"Cower, mortal! Your Soul Is Mine!"
The dead are not ending up in their correct afterlife. The forces of evil may be nabbing good souls, either before they complete their journey to their final reward, or actually kidnapping them from paradise after they arrive. Souls have so many uses, after all, and even if they didn't, this is a great way to snub the Council of Angels. And when Hell Invades Heaven, there'll be that many less enemies to deal with.
Alternately, it may not be specifically malicious. The Obstructive Bureaucrats running the Celestial Bureaucracy may have cocked things up or perhaps the Afterlife Express hit the wrong switch-track. In these cases, you can also end up with unrepentant monsters trashing Fluffy Cloud Heaven.
A third option is an Infernal Paradise, where the character has gone to what would be a genuine eternal reward for an insane cultist or someone Too Kinky to Torture, but it's not what he was expecting.
Compare This Isn't Heaven, where a character's personal heaven turns out to be an Ironic Hell; Hell of a Heaven, where it's not as enjoyable as advertised; and Barred from the Afterlife, where a soul can't even pass on in the first place.
- This is how Noble Kale became a spirit of vengeance in Ghost Rider. He was supposed to go to Heaven, but his father sold his soul to Mephisto, who, after lots of whining, convinced Uri-El not to take him to Heaven (which ended up being Mephisto's undoing...for a little while).
- In an Alan Moore Swamp Thing storyline, Anton Arcane, having possessed the near-omnipotent Matt Cable's body, not only kills his innocent niece Abby, but casts her soul down to Hell. When the title character, accompanied by The Phantom Stranger, seeks entrance to Hell in order to rescue her, The Spectre—here serving as the guardian at the borders of Heaven and Hell—at first behaves like an Obstructive Bureaucrat, stating that, once in Hell, Abby must stay there whether she deserves it or not, because it's forbidden for the dead to come back. "Then what of Jim Corrigan?" asks the Stranger, referring to the Spectre's sometime human identity. Taking his point, the Spectre lets them pass.
- This is what kicks off the entire Marvel Zombies saga - Heaven finds itself under attack by a zombified Sentry, who is part of a Stable Time Loop. His attack ends up sending someone into that Marvel Zombies universe - Ash Williams, who had died in a prior story before his crossover.
- Thor: Vikings: In order to prevent the loathsome zombie Jarl Jaekellsson from reaching Warrior Heaven, Thor hurls him into Earth's orbit, where he will remain forever without dying. The mortals who assisted Thor during the battle (descendants of the man responsible for the zombies' curse) are shown to eventually go there, despite one being a Catholic knight bent on exterminating pagans and the other a WWII German pilot.
- What kicks off the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfiction Hail to the King. The nameless main character died and was heavily implied to being going to Heaven. Then King Sombra, who recently was defeated, runs past him trying to get into the portal because of all the crystals. The portal quickly gets closed to prevent him from getting in. Then Sombra attacks the main character and they both start to get dragged downwards. To prevent this trope from playing fully, The Powers That Be quickly grab the main character and throw him into the closest thing to prevent that. That thing being Sombra's comatose body. Hilarity Ensues.
- A variation occurs in Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act V. After Rason, mind-controlled by the Otonashi sisters, breaks up with her, Kurumu succumbs to Death by Despair and ends up in Hell; the Lord of Hell explicitly states that he drew her soul to Hell before it could go to Heaven. Rather than torture her, however, he wanted to knock some sense into her, having been revealed back in Act II to be Kurumu's biological father. Through his efforts, Kurumu unlocks a new Super Mode, and the Lord of Hell sends her back to Earth to reclaim her man.
- Inverted in All Dogs Go to Heaven where Charlie, despite being a self-centered Jerkass, ends up going to Heaven after being murdered by Carface because dogs are naturally good animals. It becomes straight after he uses his Life Watch to return to life until his Heroic Sacrifice earns himself redemption.
- In South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Kenny is denied access to heaven, and he falls straight into Hell.
- At the end of Constantine, the titular character dies via Heroic Sacrifice and his soul is finally judged worthy of entering Heaven, but the devil is so annoyed at being cheated out of his soul that he brings Constantine back to life and cures his cancer so that he has at least a few more years to screw up and get himself damned to Hell.
