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Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending

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Fox News Commentator: You had the two animals walking in side-by-side, and then you had the rainbow, and the dove comes, and then the sun comes out, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Jon Stewart: EVERYBODY?

The story ends on a happy, upbeat note, with all the problems resolved and everyone getting back to leading happy, fulfilling lives... but only if they're main characters. The characters the audience know and care about get their happy ending, but it comes at the expense of minor characters who get stuck with a Downer Ending.

Note that the term "minor characters" does not include villains, even of the Mook variety, since we expect them to wind up worse off in the end (and it is considered more shocking if they get away, are Easily Forgiven or win).

Related to Protagonist-Centered Morality, Inferred Holocaust, Esoteric Happy Ending, Everybody's Dead, Dave, Dwindling Party, and Aesop Collateral Damage. If an Adam and Eve Plot is both apocalyptic and presented as having an upbeat ending, it's also this.

See also What Happened to the Mouse?, where minor characters are forgotten about entirely. Contrast Win-Win Ending where everyone gets a happy ending.

Note: This is a Spoilered Rotten trope, which means that EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE on this list is a spoiler by default and most of them will be unmarked. This is your last warning, only proceed if you really believe you can handle this list.


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  • The first series of Hungry Days ends with a couple confessing to each other and reciprocating, blissfully unaware of the apocalypse happening around them and the meteor about to claim their lives. While the two are at least soon to be Together in Death, they're the only two still standing at the end. Even worse, the cameos from some of the couples from previous commercials during this sequence imply their stories end in fiery demise.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Blue Gender: Yuji and Marlene are the only two named characters who get to survive the ending, as Gaia's Vengeance wipes out most of humanity and reduces the survivors to Future Primitives.
  • Depending on your perspective, it's either inverted, averted or played straight in Bokurano. The pilots' home universe survives, but all of them die, except for Kana and Seki in the anime. It's also discussed when Kirie talks with Tanaka about how it bothers him that people can consider a movie as having a happy ending if many unnamed characters suffer but the hero gets a happy ending, and he seems to consider such stories as having Esoteric Happy Endings unless the hero acknowledges the suffering of others.
  • Inverted in Code Geass, where Lelouch vi Britannia orchestrates his own assassination. Suzaku Kururugi, who fakes his own death to forever take on the identity of Zero, is the one to kill Lelouch and must now forever remain Lonely at the Top. The surviving main characters move on with their lives; Kallen Kozuki gets to finish school without having to hide her identity, Kaname Ohgi and Villetta Nu have Babies Ever After (and probably both go back to teaching school after Ohgi's term as prime minister), Shinichiro Tamaki opens a bar, and Empress Nunnally vi Britannia, Chairman Kaguya Sumeragi, and Empress Tianzi Lihua rule over a peaceful world. And C.C. rides off in a cart to who-knows-where... and no, Lelouch wasn't driving it.
  • At the end of "Episode: Hope" of Danganronpa 3, Makoto and the survivors of class 78's killing game (plus Komaru) all survive the final killing game, and restart Hope's Peak Academy. Meanwhile, the former Remnants of Despair, while all alive and cured of the effects of Junko's Brainwashing Despair Video, are unlikely to be able to return to society ever again, due to their actions as Junko's lackeys and the fact that they helped to cover up the Final Killing Game, and due to the fact that Mitarai is now associating himself with them, he's in the same boat. Literally. Meanwhile, Munakata's off to do who knows what all alone, with the knowledge that the woman he loved was a member of the movement he hated so much, and that his best friend's death is partially his fault. And everyone else is dead.
  • The Elfen Lied anime ends with the director of the facility laughing hysterically and the fate of the other diclonius isn't made clear. However, Kouta, Yuka, Mayu, and Nana all survive to the end and there is a chance that Lucy may have survived also.
  • Fushigi Yuugi. Yeah, Miaka and Tamahome get their happy ending... Too bad the other Guardians of Suzaku are either trapped in a book or dead. Ultimately subverted in Eiko Den with the Suzaku warriors being reincarnated into the modern world.
  • GoLion, with all the death and destruction, and Princess Amue losing her love in a Senseless Sacrifice.
  • Inverted in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. The main members of Tekkadan (Mikazuki, Orga, Akihiro and Shino) all die one-by-one in the final episodes, but everyone else still alive (and that includes Rustal Elion and his entourage, Julieta Juris) get happy endings. Kudelia gets elected leader of a newly independent Mars, Eugene and Chad survive the final battle and become her aides, most of the other surviving Tekkadan members all get jobs at the repair shop Nadi and Merribit open up, Atra becomes a farmer and raises her new child with Kudelia, Azee sets up a new Teiwaz subsidiary with the surviving Turbines, and Rustal uses his new position as the undisputed leader of Gjallarhorn to enact some reforms, including signing a treaty banning the use of Human Debris, while setting Julieta up to be his successor.
  • The "Military Uniform Princess" Altair of Re:CREATORS is pretty unusual because she's both the Big Bad and an In-Universe invocation of this trope, meaning it's also a case of The Bad Guy Wins. The titular Creators bring back her own Creator as a fictional character and have the two talk out her Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum that is impossible to stop otherwise because she has become an in-universe Villain Sue, and they both walk away into the sunset as the only couple of people unambiguously happy and untraumatized from the Curb-Stomp Battle massacre that was the Elimination Chamber Festival.
  • More or less inverted in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. While humanity progresses and moves forward, the protagonists take big hits. The supporting section of the group survives but must deal with the deaths of the gunman pilots (especially the Black sisters with Kittan's death and Leyte and her children with Makken). They do rescue Nia, only for her to die a week later, after her marriage with Simon. Simon ends up Walking the Earth with Boota and Yoko returns to her isolated life as a teacher and later principal. Considering the overall messages, this is pretty jarring.
    • The movies aren't as bad. While Kittan still dies, the other pilots still live. Nia's death still occurs and Simon's and Yoko's fates are still the same, if not played out mildly more optimistically.
  • In Wolf's Rain, the only characters shown reincarnated after the "Everybody Dies" Ending are the wolves (sans Blue) and Cheza. The implication is that human characters do not get to be reincarnated in the future.
  • Weathering With You ends with Hodaka saving Hina so he can be together with her... except that doing this resulted in her powers flooding all of Tokyo, and possibly the entire world will follow suit.

