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There Can Be Only One
aka: There Can Only Be One

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"In the end, there can be only one."
— The Arc Words of Highlander

The long-term plot of the program revolves around a group of characters whose numbers are being slowly whittled away by one means or another, usually by killing each other. In the case of some reality shows, this is a process of elimination intended to result in a single winner. In other shows, this is a dramatic device, designed to generate tension and conflict with which to drive the overall plot of an episode or Story Arc (if any); in these cases it is sometimes combined with Anyone Can Die to especially heighten the resulting excitement, even when the apparent main character may be protected by Contractual Immortality. Compare Gotta Kill Them All. When a game utilizes both this and Deadly Game, you get a Battle Royale Game. Compare the Tontine, a financial arrangement that frequently creates this situation in the final stages.

Does not apply to pure game shows, as they have no overall storylines for the elimination to serve. Compare Dwindling Party, where it's less a competitive elimination and more a bloody murder spree.

Named for one of the catchphrases that came out of the Highlander franchise.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Afro Samurai revolves around this, with the Artifacts of Doom known as the Number One & Two Headbands. Whoever claims the Number One Headband is the World's Best Warrior, but only the holder of the Number Two is able to challenge them for it. As a result, whoever holds the Number Two has to constantly live on the run from would-be assassins seeking to claim it from their corpse to go after the Number One.
  • My-HiME starting around its sixteenth episode (this arc was nicknamed "HiMElander" by fans, as a reference to Highlander).
  • Rozen Maiden has as a central plot element an informal tournament-of-sorts cheerfully called 'the Alice Game' wherein the magical doll characters have to compete for the Pinocchean prize of becoming the perfect girl — by slaying all their sisters.
  • The central plot of Zatch Bell! is that there are 100 demon children sent to the earth, with the remaining one being able to reign as king for 1000 years.
  • Sekirei combines this trope with the Harem Genre, with human masters known as Ashikabi forming bonds with Human Aliens. There are 108 of them, and powerful Ashikabi are capable of forming bonds with multiple Sekirei, building a formidable Battle Harem that improves their chances of victory. This, however, is a cruel twist since it turns out the rule remains strictly one surviving Sekirei regardless of how many an Ashikabi has. Miya even calls out Matsu on encouraging harem-building, pointing out the cruelty of encouraging people to bond and fall in love, when all but one will have to die in the end. Ultimately, Musubi decides to Take a Third Option through absorbing the souls of her comrades, allowing her to borrow their powers for the final battle. Afterwards, she uses her wish to restart all the Sekirei so that everyone can have a happy ending.
  • Bokurano. And it's twisted as hell too. Basically, we need to thin the alternate universes down to just one. So, let's have kids fight in gruesome giant mechs! Win, YOU DIE. Lose? EVERYONE IN YOUR UNIVERSE DIES. Look up "no win situation" in the book, you'll see this. Needless to say, this utterly screws with the child pilots' minds.
  • Baccano!: While not explicitly stated in this is originally Szilard's and Czes's goal regarding their fellow immortals. The former was addicted to science and spinal fluid. The latter was a Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto Us sort of guy. The rest have gone into hiding and become extremely paranoid of other immortals because of it. in the anime. In the novels, Maiza refuses to tell anyone else the formula for immortality due to an epiphany he had while imbuing his brother with the knowledge that the demon's rules encourage a "There can be only one" situation due to the paranoia of being devoured by their fellow immortals. Excluding the 1930's generation, he was mostly correct. Without exception, all 3 known times that Ronnie has granted others immortality, one has always gone crazy and attempted to devour the rest (only the 2nd (the 1300's immortals) and 3rd times (the 1700's immortals) have been detailed, the first was only mentioned in passing in the novels when he lamented at how quickly they always turned. note 
  • In Fist of the North Star, this is a core tenant of Hokuto Shinken: there can be only one successor of Hokuto Shinken, and all other desciples must willingly agree to never practice it again, or face reprisal. Toki gave up his claim to succession after he fell ill from radiation poisoning (but would create his own offshot of the style called "Hokuto Ujouken"), and after Kenshiro was named successor, Jagi tried to retaliate, only to be disfigured by Kenshiro. Raoh, meanwhile, declared that Hokuto Shinken was doomed to die out and, after killing their master Ryuken, became a warlord. Ultimately, by the end of the first series, the other practitioners of Hokuto Shinken die, leaving only Kenshiro.
