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Near-Villain Victory

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Erich: Have you noticed how we did really well at the start of the war and the Allies nearly lost, but now things seem to be going a lot better for them?
Hans: Yeah?
Erich: Well, have you ever seen a film?
Hans: ...what's your point?
Erich: Well, I've never seen a film where the good guys start off incredibly successfully, really nearly achieve their goals, then the baddies come back strongly but the good guys still eventually win; whereas I have seen a lot of films where the baddies nearly win at the beginning and then the good guys come back strongly and eventually win.
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All hope looks lost. Soon the Big Bad will achieve their goal of taking over/destroying the city/world/universe, and there's nothing the heroes can do to stop them! But then WHAM — something unexpected happens, and the tide turns in the heroes' favor, allowing them to overcome the villain and win.

This is what we call a Near-Villain Victory, where the bad guys look like they're going to win only to get defeated at the last moment.

It is a given that in battles between the forces of good and evil, the heroes will win most of the time and the villains will be defeated in the end. So, the writers will come up with scenarios that stack the odds in the villains' favor and give them minor victories, thus raising tension by getting the audience to think that maybe this time the hero won't save the day.

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Often, it's the very fact the villain is so close to victory that results in their downfall. Maybe they've got the heroes on the run, maybe they've got every right to think they're going to win or already have... then they get cocky. Because they already declared victory, they come to think the hero is no longer a real threat to them. Sometimes, they might even ignore the hero to focus on putting the finishing touches to their plan or announce themselves the supreme Evil Overlord, confident they've got nothing to worry about. This gives the heroes (or their reinforcements) the opening to make a big, crippling blow when the Big Bad is least expecting it.

The Near Villain Victory is closely related to the Eucatastrophe, a term coined by J. R. R. Tolkiennote  and defined as a sudden turn of events that makes things turn out well in a situation where all hope seems to be lost. However, Tolkien considered it a defining characteristic of an eucatastrophe that it is ultimately not brought about by the hard work of mortal heroes, but by some intervention or action beyond the heroes' control—in effect, a miracle. Hence not every Near Villain Victory is an eucatastrophe.

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When this trope gets subverted and the villain still wins anyway, you have a Hope Spot.

Compare You Can't Thwart Stage One. Might overlap with Darkest Hour and Tear Dryer. Often used to set up a plot about coming Back from the Brink when it occurs in video games. If it gets bad enough, then Only the Author Can Save Them Now. In video games, the Instant-Win Condition can easily result in this trope. Contrast Meaningless Villain Victory or even The Bad Guy Wins.


Example subpages

Other examples:

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    Asian Animation 
  • The goal of Lamput's villains Fat Doc and Slim Doc is to capture Lamput, an orange shapeshifting blob that Escaped from the Lab. One episode has Fat Doc with Lamput in the lab, where he places him in a room that's mostly empty save for the presence of a cardboard box and expects him to stay there... only for Lamput to stick to Fat Doc's bottom as he walks away, thus narrowly escaping imprisonment.
  • Happens a lot in Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf. Wolffy has come close to eating the goats on numerous occasions, even making it as far as tying them up and putting them in a boiling pot, but the goats always find a way to escape at the last minute.

    Comic Books 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics): Antoine's Evil Twin from Anti-Mobius was banished to Mobius Prime by Anti-Sonic, and decided to use it to his advantage to seize power. He successfully impersonates his prime counterpart for an entire year, and came close to taking over the Kingdom of Acorn by poisoning King Max and marrying Sally. He only fails at the end because Sally's elder brother Elias decided to take the throne in place of his father, and Patch's subsequent attempt to kill Elias leads to him being exposed and Sonic booting him back to Anti-Mobius.
  • The Avengers:
    • in an issue of the The Avengers (Lee & Kirby) run, Kang The Conqueror realizes that all he needs to defeat the Avengers is to get a Robot Spider-Man to join the team. The robot's turned away because no one liked Spider-Man, so it makes up a story about knowing where missing teammate Iron Man is. On the rescue mission the robot systematically separates and takes out all the Avengers, but before he can finish them off the real Spider-Man shows up upset at the impostor and in battle figures out how to shut off the robot. Predictably, Kang learns of his failure and hangs his head in shame.
    • This plan worked so well though that when the robot got turned back on by accident it, once again, managed to subdue the current lineup of Avengers, and that wasn't even its goal this time. Luckily, Spider-Man's clone happened to be in the area.
    • This trope seems to be very common for Kang; in The Kang Dynasty storyline, he nukes Washington DC and conquers the entire world. It takes a group of off-world heroes commanding a very powerful alien device to even begin to overthrow him, and they still would have failed Kang's son hadn't betrayed him.
  • W.I.T.C.H. loves this trope, having pulled it in every major story arc at least once. The Trials of the Oracle arc takes the cake, as it does it three times: first the arc starts with Phobos taking over Kandrakar under everyone's nose, then the Guardians retrieve Elyon and gives her back the Crown of Light with her powers only to discover it was actually a transformed Cedric, and then, after Cedric has been recaptured and Phobos has thrown himself in the infinite to not be recaptured or having to face another No-Holds-Barred Beatdown at Will's hands (especially now that she doesn't have to hold back), ends with Phobos returning thanks to his ace in the hole and nearly defeating the Guardians before a chance accident frees them from his hold as he's real enough to be disintegrated.
  • Secret Wars (1984) has this. Doctor Doom takes the Beyonder's powers and becomes omnipotent. The heroes try to talk him into releasing his power and ... he destroys the lot of them. This is an issue cliffhanger. All the heroes die.
  • In The Transformers: Dark Cybertron, a badly injured Megatron states that the Simanzi Massacre, where half of Cybertron's already-depleted population died, and part of the planet was superheated to the extent that it glowed, was the nearest the Decepticons ever came to winning the war.
  • The Ultimates:
    • In the first arc, the Chitauri infiltrate the psi division of SHIELD, send them to a wild goose chase and detonate a bomb to kill the Ultimates. The Wasp is overpowered, and the Chitauri are ready to launch their program to destroy the human free will. But then, it turns out that Iron Man managed to shield the Ultimates and a portion of the SHIELD agents from the explosion, and the Chitauri main fleet shows up to order them to pack and leave, because of intergalactic reasons.
    • In the second arc, the Liberators capture and defeat the Ultimates, but then fall down one by one once they counter attack. Then Loki unleashed his godlike powers, and none of the Ultimates can stand against it... except Thor, who brings the armies of Asgard with him to defeat Loki.

