John Matrix: Just bodies.
When the police/military/other supporting group arrive at the scene only after the hero has defeated the monster, killer, or Big Bad.
Sometimes this is played for humor, or to play up their uselessness compared to The Hero. Often, though, it serves the same purpose as No Ontological Inertia — while the hero has to defeat the Big Bad alone for the purposes of the story, The Cavalry is necessary to sweep up loose ends and ensure a happy ending, especially in real-world settings where the hero is on the side of law and order. Thus, they'll arrive just too late to interfere in the big fight, but just in time to handcuff the crooks... and to ensure that the hero isn't anticlimactically killed by a stray remaining mook or some other logical but narratively unimportant danger that wouldn't necessarily have gone away with the Big Bad's death. It also makes Post-Victory Collapse less hazardous for the hero, or allows the After-Action Patch-Up to go on without worrying about clean-up.
Usually signified by the growing sound of sirens in the background. On occasion, the knowledge of their approach is what makes the villain's attacks especially frantic, or especially powerful, or what have you — he has to finish the hero and flee.
(Note that this is really about cases where the cavalry arrives, as it were, just after the nick of time. If the hero defeats the killer, then phones the police to come to mop up, and they turn up 15 minutes later in response to the phone call, that doesn't count.)
Contrast Big Damn Heroes and Just in Time for when reinforcements arrive before the villain is defeated, and You Are Too Late for when the good guys are defeated before reinforcements arrive. For moments when it's the hero coming to someone's aid, only to find they've got it taken care of, see Non-Protagonist Resolver. For when they never arrive at all, it might be No Help Is Coming.
As this is generally an ending trope, beware of unmarked spoilers!
- In Berserk, Guts and Caska are attacked by over 100 enemy soldiers. Guts manages to create an opening for Caska to escape, and she runs to get the rest of the Band of the Hawk. Eventually, the Cavalry arrives to bail out Guts, only to find the battlefield quiet, with corpses littered all over it. They find Guts still and unmoving against a tree, and immediately assume the worst. And then Guts wakes up from the nap he took after single-handedly winning a battle where he was outnumbered by over a hundred to one.
- It is a common complaint by other characters in A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun that the law enforcement organizations Judgment and Anti-Skill always arrive late. The Graviton Bomber reveals that part of the reason that he's blowing everything up is revenge for everyone always showing up too late to save him from bullies.
- Played for Laughs in episode 12 of The Devil Is a Part-Timer! where Alciel got there just after Maou had finished off Sariel because he went home to get his Badass Cape first. The same thing happened in episode 5, but he managed to get there before the battle really took off.
- Dragon Ball:
- Goku's friends find out that Goku is about to attack the headquarters of the Red Ribbon Army, the world's most powerful terrorists. By the time they actually arrive to help, Goku has pretty much wiped the army out.
- Happens again in the Piccolo Saga. Only Tien was around to witness Piccolo's defeat.
- This trope is frequently used in the futuristic G Defend. Being that the main cast are government security agents, they're frequently told to not interfere in many investigations and to leave it to the civilian police. Alas, the agents end up cleaning up the messes most of the time before the police even arrive.
- In Holyland, after Yuu beats Shougo, the other thugs beat Yuu up and the police only arrive while the beatdown is already in progress.
- Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory Admiral Hepburn and the Federation fleet are deliberately lead in a feint around the moon. They lose too much fuel and are forced to resupply while the Zeon troops engage in Operation Stardust and it's only up to the heroes to stop them. By the time the fleet regroups, the main conflict has ended and the Colony Drop has already succeeded. That said they do proceed to mop up the remaining Delaz fleet, and the central antagonist, Gato, is killed facing them down.
- Pokémon: If Officer Jenny shows up, it's always after the villain (usually Team Rocket) has been defeated by Ash and his friends.
- In Shy, after the battle at Yurii Orphanage is over, Stardust and Lady Black arrive at the scene. Realising that the enemies have already left and the situation is under control, Stadust soon leaves again to report to Uni-Lord while Lady Black tends to the civilians who were caught in the attack.
- Justified in Thou Shalt Not Die the U.S military shows up after the remaining gifted kids take out an ambush and their friend who turned into The Berserker was too weak to be a problem because they wanted to, one of the student pieces out that with the equipment they carried, the two assist attack helicopters meeting up with their pick up and the video recorder means that they helped the enemy forces create an ambush so they could observe the psychic soldiers and if Japan had them under control.
- Astro City: The Honor Guard shows up after Steeljack puts the villain out of commission, and just get to lug him off to prison and send for an ambulance for Steeljack.
- Towards the end of Bone, Phoney Bone arrives with reinforcements immediately after the dragons subdue their queen, Mim.
Phoney: Ohhh! I missed the war, didn't I?
