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"Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone."
King Pyrrhus of Epirus in the Battle of Asculum, his second Pyrrhic Victory against the Romans
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Few victories come without cost, but the cost of a Pyrrhic Victory is ruinous to the victor. A Pyrrhic Victory will often involve a Heroic Sacrifice or people asking Was It Really Worth It? If it happens at the end of a work, it will inevitably lead to a Bittersweet Ending or even a Downer Ending (and likely Inferred Holocaust). Often the implication of a Lonely at the Top situation, where someone gets everything he wanted, but lost everything and everyone that helped him get there. A clever enemy can use a Defensive Feint Trap to trick an opponent into "winning" such a victory.

These are common in Darker and Edgier series and is one of the defining characteristics of a Crapsack World. Compare to Meaningless Villain Victory. Contrast with Shoot the Shaggy Dog. If the bad outcome of a victory is due to post-victory arrangements rather than victory itself, you may look for Won the War, Lost the Peace. When dealing with Eldritch Abominations, this overlaps with Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu. Contrast Xanatos Gambit, where "losing" might benefit the planner more than outright victory. Contrast Godzilla Threshold; any victory will do, with no price too great to achieve it, and The Unfettered are the most likely to carry it out.

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Here there be spoilers, since this is often an Ending Trope.

Named for King Pyrrhus of Epirus, a Greek general who attempted to conquer Rome fairly early in its lifespan. In the Battle of Asculum, he defeated a Roman force and inflicted far more losses on them than he took in the process... but as he was fighting on Roman turf, they could rebuild their forces easily and he couldn't, meaning he'd burned through a good chunk of his best troops and couldn't get them back, and on top of that, the Romans had managed to burn down his camp, thus depriving him of provisions and costing him even more troops due to exposure and otherwise treatable wounds, leading to the above quote. If anything, it was noted that his early victories only served to piss off the remaining Roman forces, making them even more determined to defeat him. He was forced to withdraw from Italy, and by the time he'd returned, the Romans had built an army strong enough to kick him out permanently.

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This trope is based on real life events. However, due to massive edit warring in the real life section, the section is now closed. Fortunately, there's a page with details of these battles on The Other Wiki.


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Other Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • When Batman faces Jason Todd, who forces him to choose between letting Joker die or killing Jason, Batman makes Jason drop his weapon and sends him into shock by throwing a batarang at a pipe so it rebounds and cuts the side of Jason's neck.
    Joker: You managed to find a way to win... and everybody still loses!!
    • In the Elseworlds Batman Vampire trilogy, Batman defeats Dracula's forces at the cost of his identity as Bruce Wayne as he becomes a vampire himself, with the final book in the trilogy seeing Batman killing all of his original enemies as he succumbs to his vampire instincts, forcing Commissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth to sacrifice themselves to restore Batman's sanity long enough for him to destroy himself.
  • Blaze of Glory: Caleb Hammer expresses this sentiment to Rawhide Kid in the ending. Indeed, half of Wonderment and the majority of the cast are now dead, so the reader may be left with this sensation as well.
  • After Civil War ends in the death of Captain America, Iron Man actually mentions Pyrrhus in The Confession. Overwhelmed with guilt and grief, he ultimately concludes that the victory was worthless.
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths: The heroes beat the Anti-Monitor, but in the process the entire multiverse is lost (and this is canon). Arguably, the heroes can't be held responsible for the worlds lost before they got involved, but there were still six or seven worlds remaining when they began their counter-offensive, two of them were destroyed and the other five were collapsed into one that was almost but not quite like one of the five with a few borrowed elements from the other four. And thanks to Brightest Day, the Anti-Monitor is back and ready to give it another go.
  • Daredevil: Mark Waid's first run ends with Matt Murdock exposing the Sons of the Serpent and saving a many Wrongly Accused, but, because he revealed his identity as Daredevil, he is disbarred from practicing law in New York for perjury, which threatens his friend "Foggy" Nelson, as he's getting treatment for cancer. Thankfully, he realizes he can practice law again in a state he previously did and moves to California.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In one story, Donald buys his first cell phone and tries to impress Daisy with it by calling her from ever increasing distances from Duckburg. However, each time Daisy informs him she’s already received a cell phone call from one of her friends from a greater distance away, prompting Donald to travel even further and try again. Donald is about to give up when Daisy receives a cell phone call from a friend in Australia, but then he gets abducted by aliens. The story ends with Donald calling Daisy from the aliens' home planet, stating that he won but he's not happy about it.
  • Occurs in Doomsday Clock when Ozymandias manages to pull off another massive plan to make Doctor Manhattan save both worlds by making Superman persuade the former to reset both worlds and convince that there is hope again. He succeeds in doing so, but was forced to serve a lifetime in prison in his own HQ back in the Watchmen world after being saved by Rorschach II when he got shot by The Comedian, instead of dying as a hero like he intended.
  • The Long Halloween ends on this. Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent form an alliance to take down Carmine Falcone just as Batman's familiar Rogues Gallery start to appear like The Joker, The Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and The Riddler. Falcone's empire is brought down—but the series ends with the Rogues Gallery in control, Harvey Dent has been transformed into Two-Face, one of Harvey's first acts as Two-Face is killing Falcone himself, and both Batman and Gordon wondering "Was It Really Worth It?"
  • Monica's Gang: Frankie gave a bone to his dog, which spent most of the story trying to recover it from one adversity after another. By the time he got it back, he no longer had any teeth.
  • The Onslaught crossover invoked this trope by name in the last trade paperback that collected the series. Virtually every major hero within the main Marvel Universe is forced to sacrifice themselves in order to stop the main villain, Onslaught, by giving him a physical body. The mutants present at the fight, who were unable to sacrifice themselves in the above fashion, are forced to slaughter the heroes in order to destroy Onslaught once and for all, though much of the world ended up believing that they had simply killed off a huge crowd of beloved heroes.
  • The two Battles of New Xerba in Paperinik New Adventures:
  • Sin City: All victories in this series are Pyrrhic and then some.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), the Freedom Fighters defeat Eggman, at the cost of Princess Sally being roboticized.
  • In The Smurfs story "Sagratamabarb", Gargamel gets into a Wizard Duel with his cousin Sagratamabarb, who with his genie creates a house identical to Gargamel's right next to his. Gargamel tries to destroy the house, only to find out that his own house also suffers the same damage. Gargamel calls upon Beelzebub for his help in defeating his cousin, though he had to offer his own soul in exchange for the victory. Though Beelzebub was easily chased off by Sagratamabarb's centaur, Gargamel soldiers on and calls upon all the powers of darkness to defeat his cousin. Eventually Gargamel wins the duel, though it not only cost him his house, it also cost him his eternal soul, as Beelzebub returns at the end to drag Gargamel down to Hell with him.
  • Star Wars: Kanan: Discussed. When Caleb is subjected to his first death—the death of his friend Stance—by Colonel Sear, he realizes for the first time in his life that he wants to kill. During the fight, however, he realizes that it would just lead more death and isn't worth it. He spares Sear, though Sear ends up committing suicide anyway and Caleb considers it his first blood.
  • Watchmen ended with Ozymandias stopping World War III by creating a fake extraterrestrial monster and siccing it on New York, killing millions and forcing the US and Russia into a tenuous alliance. Ozymandias however will be haunted forever by the lives he took to ensure peace. However, a clue Rorschach left before he died might unravel the whole thing in any moment so Ozymandias' scheme might come to nothing.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Diana wins her duel against Medusa but everyone Medusa killed is still dead and Diana is blinded. Highlighted by how Di sinks to her knees holding her badly wounded side immediately after killing the gorgon and says a simple unenthusiastic "I win."
  • The Adventures of the X-Men manages to give both the heroes and villains a Pyrrhic Victory. On the heroes' side, they were unable to stop the destruction of the multiverse, but Jean Grey managed to use her psychic powers to foil the Dweller in Darkness' plan to use this opportunity to feed on the fear of all lifeforms in the multiverse by telepathically encouraging them to Face Death with Dignity. Likewise, the Dweller succeeded in destabilizing the multiverse, but did not benefit from it as he had planned due to Jean's aforementioned actions. The only one who got a clear victory out of that was D'Spayre, who seized the opportunity to feed on his master's despair over his failed plan and gave the Dweller a much-deserved Karmic Death.
  • The Transformers Megaseries has the end of the Great War. By The Death of Optimus Prime, the Decepticons had lost, and badly: their infrastructure broken, their remaining forces scattered through the cosmos, most of their leaders under watch or simply gone, and the Autobots firmly in control of Cybertron. But the Autobots themselves had also lost almost all their outlying territories, and millennia of war had made them pariahs among the rest of the galaxy and even much of the non-aligned population. Much of the series deals with the fact that, while they did manage to take Cybertron, they don't have the manpower to hold it, and they end up handing control of it to a civilian government while moving operations to Earth.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: In one story arc, Calvin attempts to weasel out of having to do a writing assignment for school by using time travel to get it in the future when it's already written. It doesn't end up working out, because in order for the assignment to exist in the future he had to have written it in the past, but the past and future Hobbeses together, realizing in advance Calvin's scheme won't work, write up a story themselves and give it to Calvin, so he still gets out of having to write a story himself in the end. Unfortunately, when Calvin presents the story the next day, he finds it's an insulting story about how much of a useless idiot he is for using time travel to weasel out of doing his homework with time travel that, according to Calvin, turned him into the laughingstock of the class.
  • Jason in Foxtrot often purposely fools his siblings into "winning" bets that are this.
    • In one Horrible Camping Trip, Jason bets Peter a dollar he can't hit a tree with a hatchet. Peter takes that bet, and hits it perfectly. When Andy is angrily chewing him out for doing something so dangerous, Jason considers the show a dollar well-spent.
    • On one Thanksgiving, he bets Peter a dollar he can eat more than him. He eats two helpings and calls it quits; Peter eats 27 platefuls before even checking the score, eventually passing out without closing his eyes. Again, where else could Jason have gotten so much fun for a dollar?
    • It happens to Jason himself when he bets Marcus fifty cents that he can write a longer essay. His thousand page essay easily trumps Marcus' 500-page one, but while Marcus gets an A on the essay, Jason, for all his work, gets a D, and fifty cents. (And he doesn't learn a thing afterwards.)
  • Garfield

