This happens after the character or characters narrowly escape some kind of disaster. The bomb is defused with one second left. The Booby Trap is jammed. The bad guy is buried under a ton of rubble. Whew. It's finally ov—OH GOD, THE HORROR! Death claims a victim suddenly and often quite violently. The key to this trope is that someone believes that everything is okay, and in that moment of relaxation, when the tense music has stopped, someone dies.
To clarify, this does NOT refer to just any sudden, shocking death. The death in question must immediately follow an escape from imminent peril, interrupting the peaceful tranquility of apparent success. However, the cause of death need not be the exact thing that was perilizing the heroes in the first place. They could be blindsided by a completely new threat or an older one about which they'd forgotten. Or a wound could suddenly catch up to them — aversions of Hard Head often produce this.
Also called "Whew That Was BOOM"... as in... "Boom! Athletes Foot!".... Only more fatal.
Related to Hope Spot, may be preceded by a Cat Scare, and has been known to involve Not Quite Saved Enough and Diabolus ex Machina. This is the kind that definitely ends in death. If a character collapses and faces the serious danger of death, see After-Action Healing Drama. The cruelty factor goes up if immediately preceded by Cathartic Exhalation.
THIS IS A DEATH TROPE: Beware unmarked spoilers!!
- Dragon Ball Z
- On Namek, Goku drops his giant Spirit Bomb on Freeza just as Freeza was about to destroy the planet. After everyone relaxes, Freeza reveals that he is still alive, wasting no time severely wounding Piccolo and killing Krillin.
- After being on the receiving end of a Curb-Stomp Battle against Freeza, Vegeta is seemingly saved after Goku arrives and takes the moment to revel in the fact that the tyrant is finally going to get his. Freeza almost immediately shoots him through the heart in annoyance.
- The main characters take a moment to mourn Goku who just performed a Heroic Sacrifice to save the Earth from a self-detonating Cell, only for the villain to suddenly reveal himself to still be alive and murder Trunks.
- In End Of Evangelion, Asuka catches their death the moment she kills the last of the nine MP EVAs. Out of nowhere, a double-bladed parrying staff is thrown at and stopped by her AT Field - until it re-assembles itself as a synthetic Lance of Longinus, piercing her AT Field and running the EVA through its skull and left eye, subsequently popping Asuka's eye as well. Out of power, the EVA cannot move as the nine MP EVAs regenerate, devour it, and skewer it with its pilot. Somehow, she gets better in the end.
- The villain of the Kyoto Arc of Mahou Sensei Negima! manages to get away from Eva, only to run into Chachazero. Too bad she only scares her silly.
- There was a rare, non-fatal example in The Place Promised in Our Early Days: Sayuri is saved from a Literal Cliff Hanger off the end of an abandoned pier by Hiroki. Just as they are mostly safe and jubilating over the successful rescue, the rest of the dock gives way and dumps both of them into the ocean.
- In Pokemon Special, the Kanto Dex Holders (and Silver) are celebrating after finally coming out on top of all the crap that happened to them throughout the FRLG arc. Then they get Taken for Granite by a villain who has no excuse for surviving the aforementioned crap. Luckily, they get turned back later by the Hoenn Dex Holders.
- Caster of Fate/Zero does this to a child in the second episode, claiming that the Hope Spot makes its death more satisfying.
- In Episode 3 of Kantai Collection, after the Abyssals have been forced to retreat, Kisaragi sighs in relief. Then one last Abyssal plane appears...
- In 9, the surviving dolls have a small celebration once they think they've destroyed the Fabrication Machine. They haven't — it gets back up after a few minutes and kills 5.
- Beetle from Kubo and the Two Strings is stabbed In the Back by one of the evil sisters moments after saving his companions from her. Made even crueler because Kubo had only just learned that Beetle was his father.
- In Shrek 2, the Fairy Godmother's death goes like this. Step 1: shoot a magic bolt at Shrek. Step 2: get hit by your own reflected blast. Step 3: Find yourself apparently unharmed, grin evilly, and prepare to fire again. Step 4: Die.
- The Boxtrolls: Goodbye, leeches. Hello, falling Spider Tank. Goodbye, Mr. Gristle.
- The ending Aftershock. The Final Girl escapes the rapist mob...only to see a tsunami bearing down on her.