    Comic Books 
  • Inverted in Black Science, where everybody except the lead characters earn their happy ending; the Multiverse is restored to health, everybody who died is revived, the bad guys are defeated, all of the supporting cast gets to ride off into the proverbial sunset, and Earth becomes a peaceful utopia where almost everyone is happy... but the Stable Time Loop that makes this possible requires that the central-most cast (the McKays, Kadir, and Chandra) all meet a horrible end that render their struggles pointless; the Kids and Chandra die, Kadir goes completely insane, and Grant and Sara go back in time to try and get their children back, becoming the evil alternates of themselves that appeared back near the start of the series and are obviously Doomed by Canon.
  • In some Chick Tracts, the main Christian will talk to one non-believer, who gets more focus than the rest of the cast and goes to heaven in the end, while the other non-Christians are implied to go to Hell. One example is "The Trial"; the twist is that the plaintiff's daughter accepted Jesus when her friend, the defendant, told her, and the girl's mother and the witnesses called in to testify (authorities from other religions) go to Hell. Then again, it's just as common to invert this, as in "Busted" the main prosecutor goes to hell while his secretary gets converted (however, we don't hear whether the suspect at the beginning was convicted, much less whether he deserved the outcome).
  • Mutopia X has a happy ending for Ortega and Armena. Thanks to the ending of House of M, Armena is no longer a mutant, does not project a forcefield around her when she sleeps, and the happily married couple can finally share a bed and sleep together. Oh, that's so sweet... if we forget about the death of their daughter and the mass depowering of the mutants in Mutant Town that we had seen in the previous pages.
  • Inverted in Runaways (Rainbow Rowell), where the only Runaway who is guaranteed a happy ending is Klara, who quit the team prior to the beginning of the series and got adopted into a loving family. Meanwhile, her former teammates are stuck dealing with the ramifications of their various previously-dead members all being resurrected, which has included the rise of a new generation of the Gibborim and the activation of Victorious, Gert's future mortal nemesis.
  • Watchmen is about halfway between this trope and a full "Everybody Dies" Ending: of the five main characters, only Rorschach dies, while Dr. Manhattan reaches an epiphany that convinces him life can have value, Veidt's plan goes just as he wanted, and Dan and Laurie start a new life together. The supporting cast basically all died as part of Veidt's Genghis Gambit or had met some terrible fate long before that. And how good an ending this is for Veidt, Dan, Laurie or the rest of the world depends on how well said plan works out in the long run. Doomsday Clock eventually showcases that the public found out about Veidt's scheme and things went From Bad to Worse in a hurry for him, but Dan and Laurie are never seen so the assumption the audience normally has is that they had (and still have) a better ending.
  • Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?: Nearly the entire supporting cast of Superman die (including Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen, Pete Ross, Supergirl, and Krypto), but with his entire Rogues Gallery permanently dealt with in one way or another, Clark is able to willingly De-power himself to retire with Lois under an assumed identity.

    Fan Works 
  • Deconstructd in Ask The New Hope's Peak, where Munakata has been left deeply embittered and resentful after the events of Danganronpa 3, becoming even more of a Jerkass. After all, all of his loved ones wound up with a bad case of dead, while Makoto and his friends wound up much happier.
  • The Undertale fic Betrayed has two mutually exclusive endings, one of which plays this straight (for a given value of "only the leads") and the other inverts it.
    • In the first ending, Chara and Asriel are both brought back to life and reensouled, and Frisk and Chara have gotten together as a couple and redeemed themselves after the events of the Soulless Pacifist Ending, bringing everyone else that Chara had killed before her ensoulment back as well, and stopped Gaster's scheme to become the god of all timelines and Ret-Gone the Frisks of all possible worlds. However, the inhabitants of Ebott Village were all killed beyond all hope of revival and all the other Neutral and Soulless Pacifist timelines are as bad off as they were before, all of which we see were worse off than the story's main timeline from the beginning. It's implied that none of this would have happened if Frisk had refrained from the Genocide Route at the beginning and just accepted that Chara was stuck as a disembodied spirit.
    • In the second ending, all of the above is still true, but all of the other characters (except Toriel, Asgore, and Asriel) tell Frisk and Chara that they can never forgive their actions, and that the devastation was all their fault, and that they deserve to never be happy again. Frisk and Chara agree with them and commit suicide under Mount Ebott together.
  • Discussed in Demon In Fodlan after Goetia reads one of Flayn's erotic romance novels, which ends with the protagonist choosing to leave his title and prestige behind in order to run away with his lover. While Flayn sees this as a happy ending where love triumphs over all, Goetia points out that her protagonist abandoned his duties in the process, leaving all of the citizens in the territory he was meant to be responsible for facing an uncertain future.
    Goetia: You refer to how Duke Fergus rejects his marriage with Dame Emily just so he can enjoy living in some cottage in the countryside with his now disgraced maid Kara? He could have achieved far more for his citizens if he had not been so foolish. Now he is exiled from his own lands and must live the life of a farmer for the rest of his days before he presumably dies of one of the many illnesses that exist.
    Flayn: He wished to be with Kara-
    Goetia: He could have taken her on as a mistress.That way he can get married and might still find the time to frolic with his passing muse to his heart's content and the people don't suffer.
    Flayn: He wanted to be with Kara openly because he loved her-
    Goetia: I am certain that the people of his territory will greatly appreciate the fact he loved the woman who cleaned his small clothes more than he cared for them.
  • Fallout: Equestria: In the Pre-War Backstory, the only one of the Mane Six who gets a relatively good ending is Applejack; while her reputation is tarnished by the Steel Rangers, and she loses her lover, she manages to make it safely to Stable 2 along with Sweetie Belle and most of her family, with Someone to Remember Him By. She eventually dies of old age, which is a far sight better than the fates her friends — and most of Equestria — meet.
  • Marigold Saga: Papi's Little Angel revolves around Marigold running away from home after an argument with her father and meeting a Forgotten girl named Sophia. Sophia was murdered by bandits and has been wandering the Land of the Forgotten fruitlessly searching for her father. While Xibalba eventually reunites with Marigold, Sophia mysteriously disappears, with Xibalba deciding not to tell his daughter what became of her.
  • The Little Mermaid fic Poor Twisted Soul walks the line of this trope as the lead in question is only the lead for the final chapter. However, it otherwise plays this trope extremely strait. Basically, instead of turning her human, Ursula makes a deal with Ariel to give her a potion to make it so she won't feel guilty for doing whatever she wants. When Ariel drinks it, all kindness is removed from her heart and she is turned into a Cecelia like Ursula. Afterward Ariel, having had all her positive aspects removed, goes along with Ursula's plan to overthrow King Triton. However, as Ariel predicted Ursula would betray her, she takes the trident for herself, kills Ursula, Triton, Sebastian, and Flounder, and transforms her sisters into mindless carnivorous monsters. The final chapter cuts to sometime later where Ariel has succeeded in taking over Atlantica, having killed everyone who revolted against her. However one family who defied her escape to Ursula's old home to turn human to escape Ariel. Unfortunately, there is only enough for one, so the two parents give the potion to their daughter Jobi, who escapes to the surface just before Ariel catches and kills them as well. This leaves Atlantica pretty much doomed, as no one is left to stop Ariel's now fully in control Superpowered Evil Side and any survivors must now follow her law to the letter or die. Jobi, however, is found and cared for by Prince Eric, and after two years, the pair wed and become king and queen where Jobi is a Universally Beloved Leader.
  • Rainbow Factory: The sequel to the original song, "Awoken", follows a worker who manages to escape the factory, giving one of its employees a Karmic Death in the process. But the factory is still being run without him, as the worker is seamlessly replaced with an android.

