A trope based on a Darwinian view of the world in which a man can't compete with other men for money and status (and by extension, women) without a willingness to be ruthless. When played straight, the character is a Dogged Nice Guy who may or may not end up defying the expectations of the cynics and finishing first after all.
Sometimes, however, a male character (who may not be particularly nice at all) will get frustrated with his lack of success with women and conclude it's simply that All Girls Want Bad Boys, not realizing that he may actually be just as much as a Jerkass as these ruthless alpha males he assumes get all the women, just whinier and more self-pitying. Expect much Playing the Victim Card. Others will either sympathize with him or call him out on really not being that much of a nice guy at all.
Jerkasses sometimes use this line as a rationalization for being such tools, as do Jerkass nations. When used in non-romantic observations, especially by someone on the extremely sour end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, expect the phrase to be punctuated with "... if they finish at all."
The trope name is a misquote. There are several supposed sources and original quotes (and ironically, one of the people who is often cited as the origin of the quote was a Jerkass baseball manager who repeatedly lost to his genuinely kind and Benevolent Boss rival), but the fact that it's a misquote is the only certain thing.note
Opposite of Cheaters Never Prosper and Single Woman Seeks Good Man. Related to Loser Protagonist, Romantic Runner-Up, and The Social Darwinist. For characters who actually finish last because they're nice, see Dogged Nice Guy.
Also see Then Let Me Be Evil.
- Subverted in an Archie comic book back in the 70s, where the school participating in a citywide athletic marathon, and Riverdale High's star athlete Reggie is felled by a sprained ankle. Archie has to take his place and in every event, he eats the other participants' dust coming in second and third. But Dilton Doiley has been crunching the numbers, noting that on total points alone, Archie has put Riverdale High in the lead and he winds up winning the marathon.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Regarding the Xander example in Live TV below, it gets even worse in the comic. Buffy still shows no romantic interest in Xander and even briefly explores a same-sex relationship. It's not until Xander begins dating Dawn that she makes a move. Xander chides her for ignoring that he's with Dawn and says that even without Dawn in the picture.. "You went through gay to get to me. I'm a lower option than gay" and he solidly rejects her.
- In Bedazzled, the protagonist, Elliot, starts out as one. Definitely Played for Laughs when he asks to be "the most sensitive man in the world."
- Deconstructed and ultimately subverted in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. While Andy may fail at one night stands and short-term relationships compared with his more outgoing and lecherous coworkers, guess who's the first to sustain a healthy long-term relationship and get married?
- Implied throughout The Jane Austen Book Club. Lampshaded when Grigg has this conversation with Jocelyn.
Grigg Harris: Women never go for the nice guys.
Jocelyn: Please, men say that, but when you get to know some of these men who complain the most, you find out they're not as nice as they think they are.
- Stanley Ipkiss from The Mask. He grows out of it by the end of the film, where he learns how to still be a nice guy without being a pushover. It even gets name-dropped in the film.
Stan: Wait. Peggy Brandt? "Ask Peggy"? You printed one of my letters. "Nice guys finish last"?
Peggy: That was you?! We got tons of mail about that letter [...] there are literally thousands of women out there looking for a guy like you!
Peggy: Oh yes! I'm one of them....
- The tongue-in-cheek book Nice Guys Don't Get Laid.
- No More Mr Nice Guy is another, more serious self-help book where Dr. Robert Glover covers the 'Nice Guy' syndrome in detail. He explains that being a "Nice Guy" (in the sense of a passive-aggressive Extreme Doormat) is not a good thing for you or your intended loved ones, repeatedly points out that acting like a self-centered jerk is just the opposite extreme, and generally advises that balancing your own wants and needs against those of other people is the key to happiness.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Xander spends season 1 in love with Buffy. Buffy sees Xander as one of her best friends. When Xander asks Buffy out in the series one finale "Prophecy Girl", Buffy rejects his offer. She is currently in love with Angel, a vampire with a soul. Xander, admittedly unable to handle rejection, says to her: "I mean, I guess a guy's gotta be undead to make time with you."