    Films — Animation 
  • In Batman: Under the Red Hood, Batman manages to stop the Red Hood/Jason and save the Joker's life, but as the Joker points out, all Batman did was make it so that no one got what they wanted and nothing has changed.
  • In The Boxtrolls, Snatcher does get a white hat, and he does taste cheese in the tasting room in the end. That tasted-cheese causes his allergy (along with the rest of his built-up allergic reaction) to do him in.
  • In Cars, the Piston Cup comes down to a three-way contest between hero Lightning McQueen, Big Bad Chick Hicks, and defending champion Strip Weathers, who is planning to retire after this race. Hicks cheats and causes Weathers to wreck out, which in turn causes Lightning, in the lead, to drop out to help Weathers at least finish his last race. As a result, Hicks actually wins, with Weathers in second place and Lightning in third, but he accepts the trophy to a throng of boos and thrown objects, including from his own pit crew, now revealed as a cheater to the world. It also costs him a coveted sponsorship deal with Dinoco (the company that sponsored Weathers and was searching for a new racer following his retirement) who instead offer a deal to McQueen for his sportsmanship despite losing the race.
  • Justice League Dark: Apokolips War ends with the heroes finally defeating Darkseid once and for all — but many of their ranks are dead, many of those still alive are mutilated cyborgs, Nightwing is insane because of his death and resurrection, and Darkseid managed to cause irreversible damage to the Earth. The only sure way to fix things is for the Flash to cause a Cosmic Retcon to reboot the whole universe.
  • The Alternate Ending of The Lion King (1994) was one of these for Scar. He beats Simba and throws him off Pride Rock but unknowingly saved Simba's life in the process, as the fires engulf Pride Rock, killing Scar. All Scar's 'victory' did was result in killing himself and allowing Simba to become king. At that point, however, he probably didn't care, seeing how he was also laughing as he was burning up.
  • The Battle of Autobot City in The Transformers: The Movie ends as this. Although the Autobots manage to repel the Decepticon threat (with Megatron mortally wounded), Optimus Prime loses his life in the same battle, as do several other named Autobots. The Decepticon casualties, meanwhile, end up being zero thanks to Unicron reformatting Megatron and the other dying Decepticons into Galvatron and his minions, who swiftly attack the city again, forcing the surviving Autobots to flee.
    • Galvatron himself runs afoul of this, setting off the Final Battle in the process. He manages to dismember Ultra Magnus (he gets better) and retrieve the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, but instead of handing it over to Unicron to be destroyed, he attempts to use it to destroy him instead. Of course, it's called the Autobot Matrix of Leadership for a reason, so he fails and is forced to watch Unicron begin laying into Cybertron before the Chaos Bringer devours him whole for his insolence.
  • In Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph gets the medal he wanted and returns to his own game, after destroying Vanellope's racecar to prevent her from racing. There finds out that Fix-It Felix has left trying to find him and has yet to return, and their game is about to be unplugged. So, Ralph's won a medal, broke a little girl's heart, and has the key to a Penthouse suite he was told he'd never get in a game about to be unplugged... Though he DOES set everything right in the end.
  • In the climax of Monsters, Inc., Waternoose's plan to enslave children for their screams to keep Monsters, Inc., going and end the energy crisis is exposed for all to see, leading to his arrest. But as he is lead out, he warns Sully that by trying to keep Boo safe and get her home safely, he has destroyed Monsters, Inc., which no longer has any more screams, and thus doomed Monstropolis to a state of permanent blackout. And indeed, later, all the monsters in the building are standing outside with the company seemingly out of business, and even Sully is worried that his good intentions have cost him his job. Mike tries to cheer him up.
    Mike: Hey, you all right? Come on, we did it. We got Boo home. Sure, we put the company in the toilet, and, gee, hundreds of people will be out of work now, not to mention the angry mob that'll come after us when there's no more power... but hey, at least we had a few laughs, right?