- In a 2-part Darkwing Duck comic that was published in Disney Adventures, Gizmoduck shows up with the police to help Darkwing nab Megavolt, only to see that he's already managed to capture the villain.
- A more tragic example in The Death of Superman, Justice League members, such as Bloodwynd and Ice, arrive to Metropolis just as Doomsday is defeated and Superman lies dying in Lois' arms.
Ice: We.. we didn't make it in time!
- Often happens in Lucky Luke, as a subversion of the trope found in classic Westerns of the cavalry always arriving on time. Lampshaded in "Western Circus" in which the cavalry arrives late, and the commanding officer has a nervous breakdown because of the breach of tradition.
- The Oracle Code: Even though Babs couldn't get a call out Ben realizes something is wrong and passes on the information he'd gotten that showed there was definitely something criminal going to Bab's dad, the police commissioner. By the time the police show up Babs and the others have escaped and disarmed and restrained the criminals.
- In Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, the cops arrive to clean up the mess after the climax. This is a rare case in that the heroes also have to flee the scene.
- Ultimate Marvel:
- Ultimate X-Men: Jean calls the X-Men for help, because Wolverine's killing Cyclops in the garden. They don't get there before he kills both of them, then kills the others for good measure. Fortunately, it's just a Danger Room simulation, where Logan got a little carried away.
- Ultimatum: Sue Storm and the Thing show up to fight Dormammu (and rescue Johnny from him), right after he's killed Dr. Strange.
- In Blood Is Thicker Than Bone, Naruto rushes to save Sakura after finding out the truth and how she had been framed only for when he got there to find out that she had already killed the man who did it and was planning on making it look like she committed suicide.
- In Cape and Cowl, the Night Guard arrives at Bolt Buck's house after Mare Do Well/Snow Storm gives him some bruises, twists his pastern, and breaks his jaw.
- Circus Days: Celestia and her guards arrive well after The Mane Six and Spike have defeated the dragon poachers and all that's left to do is take them in.
- In Cosmic Warriors, Naru calls the police before calling Usagi to tell her about the man that has broken in. But the police don't arrive until after Usagi has fought him and he escapes.
- In the Bones fic Deprevation, a special ops team arrives to rescue a captured Booth and Brennan moments after Booth snaps the guys neck and frees Brennan himself. He even tells them theyre late.
- The Devil's in the details: In "Meet and Greet", it isn't until Spider-Man, the Defenders and Frank Castle beat the alien killing machine (a type of enemy way above the level of back-alley criminals and supervillains they are accustomed to) do the Avengers show up to deal with the problem.
- In Equestria: A History Revealed, this is luckily averted for Celestia in the final battle of the war, the Battle of the Everfree Plains. But the Lemony Narrator notes that it would've been funny if this did occur.
- The Rigel Black Chronicles has a crowd of people come running after Rigel cries for help, but she's already had to subdue Lee Jordan herself by the time they arrive.
- Justified in Son of the Sannin. After Jiraiya requests help from her and Rasa to retake Takigakure from Akatsuki in a week's time, Mei comments that she probably wouldn't be able to get her forces there until after the fighting is over (Kiri is significantly further away from Taki than Konoha and Suna are). To make up for it, she makes sure to have things like food, medicine, and other vital supplies delivered for once the battle is over.
- In Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea, Officer Jenny shows up to arrest the Phantom after Ash defeats him.
- In Shrek 2, Prince Charming arrives to rescue Princess Fiona from the Dragon's keep and marry Fiona to claim his title as King of Far Far Away, only to find the Big Bad Wolf in her room and learn that Fiona had since been rescued and married someone else.
- Steven Universe: The Movie:
- Steven sends Lion to go get Connie, who is away at Space Camp, and bring her back to help with the situation. Once the two arrive back, Connie declares she's ready to fight, but by that point Steven had already managed to convince Spinel to help stop her injector without the need for a fight (at least for the moment anyway).
- Played with at the end. After Spinel's injector has been destroyed and all the fighting has ended, Yellow, Blue, and White Diamond suddenly arrive on Earth for a completely different reason than the threat Steven and the Crystal Gems were facing. Their presence still ends up very useful, as Spinel didn't feel comfortable sticking around Beach City, and decides to move in with them (which handily gets them off Steven's back).
- This occurs in A Bridge Too Far. Sadly, because of this fact, the poorly equipped paratroopers are defeated horribly.
- Advance to the Rear: When General Willoughby finds out about the gold shipment, he's terrified at the idea of Brackenbury being responsible for this and heads out to ensure its safety personally, arriving right after an attempt to stream it has been thwarted, with him and his escort being mistaken for members of the outlaw gang themselves.
- Big Trouble in Little China: The police arrive after David Lo Pan and the three Storms are destroyed. Justified in that Jack Burton and Wang Chi deliberately did not notify them.
"Cops got better things to do than get killed!"