- iCarly: Freddie invokes this by trying to prank order a fishy pizza to his teacher's house in front of Carly. When the pizza place calls back, he panics and runs away. Actually works in "iStage an Intervention" when he pulls a prank on Sam after she pulled one on her. Carly is impressed, but Freddie lacks the confidence to follow through and try to ask her out.
- There's an episode of The IT Crowd that plays with this in all kinds of weird ways. Roy tries to prove that "all women want bastards" by making a fake profile on a matchmaking Web site for a mean alter ego (it starts with "Shut up!"), and when he gets a response from a woman he actually quite fancies, he goes on a real date with her but has to pretend to be the bastard his profile made him out to be. The Aesop, if there is one, seems to be about self-fulfilling prophecies: women who want bastards will find them, and men who try to make themselves into bastards to attract women will attract only damaged goods who confirm their dim view of the opposite sex.
- Chandler — probably the nicest character on the show and the one who gets the least action dating-wise - lampshades on this, quipping that someone saying he's a nice guy means "I'm going to be dating a chain smoking alcoholic and complaining about them to you."
- Averted later on though, when his extremely attractive best friend Monica (whose its hinted he's had feeling for, for years) falls in love with him and they're Happily Married long before the rest of the gang.
- Subverted on Girl Code. While the first part of the "Bad Boys" segment says that All Girls Want Bad Boys, by the end of the segment the cast agrees that Nice Guys usually wind up better off in life so they're the ones that girls SHOULD be going for.
- Cobra Starship has a song called "Nice Guys Finish Last", but it has a fairly tongue-in-cheek tone, and (given that it appears on the same album as "Pete Wentz Is the Only Reason We're Famous") really shouldn't be taken seriously.
- Green Day's "Nice Guys Finish Last" predates the song above, though it's not a Trope Namer by any stretch.
- Frank Zappa: "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing".
- Theory of a Deadman has "Gentlemen" which is this trope Up to Eleven on the cynical end of scale.
- Mel & Tim's song "Good Guys Only Win in the Movies".
- The song "Mr. Cellophane" from Chicago. Though in this character's case, he was actually married...to a fame seeking woman with low standards who dumped him after she was done using him.
- Girls with Slingshots: Jim goes on a tirade that "nice guys never get laid" to four perfectly normal guys who are getting laid. They are not amused. Unfortunately this would have worked better if the normal guys had not been actually bragging about getting laid in front of Jim.
- Something*Positive has Mike declare this, as he whines about acting like a girl's friend, only to have her fall for some better-looking guy who actually asked her out, rather than the creepy guy who was pretending friendship so he could get something out of it.
- XKCD presented a comic featuring a nice guy going over his modus operandi. Though the "nice guy" in question is less "nice guy" and more Stalker with a Crush, since his plan is to ensnare the girl in an insidious All Take and No Give relationship.
Nice Guy: When you have problems, night after night, I'll be there for you. Selflessly. I'll tear down the jerks you date and wait for you to realize how good I am for you. That only I will ever understand you. You won't want to hurt my feelings, and I won't ever hurt the issue. I'll tell myself it's because I "value our friendship". Bit by bit, I'll make you depend on me. You'll think about how long it would take to build this kind of connection again. And in a moment of weakness, and loneliness, you'll give in. It'll feel comfortable and natural. You'll quietly revise your definition of love and try to be happy. And sometimes you will be. Only the wistfulness in your gaze and the tiny pause before you say "I love you" will hint that this wasn't the ending you'd hoped for.
- Being too nice is one of Cracked's 5 Innocent Things That Science Says Make People Hate You.
- Gender Flipped in "5 Confessions of a Female 'Nice Guy'". The writer admits that she used to think her lack of luck with men was because men were too stupid to see how great she was and wanted Brainless Beauties instead. She later came to realize that she was wrong and that maybe she was just a jerk back then.
- The feminist website Heartless Bitches International has a very scathing and controversial article about why certain Nice Guys can never get dates or sustain long-term relationships.