    Films — Animated 
  • Cars 3 ends with Lightning McQueen winning the bet against Sterling and getting to keep his job, Cruz becoming a Piston Cup rookie and everyone in Radiator Springs has their Happily Ever After, but we never find out what happens to Bobby Swift, Brick Yardley, and all the other veteran racers who got replaced by the next-gens, and it's likely we'll never see them again.
  • At the end of Cats Don't Dance, Danny and the other prominent animals succeed in becoming Hollywood stars. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for all the other animals who were also thrown out due to the studio flood, and were last seen standing in line for warmth at a barrel fire. Granted, the success of Danny and the others does open the door for other animals to become starsnote , so there's still a chance they'll make it.
  • As seen in the page image, Pinocchio ends with the titular character being returned to Geppetto and transformed into a real boy like he always wanted. However, over the course of the film during his trip to Pleasure Island, he narrowly escapes being turned into a donkey with several other boys. We never hear of the island again, leaving us to assume the countless other boys were transformed, sold into slavery (unable to even call for help), and (like Lampwick in the original story) worked to death.
  • Believe it or not, the original ending of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) went this way, with the Misfit Toys still stuck on their island. Fans didn't like that and sent letters to NBC asking them to fix that. The station listened, leading to the ending people are more familiar with.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • At the end of 12 Years a Slave, Solomon is freed and reunited with his family in New York, but the other slaves owned by Edwin Epps are no better off than before. In fact, more than one historian has wondered what became of Patsy after the events of the movie but couldn't find any solid answers.
    • Things didn't end particularly happily for the real-world Solomon Northup either. Around four and a half years after he regained his freedom, he disappeared without a trace. To this day, historians can only speculate as to what happened to him.
  • 2012: The main characters and several thousand others survive - the entire rest of the world (except, it's revealed, Africa) drowned.
  • Avatar: Jake Sully and his alien catgirlfriend Neytiri get to live happily ever after. The last two humans on the planet (both friends of Jake's, remember) are likely going to starve or suffocate soon, and there's the fact that thousands of Na'vi are now dead (including Neytiri's father and former boyfriend), but at least the love-birds are together, right?
    • Not to mention what will happen in a few years when the RDA returns, this time with modern weapons and a real army...
  • Done uniquely in The Big Short. The protagonists all make millions of dollars from the 2007 economic crash, but of course millions of people are going to be dead or broke in the coming years. The unique bit is that the protagonists are all aware of how many people got hurt while they got off scot-free, and with the exception of Vennett are all various levels of horrified about it.
  • The end of The Birth of a Nation, with the main characters Happily Married and the Klan firmly in control of the South, is this, with heavy Values Dissonance.
  • Cabin In The Woods: Because the main characters refused to kill each other in order to give the dark gods their required sacrifice, those vengeful forces will likely destroy the world (including the main characters) in retaliation, but the two leads are at peace with that because at least they stood by their principles and didn't perpetuate the evil sacrificial cycle.
  • In Hellboy II: The Golden Army the movie ends with Liz and Hellboy planning on their future together with their children. Abe Sapien, on the other hand, gets to mourn the death of his lost love, Princess Nuala, who killed herself to stop her brother from destroying the human world, and Hellboy is still destined to destroy the world.
  • The Internship, the main characters' team wins and is the only one to get hired at Google. As this article points out, "in no previous America would it be considered a victory if 95 percent of your fellows were still left on the street."
  • Killer Klowns from Outer Space: All of the five main characters survive, Dave and the Terenzi brothers even get a Disney Death when they're shown to have survived the explosion of the Klown spaceship after all. At the same time, their entire hometown (or a very good portion at least) has been wiped out by the Klown invasion, which is ignored with a pre-credits pie gag. While in the ship, Dave does suggest trying to free the people trapped in the other balloons, but then the Klowns show up and they have no time to save anyone but themselves.
  • Knowing actually one-ups 2012. Aliens save two children (not the leads, but significant characters) and transport them to another planet before a solar flare wipes out every living creature on Earth.
  • In Memoirs of a Geisha, Chiyo manages to unite with her beloved Chairman. Pumpkin is never heard from again, Mameha lives alone and continues her work as a geisha, and General Nobu just stays away because "he can't forgive [Chiyo/Sayuri]".
  • The 1998 movie version of Les Miserables ended the story before Jean Valjean dies, making it a happy ending as long as you're Jean Valjean, Marius, or Cosette and not any of the rest of the revolutionaries, who all died on the barricades.
  • The Mist is an inversion: humanity has turned the tide against the titular mist with the aid of its military and looks to be making good progress in driving it back, which is precisely what makes the fate of the main character so utterly cruel, as he had just killed his family under the belief that there was no hope and that doing so was a mercy.
  • Not Easily Broken has the main characters, a married couple that was previously going through marriage problems that were exacerbated by a devastating car accident that severely injured her, learning that they were having a baby and both being excited by it. However, this does nothing to work out the issues of the mother-in-law, whose misandry and disapproval of her apparently flawless son-in-law will linger on, impeding new grandchild or not, or the physical therapist that the husband developed feelings for whose own son received an out-of-the-blue traumatic brain injury during a swim meet and who was shortly afterwards taken off of life-support by the doctors over the desperate crying and pleas of his mother.note 
  • Red Riding Hood: The village continues to live in fear even though the Wolf never returned. Valerie's mother has no one left, except Valerie who now lives in her dead grandmother's house and it's unknown if they see each other. Peter, after being bitten by the Wolf on a Blood Moon and thus becoming one every full moon returns to Valerie at the end of the movie after running away for some time to learn to control his werewolf power and the end credits show them being happy together.
  • The Ring: Rachel and Aiden make a copy of the cursed videotape, thus passing on the evil. Someone else will certainly watch the video and die, but it's OK because the main characters are safe! Then again, it's a horror movie. The only way to survive is to doom other people, and the only way to get out of the movie alive is to harden yourself to that. (Note that in the original, the person being set up to die is the lead's father.)
  • Saturday Night Fever: Tony heads to the big city to dance on Broadway and gets the girl, but the other one was treated like dirt, raped, and then forgotten about. And let's just forget Tony's friend Bobby C, who falls (whether accidentally or on purpose) off the Verrazanno-Narrows Bridge during an act of depressed recklessness.
  • Invoked and ultimately subverted in Saving Private Ryan; the members of the squad who are attempting to save Private Ryan discuss and express discontent over the fact that their lives are being risked to save the life of one man who, from their frame of reference, is no more important than they. Subverted in that, while James Ryan is saved at the expense of nearly every man in the squad, he is left with a mere Bittersweet Ending as a result of this, being stuck with survivor's guilt for the rest of his life due to his saviors' deaths.
  • TRON: Legacy: It's somewhere between this and Downer Ending. Sure, Sam and Quorra escape The Grid alive, Quorra sees her first sunrise, and Sam is taking charge of Encom, hopefully driving the Pointy Haired Bosses and Corrupt Corporate Executives out. But The Grid (and all the wonders the "digital frontier" promised) are in ruins, two-thirds of the named characters in the entire franchise are confirmed dead or de-rezzed, most of the remaining third have dim survival odds at best. Alan and Roy's work in trying to find Flynn Senior was All for Nothing, and they essentially gave up the best years of their lives. Quorra has no analog world skills or identity. Sam is pretty much seen as a proxy for his father. Oh, and that Sequel Hook - looks like Master Control isn't dead after all and Dillinger Junior is in its back pocket, meaning Here We Go Again!.
  • In the Film of the Book of War Horse, only Joey and Albert (and his family as well) get a happy ending. The other characters die or are left with nothing to live for (Like Emilie's grandfather).