    Fairy Tales 
  • "The Black Bull of Norroway" is the example of eucatastrophe cited by Tolkien in "On Fairy-Stories": the heroine has, after a long and miserable quest, won her way to where the prince is. She can't get at him, though. She bribes the princess who intends to marry him, and gets to his bedchamber, to find that she can't wake him. (The princess drugged him.) She tries again. And again. And the third time, the prince had been told by some servants that someone had been begging him to wake up during the night, and doesn't drink the drug.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): In this Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) fanfiction, it's hinted when Monster X is receiving Cold-Blooded Torture, and outright confirmed by Word of God, that Ghidorah comes within a hair's breadth of succeeding at its goal of permanently breaking the Vivienne Graham half's mind so that she'll be nothing more than a deranged monster. It's later hinted that if Ghidorah chose to retreat into the Hollow Earth with the captive Monster X instead of going back to try and kill its enemies, it would've succeeded in fully breaking Vivienne.
  • In the Jackie Chan Adventures fic Queen of All Oni:
    • Queen Jade comes up with a plan to steal the captured masks. It's based off what happened when Dark Jackie stole the Talismans, and although the mask is attached to Captain Black, the plan still works to a point, Jade uses the mask to sneak into Section 13, and if it weren't for Wisker's interference, SHE WOULD HAVE SUCCEEDED!
    • Ikazuki and the mask-empowered Hak Foo come closer to totally defeating the J-Team in combat than any other adversary, both only being defeated by unforeseen interference.
  • All three of Trigger Happy Fanboy's Pokémon fanfics have these. And considering the fact that they're all in the same universe, they live in a pretty deadly world.
    • In Dance Of Destiny: Kyurem's subordinate, Dialga, has Celebi immobilized between dimensions, Darkrai is beaten into the ground by Zapdos, Moltres, and Articuno, Tianna is unconscious, and Axel is about to be eaten by the said Big Bad. Cue Rayquaza to fly in and engage Kyurem in battle. Axel manages to revive Arceus, who opens up a can of Roaring Rampage of Revenge on Kyurem, and then traps the Legendary in the Giant Chasm for all of eternity.
    • In the Forget Shipping duology (Let The Flames Begin/And Watch Cities Burn) Ghetsis has the Griseous, Adamant, and Lustrous Orbs, Brendan has been captured by Giratina in the Distortion World and is about to be eaten, and Lucas has lost to N. Team Plasma has subtly expelled Team Galactic from Shinnoh and pronounced themselves as the saviors of the region, Dawn and May are on the run, and Cynthia is too busy fending off Ghetsis's Hydreigon to do anything to help.
    • Blood in the Water has the biggest Near-Villain Victory of them all. Effectively, Josh HAS won. Anna and Siobhan have been stalled by fighting Franz, who is attempting to kill them with his Lugia. Skyla is being deterred by a brainwashed Rico. Giovanni is attacking Mewtwo with Genesect. Josh himself has beaten all of Haleigh's Pokemon and forced Arceus to intervene, pissing it off enough to use Judgment and level the island, exactly what he wanted to happen. Arceus is pulled back into its own dimension thanks to Josh's Olympus Mons, and there is no way to win. But then Giratina pulls a Heel–Face Turn and sides with Haleigh, forcing it and Haleigh to engage Josh and his Rayquaza in an aerial battle above the ruined city.
  • In The Dimensional War, both stories see the villains very close to triumph. In the first, if not for the Stormtrooper Rebellion, the Resistance would have been crushed. In the second, the team finds themselves in captivity, save one person and a backup team, and after their freedom they still barely, barely win the final fight.
  • In Equestria: A History Revealed, throughout the entire Equestrian Civil War, Nightmare Moon was allowing Celestia to string up many small victories, as a build up in order to ultimately crush all of her forces in the penultimate Battle of Canterlot with an army three times greater in number. The In-Universe historians agree that this event served as the crossroads of history, as Nightmare Moon should've easily won with such an advantage, and the results of the battle had the potential to shift the destiny of Equestria. But by some miracle, Celestia and her forces were able to pull through and gain the upper hand.
  • Turnabout Storm: Part 4/4 sees Phoenix Wright completely out of evidence and witnesses that might exonerate Rainbow Dash. With no options left to the defense, the Judge delivers his verdict. OBJECTION! Fluttershy appears on the stand after realizing that she has new testimony based on evidence that had been presented earlier that day; evidence that leads to the extension of the trial, a new pony of interest being brought in for questioning, and pushing the series' conclusion to Part 5/4.
  • A Future of Friendship, a History of Hate: At the climax of Episode 2, Ruinate — having already defeated the Princesses — succeeds in immunizing himself to the power of the Elements of Harmony, followed by neutralizing them completely by destroying Twilight's soul, leaving nothing to stop him from destroying Equestria. Fortunately, Amity intervenes, using the bond between the Mane Six to restore Twilight and unlock the full power of the Elements, allowing them to defeat Ruinate.
  • In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, Dr. Wily has come extremely close to winning the world and killing Mega Man at times. The most prominent example is Episode 11, where he would have won and killed him if not for ProtoMan turning on him. Even after Wily loses in that episode, Mega Man almost dies anyway because of the wounds inflicted on him.
  • In Super Sentai vs. Power Rangers: The Liveblog, Radiguet would have won if he kept his pride in check. During Epic 34, he succeeded in breaking Rika, making her the host to the Eldritch horror. Then he revealed his plan to eventually kill her and make the Eldritch's powers his own. Later in the finale, he defeated the All-Stars, but the Scouts saved them in the nick of time.
  • Super Sentai vs. Super Sentai: At Chapter 26, Radiguet was victorious. The girls were all in his captivity, the boys suffered Fate Worse than Death and Earth is free for his further invasion. At Chapter 27...thanks to insubordination of Juzou and Jarmin, the girls were freed and set everything right.
  • In Bruce Has a Problem, this is how Director Bones regards the extremely narrow defeat of the referendum to secede Gotham from the US. He's perfectly aware among other things that if the public knew the government released Gareth Baxter on Gotham to get him out of their hair, it's likely Bruce Wayne would already have his own country.
  • It happens in Hellsister Trilogy when Darkseid speaks the Anti-Life Equation, effectively enslaving all sentient beings in the universe. He would have won there and then forever, were it not for the fact that Supergirl managed to hypnotize Highfather's daughter into neutralizing Darkseid's words with the Life Equation.
  • In The Fifth Act, Cloud and Kunsel are completely at the mercy of Hojo who has the full backing of ShinRa and the Turks to do his time travel experiments with them unable to fight back. But Cloud helps Kunsel escape with his Ribbon to better endure the experiments and bought Kunsel time to escape as a distraction.
  • In Loved and Lost, Prince Jewelius gets what he wants right in the first quarter! By playing the events of "A Canterlot Wedding" in his favor, he overthrows Princess Celestia, becomes Equestria's respected king, manipulates Twilight Sparkle into becoming his student and future queen, and banishes the princesses as well as Twilight's brother and friends from Equestria, with their reputations tarnished and their self-respect torn to shreds. However, Jewelius' need to stimulate his malicious desires leads him to lure the banished heroes back to Canterlot only one week later, setting in motion the events that lead to his downfall.
  • At the final battle of Fire Emblem Awakening story Golden Threads Tie Us, Grima is looming over Ylisstol, countless Risen are overunning the capital city, and the heroes have been unable to awaken the Lucina's Falchion in order to stop him. All of sudden an army of heroes hailing from another timeline arrive just in time to save them.