- In Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, the trio of Mary, Larry, and Deke have committed robbery and have spent the movie evading the police with many narrow escapes. It looks as if they've gotten away. Final lines of the movie:
Deke: Ain't nothing gonna stop us now.Larry: (laughs) Sure looks that way.Mary: (eyes widen, but she doesn't have time to say anything.)68 Charger: ( crashes into a train.)
- In Ghost Town, Greg Kinnear's character avoids being crushed by a falling air conditioner. As he talks about his close call over the phone, he's run over by a bus.
- Sascha manages to stop the plane right before it falls off the cliff. He then breathes a sigh of relief.... and the plane tilts forward... and blows up after it hits the ground.
- The president of the USA stands up after a 9.5 magnitude earthquake near the White House where the refugees are (to be exact, at North Chesapeake Bay)... only for a tsunami to wipe out the White House.
- The Fifth Element: Zorg defuses his own bomb, five seconds before it was set to go off, and breathes a sigh of relief. Then a dying Mangalore sets his own bomb, with a five-second timer.
- In Vertical Limit, two of the climbers get the message that the nitroglycerin they're carrying should be kept out of the sun... after its been in the sun a long time. They run, get it in the shade, and bury it in the snow. They sigh in relief, and even chuckle after they panic over almost dropping a water bottle. Unbeknownst to them, the nitro container is leaking and slowly reaches the sun. BOOOOOM!
- The film Serenity did this to Wash, right after crash-landing the ship on Mr. Universe's moon. Damn you, Joss...
- The Fellowship of the Ring. Gandalf is snatched off of the bridge after uttering an audible sigh of relief. (He comes back in the next movie, though.)
- The Final Destination series follows this trope all the time, with only varying times between the near-miss and the death blow.
- In Final Destination 2, Evan narrowly escapes an explosion in his apartment. In an effort to make the escape ladder drop, he trips but lands on his feet. Proclaiming his luck, he then slips on a pile of spaghetti he threw out the window earlier, just as the ladder decides to fall. Amazingly it stops short right above his eye, giving him a moment to sigh in relief... but then.
- Final Destination 3 had the football player narrowly avoid having his head cut off by ornamental scimitars while on a weight machine. Exuberant, he does another rep on the machine, not realizing that the scimitars have frayed the cables, resulting in them snapping and crushing his head between the weights. Who would design a machine like that anyway?
- The surviving teens in the reboot of Friday the 13th (2009) dump Jason's body off the pier, only for him to break through it and drag them down.
- A straight example in the remake of The Longest Yard: Caretaker enters Crewe's cell to leave him a package. Ominous music swells, and Caretaker reaches for the lightbulb cord. We see that the bulb is suspiciously dark, as though someone has filled it with flammables — Caretaker clicks the light and nothing happens. It doesn't even turn on. The music stops. He whistles and turns on the radio, setting off an explosion that kills him tragically.
- Played with in Blade II: One of the Blood Pack has a small explosive in the back of his skull, courtesy of Blade. It is revealed that Whistler's replacement, Scud, is The Mole and the supposed explosive he provided is a dud. Scud pulls out the explosive for some quality gloating time. Blade promptly reveals that he knew Scud was a traitor, "and no, it's not a dud." He hits the detonator and Scud is killed in the explosion.
- Night of the Living Dead (1968): After living through the night, the main character is relieved to find other humans...who promptly shoot him dead, assuming he's a zombie.
- Harry gets this fate in Night of the Living Dead (1990). After spending all night in the attic he's overjoyed that Barbara came back with a posse to rescue him, only for her to coldly shoot him dead as payback for causing Ben's death.
Posse Member: What happened?Barbara: Got another one for the fire.
- Happens to Alan Tudyk (again!) as the Doc in 3:10 to Yuma (2007). After escaping the miners and riding off with Ben Wade the music is soaring triumphantly. The Doc shouts to the others: "Did you see me hit that guy with the shovel [during the melee]?" and is promptly shot and killed by their pursuers.
- Near the end of Cloverfield, when the surviving characters have finally gotten onto the escape helicopters, they finally have a moment to relax and for the first time in the movie get a good idea of what the monster looks like. After cheering when the military appears to land a powerful blow against the monster, it promptly lunges out of the smoke and punches the helicopter, sealing the fate of those survivors.
- Alien franchise:
- At the end of the original Alien Ripley blows up the Nostromo, finally begins relaxing, and just as she's plotting the co-ordinates the titular monster's arm swings into her face. However, it is subverted in that she survives the encounter.