    Films — Live-Action 
  • At the end of Child's Play 2, Chucky is vanquished but the heroes (Andy and Kyle) now realize they don't have a home to go to because of Chucky's rampage. The alternate ending makes this an even more blatant example by having Chucky get resurrected immediately.
  • Count Yorga:
    • In the first film, Micheal manages to kill Yorga. But by then Paul and Michael are dead, Erica was fully drained and turned and lives on as a vampire and his girlfriend Donna, was turned before he can reach her. Once he chases off Erica and an unnamed bride, Donna promptly attacks and kills him.
    • In the second film, Baldwin manages to save Cynthia from Yorga's clutches and Cynthia regains her memories of Yorga's brides attacking her family to which she personally deals the fatal blow that kills him. But father, mother and mute maid are dead, her sister Ellen and Mitzi, a girlfriend of one of their friends, are among the ranks of the undead and Baldwin himself is turned when he himself was cornered by the brides. Not long after Yorga dies, Baldwin turns and swiftly bites Cynthia. The film implying he's now the new head vampire.
  • Dirty Pictures is based on the real life trial of museum director Dennis Barrie, who was tried in 1990 for pornography on account of works he displayed by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Barrie was acquitted, but for the next two years the George H.W. Bush administration further cut funding to the arts, while the trial had a chilling effect on other museum directors for the next several years. Barrie himself is a Republican, and was played by staunch right-winger James Woods in the film.
  • The Favourite: Abigail succeeds in supplanting Sarah as the Royal Favorite and exiling her, securing a lofty position for herself. Too bad the lifestyle is actually pretty boring, having to care for an increasingly senile Queen Anne. Also, Anne discovers (too late) how duplicitous Abigail really is and will never trust her as much as Sarah.
  • Godzilla (1954): Godzilla is finally killed in Tokyo Bay via Dr. Serizawa's Oxygen Destroyer. However, his rampage has left Tokyo in a smoldering, irradiated ruin, with tens of thousands dead, and Serizawa committed a Heroic Sacrifice by dying with Godzilla, while also burning all of his research on the Oxygen Destroyer so that no one else can recreate it. Tellingly, the celebration of Godzilla's defeat is markedly brief, and the film ends with Dr. Yamane's somber declaration that if humans continue the testing and use of nuclear weapons, another Godzilla will appear. And the deployment of the Oxygen Destroyer would have far-reaching ramifications over 40 years later: the revival and mutation of Precambrian crustaceans living in Tokyo Bay, leading to the creation of Destoroyah.
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Azog actually succeeds in wiping out Thorin's bloodline, but he himself expires a few minutes before Thorin after they fatally injure each-other in a Mutual Kill.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: In the end, Gollum is finally able to reunite with his Precious, the One Ring, upon forcibly taking it from Frodo. Less than a minute later, he falls to his death into the fires of Mount Doom.
  • Jurassic Park:
    • The Lost World: Jurassic Park: Roland Tembo only agreed to come on InGen's dinosaur poaching expedition for the permission to bag the greatest predator that ever lived, an adult bull Tyrannosaurus rex. In the end, he actually manages to do it, and alive at that, but his longtime friend, Ajay, was killed on the expedition, so he didn't get any satisfaction from it.
    • Jurassic World: Owen, Claire, and the boys survive and the Indominus is killed, but the park is in ruins, three of Owen's Velociraptors are dead, and Jurassic World will never reopen due to all of the chaos, destruction, and death caused by the Indominus's rampage.
    • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: Owen and Claire manage to put an end to Wu's latest creation, the Indoraptor, but thanks to a double-cross by Eli Mills, many of the dinosaurs they were trying to save from a fiery death on Isla Nublar when it erupted get released on the mainland and the ones that aren't are sold around the world on the black market. And it's implied that Wu will continue to clone more dinosaurs since he still has the DNA samples of several species.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Referenced by Tony Stark to threaten Loki during the events of The Avengers. He points out that a major flaw in Loki's plan is how it involved making things personal with quite literally every force on the planet capable of stopping him, effectively uniting them and steeling their resolve against him, and thus even if Loki "wins" it'll be one of these at best since he'll have nothing to show for it.
      Tony Stark: You're missing the point. There's no throne. There is no version of this where you come out on top. Maybe your army comes, and maybe it's too much for us, but it's all on you. Because if we can't protect the Earth, you can be damn well sure we'll avenge it.
    • At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos has won. He's completed the Infinity Gauntlet and wiped out half of all life in the universe, crippling both the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. But it costs him everything; his children, his army, his morals, and even his Gauntlet that he fought so hard to get, which burns out from overuse. With everything he lived for gone, he simply goes to a farm on another planet and watches the sunset; it's hard to tell if he's relieved and content, or utterly broken by everything he's done.
    • Avengers: Endgame has this done for the heroes when they finally brought down the Mad Titan on the first instance. The heroes have successfully ambushed Thanos and disarm him, preventing the use of the Infinity Stones, only to find out that Thanos has destroyed the stones, preventing them from undoing his erasure. Even after Thor decapitates him, the damage is done and the heroes are forced to pick up the pieces and live on without their loved ones.
    • Spider-Man: No Way Home: Peter Parker manages to destroy the Superpowered Evil Side of Norman Osborn as well as depower Electro, Sandman, and the Lizard. However, as his identity being known in the entire multiverse is so grave a threat that Peter has to erase himself from his universes' people's minds in order for Doctor Strange to seal holes in the time-space continuum. When all is said and done, no one remembers Peter Parker. NO ONE.
  • The People vs. Larry Flynt. Larry Flynt wins his case against Rev. Jerry Falwell and has his place in history. Unfortunately, for him, he doesn't have his true love, Althea.
  • In The Prestige, the surviving Borden twin ultimately "wins" in their rivalry with Angier but at the cost of the loss of his wife and brother and the ruination of their magic career.
  • Prom Wars: In a surprising aversion of Underdogs Never Lose, the preppy and athletic Lancaster students beat the nerdy and more sympathetic Selby boys in the competition for the right to ask the girls to prom. However, the Lancaster boys are even more smug and insufferable than usual as a result of their victory, and as a result, all of the girls can't stand it after a while and duck out of the party to spend time with the Selby students.
  • Real Steel ends in one for Zeus. Atom was quite literally seconds away from potentially winning the match when the final bell rings, and Zeus ends up barely winning by two points after judge scoring. But not only is Zeus' reputation for "only ever needing one round to win" completely shattered by Atom surviving the entire match against him, but it becomes abundantly clear that Atom was the fan favorite, even being named the People's Champion while the audience actively booed when Zeus was announced the winner.
  • Shirley: Fred and Rose are destined to become as miserable and trapped together as Shirley and Stanley. The book that Shirley writes is described by Stanley as "brilliant", but she's left emotionally distraught by it.
    Shirley: This one hurts more than the others.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan ends in one such victory: Khan is killed and the threat of the Augments are no more, but it cost Kirk a lot — his precious Enterprise is shot up to hell, leading to its decommission next movie, the Reliant is destroyed, the Genesis Device is gone and numerous Starfleet personnel are dead, including numerous cadets, Captain Terell, and Kirk's best friend Spock.
  • Star Wars:
    • Revenge of the Sith ends with the Galactic Republic claiming a decisive military victory in the Clone Wars. Unfortunately, Chancellor Sheev Palpatine, the man who single-handedly orchestrated said war, seizes dictatorial power and converts the Republic into the fascist Galactic Empire. 24 years of tyranny follow before the Empire is ultimately overthrown.
    • The Last Jedi:
      • During the opening, the Rebels successfully destroy a First Order Dreadnought, but at the cost of a good part of their fleet, including all of their bombers, and only after it nukes their main base on D'Qar. Considering their hardware and personnel is already pretty limited to begin with, this is a really bad thing. Leia, Rose, and eventually Poe all realize that a battle won can mean a war lost if too many die for it, and Finn is taught this at the last minute, being stopped before he might have performed a Pyrrhic sacrifice.
      • It also ends in one of these for the First Order. They've destroyed a major enemy base and killed most of the Resistance leadership, but have lost in virtually every other sense. The Resistance survived and is setting to work rebuilding, a huge number of soldiers and ships were lost in the pursuit of a single group of enemies, and Supreme Leader Snoke is dead, leaving the Order under the inexperienced-at-best leadership of Kylo Ren, aka, the person who KILLED Snoke in the first place. By the way, "Supreme" Leader Kylo won't enjoy much genuine loyalty because his uncle, Luke Skywalker, humiliated him in front of the First Order military in the course of a Heroic Sacrifice, which is a recipe for serious leadership problems. Even worse for the First Order, that same embarrassing display has inspired a new generation of rebels to undo the losses they inflicted on the Resistance. It's just a step short of a Meaningless Villain Victory.
    • Things aren't much better in The Rise of Skywalker. Darth Sidious is defeated but in the process the Skywalker and Solo bloodlines are wiped out, much of the Outer and Mid-Rim has been razed, the Jedi are still extinct, and the unified galactic government is in cinders.
  • The Transformers Film Series:
    • At the end of the first movie, Megatron is destroyed but so is the AllSpark. And Jazz was torn in half. Optimus and the surviving Autobots mourn the Battle of Mission City that they "won" and so are stuck on Earth for the remainder of the film series since they needed the AllSpark to bring life back to Cybertron.
    • In Dark of the Moon, the battle is won again by the Autobots and US Army but still Ironhide and Que were terminated plus 1200 humans were killed and Chicago is now a devastated wasteland. The comic book adaptation also kills off Dino.
    • In Age of Extinction, Optimus and Bumblebee succeed in destroying their new Big Bad Lockdown whose ship is shot down by the Chinese military but human-Autobot relations remain strained.