    Films — Animated 
  • Barbie films:
    • In Barbie of Swan Lake, after rendering the Magic Crystal powerless, Rothbart blasts Daniel and Odette with his magic, killing them both. He even gloats that he's won just before their love and sacrifice destroys him.
    • In Barbie: Mariposa, Henna comes within two seconds of killing Queen Marabella, becoming Queen herself and letting the Skeezites invade Flutterfield, but she wakes up just in time.
    • In Barbie: Princess Charm School, Dame Devin is only a few seconds away from having her daughter crowned ruler of Gardania, but Blair arrives just in time to reclaim it and announce herself as the true heir to the throne.
    • In Barbie and the Secret Door, Malucia successfully steals all of Zinnia's magic, and drains all of Alexa's magic just before her scepter explodes.
  • Scar from The Lion King (1994) not only succeeds in taking over Pride Rock, but actually holds onto this position for several years (despite a 0% Approval Rating) until Simba returns. And he almost won there as well. The only reason he didn't is because his Fatal Flaw, Pride, came in as he decided to let Simba in on "a little secret" before killing him leading to Simba's Unstoppable Rage.
  • Jafar comes disturbingly close to triumphing over Aladdin, but chooses to try and subject Aladdin to a Fate Worse than Death rather than actually killing him. It's a bit more justified in the sequel since Jafar's a genie and can't directly kill Aladdin, but still, he comes close several times. And if it weren't for Iago pulling a Heel–Face Turn and betraying him, Jafar very likely would've won.
  • In Turtles Forever, 2003 Shredder nearly manages to kill the Original Comic Turtles, nearly destroying every single universe, until he's done in by Exploding Throwing Stars and really bad timing by Bebop and Rocksteady, that's right, the 2003 Shredder was killed by Bebop And Rocksteady.
  • Mother Gothel has two instances in Tangled. After manipulating Rapunzel into thinking Flynn abandoned her, she had her ready to willingly remain in seclusion forever. And later when Flynn comes to the rescue, she stabs him and Rapunzel is again ready to remain her wiling prisoner if she will let her heal Flynn. But instead, Flynn sacrifices himself by cutting Rapunzel's hair short, thus losing Gothel the source of her youth, and with it, her life.
  • Lord Shen in Kung Fu Panda 2 was able to successfully take over Gongmen City, build up an arsenal of cannons, and capture the Furious Five, also seemingly killing Po in the process. He's in the middle of riding out on his fleet to conquer all of China when Po comes back to stop him and even then he needs to pull out an Eleventh Hour Super Power to do so.
  • In Zootopia, Bellwether has Nick and Judy trapped in a museum exhibit and darts Nick with the Night Howler serum to turn him savage. He hunts down Judy and with her back against the wall, he lunges forward to crush her throat while Bellwether looks on triumphantly... only to discover too late that it was all part of Judy and Nick's Batman Gambit and Bellwether's gloating has been recorded. As a result, Bellwether is arrested and her plans foiled, allowing predators and prey throughout Zootopia to reunite.
  • The climax of The Little Mermaid (1989) has Ursula come with inches of total victory several times. On Ariel's last day as a human, Ursula under the guise of Vanessa uses Ariel's stolen voice to brainwash Eric into marrying her, and the voiceless Ariel helplessly watches with tears in her eyes as the wedding ship departs. Scuttle and friends manage to interrupt the wedding just in time and break Ursula's magic shell, returning Ariel's voice to her and freeing Eric from mind control, but the sun has already set, so Ariel reverts to mermaid form and Ursula drags her back into the depths to a Fate Worse than Death, whence Triton offers to take Ariel's place in the contract, allowing Ursula full reign over the ocean. When Eric attacks Ursula with a harpoon from a rowboat, Flotsam and Jetsam capture him and she nearly blasts him with Triton's trident, except Ariel grabs her and redirects the blast to kill Flotsam and Jetsam instead, driving Ursula to invoke Make My Monster Grow. Following this, she traps Ariel in a whirlpool and charges a Wave Motion Trident blast for the coup de grace gloating how Ariel has failed to kiss Eric, but Eric commandeers a derelict ship and impales her with its bowsprit, causing the blast to backfire and electrocute her. Even in death, she almost takes Eric down with her.
  • In The Rescuers Down Under, McLeach comes very close to winning. In the climax, he's managed to capture Marahute and has Cody at his mercy, ready to be fed to the crocodiles, with Bianca and Jake unable to do anything. If he had just dropped Cody in with them immediately instead of toying with the boy, or if he'd managed to sever the rope holding Cody on his first shot, that would have been it, and he'd have gotten away scot-free.
  • Toy Story 3: Lotso leaves the gang to their imminent death in the incinerator by pretending to help them so he can escape, only for them to be saved by the aliens using a loader they found. Had the aliens not wandered away from the gang and found the loader that would eventually rescue them, Lotso would have won.
  • In Cars 3, Lightning willingly resigns himself from the Florida 500 halfway through to let his former trainer Cruz Ramirez fulfill her dream of becoming a race car, realizing she deserves to race more than he did, though he gives her his number first, and she eventually wins. Because she won and he didn't, he has to retire from racing for good following a bet with scheming businessman Sterling, but right when he is about to accept his fate, the winner board is updated so Lightning also won the race alongside Cruz (because he started it thanks to a loophole), thus he wins the bet and doesn't have to retire. If it weren't for their shared victory, Sterling would've won.
  • In the climax of Hercules, Hades' is nearly victorious: Hercules is De Powered, demoralized, separated from his allies, and about to be killed by the Cyclops, his forces have captured all the gods on Mount Olympus, and he's ready to begin his reign as the new ruler of the cosmos. It all falls apart when his former subordinate Meg pulls a Heel–Face Turn after falling in love with Herc. She ends up being a Spanner in the Works by freeing Pegasus, convincing Phil to come back, who then inspires Herc to defeat the Cyclops without his Super Strength, followed by Meg unintentionally breaking Hades' deal with Hercules by performing a Heroic Sacrifice to save Herc from a falling pillarnote , allowing Hercules to save the gods and help get rid of the Titans for good. Hades himself voices how close he was to victory while raging over his failure, taking his anger out on Meg for betraying him.
    Hades: WE WERE SO CLOSE! So close, but we tripped at the finish line. Why? Because our little nut, Meg, had to go all noble!
  • In 101 Dalmatians, Cruella De Vil is so hell-bent on getting her dalmatian fur coat that she lodges her car into the van transporting the dalmatians, making her impossible to shake loose. It's only when Horace panics and tears out the steering wheel of Jasper's truck, which causes it to go out of control and crash into Cruella, destroying both cars and leaving the villains adrift in a pile of car wreckage, that the dalmatians are able to escape.
  • In My Little Pony: The Movie (1986), Hydia nearly manages to Smooze the entirety of Ponyland, and by the end, has all but Paradise Estate covered. However, by this time, Megan and her party have returned with the Flutter Ponies, who handily defeat the Smooze and remove it from the area. Had they arrived moments too late, Hydia would have covered the entire land with Smooze.
  • In Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Forte manipulates Belle to head into the Black Forest to find a Christmas tree and almost drown, convinces Beast she was leaving him behind, leads to him locking her in a dungeon when she rescues her, and nearly manipulates Beast into destroying the rose. The only reason he doesn't win is because a petal from the rose falls on the storybook Belle made for Beast as a present, which makes him read it and subsequently have his faith in her restored.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • At the end of All Is Lost, the man sets fire to his raft in an attempt to hail a passing ship. He jumps in the water, and, realising he has just burned his last lifeline, gives himself up to the sea. As he starts to sink, he looks up, and sees a small boat coming to rescue him.
  • Batman & Robin: Poison Ivy might have failed to separate the Dynamic Duo and kill them with her kiss, but she still easily beats them both in a matter of seconds in her lair. She “breaks up” with Robin by shoving him into her pond and has her vines try to drown him, and Batman’s ambush quickly fails when vines grab him and start crushing him. Poison Ivy nearly escapes to join Mr. Freeze in freezing Gotham, with him completely unaware that she tried to kill his wife, but then Batgirl makes her entrance and manages to put Ivy in her place.
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy:
    • The Dark Knight. Everything is at the brink of chaos and oblivion before the Joker's nihilistic dreams are proven wrong, and Harvey Dent is stopped just in time only for Batman to make a pretty hefty personal sacrifice to keep his legacy intact.
    • Its follow up, The Dark Knight Rises, takes this a step further. Bane beats Batman and heavily injures him, flies him halfway the world to let him rot in an underground prison. Then takes over Gotham and turns it into a police state, likewise revealing the secret behind Harvey's death. The city nearly tears itself apart in the ensuring chaos which is just a waiting period so Wayne's energy reactor, now turned into an atomic bomb, can slowly overload. On the day they're meant to activate it, Bruce escapes his imprisonment just in time to help Gordon and the rallied remaining police mount war against Bane's forces. And even when Batman gains the upper hand. The last minute reveal of Talia Al Ghul tips the scales once again, leading to a chase through the city to stop the reactor and Bruce seemingly sacrificing his life to save Gotham.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019):
    • This happens twice with King Ghidorah. ​Basically the entire last hour of the movie is a Near-Villain Victory for Ghidorah, after Godzilla is crippled by the Oxygen Destroyer and, without his Arch-Enemy to challenge him, Ghidorah promptly awakens and takes control of the other Titans around the world (with the exception of Mothra) and commands them to begin destroying the planet for Ghidorah's desires, with seemingly nothing able to stand a chance at stopping Ghidorah.
      • When Godzilla returns for the Final Battle, the tide turns in King Ghidorah's favor when the latter spontaneously decimates Godzilla's military backup, kills Mothra, and has a heavily-weakened Godzilla down on the ground and begins Vampiric Draining him to death before he can go thermonuclear. Had it not been for the Russells' intervention using the ORCA, Ghidorah would have likely killed Godzilla there and then, and humanity and the Earth would be doomed.
    • Rodan seems to come very close to killing Mothra during their duel in Boston, badly burning and weakening her, before pinning her to a skyscraper and attempting to bite her head off.
  • Heathers: JD nearly succeeds in his ultimate scheme to blow up the whole school and frame it as a mass suicide. The bombs are already planted, the clock's ticking down with less than a minute to go, and only Veronica's determination, not wanting herself and all her friends to die before they've even turned 20, manages to convince him to end it.
  • The final battle over Area 51 in Independence Day. The alien saucer's primary Death Ray is already firing up when a Heroic Sacrifice by a human pilot destroys the entire ship by ramming its weak point.
  • Occasionally in the James Bond universe, with Goldfinger, Spectre and You Only Live Twice being the most notable examples.
  • Common occurrence throughout the Indiana Jones series:
    • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: First, Donovan thinks he’s found the grail when he enters its secret chamber. However, Elsa hands him a gaudy cup and he drinks from it, assuming he’ll become immortal, but he ages to death instead. Afterward, Elsa takes the grail within yards of the temple’s exit, but sets off a self-destruct sequence by stepping on the forbidden seal. In a Take My Hand! scenario, she reaches for the grail below as she hangs onto Indy over a chasm. Her hand can nearly grasp it, which encourages her to keep trying despite the danger. Right as she’s about to grab it, her other hand slips from Indy’s hold and she falls to her death.
    • Raiders of the Lost Ark: Indiana Jones arrives on the Nazi-controlled island and finds The Ark, but the Nazis capture him and hold him and Marion prisoner while they open it up. This turns out to be a bad idea on their part, due to God hating the Nazis and the fact that the Nazis look at the Ark when it is opened. The angels that come out of the Ark soon attack everyone except Indy and Marion (who kept their eyes closed). All the Nazis on the island are killed and Indy and Marion are freed, as when they reopen their eyes they find that their bonds are cut.
  • Jumanji: After a long hunt throughout the film, Van Pelt corners Alan in the climax and finally seizes the oppurtinity to kill him. This actually would have happened if the titular cursed boardgame wasn't finished at the last second sucking everything that came out of it back inside it (including Van Pelt himself).
  • At the end of Jurassic Park, the raptors have surrounded Grant, Sattler, Tim, and Lex and are seconds away from killing them when the T. rex suddenly shows up and kills the raptors, allowing the heroes to get away.
  • In Kingsman: The Secret Service, the outcome is a Partial Villain Victory. Valentine managed to activate his system during, at least, five minutes.
  • Leonna Berrett, the control freak villain of Lean on Me almost gets this, but with most of the students passing the basic skills exam thanks to Clark's tactics, Clark is allowed to stay principal, much to her anger.