- In Aliens, Ripley and Newt have just been rescued by Bishop, having arrived just in time in the drop ship to help them escape the Queen Alien...who announces that she hitched a ride by impaling Bishop and tearing him in half. Being a robot he doesn't die, but it fits the trope in all other ways.
- Tremors has this happen to the doctor's wife, after she narrowly escapes the graboid that just ate her husband. The car she's in stops shaking, the camera zooms away from her face as calm music plays on the radio... and suddenly zooms back in when the graboid returns to pull the whole car underground.
- True Lies combines this with The Last Straw (and plays it for laughs) as a car full of terrorists totters on the edge of a bridge. They have just enough time to start cheering before a pelican lands on the hood of the car and unbalances it.
- In Pitch Black the death of the female lead at the end after she and Riddick survive a confrontation with two of the monsters when another lunges out of the dark and snatches her up (it's unclear and debated if Riddick may have caused her death by accidentally stabbing her in the "catch your breath" moment, attracting the last creature to the scent of her blood).
- Happens to Boris in the Bond film GoldenEye. He survives grenades, remote mines, a falling array, but then, while screaming "I AM INVINCIBLE"...
- Comedic example in The Naked Gun 2: the bad guy survives the fall from a hotel window, goes away unscathed... only to be mauled by a lion freed from the zoo by Drebin earlier in the film.
- The beginning sequence of Saving Private Ryan has a soldier remove his helmet to gaze at it in disbelief of how it just deflected a bullet, only for another to pass through his suddenly unprotected head.
- In the end of The Guardian, Jake is trying to free the captain of a small ship from some machines that have him pinned. He manages to get him free and they take a moment to grin at each other, then a large wave rolls the ship over, throwing stuff all over and knocking the captain dead. And now Jake is trapped in a hold that is filling with water.
- At the end of One Night at McCool's, Carl's character escapes a shootout between Dehling and Utah's twin brother, and runs across a street screaming an elated "Thank you God!", only to have a dumpster dropped on his head.
- In Galaxy Quest, the heroes save the day and everybody is cheering when suddenly a bullet hits Quelleck...
- The Amazing Spider-Man 2: After destroying Electro, Peter and Gwen share a moment of relief. Then the Green Goblin flies into the scene, and, well...
- In The Cranes Are Flying, during an Army Scout mission, Boris carries an injured fellow soldier off the battle field into "safe" territory, then takes a deep breath and ... gets shot himself.
- In Mad Max: Fury Road, after Angharad manages to cut the chain binding the War Rig and Immortan Joe's car and narrowly avoids slamming into a pile of rocks, she shows a smile of relief while Max gives her a thumbs up. Immediately after that, the door she's holding onto falls off and she's hit by Joe's car.
- In Pacific Rim, after the mid-movie battle has finished and everybody is taking a deep breath, Hannibal Chau is suddenly Swallowed Whole by a Not Quite Dead baby Kaiju. Subverted in The Stinger, when we sees Chau having survived in the Kaiju belly.
- Creepshow 2. In "The Raft," Randy desperately races the Blob Monster to the shore, and makes it. The thing gives him a few seconds to pant out "I beat you," then rises up out of the water to engulf him.
- In Beetlejuice, Adam and Barbara are heading home after a trip to town and swerve to avoid a little dog inside a covered bridge. They crash through the wall, and take a moment to collect themselves and look around. The dog is perched on the end of a loose plank under their car as if on a teeter-totter, which is the only thing keeping their car from plunging into the river. Then the dog steps off the plank.
- In Sweet Country, a black farmhand, Sam Kelly, goes on the run after killing a white land-owner in self-defense. Eventually he is arrested and goes to trial, where the court finds that his actions were justified and he is acquitted of all charges. The judge also orders a police escort to accompany Sam and his family out of town in case any of the locals decide to express their displeasure at the verdict. Once they're safely out of town, the police escort turns for home, and the family just have time for a heartwarming moment before Sam is shot by the dead land-owner's neighbor, who was angry enough about what he sees as a miscarriage of justice to follow them out of town and wait for the police escort to leave.
- In Utoya 22 Juli, a reenactment of the Breivik Massacre (which happened on the island Utøya on 22. July 2011), Kaja, the main heroine, survives the terrorist's attack while hiding in the rocks, despite her exposed position. The terrorist then leaves, and Kaja moves to the Eastern part of the beach with Magnus.[[note]](which at this point would already be safe in Real Life, as Breivik never returned there after the rock shooting). While they argue about what to do next, a single shot is heard - and then Kaja collapses on the ground.