  • The Fighting Fantasy adventure, ''Slaves of the Abyss', has the protagonist being one of several heroes on a quest to save the Kingdom of Kallamehr from destruction, but halfway through the story, the other adventurers ends up being betrayed and killed, and the protagonist's benefactor, Lady Carolina, being assassinated. The player ultimately confronts the story's true antagonist, Bythos the Dimension Lord, whom they slay, and is then rewarded as being the new Lord, never mind the rest of the heroes who died for nothing. This was due to a case of Executive Meddling; the protagonist's fate is to pull a Heroic Sacrifice in the final battle, with the conclusion being that they can die peacefully knowing Kallamehr is saved, but the ending gets re-written in the last minute into the A God Am I ending.

  • Completely inverted in Animorphs, where a Time Skip reveals a world which is brighter and kinder than is usual for the series, and lead characters who've all but fallen apart. The long-enslaved Hork-Bajir are free and living in Yellowstone, the Yeerks and Taxxons have escaped their bodies and live in other forms, there is peace and trade between humans and Andalites. Eva, Alloran, and other hosts get to live free. But Rachel is dead, Jake is mired in depression and self-hatred, Tobias lives as a hawk in isolation, Ax has gone Blood Knight and recklessly pursues trouble, and Marco keeps himself busy and claims happiness but jumps to throw it all away for a suicide mission. Cassie calls herself and Marco the "only two survivors" among the Animorphs, but she's the only one who's managed to move on and make a new life and find love. The last several books in the series feature these characters looking at their options and choosing again and again to work for that world above their own personal interests, so perhaps it's not surprising.
  • Maggie Furey seems to have a thing for pulling this off quite well. At the end of her Artefacts of Power series, if you're not a friend of Aurian, you're looking at a bleak life... and even then, two of her friends are stuck ruling a province for someone they don't like ruling under, too many people simply die, the Nightrunners don't really have a home anymore (and if Faerie rule has a bad effect on trade they might not have of a living either), and the three Xandim protagonists are outcasts of the to-be-brought-back-in-chains variant. Let's just say it's reasonable that Aurian wants to take some time off with her child, lover, and a couple of big black cats.
  • Alexander McCall Smith's book The Careful Use of Compliments ends with the independently wealthy Isabel using her money to buy the journal she edits, firing the editorial board, and replacing it with her friends, all so she won't lose her editing job. Good for her, but sucky for the editorial board, the guy who was going to be the new editor, and all the journal's readers, since the journal will undoubtedly suffer a precipitous decline in quality.
  • Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest. The sorceress is defeated. Sorcha and Red finally get together, are completely content with their lives and get a Babies Ever After ending, but Simon is left out in the cold, Margary is left alone with a baby, Liam's one true love is dead, Colum has lost his self-confidence and Finbar is stuck with a swan's wing. Quite a Downer Ending for most of the cast.
  • Discworld: Discussed in Witches Abroad, where a voodoo priestess fights a fairy godmother who's manipulating the Theory of Narrative Causality for her own ends; the priestess thinks to herself at one point that she's fighting for all the exploited and down-trodden everyday people who "never got a happy ending" because they're just extras and side characters.
  • In Masques, the protagonist Aralorn gets a somewhat happy ending, but slavery is still commonplace, and of course Miss "I don't hate men, I just don't want the oppressive rules they make for women to apply to me" doesn't waste a thought on those women whose daddy didn't give them a sword, a horse, and a pat on the back when they told him that they want to be adventurers.
  • Very common in the novels of Paula Volsky. Her settings are grim and dangerous, and many characters wind up dead or with other bleak fates. The protagonists tend to turn out OK—alive at the end, and often with romance as well.
  • In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth and Darcy are happily married, but Charlotte and Lydia not nearly as lucky in their marriages, and then there is the fact that there are lots and lots of women who had to marry for safety and a roof over their heads, just like Charlotte, who gets off easy because she at least had the opportunity to pick a husband who was merely stupid rather than abusive or financially irresponsible.
  • In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Elizabeth marries Darcy. Nothing happens to stop the zombie apocalypse, though...
  • Subverted and Lampshaded in Red Dragon. A family called the Leads is murdered, and Will definitely doesn't get a happy ending.
  • In Shadowleague all the main characters are pictured as looking at a bright future that they'll build together with everyone they met during the story, so everything must be going good... unless you're one of the many who died of the invading vampire-creatures, the plague or various other causes throughout the upheaval up until the main characters fix most of it.
  • The epilogue of Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor starkly emphasizes that the leads may have gotten their happy ending, but a lot of innocent people died along the way.
  • An extremely dark example in Things We Have In Common, crossing over with Esoteric Happy Ending due to an Unreliable Narrator. The object of Yasmin's obsession, Alice, gets raped and murdered, and her body is probably never going to be found. Yasmin's family is destroyed by the accusation that Gary is a murderer, which is probably never going to lift. However, Yasmin and Sam get away with everything and the story ends with them getting together romantically and probably planning to abduct a victim together.
  • The Twilight Saga: In Breaking Dawn, Bella and Edward (and Nessie) get a ridiculously happy ending. Meanwhile, all of the other Cullens still have their original problems (Jasper still has bloodlust, Rose still can't have kids, etc.) and every other secondary character goes back to a nomadic life, presumably on the Volturi's target list for standing with the Cullens. We're supposed to believe that Jacob also got a happy ending but, as he was someone who hated imprinting, it sure doesn't feel like that.
  • In Worm, the heroes are victorious at the price of trillions of deaths and of civilization across most of the multiverse being destroyed. Taylor gets to retire to normal life in one of the few pockets of civilization and the rest of the heroes go on to happy lives heroically rebuilding civilization wherever they are, but if you're one of the few people who survived and you don't happen to live on a part of the world near the protagonists, your life is going to be nasty, brutal and short.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24 frequently inverts the trope by having Jack Bauer save the day while refusing to grant him a measure of peace. Day 1 ends with the murder of his wife and Live Another Day ends with him surrendering himself to the Russians. He loses another three significant women in his life along the way.
  • Doctor Who, in Horror of Fang Rock. The Doctor and Leela have killed the alien Rutan that was threatening a lighthouse and destroyed its mother ship. They leave safely in the TARDIS, but the Rutan managed to kill all the other characters first.
  • The finale of Season 3 in The Good Doctor is a perfect example of this trope: Morgan ends up damaging her hands, ruining her career as a surgeon; Park fails to save a teenager's life, and is so traumatized by the tragedy that he decides to leave the city and have more contact with his family; and Melendez ends up dying due to the injuries he got during an earthquake, much to the horror of his ex Lim and his co-worker Claire, who had just realized that she was in love with him. The only ones who end up having a happy ending are none other than the protagonist Shaun and his Love Interest Lea, who survive the earthquake and finally take the courage to start a love relationship with him. The final scene of the episode shows the two kissing in the sunrise, without having the slightest idea of the tragedies that occurred to their friends.
  • At the end of the second season première of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Frank very conspicuously says "The important thing is that nobody important got seriously hurt" after the gang got in a car accident. The camera then pans over to an unnamed character who was with the group at the time lying in a full body cast in a hospital bed calling them jerks.
  • This helped lead to a Broken Base for the ending of Lost. After everything that had happened and a final confrontation that isn't fully explained, only a handful of the most popular lead characters manage to survive and escape. The creators claim the ending was supposed to be about the characters and not the unexplained mythology, but pretty much every character that appeared, from recurring characters to background extras, were killed, including another plane-full of people that never mattered and were mass-murdered off-screen near the end of the series. Meanwhile, what they all died for is never really explained, but the ending still tries to be uplifting and hopeful because the popular leads made it out.
  • In an early episode of Person of Interest, Reese goes undercover in a crew of ex-soldiers turned armed robbers to investigate Joey, the Number of the Week, who has noble reasons for going after the cash. Reese and Joey make it out alive after being set up, but the other two members of the crew are killed. Reese does try to save the others, but he's never invested in the personal lives of these men who may have had their own understandable reasons for needing the money and were no more criminal than Joey.
  • This sort-of happens in Robin Hood. Both Robin Hood and Marian end up dead, but they are given a Together in Death scene that suggests that they have an eternity in Heaven to share. Everyone else? Shot, stabbed, dead, buried, abandoned, forgotten, or stuck with Kate.
  • In Salem, the Official Couple (John and Mary) get to leave the township for a better life together, whilst every other main cast member has either been murdered (Mercy), sold into slavery (Tituba), damned to hell (Cotton), corrupted beyond recognition (Anne), or not mentioned at all (Isaac).