- Not an unusual sight in Bollywood movies.
- The Burning: The police are alerted to the murders in the woods, but their helicopter arrives only when Todd and Alfred have dealt with Cropsy by themselves.
- The Captain America films:
- Captain America (1990): Reinforcements arrive after Captain America has killed Red Skull and his lieutenant.
- Averted in Captain America: The First Avenger, where the Howling Commandos burst in just as Cap is about to be shot by Red Skull, followed immediately by the rest of the Strategic Scientific Reserve.
- In Case 39, after Emily has climbed out of the water, we hear the sound of approaching police sirens right before the credits start rolling.
- Commando: The United States Army arrives only after John Matrix has defeated every enemy soldier on the island, including the Big Bad and his Dragon. Lamp Shaded when General Kirby asks Matrix if left any for them. "Just bodies."
- At the end of Death Line, Inspector Calhoun and the police arrive after Alex has already rescued Patricia from the cannibal and the cannibal has crawled off to die.
- Demolition Man: The San Angeles police arrive at the CryoPrison after John Spartan has killed Simon Phoenix. Then again, it's not like they could have done much even if they got there on time. The cops of that time are completely unprepared for someone like Simon Phoenix, which is why John Spartan was brought back in the first place.
- Die Hard:
- At the end of Eight Legged Freaks, the state police arrive, expecting to find aliens, rather than giant spiders. However, the spiders have already been defeated by that point.
- Enter the Dragon: The Big Boss is defeated. The two battered, exhausted heroes spot each other and exchange thumbs-ups. Then a bunch of helicopters arrive with backup. Bruce Lee regards them with a "now they get here" expression.
- In Firewall, the police show up practically the second after Harrison Ford killed the last bad guy.
- Flaming Brothers ends with the two titular Bash Brothers killing every single villain, save for the main baddie, and then the police arrives. What's even worse is that with their guns out of bullets, the villain then gloats that he can just turn himself in to the police, and bribe his way out, culminating in the two heroes grabbing the villain together, pointing their (empty) pistols at the police outside, and commit Suicide by Cop as the police collectively guns down all three of them.
- In The Flintstones Betty, Wilma, and the police don't arrive at the rock quarry until after Cliff Vandercave has been neutralized, the shoddy equipment has been destroyed, and the children have been rescued.
- In Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Clamp and his SWAT team enter the building just in time to see the gigantic mushy puddle that's left after all the gremlins get electrocuted.
- Played straight (probably intentionally) in Hot Fuzz, complete with a helicopter.
- In I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, the police arrive after our Heroes have killed Mr. Big (and most of his Mooks).
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: It's not until after Big Bad Mola Ram is killed that a company of British-led Indian troops arrive to capture the remaining Thugee. Though they do arrive in time to prevent the main trio from possibly being shot full of arrows by the Thugee. Semi-lampshaded by Willie's exasperated line "Well it's about time!" when they arrive.
- James Bond:
Bond: Is this what you call "coming through in the clinch?"
- In Dr. No, Felix Leiter comes at Bond with reinforcements on a patrol boat. Bond has already destroyed Dr. Julius No's Crab Key facility on his own by this point.
- In Diamonds Are Forever, Bond manages to neutralize the two gymnastics-practicing henchwoman Bambi & Thumper right before Felix Leiter and a CIA team enter the house.
- In GoldenEye, Bond and Natalya Simonova end up surrounded by camouflaged Marines and CIA agent Jack Wade after blowing up Alec Trevelyan's facility.
- Judge Dredd: After Dredd kills Rico, the rest of the Judges show up outside the building.
- The Killer has the police showing up in droves... AFTER the titular hero and his partner had killed at least 80 enemy gangsters, save for the main villain, in a lengthy shootout. What's even worse is that the villain decides to surrender himself to the police to avoid getting himself killed.
- In The Terminator, the police come to save Sarah Connor and zip up Kyle Reese in a body bag only after the Terminator is defeated. Not that they did much against him earlier.
- Subverted in Lethal Weapon 3; upon arriving at a building with a car bomb in the garage, Riggs insists that he and Murtaugh have a look under the justification that "the bomb squad never gets here on time!" They go to the bomb, Riggs messes around with it, screws up the timer, and it goes off — and seconds after it does, the bomb squad shows up, having arrived in plenty of time to deal with the bomb had Riggs and Murtaugh not interfered.
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park: At the end of the bull T. rex's rampage throughout San Diego, the US Army arrives on the scene after a bunch of cops showed up earlier before immediately retreating when they discovered what they were really dealing with. However, because the animal has already been contained in the ship with its youngling, they are tasked with guiding it back to Isla Sorna instead of just killing it with a bazooka.
- The Mist, in probably the most depressing example of this ever.
- The Mask... The Mask has just finished flushing out Dorian Tyrell, leaving his goons as a threat, when the police burst in with his best bud in tow, to 'arrest those men!'