- In the Halo novel Halo: Ghosts of Onyx: Dante's death. After most of the Spartans get to relative safety, he reports "I think I got nicked, sir", then dies.
- In George R.R. Martin's The Hedge Knight, after the Combat by Champion is over and concluded, one of champions dies abruptly from a wound he suffered during the melee.
- In R. J. Rummel's Nuclear Holocaust Never Again, the heroes are blown up immediately after they prevent a dictator who would have taken over the world and starting a nuclear war from coming to power.
- In The Shining, the evil spirits animating Jack Torrance race him down to the boiler room to relieve the pressure after Danny tells them that they forgot. The spirits (still using Jack's body) turn the relief valve, the pressure starts to go down, and they shout "Not too late!". Then the boiler explodes. (The Stanley Kubrick film abandoned this climax for a completely different ending.)
- In The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle, two Co-Dominium ensigns get left behind and fight off an attack by fearsomely efficient Motie Warriors. All seems well until one ensign's arm is broken because "one of the dead ones threw a rock". Trope nearly averted until they realize they'll just be tortured for information and a couple of murders ensue.
- Eddie's death in The Dark Tower is of this kind. The ka-tet has just beaten tremendous odds and won a great victory unscathed - and then a downed, dying enemy manages to raise his gun and take one last shot.
- Battlestar Galactica (1978): The episode "Lost Planet of the Gods" part 2. After Adama, Apollo and Serina escape from the tomb, a Cylon Centurion suddenly appears and shoots Serina, mortally wounding her.
- Doctor Who:
- Has occurred several times throughout this series.
- The series finale that led to David Tennant's regeneration.
- The 11th Doctor episode Let's Kill Hitler: The random Nazi officer in the beginning.
- In a way that is possible only via time travel, in The Angels Take Manhattan Amy and Rory trigger a paradox (by jumping to their deaths) to avoid a lifetime of being trapped in a building by the Weeping Angels (where they had previously witnessed an old Rory dying). After the timeline repairs itself and everyone is safe in 2012, Rory notices a gravestone with his name carved into it ... before being suddenly zapped back in time by a Weeping Angel (and the gravestone updates itself to reflect the age he died at). The Doctor views it as if Rory had been killed, because that point in New York's timestream has been damaged enough that the Doctor can't land the TARDIS back there to go get him.
- Grey's Anatomy: Has this in Episode 2x17 after the live grenade stuck in a man's chest is finally removed and taken away by a member of the bomb squad, triumphant music plays, dramatic slow motion is in full effect and Meredith has finally a moment to catch her breath after being in mortal danger for almost two episodes. She follows the bomb squad member and... cue Ludicrous Gibs.
- NCIS: When Kate gets sniped off.
- Mike Renko meets a similar fate on NCIS: Los Angeles, surviving a gun battle before getting sniped.
- Revolution: In episode 11, the heroes and the American Rebel Army decide to make one last stand against Monroe and his army, despite the fact that they are mostly without power and Monroe now has helicopters with big machine guns and rocket launchers. However, Miles manages to get a rocket launcher of his own, with just enough power from a pendant to operate that one weapon. As he takes aim at the helicopter carrying the power supply, a rocket explodes too close, causing him to lose his bearings and drop the launcher. Charlie and Rachel rush out to see to him, and Danny grabs the rocket launcher and takes out the power supply. As it falls to the ground in a fiery inferno, the other one begins a lurching descent to the ground, spraying gunfire in the general direction of the heroes. Danny takes four rounds to the chest and dies as quickly as you'd expect from that kind of trauma, right after his heroics saved the whole rebel camp. However, it does give his mother the option of retrieving a medical device from his lungs that is somehow still functioning after the blackout.
- Stargate Atlantis: The death of Dr. Beckett, following a surgery to remove an explosive tumor, and the subsequent pass off to the bomb squad with portable containment chamber... it explodes before they can get it inside said containment chamber — right in the middle of radioing in the success no less!
- The Young Ones: In the final episode, the characters are on a bus which falls off a cliff. They survive the crash and comment on how lucky it was, and the bus promptly explodes into flames. Whether they survive isn't explained.