  • Agatha Christie's theatre adaptation of her own novel And Then There Were None has Vera and Lombard, the closest people the story has in the role of the protagonist, survive the murder spree and escape the island.
  • The play Life Is A Dream by Pedro Calderon de la Barca ends with the main couple having a beautiful wedding! Never mind the pointless war the protagonist and his father were having.
  • Zig-zagged in Les Misérables. By the end of the show, most of the main characters are dead, including the lead, Jean Valjean. However, most of them (barring Javert) are living happily in heaven, which in the film version is portrayed as is an idealized version of Paris where their dreams have been realized. Likewise, in the real Paris, the poor are still as downtrodden and oppressed as before. Of the four main characters who do survive the show, the despicable Thénardiers get away with all their crimes scot-free, while Marius and Cosette are Happily Married but probably scarred for life after witnessing the deaths of various friends and family.
  • Older Than Steam Shakespearean examples:
    • Henry V ends with the wedding of the eponymous King and Princess Katherine of France after Henry fights a bloody war of conquest against his soon-to-be father-in-law. However, Shakespeare lampshades the trope by pointing out in the epilogue that Henry's conquests will be short-lived and his premature death will lead to a bloody civil war.
    • In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Demetrius is given the love-in-idleness, thus forcing him to fall in love with Helena. While this is definitely good for Helena, it's not really a happy ending for Demetrius, given that he doesn't have a choice in the matter. He doesn't even seem to be aware that anything's out of the ordinary, making this a subversion.note 
    • Some interpretations of Twelfth Night play the ending this way. Viola and Sebastian are reunited and happily married to the Duke Orsino and the Countess Olivia, respectively. However, Olivia's whole marriage is based on the fact that she actually fell in love with her husband's twin sister, Sir Andrew leaves Illyria in disgrace and heartbreak, Anthony the pirate has lost the young man he loved and has been arrested while trying to help him, Toby Belch and Maria are trapped in a loveless marriage, and Malvolio has sworn revenge on the whole cast. Feste's sad song "For the rain it raineth every day" doesn't help.
  • The Takarazuka Revue production of Elisabeth gives this to the leads (Death and Sisi). They are Together in Death (well, when one's love interest/Stalker with a Crush is Death...), and the show ends with Death showing Sisi the underworld that she will (implicitly) be queen of, and he having gotten the girl. How do the other major characters fare? Franz Joseph outlives his wife (who he loved unconditionally, but she eventually ceased to return his affection) by decades. Sophie dies without much fanfare. The Hungarian revolutionaries are arrested. Rudolf has been Driven to Suicide.