  • X/1999 does this with two groups of seven fighters, the Dragons of Heaven and the Dragons of Earth. The Dragons of Heaven fight to preserve the world, but if the Dragons of Heaven are all defeated by the Dragons of Earth, then the world will end.
    • That is "end" in terms of "as we know it." The world will continue, but mankind will be wiped out. Or that is what some of the Dragons of Earth seem to think will happen. This is a rare series in that none of the villains are out For the Evulz or, mostly, For the Lulz. Some are closer to that the former, though. At the end of the day, there's no character incapable of being seen as an Ensemble Dark Horse.
  • Basic premise of Future Diary: God rounds up twelve not entirely well-adjusted individuals, gives them all limited precognition, and commands them all to fight to the death so that the last one standing can become the new God.
  • The Law of Ueki is based on this trope. Middle School Students are picked by God Canidates to fight against each other, and the last one standing gets a special talent of their choice.
  • Pluto revolves around the title villain systematically hunting down and murdering the seven most advanced robots of the time. Gesicht's challenge is to apprehend Pluto before the same thing happens to him.
    • This was also the plot of the original Astro Boy story that Pluto was based on, called "The Greatest Robot on Earth".
  • Invoked by Metal Sonic in Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie: "There is only one Sonic the Hedgehog." Metal follows this to the bitter end: After Sonic defeats him, he falls into a pit of lava. Sonic tries to pull him out, but Metal brushes his hand aside.
  • Princess Resurrection: Every new generation of Royals must kill each other off until only one is left to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence.
  • Death Note Somewhat exercises that trope, with the ongoing battle between Light and L. Both of them are won't stop pursuing each other until one of them is dead. This is extended to the fact that Light is willing to kill Misa and his other followers to achieve his goal as god of the new world.
  • Mobile Fighter G Gundam: every four years, the nations of the world participate in Combat by Champion, sending their strongest fighter in a Gundam to Earth to participate in a giant tournament. The last Gundam standing wins leadership of the council of nations for the next four years.
  • Mentioned in the Code Geass OVA Nunnally in Wonderland when Anya (as The White Rabbit) tells Kallen (as The March Hare) that having two rabbits in the story is redundant and a brief fight ensues to determine who gets to stay as a rabbit.
  • Ramen Fighter Miki: Central theme of episode 5 A, "Be my stepping stone" The protagonist and The Rival (both of them Man Children Arrogant Kung Fu Guys) are trapped in a dead end between buildings and invoke this trope: To go out, they need to defeat the other and use her as a stepping stone. Even when the rest of the cast show up to help, they involve them in the game. Deconstructed when everyone is knocked out and the last one is too tired to escape.
  • Noir had "there can only be two", as Noir was a codename meant for a two woman team and there were three candidates. The two who make it are Mireille and Kirika, who aren't interested in the 'prize' of being the top enforcers of a cult with a world domination bent.
  • In One Piece, Luffy is adamant that only one can become the Pirate King; just declaring your intention to do so will be enough to get him fighting.
  • In the Junji Ito manga Tomie, whenever two versions of Tomie meet, they inevitably try kill each other, usually by getting someone else to do the dirty work. However, a weakened or defenseless Tomie is low enough on the threat meter that Tomie may kill it herself.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • In one Dragon Ball Z filler, Captain Ginyu is holding tryouts for the Ginyu Force. One candidate identifies himself as Captain Strong, to which Ginyu responds, "So, you're a captain two?" He sends Strong packing, and declares, "There's only one captain on the Ginyu Force, and that's me!"
    • Zamasu's goal in Dragon Ball Super is to kill all life forms, both god and mortal, and create a Multiverse where only he exists. He does this by merging his essence with the Future Multiverse and would have infected other timelines if Future Zeno had not shown up.
  • In the Soul Eater manga, there can only be one Grim Reaper. Thus as Lord Death's son Death the Kid awakens more and more to his Grim Reaper powers, his father's mask begins to crack and when he succeeds in achieving his full power, his father disappears completely, only leaving behind his cloak for Death the Kid to inherit.
  • Shin Mazinger ZERO is perhaps the only example of this trope taken to a metafictional extreme: the titular Mechanical Abomination Mazinger ZERO is well aware of its status as the progenitor of the Super Robot genre and is utterly terrified of being forgotten and replaced by its successors in both the context of the Mazinger universe and by the many series' it inspired outside of it. As such, its ultimate objective is to completely wipe all other Super Robots from existence and ensure that it is the only Super Robot that has ever existed and ever will exist.
