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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

A Meaningless Villain Victory occurs when The Bad Guy Wins, but the win is pointless. There's going to be a last second caveat that renders the whole point moot. The big pile of gold he's just won turns out to be pyrite; the ancient superweapon he's claimed is irreparably broken, and probably has been for a long time; the Big Bad achieves his goal to become immortal, but is now trapped forever inside of an inescapable location. 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, Pyrrhic Villainy, 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.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • Freeza successfully gathers all the Namekian Dragon Balls thanks to the Ginyu Force and wishes for immortality. But without knowing the Namekian language or the dragon Porunga's name, he can't even summon it, much less make a wish; to add insult to injury, he killed just about everyone who could have told him the password. Later, Freeza gets to Porunga and wishes for it before Dende can wish Namek's residents off the exploding planet. However, since Freeza can't speak Namekian, his wish is ignored and Dende's, which was spoken in said language, is granted instead. Even if he could learn the language, since he was fighting off Goku, whose best friend he blew up on top of all the murders he had committed, his plans were at an end.
    • Vegeta manages to get Dende to make the wish to make Vegeta immortal... but just before Dende finishes making the wish, Guru dies, and since the Dragon Balls become useless if their creator dies, the dragon vanishes and Vegeta remains mortal.
    • 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, Zamasu's plans ultimately amounted to nothing.
  • 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 set around Christmas time had Lupin and the gang managing to steal a vintage and princless 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 Zenegatia'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.
  • Fairy Tail: When the crew goes off on an S-Ranked mission to save an island from a curse that turns them 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 so the main villain of that arc and kill it and thus surpass his master, who sacrificed herself to seal it in the first place. The villains manage it, only to find that it was already dead. Turns out, being frozen in ice for several years is fatal even to demons.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 
  • One Piece
    • To say the results of the Whitebeard War were mixed for the Marines is to sugarcoat it. Both the Marines and the World Government ended up much worse off in the long run, even if they completed their initial objective of killing Ace and Whitebeard, thus ending Gold Roger's family line. But now, the Marines have a pirate on the rise with two Devil Fruit powers, one of which is Whitebeard's stolen quake ability, and absolutely none of the self-control to go with it. Also, several Level Six Impel Down prisoners are on the loose, thousands of Marines are dead, and the worst generation of pirates (the Eleven Supernovas) are wreaking absolute havoc in the New World. Akainu is now Fleet Admiral, so more needless civilian deaths and property damage abound. They've also lost three major assets (Sengoku, Garp, and Aokiji) due to disgust with how the World Government handled it all: essentially, pretend the breakouts at Impel Down didn't happen. To top it all off, this was supposed to act as a warning to pirates everywhere, just like Gold Roger's death, and snuff out the Golden Age of Piracy. But, thanks to Whitebeard's proclamation that One Piece exists being heard around the world, he ended up starting an entirely new age of piracy. The World Government and Marines were better off when the Golden Age of Piracy was in full swing.
    • A lesser-scale example is 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 truama to save Luffy and Law by launching a projection looking like said face to render her unconscious again, all while unlocking Haki.
  • 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.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure really loves this trope. Some worthwhile mentions:
  • 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?)
  • Pokémon:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Adolf, Adolf Kaufmann (a Nazi) eventually gets 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, however, he is told that Hitler died and Germany surrendered. He realizes that what he's holding is now just useless trash and has a Villainous Breakdown.
  • The Gundam franchise has quite a few.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Villainous Breakdown ensues.
  • The Sports Festival in My Hero Academia ends with borderline-Nominal Hero and Jerkass supreme Bakugo winning 1st place, just like he declared that he would. Unfortunately, his final match against Shoto ended with his opponent holding back by not using his fire abilities, inadvertently denying Bakugo his true desire: to prove to everyone that he's the strongest hero at the academy. When Bakugo realizes this he's absolutely furious to the point of having to be chained and gagged on the podium and forced to receive his 1st place medal.
  • 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.
  • Bleach was rather infamous for this in its two major arcs where Aizen and Yhwach were the primary antagonists. Both villains basically achieve all their primary goals, with Aizen successfully creating the Hōgyoku and Yhwach essentially destroying Soul Society and absorbing the Soul King, only for the both of them to be defeated at the very last second by Ichigo.

    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 another story where 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.
  • 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.
  • A hilarious example came from when Dracula fought Superman. Dracula succeeded in hypnotizing him so he could 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 drank his blood, his head exploded. Yes, this was a villain that Superman turned out to be a Man of Kryptonite against.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • One Silver Age Superman 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.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • Jaune Arc, Lord of Hunger: During 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 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.