  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In The Avengers (2012), Loki's Chitauri hordes have almost completely overwhelmed the Avengers. The Security Council, invoking this trope, decide to write New York off and launch a nuclear strike with the intent to wipe out the Chitauri, and the Avengers, and the millions of innocent civilians. The heroics of Mr. Anthony Stark negate the need for such drastic measures.
    • No other villain came as close to winning as HYDRA in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in a plan that spanned decades. Through their infiltration of SHIELD and various governments, they come within seconds of succeeding in their plan that would have resulted in the deaths of over 20 million people.
    • In Guardians of the Galaxy Ronan the Accuser has landed upon Xandar despite all attempts to stop his descent (and possibly even hastened by the efforts to slow him down). Rocket attempts a foolhardy charge out of anger, only to be casually swatted aside where he lands next to his damaged super-weapon, but he hardly has the time to fix it. Assured of his imminent victory, Ronan begins his Evil Gloating. And then Peter Quill starts dancing.
    • Avengers: Age of Ultron ends with Ultron coming within mere seconds of triggering an extinction event comparable to the one that took out the dinosaurs by lifting a gigantic chunk of Earth high into the sky and then dropping it. He actually raises it to a necessary altitude and starts it on its way back down before the Avengers manage to break it apart enough to prevent a disaster.
    • By the time Doctor Strange and Karl Mordo arrive in Hong Kong, Dormamu's zealots have already succeeded in destroying the final sanctum that protects Earth from being absorbed by the Dark Dimension. It's only by Strange deciding he needs to break the rules to save the day and taps into the Dangerous Forbidden Technique of time manipulation to reverse everything to a point he and Mordo can swing the odds in their favor.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Ego comes dangerously close to triumphing in the climactic battle. Yondu's Yaka Arrow is broken, he and Rocket are buried under heavy rocks which are about to crush them to death. Meanwhile, Drax and Mantis are drowning in quicksand. Gamora and Nebula are about to be squeezed to death by Ego's energy tentacles. Baby Groot is trapped in the cave passage which closes up around him, threatening to detonate the bomb. Peter gets impaled by Ego's energy tentacles and moans in pain. The "Expansion" advances on the planets, killing innocents by the thousands. Thanks to Yondu's last-minute Don't Think, Feel advice, however, Peter manages to tap into his 11th-Hour Superpower and fight off Ego long enough for Baby Groot to plant the bomb on Ego's brain core.
    • Avengers: Endgame: As the second closest villain to victory, Thanos comes dangerously close to acquiring the Infinity Stones, stealing the gauntlet and managing to perform another snap (after the events of Avengers: Infinity War), despite the heroes' best effort. It takes one last guile moment on Tony's part to remove the Infinity Stones from the gauntlet.
  • The Muppet Movie merges this with Surprisingly Realistic Outcome. Doc Hopper is on the hunt for Kermit the Frog after the latter rejects his offer to be spokesperson for his frog's legs business, ultimately deciding to just kill him instead. In the end, Kermit stands up to Hopper and tries to reason with him, hoping to call his bluff. Unfortunately, Hopper is not bluffing; Kermit misjudged him. There are truly awful human beings in the world, who don't give a damn who they hurt to get what they want, and Hopper is one of them; he demonstrates this by quietly saying, "All right, boys... kill him." If Animal hadn't taken the growth pills, resulting in him becoming a giant and giving Hopper and his goons the scare of their lives, they might have succeeded in their goal of killing Kermit (and by extension, the Muppets, who were with him) in cold blood.
  • In Neighbors, Teddy almost manages to get the cops to leave his party at the end of the film. Luckily, several developments allow his plan to fail.
  • In Oz the Great and Powerful, the titular character's balloon is shot down by a Wicked Witch and goes down in flames. Then Oz reveals to his friends that he faked his death and convinces the witches (and the people of Oz) that his death made him even more powerful.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Blackbeard successfully reaches the Fountain of Youth in the climax and, despite encountering and being impaled by his would-be assailant as well as the fountain being destroyed, manages to drink one of the chalices from the fountain before it dries out. The only problem was... he drank from the wrong chalice.
  • In Return to Oz the Nome King could have turned the protagonists to stone at any moment, but instead decides to have some fun by having them guess which ornament is the Scarecrow, giving them three guesses each and if they lose, they turn into an ornament. He is sure they won't be able to find the Scarecrow, however, when only Dorothy is left, on her last guess, completely by chance, she restores the Scarecrow, and only after does she realize people from Oz turn into green ornaments. This in turn prompts the Nome King's Villainous Breakdown where he tries to kill the main characters, and would have succeeded had Billina not laid an egg, which fell down his throat and poisoned him.
  • Happens twice in Rush Hour 2: Chief Inspector Lee and Carter are both captured by Ricky Tan's right-hand woman, Hu Li. Just as she's about to kill the both of them, undercover agent Isabella Molina interferes and spares their life. Later in the film, Lee is captured again and is about to be tortured and killed by Hu Li but is yet again saved by Isabella Molina who reveals her identity as a U.S.S. secret service agent and attempts to arrest Hu Li.
  • Used magnificently in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982) when Percy comes back from the "dead", having supposedly been executed by firing squad. The look on Chauvelin's face when he turns around and sees him standing there is absolutely priceless.
    Percy: My dear chap! I would never dream of depriving you of your moment of triumph. Alas, a moment was all I could spare.
  • At the end of Scream 4 it seems like the killer's plan of recreating the Woodsburo murders - using the logic behind movie remakes - and replacing Sidney as the Final Girl will work. Then Jill makes a mistake when she tells Gale about their matching arm injury, which couldn't be possible unless Jill was the Ghostface that attacked her at the party. This leads to Jill dying at the hands of Sidney who she thought was dead.
  • Star Trek:
    • Done so very masterfully in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with the countdown to the Genesis detonation.
    • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: The conspiracy to keep the Federation and the Klingons from achieving peace came *this* close to succeeding had Kirk and co. not intervened and saved the Federation President from being assassinated at the very last second.
    • In Star Trek: First Contact, the Borg have taken over most of the Enterprise-E and are about to destroy Zefram Cochrane's warp spacecraft the Phoenix, preventing first contact with the Vulcans, before Data reveals himself as The Mole to the Borg.
    • Also done masterfully in the new Star Trek (2009), where the Ax-Crazy Romulan ship nukes one planet, wipes out two fleets, and actually arrives in orbit over San Francisco and starts drilling not even 300 feet from the Golden Gate Bridge before the Big Damn Heroes moment.
    • Star Trek Beyond: Krall was about to activate and release a bioweapon to disintegrate every living being in Yorktown before Kirk had him Thrown Out the Airlockand he almost went with him.
  • Star Wars:
    • Moments before Darth Maul's unlikely demise in The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan Kenobi was dangling from a wall fixture inside a bottomless pit, with Maul about to make a killing stroke.
    • In Attack of the Clones, Count Dooku has the surviving Jedi on Geonosis trapped before the Republican gunships arrive.
    • In Rogue One, it's a Foregone Conclusion that the rebels will succeed in stealing the Death Star plans. They still have to work for it, and even afterwards Darth Vader comes within inches of getting them back.
    • Probably one of the best-known examples is in A New Hope. The Death Star is about to blow up Yavin IV and the Rebel Alliance with it, their X-wing squad sent to destroy it have all been eliminated except for Luke Skywalker, who at the moment is about to be shot down by Darth Vader, when the Millennium Falcon appears out of nowhere, knocking Vader's TIE fighter into space and allowing Luke to fire the shot to blow it up.
    • The Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi looked bleak for the Rebels for a while: Han and Leia were pinned down outside the shield bunker, unable to get in; the Rebel fleet was outgunned by the Imperial fleet, on top of which, the Death Star was more operational than advertised; and Luke, watching the fleet struggle, had just given in to his anger and tried to kill Palpatine, only to be stopped by Vader, who is bound to the emperor's will in that he must obey his master.
    • In a deleted scene on the 2011 Blu Ray, the Death Star II was just about to obliterate the Endor moon right before it exploded, since it had been rotated out of position to face the moon. If Lando hadn't destroyed the reactor when he did, the Endor system would be filled with barbecued Ewoks.
  • In The Terminator, the Terminator comes insanely close to murdering Sarah Connor in the Tech Noir club and accomplishing SkyNet's mission. He scours the club, first missing her by pure chance, then when he finally spots Sarah, the scene shifts to slow-mo with a droning metallic theme in the background. He calmly walks over and targets his gun's laser sight directly at her head, as Kyle grabs his shotgun from across the room and frantically tries to get the other people out of the way. The Terminator is less than a second from blowing her brains all over the floor when Kyle blasts him. If you pay attention, the Terminator actually fired and missed Sarah due to the impact of Kyle's shot throwing off his balance by a few inches.
  • In both the past and the future in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Magneto almost succeeds at eliminating American leadership and ushering in an era of mutant tyranny backed by the reprogrammed Sentinels, and the Sentinels almost succeed in eliminating the last of the X-Men.
  • Zack Snyder's Justice League features possibly one of the closest villain victories in film history. The League are unable to stop Steppenwolf from forming the Unity in time and are killed in a catastrophic reality-ripping explosion, except for the Flash, who was further away. The Flash is able to undo this by tapping into the Speed Force to run faster than light, traveling a few seconds back in time to just before the Unity forms, allowing the League to triumph this time.