    Gamebooks 
  • Downplayed in Demons of the Deep, if you spar with Cyrano the swordfish. If you win, he acknowledges you as a master swordsman but he is as well and he's also a teacher of his fellow masters so you gain +1 to your maximum Skill level. If you lose, you gain a better +2 to your maximum Skill level instead.
  • Happens twice in Gary Gygax's Sagard the Barbarian books, if you choose to fight someone for the love of a beautiful girl - if you win, she chooses the loser. Regardless whether you win or lose, you realize you've just been played by a vain girl who's "love" is worthless. You get the most experience points by telling her you won't fight for her at all.

    Music 

    Myths & Religion 
  • This was, according to medieval myth, the fate of anyone who stabbed a basilisk. Lucian described it thusly: "What though the Moor the Basilisk hath slain, and pinned him lifeless to the sandy plain, up through the spear the subtle venom flies; the hand imbibes it, and the victor dies."
  • In the American folk tale/folk song of "John Henry", the eponymous character competes against a machine to prove that a man can drill rock for a railroad tunnel faster than the machine built to replace him. John Henry beats the machine in the race, but collapses and dies afterwards from a heart attack due to overexertion, thus resulting in the machine replacing him anyway.
  • The Bible has Matthew 16:26, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Owen Hart at SummerSlam 1997 but not before his opponent dropped him on his head, resulting in a legitimate broken neck and temporary paralysis. Austin would be out of action for months and his wrestling career was shortened by years.
  • Brock Lesnar was hospitalized after beating Kurt Angle for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 19 when a botched Shooting Star Press almost broke his neck. Angle was also battling his old neck injury and had to be hospitalized too.
  • Daniel Bryan ended up being screwjobbed out of winning the WWE Championship at SummerSlam 2013 when special guest referee Triple H put the Pedigree on Bryan (after the match had ended), and Randy Orton cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE Championship. After having his Night of Champions victory against Orton stripped away by Triple H, Bryan demanded a rematch at WrestleMania 30, with the winner of Bryan vs. Triple H going on to face Randy Orton and Batista in a triple threat match for the WWE Championship. After beating Triple H, Bryan went on to face off against Orton and Batista and win the WWE Championship belt. After successfully defending his championship against Kane at Extreme Rules 2014, Bryan lost all strength in his right arm and would have to undergo neck surgery, it was revealed that Bryan was physically unable to compete at Money in the Bank, which resulted in Stephanie McMahon stripping Bryan of his championship on the June 9th Raw episode, ending his reign at 64 days. Bryan would return in November 2014, and go on to face Intercontinental champion Bad News Barrett and win the belt at WrestleMania 31, only to hit his head on the SmackDown announcers' table a week later, splitting his forehead open and requiring surgery. After undergoing an MRI, Bryan voluntarily relinquished the Intercontinental belt, and announced his retirement in February 2016. (Though he would return to the ring in 2018; he's since moved on to All Elite Wrestling, now performing again under his real name of Bryan Danielson.)
  • At Survivor Series 2014, Team Cena (John Cena, Erick Rowan, Ryback, Big Show, and Dolph Ziggler) faced Team Authority (Kane, Luke Harper, Mark Henry, Rusev, and Seth Rollins) with the stipulation that if Team Cena was victorious, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon would step down from power, but with a caveat: only Cena could bring back the Authority. In the end, after Big Show punched out Cena and walked away from the ring, Ziggler was the only remaining member of Team Cena, who would successively pin Kane, Harper and Rollins, giving Team Cena the win. On the December 29 Raw, Seth Rollins threatened to curbstomp special guest Edge, who had retired from multiple neck injuries, demanding that Cena bring back the Authority after little more than a month of exile. Cena had no other choice but to grant Rollins' demand, and as a result, Ziggler, Rowan, and Ryback were temporarily fired, and Cena was applauded by Triple H and Stephanie for bringing them back into power.
  • After the breakup of Special K, The Lovely Lacey dumped Izzy and Deranged in favor of managing Jimmy Jacobs and BJ Whitmer. However they ended up being a less effective Tag Team as Lacey's Angels, mostly due to Lacey's attempts to "improve" Jacobs, which caused Whitmer to turn on him when Jacobs's concern for Lacey led to them losing an RoH Title match to Generation Next. Lacey didn't care about Jacobs but felt Whitmer had betrayed her personally and ordered Jacobs to put him out of wrestling. This led to a one-sided feud where Whitmer almost killed Jacobs with power bombs on two separate occasions. And when Jacobs finally did manage to give Whitmer an injury Jacobs was so injured himself he required crutches.
  • Britani Knight wrestled five matches in twenty eight hours, leading up to her defeating Nikki Storm in the tournament finals to become the first champion of Pro Wrestling Eve. Then she came down with glandular fever.
  • The Undertaker suffered one during his WrestleMania 27 match with Triple H. Though Taker won the match, moving his WrestleMania undefeated streak to 19-0, he was so worn out afterwards that he couldn't even stand up to do his darkness salute. Taker had to be taken out on a stretcher while Triple H, the loser, was at least able to walk to the back under his own power. This would later be the reason for their rematch one year later at WrestleMania 28. Undertaker wasn't happy with him having to be taken out of the arena on a stretcher.
  • Any gruesomely tiring or injurious match can be turned into one of these for the WWE Champion thanks to the introduction of the Money in the Bank briefcase. The briefcase can be cashed it at any time for a WWE Championship match, even if the champion is too worn out to properly defend their title. Notably, this is how the first cash-in went, with Edge defeating John Cena in a short match after a bruised and bloody Cena had just defended the title in an Elimination Chamber match at New Year's Revolution 2006. Other examples include CM Punk beating Jeff Hardy after winning the title from Edge in a Ladder Match at Extreme Rules 2009, Kane squashing Rey Mysterio after he just retained the title in a grueling match with Jack Swagger at Money in the Bank 2010, and Sheamus beating Roman Reigns after he just won a tournament for the vacant title at Survivor Series 2015.

    Radio 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who: The Grand Finale to the New Eighth Doctor Adventures, "Lucie Miller"/"To the Death" has a massive one. Though the Dalek plan to turn Earth into a plague planet is defeated and the Daleks destroyed, the Doctor's great-grandson Alex and companion Lucie die in the process. The Doctor is left utterly broken and departs, deciding he needs to stop being so merciful.

    Sports 
  • Can happen in sports if the effort to secure a win leaves players either injured or too exhausted to continue competing successfully. In the 2014 NBA Western Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs decisively in two consecutive home games. The second game of the two was clearly going in the Thunder's favor from early on, and the Spurs had conceded defeat and opted to cut their losses by playing deep bench players with little experience (thereby giving their more experienced players rest for the next game). However, the unexpected tenacity of the Spurs' deep bench forced the Thunder to continue playing their starters for far longer than would normally be expected in a blowout win. As a result, the Thunders' starters were exhausted during the next game and lost by a wide margin — before ultimately losing the series.
  • The LSU Tigers' victory in the 2011 SEC Championship Game eventually turned out to be this. Going in, LSU was the #1 team in the country. At #2 was the Alabama Crimson Tide, who just so happened to play in the same division as the Tigers, who were ranked ahead of them largely by virtue of winning their regular-season matchup. Because of that victory, LSU earned the trip to Atlanta over the Tide and demolished Georgia 42-10. Their prize, aside from the trophy: A rematch with Alabama in the national championship game, which the Tigers lost in humiliating fashion, 21-0.
  • In the 2010 Wimbledon Tennis Championships, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played the longest tennis match by far, clocking over 11 hours. John Isner won the match eventually with 70-68 in the fifth set. However, Isner had to play the next day again. He was visibly exhausted and required treatment for neck and shoulders. Result: he was defeated in the shortest match of the men's Wimbledon match at that point in 2010 (74 minutes).
    • 8 years later in that same court, Isner was again on a never-ending game in the semifinal against Kevin Anderson, only this time the adversary won after 6:36 hours of play - Wimbledon then implemented a change so tie-breaker sets would only go up to 13. The subsequent final against Novak Djokovic had Anderson lasting exactly double the time of Isner (128 minutes), showing he also barely had any fight remaining.
    • This ultimately happened to Andy Murray. His determination to beat one of the Top 4 and win a Grand Slam so he could bring honor back to British tennis, caused him to play a lot of matches while he was dealing with minor injuries and didn't give his body proper time to rest. He eventually succeeded, winning three Grand Slams and he became the world's number 1 player for a brief time. Unfortunately, his refusal to let his body rest caused those minor injuries to become major ones, until he announced at the 2019 Australian Open after being out of action for over a year that he was retiring at the end of the tennis season due to an unrelenting hip injury. He then backed out of his retirement plans, undergoing a risky surgery. Murray recovered well enough that he was on the tour in doubles by the time of Wimbledon, but it remains to be seen how successful his comeback will be.
  • The early days of MMA were plagued by Pyrrhic victories.
    • The early format of UFC was an eight-man single elimination bracket, where the winner would in theory win three fights in one night. However, the tournament would often be riddled with withdrawals due to fatigue or injuries. UFC 11 ended without a final match because they had run out of competitors who were able to fight.
    • Pride, the Japanese equivalent of UFC, had a similar incident at the Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals, also a single elimination tournament. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie, often regarded as one of the greatest fights in MMA history, lasted 90 minutes because Gracie demanded that the fight have unlimited rounds with no rules. Gracie withdrew after the sixth 15-minute round. Sakuraba only made it through one round of his semifinal match before withdrawing due to fatigue. Ironically, in the other semifinal match, Kazuyuki Fujita withdrew two seconds into his semifinal match due to an injury he suffered in his first match of the night.
  • Hosting the Olympic Games can promote a city's infrastructural and cultural prowess, but it doesn't come cheap. The Summer Olympics in Montreal 1976 and Athens 2004 are particularly infamous examples — Montreal took 30 years to break even, leading its Olympic Stadium a.k.a. "The Big O" to be nicknamed "The Big Owe".
  • The January 2016 Wild Card Playoff Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers did end in embarrassing fashion for the Bengals, who surrendered 30 yards of personal foul penalties on one play in the final minute to hand the Steelers the field position for a chip shot field goal to win 18-16. However, few Steelers fans were celebrating, as the source of the first fifteen personal foul yards was a concussion to star wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was knocked unconscious from an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict.note  (the other fifteen came after fellow Bengal Adam "Pac-Man" Jones got into a confrontation with Steelers linebacker coach Joey Porter) Brown wound up being ruled out for the Divisional Round matchup against the Denver Broncos, which combined with a hobbled Ben Roethlisberger (who'd been injured on a hard but legal hit from Burfict earlier in the fourth quarter) and a crippled run game (both star runner Le'Veon Bellnote  and veteran backup DeAngelo Williams were already injured, handing run duties to Fitzgerald Toussaint), led to the Steelers losing to the Broncos as their top-ranked defense, free of having to worry about covering Brown, shut down the rest of Pittsburgh's receiving corps as well as what little remained of their run game.
  • The USFL, a spring competitor to the NFL that ran from 1983-1985 with some success, decided to move the 1986 season to the fall to compete against the NFL. The real reason behind the move was because a group of owners, led by New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump, believed the move to the fall would trigger either a large settlement in a Federal Anti-Trust Lawsuit, the admission of some of the teams into the NFL, or both. At the time the NFL aired on all 3 major broadcast networks and those networks declined adding (or in the case of ABC retaining) the USFL if it meant dropping the NFL. The legal case of USFL vs NFL was technically decided in the favor of the USFL, but the jury felt the USFL really did everything in their power to destroy themselves by not contacting the new Fox network, moving from the less demanding spring season, and failing to accept a deal from ESPN (who agreed to maintain the broadcasts with the new season date). The USFL victory was $1, tripled to $3 under US federal law. The 1986 season was canceled, the league folded, and none of the remaining owners have, as of 2021, ever owned a team in the NFL.
  • Probably the most famous NFL example is the 1981 Divisional Round game between the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers. While the Chargers won to move on to the AFC Championship Game, it required a double overtime that left the players utterly exhausted. The most famous image of the game is star San Diego tight end Kellen Winslow being carried off the field by two teammates after carrying the San Diego pass attack. This exhaustion, coupled with the extreme cold in Cincinnati, is usually blamed for the Chargers losing next week to the Cincinnati Bengals.
  • In the world of bodybuilding, Ronnie Coleman is considered one of the greatest of all times. He won 8 Mr. Olympia titles, being one of the only two who surpassed Arnold Schwarzenegger who won 7 titles, the other being Lee Haney. However, he paid a heavy price by suffering a back spinal cord injury which has resulted in 7 surgeries and counting in order to rebuild his back and prevent him from becoming paralyzed. Nowadays, he walks using crutches and suffers from constant pain, but tries his best to keep a positive attitude.
  • The demise of the DiGard Motorsports NASCAR team in The '80s. DiGard had been one of the more successful teams in NASCAR during the late 1970s and early 1980s with drivers such as Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison. However, by the mid-1980s DiGard began running into financial difficulties despite Allison having won the Winston Cupnote  championship in 1983. Where this came into play was the 1985 Pepsi Firecracker 400note  summer race at Daytona on July 4, 1985. For that race, DiGard entered a second car (an unsponsored #10 car used normally for research and development and driven by Greg Sacks) that was supposed to provide information for the team by running a few laps before heading to the garage (effectively becoming one of NASCAR's earliest "start and park" incidents). However, Sacks began racing quite well and ended up going on to win the race. However, soon afterwards Allison - angered over feeling that resources were being diverted from his car - bolted the team and took the car's Miller Brewing sponsorship with him, racing the remainder of the year for his own team before finishing his career with the Stavola Brothers team. Also departing around that time was iconic engine builder Robert Yates, who later moved to the Ranier-Lundy team and ultimately buying that team; renaming it Robert Yates Racing. Their departures would prove too much for the cash-strapped DiGard team, which ran a part-time schedule in 1986 before going out of business early in the 1987 NASCAR season.
  • Despite winning via unanimous decision in a ten-round match against Luis Melendez of Colombia, Filipino boxer Z Gorres collapsed shortly after the verdict was announced, and was treated for haematoma, later undergoing extensive physical therapy for him to regain the ability to do day-to-day tasks. Said injuries have unfortunately spelled the end of his boxing career.

    Theatre 
  • An Irish play called The Field has a farmer trying desperately to get a plot of land from the woman who owns it. The reason? He wants to pass on something to his son. Of course, the farmer goes to such awful lengths to get the land (including killing someone), that by the time he finally does get the land, it's worthless to him.
  • Hadestown ends with Persephone returning aboveground for spring, Orpheus having finished his song and healed Hades and Persephone's relationship in the process. However, he loses Eurydice when he turns around just steps from reaching the end of their journey out of the Underworld, and is left Walking the Earth alone.
  • Burr kills Hamilton but only it's after does he find out the latter didn't want to kill him. He wrecks his political career and goes down in history as a villain while Hamilton becomes a martyr.
  • Hamlet manages to avenge his father, but nearly every major character dies as a direct or indirect consequence. Lampshaded when he asks an actor to recite a speech about Pyrrhus, albeit the Homeric Pyrrhus and not the trope namer.
  • Inherit the Wind has Matthew Harrison Brady supporting the state's prohibition on the teaching of evolution by serving as the prosecuting attorney against teacher Bertram Cates. While he technically wins the case, the defense never really denies that Cates broke the law, instead attacking the law itself. Brady is soundly humiliated by his inability to defend the law, and Bertram is only handed a nominal punishment for breaking it. In the end, he has done far more to damage the state's prohibition than defend it. To make things even more blunt,he promptly has a heart attack.
  • In The Invisible Hand, Nick earns his freedom, but the method of earning the ransom money plunged Pakistan into civil war. The sounds of gunfire and bombs draw closer to the building before the final Fade to Black and company bow.
  • Jesus Christ Superstar ends with him dying for man's sins but a lot of lives were ruined in the process. The existence of God and the resurrection are also never cleared up.
  • Inverted for half the cast of Ordinary Days. At the start of the show, Warren tries to give out fliers as a way of displaying artwork, and Deb tries to complete her thesis on Virginia Woolf as part of her Graduate Dissertation. The show ends with them both taking the things they'd worked on and throwing them off the top of a building after realizing that these items weren't helping them achieve their goals. Despite this, it's portrayed as a happy ending, with both of them finally free from the things that were causing them so much stress.
  • The Capulets and Montagues at last make peace at the end of Romeo and Juliet. All it takes is the death of Paris, Mercutio, Tybalt, Lady Montague, and of course their two only children, Romeo and Juliet. A bitter peace indeed.
  • Urinetown ends with the protagonists defeating the local Corrupt Corporate Executive and his idea of preventing people from using toilets (with very harsh taxation and enforcement — the Title Drop turns out to be a Released to Elsewhere Deadly Euphemism used by the cops) which allows people to go to the loo at will... and the town's water supply running dry, which is a very big problem considering there is a borderline-apocalyptic drought going on, which was the reason the CEO put that law in place to begin with, even if he was way too evil enforcing it.
  • Wicked: Both Elphaba and Glinda have these. The former has survived her death sentence, but must pretend to be dead, grievously hurting her best friend, Glinda, and accept voluntary banishment. Glinda has ascended as the effective ruler of Oz, but at the cost of the lives of her friends and fiancé.

    Visual Novels 
  • In chapter 5 of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, it turns out Nagito planned his own murder so that the class would vote wrong and everyone but his killer would die. Hajime manages to win the day and prevent a mass execution, but at the cost of sentencing Chiaki to death, even though she was tricked into unknowingly killing Nagito as part of his plan.
  • Muv-Luv Alternative has many examples. The Operation 21st, the defence of Yokohoma base and specially Operation Ouka in which only 2 survived the battle in the Original hive and that's not including many that attacked other hives to act as a diversion for the attack on the original hive. The entire BETA invasion can be taken as one as it reduced the human population to just 1 billion and turned Eurasia into a big wasteland despite eventually turning the tide with Operation Ouka.
  • Saya no Uta has this in all of its endings, to some degree. The worst example is the ending in which Kouji and Dr. Tanbo manage to kill Saya and Fuminori, but afterwards, Dr. Tanbo dies, and Kouji ends up more or less schizophrenic, and is horrifically traumatised, suffering constant nightmares. He keeps a single bullet in the cabinet in case it ever gets just that bad.
  • Chapter 3 of the first installment of The Great Ace Attorney gives Ryunosuke an ultimatum. He will become a lawyer if he can get an acquittal for a local philanthropist. As the trial comes to an end it becomes clear the defendant is guilty, but he tampered with the evidence during a recess and made it impossible to indict him. So he gets acquitted. Ryunosuke realizes his mistake by the end and though he officially becomes a lawyer, the guilt of letting a killer off weighs heavily on him. Not helped when his client is burned to death shortly afterwards.

    Web Animation 
  • A few episodes of DEATH BATTLE! end this way:
    • Superman vs Goku: Superman came out on top, but the world gets an Earth-Shattering Kaboom in the process.
    • Fox vs Bucky: Not quite as harsh, but still relevant. Fox manages to kill Bucky, but Slippy Toad was killed before the battle began (granted most fans of Fox's home series would consider this an added benefit).
    • White Tigerzord vs Epyon: Even though Zechs manages to destroy the tigerzord and kill Tommy Oliver the White Ranger, his beloved girlfriend, Noin, was killed before the start of the battle. The battle ends with him crying Ocular Gushers over the remains of the Gundam she was piloting, while Zordon is left mourning Tommy's death.
    • Possibly the case in Guts vs Nightmare. Guts manages to destroy Nightmare/Night Terror, Inferno and Soul Edge, but he was forced into his Berserker Armor to do so. While not outright stated, it will eventually kill his sanity and physical body without anybody in the immediate area around to snap him out of it.
    • Played for Laughs in Iron Man vs Lex Luthor. While Tony defeats Lex without any life-threatening results to himself, his victory comes at a literal high cost: $5 billion for the property damage that occurred.
    • Also Played for Laughs in Donkey Kong vs Knuckles. While Donkey Kong kills Knuckles for digging through his banana stash, he has to find his bananas all over again, thanks to the fight.
    • Dante vs Bayonetta: Not outright stated, but it becomes this when you realize that Bayonetta was the Left Eye. Dante kills Bayonetta, unknowingly failing his mission to retrieve the Left Eye of the World (the Left Eye is Bayonetta herself; Dante was under the impression it was an artifact). Plus, the DMX battle that accompanies this one revealed Dante's partner Trish was killed by Bayonetta's partner Jeanne.
    • Joker vs Sweet Tooth: Joker triumphs by killing Needles Kane (the driver of Sweet Tooth) with Joker Venom, but the beating he took during the battle leaves him in no condition to resist the police who show up, presumably to ship him back to Arkham.
    • Lara Croft vs Nathan Drake: Lara kills Nathan and retrieves the Holy Grail, but her helicopter was destroyed in the process, leaving her stranded in the desert. While she's survived similar conditions, it's still inconvenient.
    • Natsu Dragneel vs Portgas D. Ace: Natsu kills Ace after he attempts to run out of town for not paying for his meal, but it comes at the cost of setting the town on fire. He's thrown out face-first into the dirt for the devastation and not even learning about Ace's extremely high bounty due to his wanted poster going up in flames.
    • Sub-Zero vs Glacius: Sub-Zero kills Glacius, but loses his hand in the process.
    • Crash Bandicoot vs. Spyro the Dragon: Spyro atomizes Crash, who had squashed Sparx like a bug earlier. Like Guts vs. Nightmare above, he also had to give into his Dark Spyro side to do so, which requires outside assistance to be snapped out of — and his closest companion is dead thanks to Crash.
    • Samurai Jack vs Afro Samurai: Jack kills Afro, but loses his arm in the process.
    • Black Widow vs. Widowmaker: Black Widow kills Widowmaker, but Widowmaker had already killed the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent she was working with.
    • Deadpool vs The Mask is an odd case, as it's not a Pyrrhic Victory for The Mask, but for Wiz and Boomstick. In their eagerness to be rid of Deadpool and his annoying antics forever, they purposefully pitted him against someone he had no chance of defeating, and in doing so they had violated their own impartiality. Their guilt is further fueled by a posthumous letter from Deadpool, thanking them for helping him rediscover himself after getting lost in his internet meme fame. A bit subverted when the Continuity Stone brings DP back to life, but still.
    • All Might vs Might Guy: Might Guy kills All Might, but he was impaled through the chest and had to resort to the Eighth Gate: The Gate of Death, meaning he's going to die really soon.
    • Goro vs Machamp: Machamp kills Goro, but lost one of his arms and fainted from a Burn he suffered during the fight.
    • Sanji vs Rock Lee: Sanji kills Rock Lee, but lost his leg in the process.
    • A meta one in Shadow vs. Ryūko Matoi: Shadow finally got a win in Death Battle, but he had to kill his favourite anime character to do it, which the hosts lampshade.
    • Lex Luthor vs Doctor Doom: Doom kills Luthor, but the LexCorp building and Luthor's laboratory was blown up in the process. The whole reason why Doom challenged Luthor was to try to claim Luthor's technology and resources for Latveria.
    • Blake Belladonna vs Mikasa Ackerman: Blake kills Mikasa, but had her Aura broken and lost her arm in the process. Then a Titan shows up. Blake confidently charges into battle, but with her injuries and no knowledge of a Titan's weak spot, her chances of survival are slim.
  • Camp Camp: The episode "Keep The Change" centers around David trying to prove to Max that people can change their ways, as a response to him denying that he's gone through Character Development. Ultimately, David manages to prove that he's correct...except his methods of doing so (engineering a moment where the corrupt Cameron Campbell conveniently has the only thing needed to save the camp) leave everyone disappointed in him, and he comes to the disturbing realization that he's becoming more like Max.
  • In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device the Emperor absolutely hates his most loyal subjects because they've basically transformed most of mankind's "victories" into massive unrepairable losses, quadrillions dead and millions of souls devoured for pointless reasons, which sadly, are all entirely canon.
  • Logan's Tale: Logan's Day ends with Logan defeating the Think Tank and rescuing Veronica, but she is horribly injured, and Boone dies pointlessly, robbed of even the chance to go down in a blaze of glory like he wanted.
  • In Mario Brothers, King Koopa and his army are defeated for once and for all... at the cost of the lives of Princess Toadstool, the Toads, and even the Mario Brothers themselves. The Mushroom Kingdom itself may even be doomed to destruction, since the last we see is the land being overtaken by the lava erupting from Koopa's castle.
  • Red vs. Blue has the defeat of the Meta and dealing with Project Freelancer come at the price of Alpha-Church and several other A.I.s being destroy in an EMP, Tex imprisoned in the capture unit that Epsilon-Church then joins her in (which is thrown into evidence and deemed useless) and Wash almost killed, then forced to masquerade as Church to avoid prison time. Oh, and Red Team lost Lopez. He comes back (as a head still/again) in season 11, though.
  • RWBY: Pyrrha Nikos has a name of Greek origins. While her first name comes from a word meaning "flame-haired", her surname means "victor of the people". The term "pyrrhic victory" comes from the name of King Pyrrhus, whose name shares the same origin as Pyrrha. Pyrrha's name therefore can translate to "Pyrrhic Victory". During Pyrrha's tournament match against Penny, she defeats Penny but only in a way that leaves her feeling devastated. As a result of Emerald making her see a threat that doesn't exist, Pyrrha uses the full force of her magnetism Semblance to repulse Penny's swords. As Penny is a secretly a robot who is controlling her swords via wires, Pyrrha's act accidentally entangles Penny with the wires, garroting Penny so successfully that her body is torn into pieces on live television.

    Web Comics 
  • The end of the Dr. McNinja saga "Doc Gets Rad" has the doc trap Sparklelord in an infinite time-loop, preventing him from conquering the world. Of course, by doing this, he eliminated the one threat that could have permanently defeated King Radical, which Radical is more than happy to rub in Doc's face.
    • Reversed with the same effect in "The End, part 1". Due to crossing the Godzilla Threshold, Doc brings Sparklelord back from banishment to stop King Radical from destroying the world. It works, but Sparklelord's vengeful ghost uses his new powers to simultaneously piss off most of Doc's Rogues Gallery and pin the blame on Doc, giving his (former) enemies renewed reason to hate him. Oh, and King Radical is still president of the U.S.
  • In the prologue of Drowtales, the Sharen won the war against the Nidraa'chal, but the cost was horrible for their clan and their city. In fact, it is an inversion: the Nidraa'chal were not destroyed, and they are the actual winners of this war, with only a few less, and had in fact infiltrated the clan from the inside and were founded by several of the clan's own royal daughters.
    • For extra irony, Chapter 46 is a more serious case of pyrrhic victory for the Sharen colony of Felde: the Nidraa'chal push back the Owl faction (allies of Du'vantir from a neighboring city all wearing wingsuits) effortlessly, proving to the rest of the Drow that Felde can stand on its own, but in the process Snadhya'rune and Kalki both separately and very publicly lose their tempers, go on a rampage, and end up alienating their allies by showing their true colors, thereby breaking their true currency of power - fake trust, and in the process causing Snadhya to kill Kalki when she gets fed up with her antics.
    • The Sarghress manage to conquer all of Chelnote , but without any critical infrastructure, they lose the food supply lines, and all of Chel is plagued by mass starvation. Snadya'Rune quickly bribes the remaining factions with table scraps from her farming colonies to buy ironclad loyalty from millions of potential soldiers, and the Sarghress break into civil war once Quain reluctantly makes an alliance with one of the Sharen.
    • Snadhya'rune finally obtains the title of Empress, dispersed a plague only she could cure, and forced all of Chel to accept demonkind as the new normal, but she's pissed off too many people in the process, the plague is now incurable, and many of those high-level demons want her dead. The frequently warring clans hate her so badly that they form a coalition so large it floods the streets; they storm the palace, destroy her life's work in mad science, and convince her few remaining loyal allies to defect or go to ground. She's left staring in visible despair at her inability to obtain what she really wanted, and sets off the self destruct to take the rest of the Empire down with her.
  • This Erfworld story arc involves something on a smaller scale. Gobwin Knob has made a series of losing attacks on the Jetstone forces, which were reported to their commander as victories by the pseudo-magical "rules" that make Erfworld function like a tabletop game. It takes a couple minutes for someone to point out that, by attacking, inflicting losses, and retreating, the Gobwin Knob forces were technically losing the engagement but still inflicting critical damage on the Jetstone siege forces.
    • Erfworld prides itself on pyrrhic victories. The first book concludes with Parson linking Thinkamancer Maggie with Croakamancer Wanda and Dirtamancer Sizemore to uncroak the active volcano underneath Gobwin Knob - croaking thousands of friendly and enemy troops and destroying the city. This is then immediately subverted when Rockwell discovers that the tunnels under the volcano have loads of gems, making them the richest side in Erfworld, and Wanda finding the Arkenpliers, which she uses to decrypt all the formerly croaked soldiers of all the armies to her side.
    • The second book starts with Stanley and the Royal Crown Coalition II thinking they have a trump card to easily win the major battle in Spacerock. It ends with Stanley losing every dwagon and Archon he had, shifting his capital to an incredibly underdefended position in the Spacerock ruins, and having his casters and Parson marooned in the Magic Kingdom. Meanwhile, every part of the RCC II loses: Jetstone loses Ossomer and King Slately, Spacerock and all its soldiers; Haggar loses Prince Sammy and his army; Transylvito is nearly broke when Jillian of Faq goes rogue; Faq loses all support from the RCC and Charlie all for Ansom, who is still loyal to Wanda; and Charlie loses the trust of Trammenis, the one Jetstone who has faith in him.
      • Summed up nicely by Parson himself in a post-battle strategy meeting with his top commanders, where he summarized the monumental victory they all just achieved.... and then bluntly states that, "It. Was not. Worth it."
  • This trope gets weaponized in Goblins, where Psion Minmax is forced to win by being thrown into the exit portal of the Maze of Many. The problem is that he wanted to use the Maze to eradicate his own existence. To do so, he needs to be inside of it. You cannot re-enter the Maze once you've completed it.
    Psion Minmax: So you see, it doesn't matter how long it takes, I will win eventually.
    Minmax: No. [grabs Psion Minmax] You win now. [throws him into the victory circle]
  • In Homestuck, the troll session ends with the trolls defeating the Black King and creating our universe - which allows the B1 Jack Noir to gain First Guardian powers, destroy all the planets in the trolls' Medium, including Prospit, Derse, and the Battlefield, and trap the trolls in the Veil for several weeks long enough for internal conflicts to kill off half of them.
  • In Kevin & Kell Kevin's platform when he ran for a position on the school board was to get rid of high-stakes testing (which, in this universe, meant that there was a ten percent chance a student would be eaten alive). He eventually gets enough votes from the board to get rid of it...only because the deciding voter, Camille, learned that the testing industry decided to push for a new model that required multiple tests instead of one 'all or nothing' exam.
    Kell: Kevin! You won!
    Kevin: I... guess...
  • Magick Chicks: From the moment Melissa transferred to Artemis and learned Faith was the school's 'big girl on campus', there's only been one thought on her mind: dethrone her. Except none of her plans ever got off the ground. She only wound up becoming the new student council president due to circumstances prompting Faith to abdicate her position. Melissa only wanted the prestige of being the most popular girl, not the responsibilities that came with it.
  • In Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, Leonidas and Kratos get into a battle of gay chicken. After a long time, Leonidas concedes defeat because he misses his family. Kratos taunts him for giving up just so he can go home to his family... but is immediately reminded that he has no family to go home to now.
  • Our Little Adventure has two:
    • The second Minotaur battle at the end of book 1. The Minotaur was killed sure enough, but it also killed Pauline, the group's Barbarian and beloved friend. What's worse is that she doesn't come back when Julie attempts to revive her at a temple, due to not wanting to.
    • The Silverfronds Invasion ends this way in the end of book 3. The Souballo Empire did not succeed in taking over the Silverfronds Kingdom...because the kingdom is instead being destroyed by a powerful, unwittingly released Demon. The Souballo Empire has since put the war 'on hold' until this new evil can be dealt with.
  • Sluggy Freelance: In "GOFOTRON Champion of the Cosmos", Zorgon Gola tries to invoke this by imbuing a puppy with the light-seeking tendencies of a moth and the universe-destroying-chain-reaction powers of a cascade missile. Once the puppy manages to reach a sun, it will destroy the universe (or Punyverse, as the protagonists call this small alternative universe). Gola's real plan is to wait for GOFOTRON to defeat the puppy but be destroyed or crippled in the ensuing explosion.
  • In Tales of the Questor, Quentyn kills the dragon—except his arm is broken, he must spare the mortally-wounded Ember any further suffering, and it was the wrong dragon.
  • Tower of God hands out Pyrrhic Victories like candy by design. Standard trials will either push contestants far past their physical and mental limits, or manipulate them into sacrificing something precious about themselves. And to unlock new floors, climbers have to force their fellow climbers to drop out - usually, this involves murder. Most Rankers (successful climbers) are so riddled with trauma and mental illness that they can't think about anything not related to the caste system of the tower.
    • It's implied that the Tower gauntlet was specifically designed to change its contestants so the lucky champion who reaches the top is not the same dreamer who knew what they wanted from the tower in the first place. Of the few who made it to the top, none had enough of their past selves remaining to ask for the wish they desired at the bottom. Jahad sealing the true final floors so nobody could obtain a true wish didn't help. Bam might be on the fast lane to the top due to his powers, but those same powers have changed him over time to the point that he wants to kill Rachel, the girl he climbed after in the first place. Making things worse is that his hatred has been cultivated, by his master no less, with the express goal of turning Baam into a tower-destroying demon overlord, no matter the cost to the world if Baam eventually snaps.
  • Unsounded: The Inak are locked beneath the shrine because three of their teenagers broke into Lori's office. They try to team up with the invading Lions of Mercy in an Enemy Mine situation to show them the military facility hidden beneath the shrine only to be degraded, beaten and slaughtered. In response they trigger the self destruct spells, destroying everything beneath the shrine including their own village. One of the two survivors describes their actions as winning, as they'd taken some of their subjugators with them and been freed from their subjugation.
    "Man...never sees. Like hatchlings. Anything smaller than them's only there to be eaten or toyed with. But now we've won."*sobs*"We've won."
  • In this The Whiteboard strip, Roger describes the aftermath of an indoor snowball fight (It Makes Sense in Context) as being a Pyrrhic victory after the use of a snowblower results in Doc's office getting three feet of snow dumped into it. While this is the one time it's mentioned, a Pyrrhic Victory tends to be a regular occurrence in any conflict on or off the field, due to the fact that the participants have a habit of going overboard.

    Web Videos 
  • Discussed by The Angry Video Game Nerd, who considers beating The Karate Kid on NES to be a Pyrrhic Victory that leaves no satisfaction, but only regret. He likens it to coming out the winner of a fist fight, but achieving nothing for your victory other than bloody bruises and broken bones.
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog:
    • The titular character gets, in his own words, everything he ever wanted: respect as a villain, entrance into the elite Evil League of Evil, and the defeat of his nemesis. However, it costs him the life of the only woman he's ever loved before he's even been able to tell her how he feels. Not to mention her last words. Can you imagine any satisfaction in his "victory" at all after something like that?
    • Note that the Evil League of Evil pushed Dr. Horrible into doing something that might result in this trope ("and now assassination is just the only way"). This is implied to be standard procedure for the ELE, so that applicants end up losing all their ideals and become simply evil before they finally enter.
    • In the prequel comic that detailed Billy's past, it's shown that his inspiration was witnessing a Mad Scientist villain named Mister Maniacal successfully killing the superhero Justice Joe. Later on in the comic however, it's mentioned that Maniacal was soon killed by a lynch mob afterwards.
  • Lampshaded when the host of Feeding the Trolls was planning on doing a video about Lord Steven Christ, a complete whackjob conspiracy theorist known for preaching for 15 years that everyone has been living on the inside of the Earth this whole time, along with other wild antics... until he suddenly came out as "The Best Troll Ever". He did a video about him anyway, claiming that completely destroying his reputation simply wasn't worth it.
  • According to the Game Grumps the ending of Resident Evil 3 (Remake) is this, and they even reference this trope by name at one part before Dan sums it up:
    Yay! Alright! Well, that was a very uplifting ending! You don't get the vaccine, the city explodes, two people live, and that is it.
  • Mentioned by name by LegalEagle when he's reacting to Bee Movie. Legal Eagle explains how, unlike in the movie, you can't sue the entire human race; you can only sue a recognizable entity who can show up in court and hire an attorney. He explains this is why lawsuits against God can't work — even if you won, there is no way to notify Him and or get anything out of Him. (And for the record, this is the logic behind lawsuits against God which have been filed in real life.)
    Even if it goes forward, the case will go into what's called "default"note . Which means that the propounding party wins because the other party didn't respond. But the problem is there's no way to recover whatever winnings you might be entitled to from God, so it's a Pyrrhic Victory in either case.


 
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Norbert's "victory"

Norbert manages to win against the lumberjacks in a wood chopping contest to keep their forest, but it's all pointless since they both chopped down the entire forest, and the lumberjacks drive off with the wood.

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