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

These are common in Darker and Edgier series and is one of the defining characteristics of a Crapsack World. Compare to Meaningless Villain Victory. Contrast with 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.

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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.


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Examples:

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    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.
  • In the Comic Book/Elseworlds Batman Vampire trilogy, Batman defeats Dracula's forces at the cost of his identity as Bruce Wayne as he becomes a vampire himself, with the final book in the trilogy seeing Batman killing all of his original enemies as he succumbs to his vampire instincts, forcing Commissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth to sacrifice themselves to restore Batman's sanity long enough for him to destroy himself.

    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.
  • In The Rival Prefects Trilogy, Thomas believes that once he sees that Malcolm's kids are not the perfect cherubs their father thinks they are, he'll have finally bested his rival. But it'll be a hollow victory because he'll still be a statue.
  • In Purple Days, the final battle of the Blackworks loop works this way for Daenerys. She wins King's Landing and succeeds in killing Tywin and Joffrey - at the cost of losing two of her dragons, an enormous chunk of her army, and showing herself to be the same king of lunatic as her father, just as every other kingdom is rushing to deliver the deathblow to the Targaryens, since the brutal attack wiped out any potential hostages, leaving her with no means of averting their wrath.
  • Relic Of The Future begins in the aftermath of a final battle between forces of good and Salem. While the heroes technically won and saved the world, none of them save Jaune survives past the battle and humanity had already been decimated and mostly fallen into anarchy. The rest of the story centers around Jaune trying to change the past in hopes of achieving a real victory.

    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 
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: 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.
  • Star Wars Episode VIII 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.

    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.
  • Daniel Bryan ended up being screwjobbed out of winning the WWE Championship at SummerSlam (2013) when special guest referee Triple H put the Pedigree on Bryan (after the match had ended), and Randy Orton cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE Championship, and having his Night of Champions victory against Orton stripped away by Triple H, Bryan demanded a rematch at WrestleMania 30, with the winner of Bryan vs. Triple H going on to face Randy Orton and Batista in a triple threat match for the WWE Championship. After beating Triple H, Bryan went on to face off against Orton and Batista and win the WWE Championship belt. After successfully defending his championship against Kane at Extreme Rules (2014), Bryan lost all strength in his right arm and would have to undergo neck surgery, it was revealed that Bryan was physically unable to compete at Money in the Bank, which resulted in Stephanie McMahon stripping Bryan of his championship on the June 9th Raw episode, ending his reign at 64 days. Bryan would return in November 2014, and go on to face Intercontinental champion Bad News Barrett and win the belt at WrestleMania 34, only to hit his head on the SmackDown announcers' table a week later, splitting his forehead open and requiring surgery. After undergoing an MRI, Bryan voluntarily relinquished the Intercontinental belt, and announced his retirement in February 2016.
  • At Survivor Series (2014), Team Cena (Cena, Erick Rowan, Ryback, Big Show, and Dolph Ziggler) faced Team Authority (Kane, Luke Harper, Mark Henry, Rusev, and Seth Rollins) with the stipulation that if Team Cena was victorious, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon would step down from power, but with a caveat: only Cena could bring back the Authority. In the end, after Big Show punched out Cena and walked away from the ring, Ziggler was the only remaining member of Team Cena, who would successively pin Kane, Harper and Rollins, giving Team Cena the win. On the December 29 Raw, Seth Rollins threatened to curbstomp special guest Edge, who had retired from multiple neck injuries, demanding that Cena bring back the Authority after little more than a month of exile. Cena had no other choice but to grant Rollins' demand, and as a result, Ziggler, Rowan and Ryback were temporarily fired, and Cena was applauded by Triple H and Stephanie for bringing them back into power.
  • After the breakup of Special K, The Lovely Lacey dumped Izzy and Deranged in favor of managing Jimmy Jacobs and BJ Whitmer. However they ended up being a less effective Tag Team as Lacey's Angels, mostly due to Lacey's attempts to "improve" Jacobs, which caused Whitmer to turn on him when Jacobs's concern for Lacey led to them losing an RoH Title match to Generation Next. Lacey didn't care about Jacobs but felt Whitmer had betrayed her personally and ordered Jacobs to put him out of wrestling. This led to a one-sided feud where Whitmer almost killed Jacobs with power bombs on two separate occasions. And when Jacobs finally did manage to give Whitmer an injury Jacobs was so injured himself he required crutches.
  • Britani Knight wrestled five matches in twenty eight hours, leading up to her defeating Nikki Storm in the tournament finals to become the first champion of Pro Wrestling Eve. Then she came down with glandular fever.
  • The Undertaker suffered one during his WrestleMania 27 match with Triple H. Though Taker won the match, moving his WrestleMania undefeated streak to 19-0, he was so worn out afterwards that he couldn't even stand up to do his darkness salute. Taker had to be taken out on a stretcher while Triple H, the loser, was at least able to walk to the back under his own power. This would later be the reason for their rematch one year later at WrestleMania 28. Undertaker wasn't happy with him having to be taken out of the arena on a stretcher.
  • Any gruesomely tiring or injurious match can be turned into one of these for the WWE Champion thanks to the introduction of the Money in the Bank briefcase. The briefcase can be cashed it at any time for a WWE Championship match, even if the champion is too worn out to properly defend their title. Notably, this is how the first cash-in went, with Edge defeating John Cena in a short match after a bruised and bloody Cena had just defended the title in an Elimination Chamber match.