- Fantozzi in paradiso ("Fantozzi in Heaven"), one chapter of the long-running Italian series of Fantozzi films starring the eponymous unlucky office clerk, ends like this. Fantozzi dies and his soul is scheduled to go to Heaven, but the airplane getting the souls there is hijacked by celestial terrorists, and he finds himself in front of the Buddha, who forces him to be reincarnated... in a newborn Fantozzi.
- A joke recycled every time a celebrity gets caught in a sex scandal: X and the Pope die at the same time, but there's an error and they go to the wrong afterlife. The error is fixed, and they cross each other going down/back up. The Pope asks X if he met the Virgin Mary, X smirks and says they don't call her that anymore.
- An Evil Lawyer Joke uses this as the setup, where a guy gets sent to Hell when he should have gone to Heaven. When the Devil refuses to give him back, God threatens to sue, countered by "And where do you think the lawyers are?" Cue the response "The really good lawyers talked their way out of Hell."
- A couple are moving to Florida, with the husband going a few days before his wife to make sure things are ready. He writes her a postcard, but gets the address wrong, and the next day, the widow of the town pastor is found dead of a heart attack, clutching a postcard reading "Sure is hot down here. See you next week!"
- Some church/synagogue/charity fundraisers die and are accidentally sent to Hell. God finds out and tells Satan to send them up, but he refuses. "They've almost raised enough for us to get air conditioning!"
- A man prays to God all the time, and yet his agnostic neighbor always seems to have a better-looking-wife, a bigger car, more money, more successful kids, etc. When both die, the believer gets put on the waiting list while the neighbor is immediately escorted by angels to the VIP area. The believer snaps and demands to see God, and in the divine presence demands to know why he never received the blessings his neighbor did, despite never having prayed a day in his life. God then asks "Maybe because he wasn't praying to me every goddamn minute."
- In Ghost Story, Harry Dresden encounters an angel sent to a critically-wounded Father Forthill to escort him safely to Heaven if he dies. She explains that Hell would steal even the souls of saints if they could get away with it, and the nether zone of the afterlife is unsafe enough that the souls working there need an angelic security guard.
- In the Incarnations of Immortality series, the system for processing souls is rather messed up, due to God slacking off. In On a Pale Horse, Zane, the new Death, is unsatisfied with babies going to Purgatory, and manages to get the system adjusted to send them to Heaven instead. Later on, when Parry takes over running Hell in For Love of Evil, he realizes a large portion of souls arriving there don't deserve it, and tries to show them A Hell of a Time instead. Eventually, he instigates a Plan to get God replaced.
- The Detective Inspector Chen novel Snake Agent begins when a young woman scheduled to go to Heaven is photographed by a brothel in Hell. Turns out that she's not the only one, and the villain's plan involves doing it wholesale.
- In Mark Twain's story "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven", Captain Stormfield initially winds up in the "wrong" heaven, an alien one.
- In The Salvation War, Heaven has been closed off for centuries. Everyone who otherwise would have gone there has gone to Hell instead, no matter how Faithful they were.
- In Warrior Cats, when Flametail dies and goes to StarClan (the feline equivalent of Heaven), he ends up lost and winds up in the Dark Forest (Hell). The Dark Forest cats are planning war on the Clans, so Brokenstar orders Ivypool to prove her loyalty by killing Flametail's spirit.
- In The Skinjacker Trilogy, children who get lost on their way to heaven end up in Everlost, somewhere halfway between Earth and the afterlife. They each "wake" in Everlost with a coin in their pocket, and when it is their time to move on, they will do so when they hold the coin.
- In the episode "Dead Run" from The Twilight Zone (1985), a truck driver takes a job delivering dead souls to Hell. However, the people he's delivering there seem way too nice to deserve damnation. It turns out the new Celestial Bureaucracy that has taken over is using an overly-literal fundamentalist interpretation of The Bible, mainly due to them being paper-pushing Obstructive Bureaucrats rather than actual malevolence. In the end, the driver begins to invert the trope by releasing those souls whom he feels undeserving of damnation before reaching Hell, allowing them at least a chance to find Heaven.
- Bobby Singer of Supernatural went to Hell instead of Heaven after his permanent death because Crowley, the King of Hell, had it in for him, which we discover in "Taxi Driver" (S08, E19).
- Subverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 6. The Scooby Gang suspects Buffy was sent to a hell dimension after her Heroic Sacrifice and Willow brings Buffy back from the dead, but it turns out she actually was in heaven. Oops.