- The military arrives after The Monster Squad succeeds in banishing Dracula and the other monsters into Limbo.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit: The police arrive right after the weasels die laughing and Judge Doom is liquidated.
- Predator 2: After Harrigan kills the Predator and the other Predators let him go, the rest of Keyes' team arrives in their helicopter and the Los Angeles police arrive in squad cars.
- Relative Fear: Detective Dennison and several police cars arrive seconds after Adam shoots Gary.
- Silence of the Lambs: The local police and FBI arrive only after Clarice Starling kills Buffalo Bill. They did show up in a timely fashion... they just did it at the wrong location.
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: At least seven British Airborne Aircraft Carriers arrive to rescue Sky Captain and Polly Perkins (and presumably all of the animals) after the rocket ship is destroyed and Dr. Totenkopf's scheme is foiled.
- The police usually show up at the end of a Friday the 13th film to clean up the trail of bodies that Jason has left behind. Just as well, as when they do show up, they're no more effective than Jason's other victims.
- At the start of Sherlock Holmes (2009), Inspector Lestrade and the police arrive in time to arrest the villain and his mooks, after Holmes and Watson have defeated the mooks and unmasked the villain.
Inspector Lestrade: You were told to wait for my orders.Sherlock Holmes: If I had, you'd be cleaning up a corpse and chasing a rumor. Besides, the girl's family hired me, not the Yard. Why they thought you needed any assistance is beyond me.
- This is so prevalent in Filipino action movies that seeing the police actually arrive in time to aid in the inevitable warehouse shootout counts as a twist.
- Parodied in a short featuring The Three Stooges, literally involving the U.S. Cavalry; their commander isn't pleased. "You mean we made this nasty trip for nothing?"
- Titanic (1997): The rowboat only goes back to look for survivors after a significant amount of time has passed. By the time they get there, only a handful of people are still alive to be rescued. Likewise, the RMS Carpathia arrives eight hours too late to help the ship, though it does manage to rescue the people in the rowboats (a bit of an exaggeration from real life where it arrived four hours after receiving Titanic's distress call).
- In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey the elves arrive late to help the dwarves of Erebor against Smaug. Thranduil then has his army turn around and march back, unwilling to risk their lives for a battle that's already lost. (And certainly not to help dwarves). Thorin holds a lifetime grudge against Thranduil for refusing to help at that crucial moment.
- In the Disney Channel Original Movie Up, Up and Away!, Grandpa (AKA Steel Condor) bursts through the wall after the non-superpowered protagonist defeats the Big Bad and frees his family from an aluminum foil cage. After the hero's dad (AKA Bronze Eagle) tells his father he's late, Grandpa admits he should've just taken a cab instead of flying.
- In Road to Rio (1947) Jerry Colonna leads a cavalry charge that races, and races, and races, and races to the rescue. Then it's all over and they never get there. At that point they all stop and Colonna breaks the fourth wall to say to the audience "But it was exciting, wasn't it?"
- Just after the killer in The Slumber Party Massacre is defeated and before the end credits roll, police sirens can be heard in the distance. The two sequels for the film also have authorities arriving on the scene right after the climax.
- At the end of Rush Hour 3, the French police show up right after Carter and Lee have taken down the triads and the Big Bad.
Chief: Congratulations! It seems we finally managed to bring down the triads!Lee: We?!Carter: You didn't do shit!
- At the end of Firestorm (1998), the rest of the smokejumpers parachute drop into Jesse's location: after Shaye has been killed and the fire has been extinguished by a combination of the firestorm sucking out all the oxygen and the subsequent rain.
- In Red Hill, Shane eventually manages to call for police back-up from the next town by using Gleason's satellite phone. However, by the time they get to Red Hill, all they can do is facilitate Jimmy's Suicide by Cop. Which just adds to the tragedy of the situation.
- At the climax of The Outlaws IS Coming!, the cavalry arrives after the heroes have defeated and captured the Big Bad Radon and The Dragon Trigger. Lampshaped when the Colonel boldly states that "the cavalry has never arrived late in the history of American motion pictures".
- Ulzana's Raid: In the climax, DeBuin and his detachment only arrive after Mcintosh, Sergeant Burns, and the other men serving as The Bait have all been killed or mortally wounded, and their bugling nearly allows Ulzana to escape.
- In Robert E. Howard's "The Phoenix on the Sword", Conan the Barbarian deals with both assassins and Eldritch Abomination, and then, his courtiers show up. One is, however, able to show it was not All Just a Dream.
- In Colas Breugnon, the military aid sent by prince de Nevers to help a besieged town arrives only after both sides have made an agreement, ended the siege and proceeded to feast together; these latecomers are welcomed with laughter and politely asked to go away.
- A Song of Ice and Fire
- Lord Walder Frey showed up at the climactic battle of Robert's Rebellion only after it was over - assuring the victors that, of course, he had been riding to their aid. Ever since he's been mocked as the "Late Lord Frey" as a dual reference to his tardiness and refusal to just die already (He's over ninety in a medieval setting, and has over 100 descendants.)
- One Lord Commander of the Night's Watch is remembered as "Sleepy Jack" for this, failing to notice the wildling army until after it had already passed the Wall, and arriving only after it had been defeated by the army of the Starks of Winterfell. The Lord of Winterfell was slain in the battle, and his younger brother, grief-stricken, assigned the Night's Watch the task of burying the dead.
- During the Dance of the Dragons, Lord Cregan Stark pledged loyalty to Queen Rhaenyra over her brother King Aegon II. However, by the time he managed to rally the forces of the North and march south to join the conflict, not only was Rhaenyra dead, but Aegon's thoroughly devastated supporters (seeing the writing on the wall) had assassinated him, crowned Rhaenyra's son as the new king, and surrendered to her other loyalists as they marched on the capital. To say that the Northmen were displeased with this is something of an understatement.
- Sunshine: After Con and Rae take down Bo, the police turn up just in time to arrest them for being at the scene of the conflict.
- In the Paladin of Shadows book Choosers of the Slain, Katya kills an assassin before the reinforcements show up. "About time you showed up. Reinforcements my ass."
- In the Dale Brown novel Strike Force Hal Briggs dies under Iranian fire before air support and reinforcements can arrive.
- In The Wee Free Men, Miss Tick returns with reinforcements in the form of Mrs. Ogg and Granny Weatherwax, just after Tiffany has finished wiping up the threat herself. (Of course, one of the repeating themes is Granny Weatherwax telling Tiffany, 'Of course I'll help with the problem... If you somehow prove you can't take care of it yourself.' From her point of view, if she isn't involved, it means she thinks you're strong enough on your own.)
- In the Warhammer 40,000 novel Legion of the Damned, the titular Legion's only surviving spaceship (a "Star Fort") appears out of nowhere at the last minute to destroy the Keeler Comet and obliterate the Chaos armada while the Legionnaires wipe out the planetside Chaos crusaders right on the verge of their victory. Granted, the Legion in question does only arrive when things seem to be at their bleakest.
- After the pirates have been defeated in Invasion of Kzarch, the main bad guy killed and the good guys finally achieving victory; the marine reinforcements finally show up, a day or two late.
- In Wraith Squadron, the titular squadron is leading a small enemy fleet into a trap, because they secretly infiltrated that enemy fleet using a captured ship. But they manage to take out the enemy fleet by themselves before their allies can get into firing range.
- In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Dumbledore gets back just in time to pull Quirrell off of Harry. In Chamber of Secrets, he gets back in time to congratulate Harry for defeating Riddle. In Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore arrives at the Ministry of Magic in time to fight off Voldemort, but after Sirius has already died.
- It's a recurring theme in Kris Longknife where the backup will show up just after the protagonists have finished the fight, though usually they are very helpful with cleanup and securing the area.
- Played with in the Alcatraz Series. Grandpa Smedry's "Talent" is always arriving late. This does have many handy applications (like allowing him to arrive "late" to being injured or killed), it means he's practically useless as The Cavalry since he's never there in time. Until Alcatraz realizes that the talent only requires Grandpa to think he will be late. When told he had to be there by a certain time, Grandpa Smedry is able to arrive earlier than would have otherwise been possible because he still thinks he's late.
- In Animorphs, the kids spend the whole series waiting for the Andalite military to come help defeat the Yeerks. The closest they get to help is a token force of four Andalites who are actually there on a secret mission, and who promptly leave at the end of that book (#38). They finally show up in the last book, just after the Animorphs have defeated the Yeerks and taken the Visser prisoner.
- In "Bandits in Your Grocer's Freezer", they have a meeting to try and brainstorm a way to get rid of the bandits. One person suggests having a local rabbi create a Golem and Pete shuts him down. But after Pete defeats the bandits a car drives up with the Rabbi arriving with the golem.
- In the Firefly novel Carnival, Mal attempts to rescue a captured Zoe and Shepherd Book only to find theyve already freed themselves when he gets there. Not a big surprise since both are competent fighters and not characters who like to wait for rescue.
- Game of Thrones: Walder Frey has been called "the late Lord Frey" ever since his army arrived conveniently late to the decisive battle of Robert's Rebellion, prompting suspicions he deliberately missed the battle so he could join the winning side. The joke also pokes fun at the fact that, despite being almost 100, he still won't die.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus had "The Bishop", in which the title character would always arrive just too late to prevent various members of the clergy from getting bumped off (by the Church Mafia?)
- Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Friday's Child". After the Klingon is killed, Scotty and a Security team arrive to prevent any further hostilities. Lampshaded, actually:
Kirk: The cavalry doesn't come over the hill in the nick of time anymore.
Spock: If by that you mean we can't expect help from the Enterprise, I must agree.
- 1960's Batman (1966) series. The Gotham police always arrive after Batman and Robin have subdued the Guest Villain and his henchmen to take them into custody. From the episode "Rats Like Cheese":
Robin: What took you so long? I phoned you before I came in here over an hour ago.Chief O'Hara: We took a wrong turn off Route 49.
- A mid-90s adaptation of Joan of Arc had her army prepare a rescue outside the city walls, only to look up and see the smoke of her pyre rising above the rooftops.
- In 24, the cavalry usually manages to help somehow and has saved Jack at least once; but they did arrive late in Season 6. Jack storms the enemy base, kills all the Mooks and hangs the Big Bad. His partner arrives with a heavily armed strike force moments later; but given that the strike force failed epically earlier in the day, their late arrival may have been for the best.
Mike Doyle: (looks at Jack's carnage, shakes head) Damn, Jack.
- Happens in an episode of Bones where the team is confined to the lab by the Secret Service. Booth bursts in and deliberately gets himself confined with the "squints". He notifies his boss at the FBI that he's being held against his will. The boss (who's dating Brennan) is furious that one of his agents is being held by another agency prepares a team to free them. They burst in just seconds after Booth has disabled every Secret Service agent in the building. The boss claims he would've been the hero had he arrived a minute earlier.
- This occurs in Barney Miller in a New Year episode. A Hispanic lady is going into labor in the squad room. The paramedics are called, but the baby isn't going to wait. Wojo delivers the kid himself (he had field experience in Vietnam) long before the paramedics finally show up.
- WandaVision: Jimmy Woo tries to bluff SWORD Director Hayward that he's already called FBI headquarters in to arrest him, then swipes a cell phone he can use to actually do it. The FBI arrives too late to do anything about the plot of the series, but do get to cart Hayward off in handcuffs.
- Peacemaker (2022): In "It's Cow or Never", the Justice League members Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Flash arrive seconds after the battle is over. Peacemaker berates and insults them for being late.
- Lampshaded in Offenbach's "The Brigands", where the chorus of Carabiniers lament "We always arrive too late." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0m8vhU7Uf4
- A common trope, where the heel — often, a monster heel — will deliver a merciless beating to a face wrestler he's looking to feud with, only to declare that he's completed his job just as a horde of good guys run in to save their friend. This might be done to merely have the face wrestler (after a "recovery period") appear in a promo questioning the loyalty of his friends, or to play the heel up as an unstoppable force that everyone fears — except, of course, the lead babyface or (a then-face) André the Giant, who are physically capable of dealing with this dastardly heel ... and that, naturally, leads to ticket sales to see the bad guy get his comeuppance.
- Came into play several feuds involving Hulk Hogan, with Hogan on the wrong end of each beating ... and curiously, longtime nemesis King Kong Bundy involved with each one:
- During Hogan's match against The Magnificent Muraco and Hogan was beating Muraco too easily, Bundy ran in and, with Muraco's help, brutally crushed Hogan into unconsciousness. Only after Bundy and Muraco mocked the champion and were beginning to walk out of the ring did the British Bulldogs, Pedro Morales, Dan Spivey and Mike Rotundo come to Hogan's rescue.
- When "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff betrayed Hogan by clotheslining him to the mat and then piledriving him. Just as he called in new allies Bundy and Big John Studd and into the ring to initiate a horrifically brutal 3-on-1 beatdown, a host of face wrestlers ran in to get Hogan.
- When Hogan was sneak-attacked by André the Giant after Hogan's match vs. Bundy on Saturday Night's Main Event, the British Bulldogs tried to rescue Hogan, but when Andre easily crashed their heads together and threw them from the ring, an army of other faces stormed the ring to try to pull Andre away, succeeding only when "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan broke a 2-by-4 piece of wood over his back. As Andre had already effectively choked Hogan to the brink of near unconsciousness, their mission was merely to stop Andre before he broke Hogan's neck.
- André the Giant was on the wrong end of a beatdown where there was a delayed run-in by good guys. Longtime enemies Bundy and Studd were involved with this one, too; as Andre was finishing off Studd during a match and about to slam him once again, Bundy spared Studd any more humiliation by running in and attacking Andre from behind. Bundy then repeatedly delivered his "Avalanche" splash on a prone Andre as Studd (who had recovered enough) held Andre's legs down so he couldn't move. Only after Bundy had used at least five "Avalanches" did anyone run into the ring to run off Bundy and Studd. note
- The Goon Show episode The Red Fort features an inversion. The hero, Major Bloodnok is about to be shot by firing squad as Neddy Seagoon rides forth with the Cavalry to rescue him. Point of view rapidly shifts back and forth between the galloping cavalry and the firing squad, up until the final moment when Bloodnok is shot, ending the episode.
- Played for drama in Magic: The Gathering's Ravnica novel when all of the angels, along with their sky fortress, Sunhome, fail to show up during the final battle; they don't reappear until the end of the next book, Guildpact.
- If you place units in reserve in Warhammer 40,000 there is a chance, albeit a small one, that they will never turn up. Although they automatically pass the reserves roll on the fifth turn, if they hit something when coming down there's a chance of being put back in reserves for the next turn. This can keep happening indefinitely. The game can also end before the fifth turn, for example if all your/the enemy forces are wiped out before you get there. Any unit that fails to turn up counts as dead. There's an oft-repeated story about a time a massive fleet was organized to fight a Xeno menace threatening an Imperial planet, only to find that the planet had been razed centuries ago. The distress call took that long to penetrate the Imperium's immense bureaucracy.
- Happens on occasion in BattleTech. One notable incident was during the Twilight of the Clans event, the Inner Sphere sent a secret army called Task Force Serpent to launch a sneak attack on Clan Smoke Jaguar's distant capital world of Huntress in order to destroy the Clan's warmaking abilities. However, the Smoke Jaguars ended up retreating out of the Inner Sphere during the fight with the Inner Sphere's primary offensive forces, meaning that they were also heading to Huntress so Task Force Serpent found itself facing nearly the entire remaining might of the Jaguars. Victor Steiner-Davion led a relief force to pursue the Jaguars back to Huntress but by the time he got there, Task Force Serpent was down to a mere 20% of its initial strength.
- In Noah Smith's stage version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the surviving main characters have to deal with Hyde on their own during the climactic confrontation. The police show up at the end moments after Hyde's death.
- The first boss fight in Beyond Good & Evil ends with Jade and Pey'j defeating an alien monster and then the Alpha Sections who are supposed to protect them from the aliens arrive. Pey'j proceeds to chew out the "defenders" but is promptly told to shut up. It is later revealed that Alphas are part of a Government Conspiracy and they were supposed to arrive late, whereas Pey'j is a high-ranking member of La Résistance.
- In Ghost of a Tale, the two thieves Gusto and Fatale show up after Tilo destroys the cursed treasure. For the record, one of the NPC's you meet joins you at the start and another 1/3 of the way through.
- The first two Max Payne games end with Max being found by the police after the final shootout. Though in the first game, they are out to apprehend him.
- Invoked in Dawn of War: Winter Assault. General Sturnn holds back his Imperial Guard reserves, knowing that they would be cut to pieces if they tried to make landfall during a fight.
- Entirely possible to do in Fire Emblem, but that's up to the player. In one case in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, defeating the enemy before their help arrives (really easy to do) makes you miss a really good recruit-able character, making him a case of What Happened to the Mouse? afterwards.
- In Saints Row: The Third, redshirt Saints will usually show after you complete a Survival mission, late for the heavy lifting.
- Happens at least once in World of Warcraft in the Siege of Orgrimmar prelude: Lorewalker Cho leaves to find help as the raid faces the Sha of Pride, and returns just as they defeat him.
- A humorous, Brick Joke version occurs in The Stinger to Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. After Mysterio has been captured and the Tablet of Order and Chaos restored, Spider-Ham shows up to help out.
"So? What'd I miss?"
- A Justified example occurs at the end of RWBY's fourth season, when a pair of Mistral airships arrives specifically because the smoke from the Nuckelavee's disintegrating corpse, coming from a long-abandoned region, attracted their attention. Nonetheless, they still get to do some cavalry work, namely getting Uncle Qrow to some much-needed medical attention.
- Chapter 4 of the Questden series Moot Point shows a trio of Spirit Guardians appear on the ghost ship moments after the Spirit Guide protagonists have solved the issue peacefully. Justified as, as Kol notices, the authorities went out of their way to get real powerhouses on the case, since they may have to fight a lich.
- In Blue Yonder, The Cavalry did arrive, but a second group arrives after. To get complaints.
- In El Goonish Shive there is a branch of the FBI dedicated to dealing with supernatural threats. However, many dangerous situations occur when communication is difficult for one reason or another, so they often fail to show up until after the main cast has resolved things.
- In the "Painted Black" arc, the strike team led by Commander Jaguar didn't show up until after Damien was dead and everyone had been rescued.
- In "Sister 2," Agents Wolf and Cranium arrived on the scene immediately after Nanase had subdued Abraham.
- In "Family Tree," Mr. Verres, as well as Agents Wolf and Cranium, again only show up after Ellen and Nanase had already defeated the villain.
- Done in the Aladdin: The Series episode "The Secret of Dagger Rock''. Iago and Abu, armed to the teeth (or beak, in Iago's case) show up up to help... only to find the action ended hours ago.
Iago: Dagger Rock twelve o'clock high. IT'S SHOWTIME!! (Even more weapons burst from the belt he's wearing. Abu follows and does the same thing. But there's nobody in sight.) Where is everybody? I think those shambling, half-dead Mamluk guys gave us bad directions. (They both collapse against the Crystal, with Mozenrath and Xerxes trapped inside of it.) Maybe we're supposed to go to Danger Rock, or Dagger Reef...eh, I don't know, like more of a nautical thing...
- All Hail King Julien: At the very end of Exiled, Hans arrives with a zombie lemur army, only to be informed that he missed the entire battle by at least a month.
Mort: Sorry, Hans, you missed the big war. But there's always next year!
- In episode 13 of Code Lyoko: Ulrich arrives in the Forest Sector after Odd gains a Future Flash about Yumi falling into the Digital Sea. Despite bragging that nothing bad will happen thanks to his Super Sprint, he misses Yumi's hand by a split second as she falls to the Digital Sea, to his shock. Thankfully, the one-time program Jeremie accidentally developed to free Aelita from Lyoko could be used to save Yumi at the cost of starting over from scratch.
- Part of Daffy's thrilling conclusion pitch of The Scarlet Pumpernickel to J.L. Warner. Only a part of it, mind.
Daffy: (over footage of lances poking out of flood-water) The cavalry rode to the rethcue! But they were a little too late...
- During the first season (65 episodes) of Inspector Gadget, Chief Quimby and a bunch of other police would invariably be called by Penny after she and Brain broke the case, or Gadget at best bumbled into breaking it himself. They would then arrive to arrest the MAD Agents and the Villain of the Episode and Quimby would congratulate Gadget. Also happened in the second season, except the Villain would escape.
- Invincible (2021): Allen the Alien learns that there is a Viltrumite agent (i.e., Omni-Man) on Earth undermining its defenses for an imminent Alien Invasion. He rushes back to Earth to warn its superheroes of the danger... and gets there mere days after Omni-Man's cover was already blown, leading to a brutal fight that left thousands of innocent people dead.
- Jonny Quest episode "The Quetong Missile Mystery". After the Quests have destroyed the missile and escaped from General Fong's forces, Commissioner Wa and a boatload of Quetong police show up (and presumably take the remaining mooks into custody). Possibly lampshaded when Dr. Quest says "Too bad they missed the party."
- The few times we see police in Kim Possible, there's nothing left for them to do but take the captured villains off to jail.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- Princess Luna is well known for her vanishingly small amount of screen time, and comments from the fans along the lines of "Wow, it would sure be nice if the second most powerful character in the show would notice that the villain is about to take over the world" are canonised when she turns up at the end of "A Canterlot Wedding" and asks if she's missed anything.
- In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Friendship Games, Sunset Shimmer repeatedly sends Princess Twilight Sparkle messages asking for help, but she never responds; she eventually solves the crisis herself. In the final scene, Princess Twilight shows up, apologizing for not getting to her messages sooner. In Twilight's defense, she was busy trying to save Equestria from the crisis in "The Cutie Re-Mark".
- In part 2 of "School Raze", the Cutie Mark Crusaders are locked up in a closet by Cozy Glow; they do not free themselves until the very end after magic has been restored to Equestria and Cozy is sent to Tartarus.
- Scooby-Doo. "And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for You Meddling Kids!", just before the cops snap on the handcuffs. This is eventually lampshaded in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
- SWAT Kats: "Looks like the Enforcers are here - late as usual."
- Happens at the end of virtually every Totally Spies! episode, though considering how useless the other WOOHP operatives have proven on the few occasions where they've had to fight the girls, it makes sense that they'd usually hold back until the job is taken care of.
- In the TUGS episode, "Munitions", by the time Top Hat comes to the loading dock to help Sunshine, Warrior, and the Fire Tug put out a fire caused by Bluenose, the fire is already out and the damage it made is done. Justified in that Top Hat was working with his railway barges, Frank and Eddie, who were in the middle of carrying freight wagons when the Fire Tug and Sunshine told him about the fire.
- The Spartan relief force arrived at Marathon just in time to take a curious look at the Athenians' work. However, they did arrive in the vicinity of Athens in time to have possibly contributed to the Persian fleet's decision to withdraw.
- When the RMS Titanic foundered in the North Atlantic on the night of 14 April 1912, the closest ship to respond to the distress call, the Cunard Line's RMS Carpathia, immediately turned around, pushing her engines beyond their rated capacity to get to Titanic as fast as possible. Sadly, Carpathia was almost sixty miles away, and though among the undisputed heroes of the night, the brave little liner didn't arrive until hours after Titanic had gone down. (She was, however, in time to pick up the survivors in the lifeboats and save God only knows how many lives from hypothermia.)