- In the middle of season 5 of 24, CTU has been infected with nerve gas and a handful of survivors have made it to quarantined saferooms, but an acidic complex in the gas is slowly dissolving the protective seals. Eventually, two men sacrifice themselves by exposing their room in order to filter the gas. Eventually one of them can't hold his breath anymore and is forced to take a gasp of air. Nothing happens for several seconds, he begins expressing relief and joy that the gas must have been filtered out in time... and then begins coughing up blood and spit. The other guy soon follows.
- This is how Audrey dies in Day 9 (Live Another Day): She's saved by the CIA from a sniper that was about to kill her, only for another assassin accompanying him to run and and gun her down seconds later.
- Mad Men: During the Korean War, Dick Whitman and Don Draper (the real one) take cover from enemy fire. After the shooting halts, the two get up and breathe sighs of relief...until Dick accidentally drops his lighter and causes an explosion, killing Don.
- Walking With Monsters: The Devonian amphibian Hynerpeton and his mate escape from the giant flesh-eating fish Hyneria's approach by crawling onto land. Just when it seems they're safe, the Hyneria reveals how powerful its fins are by dragging itself after the amphibians and grabbing the male by surprise.
- Stranger Things: Poor Bob. After fleeing through Hawkins lab with a Demodog hot on his heels, he escapes to the lobby, and locks the door behind him to trap the critter inside. He has just long enough to smile at Joyce before another Demodog tackles him from the side and tears him apart.
- This was a running joke with Mister Easter, a street-level hero from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe who had the power to come back from the dead after three days (he's Mister Easter, get it?). One of Mister Easter's Disadvantages was "Fated to Die at Least Once Per Story" and boy did he live up to that. During his crimefighting career he was hit by the bus several times, choked on a fish bone, was hit on the head by a falling fire-escape ladder, accidentally electrocuted himself, and once was stabbed to death by a bad guy who wasn't quite dead. And the GM always managed to make his death a perfect example of this trope.
- One of the first deaths in Alien: Isolation occurs at the beginning of the game- Ripley and Axle get close to the transit system, but then Axle is attacked from behind. Ripley saves him by striking the human assailant with her heavy tool, Axle shoots him in the head and they both run ahead. They stop to catch their breath... then Axle gets impaled from behind by the tail of the resident Xenomorph, dragging him into the vents. Hell of a way to highlight the most dangerous threat on Sevastopol Station.
- In Bayonetta, after fighting one of the bosses, there is a cutscene in which one of the angelic enemies braces itself, expecting to be hit by a runaway streetcar. The car stops just before hitting the angel, and you can see the angel sigh in relief— and then the streetcar tips over and crushes it.
- A strange occurrence happens in Dead Space. Throughout the game, Isaac runs into scripted events in which a tentacle shoots out around the corner and grabs him by the ankle. If Isaac fails to wound the tentacle enough, it pulls him into the hole and a scripted death occurs. During one of these death scenes, Isaac holds onto the sides of the hole for dear life, but the tentacle actually lets go. Isaac stands up, trying to catch his breath, but just as he goes to escape, the tentacle comes back out, grabs him by the face, and finally pulls him down, killing him.
- One of Ever17's endings has the characters escaping the imploding facility via submarine. They are amazed that they survived. Cue the Diabolus ex Machina where the sub starts sinking, and the main character's way of reducing the weight.
- In Dead to Rights, Eve is killed immediately after your Escort Mission with her.
- At the end of the "New Alexandria" mission in Halo: Reach, the team is escaping to shelter as the city is being glassed. Then "Bang", out of nowhere, Kat is Killed Mid-Sentence by an Elite sniper.
- This can happen in many video games in general: Defeat a difficult enemy with just a sliver of health left and, during the death animation, a stray obstacle defeats the player character and forces the player to fight the enemy all over again.
- In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, after the brothers win against Bowletta, she reveals a Bob-omb during her 'dying' monolouge, K.O's the pair and inhales them in to her stomach for the REAL final battle.
- In The Order of the Stick:
- Discussed in this strip, but ultimately averted by O-Chul after two beat panels.
Elan: Whenever someone says that right after surviving something dangerous, something totally random pops out and kills them!
- Played straight when the ancient black dragon tries to cut short a battle by eating their opponent.
Dragon: Ah. Whew. That was close. For a moment, I thought... I thought it had all been for nothing.Vaarsuvius: Shapechange. *SHHHRLLRIPPP!!!*
- Discussed in this strip, but ultimately averted by O-Chul after two beat panels.