    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.
  • The immortality one is fairly common: in the animated film 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 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...
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Ratatouille: Skinner manages to get Linguini's restaurant shut down... so he, Colette, and Remy start a new one that becomes just as successful.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Tin Cup: After Roy takes 13 or 14 attempts to sink a difficult put, putting him out of a victory at the US Open, Smug Snake Rival David laughingly comments Roy really knows how to go down in flames. Roy simply replies, "Nice par, Dave." In short, "faint heart never won fair lady."
  • 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 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.
  • A similar 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • From the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • 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 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 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.
  • 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..."
  • Ocean's 11 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, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 truly epic rant.

  • 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 uncle 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, turns against 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.. 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.
  • Only in the book version of A Little Princess does Miss Minchin manage to keep the school after Sara is restored to her wealth - despite all her cruel behaviour throughout the book. Minchin keeps her school, but she will have to live in fear that Sara will be living next door - and know that Sara could ruin her with one word to Carrisford. The reader knows that Sara would never do such a thing, but Minchin will forever live in fear of it. The 1995 film gives her a more direct comeuppance where she does lose the school and is reduced to working as a chimney sweep.
  • 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.
  • Journey to Chaos: For three consecutive books, Gruffle has tried to kill Eric. It has finally become his Unfinished Business. Then he succeeds but unbeknownst to him, Eric plotted with another reaper to thwart him. This reaper felt indebted to Eric and so travels to the Abyss to revive Eric moments after Gruffle took his disembodied soul there.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • "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 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'.
    • This was repeated in "Dragonfire", where 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.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Voyager does the 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 can not 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. But 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.
    • In an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a band of thieves that 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 left 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.
    • 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.
  • Red Dwarf: In the final 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.)
  • Battlestar Galactica:
    • There's an episode about abortion. A girl wants to have an abortion; her parents won't let her, and the religious beliefs of the colony she was from before the Cylon attack forbade it despite its legality. Though pro-choice herself, President Roslin understands that there are less than fifty thousand humans left in the universe, and that they will have to grow their numbers if they're to survive as a species. In the end, she outlaws abortion via executive order... after the girl has had her abortion and has applied for asylum aboard Galactica so she doesn't have to go back to her parents. Roslin makes an explicit reference to the former Trope Namer The Merchant of Venice, which could be interpreted as a squicky reference to the aborted pregnancy as well..
      Roslin: You have your pound of flesh.
    • This also 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.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959)
    • "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" featured a band of crooks who pulled 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 went 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.
    • "I Shot an Arrow Into the Air" has a Recycled Premise with astronauts who crash landed on an asteroid. The villainous Sole Survivor killed his crewmembers and took their water only to find out it was Earth All Along. They crashed in the Nevada desert.
    • A famous example was "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 turn out 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?.
  • 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.
    • 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, 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Root in the Person of Interest season 2 finale finally finds The Machine, but its hardware components have all moved long ago.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • At the end of the second arc of Kamen Rider Zero-One, Gai Amatsu manages to buyout 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, which means that it all still belongs to Aruto, who proceeds to start a new company to both oppose Gai's recall of the HumaGears and continue to be a Kamen Rider.