    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.
  • Corpse Party Blood Drive's ending counts]... [[spoiler:As after all the cast's efforts, they only succeed in stopping the Nirvana from causing the apocalypse, not ressurecting any of their deceased friends, and this is at the cost of Ayumi ending up like a vegetable and dissapearing from all records in history and from all of her friend's memories (except Yoshiki, that chooses to stays with her, at the cost of also being Ret Gone) due to the toll of eating the Nirvana to seal it. You say that doesn't sound that bad? The Nirvana will eventually break free and begin the apocalypse again... And if Corpse Party 2:Dead Patient, which takes place five years after Blood Drive... the Nirvana appears to already have begun to break free- in some capacity at least.
  • 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.
  • The epilogue of Red Dead Redemption ends with Jack tracking Edgar Ross down to a stream, three long years after he betrayed and murdered the Marston family. After a short exchange, Jack guns him down and... that's it. No fanfare, no reward, just leaving Ross' cooling corpse lying in the water to continue his shattered spectre of a life as a lonely homeless gunslinger, far removed from the promising future as a writer John wanted for him.
  • 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).
  • PAYDAY 2 ends with the crew stealing presidential pardons from the White House, securing their freedom for good. However, Bain, who was previously captured, tortured, beaten, and injected with a virus, dies to his illness. The crew won their freedom, but their mentor did not survive, making their freedom feel almost empty.