    Literature 
  • Starsnatcher: At the end of the story, the Big Bad succeeds at his plan. Götterdämmerung gets released and starts assimilating everyone in the galaxy. All the heroes except Lucas are dead while Lucas himself has Götterdämmerung and the Big Bad's Eldritch Starship to fight against. The day only gets saved because Lucas sacrifices his humanity to become a godlike AI himself and stop Götterdämmerung.
  • During the defense of the Village in An Outcast in Another World, The Blight achieves its goals and is seconds away from beginning a massive slaughter. It’s only stopped at the last second by a Heroic Sacrifice and excessive explosions.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien not only loved this trope (it appears throughout his books), he also proposed the term "eucatastrophe" for it and identified it as the typical ending of his definition of fairy stories in his essay "On Fairy-Stories". He also pointed out that a lot of beloved stories that don't fit into the fairy-tale category have a similar structure—like the central dogma of Christianity, which is about God Himself being killed, and then coming Back from the Dead. Some examples of it in his own work:
    • The Silmarillion: The final overthrow of Morgoth by the Valar, in response to the plea of Eärendil and Elwing, after Morgoth has destroyed Gondolin and taken over nearly all of Middle-Earth.
    • The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, with the Goblins winning, the protagonists are saved by the arrival of the Eagles.
    • The Fellowship of the Ring: The near-capture of Frodo by the Ringwraiths at the Ford of Bruinen.
    • The Two Towers: Gandalf's arrival at Helm's Deep.
    • The Return of the King:
      • The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, saved by Aragorn's arrival at Minas Tirith.
      • The Battle at the Black Gate - in which most of the main characters expected to die in an attempt to give Frodo a chance - is not the primary eucatastrophe. The real one is Frodo failing at the end of his quest and, in a wonderful twist of fate, Gollum destroying the Ring by accident, which turns everything around, defeating Sauron, which in turn confuses his armies, allowing Aragorn & co to win.
  • In The Hound of the D'Urbervilles, Moran and Moriarty are actually on the back foot in the final story, as Moriarty is neglecting running his Firm to defeat his enemy, Mabuse. He does so, by manipulating Sherlock Holmes to find Mabuse. The plan then is for M&M to kill Holmes, return to London and get back to business, with none who can really oppose Moriarty. But Moran, who has been consistently treated poorly by Moriarty, feels that Moriarty would be fine seeing him go to jail to get on with his evil maths. Put up to it by Irene Adler, more or less, Moran shoots Moriarty, and the rest of Holmes canon (Holmes' near death, Moran's arrest) play out as usual.
  • Harry Potter has tendencies in that direction.
    • Most obviously in Deathly Hallows: everyone believes Harry is dead. Neville has just tried to defy Voldemort, and is getting tortured with a burning Sorting Hat. No one else dares to stand up to Voldemort, who is blockading the school with his Death Eaters. A lot of good guys are dead or wounded. Then the centaurs attack, Neville breaks free and slices Nagini in half, and Harry reveals himself to be Not Quite Dead and zaps Voldemort.
  • In Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal, the titular Villain Protagonist actually manages to get off a shot at Charles De Gaulle and miss before he is finally killed.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire sees a strange variation in A Clash Of Kings, with Stannis's forces being at the gates of King's Landing and looking for all the world like they'll take the city and end a lot of the political conflict of the story before Lord Tywin unexpectedly returns, smashing his host in a surprise attack with the Tyrells. The strange thing is that Stannis is the closest thing to a 'good guy' in the situation, although it's definitely not a total inversion due to the series's notorious Grey-and-Grey Morality and Black-and-Grey Morality.
    • The Lannisters themselves also get this. While it all seems that they have won the war, with most of their opponents now removed, and their rise to power unopposed. They soon start tearing each other apart as they hate each other more than their foes. The result leaves Joffrey and Tywin dead, and Tyrion on the run, without the two of them to keep their reign together, Cersei starts running things to the ground when she becomes queen regent. Everything the Lannisters have fought for through, scheming, backstabbing and manipulation slowly crumbles as the whole realm is now against them, and the ones who are competent enough to hold it together are now gone. Also the war has depleted their funds and the Iron Throne is still heavily in debt, meaning the Iron Bank decides to support Stannis.
    • Mance Rayder the King-Beyond-The-Wall has an army that vastly outnumbers the Night's Watch. Although he has been held off for days, he is wearing the Watch down and threatens in three days to have a horn blown that will apparently destroy the Wall. Fortunately, Stannis has been convinced to respond to the Night's Watch letters and despite his small force scatters the Wildlings and captures Mance.
  • In Warrior Cats, Scourge kills Firestar, and is about to defeat LionClan when Firestar, who is Only Mostly Dead, is revived by StarClan, to kill Scourge. This is because Firestar was given nine lives. However, there was still an off-chance that he would have died, given that Scourge killed the previous Big Bad, who also had nine lives, with one stroke.
  • The Yeerks are always on the edge of victory throughout the Animorphs series.
  • In the Mistborn trilogy, Ruin very nearly manages to destroy the world before Vin becomes a god, and then kills him via Taking You with Me. Even so, the world would probably still have effectively died if Sazed hadn't taken the powers of both Ruin and Preservation, and fixed everything.
  • The Inheritance Cycle begins with King Galbotorix having all but extincted Dragons and their Riders, ruling his Kingdom absolutely, with only a few pockets of resistance on its outskirts. Eragon, a rider trains to beat him, barely manages to prevent being captured for 4 books, only because Galbotorix does not want to kill him, much less won't just fly out to fight him with his Eldritch Abomonation of s Dragon. When the final confrontation begins, he calmly reveals he knows every "secret" they do, proceeds to defeat every countermeasure they had against him so effortlessly. Besides having years of experience, power, swordsmanship, wards against damage over Eragon (which in this universe, almost locks victory in) , he also reveals he has knowledge of The Word, allowing him to control the concept of magic itself.
  • The Wheel of Time has this on a schedule. At the end of every Age, the Dragon fights the Dark One; if he wins, this trope; if he loses, even bigger catastrophe. However, it's possible that the Father of Lies was, well, lying about having won the battle in prior ages. Or it could be future ages and he just doesn't know the difference - the books make it pretty explicit that he's just outside of the Pattern and would be pretty alien to all sorts of its characteristics.
    • Innumerable ones in the books themselves. When the party splits up, there can be as many as several for each segment of the main characters per book. That can come out to a dozen or so of this trope.
    • Both the Aes Sedai and the Dark One try to convince the Dragon that the other side is this trope. Xanatos Speed Chess doesn't begin to describe it. The Dark One even explicitly says that the story is this trope, and it's been thousands of schemes for thousands of years in the making.