  • 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 myth tells of Loki, who bet his head to the dwarf Brokk of whom could give the Aesir the better gift. "Betting your head" in Norse society meant "betting a sum of gold equal to your head's worth", but when Brokk (who was rich enough to begin with) won the bet, he decided he wanted the bet paid literally. 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. In a final inversion of the trope, one version of the myth tells that Brokk got annoyed by being cheated out of what he considered rightfully his 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). The Other Wiki lists Loki's Wager as a form of logical fallacy resulting from overspecification of a generalized term.
  • 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 former Trope Namer comes from Shakespeare's 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 obviously biased 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 (without violating his contract), and this along with the fact that his contract never included not being held accountable for potentially killing Antonio means that the Anti-Semitic court can use this Loophole Abuse to bring down the full force of the law upon Shylock. 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 (note that by the standards of Shakespeare's time his forced conversion would be a just punishment and be considered salvation of the "villain"; Values Dissonance makes it come off as extremely cruel and religiously-intolerant).
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • Baldur's Gate II when you first arrive at Spellhold, the Big Bad quickly imprisons you and steals your soul, then leaving you to rot in a dungeon to be quickly killed by The Dragon, who however ignores the orders and thinks that there is more fun by giving you a chance and hunting you through the maze. This single decision will backfire spectacularly.
  • 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. Nothing is made of it until that moment.
  • Ganondorf in The Legend of Zelda gets this twice.
    • Ganondorf's manipulation of Zelda and Link in The Legend of Zelda: 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 human 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.
  • 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 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. Problem is that the cultists vastly overestimated Chzo's interest in doing so. Chzo was more interested in the pain and suffering the cultists inflected upon themselves in making the bridge and the emotional pain when they realized Chzo doesn't really care about them.
  • In Final Fantasy IX, Kuja's mastery of Xanatos Speed Chess allows him to out-maneuver every other character and eventually ascend to become a Person of Mass Destruction unrivaled by any other in the story. He celebrates by killing his master, and then prepares to finally Take Over the World. However, the spirit of his master then tells him that his victory is meaningless, because Kuja was designed to have a finite lifespan and thus will die soon. Kuja... does not take it well. At all.
  • In Final Fantasy VI, Kefka gets what he wants, ascending to godhood by absorbing the power of the three statues and then rearranging them. Once he's arrived at the pinnacle, he suddenly loses all sense of purpose, and sets about killing people for his own amusement, until he grows bored of that too. Following this, he just decides to destroy the world because he believes that life has become unbearably meaningless. The protagonists, meanwhile, inverted the trope entirely by finding purpose and reasons to live after their defeat, and are able to put a stop to him.
  • 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.
  • Killing the Jedi Masters in Knights of the Old Republic II and effectively wiping out the Jedi Order results in Kreia confronting The Exile. Asking what, if anything, they have really accomplished. Pointing out that its gotten them no closer to defeating the Sith who are hunting them, or brought the Exile any sense of peace.
  • 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 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 
  • 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 the death penalty or death by an assassin. Phoenix can choose to keep pleading not guilty, but Engarde just confesses to avoid the assassin's wrath.
  • Case 2 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies has Florent L'Belle as the killer of the day. His plan was to steal the content of the Forbidden Chamber, a gold ingot, by murdering the chamber's owner. Unfortunately for him, while he did managed to find out what was inside the Forbidden Chamber, the ingot had been stolen many years earlier, so he gained nothing but a murder conviction.

    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.

  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • In the Joe Oriolo Felix the Cat cartoons, the villains, Professor and Rock Bottom, are always trumped by Felix, be it through his intervention, their sheer incompetence or just pure bad luck. But whereas Professor, Felix's main nemesis, never once scored a victory over Felix, Rock Bottom actually did manage to score a victory over Felix in "Penelope the Elephant"—but even that victory doesn't pay off for him in the long run. The episode's plot is centered on the eponymous elephant who has gotten lost from her Rajah, who offers a 50,000,000 bakshee reward for her return. Felix finds Penelope and intends her safe return, but Rock Bottom gets word about the reward, kidnaps her and ties up Felix, and makes it to the Rajah's palace to claim the money reward before Felix can stop him. He is promptly given it by the Rajah—but it turns out that thanks to foreign exchange rates, 50,000,000 bakshees is only worth 10 cents in American money. Rock Bottom is so flabbergasted at this outcome, that he angrily throws the meager award aside and goes into shock, while Felix gets the last laugh.
  • 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?
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • In Rocko's Modern Life, 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).
  • 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.
  • In Kim Possible, Drakken steals the royalty money Ron gets for inventing the Naco, as in '99 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.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987):
    • In "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.
    • In "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.
  • Ben 10:
  • 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.
  • Free Willy: Jessie and Willy were looking for a lost treasure and lost it to the villain. Then, it was revealed the chest actually contained whistles.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "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.
    • In "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.
    • An even more epic one happens in "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.
    • In "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.
    • In "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.
  • Played with in The Dreamstone. 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.
  • 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.
  • In The Smurfs 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.
  • 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.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, shy researcher Jervis Tetch has been friendzoned by his co-worker Alice, with whom he is infatuated. 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 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."
  • 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.
  • Gargoyles:
    • In one episode, "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.
  • 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.
  • While most of the victories by The Light in Young Justice 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 is 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 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?"
  • 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 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...) This stuff makes Plutonium look like a wet firecracker: even trace amounts of it are as powerful as conventional nuclear missile materials, and 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.
  • 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.
  • The Codename: Kids Next Door 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.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: Toffee’s Evil Plan to recover his missing finger and restore his full powers, making him nigh-unstoppable, goes off without a hitch... only to be nullified seconds later when Star manages to attain her Super Mode, allowing her to blast him with so much raw power that even his precious Healing Factor can’t save him.
  • 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.
  • 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, "Brain Drain". 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.
  • The Justice League Unlimited episode "Patriot Act" has Wade Eiling, having used a Supersoldier 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.


Video Example(s):

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


Boscha Still Loses

Boscha's team win the bet to let them 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.

How well does it match the trope?

4.56 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / MeaninglessVillainVictory

Media sources:

Main / MeaninglessVillainVictory