- In Lexx, in the third season, the heroes stumble across the afterlife. In the Heaven section, they come across the soul of a nasty individual who betrays them all and joins Prince's forces, while the Hell planet has a bunch of enslaved homosexuals who don't have any sort of malice in them. Prince does mention the reincarnation process does sometimes screw up.
- The premise of The Good Place is that Eleanor Shellstrop finds herself in a heavenly realm for a life of saintly good works she didn't do, and has to prevent her similarly saintly neighbors from discovering her real self. Later on, she learns that Jianyu was also mistakenly sent to the Good Place and is actually a petty criminal named Jason instead of the Buddhist monk he was believed to be. Even later on, she meets the other Eleanor Shellstrop who was mixed up with her and got sent to the Bad Place as a result. However, it turns out all of this has been a gigantic lie — Eleanor and Jason are exactly where they should be because they've been in the Bad Place all along and the other Eleanor is actually a demon pretending to be the real Eleanor's good counterpart to further add to her guilt.
- On Preacher, Jesse accidentally sends Eugene to Hell after using his Compelling Voice (which at this point he doesn't really know how to use) when he snaps at him, "Go to Hell!" In the next season, we see that Hell is having some glitches, although whether this is due to Eugene erroneously being sent there or God being out of Heaven is anybody's guess.
- In the Dungeons & Dragons module A Paladin In Hell, during the funeral of a powerful paladin, the entire temple hosting the service is dragged into Hell to claim his soul. The players have to travel to Hell, find the temple, and free his soul. Oh, and the module was close to Tomb of Horrors in terms of unfair difficulty.
- In the Forgotten Realms setting, souls that end up in the Fugue Plane (those that were religious but didn't devote themselves to a specific patron deity, those who betrayed their creed, and atheists) can have this happen to them courtesy of fiends. The baatezu (a.k.a. devils, Lawful Evil fiends) have an agreement with the Fugue Plane's administration that they can try to talk unclaimed souls into going with them, while the tanar'ri (a.k.a. demons, Chaotic Evil fiends) simply resort to mass kidnapping.
- An interesting take in All Flesh Must Be Eaten. One potential setting is in a world with reincarnation, save for a few old souls which managed to stay in place and judge what all other souls are reincarnated as. When those old souls begin fighting, the system breaks down and people begin reincarnating into dead bodies... and sometimes not even their own dead body.
- The Elder Scrolls
- Tamriel's many religions offer differing ideas of just what happens to a mortal's soul upon death. Some cultures, like the Proud Warrior Race Redguards and Nords, have their own versions of a Warrior Heaven. The Imperial Church of the Divines seems to imply that the souls of the faithful dead end up in Aetherius, the realm of magic. The Altmer (High Elves) believe in reincarnation, and have been known to Mercy Kill undesirable offspring so that their souls have the chance to be reincarnated in better forms. The Dunmer (Dark Elves) practice ancestor worship (among other forms of worship), and call upon the spirits of their honored dead for guidance and protection. Out of game developer-written "Obscure Texts" go into greater detail, explaining that the souls of the dead enter the "Dreamsleeve", where they are broken down, reassembled, and rebirthed as new beings on Mundus. All of that said, it is known that some souls are claimed by the Daedric Princes or other such divine beings, usually as part of a pact made when the mortal in question was still alive. In this case, the mortal's soul goes to the realm of the deity in question to serve for eternity.
- Kodlak Whitemane, harbinger of the Companions, wants to go to the Nordic afterlife of Sovngarde but, since he's a werewolf, knows that the Hircine, Daedric Prince of the Hunt and Monster Progenitor of were-creatures, will claim his soul after death instead. Kodlak is killed when his home is attacked by werewolf hunters, but the Dragonborn is able to break his curse after his death, freeing his soul from Hircine's realm. Kodlak's parting words suggest that he might gather some other warriors from Sovngarde and invoke this trope himself with a raid to rescue some of the other dead werewolves' souls from Hircine's Hunting Grounds. Most of the Companions refuse to use the cure when it's found, preferring Hircine's realm anyway.
