning on Xanatos.
    • Another episode ends with Xanatos acquiring a dangerous computer virus that nearly destroyed the cyborg Gargoyle Coldstone, and is never brought up again.
  • In Generator Rex, Van Kleiss gets his hands on the Meta-Nanites, the keys to godhood, before anyone else... only to learn that he can't tap into their united power because Cesar and his parents programmed them in such a way that only Rex could do it.
  • I.R Baboon actually beats I Am Weasel in "I Are Big Star". Baboon steals Weasel's pelt and sidelines him for the rest of the episode. Baboon gets to act alongside a beautiful actress and his "performance" is praised by the director. Then he gets run over by a bus and he loses the memories of the best day of his life.
  • One episode of Inspector Gadget had MAD searching for a formula to turn lead into gold. They succeed in reproducing the formula, then later on, they drop one of the transmuted gold bars, to discover that what the formula really made was lead-based gold paint.
  • In Invader Zim, Zim uses Mind Rape (via virtual reality helmets) in order to sell millions of candy bars and win a school fundraiser. He makes first place, but the "secret prize" he coveted so badly turns out to be literally nothing.
  • Kidd Video and his band once came across Master Blaster's good twin brother who's been imprisoned by the villain. It turns out he's the mayor of a city based around plumbing and has access to the city treasury. The kids try to get the good one recognized as the real deal, but their mother intervenes to let Master Blaster have the treasury. And he does go to take it...only to discover it's a pile of shower heads.
  • Kim Possible:
    • "Ron Millionaire": Drakken steals the royalty money Ron gets for inventing the Naco, as in 'ninety-nine million dollars' (a nickel for every Naco sold). While the two fail to get Ron's money back, Drakken still ends up failing, having spent the money on a new lair and laser cannon... but the diamond to power the cannon is too big, causing the cannon to backfire and destroy it and the lair.
    • "Clothes Minded": Drakken's plan to merge the continents together with his new weather machine actually works, but he didn't think to earthquake-proof his new lair, which results in it and the machine being destroyed in the process.
    • Bonnie once spent an episode scheming to replace Kim as cheerleading captain, since Kim's world-saving exploits kept her too busy to compete. In the end, Kim concedes... then points out that all the hard work Bonnie did to get elected is just the beginning, and she now has to keep it up. All Bonnie wanted was the clout that came with being in charge, not the responsibility, so the position is actually meaningless to her. (Next time we hear about it, Kim is captain again.)
  • M.A.S.K. did this a few times:
    • Similar to the Dukes of Hazzard example above, one episode has a search for buried money in Washington, D.C. which turns out to be worthless Confederate money.
    • Another episode has a search for a golden totem pole. Mayhem gets his hands on it first, but scans it for purity and discovers it's actually amber.
    • Another episode has a search through the Scottish Highlands to find a buried treasure. Mayhem is last seen climbing out of the treasure chamber asking "Is that all there is?" and escaping. It turns out the "treasure" was the warmth of the cavern during cold weather.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000": The Flim Flam Brothers win the cider-producing contest to claim the exclusive rights to sell cider in Ponyville. But to do it, they had to turn their machine's quality control off, resulting in a horrible product. Combined with the way they thoroughly alienated everyone in town with their gloating over winning, they're quickly convinced to leave.
    • "Keep Calm and Flutter On": Discord secures his freedom by making Fluttershy promise to never use the Element of Kindness against him (thus neutralizing all of the Elements of Harmony, as they have to be used together), a promise she refuses to break because doing so would invalidate the trust and friendship they have built up. However, when he returns to his old ways after having ensured that the only possible threat to him is entirely out of the picture, she makes it clear that their friendship is over, and Discord realizes that Fluttershy has worked her way into his heart enough that sacrificing their bond just isn't worth it. Well played indeed.
    • "Twilight's Kingdom": Tirek sets out to steal all magic from Equestria for himself... and he succeeds, with Twilight exchanging all the alicorn magic she was imbued with for the safety of her friends. The aftermath ends up with more and even more powerful magic being created, and the seemingly all-powerful Tirek being Curb Stomped back to Tartarus with an express ticket.