    Video Games 
  • The Evil ending of The Bard's Tale plays this for laughs. The Bard frees the Princess from the Druids, but it turns out that she's a demon princess and the cause of the ongoing Zombie Apocalypse. She marries The Bard and they live happily ever after, fulfilling her promises of wealth, power, and lots of sex while the rest of the world gets overrun by her zombie armies.
  • Dragon Age: Origins:
    • Inverted for a non-human noble female Warden who was in a relationship with Alistair and didn't harden him, or for a male Warden who was in a relationship with Morrigan. Everyone but the leads (in your party anyway) gets a happy ending.
    • A male Warden who romanced Morrigan has the opportunity to disappear with her into the Eluvian in the DLC Witch Hunt, and a female Human Noble who romanced and didn't harden Alistair can marry him at the Landsmeet and accept Morrigan's ritual, meaning they do get a happy ending... for now.
    • Among all potential Grey Warden Player Characters, only the main Human Noble can get an unambiguously happy ending. They don't deal with deeply ingrained and inescapable societal racism like most other Wardens (mage, elf, casteless dwarf), and unlike the dwarf noble they're allowed to kill the traitorous bastard who destroyed their family without consequence. The Human Noble is also the only Warden allowed to marry Alistair or Anora and become King or Queen. Even the Dwarf Noble is not allowed to marry the Ferelden monarch because of their race, OR clear their name and become King/Queen of Orzammar. A Dwarf Commoner can also get an unambiguously good ending if they made Bhelen king, becoming a Paragon and noble in their own right and also in-laws with the king who reforms the oppressive caste system.
  • Appears in Dragon Age II in the Templar ending, where Kirkwall has been devastated, Thedas is rapidly approaching its first world war, and the entire band of heroes has been split up...except for Hawke and his/her Love Interest. If you side with the mages you end up fleeing your home. Again. Even in the Templar ending it's clear from the framing scenes that Hawke had to flee the city anyway; that they can't be found in the "present" is one of the first things you learn about them..
  • Fable II:
    • The "Needs of the Few" ending resurrects your dog, sister, spouse (if you married), and children (if you had any). The countless hundreds of people who perished over the twenty years of the Spire's creation? Still goners.
    • In the "Needs of the One" ending, you get a mountain of gold, but everyone who died stays dead.
  • Inverted in Final Fantasy X: Sin is destroyed and the people of Spira are finally freed from the cycle of death and suffering that had dominated their lives for a thousand years, but Tidus fades away into nothingness as the power of the spirits who created him vanishes, leaving his friends saddened and his Love Interest Yuna heartbroken. However, this can be subverted in the sequel if you get the Golden Ending, in which he returns after all.
  • Final Fantasy XIII:
    • Split fifty-fifty for the main characters: Lightning and Snow get Serah back (though the sequel takes Lightning away from Serah immediately thereafter), Sazh has his son back, but Hope's mother is dead and Fang and Vanille are turned into crystals for all eternity. The fact they're effectively Together in Death and shown to not have any regrets about their Heroic Sacrifice in XIII-2 may dull this for some players, however.
    • Also split fifty-fifty for the rest of humanity (or rather, the handful of survivors). They lost their homes and are forced to live under the harsh conditions of Gran Pulse and are no longer protected by the Fal'cie. Then again the Fal'cie were trying to kill all of them. The main characters' final act plan was to stop the Fal'cie and, failing at that, to mitigate the damage.
    • Averted by the end of Lightning Returns, where all of humanity gets to move on and be happy in a new world.
  • Downplayed in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. The Exile's team goes off to found the new Jedi Order, fix the damaged Republic, and shut down the HK-50's while she is condemned to flying off to die at the hands of the True Sith. It's implied in The Old Republic MMO that she did manage to do enough to set back the invasion for almost 300 years, but she still misses out on the opportunity to see all of her actions come to fruition or pursue a relationship with Atton or the Disciple.
  • Played very darkly in The Last of Us: Joel and Ellie both survive and seemingly find a stable place to live together. The rest of the cast besides Bill, Tommy, and Maria die. Humanity lost its biggest hope at recovering from the Zombie Apocalypse because Joel refused to let Ellie be sacrificed to make a cure. The writers' stated intention for the ending subverts this trope: Ellie hated that Joel made that decision for her so that she lost all respect for him and would inevitably leave him. So not even the leads got a happy ending. And then the sequel crushes out what little bits of light were still there.
  • Pikmin 3 ends with Koppai's food shortage remedied, but Hocotate Freight is back in debt with a missing ship (thus losing more money) and Louie seems to have gone insane.