- Online comedian Jenna Marbles rants about this saying in her video "Why Nice Guys Don't finish last." She points out that a lot of nice guys who can't get dates fail in their pursuit because they tend to go after the wrong types of women. The Cheerleader has nothing in common with the nerd, so she shouldn't be seen as stupid or a bitch for not wanting to date him.
- "Nice Guys" by Nigahiga, Kevjumba, and Chester See is actually a subversion. In the music video, the guys go to a class where they learn that they must act like jerks in order to get women. However, they soon realize that acting like jerks actually makes girls hate them, and being nice is what really works. Specifically, the song on it's own plays it straight, the music video that goes with it subverts it.
- Doug Walker discussed this one in a commentary, stating that while he knows he gets taken advantage of and is called a pussy for having such an apologetic nature, the Good Feels Good feeling is still worth it. And yet he plays this one straight with The Review Must Go On, as everyone nice gets beaten down and loses, even himself. He gets his comforting words in To Boldly Flee twisted around to bite him, and the sweet cast of Demo Reel are retconned to never exist.
- A podcast in The Art of Manliness explores this, noting that the "nice guy" is not always as nice as he thinks, often believing his own good nature allows him to act passive aggressively. This is especially when it comes to the myth of All Girls Want Bad Boys.
- Bill Burr's Monday Morning Podcast addressed a listener who was unhappy with a platonic relationship he was currently in with a girl he was attracted to. Bill basically told the guy that he needed to stop wasting her time and his own if he doesn't want to be Just Friends, and be honest about his desire to get laid if that's all he really cares about.
- An episode of the Baby Blues Animated Adaptation focused on this. When Rodney asks Darryll for advice on women, Daryll tells Rodney he was a nice guy in high school, but if he [Darryll] could do it all over again, he'd be the biggest jerkass ever because he never got the girl. Rodney takes this to heart and starts acting this way, and sure enough, girls fall all over him. At the end, Darryll finds out the bad boy who competed with him is now working as a janitor, and stops thinking this way.
- Subverted in that one of Rodney's co-workers, who makes more money and works less than Rodney, admits to being like the janitor.
- An episode of Hey Arnold!! dealt with this trope, in which a school play takes on this trope as its Family-Unfriendly Aesop (a change made by the director of it). In fact the trope quote comes from the Villain Song sung by Arnold's character, who was the Big Bad of the play.
- An episode on Kim Possible had Ron trying to invoke this trope, and failing miserably. Which is ironic since when Ron became evil, he was actually very competent.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: Plankton said this to SpongeBob.
Plankton: Havent you figured it out, SpongeBob? Nice guys finish last. Only aggressive people conquer the world! (laughs evilly)
- The Powerpuff Girls "All Chalked Up'' likewise used a variation of the "aggressively nice" option when Him tries to use Bubbles naivety to his advantage.
- While it might have been misquoted, in terms of career, some studies have found that it's true, with people considered more disagreeable more likely to get hired and make more money in their lifetimes. Some have boiled it down to basically if a person is a little bit of a Jerkass, they're more likely to A) feel entitled to a promotion, raise, etc. and B) actually ASK for it. When applying it to a person's love life, however, it gets a little more tricky, with a big problem being most people tend to confuse "Nice Guy" with "Doormat."
- People who are more aggressive in a relationship (not physically, mind you) of any kind tend to be taken more seriously and will usually have their demands met when they ask nicely but firmly. People who don't stick up for themselves in an argument or go along with what everyone else wants in order to make them happy are usually viewed as weak willed and are taken advantage of. Naturally, there are times where you have to be a nice guy, otherwise you will be seen as a rude jerk, so for some people, the balance between being nice and being firm/aggressive can be tricky to maintain.
- Of course, the nice guy will be less likely to actually ask a girl out because he doesn't want to come across as intrusive, while the "macho jerks" have no such qualms.
- Leo Durocher, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, has often been credited with first saying this phrase. But what Durocher actually said, before a 1946 game with the New York Giants was: "The nice guys are all over there. In seventh place." (According to Durocher, it wasn't that they were nice guys that doomed them to failure, but a lack of what might be called The Will To Victory.)