    • "Rarity Takes Manehattan": Suri gets away with stealing Rarity's designs and the prestige that came with them. However, Rarity still manages to beat her in the fashion contest with new designs she whipped up the previous night, and her actions also cost her her Hypercompetent Sidekick Coco Pommel, meaning she's left in no position to build her business any further.
    • "The Mean 6": Although Queen Chrysalis' plan to take control of the Elements and rebuild her hive falls through and her new minions are destroyed, she manages to learn of the existence and location of the Tree of Harmony without the main characters knowing anything about it, providing her with potentially extremely useful info on the source of the main characters' power. Then the Tree is destroyed alongside the Elements in "The Beginning of the End" and reborn as an entirely different entity with no direct connection to the main characters' power in "Uprooted", thus negating any advantage Chrysalis may have gotten for the tribulations she went through to get that information.
  • In The Owl House episode "Wing It Like Witches", Alpha Bitch Boscha catches the Golden Snitch that wins the grudgby match for her team. By doing so, Boscha's team wins the bet with Luz's team, which will let Boscha bully Willow and her friends even more. However, Boscha's friends come to like Luz and Willow, and Boscha sees she'll probably lose her spot as team captain if she continues to abuse them. Boscha has an arrogant attitude, but puts a lot of her self-worth on her grudgby skills, especially being team captain. So while Boscha can cash in on the bet, it would be in her best interest not to. Not only that, but this cements Amity's Heel–Face Turn that causes her to leave Boscha's social circle.
  • Pac-Man: When Pac-Man has to drive an armored truck, Mezmaron believes it contains power pellets and orders the ghost monsters to steal it. They do steal it but, instead of power pellets, it has fireworks.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • While calling her a "villain" might be extreme, the one time Candace finally manages to expose her brothers' antics to their mother Linda and have it stick, it's nullified by the fact she reveals it to the version of their mother twenty years in the future (during a Time Travel adventure), at which point things like holograms, flying cars, and jetpacks are commonplace, the future Phineas and Ferb are by then independent adults, and present day Phineas and Ferb aren't technically her jurisdiction anymore, so there's not much Linda can do to punish them. Candace at least finds a little solace in being vindicated and in the fact it's even possible for her to win.
    • Dr. Doofenshmirtz has a victory like this during the episode, "Cranius Maximus". He is trying to steal the key to the city as he believes that it works like a master key for the city and can open any door. Towards the climax of the episode, he does succeed in getting it, but realizes that it's meant to be an award and can't open anything. And then he gets struck by lightning.
    • Another Doofenshmirtz example occurs in the episode, "Magic Carpet Ride", when he tries to take petty revenge on his brother Roger (who, years ago, accidentally ruined a masterpiece painting Heinz poured his heart and soul into), by ruining a painting Roger is about to unveil to get even. Dr. Doof actually succeeds in preventing Perry from stopping him ruining the painting, but too late does Heinz find out that the painting being unveiled was his painting Roger had been fixing since then. Doofenshmirtz is so depressed by his "win" that he doesn't even flinch as Perry sends him and his hovercraft crashing into the street.
    • Yet another Doofenshmirtz example in "Happy New Year", when he creates an "-inator" which changes everyone's New Year's resolutions into helping him take over the Tri-State area as his minions. It worked as intended but Doof didn't anticipate the fact no one keeps their New Year's resolution. In fact, Perry predicted this exact outcome and didn't stop Doof from enacting his plan because he knew it was doomed to fail.
    • Another Doofenshmirtz example happens in "That Sinking Feeling". Doofenshirtz reveals that, ever since he purchased the building that would become Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated, he tends to have sleeping issues due to a variety of ships at the docks making too much noise when moving towards the lighthouse at night, so he decides to put a stop to it by moving the lighthouse elsewhere by installing rockets on it, in order to finally get a peaceful night. He succeeds, as the lighthouse flies away while the ships chase it no matter where the lighthouse is going. Unfortunately, later at night, the lighthouse crashes right into Doofenshmirtz Evil Inc, with the ships surrounding the building, thus making Doof's nights more noisy than before.