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 inverts this trope. Arthur Morgan dies. John Marston is able to settle down with his family, but anyone who played the first game knows it won't last long. Meanwhile, though some gang members like Strauss and Karen come to bad endings, some of the others are able to move on and lead successful lives.
    • Namely: Pearson ends up getting married and owning the general shop in Rhodes. Mary-Beth moves away and becomes a writer of some repute. Charles leaves the gang to seek a new life in Canada as a family man. Tilly marries a lawyer in Saint Denis and lives in a beautiful estate house with him and their daughter. Swanson drops his drinking habit and moves to New York where he becomes a preacher. And Sadie cools down her Ax-Crazy tendencies and moves to South America in search of a quiet life.
  • In The Secret of Monkey Island, if you sink your ship with the catapultic rock thing, Herman Toothrot will take you back to Melee island instead of your crew, and in the ending you'll get a nice sequence about how they're trapped in the cannibal hut. Escape from Monkey Island also treats this as canon and plays the trauma for laughs.
  • Seraphic Blue inverts this. Vene, the main party member, is still struggling with nihilism and barely survives a rare disease in the ending while the other party members seem to have found far more peace of mind.
  • When the Taiwanese and Global servers for SINoALICE shut down, players were given the chance to complete one final chapter to end the story — and how does it end? Alice wakes up from her dream and greets her friend with a cheerful smile, running out of her classroom to live her life. But everyone else in Reality? May suffer the same unpleasant fates they already had, just offscreen. And the world of Library? It's gone. Forever. But at least Alice is happy... right?
  • This may happen in Star Control 2 depending on how well you do. It's possible to win the game with every single planet except Earth wiped out.
  • Star Ocean and Star Ocean: The Second Story both have Multiple Endings based on hidden relationship meters between the characters. The main protagonists naturally get their happy ending no matter what, but... for those who have bad scores, the endings can prove quite Bittersweet, if not outright Tear Jerkers.
  • To the Moon gives a "happy ending" in the form of a Dying Dream to the main character Johnny, in which he re-lives another version of his life in which his twin brother, Joey, never died and where he travels to the Moon with his soulmate River, but there's the fact that this never happened in reality, and that the real world counterparts died after suffering great pain for years.
  • The Neutral Endings of Undertale. Frisk returns to the surface, but the Underground is in shambles, and depending on how murderous the player was, any number of innocents could be dead. The Pacifist Ending is a straight happy ending, and the Genocide Ending an unambiguous Downer Ending for all involved.
  • The best ending of Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume has Wylfred finally find peace, his mother regain her sanity, and Tilte learning about Ancel's death and being able to grieve him properly instead of just sensing that something's plain wrong. The rest of the cast, however, don't get featured at all in the ending and most of the characters that don't you meet but don't recruit get rather depressing ends. It doesn't help that the two other endings are Downer Endings.
  • Xenogears: Hooray, the two leads have finally found each other and reunited with the rest of the party, after killing Deus and freeing everyone from its control, making them able to lead their own lives! Unfortunately, "everyone" doesn't include the approximately 95% of the human race who either got turned into mutants and absorbed into Deus or straight-up killed.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night's Central Theme is that a hero has to choose who he wants to save, and illustrates it during its three main scenarios. In each scenario Shirou gets a little more selective and selfish about who he chooses to save, giving the main characters a bit more self-realization but also increasing the collateral damage to the city and its inhabitants. In Fate, the trope is inverted as Shirou gives up his own happiness and is (potentially) set down a very self-destructive path, but no innocent people die. Meanwhile, in Heaven's Feel, the main human characters get a happy ending while several hundred innocents die (off-screen) during the scenario.
  • In Zero Time Dilemma, not only do only the leads get a happy ending, but only one dimension's version of the leads gets a happy ending. They do not succeed in stopping the end of the world. They only succeeded in transferring themselves into the consciousnesses of themselves in a dimension where the plague that causes the apocalypse never happens. The other versions of themselves die in other dimensions or watch helplessly as humanity is brought to its knees, and the people in the dimension the leads end up in weren't "saved" since they were never in any danger in the first place.