- The Dawnguard DLC reveals that the souls of sapient mortal beings (Men, Mer, etc.) who are soul-trapped in Black Soul Gems are forced to spend eternity in the Soul Cairn, a pocket realm of Oblivion ruled over by the mysterious Ideal Masters. It is a bleak and desolate place. As part of the events of the main quest, the Dragonborn ends up in Sovngarde and can invoke this trope by soul-trapping the spirits of the dead there, forcing them to the Soul Cairn instead.
- Grim Fandango: Big Bad Hector is stealing tickets to the Number Nine express, a luxury train that takes the most virtuous souls directly to the next underworld, and selling them to people who don't deserve them. However, the tickets he's selling are counterfeit, he's hoarding the real ones for himself in a desperate bid to balance out a life of evil.
- In The Legend of Dragoon, the Wingly civilization built a machine that reroutes all human souls to hell (because they could, apparently). By the time of the game, the device has largely broken down so that now it only snags those souls who are in great emotional turmoil, including a main character and several bosses.
- In Dante's Inferno, Beatrice, who is the wife of Dante is dragged into hell because Dante cheated death. Dante has to descend into hell to save Beatrice's soul.
- In Final Fantasy IX, souls return to The Lifestream of the planet they came from. The Evil Plan of Garland is to reroute the souls of the entire population of Gaea through an artificial tree which will "cleanse" them (purge them of identity) and then reroute them to his planet, Terra, so that the long-dead Terrans that created him will be reborn.
- Mortal Kombat Trilogy has a variation with Johnny Cage. He's killed in the prologue but his soul is blocked from going to heaven by the merging of Earth and Outworld. Rather than going to the other place, instead his soul returns to earth and revives him.
- In The Saga of Biorn, the eponymous viking is seeking honorable death in battle in order to gain entrance into Valhalla. After many failures at finding a worthy opponent, he suffers a mortal blow while defending a convent of nuns from a giant. As Biorn ascends the stairs to his reward, the nuns repay him posthumously with a Christian burial, causing him to wind up in Fluffy Cloud Heaven which turns out just as boring as the Helheim he was desperately trying to avoid.
- pictures for sad children: Paul, after being a ghost for about a year, receives a letter admitting him to the afterlife. He should have gotten it immediately after his death, but it got lost in the mail. This causes problems when Paul decides he'd rather not pass on: since he was informed of the afterlife so late, he has much less time to fulfill the requirements to stay on Earth as a ghost.
- At first it seemed like this happened to Siggy in Dominic Deegan when Karnak grabbed his soul and brainwashed him. The "Knight Vision" arc reveals that Siggy earned his place in Hell with gusto. Karnak just made him his slave once he got there.
- In the DK Vine feature Bitching About Brawl, the recently deceased Tom Poston and Chris Benoit had ended up in Hell and Heaven respectively. Pit was in the middle of bringing Benoit to Hell to exchange him with Poston when he first visits Bob O. Friend.
- The Onion reports that this happened to Mother Teresa.
- South Park: In an early episode (later retconned?) we learn that only Mormons get into Heaven, everyone else goes to Hell. But Satan, having had it up to here with Saddam Hussein, gets God to send Hussein to Heaven along with all the Mormons (because, to Hussein, that is Hell).
- God changed the rules later after realizing that there was a manpower difference between Heaven and Hell that enabled Satan to attempt an invasion. He had to accept more than just Mormons in order to stand a chance, rerouting souls from Hell in the process.
- At the end of one episode of The Simpsons, The Rapture happens and Lisa (but no other Simpson) is being lifted bodily into Heaven. Homer grabs her ankle and makes her go to Hell with the rest of the family.
- An episode of Eek! The Cat has Eek dying and winding up in the Celestial Bureaucracy. This shouldn't have happened in the first place, because Eek hadn't used up all nine of his lives yet. Then, a damned soul asks Eek to hold his rap sheet while he "goes to the bathroom", so Eek winds up getting sent to Hell in his place. However, Eek is so optimistic that the torments of Hell don't affect him at all, and he succeeds at all the Sisyphean tasks the Devil sets for him. Eventually the bureaucracy works out the mistake and returns Eek to life, resetting his life card back to nine lives as an apology.
- Implied in Jimmy Two-Shoes. In fact, this was the original premise: Jimmy should have gone to Heaven but, due to a clerical error, was sent to Hell. Luckily, he's Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth. The finished project doesn't make this explicit, but it's not hard to interpret Miseryville has Hell.