    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.
  • RWBY: Pyrrha Nikos has a name of Greek origins. While her first name comes from a word meaning "flame-haired", her surname means "victor of the people". The term "pyrrhic victory" comes from the name of King Pyrrhus, whose name shares the same origin as Pyrrha. Pyrrha's name therefore can translate to "Pyrrhic Victory". During Pyrrha's tournament match against Penny, she defeats Penny but only in a way that leaves her feeling devastated. As a result of Emerald making her see a threat that doesn't exist, Pyrrha uses the full force of her magnetism Semblance to repulse Penny's swords. As Penny is a secretly a robot who is controlling her swords via wires, Pyrrha's act accidentally entangles Penny with the wires, garotting Penny so successfully that her body is torn into pieces on live television.
  • A few episodes of Death Battle end this way:
    • Superman vs Goku: Superman came out on top, but the world gets an Earth-Shattering Kaboom in the process.
    • Fox vs Bucky: Not quite as harsh, but still relevant. Fox manages to kill Bucky, but Slippy Toad was killed before the battle began (granted most fans of Fox's home series would consider this an added benefit).
    • White Tigerzord vs Epyon: Even though Zechs manages to destroy the tigerzord and kill Tommy Oliver the White Ranger, his beloved girlfriend, Noin, was killed before the start of the battle. The battle ends with him crying Ocular Gushers over the remains of the Gundam she was piloting, while Zordon is left mourning Tommy's death.
    • Possibly the case in Guts vs Nightmare. Guts manages to destroy Nightmare/Night Terror, Inferno and Soul Edge, but he was forced into his Berserker Armor to do so. While not outright stated, it will eventually kill his sanity and physical body without anybody in the immediate area around to snap him out of it.
    • Played for Laughs in Iron Man vs Lex Luthor. While Tony defeats Lex without any life-threatening results to himself, his victory comes at a literal high cost: $5 billion for the property damage that occurred.
    • Also Played for Laughs in Donkey Kong vs Knuckles. While Donkey Kong kills Knuckles for digging through his banana stash, he has to find his bananas all over again, thanks to the fight.
    • Dante vs Bayonetta: Not outright stated, but it becomes this when you realize that Bayonetta was the Left Eye. Dante kills Bayonetta, unknowingly failing his mission to retrieve the Left Eye of the World (the Left Eye is Bayonetta herself; Dante was under the impression it was an artifact). Plus, the DMX battle that accompanies this one revealed Dante's partner Trish was killed by Bayonetta's partner Jeanne.
    • Joker vs Sweet Tooth: Joker triumphs by killing Needles Kane (the driver of Sweet Tooth) with Joker Venom, but the beating he took during the battle leaves him in no condition to resist the police who show up, presumably to ship him back to Arkham.
    • Lara Croft vs Nathan Drake: Lara kills Nathan and retrieves the Holy Grail, but her helicopter was destroyed in the process, leaving her stranded in the desert. While she's survived similar conditions, it's still inconvenient.
    • Natsu Dragneel vs Portgas D. Ace: Natsu kills Ace after he attempts to run out of town for not paying for his meal, but it comes at the cost of setting the town on fire. He's thrown out face-first into the dirt for the devastation and not even learning about Ace's extremely high bounty due to his wanted poster going up in flames.
    • Sub-Zero vs Glacius: Sub-Zero kills Glacius, but loses his hand in the process.
    • Crash Bandicoot vs. Spyro the Dragon: Spyro atomizes Crash, who had squashed Sparx like a bug earlier. Like Guts vs. Nightmare above, he also had to give into his Dark Spyro side to do so, which requires outside assistance to be snapped out of — and his closest companion is dead thanks to Crash.
    • Samurai Jack vs Afro Samurai: Jack kills Afro, but loses his arm in the process.

    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, Leonidas and Kratos get into a battle of gay chicken. After a long time, Leonidas concedes defeat because he misses his family. Kratos taunts him for giving up just so he can go home to his family... but is immediately reminded that he has no family to go home to now.
  • Our Little Adventure has two:
    • The second Minotaur battle at the end of book 1. The Minotaur was killed sure enough, but it also killed Pauline, the group's Barbarian and beloved friend. What's worse is that she doesn't come back when Julie attempts to revive her at a temple, due to not wanting to.
    • The Silverfronds Invasion ends this way in the end of book 3. The Souballo Empire did not succeed in taking over the Silverfronds Kingdom...because the kingdom is instead being destroyed by a powerful, unwittingly released Demon. The Souballo Empire has since put the war 'on hold' until this new evil can be dealt with.
  • 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 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."
    • 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".
  • 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 Lazuli is stuck at the bottom of the ocean, fighting for control over an unstable fusion with Jasper, and Peridot is nowhere to be found.
    • The rebellion ended like this; Rose Quartz won and saved the Earth from the Homeworld's colonization, but it cost her all (except for a small handfill) of her allies to be corrupted and to the creation of the Cluster (a giant forced fusion made up of thousands of Gems) seeded inside the Earth which will destroy it upon formation.
  • In the final episode of Samurai Jack, after a long and hard-fought battle, Aku is vanquished when his daughter Ashi uses her father's powers to propel herself and Aku back to the past when Aku first sent Jack into the future. After killing Aku, Jack and Ashi are about to get married... until Ashi vanishes, because when Jack killed Aku, Ashi also ceased to exist.
  • 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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