  • David Gemmell's novel Legend is about an undertrained and massively outnumbered group of defenders holding the line against an invading horde, knowing that they have no chance of actually defeating the invaders but hoping to take long enough to die that reinforcements will arrive. The horde is literally moments away from killing the last of the defenders when salvation arrives.
  • Short story "Clockpunk and the Vitalizer" comes pretty close to one. The Vitalizer comes damn close to retrieving Dolores after her escape, thanks to both the flurry of city fixtures he flings at her during their downtown chase and just how run-down she is. If it weren’t for the other superheroes catching up, there’s a good chance he would've killed her.
  • The Neverending Story: Bastian gets attacked by the Schlamoofs at the end, who destroy the picture he needs to get home and try to kidnap him. At that very moment Atreyu and Falkor show up and rescue him.
  • Garth Nix's Old Kingdom has Orannis The Destroyer very nearly complete his plan to escape from imprisonment and obliterate everything. After two books spent failing to stop him from reuniting the two halves of his Soul Jar, he is already two stages into his incarnation when the heroes, each standing in for one of the seven Great Powers that originally created the world in opposition to Orannis, perform the spell to re-bind him...which fails. Only the intervention of the eighth power, who originally remained neutral and was bound by the winning side in the form of Mogget to serve their mortal heirs for millennia, rescued the ritual. Which was NOT a given, since Mogget's track record when freed from his binding in the past had consistently been to try to kill any heirs to the Charter bloodlines in his vicinity.
  • In the climax of The Faerie Queene's first book, Redcrosse is immolated by the dragon's breath and falls dead, leaving Una and the kingdom of Eden defenseless agains the monster's rampage for a whole night. It is only at sunrise that Redcrosse emerges from a magical pool, restored to life and barely able to defeat the dragon.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The writers and producers of 24 have perfected this to such a degree that they should copyright this trope. The villains generally cause enough damage before they are defeated up to the point where the heroes simply won't get to celebrate.
  • Illyria of Angel suffered this on her return. Despite the best efforts of the heroes to stop her, she successfully reached the dimension hiding her invincible army... only to find that the army had been destroyed in the ages since she was sealed away.
  • In the Back Story to Babylon 5, the Minbari succeeded in obliterating most of EarthForce and had arrived at Earth with the intent to completely eradicate all humanity. Their sudden decision to surrender to the humans that they very clearly had on the ropes was one of the biggest plot points throughout the series.
  • The best Buffy the Vampire Slayer example comes at the end of season four, wherein Adam is only defeated by Buffy coming up with a spell to tap mystical ancient powers that give her the power, knowledge, and skills of Giles, Xander and Willow.
    • The spell required that they be close by (no just popping a spell pill and rushing off to the enemy's lair) so they all had to infiltrate a fortified underground base safely, then successfully reach a room where they hopefully wouldn't be bothered by the rampaging monster hordes and then, even when the spell is activated, there's a) the possibility it won't work at all, b) the possibility it won't work as intended, c) the possibility of it not being reversible (effectively killing Giles, Xander and Willow while making Buffy almost a demigod, and the longer the spell is active, the higher than probability gets) and d) the (proven) possibility of bad side-effects. So, it was kind of a hail mary, not something anyone really wanted to do unless they had to.
    • Seriously awesome when Buffy uses Willow's power and Giles' knowledge to turn missiles into doves.
      • Another example comes during the final battle in season 7: Buffy and Robin Wood are both stabbed, The Slayers are being overwhelmed and killed by Turok Han, Spike and Willow are incapacitated, and Anya is killed.
    • The near-ending of "The Wish" almost makes Anya the most dangerous villain the Scoobies ever faced - not only does the wish cause the Master to take over Sunnydale and succeed in his newest plan, but by the end Buffy, Angel, Willow, Xander and Cordelia are all dead, and only Giles breaking her amulet undoes it.
  • Chikyuu Sentai Fiveman, the fourteenth Super Sentai series, begins on one. The Zone need to sacrifice 1000 planets for a ritual to grant their ruler immortality. By the time we see them they've already destroyed 999, with their intended final planet being Earth.
  • Doctor Who has a few examples, especially in the revival:
    • "Doomsday": The Daleks activate the Genesis Ark and spew out millions of Daleks, which immediately begin exterminating the population of Earth. Luckily for Earth the Doctor was still on the case...
    • "Last of the Time Lords": The Master actually succeeds in ruling Earth for 12 months, and is about to launch an attack on another planet when he's defeated. The heroes deliberately keep their comeback until the last moment, counting on the Master's sense of drama to give everyone on Earth a countdown before he strikes.
    • "Journey's End" has Davros literally seconds away from finally removing all non-Dalek life from existence. The scene itself and the leadup is pretty dark.
    • "Flesh and Stone": At the beginning of the climax, Octavian and all of the other clerics who entered the maze are dead, with several having been erased from existence; Amy still can't open her eyes; River, Amy and the Doctor are in the flight deck surrounded by dozens (at least) of Weeping Angels; and to cap it all off, if something isn't fed to the crack in time, everyone's going to be retgoned anyways.
    • "The Big Bang": Existence is literally wiped out for a brief time, and is saved only by Amy's consciousness. The perpetrators were not punished in any way for quite some time.
    • "Resolution": The Dalek recon scout's Improvised Armour is destroyed seconds before it could send out a signal summoning the Dalek fleet to Earth. The mutant then nearly succeeds in pulling a Taking You with Me on Aaron, if not for Ryan's intervention.
  • Nearly every season of Kamen Rider has the villains nearly win at least twice: once right before the hero gets his final upgrade, and then once again in the final episode. Near-victories over the hero often involve the villain destroying their Transformation Trinket or even outright killing them, leading the hero to get new powers in the process of coming back to life.
  • By the series finale of Lost, Smokey/Locke had successfully killed three of the six remaining candidates, managed to get the last ones to help him uncork the heart of the island, was about to escape on the Elizabeth boat with the island collapsing in his wake, and fatally stabbed Jack. He was going to deliver the killing blow and get off the rock when along came Kate...
  • This is common for Power Rangers as nearly every season has the Big Bad nearly winning despite the victories and upgrades that the rangers have gotten during the season. Though special mentions include...
    • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers - In the season 2 Episode "When is a Ranger not a Ranger?" During a stakeout, Bulk and Skull, who have been trying discover the Power Rangers' Identities, find out who the Rangers really are. Lord Zedd's newest monster Scatterbrain has wiped Tommy, Kimberly & Billy's memories clean – rendering them amnesiac and helpless. Rocky, Adam and Aisha, who are new to the team have to keep them safe. Adam comes up with a plan to use prisms to undo Scatterbrain's memory wipe. Unfortunately, they too fall victim to Scatterbrain's Memory wipe and the prisms land near Bulk and Skull. Scatterbrain prepares to take them to Zedd. However, rather than run away, Bulk and Skull pick the prisms and stand up to Scatterbrain. They trick him to restore the Rangers’ memories, but at the cost of their knowledge of their identities.