    Web Video 
  • MarshSMT's playthrough of Peret em Heru: For the Prisoners ended up in a downplayed case of this: Ayuto, Kyosuke, Nei and Yoko, the only pre-established friend group in the game, all survive the experience and are last described as "heading off to enjoy the rest of their vacation under the clear blue sky". Every stranger in the tour group that Ayuto didn't personally know (with the sole exception of Rin) wound up dead.
  • Parodied in the 2nd episode of Monster Lab (2021). Uno was able to save the life of Katz, but he (indirectly mind you) hurt a massive portion of the town's citizens. Katz is overjoyed that Uno saved his life and applauds him as a hero - all the while Uno is lamenting the destruction he caused.
    Uno: I created a creature that resulted in the assault of an entire neighborhood and three people's deaths.
    Katz: Well, I see. Well, this whole experience has taught me that sometimes you need to help yourself before you can truly help others.
    Uno: (sobbing)
    Katz: Uno, you have proven today that you can take care of a situation all by yourself. We'll have to have you spearhead these missions more often.
    Uno: (sobbing) ... sure ...

    Western Animation 
  • Captain Flamingo: In "Ball of Confusion", Milo was able to tie for the hundredth shot with Wendell in the golf course after his golf ball went in eighteen holes in one shot which then knocks over Wendell's shot in for his hundredth shot, while all of the minor characters didn't get a happy ending as after Max puts in another quarter to get a "never-stops-bouncing-ball" for himself, it pops out of the machine uncontrollably, causing havoc at the Funasium.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog: Inverted in "Robot Randy". Randy learns to use his gifts to make people like him. But in doing so, Courage, Muriel, and Eustace's home is completely destroyed and all they are left with are Randy's wooden Reindeer, merely as a token of their friendship. Eustace even lampshades how much they were screwed over in the end:
    Eustace: Great! Now we can rebuild the farmhouse with these stupid reindeer!
  • Family Guy:
    • Lois is targeted for assassination by the Mafia by putting a bomb in her car. But Peter convinces the kingpin to spare her life; and the episode ends with Peter saying "all that matters is that nobody important got hurt." (As the parking valet's clothes come floating down from the sky in little pieces.)
    • In another episode:
      Peter: I guess being a hero isn't always about saving lives. Sometimes it's just about caring for the people you love.
      Random Woman: Help! Someone just stole my purse!
      Peter: Who cares? I don't even know you!
    • In Season 15, "Hot Shot":
      Brian: Well, it's a relief that everyone's been vaccinated, and the quarantine has been lifted.
      Lois: Well, I'm just happy that Stewie is healthy, and only 150 people died, but not anyone we knew personally.
  • Futurama: Done several times where the main characters resolve their issues while the city gets destroyed in the background. One episode has Fry and Leela making up after Fry puts a humiliating video of her on the Internet, meanwhile all of Bender's and Fry's Twitcher subscribers get brainwashed by M.O.M.. Thankfully, they're brainwashed into buying more of her products. Another has Bender being saved from execution by going on a murderous rampage with Santa Claus. (It Makes Sense in Context.) In yet another, Bender goes into witness protection after angering the Robot Mafia, and an identical robot his friends assume to be him is targeted and killed in his place, prompting this exchange when the real Bender reveals himself:
    Leela: So that moon hillbilly who got murdered was just an innocent husband and father!
    (Beat, then everyone cheers.)
  • King of the Hill: "Death of a Propane Salesman" ends with the Mega-Lo-Mart being rebuilt after the explosion but shuts down their propane department which gets Hank and the rest of the Strickland staff their jobs back. Since the other departments weren't affected, the other former business owners Hank befriended in the last episode are still stuck working for the store that killed their businesses, and since Mega-Lo-Mart continues to be a prominent business in Arlen, their protests against it were All for Nothing.
  • Harley Quinn (2019): The first season ends with Harley defeating the Joker and finally breaking free of her toxic relationship with him. She reconciles with her crew and Ivy (who was killed during the previous episode) is resurrected. However, the Justice League is also presumably still stuck in the Queen of Fables' book, Batman has disappeared, and Gotham has been ravaged by the mutated trees' rampage then by an earthquake caused by the Joker, presumably killing countless civilians. The episode (barring the cliffhanger) ends with Harley, Ivy, and their friends watching Gotham in flames. Since the main characters are Villain Protagonists, they consider it a happy ending.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil ends with the protagonists destroying magic to neutralize the threat of Mina's army of Solarians (and future abuses of magic), even if it will leave Star, Marco, and others stuck in their respective dimensions of The Multiverse. Then, Earth, Mewni, and possibly all other dimensions become one Merged Reality for an unexplained reason, letting Star and Marco stay together, but drastically altering both worlds in ways that will be difficult to adjust to, especially for all of the people (mostly on Earth) who aren't already familiar with other dimensions. Also with no magic, all beings that were made of magic were erased from existence, including the entire Magic High Commission, and who knows how many others.
  • TaleSpin: Baloo is declared the heir to a rich family and inherits their fortune. The reason he is the sole heir is that all the others were killed by the cook and the butler in a scheme to inherit the fortune, but all their attempts on Baloo's life fail and the cook and the butler are arrested. So all live happily...except for the rest of the family members, who were murdered.
  • Tangled: The Series: In "Queen for a Day", Rapunzel manages to end the deadly blizzard curse that would destroy Corona and reunites with her parents, and Eugene comforts her when she doubts becoming queen and will be with her when the time comes. However, her friend Varian's father got frozen in amber thanks to a failed attempt to get rid of the black rocks, and since she couldn't come to help him because of the blizzard, he undergoes a Start of Darkness and vows revenge on her (and by extension, all of Corona) for turning away from him.


Video Example(s):


Ball of Confusion

After using a magnet to get an ice cream machine to make a soft landing to stop the "never-stops-bouncing-balls" from going out of control, Milo was able to tie for the hundredth shot with Wendell in the golf course after his golf ball went in eighteen holes in one shot which then knocks over Wendell's shot in for his hundredth shot, while all of the minor characters didn't get a happy ending as after Max puts in another quarter to get a "never-stops-bouncing-ball" for himself, it pops out of the machine uncontrollably, causing havoc at the Fun-nasium.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

Main / OnlyTheLeadsGetAHappyEnding

Media sources: