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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.

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 Pyrrhic Villainy (when the bad guys deal with this) and 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, and no price is too great to achieve said victory, and The Unfettered who are the most likely to carry it out.

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

Named for King Pyrrhus of Epirus whose two major victories during his campaign against Rome cost him so many of his best soldiers that he was eventually forced to retreat.

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.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Freezing. In every battle with the Monster of the Week, The Nova ends in massive death tolls, which increase with every battle as the Novas evolve and improve at a rate mankind just can't keep up with. The tiny part of the population able to fight The Nova is dwindling ever quicker and getting harder and harder to replace, made worse because the entire population able to fight Novas is made up of Child Soldiers who, on top of risking life and limb, die at a young age anyway because of the use of their powers.
  • At the end of Hellsing, The Major and every last one of his Millennium vampire soldiers have been slain, but he dies content. The cost of his defeat was the destruction of London, with almost all of its population dead overnight, Alucard apparently destroyed, the Hellsing and Iscariot Organizations having lost most of its key members, Pip and most of the Wild Geese dead, Walter having died a traitor (but managing to take the Doktor and his twisted creations with him), and Integra now missing an eye.
  • Mazinger Z: After a long and hard battle, Kouji defeated Dr. Hell with Mazinger Z. However, the Mycene immediately attacks without giving any time to rest and he is unable to do anything to stop them. Mazinger Z, Venus A, Boss Borot and the Photon Research Institute are easily destroyed (and several world cities, including Tokyo, in the movie). Kouji is saved by Tetsuya and his Great Mazinger, who claims that Mazinger Z isn't needed anymore.
    • And in Great Mazinger, the heroes finally defeat the Mykene army... but it was due to the Heroic Sacrifice of Prof. Kabuto, Kouji and Shiro's biological father and Tetsuya and Jun's adoptive father. Despite the victory, nobody felt victorious; in fact Tetsuya blamed himself for his father's death, and rightly so. In one of the adaptations, Tetsuya himself bites the dust.
  • Several times throughout Dragon Ball. Most notably, the end of the Saiyan Arc; while the Saiyans are repelled, with Nappa being killed and Vegeta retreating in bad shape, more than half of the Z Fighters are killed (Yamcha, Tenshinhan, Chiaozu, and Piccolo) in the battle, and even the survivors are in pretty rough shape. Even worse, the Dragon Balls have ceased to exist due to Piccolo's death (and because of his connection to Kami, Kami is dead too), meaning that no one can be brought back to life again. When the discovery of the existence of Dragon Balls on Namek is made, the race is on to find and gather them before the new bad guys do.
    • Dragon Ball Super has perhaps the most grim ending yet in the Future Trunks arc; Just when it seems like Big Bad Zamasu has been defeated once and for all, he turns into some sort of spirit that begins to consume the universe itself, causing Goku to press the button he'd been given earlier to summon the King of All. Once he arrives, he takes one look at the situation and decides "This is just hideous. I guess I'll just destroy this world". Goku and the others narrowly manage to leave the future timeline before it all disintegrates, and back in the present, Whis suggests that Trunks return to an earlier point in his timeline before Zamasu showed up. He'll go with him to warn Beerus about what Zamasu is about to do so the tragedy won't happen again, while Trunks and Mai get to live out their lives in peace, though since they'll be returning to an earlier point in their own lives, there will be two of them running around. The future world they fought so hard to protect from Zamasu and Goku Black? Gone. Their friends from that world? Dead. In short, this arc makes the ending to the Cell-arc look like pure sunshine and rainbows by comparison.
  • Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas. By the series finale, you can count the number of survivors on two hands.
  • In Slayers, the Koma War (translated variously as "Dark Lord's Resurrection War", "War of Demonic Invasion", "War of the Monsters' Fall") a thousand years ago ended badly for everyone. Ruby-Eye Shabranigdu destroyed Aqualord Ragradia... but was permanently frozen in the Grim Up North, all his power sealed. Half the Golden Dragons in the world were slaughtered... but Mazoku also suffered the deaths of two Priests and two Generals (who are irreplaceable), as well as the desertion of Chaos Dragon Gaav and all serving him. Even aside from Gaav's outright betrayal, without Shabranigdu organizing them, the Five Retainers couldn't get along and started bickering amongst each other over the best way to end the world. Humans suffered devastating losses, including losing the ability to perform Holy Magic and being confined to a single continent by the Mazoku God-Sealing Field, but on the other hand started developing increased levels of Black and Shamanic Magic. In short, nobody won. Thus, in the novels, when Dynast Grausherra decides to bring about the resurrection of Ruby-Eye through a second Koma War, even his fellow Mazoku are opposed to the idea.
  • The ending of Death Note certainly feels like one of these. Soichiro Yagami, one of the only truly good characters in the series (according to the artist himself,) is dead, L is dead, Mello is dead (although that was just as planned), poor Matsuda's probably going to need some serious therapy, there is no afterlife (at least in the manga), God knows how many NPCs are dead, and a year later, the world's practically returned to normal. Kira barely changed anything. Ouch.
    • The manga's ending is less Pyrrhic for Light though, as there is still a cult of followers worshiping him, even though everything else returned to normal.
    • The movie version is only marginally better. L gains 23 days, but he still dies. Kira is stopped sooner, but the world still goes back to normal. There's still no afterlife (at least for Death Note users). This time, he survives, but Soichiro's the one that needs therapy now.
  • YuYu Hakusho:
    • The ending of the Chapter Black arc has Yusuke defeat Sensui, except Sensui was already dying and the demon gate was opened just so he could die honorably. In addition, said demons turned out to mostly be nobler than the humans Yusuke was to protect, and The Spirit World did indeed turn out to be corrupt.
    • Then in the Makai tournament, Yusuke ends up one-on-one with Yomi, one of the three former Demon Kings. It was an intense battle from beginning to end. In the end, Yomi won the battle, but doing so took so much out of him that he had nothing left for his next opponent. So even in losing, Yusuke managed to keep Yomi from fulfilling his ambition to rule Makai and wage war on the other realms.
  • In Bleach, Uryu's fight with Mayuri Kurotsuchi ended with Uryu defeating Kurotsuchi at the cost of having all of his powers semi-permanently sealed away.
    • When Ichigo wins a fight by giving into his Superpowered Evil Side. Yes, he won, but in doing so he traumatized one friend, stabbed and tried to kill another, and brutally mauled his opponent to death.
    • Also, his final victory against Aizen. Aizen can only be sealed away and imprisoned meaning there's always a chance he could return. Meanwhile, Ichigo sacrificed his powers and his ability to be a substitute Shinigami. Thinking he has no right to complain about this, he tries to go on with a normal human life for 17 months, his grades slipping and not planning for his future because he's unable to face up to reality that having the power to protect is an integral part of who he is, without which he's reduced to simply existing instead of actually living. It takes another substitute shinigami shaking up his life to make him face and accept the truth.
    • Sajin Komamura sacrificed his heart in order to become stronger and, for a while, making him incapable of death. He then proceeds to curb stomp Bambietta. However, after his new technique wears off, he permanently loses all his Shinigami powers, and becomes and ordinary wolf.
  • Defeating the D-Reaper in Digimon Tamers was this. Basically, the only way to stop it was to use a weapon that damaged their own Digimon to the point they had to go back to the Digital World or die, and by the time it was ready the D-Reaper had already destroyed a good portion of both the Digital and real worlds. To rub salt in the wound, the weapon couldn't even kill the D-Reaper — all it did was let the Tamers seal it away and pray to the Sovereigns that it never broke out.
  • The anime ending of Chrono Crusade qualifies. Chrono and Rosette manage to save Joshua and defeat Aion, but Joshua is badly brain damaged and can't remember them, Chrono and Rosette are badly injured during the final battle and die together six months later, Satella kills her sister and herself in order to stop Fiore from taking Joshua back to Aion, Remington is left broken and filled with regret, Aion's plans cause the Great Depression, and in the 1980s Remington witnesses a man that appears to be Aion take out a gun and shoot the Pope. It's also implied that Aion is revived by humanity's sins and will live on as long as sin exists in the world, meaning that Chrono and Rosette's sacrifices only seem to stop Aion temporarily.
  • In Monster, Tenma got his moral victory... at a great cost.
  • Whether you believe Tabris the 17th Angel allowed Shinji to kill him because he truly respected/cared for Shinji, or because he wanted to make Shinji suffer as he died, it's indisputable that the destruction of the last Angel in Neon Genesis Evangelion ruined the last of Shinji's self-confidence and mental stability. It gets worse in the Movie, when we realize the Angels are actually NOT the real threat as his Magnificent Bastard of a father AND SEELE an Ancient Conspiracy begin their plans for World Instrumentality.
    • Taken Up to Eleven in Rebuild of Evangelion. In the second movie, Shinji attempts to rescue Rei's soul from Zeruel's core after the former has been consumed by the angel. He fulfills this goal to an extent, but at the cost of triggering the Third Impact and kickstarting the end of the world. In the end, it is revealed in the third movie that he hadn't even been able to save the Rei he wanted to save after all.
  • After winning the previous Gundam Fight in G Gundam, Master Asia looks back and is horrified by the carnage and the damage he and the other participants have caused. He becomes bitter at humanity's willingness to go through such lengths and has thus chosen to be extreme in his own way.
  • At the end of One Piece's Paramount War arc, the Marines succeed in their stated goal of killing Ace and Whitebeard, ostensibly proving the strength of their justice. Yet they lose so, so much more. To whit;
    • Before the War began, Straw Hat Luffy, trying to free Ace, sneaks into Impel Down, and ignites an unprecedented prison riot. Blackbeard also attacks the prison to do some recruiting, and the ultimate result is a mass jailbreak of at least 240 prisoners escaping, some Warlord-level, and some so dangerous that the Government had to erase their existence.
    • During the War, the Whitebeard Pirates and allies prove to be a powerful force, and decimate half of the Marines' assembled forces. Whitebeard himself demolishes the Marine HQ, and splits the island in two. What's more, the arrival of the Red-Hair Pirates allows the surviving pirates to escape. Even worse, Blackbeard somehow steals the power of the Tremor-Tremor Fruit, putting the most destructive Devil Fruit in the hands of a total madman who now has two Devil Fruit powers despite this supposedly being a biological impossibility.
    • After the War ends, Whitebeard's Famous Last Words confirm the existence of the One Piece, starting a second Great Age of Pirates, with the Marines being unable to respond properly because of their forces being decimated. Meanwhile, the power vacuum from his death has turned the New World into a bloodbath. Worse still, Fleet Admiral Sengoku and Vice-Admiral Garp choose to leave the Marines because of the Government's decisions, and following the promotion of Akainu / Sakazuki to Fleet Admiral, so does Aokiji / Kuzan. And Blackbeard is able to take Whitebeard's place, seizing much of his former territory.
  • D.Gray-Man: At the end of the Noah's Ark Arc, after battling all these Noah, Allen Walker restores the Ark by playing a special song in a secret room within the Ark that the Noah don't know. Of course, Everyone who came along for the journey, got left behind, and supposedly died come back, but when they get back, poor Allen is charged for knowing how to control the Ark, since only certain Noah know how, and for being the container for the 14th. Not only does he have to control this monster inside his head, he has to be subjected to some not so good treatment from Leverrier. Now is that the way to treat your savior?
    • The Attack of the Black Order arc results in an even more pyrrhic victory. Bonus points for happening just after the above pyrrhic victory. They do succeed in repelling the invader (especially the level 4) and stopping Lulu Bell from retrieving the akuma egg but the akumas end up destroying a good part of the facility leading to a relocation, kill many members in both the science section and the security section and the worst is Marie commenting that with this attack the earl probably wanted to make them understand that he could kill them whenever he wants. This is supported by the last words of the level 4 they had so much trouble to get rid of "Don't act cocky for beating a weakling like me".
  • Twenty years before the main story in Mahou Sensei Negima!, Ala Rubra stopped the war in the Magical World and saved the world. Unfortunately, this was only achievable through the sealing of Asuna, which caused the floating capital to collapse and destroyed the cultural center of the world. The dynasty of the founders and kings of Ostia was also assumed to be wiped out when Arika was blamed for the disaster.
  • The end of Code Geass goes something like this — Lelouch is dead, Suzaku had to fake his death (and both of their reputations are in ruins), the entire populations of both Tokyo and the Britannian capital are dead and it's likely that Nunnally and several others are likely to need some kind of therapy (which they apparently got by the epilogue). The world's at peace, but it's come at a heavy price.
  • In Great Teacher Onizuka a Pyrrhic Victory is achieved by an antagonist in a beauty pageant. By cheating the voting system, she manages to beat Tomoe in the pageant, but as she receives her reward, everyone in the audience boos her and claims to want Tomoe to be the winner.
  • Gurren Lagann: The Anti-Spirals are defeated, but more than half of the Gurren Brigade are dead, including Kittan, and Nia dies soon after returning to earth, because her life force was tied to the Anti-Spiral. On her wedding day of all days.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: In any timeline (excepting the penultimate one) where Walpurgisnacht is defeated, all the local magical girls are left either dead or having expended so much magical power that they'll soon be powerful witches themselves.
    • Even worse are the timelines where Madoka becomes, according to Kyubey, what could be the most powerful witch in existence.
    • This happens kind of a lot. Homura defeats Charlotte, but not before Mami dies. Sayaka prevents a witch from killing Madoka, Hitomi, and several adults by becoming a magical girl. This leads to her becoming a witch, and her destruction in a Heroic Sacrifice by Kyoko (yet another "victory").. In the ending, Madoka erases all witches from existence; but Sayaka and all the historical magical girls still die, and new witch-like monsters appear. Madoka herself disappears, and most people forget that she ever existed. Madoka seems pretty content with this outcome, though.
  • The resolution of the Yurin/Flit/Emily Love Triangle in Gundam AGE. Sure, Emily got to both marry Flit and be the mother of his children Asemu and Unoa, but this is because Yurin was horribly killed off, thus Emily's "second-best" for him. And she's very aware of it. And we're not counting how Flit himself was broken beyond belief by the death of Yurin... enough to become the Dark Messiah Anti-Hero.
    • By the end Nearly EVERYONE on both sides except the 3 main Gundam leads are dead. Although Flit was able to resist going genocidal on the Vegans in the end he'd more or less wasted his whole life on a cause he abandoned in the end, and he died shortly after the war ended. Asemu became a wanted criminal and missed out on his son's entire childhood, and he wasn't able to help Zeheart in the end. Kio got his peace he wanted, but all the Vegans he personally knew and wanted to save all died. In spite of this very bleak outlook the series acts like it was a super happy ending, one reason the ending was not well received by fans.
  • The conclusion of the First Space War in Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Yeah, humanity survived... by the skin of its teeth, with less than a million humans out of the six billion that once inhabited Earth, and the planet is devastated and barely hanging on as an ecosystem. As for the Zentraedi fleet, their numbers have been severally reduced, and many of them, in being absorbed into Earth culture and becoming isolated from the other Zentraedi in the galaxy, have lost their purpose in life, becoming little more than wandering bandits picking fights for no reason. Fortunately, it gets better, with humanity and its allies becoming a thriving interstellar civilization by the time of the later Macross series.
  • Occurs in Steins;Gate when Rintaro finally returns from the alpha world line, where Mayuri is doomed to die somehow, to the beta world line, where Kurisu is doomed to be fatally stabbed. Subtly lampshaded when Rintaro then gives a huge, hammy speech proclaiming his victory, clearly on the verge of tears the whole time. Then subverted when it turns out that the beta world line must be averted in order to prevent World War III, and the way to do this is to go back in time again and save Kurisu, thus preventing an international time machine arms race and moving into a world line that Rintaro's future self dubs the "Steins Gate world line".
  • In Attack on Titan, it seems that humanity is doomed to experience these. Any victory they manage to obtain by the skin of their teeth comes with heavy losses, and massive destruction, with the survivors wondering whether or not it could even be considered a true victory. Jean also questions whether any victory that requires them to throw away their humanity can even be considered a victory, rejecting the tendency of his superiors (and Armin) to fall back on stating that I Did What I Had to Do.
    • During the battle of Trost, humanity obtains their first real victory, taking back the city from the Titans. But with the city massively damaged, hundreds wounded or dead, and the gate forever sealed (undoing four years of the Survey Corps' hard work), no one feels like celebrating.
    • The raid on Stohess District ultimately succeeds in capturing Annie, thereby proving the existence of Titan Shifter spies and saving Eren from being handed over to the authorities. But with the city badly damaged, and the heavy toll on both civilian and military lives, many are horrified when Erwin states that it can be considered a victory. That Annie encased herself in a Crystal Prison to prevent interrogation does not help matters. Not to mention that a good portion of the populace is outraged that the Survey Corps conducted such a destructive, deadly mission right in the heart of humanity's capital.
    • The mission to rescue Eren is successful, but at a massive physical and emotional cost. Erwin loses his right arm in the battle, and Hannes is among the many killed during the prolonged chase and battle. Krista is also successfully retrieved, but Ymir flees along with the exposed traitors — Reiner and Bertolt. That the group's surrogate Big Brother and Team Dad is The Mole is a devastating blow to everyone.
    • The mission to reseal Shinganshima and find a way into the basement of Eren's childhood home is also successful, but with heavy losses, to the point at which there are only nine survivors in the entire Survey Corps. In particular, Erwin dies of his injuries, and while Armin is saved by an Emergency Transformation into a Titan followed by him eating Bertolt to steal his Colossus Titan ability, Armin now only has 13 years to live.
  • Toward the end of the Golden Age Arc in Berserk, the Band of the Hawk succeed in rescuing their leader Griffith from the torture dungeon in the Tower of Rebirth in Wyndham against all of the odds that were thrown at them (which included the king's guards, foreign assassins, and an exiled band of sadistic murdering and raping mercenaries led by a truly nasty Apostle). However, in the end, not much came out of it since Griffith was too horribly damaged from the torture he endured to be the leader or the man that he once was. Harsher in Hindsight though — despite how cruel it sounds, the Hawks were probably better off not rescuing Griffith at all if they knew what was going to happen to them when the Eclipse went down.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, when Kite defeats Mizar in a Duel. The cost? He dies from the cold vacuum of space afterward.
  • In the backstory of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeon had two. The first was the Battle of Loum, in which they crushed the Federation fleet at the price of nearly exhausting their own military itself (it's learning of this, alongside Revil's Rousing Speech as he told them this, that made the Federation decide to continue fighting instead of surrendering). Then there's the invasion of Earth itself, in which Zeon defeats numerous Federation armies and takes over large parts of the planet... And gets involved in a brutal attrition war against a foe that outnumbers and outproduces them by a ridiculous margin, wasting resources needed to build up the fleet for when the Federation will bring the battle back to space.
    • The final battle at A Baoa Qu. In the end Zeon is defeated and reverts to a Republic, but the Federation military (and the government's hold on its more militant elements) was weakened to the point that those remnants of Zeon's military that rejected the armistice are still a major threat. Furthermore, Revil was killed by the opening shot of the battle, so there's nobody to keep the military's most extremist elements in check and the Federathe did before with so much scrutiny on her]]. Marcy, having fought tooth and nail for this victory, doesn't take it well, but does come to terms with it.
  • All Might's battle with All For One in My Hero Academia ends in one for him. All Might is victorious but his true form is revealed to the world, and he uses up the last bit of One For All during their fight. Forcing him to retire. His opponent All For One meanwhile is locked up for good, but believes that his absence will spur his pupil on to become a stronger villain and feels that he came out ahead.

    Comic Books 
  • Sin City: All victories in this series are Pyrrhic and then some.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!!
  • 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. We're either in for epic Villain Decay or the Grand Finale of the DC Universe.
    • At least there are now 52 universes but none of them are the ones that were destroyed (though some are like the ones lost.)
  • 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, 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 his dog a bone and said dog 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.
  • In Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog, the Freedom Fighters defeat Eggman, at the cost of Princess Sally being roboticized.
  • One volume of Daredevil 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.
  • The two Battles of New Xerba in Paperinik New Adventures:
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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.)
  • A shortened version of the September 17th, 2000 Garfield strip is the image for this trope.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Total Drama fic Deserving, Courtney gets the million dollar briefcase, but the million dollars is used to pay her lawyers for the extravagances she included for herself when she re-entered the competition mid-season and all she's left with is $20. Not only that, but Duncan dumps her because she left him dangling off a cliff, hooking up with Gwen instead after she saved him. The final insult? She gets her head shaved by Heather!
  • Evangelion 303: Asuka won her duel against Mari... but Mari shot her down a few seconds later. In a real battle she would be dead. Moreover, their little duel earned her another severe reprimand from Misato. Still Asuka was gloating later to Mari she she won. Mari laughed and called her a "kamikaze".
  • Another Total Drama fanfiction example: King Nothing. Justin wins Total Drama Action and gets the million dollars. However, everyone hates him because he has revealed himself to be a manipulative, backstabbing liar — even his parents. Even after he graduates, he still can't get a job because no one will hire him, and finally turns to a drinking habit. Eventually he runs out of money and the last we see of him is working as a janitor at some crappy bar, and having lost his good looks from his alcoholic habit.
  • A Brief History of Equestria: The conclusion of the Celestine Civil War: Sullamander is overthrown and the balance of power in the river valley is maintained, but Wind Whistler is killed, Celestine itself lies largely in ruins, a large chunk of the population view Hurricane and the rebels as traitors unfit to rule, and Lake Trot, the objective which instigated the war, freezes over, rendering all the death and destruction pointless.
  • The Immortal Game: Titan's forces initially succeed in capturing Canterlot, turning Twilight and Rainbow Dash into brainwashed minions, and stripping Celestia of her divine power while constantly torturing her. However, all of these initial victories turn out to be too pricy to hold as the surviving Mane Four and Princess Luna are able to operate as La Résistance from Canterlot's Underground, Nihilus, the entity possessing Twilight, turns out to be less than loyal and not very bright, and Celestia eventually escapes to rally the resistance, leading Titan to abandon Canterlot, kill all his followers and withdraw to the Everfree Forest.
  • In the Kingdom Hearts fic The Shrouded Path, Terra, Ven and Aqua escape from Silent Hill, but are severely traumatized by the ordeal. Although they managed to completely wreck The Order, everything else they destroyed regenerates the instant they leave (including Pyramid Head). Plus, Silent Hill's God, Vanitas, is still out there with every intention of going after them again, and this time he's willing to kill Terra.
  • Second Wind: Implied to be the premise, and confirmed as such in Chapter 22: Luffy and Zoro make it to Raftel, but not before everyone else has been killed.
  • In The Conversion Bureau: Not Alone, this is the end result of the war for humanity and Earth, combined with a Bittersweet Ending. Although humanity wins the war against Equestria's Assimilation Plot, forcing them to retreat, several soldiers have been killed in the war. Not only that, but South Africa (which has suffered a staggering loss of infrastructure thanks to the barrier wiping it out) is rapidly turning into a fascist hellhole, and several countries, running on paranoia due to humanity's first encounter with an alien species being an Alien Invasion with the intention of xenocide, have started to spend massive amounts of money (at the cost of education and healthcare) on beefing up their military forces and preparing for a war that will never happen.
  • This is the end result of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney fanfic Dirty Sympathy Phoenix manage to prove Kristoph guilty of poisoning Vera Misham and for forging the evidence that disbarred him and proved the jury system effective. The cost? He loses his apprentice, found out that he (the apprentice) and his lover committed a multitude of crimes and finds out that Kristoph was innocent of the crime that got him sent to jail in the first place.
  • In Wizard Runemaster, humanity (Harry Potter in particular) managed to drive the Burning Legion from Earth and convince them the planet wasn't worth conquering, all at the cost of roughly 90% of the human population after a twelve-year war.
  • In the RWBY fic A Farmer Or Something, Pyrrha's canonical partner never attends Beacon. As a result, Pyrrha becomes an incredibly famous warrior who's immortalized in many tales... but, all throughout her life, she's lonely and disillusioned.
    ''Guilt and disgust and trauma at fighting for "necessity," for "the greater good," for other people's battles in other people's lands for other people's reasons.
  • In Im Giving You A Night Call by shooting Fullmetal and saving General Hakuro, Roy Mustang finally gets the promotion he wanted so bad. Doing so let the dirty General Hakuro go unpunished and loses him his boyfriend just when he was going to tell Roy the truth about his superhero activities and tell him that he loved him back.
  • In The Ultimate Evil, the expanded backstory of Lo Pei included his beloved daughter Lo Mei being forcibly taken as a bride by Shendu, leading the sacred warrior to rise in rebellion. While Pei imprisoned Shendu and freed his people, he couldn't save in time Mei who died by her own hand.
  • The Miraculous Ladybug/Zootopia crossover Ultrasonic has Ladybug and Chat Noir's fight with the Chemist, which ends with the akuma defeated and purified, but the Black Cat Miraculous is lost, Adrien is killed, and Ladybug destroys her Lucky Charm in the process before she can repair any of the damage.
  • In post-Iconian War stories in Bait and Switch (STO), it's repeatedly mentioned that, while the Iconians have been defeated, the nations of the Star Trek galaxy are now having a hard time keeping the peace because of the losses they took and a massive refugee crisis.
  • Mr and Mrs Gold: It is not until after Emma gets Mr. Gold to alter his deal with Ashley does she find out that he and his wife were planning on adopting it themselves, being unable to have kids. Even more, Emma recalls that Ashley and Sean are still just teenagers.
  • In The Unabridged Memoirs of Darth Plagueis the Wise, the Battle of Outer Hapes is this for the Republic. They destroy most of Ackbar's Rim Liberation Front fleet, ending his blitz, but in the process lose a significant number of their own ships. Plus, the blitz has already devastated a vast swath of Republic territory.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Alternate Ending of The Lion King 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 Autobots to flee.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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, who won't enjoy much loyalty because his uncle has humiliated him in front of the First Order military. It's just a step short of a Meaningless Villain Victory.
  • 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 Titan and watches the sunset; it's hard to tell if he’s relieved and content, or utterly broken by everything he's done.

    Literature 
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: This series is rather good at giving us wins with undermining costs attached.
    • It's heavily implied that whoever wins the Iron Throne in the end will have won such a victory, as the cost of warfare is rapidly depleting all their resources while an exceptionally long winter is coming.
    • Historically, the Dance of the Dragons was this. Although the Greens faction officially won and crowned Aegon II over his elder sister (Rhaenyra), this came at great cost to their family. (1) Almost every Targaryen on both sides was dead, (2) the majority of their strongest dragons are dead or disabled, (3) all the fully experienced dragon riders from both sides were dead, meaning most of their know-how was lost. However, the ultimate tragedy of the victory was that Aegon II died via poisoning and the throne ended up going to the last remaining son of Rhaenyra anyways... This son also observed his mother being eaten alive by Aegon II's dragon, instilling in him a deep hatred for/ understandable fear of dragons. It is maliciously rumored that he was responsible for killing the last Targaryen dragon himself due to this hatred, permanently crippling the Targaryen's strength. Except, he's on record as trying to hatch dragon eggs several times, and failing to get healthy outcomes. It's more likely that Viserys II didn't know exactly what he was missing in the process, and was trying to work it out while some of the pieces of the puzzle were still available.
    • Sunfyre was a dragon that had an almost unmatched record of winning fights with other dragons. But, each duel fought added crippling scars to the once-stunning dragon. It died in its last fight in the civil war, a winner who expired as much due to the injuries sustained over years as it did from the fresh batch of Body Horror.
    • So, Theon Greyjoy takes Winterfell in a daring attack using a small band of Ironborn raiders. So far, so good. But, deciding to try holding a large castle in enemy territory with a small number of allies? Well...
    • House Frey, House Bolton, and the Red Wedding. Sure, in the short-term, they are given all of the credit for killing King Robb and decimating the Northern forces in one night, and House Bolton gains control of the North, but Stannis and his armies are coming for the Boltons, the Freys now find themselves the unspoken enemies of almost everyone else in Westeros, and several of their own "allies" are actively working to undermine them, leaving their position more and more precarious. And in the case of the Boltons, Ramsay isn't helping matters. On the other hand it was Tywin Lannister's plan, and from his perspective there's no downside.
    • The War of the Five Kings was never going to be pretty, always was going to be prohibitively expensive and the harrowing of the Riverlands was worse than it strictly needed to be. But, the clean-up needing decades pales beside the fact that Joffrey and Tywin were killed shortly after, Tyrion is on the run, Cersei is running the Kingdom into the ground and Kevan got killed just as he was trying to fix what he could. Winning only weakened House Lannister.
    • The Battle of Castle Black ends in this for the Night's Watch. Yes, Stannis showed up to save them and Castle Black remains under the Night's Watch's control. However, Stannis soon left to retake the North from the Boltons, meaning that the Night's Watch, already very low on manpower due to the dilapidation of the organization over the centuries, is now dangerously low on men after the Great Ranging and the battle. In addition, several buildings and constructs were damaged quite badly in the battle, and winter is coming, and with it, the Others and the army of the dead.
    • Cersei learns to her cost that populist religious movements are not a toy, even if they initially get you what you want. They play back. With interest.
  • R.A. Salvatore:
    • The Crystal Shard has the final battle presented as one of these for the good guys.
    • The Thousand Orcs has another. The last of the survivors of the attack on the town are spirited away by means involving a fake idol of Gruumsh, the orc god. When the other orc shamans hear about this, they not only bring in thousands of new recruits to avenge the sacrilege, they also perform a rare ritual on the orc king that makes him permanently stronger and quicker.
  • In World War Z humanity managed to be victorious over the zombie hordes. But the war and overall situation devastated the planet.
  • In A Darkness at Sethanon, the invading army of the moredhel finally captures the city of Armengar, but with devastating losses—not only is the city an invader's nightmare, built with technologies and magic long lost to mankind, but those in charge of the defense blow it up just when the invading army has finally broken through, leaving the moredhel with a ruined city and great losses. Ten years later, the risk of a devastating defeat or a Pyrrhic Victory is what spurs one of the moredhel chieftains to oppose the efforts to launch another invasion, going as far as allying himself with the humans to accomplish it.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • In Dan Abnett's novel Brothers of the Snake, a chapter of Space Marines retake a refinery from Chaos forces. They realize that the place was tainted by something it had pumped up from under the earth, and it could not be used any more — which meant they could just have blasted it from orbit, without losing three Marines in the fight.
    • In a similar vein, the defense of Vervunhive, which leaves the hive with so many dead it is officially decommissioned at the end of the war. Although with Heritor Asphodel dead, Chaos has nothing to celebrate, either.
    • Ciaphas Cain, in Caves of Ice, digs his troops in to protect a Promethium refinery that he later has to annihilate to stop a Necron tomb from reawakening. (Still, taking out an Ork Waaagh and a Necron force is a solid deal for one refinery, especially since they managed to evacuate the facility beforehand.)
    • The final book of the Ultramarines series has a surprisingly major one. The Ultramarines successfully beat back a massive force of traitor marines and permanently kill a daemon prince, an act practically unheard of in the universe, but Ultramar itself has lost several worlds and almost four companies' worth of marines.
    • The novel Death of Antagonis in Space Marine Battles series is just a long string of those for the Black Dragons and just to punctuate it, their Captain goes traitor.
  • Animorphs ends with a cliffhanger implying the deaths of all but one of the surviving protagonists. While worth it for the free fate of Earth (at least temporarily), almost all of the children who survived until the end of the war were emotionally broken beyond repair from their trauma and the things they were forced to do.
  • The Great Pacific War: The US victory is portrayed this way, wrecking the American shipping fleet and sending the economy into decline, causing it lag behind Britain and Germany as a world power.
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen:
    • The third book, Memories of Ice, has two:
      • First the siege of Capustan is lifted when the protagonist army arrives, but the defenders (who are honorable mercenaries) have nearly been killed to the man.
      • This trope is used again in the concluding battle where the allied armies of the Malazans and Caladan Brood capture Coral. But a huge percentage of the named characters are killed during this second battle and the army is a shell of its former self.
    • In book eight, Toll the Hounds, The Undead army of everyone who has ever died since Hood became the God of Death manages to hold off the forces of Chaos long enough, but most of them are destroyed even beyond undeath.
  • In The Warlord Chronicles, the Battle of Baddon Hill is a major one for King Arthur. He smashes the Saxon forces, (including mortally wounding Aelle, one of the Saxon kings), but... his most powerful and reliable ally, Cuneglas, dies in battle, the Christians gain greater influence in the sectarian battle against Pagans, which they later use to undermine Arthur's non-sectarian government, Mordred discovers a taste for battle, Nimue turns against Merlin and Arthur for good, etc. Some of these results are directly linked to Arthur's downfall.
  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • Lampshaded: "Today we may make the enemy pay ten times our loss at the passage and yet [we may] rue the exchange. For he can afford to lose a host better than we to lose a company."
    • In fact, Pyrrhic victories are quite common throughout Middle-Earth's history. The War of Wrath ended with Morgoth's defeat, but all of Beleriand was laid waste in the battle and sank under the sea. The Last Alliance managed to defeat Sauron, but lost so many people that the kingdoms of Elves and Men ended up depopulated and ripe for attack by Sauron's human allies, which led to the destruction of Arnor and the reduction of the Elves to just a few small settlements. Even the final victory over Sauron in The Lord of the Rings was Pyrrhic, in that destroying the Ring led to the final waning of 'magic' in Middle-Earth and the departure of the remaining Elves to the West.
    • Other materials show the War of the Ring was almost much more this. If Erebor hadn't been held by the Dwarves Sauron's armies would have probably succeeded in destroying the Western lands, up to the Shire, and driving the last of the Elves overseas quicker despite Sauron's defeat. Thankfully averted, as the Dwarves of Erebor and the men of Dale held back part of Sauron's forces long enough for news of his defeat to reach them.
    • The other two Battles of Beleriand against Morgoth (that the Elves actually won) were Pyrrhic as well. The first ended with one faction of Elves demoralized so badly they essentially demilitarized and took to a "stay hidden" policy against Morgoth since the bloodline of their leaders was killed off, while the second ended with the death of Fëanor, greatest of all the Elves. Sure it was still a crushing victory for the Elves short-term, and he was a right bastard to be sure, but one can only imagine what he would have done for the war effort (not to mention morale) had he lived.
    • Nírnaeth Arnoediad was partially this for Morgoth. Despite winning his greatest victory in Middle-Earth and securing much of the North, it is some time before his forces recover.
  • Lampshaded in The Lies of Locke Lamora. Locke and Jean kill their enemies, but they have to leave Camorr forever, they're both injured (Locke especially so), and all their friends are, by the way, dead. The exchange goes something like:
    Locke: So this is winning.
    Jean: It is.
    Locke: It can go fuck itself.
  • The Dresden Files has several such victories, most notably in Turn Coat. Morgan is dead, the (only identified) traitor in the council is dead, Dresden and McCoy have no further information on the Black Council, the White Council has lost three of its most valuable members (the man Morgan was framed for murdering, Morgan, and the traitor), virtually everyone within the council needs to go in for deprogramming from mind-control magics, the Senior Council is now living in a permanent state of wondering if their actions were truly their own, and their newest member may or may not be a member of the Black Council.
    • Also, Grave Peril. Dresden got the girl back, but couldn't save her. And in the process, started a war.
    • Changes: So Harry won the war, wiped out the entire Red Court, and saved his daughter. He only had to make a Human Sacrifice of his daughter's mother and become Mab's servant. And as Ghost Story shows, destroying the Red Court only led to an Evil Power Vacuum and even worse forces moving in.
    • Skin Game: Though not for Harry this time, but for Nicodemus. He managed to recover the Holy Grail, but lost the other four artifacts (which were strongly implied to have been his real targets), two Denarians and their coins, his followers, his influence and reputation in the supernatural world, and even his own daughter. And if that wasn't enough, the only other success he had from the book, shattering the Sword of Faith, was undone when Butters turned it into a lightsaber.
  • Described as an inevitability in Sergey Lukyanenko's novel Genome in a war between two galactic powers with relatively equal military strength. A historical example is cited with the ancient Taii Empire, whose territory once spanned much of what is now owned by the younger races. They engaged in an all-out war with another empire, resulting in a Taii military victory but at the cost of utter devastation of their empire. The Taii briefly described in the book are now a dying power, holding no more then several dozen worlds and flying enormous ships that are ridiculously inferior when compared with more modern ships of the younger races. The same fate is predicted for the humans or the Czygu in a total Bug War. This prospect would force the humans to recruit the aid of a colony of Church Militants whose goal is the total extermination of all aliens for the betterment of the "true children of God." This would cause all other alien races to ally against humanity, resulting in this for everyone who survives.
  • Ender's Game has Ender defeat the Buggers, only he ends up doing so by wiping them out entirely when they were revealed to have attacked only before they realized humans were sentient, and he gets exiled from Earth as well (not to mention how every human ship involved in the battle is destroyed either by Bugger Defenders or the M.D. Device).
  • In Harry Potter, the backstory of Voldemort's wizarding ancestors the House of Gaunt reveals that they were originally very wealthy and influential in wizarding society. However, they were also VERY arrogant, to the point that they maintained their blood purity (namely from Salazar Slytherin, one of the founders of Hogwarts) via inbreeding. This had led to a NUMBER of defects in the family line, which included mental instability. By the time of Voldemort's birth, the Gaunts had managed to maintain their blood purity...at the cost of their family fortune, sanity, and prestige, all of which would have given their boasts a LOT more credibility.
  • In the Farsala Trilogy by Hilari Bell, the Roman Empire Expy have many rules about their conquering of other territories and one of those rules is that if they don't have full control of the country within a year then they will withdraw their forces and offer allegiance with it instead or just leave it alone. This rule was put in place because early in their history, they were victors of this and vowed that victory would never cost so high again. According to the books, they're so good at taking over countries that out of the dozens they'd taken over only two were been able to resist past the time limit.
  • In the Percy Jackson series, Kronos, the Titan Lord, is called 'the Crooked One' for his ability to engineer schemes which leaves the good guys in a tight spot either way. It is possible to foil him, but it almost never happens without cost, often a heavy one.
    • The third book is a good example of this. They finished their quest, saved Artemis and stopped the baddies from harnessing the powers of a world-destroying beast...but two of their teammates died in the process, and the younger brother of the second one is not happy. It got worse when Percy realized that not only did he have another demigod bent on killing him, but said demigod was a son of Hades, which qualified him in the prophecy that could destroy Olympus and all of Western civilization. Ouch.
  • In Starship Troopers, it's pointed out early on in the war that killing 1,000 bugs for each human is a net victory for the bugs, as their soldiers can be hatched at need and can be ready to fight in a matter of weeks, while it takes the better part of a year to make a Cap Trooper battle-ready.
  • In Arena, a short story by Fredric Brown, an energy being, right before the first major battle between humans and aliens, states that they cannot coexist peacefully, and a war between the two will end in one extinction and one stone age. Since both races had the potential to evolve to the energy-being's level, unless their civilization was ruined by this war, the energy being snatched up both a human and an alien Roller and pit them against each other in a one-on-one duel with the complete and instant annihilation of the enemy's battle fleet up as the stakes specifically to avert this outcome.
  • The backstory to The Wheel of Time series has the triumph of the Light and the sealing of the Dark One in the Age of Legends made out to be one of these for all concerned. The backlash of the sealing left a taint on the male half of the One Power that doomed every man who touched the Power to creeping insanity and death, without exception; this left a bunch of completely insane men with the power to level cities and raise mountains running around causing almost as much damage as the war that they ended would have, destroying so much that the knowledge and culture of the Age of Legends was in large part lost forever. And for Lews Therin, the hero who led the charge to seal the Dark One? His nemesis tracks him down at his mansion and uses a Dark version of Healing to cure his madness, allowing Lews Therin to see that, while insane, he had murdered everyone and everything he had ever loved. He did not take it well.
  • Time Scout: Congratulations, Skeeter! You just stood up to a bully! A bully with massive wealth, criminal connections, government power, and a vindictive nature. And you've a checkered past he won't have any trouble using against you.
  • The Hunger Games:
    • Winning the Games is depicted as such. Because There Are No Therapists, survivors of the arena walk out with wealth and fame for life, but with severe PTSD and nothing to help them cope with their experiences — and if they're attractive enough, they're pimped out by President Snow as Sex Slaves — and they have to mentor the tributes for the following Hunger Games, until they die. For example, Haymitch, the mentor to Katniss, has spent twenty-four years trying to mentor children and bringing home corpses. The trope is Invoked in this case — the Capitol doesn't want the Victors to be able to lead a coup.
    • Katniss's mental breakdown in Mockingjay. Even though the Capitol fell, Prim's death takes precedence.
  • In I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Ted is damned to And I Must Scream for eternity, but he manages to save Benny, Ellen, Gorrister and Nimdok from the same fate. AM itself is also effectively condemned to an equally awful fate; quite who exactly the pyrrhic victor is can be debated.
    — "At least the four of them are safe at last. AM will be all the madder for that. It makes me a little happier. And yet... AM has won, simply... he has taken his revenge... I have no mouth. And I Must Scream."
  • In one of The History of the Galaxy novels, the first battlefield use of the LIGHT annihilator device by La Résistance results in the total destruction of not one but two Earth Alliance armadas. However, the colonists lose nearly all ships in the process, leaving them with a total of eight warships, while Earth still has plenty of ships in other systems. They also lose the only existing annihilator they have (at the moment). Their only advantage is the fact that Earth has no idea the colonies are virtually defenseless. The new colonial admiral manages to enact a daring plan to steal two flagship-class cruisers from an Alliance shipyard... by stealing the shipyard with tugs. Oh, and the admiral's own son was killed in the explosion.
  • In Dickens' Bleak House, one of the major plot points of the book is the infamous legal case Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Near the end of the book, the characters finally win the case, but the cost and time — several years, and the modern equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars — that had to be invested in trying to untangle its legal Mind Screw rendered it bankrupt by the time they finally finished. It ate up all its own assets, which would have been worth a fortune if it had been some halfway competent lawyers who drew up the mess in the first place.
  • Yes, at the end of the Star Trek: Destiny series the Borg are eliminated as a threat once and for all. It only cost 63 billion lives, dozens if not hundreds of inhabited planets throughout the Alpha Quadrant, the destruction of almost half of Starfleet, and significant casualties among all of the other major powers of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. President Bacco states that the toll essentially sets the Federation back almost a century.
  • The Mirrorworld Series: Sure, Jacob ultimately accomplishes what he set out to do, but then there are all those people who end up dead...
  • In The Lost Fleet, the 100 years war between The Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds is chock full of such battles. Any victory is won with huge casualties. This is in large part due to both sides forgetting complex fleet tactics and switches to an Attack! Attack! Attack! mentality, where each ship individually charges into battle and hopes to win through sheer "fighting spirit". Battleships are considered to be posts for cowards, as they have too much armor and shields and can't get to the battle fast enough. Then Captain John "Black Jack" Geary is discovered as a Human Popsicle and revived and uses his knowledge of fleet tactics to win without this trope... though the Alliance "won" in the sense that it isn't tearing itself apart quite as fast or as bloodily as the Syndicate Worlds.
  • In the backstory of Warday, the US technically won World War III. The Soviet Union is apparently in total anarchy, while the US is merely moving towards a Divided States of America situation.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Invoked by name in Darth Maul Shadow Hunter. This triggers Fridge Logic when you wonder who it was named for.
    • In the X-Wing Series novels Wedge's Gamble and The Krytos Trap, Ysanne Isard attempts to turn the New Republic conquest of Coruscant into one of these by poisoning its water supply with a virus that kills nonhumans but is harmless to humans, trying to Divide and Conquer. The attempt fails.
    • New Jedi Order:
      • In the Enemy Lines two-parter, Wedge Antilles commands the defense of Borleias against the Yuuzhan Vong after the fall of Coruscant. The Yuuzhan Vong gain the planet, but in the process lose a worldship and one of their greatest generals—former warmaster Czulkang Lah—among other heavy losses. The New Republic forces fare far better: while they do end up sacrificing the Super Star Destroyer Lusankya to destroy the worldship, they do so without losing the Lusankya's crew and most of its weapons (which were transplanted to other ships, Lusankya having already taken considerable damage before the final confrontation). Furthermore, the tactical victory was worthless: Wedge's goal in the campaign was simply to drag out the battle and buy time for the New Republic to regroup, while inflicting as many losses on the enemy as possible. Czulkang Lah's final communication to his son, Warmaster Tsavong Lah, shows another perspective on the trope:
      Tsavong Lah: Still, a great victory.
      Czulkang Lah: No, son. Limited facts can point at victory when in fact there is only defeat to taste.
      Tsavong Lah: Defeat? You have achieved the conditions of victory. You have once more brought glory to Domain Lah.
      Czulkang Lah: In a minute I will be dead. Too many clever minds, however heretical they may be, have undone me.
      • A couple books later in Destiny's Way, it's revealed that in the process of conquering half the galaxy, the Yuuzhan Vong have lost nearly a third of their warriors. This results in an untenable position for them, giving the New Republic, now the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances, a chance to fight back.
  • The ending of Gifts, the first book in Annals of the Western Shore. Canoc gets his revenge for his wife Melle's death by unmaking Ogge Drum, but he's killed by a Drum crossbowman. With Orrec unable to fulfill the duties of brantor through lack of gift, it's implied that Caspromant will lose its standing and, at least for the time being, become a part of Roddmant.
  • In the Legacy of the Twins trilogy for Dragonlance, towards the end, Caramon travels to an alternate reality showing what will happen if Raistlin succeeds in opening the portal and confronting Takhisis: Raistlin defeats her, and all of the other gods, and becomes the sole god of the world... and, in the process, he exterminates all life. Absolutely nothing is left on Ansalon or in The Multiverse, just Raistlin, slowly dwindling away into oblivion as his madness and his empty, futile hunger consumes him utterly, as he is so corrupt and evil that he cannot even create new life to replace the old. Caramon's revelation of this so horrifies Raistlin that he gives up and allows himself to be trapped in the Abyss, where Takhisis torments him forever more, because he cannot bear the thought of such a "victory".
  • In Handle with Care, Charlotte wins the lawsuit against her best friend Piper but is left friendless with no social life and lost both daughters - one to shipped away to sort out her bulimic problems and the other drowned in a skating incident. Piper lost her job and her reputation is destroyed. Charlotte never had the chance to cash in the cheque because Willow died, placing the cheque in her coffin, making all her efforts moot.
  • The first Dune novel ends with Paul Atreides defeating the Harkonnens, overthrowing Emperor Corrino by marrying his eldest daughter and receiving more praise from the Fremen for being The Chosen One. Come the next novel, Paul's fanatical followers unleashed a jihad which destroyed many worlds in his name which gave him a lot of enemies and conspirators inside his court. Likewise, he's trapped in the prescient future where he couldn't do anything to stop the jihad that he created and feared that his family name would forever be tarnished including all the achievements that his father, Duke Leto, made in the past. Then, he foresaw that his Fremen lover, Chani, died of giving birth to his children and he's unable to prevent it. In the end, Paul went to the desert after being blinded by a stone burner while his twins and his empire are left in the hands of his sister, Alia, who is slowly possessed by their grandfather, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
  • In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, whenever the looters are going to seize one of the properties of the actual or future strikers, they end up with a worthless property. D'Anconia blows up his ore mines and docks, Dannager abandons his coal mines, Wyatt blows up his oil fields, Rearden walks away from his steel mill, etc.
  • Angel in the Whirlwind:
    • In The Oncoming Storm, Kat Falcone manages to turn what should have been a major defeat for the Commonwealth into a strategic victory. Kat ruins the Theocracy's surprise attack by finding their staging area, forcing them to launch the invasion before the supply ships had caught up. Kat then leads most of a fleet weakened by an incompetent admiral into an orderly retreat under fire, then joins with forces in much better shape to come back and rescue trapped Commonwealth ground forces and go scorched earth on the system's industrial base before also retreating. The Commonwealth is down a system but took relatively light casualties, while the Theocrats are stuck with a worthless system and serious supply problems.
    • In Falcone Strike, characters on both sides regard forcing Pyrrhic victories in this manner as a winning strategy for the Commonwealth. Unlike the single-system polities that the Theocracy has rolled up before now, the Commonwealth is big enough to trade space for time as it ramps up war production, while the Theocrats are lacking in the required industries (due in part to revolt-suppressing economic strategies). If the Commonwealth can survive for two years or so, they'll gain the advantage.
  • The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, Marcy and the others' efforts pay off, and Ms. Finney is reinstated... only for her to promptly announce her resignation, because the community is divided enough as-is, and she wouldn't be able to go back to teaching the way she did before with so much scrutiny on her. Marcy, having fought tooth and nail for this victory, doesn't take it well, but does come to terms with it.
  • Dreamblood Duology: Ehiru manages to stop a major war between Gujaareh and Kisua... by basically making it possible for Kisua to walk right in and invade Gujaareh.
  • The Stormlight Archive: For millennia, the Voidbringers arrived in great Desolations to drive humanity off the face of the planet. Humanity, with the help of the divine Heralds, always managed to defeat them... but not without horrific casualties. It wasn't uncommon for ninety percent of the entire planet to be dead by the end of one Desolation, and they were knocked so far into the Stone Age that the Heralds couldn't be sure they'd have rediscovered bronze by the next Desolation. Eventually, the cycle of destruction became too much and the Heralds gave up, telling humanity they had finally won for good. By the time the next Desolation finally comes back, technology has advanced to the Steel Age, but people have forgotten all the magic and artifacts they once had. The Almighty advises that their best option is to just survive as long as they can; while they can't win without the lost artifacts, if they can convince the enemy that he might lose again, he'll begin making mistakes.
  • In Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. Dad sounding out Mum over been scammed for the Rock Garden Julia responds with an exchange:
    Julia: In my exam today this term Im not totally sure about, Pyrrhic Victory came up. Do you know what a Pyrrhic Victory is Dad?
    Dad gave Julia a very complicated stare.
    Jason: A what victory?
    Julia: Pyrrhic. Ancient Greece. A Pyrrhic Victory is one where you win, but the cost of winning is so high that it would’ve been better if you’d never bothered with the war in the first place. Useful word, isn’t it? So, Jace. Looks like we’re doing the dishes again. Wash or dry?
  • In the Honor Harrington series, the Mesan Alignment managed a potentially crippling strike on the infrastructure of Manticore and its ally Grayson, just in time for their manipulation of the Solarian League leading to the largest navy in known space launching an overwhelming attack at Manticore. It seems to go off brilliantly, but it puts the Manticorans in such a precarious strategic position that they're willing to accept not only a permanent peace treaty with their decades-old enemy Haven but a formal military alliance when it's offered, and the Havenites deliver proof Mesa was behind everything, including their long war. The end result is that the two most technologically advanced and combat-experienced navies in the known galaxy team up, utterly curb-stomp the Solarian invasion force in the most one-sided battle in human history, and launch a plan to tear the Solarian League apart while also looking for revenge against Mesa. The Alignment leadership realizes things did not turn out quite the way they'd hoped.
  • Whateley Universe:
    • The Halloween battle. What was originally intended as a cover so that the Goobers could kill Sara Waite turned into a full-on attack on Team Kimba, with many others getting caught in the cross-fire, and it ended badly for everyone- while the Whateley crew won, they ended up with thousands of dollars of property damage, more than a few injured, a staff member dying and that triggering a rager attack by another staff member that turned him almost committing suicide because of the death of his girlfriend. It turned out worse for Englund, the instigator- almost everyone on the staff and more than a few students hated him even though they couldn't prove that he did it, the attack on Sara wasn't successful, and the staff member who went rager now wants to kill him with extreme prejudice. The Syndicate (the main evil attackers) lost hundreds of their soldiers, and the main general ended up nearly losing his boyfriend. In other words, nobody won and everybody lost.
    • The attack on Team Kimba in the simulations. On the one hand, Team Kimba managed to successfully fight off the attackers after being placed in a situation where they had no weapons or armour except their powers, and were placed separately against specially-chosen enemies with the sims turned up so any attacks would really injure them. On the other hand, everyone was horribly injured; Tennyo ended up in the grip of a Heroic B.S.O.D. after being forced to remember memories that weren't hers, but that she thought were hers; the New Olympians are now very aware that Team Kimba is powerful enough to potentially defeat them; and while Make and Overclock are captured by the MCO, Ayla and the Mad Scientist reveals that they escaped. Again, nobody won and everybody lost.
  • Worm:
    • Leviathan is ultimately forced to retreat from Brockton Bay by Scion, but a lot of people are dead, most of the city is destroyed, and it is sheer anarchy in the streets.
    • Endbringer fights tend to result in this at best. Either a large portion of a continent is rendered uninhabitable or just SINKS, or potentially hundreds of Capes die forcing the monster back. The exception was the Behemoth fight in India, Scion shows up to KILL him! It doesn't stick, because More Endbringers show up in response, and they're unpredictable and immune to the tactics used against the others.
    • The Slaughterhouse Nine tend to provoke this on both sides. The heroes lose members, countless civilians are killed in the crossfire, and members of the Nine drop like flies unless they're Nigh Invulnerable like the Siberian. Their attack on Brockton Bay is a perfect example: They break Panacea, work on depopulating the already devastated city and irreversibly traumatize more than a few of Capes and civilians. In return, the Nine lose Crawler and Cherish, get handed a humiliating "defeat" and have to invoke Lowered Recruiting Standards to get their numbers back up.
  • Duckling Ugly: Cara, a girl so ugly she was once called "the Flock's Rest Monster", is invited to a paradise called De Leon where a magic fountain makes her supernaturally beautiful. She returns to Earth to take revenge on Marisol, a girl who bullied her, by stealing her boyfriend and using magic to make her ugly. She succeeds, but in doing so, she unwittingly activates a curse that causes everything and everyone around her to become ugly and rotten, while she remains beautiful. As a result, she is kicked out of Flock's Rest. When she tries to return to De Leon, she finds out that she can't go back, because the portal is closed. She is forced to wander eternally in search of a way to return to De Leon, never able to stay in the same spot for long lest everything around her turn ugly.

    Live-Action TV 
  • From Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Discussed in the two-part special "The Way of the Warrior", when the battle between Deep Space Nine and a Klingon attack force reaches a stalemate.
      Worf: Consider what you do here today, Gowron! Kahless himself said, "Destroying an empire to win a battle is no victory."
      Gowron: "And ending a battle to save an empire is no defeat."
    • In the opening battle of the Dominion War, Dukat managed to capture Deep Space 9, but lost over fifty ships, let Starfleet take out a vital shipyard while the fleet was otherwise occupied, and failed to bring in reinforcements through the wormhole thanks to Starfleet blockading it with self-replicating Space Mines that took months to get rid of. Oh, and just to set the tin lid on it, Starfleet were able to hold the combined Cardassian/Jem'Hadar fleet off long enough to evacuate all their personnel and comprehensively trash the station itself. Dukat being Dukat, he was perfectly fine with this... At first. Retaking the station was the last time anything went well for him for some time.
    • Invoked in "What You Leave Behind" by the Female Changeling. Graceful Loser she is not. Penned in by the allied fleets, now including the better part of the Cardassian military after a Heel–Race Turn sparked by her Orbital Bombardment of a city to quell a popular uprising, and near death from a biological weapon, she orders the Jem'Hadar to slaughter the entire Cardassian species. She only relents in exchange for Odo delivering the cure for the plague to the rest of the changelings, by which point 800 million Cardassians are dead.
      "You may win this war, Commander, but I promise you, by the time it's over, you will have lost so many ships, so many lives, that your 'victory' will taste as bitter as defeat."
  • In The Shield's series finale Vic Mackey succeeded in getting away with everything he's done, but no friends in the world, his family relocated out of fear from him, his reputation as a cop destroyed for good and his new employment is guaranteed to be Hell for the next three years (an Ironic Hell he has to endure or his immunity deal is void and he goes to prison for life). So yes, he won, but the cost was obscene.
  • During the evacuation of New Caprica in Battlestar Galactica, the Galactica and most of the civilian ships manage to escape the planet...at the cost of massive damage to Galactica and the loss of the high-tech, advanced battlestar Pegasus, which was capable of building Vipers. Nice job breaking it, Lee.
  • Londo Mollari on Babylon 5 had a few of these.
    • In the third season, Londo collaborates with G'Kar to assassinate the villainous Lord Refa, which ultimately removes the only moderating influence on an even worse leader, the insane Emperor Cartagia.
    • And then in the fourth season, Londo and Vir kill off Cartagia and Morden and blow up all the Shadow ships stationed on Centauri Prime, finally freeing the planet from the Shadows' influence... only to cause the Drahk to take over the place in revenge in the final season, leading to Centauri Prime's isolation from the rest of the galaxy, the firebombing of its cities, and just general devastation of the whole planet. And not only does Londo have to watch all this unfold, but he also gets possessed by a Body Snatcher — and he has to live with all this for the rest of his life. Brr.....
  • Doctor Who:
    • At the end of "Last of the Time Lords" the Master gets shot by Lucy Saxon after the Doctor's ended his regime over the Earth. Rather than regenerate (and subsequently spend the rest of his life imprisoned on the Doctor's TARDIS) he chooses to die, leaving the Doctor alone as the only living Time Lord once again (for the moment). It's a pyrrhic victory for them both.
      Doctor: You've got to! Come on. It can't end like this. You and me, all the things we've done. Axons! Remember the Axons? And the Daleks. We're the only two left. There's no one else... REGENERATE!
      Master: Look at that.. I win!
      • However, the Master pulls a Thanatos Gambit by anticipating his death and getting his cult to resurrect him a year later. But he's not the only one. Lucy Saxon has also made arrangements to prevent this and ends up making a Heroic Sacrifice to prevent her husband's resurrection; he ends up Coming Back Wrong.
    • The Doctor's victory in "The Waters of Mars." He saved the remaining crew but changed history in the process, believing that the rules of Time will bend to his will. Adelaide realizes how wrong the turn of events is and subsequently kills herself in order to correct the timeline. The only thing her suicide did was cause the Doctor to realize how wrong he'd been, thinking that he's untouchable. The timeline was already altered, as the survivors revealed what happened to the authorities; in the original timeline, the events on Mars remained a mystery.
    • The Doctor in "The War Games" is forced to call on the Time Lords to end the War Games. The humans are sent back to their own times, the Big Bad is dematerialised, but Jamie and Zoe are sent back to their own times with their memories erased and the Second Doctor is exiled to Earth and forced to regenerate.
    • In the final episode of "Earthshock", the Doctor, having just learned that, instead of destroying 26th Century Earth, the space freighter will crash into the prehistoric Earth and cause the extinction of the dinosaurs, tells the Cyber Leader: "You've lost!" The Cyber Leader retorts that the Doctor "will not enjoy the victory", meaning he will not be alive to enjoy it. Instead, the Doctor doesn't enjoy the victory because it is overshadowed by Adric's death. (Adric, unaware of the freighter's significance in Earth's timeline, is killed trying to prevent it from crashing.)
  • At the end of the Torchwood miniseries Children of Earth, Jack manages to save the world. However, in order to do so, he had to kill his grandson. Not to mention that his boyfriend also just died in the previous episode...
  • In That Mitchell and Webb Look one episode of Numberwang went on for so long that the game went into Sudden Death. The first contestant to inhale enough of the poisonous Number Gas won. But, y'know, died.
  • In Power Rangers RPM, in the Grand Finale, after three long years the rangers win the Robot War... but by the time the Big Bad goes down, at least 90% of humanity is dead, with the entire planet outside of Corinth's protective dome having been bombed to a post-nuclear war wasteland. Plants are just starting to regrow in the less radioactively "hot" areas, but the global ecosystem is by and large too far gone to recover most of the lost biodiversity or return with new life with any speed.
  • Sylar finds this out the hard way in Volume 5 of Heroes. He's got everything he ever wanted. He's the most powerful Evolved Human on the face of the Earth. He's immortal and invulnerable to harm. There's maybe a grand total of two people (that we know of) who could realistically pose a threat to him and he can easily take all the powers he wants. He's also killed the only two people who ever cared for him and realises that he's now going to be utterly alone, wretched and despised for eternity. It's enough to make him have yet another Heel–Face Turn, this one seemingly more permanent than the previous ones.
  • In the series finale of Angel the main cast has successfully set back Wolfram and Hart's plans for the apocalypse by at least several years. The cost is the loss of their control over the firm's earthly assets, the death of two major characters, abandonment of a third, severe wounding of a fourth, and a textbook Bolivian Army Ending. And despite all of that, they decide to make their end memorable.
  • 24 excels at this. America always wins but at the cost of many lives and politically, nothing ever changes; another group of terrorists will just show up in the next season. Living in the world of 24 just sucks.
  • Supernatural:
    • There's an odd example at the end of the fifth season. Sam and Dean manage to defeat Lucifer, but at the cost of Sam having to jump into Lucifer's cage. Particularly heartbreaking because all Dean was trying to do was save his brother for most of the series. Then it turns out that Sam's actually alive after all... but we find out in S6 that he's now The Soulless and The Sociopath. When he gets his soul back, he also gets back the memories of being tortured by Lucifer in the Cage for over 120 years, and the resulting PTSD nearly kills him. Though technically, Eric Kripke intended to end Supernatural with season five, and both Sam and Dean were supposed to go into the cage.
    • Season six ends with Well-Intentioned Extremist Castiel preventing Archangel Raphael from restarting the Apocalypse. To do so, he only allies with a demon he then betrays, kills his closest angel allies, breaks Sam's mind, then absorbs all the monster souls from Purgatory for the power to declare himself the new God.
    • And if this wasn't bad enough, season seven opens with Castiel smiting numerous angels who opposed him and humans who offended him, and losing control of this power so it releases voracious, unkillable monsters from Purgatory on the world.
    • Season 7 has Sam and Dean successfully kill the Leviathans and save humanity from a future of being mindless cattle, but Dean and Castiel are sent to Purgatory in the ensuing blast, Meg and Kevin are captured by Crowley's demons, and Bobby by then has passed on. So basically Sam is alone with Crowley in control of the power vacuum caused by the Leviathans.
    • Another one at the end of Season 4. Sam kills Lilith, the season's Big Bad, but in doing so breaks the final seal and frees Lucifer from his Cage.
    • At the end of Season 10, Sam cures Dean of the Mark of Cain... but the result is the freeing of the Darkness, the original source of evil in the Universe.
  • The eponymous team of Stargate SG-1 is accused of this from time to time in the show. In one episode they're bragging that they've done more in the last few years to defeat the Goa'uld than other groups have managed to do in centuries. The ally they're talking to points out that all they've really done is create power vacuums among the System Lords that have almost inevitably resulted in even worse individuals attaining power. Since Jack is usually the one this is directed at, his response amounts to "at least we're trying."
  • The Chinese Paladin (Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan) TV Series definitely qualifies here, as the main character, Li Xiaoyao, literally loses everyone dear to himself except his newborn daughter a couple scenes right after the "final battle."
  • Played for laughs in Friends when Chandler got the highest score in Ms. Pac-Man but his hand became spasmed and stuck in a "claw" formation.
    I got the highest score, but at a price.
  • The Battle of Witchhead in Andromeda turned into this for the Nietzscheans, although they arrived to the battle preparing to ambush a fleet of 100 High Guard ships with an armada of 1500, which would've been a Curb-Stomp Battle. Then Hunt (AKA the Angel of Death) shows up and wipes out 1000 ships, damaging the rest, and sewing disarray among the Nietzchean ranks. The High Guard fleet shows up shortly after and is still wiped out, but the Neitzscheans are left with hardly anything themselves. In fact, the ruling Drago-Kazov Pride was supposed to form the dynasty for the new Nietzschean Empire, but their losses mean that they no longer have the power to unite the warring prides, resulting in a 300-year power vacuum.
    • Interestingly, the pride that turned on the Drago-Kazov and prevented them from forming an empire ends up allying with Hunt 300 years later, as they have been mortal enemies with the Drago-Kazov since then.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Marshall was able to win a lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company but the judge was unwilling to hurt the company by fining them with the intended 25 million dollars and so, reduced it to 25 thousand (0.1% of the original). Marshall was very upset since more was probably spent on court fees and lawyer paychecks for each side. This event would inspire him to apply to be a judge so he would have more influence on the system. An earlier episode revealed that Marshall's law firm kept itself afloat by settling all their cases and avoiding fighting any cases where they could experience one. Marshall inspired them to contest cases in court again which resulted in his case ending up as one. By the end of the season the law firm is broke and has laid off almost all employees.
    • Ted experiences this when he ensured that Robin would go after Barney at the expense of leaving him alone at the opening of the building he designed. The last scene is him looking out a window depressed while the rest of the gang was happy.
  • In Revolution the rebellion led by Miles Matheson is winning victories against the Monroe Republic but for Miles every such victory is pyrrhic. Every fighter he loses is someone he cannot replace and the enemies he is killing are old friends and protegees of his. Even if he removes Monroe from power, the Republic will be finished and it will become part of the Georgia Federation.
  • Occasionally happens on Top Gear with their races or challenges. For example, in the four-way race across London during rush-hour traffic between a bike, a car, public transportation and a motorboat down the Thames, Hammond, riding the bike, won, but he spent the entire episode cursing out traffic lights and almost getting hit by buses. He was also visibly exhausted by the end. Jeremy came in second on the boat, but he had by far the most relaxing and least stressful journey.
    • As this is a show all about how awesome cars are, the fact that the winners all beat a car caused Clarkson to declare that the entire race was a lie and he in fact died when his boat exploded.
    • The end of the Bolivia and especially the Argentina specials. Having driven their cars all that distance, they certainly didn't achieve much for their trouble.
  • The Red Dwarf episode "Meltdown" has Rimmer leading "good" waxdroids of famous historical figures against "evil" waxdroids. His plan ends with Kryten turning the planet's boiler up, thus melting every last waxdroid. Since they had more or less become the figures they were based on, this is akin to mass murder on all sides. Rimmer, however, considers the ordeal a victory for himself.
  • The Wire is a whole series of pyrrhic victories as the police generally succeed in jailing drug lords, only to have even worse ones take over in the aftermath. Not to mention that the aftermath consists of gangs violently battling for control of the drug trade.
  • This is tackled in the Xena: Warrior Princess episode "A Good Day". She and Gabrielle save a village caught in the middle of Caesar and Pompey's war by performing a Salt the Earth campaign. As they light funeral pyres for their dead, Xena tells Gabrielle "it was a good day of battle".
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 2 ended with her killing Angel to save the world, right after his soul was already restored. That and a combination of Buffy's mother rejecting her and Kendra's death getting pinned on her caused Buffy to run away to Los Angeles.
  • Person of Interest. Team Machine's victories have become more pyrrhic since season 4, often ruining innocent lives to save them from Samaritan. What's sadder is that no matter what they do, Samaritan just keeps winning. Defeating Samaritan once and for all required the team to fry the entire internet while they preserved the Machine by uploading it to a satellite and then have it download back to Earth after the virus ran its course. Root, Reese and Elias were all killed by Samaritan agents by the time it was all over, and Finch faked his death in the same explosion that killed Reese so that he could have a personal happy ending with Grace in Italy.
  • The Twilight Zone episode "The Masks" has a benign, rich, and dying Jason Foster having to deal with his greedy, callous, and hypochondriac daughter, her husband, and their vile children in the last hours of his life. They are there just to see him die so they can inherit his vast fortune and he knows it. So he makes an addendum to his will: if any of them removes a special mask he had made for them before midnight, one which, he says, reflects the opposite of their "true" face, note  they will inherit only enough money to take the train back to Boston. They succeed and Jason soon dies after midnight. When they remove the masks, they see their faces have contorted and shifted to be perfect matches for the ugly masks they were just wearing for hours. Now they must live with these faces that reflect their inner vanity and pettiness.
  • Nikita season 1 ends with Operation Sparrow getting foiled and Michael running away with Nikita with a Black Box in their possession but her relationship with Alex is damaged and she stays at Division under Oversight's supervision.
  • Burn Notice:
    • Season 2: Michael sticks it to Management and loses the Burned Spies Organization's "protection" so his cover is blown and his old enemies will probably be gunning for him. He's also stuck in the middle of the ocean and has to swim back to Miami.
    • Season 3: Michael defeats Simon and saves Management but he is captured and sent to a secret prison.
    • Season 5: Michael saves a team of spies from getting burned but Fiona turns herself in to the police for the accidental British embassy bombing so she won't be used as leverage against Michael anymore.
    • Season 6: Michael gets off the blacklist but his family and friends are disappointed.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • King Robert in the season 5 Blu-ray lore about the Dance of the Dragons describes how Rhaenyra Targaryen sacrificed her sons to (temporarily) win the Iron Throne. It's also probably an omen of his wife Cersei doing the same thing in the season 6 finale after she blows up the Great Sept of Baelor using wildfire with all of her political rivals inside it. While this action places her in the Iron Throne, it turns what is left of the country against her. The Reach and Dorne have joined forces with Daenerys and her invading armies. The North and Vale have declared independence under the new King in the North, Jon Snow. With the death of Walder Frey and his two most prominent sons, the Riverlands can't be counted on for support. Even the Westerlands are suspicious since one of the people she killed was her uncle Kevan, the ruler of the Westerlands.
    • Robert's Rebellion in the backstory, especially for Robert whose main motivation was to rescue his beloved Lyanna Stark from Rhaegar Targaryen. When Lyanna died at the end of the war, Robert was left with the throne and married to someone he despised instead of the woman he loved.
    • By Season 4, House Lannister holds the Iron Throne with their enemies all either broken or retreating. However, their manpower is badly depleted from hard fighting, the Crown is deep in debt to the Iron Bank, their gold mines have dried up and they have been forced to concede a lot of power to the Tyrells, putting them in a very fragile position. The only thing they have going for them is that no one else knows for sure how bad their situation really is. The dire situation becomes unmanageable after the demise of Tywin, the only one able to clean up the mess.
    • Daenerys overthrows the regimes in Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen and frees the slaves, but as soon as she is gone the Wise Masters of Yunkai return to slaving and her regime in Astapor is overthrown by a freeman butcher named Cleon.
    • In Season 7, Jaime deliberately engineers one. When Dany's forces plan to attack Casterly Rock, he strips it of all its supplies and leaves behind only a token force, sending the bulk of his forces to attack Highgarden and wipe out one of Dany's major allies. At the same time, Euron's fleet destroys the ships that brought them in the first place. This victory nearly destroys Dany's forces. However, the assault was so incompetent that they only won at all because the keep was empty; if he'd mounted a traditional defense along with Euron's assault the Unsullied (attacking unsupported in a role they're bad at) would have been annihilated.
    • Despite managing to kill Oberyn during the trial by combat, the Mountain is ultimately rendered comatose by Oberyn's poisoned spears and left at the mercy of the torturously pragmatic Qyburn.
    • King Aegon III Targaryen becomes king at the end of the Dance of the Dragons but he and his wife are the Sole Survivor of the whole family.
    • King Aegon II Targaryen outlived his opponent Rhaenyra, both of his sons, his wife and his dragon Sunfyre. However, Aegon never really recovered from his injuries. Living in pain for the rest of his days, his reign would only last for about 6 months, with his own supporters eventually poisoning him when it became obvious that they couldn't win the continuing civil war. And, adding insult to injury, the crown passed to Rhaenyra's child, Aegon III, when he died without (male) issue. Rhaenyra's claim was vindicated in the long run.
  • Delete: Daniel tries to tell the AI letting the US destroy technology using EMP blasts from detonating nukes would be this, since it would get left holed up in a few shielded servers. It doesn't care however.
  • Jeopardy!: Since consolation prizes were eliminated in 2002, a challenger who beats the champion with a final score of less than $1,000 actually ends up taking home the least money for the day (second place gets $2,000, third gets $1,000, and the champ keeps whatever he/she has already won). However, they do get to come back for another game to try and win more.
  • Married... with Children: For the most part, even when Al wins, he loses.
    • "Born To Walk": Al, having lost his license, and sick of getting no help from his family when they cost him a chance to win money at a horse race, vows to never help his family again, nor for them to help him. The next day, he passes the driving test, but the instructor runs over his foot.
    • "Tooth and Consequences": Peg finally gives in to Al's demand and makes an amazing dinner for the family... Which Al can't eat because he had recently taken a trip to the dentist.
    • "Just Shoe It": Al gets to star in a shoe commercial, but it's just an excuse for him to get crushed by Ed "Too-Tall" Jones, beaned by a pitch by Steve Carlton, and knocked out by Sugar Ray Leonard. And then he doesn't even get to appear in the commercial, his feet only being shown getting knocked out of the shoes that were being advertised.
    • "A Shoe Room With a View": Thanks to Al's efforts, the aerobics studio next to the shoe store gets an attractive trainer, who brings many attractive clients with him. However, since he fell out of a window and was left in a wheelchair, he couldn't look through the holes that were drilled in the shoe store to ogle the attractive women, like his friends were.
  • For The People: Comes with the territory, since there are plenty of times where the prosecution successfully punishes someone who's morally innocent, or the Defence successfully defends a bad person who's only technically innocent.
    • Leonard clearly feels guilty about winning his first case, since Sandra clearly had the moral high ground—her client was clearly being entrapped by the FBI.
    • Jill feels terrible about having to defend a DEA Agent who locked up an innocent man and forgot about him for four days and winning, especially since she's the one who insisted the US Attorneys charge him in the first place.

    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.

    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.
  • 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.

    Radio 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who in 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, which is a Crowning Moment of Awesome for him, the game of tennis and sports in general. 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.
  • 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 being 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 cancelled, the league folded, and none of the remaining owners have, as of 2018, 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 onto 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Happens in Victory In The Pacific if you win a battle by mostly "disabling" opposing ships (which sends them back to port and ends their part in the battle, but inflicts no lasting damage) while most of your own losses are sunk and thus out of the game for good.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • The Thran race "won" the Thran-Phyrexian war, but their civilization had been damaged too greatly to recover, and soon collapsed.
    • Urza and company then won the second Phyrexian war, but at the cost of the lives of every named character, leaving behind an incredibly powerful artifact which started the next big war on Dominaria, whose conclusion left Dominaria in a state that very nearly tore the multiverse to shreds.
      • This later led to the conflict on Mirrodin, both of which were caused by the phyrexian oil. The first one was won, but at the cost of basically depopulating the plane. The second one didn't go much better.
    • Something tells me the Phyrexians were named that way for a reason.
    • This flavor text for the card Obliterate. Fitting.
    "The enemy has been destroyed, sir. So have the forest, the city, your palace, your dog..." —Keldon soldier
    "Lands ravaged, cities in ruins, so many lives sacrificed, and yet there was no other word for it but victory."
    • The trope is referenced in name by Pyrrhic Revival, which revives every players dead creatures in a weakened state, which will likely kill the weaker creatures brought back this way.
    They found themselves alive again, still bearing their mortal wounds.
  • Meet the mission's objectives in a game of Warhammer 40,000 and you win, even if doing so cost your Space Marines their Chapter Master and dozens of their greatest warriors. The fluff has even more examples:
    • The original Pyrrhic Victory would be the Imperium's triumph over Chaos during the Horus Heresy. The renegade Warmaster was defeated, but the Emperor was mortally wounded and placed on life support, leaving him incommunicado for the ten thousand years since. His Imperium, founded on humanism and atheistic science, degenerates into a totalitarian theocracy where he is worshiped as a god while the local "engineers" worship their tanks. Humanity is so weakened by the conflict that civilization has never recovered to its heights at the Imperium's founding. And if the Emperor had been given just a little more time to perfect his Warp Gate, he could've revolutionized galactic transportation so that it wouldn't rely on Warp travel and mutant Navigators.
    • Earlier than that, the Eldar god of war, Kaela Mensha Khaine, managed to defeat the Nightbringer during the near-mythical War in Heaven, but Khaine was nearly killed and the battle gave all sentient life an intrinsic fear of death (all sentient life except the Orks, anyway). On the other hand, when Khaine battled Slaanesh during the Fall of the Eldar, even through his defeat he managed to weaken the Chaos God enough for Cegorach to escape and Nurgle to "rescue" Isha.
    • Most victories against the Tyranids. It takes a staggering amount of manpower and war material to stop a Hive Fleet, and there's always another one lurking in the void. The 'Nids even use this on the battlefield, forcing their enemy to waste ammunition on swarms of Cannon Fodder before launching the attack proper. The more extreme method of using Exterminatus on worlds under Tyranid attack is a two-way Pyrrhic Victory. The Tyranids lose both the potential bio-mass of the planet they were trying to eat as well as that of the forces spent attacking it, but at the same time the Imperium has just sacrificed one of their finite and ever-shrinking number of planets, while the Tyranids seem endless.
      • Specific examples of this would be the Battle of Macragge note  and the Battle of Iyanden note .
    • Eldrad's destruction of Abaddon's Planet Killer broke the back of the Thirteenth Black Crusade, but the Farseer locked himself in eternal conflict with the daemonic spirits controlling the warship and was hurled into the depths of the Warp.
    • The Dark Angels defeated The Fallen but their home planet was destroyed.
    • On a meta level, world-wide "you determine the result" campaigns fall into this, since having one side flat-out lose would irritate players. So while global campaigns have ended in Imperial (specifically Space Marine) victories, reading deeper reveals that their enemies made off with some powerful artifact or achieved their true objectives. As an example, the Dark Eldar were defeated in the Medusa campaign, but snatched so many slaves that they'll be able to gorge themselves for eons.
    • A villainous example with the Fall of Cadia in the new 13th Black Crusade. Abbadon may have FINALLY defeated the defenders of Cadia (including his Arch-Enemy and tactical genius CRREEEEEEEDDD!), resulting in the planet's destruction and Chaos finally breaking through the 10,000-year stalemate to attack the Imperium en masse once again, but the thing is he wanted to CONQUER the planet, not destroy it. The Cadian Pylons were highly valuable and the entire reason he was attacking the planet in the first place. With it gone, he "won", but lost the reason he had spent so long waging war against Cadia to begin with.
  • Mage: The Ascension: The Technocracy has all but won the Ascension War... and in the process created a humanity that has no interest in Ascending. This is because they won by, essentially, stamping on humanity's collective capacity for wonder, dreams, and hope, making the world more banal... and because of that overarching feeling of apathy in humanity, few humans can muster the wonderment they need to become new mages, which was the Technocracy's original goal.
  • Ravenloft, for both heroes and villains. The heroes won't be able to achieve particularly significant things, and it's quite likely they will die in the process of saving a handful; on the Darklords' side of the ledger... well... Count Strahd saved his homeland at the expense of his youth and became immortal at the expense of the life of the woman he loved, to name just one example.
  • Risk: Throw fifteen troops into an invasion, end up with one left to occupy the territory against the might of the entire enemy continent. Alternatively, destroy a large number of enemy troops but fall just short of actually knocking him out of the game — then watch him turn in a set of Risk Cards, and come back at your forces which are now spread thin at one army per territory.
  • Blood Bowl: Congratulations, your skaven just beat the enemy orc team 2-1! You won 60,000 gold pieces... And your 80,000 gold piece stormvermin was killed and one of your 70,000 gutter runners got his neck broken, to say nothing of all the linerats they chewed through first. Only another... Five matches until you've replaced your losses.
  • Necromunda, in a similar vein to Blood Bowl above, can have the winning gang achieve rather hollow victories over the enemy, especially if they suffered a lot of casualties on the playfield. Worse, the losing player may actually roll results on the injury table that are actually beneficial to their team, so assuming they get some lucky rolls and you get some bad ones, you may end up with a horribly mutilated winning gang with several dead or permanently injured gang members while the defeated gang may end up objectively stronger as a result.
  • Battletech:
    • The Amaris Civil War ends up as one for the SLDF. Even though they won, Kerensky's forces were so savaged as to be almost impotent to keep the Successor States from ultimately carving up the Terran Hegemony (the central state of the Star League) amongst themselves, launching the First Succession War. In the end, Kerensky orders the SLDF to leave the Inner Sphere altogether, as the Star League he'd sworn to protect and had spent 10 years and countless lives to liberate imploded around him.
    • At the conclusion of the Refusal War between Clan Jade Falcon and Clan Wolf, the Falcons ended up winning it in this manner. Three reasons why it led to this outcome: 1) despite the fact that the Falcons managed to wear down the Wolves by sending in less experienced second-line units and then eventually killed off both Natasha and Ulric Kerensky with underhanded ambushes, they unknowingly failed to eliminate Vlad Ward, who eventually became a sole witness to their uncharacteristically cowardly acts and took issue with them later on, 2) after rubbing out most of the Wolves, they tried to eliminate the Wolves' offshoot faction Clan Wolf-In-Exile (which comprised of the original Warden members of their parent Clan) but were fiercely pushed back by Phelan Kell and his Kell Hounds mercenary unit, therefore failing to prevent their escape to the Inner Sphere and 3) after taking a horrendously unacceptable amount of casualties inflicted by the aforementioned factions, the Falcons were rendered completely unable to resume the Invasion of the Inner Sphere so much that they had no choice but to absorb the remaining Wolves who did not break off to join Clan Wolf-In-Exile in order to re-bolster what little manpower they had left. Things took a turn for the worse for the Falcons when Vlad Ward, who had survived the war, witnessed their suspicious strategies and called out their two highest ranked leaders for their acts by initiating his own Trials of Refusal and eventually defeated them both to death; the former in traditional one-on-one BattleMech combat and the latter getting literally beaten to death in one-on-one hand-to-hand combat on the floor of the Clan Grand Council when the Falcon Khan was just elected ilKhan to resume the invasion despite his old age and his Clan already saddled with the aforementioned casualties. Vlad, now the newly appointed Wolf Khan, then reconstructed the Wolves by turning them into a Crusader Clan that bore no relevant history with the original Warden era and now resets their goal of retaking Terra and conquering the Inner Sphere again all to restore the glory of the Clan and immortalize his own name, once the Truce of Tukayyid expires.
  • This is the real heart behind Muggle Power in the New World of Darkness. Whilst breaking the masquerade is dangerous for supernaturals on a local level, The Unmasqued World would probably not turn out very well for either humans or monsters.
    • For humans, fighting a full-fledged war against the supernatural is kind of like fighting a war on terrorists turned Up to Eleven, since monsters have all the advantages of terrorists, such as being part of the general populace, blending in with "normal people", etc, but add a whole arsenal of supernatural powers to it. But what really makes the war fit this trope is that, after all the damage humanity will do to itself in the process, A: it's not really possible to stop new generations of monsters from coming into being, and B: often, those monsters are keeping something even worse in check, and so getting rid of them leads to a power vaccuum. Case in point; the Uratha are scary, being a race of lupine shapeshifters with Super Strength, human-tier intelligence and a Healing Factor powerful enough to make them Nigh Invulnerable, especially when they go into their Unstoppable Rage. But if humanity somehow wipes out werewolves, then that leads to The Legions of Hell who inhabit an animistic Dark World now being able to swarm into the mortal world in an epidemic of Demonic Possession, as keeping those evil spirits in check is a werewolf's job. Not to mention the Spider People and Rat Man shapeshifting species who do enjoy eating human flesh will no longer have their top predator around to keep them in check.
    • For monsters, not only does humanity outnumber them, but the truth of the matter is that the shape the world is in rather benefits them. All species of monsters ultimately need humans, for food and procreation, without taking into account personal attachments. To achieve a supernatural victory in a "war of man vs. monster" would require such a massive amount of casualties and planetary devastation that the world wouldn't be much fun for the monsters afterwards, either.
    • And, regardless of who may be making progress towards victory, there's still one big problem that makes the fighting meaningless. Namely, the existence of God-tier Eldritch Abominations like the God-Machine and the Exarchs who actively like the world the way it is and are willing to use all their powers, up to and including resetting time and reshuffling space, to keep things as they prefer.
    • The fan-game Siren: The Drowning even has this as a possible Deluge (a possible post-apocalyptic timeline one can travel to). ALL of the hunters unite, finally breaking the mask of the supernatural world! Which, because of the sheer mass of normal people that were touched by the supernatural, results in a war so big World War III doesn't even begin to do it justice. Cities are in ruin, blood runs everywhere, and paranoia abounds as no one can trust anyone else.
  • Games of Chess with players of similar skill inevitably wind up with the winning side having lost most of their pieces. Some historians have argued that in addition to training soldiers about strategization, it was also used to illustrate that War Is Hell due to the sheer loss of manpower on both sides.
  • In the Eberron setting, everyone came out of the Last War in bad shape and nobody really got what they wanted in the compromises that ended the War, except for King Kaius of Karrnath who just wanted it all to stop. Karrnath had been savaged by the war, forced to turn to necromancy and pacts with the Lich Queen Vol to survive at all. In return, Vol turned Kaius into a vampire and heavily infiltrated his government and army with her own agents. For Kaius, his "victory" was the mere survival of his people, but aside from the more traditional costs of this trope, it also took his humanity and left him beholden to one of the most powerful and villainous mages in the world.
  • In Tech Infantry, every battle in the story is one of these, if not an outright defeat. The first Jurvain invasion of Rios is destroyed, at the cost of a jump gate, then a rebel attack is driven off with such heavy cost in Council Loyalist ships that when a second Jurvain invasion comes in, there's effectively nothing to stop them. The rebel fleet attacks the Federation capital in Avalon, and is again driven off at the cost of such heavy Federation casualties that future offensive operations against anyone are impossible. And the Vin Shriak is defeated, at the cost of so weakening the Federation that they are powerless to resist a subsequent invasion by the Eastern Bloc and their alien allies.

    Theater 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, and accept voluntary banishment. Glinda, said best friend, has ascended as the effective ruler of Oz, but at the cost of the lives of her friends and fiancé.
  • 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.
  • The Capulets and Montagues at last make peace at the end of Romeo and Juliet. All it takes is the death of Paris, Mercrutio, Tybalt, Lady Montague and of course their two only children, Romeo and Juliet. A bitter peace indeed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • In a lot of strategy games where the enemy has any chance at all of outnumbering your forces, you usually have two options. Make your troops retreat to a friendly city, or flat out disband or use superior tactics on the enemy. The second usually results in forcing the enemy into this trope, or in the best of cases, results in you decimating the army at the cost of the majority of your unit. Tends to overlap with We Have Reserves.
  • Baldur's Gate: in Siege of Dragonspear, the main character ultimately defeats the crusade and the Avernus, only to convince Irenicus to start his plan, frame him for the murder of Skie, capture his whole party, kill Dynaheir and Khalid and start the plotline of Shadows of Amn.
  • Chapter 3 in MOTHER 3 ends with one of such: Kumatora and Wess manage to destroy a tank and are saved from Fassad by Lucas, who wrecks an entire unit of Pigmasks with the help of his Drago friends... cue a cut to three years later, where Fassad is none the worse for wear and managed to corrupt Tazmily into a greedy, industrialized town anyway, Kumatora and Duster are missing, Wess is all but in name a prisoner in a retirement home and Lucas is an outcast to his own fellow townsmen for being one of the few who still stand up to Fassad.
  • Soma: Simon manages to launch the ARK, only to discover that his mind and Catherine's weren't uploaded by only copied, just like what happened in Omicron. He shouts "we're gonna die down here!", while insulting Catherine and accusing her of lying; she enrages and calls him an ignorant idiot only to burn his circuits for emotional stress and shut down, thus leaving Simon definitely alone in a sea abyss.
  • Dynasty Warriors: In 7 and 8, Shu's historic battle of Wu Zhang Plains. Shu defeats the Wei forces lead by Sima Yi only for Zhuge Liang to pass away. The pyrrhic nature of the victory becomes apparent in the Jin campaign that begins directly after this fight, during which Sima Yi soundly defeats the Shu forces without Zhuge Liang's leadership.
    • In 8 Empires, if you keep the enemy forces back from your main base for 5 minutes in a defensive battle, you win. However, if they capture your secondary base within the time limit you get a "Narrow Victory" instead, which causes damage to the region (making it harder to defend next time) and causes some of your officers to be captured. The same can happen in reverse, though if you force the retreat yourself you tend to not lose nearly as much. And this is ignoring random officer death, which is present in both 7 and 8.
  • You Don't Know Jack:
    • In Vol. 3 the answer for one of the Impossible Questions was 'Pyrrhic victory'. However, if you got it right the game took points off you anyway. Oh how we laughed.
    • Episode 9 of the 2011 release had a question about the definition of a "pyrrhic victory", and demonstrates by having Old Man suffer one when he manages to drink a gallon of milk in one hour, but gets a nasty case of diarrhea in the process.
  • All four Mega Man Zero games end like this for Zero and his group. Z1=Zero goes missing, Z2=the Dark Elf, the one who caused The End of the World as We Know It, was free and Mega Man X's body destroyed, Z3=Neo Arcadia is taken over by the Big Bad Dr. Weil and Z4=Neo Arcadia is destroyed, and Zero dead, for the last time.
  • Mega Man X4 has this ending for both X and Zero. Both end up stopping Sigma's plan, but with a cost. Zero loses his true love Iris, who fights him to the death after Zero killed her brother who was with the Mavericks. X stops Sigma, but feels himself possibly going Maverick. He ask Zero to kill him if it happens. Interestingly, the Mega Man Zero series was originally suppose to be the storyline of X going Maverick and becoming the BigBad, but the backlash from Mega Man fans kept this from happening.
  • Devil Survivor 2
    • The Septentrione Arc has this be the case when it comes to using the Dragon Stream to defeat Mizar. Mizar can split-regenerate itself indefinitely when attacked and would overrun the rest of Japan within 24 hours, if it's not dealt with. The Dragon Stream would be able to deal with Mizar, but Yamato says that using the Stream would require to cut the power to the towers, which serve as a barrier to Japan and keep it safe. Cutting the power means cutting their own time in defeating the rest of the Septentrione. Io even mentions that their victory against Mizar would be pyrrhic.
    • The Triangulum Arc reveals that the defeat of Arcturus during the world's second cycle ended up pyrrhic. Arcturus may have been defeated at last by Yamato Hotsuin and Al Saiduq, but at the cost of everyone else being dead, Tokyo being in complete ruins and Al Saiduq even mentions that things seem beyond repair. This is why he concocted a plan with Yamato to regress the world once more, leading to the third cycle of the world and a hopefully better victory against Arcturus.
  • It doesn't matter if you take the "Deal" or "Revenge" path at the end of Grand Theft Auto IV because either one ends badly for Niko. The "Deal" ending is far worse than the "Revenge" one.
  • If you don't do any of your partners' loyalty missions and rush through the game without making preparations, Mass Effect 2 ends with one. The Collectors are no longer a threat to humankind, but Shepard and Shepard's squad die achieving this, and the Reapers are still on the way. Wasting too much time before assaulting the base, on the other hand, can see Shepard too late to rescue the Normandy's crew - maybe thirty or so innocent people and allies.
    • Mass Effect 3 had the theme, "There can be no victory without sacrifice." One way or another, every major quest carries a penalty to match its triumph - some nastier than others, especially if Shepard doesn't exercise good judgement. And much like the previous game, going into the final assault without enough preparation can potentially cost you the war, even if you win the battle. The ending itself proves the Reapers cannot be eliminated as a threat without a heavy price, no matter which option Shepard chooses.
    • The outcome of the final battle, if you pick Refusal - your forces successfully punched through the Reaper lines and deployed the Crucible, which was the objective... but because you didn't use it, even with full readiness and about seven thousand points of effective military strength, you, all of your allies and all space-faring races are exterminated. The Reapers lose, in that extermination is a suboptimal outcome for them, but it's a defeat they're accustomed to suffering.
    • Mass Effect 3: if your EMS is under 1750 and you destroyed the Collector Base in Mass Effect 2, you have only one option allowed, "Destroy", and it will scour the galaxy of almost all life, including Earth.
  • You can allow the Big Bad one of these in Dragon Age: Inquisition. The Inquisition learns that Corypheus plans to assassinate Empress Celene in order to throw Orlais into chaos, leaving it ripe for invasion. You can allow him to succeed, but not only does Orlais receive a new emperor immediately afterward who's hellbent on getting revenge, but you can also cripple his army beforehand by recruiting/banishing the Grey Wardens who he planned to enslave.
  • In the last GDI mission of Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, choosing to drop the Liquid Tiberium Bomb not only wipes out all of the Nod forces, but all of your own forces and sets off a chain reaction that kills twenty-five million civilians.
  • In Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, it's revealed that after Tiberian Dawn, Tiberium contamination spread to uncontrollable levels and while Nod is pacified, they have developed cyborg technology and several splinter cells are trying to take command. In Tiberium Wars, it's revealed that the cure discovered at the end of Tiberian Sun was not only ineffective, it caused Tiberium to mutate, becoming even more toxic than before and causing 80% of the world to either be thrown back into the dark ages or become dangerously inhospitable. By Tiberian Twilight, Tiberium not only took over the world, but threatens to kill off the entire human race within 6 years. Apparently GDI looses more ground with each game.
  • Infected has this at the end. You've managed to save New York by wiping out all the zombies! Congratulations! Too bad you only saved a few hundred people, at least the entire continental United States is still zombified, and there's no word from the rest of the world. But still...New York! Ayyyy!
  • The ending of RefleX is this, but in a much more global scale; ZODIAC Ophiuchus defeats the last ZODIAC and seals away the 12 cores along with its own. However, the collateral damage caused during its quest to destroy the other 12 wiped out almost all of humankind, and it may take centuries or even millenniums for them to regain civilization.
  • The ending of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater way more than qualifies as a Pyrrhic Victory for Big Boss.
  • Prince of Persia (2008) ends with sealing Ahriman away for a thousand years...except that Elika had to return her borrowed lifeforce to complete the seal. If the player continues, the victory is so crushing that the Prince undoes it to bring her back - unleashing the god of darkness once again. Implicit is the idea that he and Elika may hold the key to defeating Ahriman forever (thus making Ahriman's victory the destructive one), but the story has yet to continue.
  • The mission results screen for the penultimate mission of Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies notes how victory over the Eruseans came at a very high cost of ISAF casualties, including many aces lost to Stonehenge.
  • At least two endings of Oracle of Tao are like this. The best ending has the whole party teaming up to kill off the Big Bad, resulting in another boss, followed by a Playable Epilogue and a whole bunch of new endings. But if you don't meet all the prerequisites, you get secondary endings (the only one of which is actually good involves the use of a legendary sword). One of these involves the hero sacrificing all her energy and half-destroying the universe to kill it off (and STILL might not be enough, so you need some party members that will survive the event, namely your angel/demon characters) just to end the demon's rampage, and the second involves an exorcist ringing a bell that is deadly to everyone who hears it, taking herself out as well. Either of these losses completely wrecks party morale, and the group splits up thereafter.)
  • While the effect of the final battle wasn't immediate upon the protagonist of Persona 3, many players assumed that he was just sleeping when he closes his eyes in Aigis' lap on the final day of the game. It turns out he actually fell into his last coma and died soon afterward. The sequel, Persona 3: FES, shows us what effect the protagonist's death has upon the rest of the party. The reveal that the protagonist actually sacrificed his life to become the barrier between Nyx and humanity becomes the main point of contention between the entire party, especially for Yukari, who spends most of the game wanting to see him again, to the point where she would be willing to reset time even if it meant dooming the rest of humanity.
  • The bad ending of Persona 4 where you choose to kill Namatame. If you didn't kill him, he would have gotten away with it, right? But Nanako is dead, Dojima is left all alone, and your friends have to live with the fact that they killed a man who they weren't even sure was the true culprit. Heavy fog continues to envelope the world as you say goodbye to your friends...
  • Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep has all characters' endings like this. Terra loses his body to Master Xehanort but his armor and weapons reform by Terra's force of will and defeat his own body, stopping the current plan. However, Xehanort survives to become the Big Bad for the rest of the series, while what's left of Terra is just an empty suit of armor kneeling in the remains of the Keyblade Graveyard and stewing in anger at Xehanort for 11 years. Ventus defeats Vanitas inside his own mind, destroying the X-Blade and stopping the other part of the plan. However the damage to his heart is so severe that he's rendered comatose while his heart seeks safety within Sora's. Aqua finishes off Xehanort's plans for good, except both her friends are gone, she inadvertently sets off the events that would put the first game into motion, and she's stuck wandering the Realm of Darkness alone for years. However, unlike most Pyrrhic Victories, there is the hope of Sora saving them all.
    • And then Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance comes along and makes things worse for them: Xehanort is still in control of Terra's body, over a decade later, and no-one else knows what happened to the rest of him. Vanitas is still around inside Ven's heart, and all that Ven's sacrifice did was teach Xehanort he'd been going about his X-blade plan all wrong. But it still didn't slow his plans down in the slightest.
  • The first witch trial of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney ends with Phoenix and Professor Layton getting Espella found not guilty of being a witch. But the actual culprit, deciding to throw one last bit of spite, accuses Espella of being the Great Witch that the villagers need to kill to stop the witch trials, which puts Espella's name right back in the spotlight in a bad way. On top of that, the culprit is condemned to death by fire for being a witch. Phoenix even notes in the defendant lobby that, despite the victory, nobody on Espella's side feels like they won.
  • Sly Cooper is well-known to contain pyrrhic victories for the cast, mainly in the later games.
    • Sly 2: Band of Thieves has two examples, one being in the middle of the game, and the other being at the end.
      • Chapter 5 focuses on a Mêlée à Trois between the Cooper Gang, Neyla and Interpol, and The Contessa, the latter of whom is holding Carmelita hostage. The stand-off ends with The Contessa defeated by Sly, and the Clockwerk Eyes in the hands of the Cooper Gang, but Neyla is promoted to "captain", and becomes a major threat, while Carmelita is forced into hiding.
      • The game ends with Clockwerk's permanent defeat, and Neyla (who had merged with him to become Clock-La) is killed as a side-affect. But in trying to destroy the Hate Chip, Bentley is crushed by Clock-La's beak and is rendered disabled. Murray loses his beloved van, and also blames himself for Bentley's fate. And to save his friends, Sly is forced to allow Carmelita to arrest him, which at least gets her job back. He escapes when she's not looking, at least.
    • Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves ends with Dr. M being crushed to death, but the pyrrhic victory comes from the Cooper Vault being destroyed in the cave-in, causing generations of loot to be lost forever. Fortunately, not all of it is lost, and Sly allows his friends to take some of it for themselves.
    • Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time has the worst pyrrhic victory of the entire franchise. LeParadox is defeated and his meddling in the past erased. This comes at the cost of the Cooper Gang losing Penelope (who was kicked out for betraying them) and Sly (who ended up trapped in the past).

    Visual Novels 
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue has the defeat of the Meta and dealing with Project Freelancer come at the price of Alpha-Church and several other AIs 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Volume 3 finale of RWBY ends this way: The Grimm invasion started by Cinder and her faction is ultimately halted, the situation in Vale is stabilized, the Grimm are repelled from the city center and Cinder herself is defeated thanks to Ruby; but the Beacon campus and surrounding areas are lost, communications have been disrupted around the world, and Atlas's reputation among the other kingdoms has been ruined, possibly to the point of never living it down. Also, while Team RWBY and most of the good guys survive the battle, many of them are demoralized or have been separated, Cinder and her faction have gone into hiding, and the one behind her isn't even phased by this setback, making it technically a case of The Bad Guy Wins, due to the villains having accomplished most of their objectives. Also can be taken literally, since victory came at the cost of Pyrrha Nikos, whose last name roughly translates to "victory".
  • 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.

    Web Comics 
  • 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 Chel (whatever hasn't been ransacked bows to their dominion), 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 the crossing of the Godzilla Threshold doc brings back Sparklelord to stop King Radical from destroying the world. It works, but a vengeful ghost is unleashed in the process and he gives all his (former) enemies renewed reason to hate him. Oh, and King Radical is still president of the U.S.
  • 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 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.
  • In Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, Leondias and Kratos get into a battle of gay chicken. After a long time, Leondias 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • This trope gets weaponized in Goblins, where the antagonist is forced to win the Maze of Many. The problem with that? Said opponent (Psion Minmax) wanted to use the Maze to eradicate his own existence. You cannot re-enter the Maze once you've "won" 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]
  • Tower of God basically hands Pyrrhic Victories out like candy — or, just murky ones where you wind up unsure if a clear "loss" or "gain" was ever possible in the first place. Every last win has a price (even the apparently clear ones), and many of them are steep to the point of only looking like a win on paper, particularly if you don't scrutinise either the build-up, the background shenanigans or the longer-term damage. It even manages to hand out the inverse, of course: Pyrrhic Losses happen to major or majorish characters where, although they technically or even practically lost, they won the mid-game or got a surprise gain related to their main goals from it, even if it wasn't the target they were specifically aiming at at the time.

    Web Video 
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Transformers:
    • In the episode "The Golden Lagoon", nature-loving Autobot Beachcomber discovers a glen full of organic life and a pool of "electrum" which in this case is a super-protective alloy coating. Cue both factions going through a huge battle to take command of the pool, destroying every single piece of life in the glen. Beachcomber's final words as he surveys the scene? "We won..."
    • This is especially paradoxical, since the Autobots have explained time and again that their mission was to "protect life"... apparently, completely destroying a glen full of life in order to control a strategic resource doesn't count. But perhaps the message of the episode was on the tragedy of war: letting the Decepticons have something that would have made them invincible would have been such a disaster for all non-Decepticon life that it was better to destroy the glen than to let the Decepticons have it. A few must die that others may live; that's called war.
  • In Chaotic, "Allmagedon", a creature uses an attack to defeat an army of underworlders, at the expense of all he was trying to protect.
  • In Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century, Duck Dodgers and Marvin the Martian are fighting over Planet X. They both finally deploy doomsday weapons, blowing the planet up and leaving a chunk so small that it literally isn't big enough for the both of them. At this point, Dodgers shoves Marvin off the planet and starts gloating about his victory, while the camera pans down to reveal the Space Cadet is hanging on to a few roots, saying "Big Deal".
  • In a season 3 episode of Code Lyoko, Aelita willing makes a Pyrrhic Victory at the end of "Sabotage". X.A.N.A damages the Supercomputer and puts a mass of guards on the tower, so Jeremie needs the active tower offline so he can reboot the Supercomputer but Aelita can't get past the guards to use the Code Lyoko — so she willingly uses Code X.A.N.A. code to delete the Ice Sector, allowing Jeremie to reboot the system and stopping the active tower.
  • Cartman has one of his victories become pyrrhic in the South Park episode "201" when Scott Tenorman reveals that his father and Cartman's were one and the same, meaning Cartman killed his own father along with Scott Tenorman's mother when he fed them to him as chili for revenge in "Scott Tenorman Must Die" nine seasons prior. Cartman however is more upset that this technically makes him ginger rather than the fact that he killed his own father.
  • The Donald Duck/Chip 'n Dale short "Up a Tree" features Chip and Dale destroying Donald's house. Only thing? The object they used to destroy it with was their own chopped up tree which he managed to successfully chop down. Despite the fact that the short ends with the two laughing as always, still manages to succeed in his goal of getting rid of it (making it Pyrrhic for him as well), which means they've lost their home ''and'' likely any food they've gathered up in it.
  • Numbuh 363 from Codename: Kids Next Door caused one in "Operation I.N.T.E.R.V.I.E.W.S.". He brags throughout the episode and hates being touched. He also refuses to help Sector V when Count Spankulot spanks them. Finally, when Numbuh 1 saves his life from Father and he is waken up with Father's Pipe, all he can say is "I WIN! I GOT THE PIPE!". His own sector is so appalled by this that they betray him, gag him and give Sector V all of their stuff.
  • As mentioned to Shayera Hol in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Hunter's Moon", because she had stopped her people from trying to destroy Earth just so they could create a shortcut to the Gordonian home world and win the war, her former lover and commander Hro Talak ended up sacrificing himself against the Gordonians which resulted in a great loss for the Thanagarians.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Bugs Bunny finally beats Cecil Turtle in "Rabbit Transit", only to be arrested by the police because he was speeding 100 miles in a 30 mile speed limit zone in order to win. There have been no more Bugs-Cecil cartoons, apparently because Bugs was satisfied with actually winning for once, pyrrhic victory or not.
    • Invoked in a cartoon featuring Foghorn Leghorn. Foghorn had been trying to shake off Miss Prissy, so she teamed up with the Barnyard Dog. He put on a chicken costume and pretended to be another suitor attempting to woo her. Foghorn got jealous and he and Barnyard Dog got into a fight. After winning the fight, Foghorn grabbed Missy Prissy and rushed off to a chapel to get married. Afterwards, he triumphantly declares "I WON!" It's that moment that he realizes what he just did and then says, "I wonder if there's any way I could have lost."
  • Subverted in ThunderCats (2011), with Grune and Panthro. Grune coins the line "No price is too great for the defeat of my foe" when he rips out his own fang to slay a giant spider. Panthro repeats it when he lets his arms get cut off to ensure Grune's death.
    Panthro: Looking down at his severed arms "Worth It".
  • In the second episode of Static Shock, Virgil feels this is the case even though he defeated Alva and Hotstreak because the evidence proving Alva was complicit in the Big Bang was destroyed. He even compares it to the Trope Namer.
  • A few episodes of Danny Phantom end like this, most notably "Public Enemies" where even though Danny manages to beat back Walker's forces, Walker manages to succeed in his plan to make Danny a Hero with Bad Publicity. True, Danny managed to turn it around eventually, although it did stick for awhile.
  • An infamous American Dad! episode was about Stan having a mental breakdown after he was repeatedly bested by a car salesman who kept selling him expensive cars at inflated prices instead of the sensible one at half. Since he couldn't provide for his family, Francine has to work three jobs to stay afloat and Hailey resorts to prostitution. The salesman eventually sold Stan the car out of pity, only to realize Stan only pretended to be mad. The episode ended with Stan gloating in his new car, not caring about the damage he has done to his family just so he can "win".
  • In Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race the reward for coming in first in challenges is getting to have a head start in the next challenge. However, eight times out of ten something will happen that causes the winning teams to have share their ride to the next location with the rest of the teams or even causes them fall behind the others.
  • In the "Uh-Oh Dynamo" episode of The Powerpuff Girls, Professor Utonium threatens to ground the Girls if they don't use his Dynamo invention to stop the Giant Fish Balloon Monster; they reluctantly obey him, destroying the Giant Fish Balloon Monster and damaging most of Townsville in the process.
  • In the Rabbit Ears Productions version of Paul Bunyan, Paul Bunyan was able to successfully chop down all the trees in the forest for the settlers to make their homes at. But then Paul Bunyan becomes upset once he realizes that this would cost many people to not know the wonders of having trees around since they were all cut down. So in the end, Paul Bunyan decided to plant trees across the country to make up for him chopping down all those trees.
  • An episode of Dexter's Laboratory ends with him finally beating Dee Dee in a round of extreme party games, but Computer points out he destroyed the lab in the process. He ignores this and orders her to make him a sandwich. He gets turned into an actual sandwich.
  • Rocko's Modern Life has the episode "Pranksters" where Filburt was so happy he finally pranked Heffer that he has a heart attack.
  • Steven Universe has the ending of "Jail Break". Steven and the rest of the Crystal Gems are free, and the Homeworld warship has been destroyed, but Lapis is stuck at the bottom of the ocean, fighting for control over an unstable fusion with Jasper, and Peridot is nowhere to be found.
  • Kaeloo:
    • In Episode 54, Stumpy and Quack Quack enter a horse race. Mr. Cat, who bet on Stumpy winning, manages to rig the course so Stumpy wins. Stumpy is happy until he remembers that he bet every last cent of his money on Quack Quack winning, since Quack Quack usually wins everything, and is now competely broke.
    • Episode 58 (the one where Mr. Cat goes on a rigged game show hosted by Kaeloo to prove that he's right about everything) had one. Kaeloo asks Mr. Cat what Smileyland's most important rule is, and he says that it's "Have fun". This is the correct answer, but Kaeloo, Stumpy and Quack Quack's idea of " having fun" turns out to be strapping Mr. Cat to a board and tormenting him.
    • In Episode 85, Kaeloo and Mr. Cat have a debate over whether Kaeloo should beat people up or not. Mr. Cat wins the debate (by bribing Quack Quack, who was the judge, with yogurt), but since his argument was that Kaeloo should beat people up, she beats him up horribly.
    • In Episode 112, it turns out that Stumpy, Quack Quack and Mr. Cat made a bet to see who could make Kaeloo get mad enough to beat them up first. No matter who won, winning the net would have made him get a severe beating. Mr. Cat ends up winning and as a result is beaten so much that he nearly loses consciousness.
  • Camp Lazlo has the episode "Racing Slicks", where Edward wins a go-kart race only to find that his trophy is the smallest one given out and the other racers all got larger trophies as a consolation. When he sees that the Dung Beetles got a trophy larger than they are for coming in last place, he angrily throws his trophy on the ground and stomps on it.
  • The businessman who screwed Riddler out of millions in Batman: The Animated Series manages to escape justice and prosecution. While the man gets away, it's shown that he'll spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.
    Batman: How much is a good night's sleep worth? Now there's a riddle.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • In one episode, Katara comes across an elderly waterbender named Hama who teaches her on how to improve her Waterbending skills, albeit through questionable methods. Her last lesson is Waterbending's ultimate technique, Bloodbending, where under a full moon the Waterbender can take complete control of their opponent. Katara, of course, is horrified at such a practice and vows not to use it. But when Hama takes control of Aang and Sokka and nearly forces them to kill each other, Katara has no choice but to use the technique to stop her. Hama laughs at this while she's being carted off by the officials, as she succeeded in making Katara use the technique much to Katara's dismay.
    • Even more Pyrrhic if you count The Legend of Korra. Bloodbending survives and gets better despite Katara not passing on the art. It's used by two Big Bads and one Big Bad Wannabe to devastating effect.
    • The battle at the Northern Water Tribe counts too. Aang managed to demolish a majority of Zhao's fleet (which is approximately half the Fire Nation Fleet), but by the end of the battle, the Northern Water Tribe suffers heavy losses. Their city is heavily damaged, many lives were lost, and as a result, are in no condition to fight the war.
    • One episode has Zuko successfully drive away an Earth Kingdom soldier from harassing the villagers but he ended up getting driven out himself because he is forced to Firebend to do so.
    • Inverted in The Northern Air Temple, where an invasion from the fire nation on the Northern air temple is successfully prevented after Sokka drops the furnace of a hot air balloon into a gas pocket in a nearby chasm. This causes an explosion that forces the fire nation to retreat, but after this, the hot air balloon has to be abandoned, as it can't increase its altitude without a furnace. This allows the fire nation to salvage its remains and reverse-engineer it.
    Qin: This defeat is the gateway to many victories.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • At the end of Book 2: Korra saves the world from Unalaq and Vaatu, preventing darkness from engulfing and destroying the world as they know it, however in the process the Avatar cycle is destroyed in battle. This winds up costing her ten thousand years worth of skills and knowledge built up in the lives of previous avatars, as well as apparently permanently severing her connection to the spirits of those previous Avatars, including Aang.
    • At the end of Book 3: While Team Avatar manage to defeat the Red Lotus and save Korra's life, she ends up confined to a wheelchair due to poisoning sequelae, depressed and with signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, without mentioning that the Earth Kingdom remains in complete chaos after the queen's assassination and with no clear fix on sight. And then, Kuvira, Su's captain, makes a Face–Heel Turn to stop chaos and reunite the country with a lot of Su's people, which gradually corrupts them. She eventually becomes a dictator. Enter the new Big Bad.

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