      • Rito Revolto destroys the Thunderzords and by extension the Rangers' powers. They would be able to wreak their havoc on the world had the Rangers not gone to Ninjor and gotten new ones.
      • Followed by the villains annihilating the Command Center and stealing the Zeo Crystal at the conclusion of the Alien Rangers mini-arc. However, by the start of Power Rangers Zeo, the Rangers are able to turn the tide by retrieving the Crystal (which Goldar & Rito had dropped while teleporting) and gaining new powers.
    • Power Rangers in Space - The various villains from the previous Ranger series team up with Dark Specter and mount simultaneous attacks across the galaxy. They succeed in subduing all the Rangers and their various allies. The only thing that prevented them from winning was a Heroic Sacrifice by Zordon.
    • Power Rangers Lost Galaxy - After Trakeena's fusion with Deviot increases her evil, she launches a massive Sting Winger attack on Terra Venture with all of them strapped with bombs. She succeeds in destroying two Megazords and nearly wipes out the civilians evacuating the colony. The Rangers use the Astro Megaship to damage the Scorpion Stinger and it crashes on a nearby moon. However, Trakeena isn't done yet; with the massive power boost from the cocoon, she is able to energize the ruins of Terra Venture and sends it on a collision course for the civilian colony on Miranoi. The Rangers try to defeat her, but to no avail. Leo uses his armor and fires a point blank shot at Trakeena, finally taking her down, but the colony is still in danger. Thankfully, the Galactabeasts are able to shift Terra Venture's trajectory away from the colony.
    • Power Rangers Time Force - After Frax is destroyed, Ransik begins his final fight with the Rangers, minus Eric. The Rangers fight a valiant battle yet Ransik is still able to defeat them. Unmorphed Jen leads Ransik away from the others. As he gives chase into a warehouse he fires and accidentaly hits Nadira. Shocked he almost killed his daughter, he turns himself in.
    • Power Rangers Wild Force - Viktor Adler manages to truly become Master Org and preforms a ceremony to make an Org Heart which makes him nigh unstoppable. He defeats and kills Animus, followed by destroying the Ranger's Wild Zords, which in turn destroys their animal crystals and strips them of their powers, then causes the Animarium to fall out of the sky before beginning his conquest of the world. It's only due to the Rangers unwilling to give up that it revives the destroyed Wild Zords (and then some) and enable them to turn things around.
    • Power Rangers Operation Overdrive - Not actually a season finale. However, when Thrax, Rita Repulsa's and Lord Zedd's son, rallies the rest of this season's villains and they destroy the Rangers' link to the morphing grid, they go on to wreak their rampage on the world and would have done great harm, maybe even succeeded in their goals if Sentinel Knight hadn't brought five other Rangers from their timelines to fight them off.
    • Power Rangers RPM - Not a season finale either, at first. The Rangers are fighting against the computer virus Venjix to prevent him from taking over Corinth, and eventually move onto a grander stage. However, when we begin the season he has already succeeded in destroying the rest of the world and Corinth is the only place he hasn't taken over/destroyed. At the finale, he has already converted the majority of the city's populace into cyborgs and has killed two of the Rangers. Luckily, the Rangers he killed are brought back and succeed in destroying him. Although even after the Rangers defeat him and his robots at the end of the season, it still doesn't change the fact that the rest of the world is a wasteland. Plus, Venjix wasn't completely gone.
  • A frequent occurrence on Stargate SG-1. The best example is probably the season 8 episode "Threads". Anubis is mere moments from destroying all life in the galaxy and no one can stop him...until Oma Desala saves the day via Sealed Evil in a Duel.
  • Likewise, Star Trek is pretty adept at bringing our heroes to edge of disaster before they win the day.
    • The Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation mop the floor with Starfleet, kidnap The Captain, and make it all the way to Earth (as in, they park in orbit right above the Atlantic Ocean), before the Enterprise stops them at the last minute.
    • So to, the Xindi superweapon in Star Trek: Enterprise is blown up moments before it was ready to deploy within miles of the Earth's surface.
    • Unlike the top two examples, the Dominion actually managed to fire shots on the Earth's surface, and succeeded in messing up the Golden Gate Bridge. Additionally, several shapeshifters made it to Earth and other Federation worlds, causing massive panic. For a moment, it really did seem that the Federation would meet its first defeat ever.
      • Not to mention the Dominion successfully conquering Deep Space 9, only to have the good guys retake it with divine intervention by the Prophets/wormhole aliens next season.
    • Star Trek: Voyager had the 'Year of Hell', which was only undone with a last-minute suicide run.
  • By the fifth season finale of Supernatural, Lucifer has hijacked Sam's body, and he and Michael are about to tear the world apart in the deathmatch of the century. Then Dean shows up in the Impala and his presence is enough for Sam to wrestle back control of his body and seal himself, Lucifer and Michael in an inescapable pit.
  • Survivor has had this happen a few times, where a charismatic villain nearly gets to the finals with people more disliked then them. The most extreme example of this is Johnny Fairplay, who gets to the final 3 where his only real opponent is the first to fall out of the last immunity challenge, ensuring that he or his final 2 partner will win the challenge. Suddenly his final 2 partner decides not to take him to the final two and reveals that she is good enough at squats to win her first challenge of the game, leading to his third place finish.
  • The Mandalorian: Moff Gideon's Dark Troopers have our heroes trapped on the bridge of his ship and are inexorably punching to create a gap in the blast doors. Gideon lampshades the hopelessness of the situation, saying soon all will be dead except he and The Child. Then a lone X-wing appears and a mysterious cloaked figure is seen on the ship's monitors masterfully cutting down the near-invincible Dark Troopers. Eucatastrophe has arrived in the form of Jedi Grand Master Luke Skywalker, like an ancient hero out of legend. The others, all hardened warriors in their own right, can only stare in wonder.
  • Ultra Series:
    • Return of Ultraman has Alien Nackle, who first attempts to emotionally break Hideki Goh by murdering his best friend and girlfriend, then defeats Ultraman Jack with his powerful kaiju, Black King, before affixing Jack's unconscious body to a crucifix and parading it around Japan in an effort to break humanity's spirit, then taking Jack to his home planet to be executed. It's all but certain that Nackle's conquest will succeed and Earth is doomed... Until the original Ultraman and Ultraseven team up for the first time to rescue Jack, allowing him to return to Earth and defeat Nackle, foiling his plans.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess: In season 4, Caesar has the titular hero and Gabrielle captured with the former crippled in the process. The two are set to be crucified and no one is around to save them. He is also about to crown himself emperor of Rome. The only reason he fails is because Brutus and a group of senators stab him down before his big moment.
    • Alti has a similar moment in season 6. Xena has been crucified and she offs Caesar so that she becomes the new ruler of Rome in an alternate storyline. She only fails because she failed to check in on Gabrielle who undoes the mechanics keeping that world together.