    • This happens in the Series Finale, when Doofenshmirtz uses a Time Machine which induces a "Groundhog Day" Loop, allowing him to keep trying and trying until he finally ends up governor of the Tri-State Area by exploiting a legal loophole, then making it illegal for Perry to stop him. However, he doesn't get long to enjoy his victory, partly because the invention goes haywire and started gradually erasing everything from existence, spontaneously resetting the timeline on increasingly shorter intervals, resetting his victory as well, and partly because his motivation to become tri-governor to stop his daughter from wanting to move out (since he believed it was because she thought he was a loser) is rendered moot when she tells him her moving out had nothing to do with him being "cool" or not, and she convinces Doof to give up his evil ways because she can tell he only does it out of obligation rather than from his heart.
  • One Pinky and the Brain episode, "When Mice Rule The Earth", has the duo going back in time in order to uplift prehistoric mice so that their species becomes dominant. They succeed, but this results in a world of...Pinkies!! Horrified, Brain goes to push a Reset Button, as while he could rule the world as it was... "Who'd want to?"
  • Reboot: In "The Medusa Bug" Hexadecimal successfully tricks Megabyte into spreading the Medusa Bug across Mainframe, turning everyone except her and Bob to stone. Bob is unable to cure anyone. However, not only was Hex's beloved pet Scuzzy infected, which leaves her heartbroken, but Bob points out Mainframe will be perfectly still and orderly forever, something that Hexadecimal abhors. She decides to cure Mainframe herself, reversing her victory but allowing chaos to exist again.
  • Robot Chicken: A sketch based on The Smurfs (1981) has a flood wiping out the Smurf village, allowing Gargamel to finally achieve his goal of eating the Smurfs. After taking one bite, he finds out that they taste really bad, so he throws them out and orders Chinese food.
  • Rocko's Modern Life: In "Ed Good, Rocko Bad", Rocko and Ed run for city dog catcher, with Rocko being (justifiably) afraid that Ed will be cruel to the dogs. Thanks to a ton of mudslinging, Ed wins in a veritable landslide... but another measure passes that turns the dog catcher position into an undesirable job with no real power (in case you wanna know, he became a glorified poop-scooper).
  • One arc of Rocky and Bullwinkle had Bullwinkle discover he was the heir to a recently dead British aristocrat and stood to inherit something like "a million pound note." Some of the aristocrat's relatives believed themselves the rightful heirs and did everything they could to keep him from inheriting. In the end it turned out he wasn't the heir after all (or was he?) and the relatives got their prize, a million pound PROMISSORY note. They were now responsible for paying back the aristocrat's debts, while Bullwinkle and Rocky literally sailed off into the sunset.
  • In an episode of Samurai Jack, Aku hires cat-like hunter aliens to capture Jack. After a long, arduous chase, they finally subdue him. Unfortunately for Aku, however, their people have a custom that any prey who can give them such a challenging hunt deserves to run free.
    • In another, Aku lured Jack to a graveyard and then wore him down with an endless army of undead before joining the fray himself. He manages to disarm Jack, has him completely at his mercy and is preparing to execute Jack with his own sword. Even Jack prays for forgiveness from his father for his failure. And then the sword bounces harmlessly off of Jack's chest with a metallic *tink* sound. The momentary distraction allows Jack to reclaim the sword and go on the offensive while stating that even he had forgotten that the sword was forged to destroy evil, it is completely harmless to the pure of heart.
    • In season 5, Jack loses his sword - the only weapon that can harm Aku - but Aku himself is unaware of it because he's since given up on tormenting Jack directly. Scaramouche, one of Aku's mechanical assassins, finds out, and after managing to survive his apparent destruction at Jack's hands, starts seeking out Aku to tell him the good news. The problem is, he's now just a head with none of his impressive combat capabilities, can only move around by hopping, and has lost favor in the eyes of Aku after his defeat, making it difficult for him to actually get through to Aku. After many trials and tribulations he finally succeeds, and Aku rewards him with a brand new body... and then immediately vaporizes him when it turns out that while Scaramouche was trying to relay his message, Jack had gotten his sword back in the meantime.
  • Sheep in the Big City: In "The Agony of De-Bleat", General Specific manages to capture Sheep for use in the Secret Military Organization's sheep-powered raygun. However, the threat of General Specific having to downsize the SMO and fire everybody now that their big mission is complete inspires Private Public, the Angry Scientist, and the Plot Device to conspire to set Sheep free.
  • In The Simpsons episode "My Sister, My Sitter", after Lisa is put in charge of babysitting Bart while Homer and Marge are away, Bart decides to ruin Lisa's reputation as a babysitter out of anger, and succeeds in doing so when a prank Goes Horribly Right and he ends up injured (a dislocated shoulder from falling down the stairs) and unconscious, and she accidentally brings him to the pier where everyone is while trying to get him to the hospital. However, despite her now looking like the worst babysitter ever, Lisa ends up still getting calls for babysitting jobs as she's still the only reliable sitter in town.
  • In The Smurfs (1981) episode "Flighty's Plight", Gargamel gets his hands on his godfather Balthazar's book that contains the gold-making formula and escapes his castle with it...but unfortunately the book isn't written with waterproof ink, as Gargamel finds out when he opens the book after coming out of the moat.
  • South Park:
    • Inverted in "Le Petit Tourette", where Cartman fakes having Hollywood Tourette's so that he can shout anti-Semitic things as much as he wants without anyone getting mad. He even gets a TV interview, which Kyle naturally tries to stop, and succeeds in doing so. Unfortunately, while he was doing that, Cartman discovers that spending all that time just blurting out whatever thoughts popped into his head has caused him to lose all ability to not do that, and he couldn't stop blurting out horribly embarrassing secrets about himself. Cartman couldn't have been more relieved that Kyle got his interview cancelled on him.
    • In "Dances with Smurfs" Cartman uses his position as morning announcement leader to basically become an obnoxious sensationalist pundit who blames Wendy, the school president, for literally everything as well as accusing her of trying to kill The Smurfs, which ends with Wendy admitting Cartman is right and stepping down so Cartman can become the school president. Except, Wendy admits he was right in a way that makes him seem like the bad guy in his fictional Smurf story with her being heavily sympathetic, she sells the rights to the story to James Cameron who uses it to make Avatar, Cartman can no longer read the morning announcements since that can't be done by the school president, and he learns said school president is at best a figurehead with no real power. Naturally, it also ends with the new morning announcement kid blaming all the school's problems on the school president.
    • In "Christian Rock Hard", Cartman makes a bet with Kyle over who can form a band and earn a platinum album first. Cartman creates a Christian rock band, Faith + 1, and actually manages to sell one million copies of their debut album to qualify, while Kyle's rock band, MOOP, ends up wasting time by going on strike against people downloading songs on the internet. However, Cartman's victory becomes meaningless, because in the world of South Park, Christian music albums can only go gold, frankincense and myrrh, meaning he doesn't actually win the bet because his album did not specifically go platinum. To make it even more bitter for him, he spent all the money the band made on an excessively extravagant platinum album ceremony confident that the band's future success would make up for the losses. Upon learning that he could never go platinum, however, he ruins any chance of the band having future success by angrily cursing out Jesus, which their Christian fanbase naturally doesn't take kindly to. And to add insult to injury, he insults his bandmates, causing Token to beat him up and Butters to fart on his face as he's on the ground.
  • In the Season 1 finale of Spider-Man: The Animated Series, the Kingpin steals the sample of "Prometheum-X" that astronauts brought back from an asteroid (along with the Venom symbiote...) It's a fissile material, like uranium or plutonium, but isn't radioactive unless heated, and thus can be carried around safely without any special equipment. The Kingpin intends to sell it on the black market to the highest bidder - despite his chief scientist Smythe's warnings that he should run more tests on it first. Spider-Man steals the Prometheum-X from the Kingpin, who then takes hostages and demands that Spider-Man trade it back. Spider-Man actually spends a few hours studying the sample, however...and then happily agrees to the exchange, and leaves without making further effort to obtain it. When the Kingpin tries another test explosion, however, it's a dud: Smythe discovers that the entire sample has decayed into simple lead. It turns out that Prometheum-X is so powerful because it is unstable - so unstable that it has a very short atomic half-life, so that the entire sample just naturally burned out into uselessness in a matter of days. Kingpin realizes to his chagrin that Spider-Man figured this out, and it's why he agreed to the trade.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants
    • In "Plankton's Army", with the help of his brethren, Plankton manages to get into the Krusty Krab safe and procure the Krabby Patty formula. As he reads the ingredients out loud, he discovers that the most important one is four pounds of freshly ground plankton, which causes Plankton and his family to run out of the Krusty Krab. It's then revealed that what Plankton found wasn't even the real formula and that Mr. Krabs has the actual one in his home under his mattress.
    • "Bucket Sweet Bucket" has another one involving Plankton. After tricking SpongeBob, Patrick, and Squidward into fixing up the Chum Bucket, Plankton manages to get into the Krusty Krab safe and find the formula, only for it not to be the formula, but a To Do list and that Mr. Krabs had the formula with him while he was on vacation. In addition, since SpongeBob and Patrick used the entire Krusty Krab to fix up the Chum Bucket, Plankton also lost his restaurant when Mr. Krabs pushes his back to its normal spot.
    • Yet another one involving Plankton, in "For Here Or to Go", Plankton enters a contest at the Krusty Krab where the prize is a free Krabby Patty (and he brings in a contest official that makes Mr. Krabs allow Plankton to enter). Plankton manages to win and despite Krabs's attempts to prevent the patty from being made, Plankton gets his patty, but has to eat it on the premises. However, Plankton makes it back to the Chum Bucket and has the patty analyzed before it's digested, with him selling Krabby Patties the next day. However, they taste awful, due to Karen having analyzed all the contents of Plankton's stomach, which in addition to the Krabby Patty also included things such as stomach acid and pills.
    • The episode "I Heart Dancing" has this combined with Karmic Twist Ending. SpongeBob has been chosen to audition for a role in a dance number, but Squidward, jealous of him, decides to "teach" SpongeBob various dances in an effort to overwork him so he can't go to the audition and eventually works him like a dog. In the end, SpongeBob is too tired to go and Squidward auditions instead and gets the part. However, it turns out that the number Squidward's going to be dancing in is Squilliam's, who proceeds to work Squidward like a dog much like Squidward worked SpongeBob like one.
  • In Star Trek: Lower Decks the antagonistic ensign competing with Boimler to be named acting captain succeeds while Boimler humiliates himself to save his crewmates. He serves as acting captain only for a few moments before being relieved by the next shift, and it's made apparent none of the officers regarded who filled the seat as a question of the slightest importance. By contrast, Boimler's actions were noted and commended by a senior officer.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: Toffee's Evil Plan to recover his missing finger, completely restore himself, and destroy all magic, making him nigh-unstoppable and his enemies powerless, goes off without a hitch... only to be nullified seconds later when Star manages to undo his corruption of magic and attain her Super Mode, allowing her to blast him with so much raw power that even his precious Healing Factor can't save him. To add insult to injury, in the Grand Finale Star destroys magic again anyway, admitting long after Toffee's death that he wasn't entirely wrong to do so.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars has Darth Maul work with Death Watch to take over Mandalore, and then pulls an Eviler than Thou on their leader, leaving him the uncontested ruler of the planet. Unfortunately for him, this draws the attention of Darth Sidious, who shows up and puts him well and truly in his place, rendering his victory moot.
    Sidious: You have become a RIVAL.
    • Maul doesn't do any better in Star Wars Rebels. Every encounter with the heroes ends with him getting at least part of what he wanted, moving him closer and closer to a final reckoning with Kenobi... who kills him in a Curb-Stomp Battle that lasts two seconds and three moves.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987):
    • "April Foolish": Shredder manages to get away with a rare isotope. Unfortunately for the bad guys, the isotope is unstable under high atmospheric pressures (especially those deep within the Earth), and the sample explodes after the Shredder returns to the Technodrome — which is parked many miles beneath the Earth's surface.
    • "Shredderville": Shredder becomes emperor of the world and mismanages it so badly that when the turtles arrive he begs them to take him to their world where he doesn't rule. However, this turns out to all be a dream the Turtles have.
    • "Rock Around the Block": Shredder successfully uses a laser to free the Technodrome from its ice prison only for Bebop and Rocksteady's violent argument over a comic to cause the laser to blast the ice underneath them, which results in the Technodrome being trapped underwater.
  • In Voltron: Legendary Defender, Haggar manages to reach a reality where Zarkon and Lotor are alive, until Lotor immediately pointed out that the woman standing in front of him isn't his real mother. After this, she decides nothing is worth living anymore and decides to destroy all of existence.
  • Wakfu has this as the end result of the plans of its first season villain, Nox. He's spent 200 years killing living things in order to gather their wakfu to use that energy to rewind time and prevent the death of his family. Despite the heroes' efforts in the final battle, he defeats them, succeeds in draining the Tree of Life, and having left everyone left who could stop him dead and/or broken he finally turns back time...but it turns out that much wakfu was only good for a 20-minute rewind, making everything he's spent the last 200 years trying to achieve pointless. What's worse, the only thing the 20-minute rewind managed to do was undo even that final worthless victory. The only thing that is seemingly not undone by the rewind was Sadlygrove's death, but even then he comes back early into the next season, meaning Nox ended up achieving absolutely nothing. The revelation that all of his atrocities were pointless ends up sending Nox into a Villainous Breakdown.
  • The Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa episode "Stolen on the River" had Sheriff Terrorbull cheat in a raffle to win the tickets to the Dixie Trixie that were given to the C.O.W.-Boys by a wealthy couple in gratitude for rescuing them from Five Card Cud and his gang. Sheriff succeeds, but his victory turns out to be pointless when it's discovered that the Dixie Trixie was just a front for Five Card Cud to dupe wealthy people out of their valuables and that the heroes had the boat hauled onto dry land when this was found out.
  • The 1980 Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner short Soup or Sonic. In the last gag, Wile E. Coyote chases the Road Runner through a series of smaller-diameter pipes until they come out tiny at the end. Wile E. waves the Road Runner back through. Out the large end, the Road Runner is back to normal, but Wile E. is still tiny. At this point, the Road Runner allows Wile E. to "catch" him. But he is now way too big for Wile E. to actually eat.
    Wile E. Coyote (signs to the audience): Okay, wise guys, you always wanted me to catch him. Now what do I do?
  • In The Wild Thornberrys, an episode involved a reindeer race that Kip O'Donnel and Neil Beiderman took part in where the prize was 1000 lievos. At the end of the race, Eliza exposes Kip and Beiderman's reindeer as a racehorse in disguise, which disqualifies them, but they're then shown making off with the 1000 lievos anyway. Turns out that "lievos" means "pastry" and that Kip now has 1000 pastries (no wait, 12 of them are Beiderman's).
  • Yogi's Treasure Hunt: An alien known as Dr. Mars gave a 24-hour deadline for an old chest to be recovered or Earth would be destroyed. Dick Dastardly and Muttley found it and left Earth with it and the flying saucer of Dr. Mars, who explained to the heroes the chest contained no treasure but a bomb.
  • While most of the victories by The Light in Young Justice (2010) play some part in their larger scheme, even events where their involvement seems tagged on, the episode that introduced Lex Luthor, which ended with him gaining the trust of the leaders of Korea stand-ins, turns into this simply because it's never ever brought up again.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Pound Of Flesh Twist, Empty Villain Victory


Don't recognize your old home?

Bill manages to defeat the draconic horse, but before he can finish the job, Discord reveals that he transported both of them into the Nightmare Realm, effectively undoing Bill's conquest over Equestria.

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Main / MeaninglessVillainVictory

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