    Music 
  • In the Emerald Sword saga, near the end Big Bad Akron has destroyed and conquered almost all the cities of Algalord, is holding the Emerald Sword and is torturing The Hero and going to have him fed to water snakes. Dargor's Heel–Face Turn is the only thing that bring forth a happy ending.
  • The Ancient Bards song "Hope Dies Last" is about one of these.

    Pro Wrestling 

    Radio 
  • In "Neverland" from Big Finish Doctor Who the Neverpeople come very close to piloting a Time Station containing an anti-time bomb onto Gallifrey, which will destroy the Web of Time. The Doctor only just stops them by materialising the TARDIS around the time station.
    • In the finale of series 2 of the New Eighth Doctor Adventures Morbius returns and takes away the Time Lord's power. He then rules an Empire for over ten years, conquering over ten thousand worlds including Earth. Thankfully the Time Lords are able to pull a Reset Button.
    • In the Grand Finale of the NEDA the Dalek Time Controller comes very close to activating a time engine that will send Earth through time and turn it into a plague planet which the Daleks will pilot through the Universe and use to infect worlds, having captured the Doctor, Susan and Alex, with Lucie in a Dalek Saucer which has been caught in a magna-clamp. Though he is stopped it take two heroic sacrifices, making this one of Doctor Who's biggest Downer Endings.

    Roleplay 

    Tabletop Games 

    Theatre 

    Web Animation 
  • At the climax of Volume 5 in RWBY, the heroes are locked in a desperate battle to save Haven Academy against the treacherous headmaster, an evil Maiden, an entire terrorist cell, a powerhouse who's immune to pain, an illusionist and an assassin, and they barely survive long enough for a force of police and civilians with shields to arrive and render the situation more balanced. And when the evil Maiden gets defeated by another Maiden who'd been Hiding in Plain Sight after trying to pull a backstab, the day gets narrowly saved.

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  • Deliberately invoked in The Order of the Stick by Tarquin. He's a Genre Savvy believer in the Theory of Narrative Causality. He thus takes heart in the fact that while The Good Guys Always Win (maybe), they tend to win against a bad guy who was so powerful and reigned for so long no one thought he could be beaten. And Tarquin is fine with being defeated in the end in exchange for being an all powerful despot for a few decades before it happens. So he's already won, and gets to keep on winning and getting more powerful unless/until somebody beats him.
    • On top of that, his Good-aligned son is the most likely to take him down, which plays right into his plan to keep on winning by becoming part of a legendary struggle of good vs. evil, so he can inspire generations of new villains with his example of how to live the good life. Unfortunately for him, Elan is Genre Savvy enough to know that's what he wants, and after destroying Tarquin's power base, he abandons his father in a desert with enough supplies to escape - the story ends not with a triumphant final battle, but with the villain humiliatingly tossed aside like nothing.
    • Xykon's attempt to get the Order to open Dorukan's Gate almost worked, with Elan being about to open it before Haley stopped him.
      • He also manages to capture Azure City, only failing to capture Soon's Gate because the Sapphire Guard attacked him and Miko destroyed it while they were fighting.
      • He actually did successfully capture Lirian's Gate, only for Redcloak, who at the time had a firm grip on the Villain Ball, to accidentally destroy it.
    • In Nale's first two appearances his plan very nearly works:
      • His initial plan, to steal Dorukan's Amulet, sees him successfully defeat the Order and escape with the amulet only for Haley to make a near-impossible shot and hit Nale in the arm, causing him to drop the amulet and be attacked by hordes of 1st Edition monsters.
      • His second plan, to switch places with Elan, get him arrested for Nale's crimes and then kill the rest of the Order, gets even closer to succeeding, with Elan actually going to jail and Nale almost successfully killing Haley. Even when Elan breaks out and stops him, he manages to salvage his plan by tricking Elan into turning against Haley and would have made him kill her if not for a last-second intervention.
    • The High Priest of Hel actually manages to mind-control and defeat the Order, but is stopped when Durkon regains control of his body. And even after that, his subordinate the Exarch manages to mind-control the Council of Clans into voting to destroy the world, gets Durkon turned to stone when he tries to stop him and is in the process of having his final controlled victim vote yes when the meeting is suspended due to an archaic rule.
  • During the "Holiday Wars" arc in Sluggy Freelance, Bun-Bun actually succeeds in killing all the major holiday figures and acquiring their power. He's poised to take over the world and rewrite reality in his image, and the only MacGuffin that can return things to normal is in his possession. It takes two Chessmasters using their own deaths to launch a last minute day saving plan, as well as Bun-Bun's Living Shadow being a Unwitting Pawn, to take him down.
  • Tower of God: Kim Lurker nearly wins the Room Game by killing Sacrificial Lamb Nia, hypnotizing Yeon and stealing Wangnan's room, so that all that is left for him to win is to take Prince's room, who is currently locked in there with the traitorous Rapdevil. Then Wangnan somehow manages to win Viole for his cause, who simply curb stomps the villain's team.


 
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Alternative Title(s): Eucatastrophe

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Tangled

Rapunzel willingly decides to go with Gothel if she heals Eugene, facing living life in isolation once again, but he cuts her hair, causing Gothel to lose her youth and turn to dust while allowing Rapunzel her freedom.

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