  • Pretty Cure:

    Comic Books 
  • The Avengers: One storyline has the Council of Kangs backstabbing one another until only one Kang is left. Then it turns out Immortus, a future version of Kang, has been manipulating them for this outcome, though for his part he's only leaving the last Kang standing alive because he needs a Kang to live to become him. Doesn't stop him driving that Kang insane, though.
  • In Rising Stars:
    • There are 113 specials, and in the first issue it is revealed that there will only be one left 60 years after they are born. This becomes especially important when we learn that whenever a special dies, his energy is transferred to all of the surviving specials, making them stronger.
    • Even more important as in this universe all superheroes are slowly using up the energy that gives them their powers. So if a character wants to remain super on the long run, his only choice is to...Well, you can guess the rest.
  • Green Lantern: Larfleeze is the only true Orange Lantern Corps member. Overcome by greed, they all fought until he was the last one standing. Then Lex Luthor gained a second orange ring, and the fight began again.
  • At one point the main man Lobo died. Luckily, he can regenerate from a single drop of blood. Unluckily, there were several thousand drops of blood splattered across a battlefield. So, several thousand Lobos found themselves in one place — and what followed was a awesome and horrifying deathmatch, until only one Lobo remained. The funny thing about this was that Lobo always had this power — Vril Dox, Brainiac 2, suppressed it. It wasn't until Lobo was forcibly regressed to a teen that it came back.
  • In Murderworld (2022), Arcade pits 200 people of all walks of life for a chance to win 100 million dollars, but only one can win.
  • Superman:
  • Wonder Woman Vol 2: After becoming the latest Cheetah Barbara Minerva hunted down and killed the former holders of the title to ensure she was the only one, even though Priscilla Rich in particular posed no threat given her advanced age at the time.
  • In the finale of The Return of Barry Allen, Professor Zoom makes it his mission to eliminate the other Flashes (Jay and Wally) so he can be the one, "true" Flash.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Supergirl story Hellsister Trilogy, Supergirl and Satan Girl fight each other for the last time. Supergirl offers to help her evil counterpart find her missing child if Satan Girl stops fighting, but Satan Girl rebukes they're doomed to fight until there's only one left.
    <Ohhhhh, don't you wish, Lightsister,> sneered the dark woman. <I can find my child. After our war, I will find him. Or her. There is nothing left to us now, except the fight. You would not tolerate my existence, nor I yours. I am not capable of your empathy, of your petty virtue. You are not capable of my ruthlessness and power. Come, sister. Let us destroy each other.>
  • In Imaginary Seas, Chiron would have normally been absorbed by his Lostbelt version almost immediately due to the latter being the more powerful existence. Chiron was only spared because the gods were unsure of how this would affect Lostbelt Chiron. Because of this, Percy uses his nanomachines to steal the critically injured Lostbelt Chiron's own to allow Chiron to take over his body.
  • The main plot of Loki: Agent of Doomgard is this, even the Trope namer is referenced. It's a Secret Wars (2015) fic about main universe Loki trying to stop other Lokis from killing off other Lokis and the bodies just keep piling up.
  • Cheetah: Under the Moon: Invoked by Priscilla Rich during the ritual to become the new Cheetah. Although she's unable to understand why Barbara gave up her power, she's glad that it happened, because she says there's room for only one Cheetah.
  • With this Ring... (Green Lantern): According Zamaron custom, the four Star Sapphires must fight each other until only one remains. The victor is proclaimed Queen of the Zamarons.
    Remoni-Notra: I congratulate you on your victory, Green Lanterns. Nonetheless, I must prove my claim to the crown, as is our custom, by combat.
    John Stewart: Now, wait a minute. This woman's just been through hell and a half. You can't expect her to just get up and fight you like that. I don't care what kind of customs you've got. You do that, and we're gonna show you an old custom from my old 'hood—the gang fight.
    Carol Ferris: It is the tribal custom, John. There are four Star Sapphires in each generation. They battle until all but one is defeated. The one who remains is the true Star Sapphire. By their law, I am required to... to fight her.
  • Hearts of Ice: When Ranma claims the power of the Neko-Ken, Shadowcat decides to fight him to death because, as far as he is concerned, there cannot be two Neko-Ken masters.
  • Death Note Chaotic: The basis of the story. Five Shinigami drop Death Notes into the human world, and place bets on who will be the last human alive.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Belko Experiment: In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company's intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed. ~Summary from IMDB
  • The prisoners in Breathing Room are eliminated one by one as they either kill each other or are eliminated for not having discovered why they are there.
  • Circle: The people in the room can't choose themselves, only other people, meaning there will be a single survivor after the elimination process has run its course. However, as someone points out later, when it comes down to the final two, it will inevitably be a Mutual Kill unless one person sacrifices themselves by not voting.
  • In the (not nearly as awesome as it sounds) film The Clones of Bruce Lee, a Mad Scientist gets some DNA from the recently deceased Bruce Lee and makes some clones. Eventually he plans to Take Over the World. But for some reason his method of doing so involves only creating three Bruces, and then having them fight to the death because he only wants the best one.
  • Godzilla vs. Kong: Discussed by the humans. Dr. Andrews believes that Godzilla will hunt Kong down and fight him to the death the moment Kong steps out of his original territory's borders and into Godzilla's global territory, saying that two Alpha Titans can't coexist with each-other in the same place. The Big Bad Wannabe Walter Simmons, with his monstrously warped notion of humanism, uses this ideology to justify creating Mechagodzilla and planning to get rid of the Alpha Titans, saying there can only be one reigning alpha species and he intends for it to be a monster that's under complete HUMAN control (which isn't as good a thing as it sounds in this setting). Both Andrews and Simmons are ultimately proven wrong in the end, when Godzilla and Kong not only put their animosity aside to destroy Mechagodzilla once Ghidorah's subconsciousness has possessed it, but afterwards the two Alphas opt to bury the hatchet with each-other and peacefully go their separate ways, with Kong reigning in the Hollow Earth whilst Godzilla maintains his dominance on the surface world.
  • Highlander, the trope namer itself, has immortal beings who can die only by decapitation. They are fated to fight and kill each other until the last one standing obtains all knowledge of the world and the right to spend the rest of their life as a mortal.
  • How I Won The War has a variation on this. When people are killed, they became a coloured (meaning they turn into red, blue, green etc.) version of themselves, but still can help. Only the main character survives at the end.
  • The Killing Room (2009). Four subjects are locked in a room for a psychological experiment. They're then told only one can get out alive.
  • The whole point of Kingsman training in Kingsman: The Secret Service. The Kingsmen begin with eleven candidates and then put them through more and more rigorous training and tests until only one is left. This person is then inducted into the agency, because it’s now obvious that pretty much whatever is thrown at them, they can handle it.
  • The One had a man jumping from dimension to dimension to kill off Alternate Universe versions of himself, in order to gain power. This is noted to be a bad thing, however, as it's implied that if he succeeds it will destroy the dimension he's in.
    Yulaw: After this, there will be only one.
    Gabe Law: I will not be the one, but neither will you.
  • This happens towards the end of Transformers: Dark of the Moon during Optimus and Sentinel's final battle:
    Sentinel Prime: We were gods once, all of us! But here, there can only be one!
  • Upgrade: STEM targets the murderers of Grey's wife not necessarily because of revenge, but because they are other cyborgs, and it wants to be the only one. It also kills its creator to prevent him from creating another STEM chip.

  • Battle Royale: Put a bunch of kids together and watch them kill each other, for fun. This book, the movie that was adapted from it, and the works that followed gave rise to the "Battle Royale Genre" to describe plots of this nature.
  • The Hunger Games is a Zig-Zagging Trope: With only a few competitors left, the Capitol makes an announcement that if the last two survivors are from the same district, they will be co-winners. Katniss and Peeta become the last two survivors, but the Capitol revokes the earlier announcement, and there will only be one winner after all. They decide to commit double suicide rather than attempt to kill each other, and the Capitol backs down, deciding that having two winners is better than not having any.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: This is Gilbert Norrell's attitude toward magic. In fact his chief concern as officially sanctioned magician is to make sure there are no other magicians in Britain.
  • Stephen King's The Long Walk (written as Richard Bachman). The last one to be alive is declared the winner.
  • During Galaxy of Fear, Tash's clone pretty much spells it out.
    "There isn't room in this life for both of us. And since I'm stronger - you'll just have to go."
  • This is a recurring theme in A Song of Ice and Fire.
    Stannis Baratheon: "One King means peace."

    Live-Action TV 
  • The various installments in the Survivor franchise, as well as most other competitive reality shows.
  • The plot-central Scions of Revelations both play this straight and (slightly) subvert it: the Final Battle will occur when there are exactly two of them, leading some people to try killing them off to speed things up, while others seek to save them in a Race Against the Clock... but not all the Scions are known, and some of the claimants are bluffing, deluded, or already dead (no, really!). There is always a feeling that their numbers are running out, but it isn't clear until very late exactly how close things are.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • This occurs in Kamen Rider BLACK on a smaller scale. A duel between two riders in a contest of who is to be God.
    • The Rider War in Kamen Rider Ryuki is probably the most well known example of this trope in Kamen Rider. In this series, 13 Riders fight it out to the death. The winner gets to have his or her wish granted. The alternate universe version portrayed in Kamen Rider Decade turned this battle into a trial, in which the victor of the battle gets to determine wether the accused is guilty or not.
    • Each of the 52 Undead in Kamen Rider Blade is an immortal avatar of one of the species on earth. Once in every ten thousand years, they fight against each other in a Battle Royale to determine which species gets to rule the earth. In the previous Battle, the Human Undead won, thus making humanity the dominant species. It turns out that the Battle taking place during the series was manipulated by the organization BOARD. Their plan was to create their own artificial Undead and have it win the Battle, thus allowing the chairman of BOARD to recreate the world in his image.
    • This occurs in the Kamen Rider Decade movie where Decade, having embraced his role as the Destroyer of Worlds, sets out to defeat every Kamen Rider.
    • In Kamen Rider Gaim it is slowly revealed that the only way to save the world from being destroyed is to claim the legendary Golden Fruit, which gives its eater godlike powers. Naturally, multiple factions start fighting over it, resulting in this trope. In the end,Kouta Kazuraba and Kaito Kumon become the only two remaining riders worthy enough to claim the Golden Fruit and fight to the death for the right to rule the world with it.
    • Kamen Rider Geats has this trope as its basic premise: Riders battle each other in the Desire Grand Prix, with the winner getting to reshape the world into their ideal image.
  • In the universe of Wizards of Waverly Place, only one child per wizard family, ie: the winner of the wizard contest, is allowed to keep his/her powers and become a full wizard. Though the Russo family becomes an exception, 2 of the 3 kids get to keep their powers.
  • Implied in season 6 of Lost, with the revelation that several main characters are candidates to replace Jacob as protector of the island, but only one will be able to actually fill this role.
  • This trope is most of Sylar's plotline in Heroes, in Season 1 especially, and in Season 3:Volume 4 when he teams up with Danko to eliminate them all, there is also the lines
    Danko: If we do this - if we succeed - you'd be the only one left.
    Sylar: Funny how that works.
  • In the Season 10 premiere of Smallville, the old Lex clone states that "there can only be one Lex Luthor" before using an improvised flamethrower on the other clones.
  • On the Angel Season 5 episode "Destiny" Lindsey and Eve deceive Angel and Spike into believing that the existence of two champion vampires with a soul is causing universal chaos.
  • In Community episode Modern Warfare only the last man standing will receive the prize.
  • In The Flash (2014), Zoom's goal is to be the only super speedster in the entire multiverse, so he murders anybody else who has super speed.
  • Played for Laughs in a Key & Peele sketch where two Magical Negroes both appear to dispense advice to the same depressed white man and proceed to battle to the death.
    "There can be only one...Magical Negro."
  • Highlander, the Trope Namer along with the films. All Immortals know the phrase, and many of them use it as a Pre-Mortem One-Liner just before taking another Immortal's head. It's given an extra twist by Kenny the kid Immortal:
    Kenny: The way I see it, MacLeod, in the end there can be only one — and it might as well be me.
  • In Squid Game, the contestants discover that the price for failing a game is death. And eventually they come to realize that there can only be one winner for the 45.6 billion won, as a husband and wife team learn to their horror...


    Professional Wrestling 
  • Tasha Simone at times had the opinion that women couldn't be wrestlers, only one woman could, that was her, and she'd be fine wrestling men. Whether or not this this was limited to a single enterprise or extended to the sport in its entirety varied. Evolve later ran this with Bradi Lauren.
  • CHIKARA's Torneo Cibernetico(which they got from Mexican feds like CMLL) is an 8-on-8 elimination tag team match that can only have one person left. In the event that the entire second team has been eliminated but there are even two people left on the first team, those two have to wrestle each other and whoever defeats the other is the winner.

    Tabletop Games 
  • When the Druid and Monk classes were first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons (in the Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements, respectively), the rules restricted the numbers of higher-level characters in the classes. If you wanted to advance to the upper echelons, you had to defeat one of the characters who already held that rank. At the highest levels, each class allowed only a single individual. This carried into the first edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.
    • The first edition of AD&D had much the same thing going on with Assassins. The highest two levels, 14 and 15 are reached by taking over an assassin's guild by killing the Guildmaster (a 14th-level assassin) and by finding and killing one of the existing Grandmasters in order to reach Grandmaster level (15th) yourself.
    • A lesser example is the Green Star Adept Prestige Class. You become one by using the fragments of a certain green comet to make a potion, and then you have to keep taking it until in the end, you transform into a living sentient golem. The problem is, there is only so much comet matter falling from the skies, so the relationship between individual Adepts is, to put it mildly, somewhat strained.
  • The Wizards of High Sorcery in Dragonlance function the same way, although at least in the case of the White and Red robes murder isn't the best way to get to the top rank.
  • Talisman: The Command Spell rule which starts killing off the other players only applies if one character is at the Crown of Command. If another character makes it up there, the contending characters must fight each other until only one is left standing, and other characters can catch up in the interim.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! has the card "There Can Be Only One" ("Sensor Differentiation" in Japanese), which is named after the line from Highlander in the TCG. Its effect is loosely related to the trope in that it prevents both players from controlling more than one monster of each Type, and if they control more than one monster of a Type, they must send cards they control to the Graveyard so that they only control one of that Type.

    Video Games 
  • The Baldur's Gate series basically revolves around the mortal children of the God of Murder, who he created before his death to inherit his power and become his successor. In the first game, one of his sons plans to start a brutal and bloody war to use all the fallen as a sacrifice in a ritual that will turn him to the new God of Murder. In the Grand Finale in the addon to the second game, all the remaining children start to hunt down and kill each other to absorb all the fragments of their fathers divine power and become a god. The god in question actually planned for them to all die so their energy could be used to bring him back to life. Of course, this doesn't go quite as planned either... and the player character can take his powers at the end of it all. Without killing absolutely all the others, since Imoen can give up her share of the power voluntarily and Sarevok no longer has his after being resurrected.
    • This is already cryptically hinted at by Sarevok's line in the opening cinematic of the first game, when the player has no idea what's going on.
    "I will be the last! And you will go first..."
  • The central premise behind the Battle Royale Game genre codified by Player Unknowns Battlegrounds and Fortnite where players, either in teams or as individuals must eliminate one another until a winner stands alone.
  • Shin Megami Tensei:
    • Digital Devil Saga had a concept similar to this, with individuals replaced by entire tribes fighting each other for dominance. When a tribe's leader is defeated, the remainder of the tribe must swear loyalty to the victor, and this continues until only one tribe remains. The winning tribe then gets to ascend to Nirvana. This also stays true for the novels as well.
    • In Persona 3: FES, the ex-SEES members discover that they can break out of the Time Skip by assembling the eight fragments of the Key of Time, of which each of them possesses one. Naturally, a disagreement breaks out over how to use this power (more specifically, whether to go back to the past or continue in the present); they solve it by arranging a four-way fight, with the members all pairing off against one another.
    • In Devil Survivor, the King of Bel has the power to command all of demon-kind. To become King of Bel, a being with a fragment of Bel's original power must defeat all of his fellows and absorb their fragments as well. The player character is one of them, the only human Bel. This gets him hunted by several powerful Bel demons... until he starts hunting them down instead.
    • In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, the Conception is supposed to work like this: formulate a Reason (an idea for a new world to replace the dead one), gather enough Magatsuhi to summon a deity interested in backing your idea, destroy your opponents (anyone else who has developed a Reason and/or summoned their own patron) and finally confront Kagutsuchi with the blessing of your god to have your idea implemented, with the laws of reality itself changing to accomodate your wish. There are a number of ways to break the game, though.
  • Blanca's Wolf Bout Sidequest in Shadow Hearts: Covenant is based around fighting the other wolves in the world to prove his strength. The last battle is against Ernest, the man who told you about the tournament to begin with. He reveals that he was a hunter who wanted to isolate the strongest wolf in the world to test himself again. And he fights you in a fursuit. Victory earns you Blanca's special moves and ultimately his Infinity +1 Sword.
  • The modus operandi of Big Bad Nemesis in Black & White: he spends the game killing off all the other deities so he can Take Over the World.
  • No More Heroes: The game revolves around Travis Touchdown, 11th best assassin in the United Assassins Association, working his way up the rankings by killing off the top ten one by one. One of the series's themes, which started near the end of the first game and is rampant through the second one, is that there will always be more assassins coming up from behind, so there will never really be "just one".
  • This is the driving point behind Unreal Tournament's Last Man Standing mode.
  • Two of Big Boss's three clones claim "The world needs only one Big Boss!" The third clone, Solid Snake doesn't buy it.
  • When Big Boss reappears in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, he says "The world needs only one... No, the world would be best without Snakes."
  • One advertisement for World of Warcraft features Ozzy Osbourne himself claiming that "There can be only one Prince of Darkness!"
  • Team Fortress 2:
    • If one melee-equipped Demoman defeats another such "Demoknight," he will sometimes scream "THERE CAN BE OOOOOONLYYYY OOOONEE!... Eye."
    • This is essentially the typical outcome of any match played in Arena mode. There is no respawn and to win each team has to kill everyone opposing them. More often than not, the winning team has only one or two people still standing.
    • Then there's the Highlander 9vs9 mode, named as such because there can be only one of each class on each team at any time.
  • The whole point of Twisted Metal is Calypso staging an annual Vehicular Combat tournament where drivers ranging from ordinary dudes to complete psychopaths kill each other until only one emerges victorious and claims the grand price of one wish of whatever the heart desires. However, as tempting as wishing for anything is, there are always consequences...
  • There are two Apostle candidates in Duel Savior Destiny, both of which can potentially become the Messiah who will remake the universe. One of them has to kill the other for them to become the complete Messiah. Though there are loopholes: Claiming the Messiah Armor or sitting in God's Throne will also work.
  • The Mahjarrat of RuneScape sacrifice one of their number in a Ritual of Rejuvenation approximately once every 500 years. As there are a finite number of Mahjarrat, eventually only one will remain.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In series' lore, the Khajiit are led by the Mane, an unofficial "head of state" for all Khajiit. The Mane is not a standard sub-species of Khajiit, but tradition holds that only one Mane may be alive at any one time, since the Mane is one entity reborn in different bodies with the passage of time. The veracity of this is unknown, but there has been no recorded instance of multiple Manes contending for power.
    • The Dragonborn DLC for Skyrim begins with the First Dragonborn, Miraak, sending his cult members to eliminate the Player Character for being a "False Dragonborn" and an obvious threat to his power. The Dragonborn survives the attempt and journeys to Solstheim, hellbent on hunting him down.
  • In the war between the Pretender gods over who shall succeed as Pantokrator in Dominions, only one can truly ascend to divinity and the rest must be destroyed or thwarted. Any alliance is but a temporary measure.
    • There is an alternative introduced in 4, a Disciples game, where one Pretender on a team competes for ascension, and the others are disciples, who spread the dominion of the leader and are presumably awarded on their ascension.
  • In Fate/Grand Order:
    • Mysterious Heroine X is yet another Saber/Artoria Pendragon Expy. Her main goal is to kill all others who share her face, "Saberfaces". This includes Saber, Mordred, Nero, and Jeanne d'Arc. Though even just being a Saber is enough to put someone in her crosshairs. This also doesn't exclude herself from from the hit list, as an alternate version of her (Ultra Heroine Z) comes to take her out for failing to complete her mission.
    • In a more serious example, the second expansion Cosmos in the Lostbelt has seven alternate timelines brought back from their Cessation of Existence by an all-powerful Foreign God and forced to compete with one another to determine which warped history will replace the proper version of human history. The original timeline also has to go along with this battle royale in order to fix Earth and oust the Foreign God, annihilating the other timelines in the process.
  • This is the Big Bad's plan in The Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3. He/she is a clone of Commander Shepard who plans to kill and replace him/her.
  • In Yakuza, Kazuma Kiryu, "The Dragon of Dojima", is considered The Paragon and all-around biggest badass of the criminal underworld, leading to at least one rival per game being driven by jealousy or ambition to defeat him and become the next "Dragon", frequently with the Tattooed Crook sporting dragon tattoos of their own just to emphasise this tropenote . Yakuza 2 makes this an overarching element of the entire game's plot due to Ryuji Goda, an Osakan yakuza known as the "Dragon of Kansai", a title he hates because it implies the existence of other dragons and, as far as he's concerned, there can be only one dragon — and that means the Dragon of Dojima has got to go.
  • The premise of Lords of the Realm 2 is that five nobles are warring over a Succession Crisis. Alliances can be made, but are inherently temporary; if you and your AI ally are the only nobles left standing, the AI will immediately break the alliance, citing this trope.
  • In Mega Man ZX, it's repeatedly mentioned that the "Game of Destiny" is meant to be fought out between The Chosen Many until only one remains to claim the power of Model W and become the Mega Man King. The majority of the villains are on board with this, while heroes are only interested in stopping the villains from murdering countless innocents in their quest to wake up Model W. And practically name-dropped by Master Albert to his (now unnecessary) backup plan Grey, declaring that with Ouroboros' completion and his own plans about to bear fruit, there's no need for a "spare" ultimate Mega Man.
  • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV, this is how the Seven Rivalries work: battles between Divine Knight Awakeners must be fought at a certain arena and the winner of the battle will absorb the Divine Knight of the loser. Only Crow and Ordine are spared but only because Rean desperately reverses the process but is still susceptible of disappearing if Rean loses the fight. Class VII figures that if they can combine six of the seven divine knights, they can then take on Osborne who is riding the seventh divine knight, Ishmelga.
  • Super Robot Wars X has Duo Maxwell and Death God both agree that Al-Warth only has room for one Shinigami if the two face off.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night involves seven mages who summon spirits of heroes to fight each other in a deadly conflict known as the Holy Grail War. The last spirit standing gains the Holy Grail, which grants a wish. (Killing a mage is a good way to get at the spirit they summoned.)
    • It's really only one because humans can't touch the Grail, so the Servant does it. Then they get sucked in and turned into fuel like the others for the wish of the Master. By this point, nobody really remembers the mechanics of how it works anymore because no one's ever won. Well, technically Kiritsugu won the last one, but that didn't count.
  • Kajiri Kamui Kagura, the third game of the Shinza Bansho Series (which is most known for Dies Irae) has the Hadou Gods. Constantly expanding sentient cosmic forces, who will devour each other until only one is left to become the Godhead, should they ever clash against each other.

  • Parodied on Ansem Retort. Season Six started with the casts of various reality shows being brutally murdered. Upon finding out they're the only cast left, Axel declares, "WE'RE THE FUCKING HIGHLANDER OF REALITY TV!"
  • Spoofed in the Harry Potter parody comic House Sparklypoo. The members of the titular house discover to their horror that they're losing their specialness. Their teacher suggests that it's because each of them is supposed to be the best, but obviously only one person can be the best at anything. Cue massive throwdown as the Sparklypoos try to kill one another in order to regain their special powers, culminating in the destruction of Sparklypoo Tower by an errant Dragon Slave.
  • R2-D2's player from Darths & Droids claims that if he were to clone himself, "We'd fight to the death, and the winner would be the new me." The DM is inspired by this to have one of the villains copy his mind multiple times and then fight each other.
  • In El Goonish Shive, this is possibly subverted; while Lord Tedd is supposedly out to kill the "weak Tedds," Nioi insisted that he was misunderstood, and it is clear from various hints that he has a Freudian Excuse lurking in the shadows. Unfortunately, due to the Kudzu Plot, he's been Put on a Bus, so it'll be some time before we find out why.
  • In Impure Blood, this was the rule of the Gladiator Games. Roan lasted for years — and finally escaped.
  • In one arc of Vexxarr where Minionbot's OS was accidentally copied into a repair drone the two of them tried to destroy each other to the point where all that was left of either was their heads, then they were subjected to a Split-Personality Merge and the drone head crushed. Later Carl forced his backup copies to fight one another to the death to determine which AI was the most paranoid and ruthless on board, and for his own amusement.
  • Nodwick had a Highlander parody issue, in which this trope was naturally a major plot point.
  • In Charby the Vampirate Rose sister Rosemary has this reaction upon meeting Rosemary Petrucci, ultimately subverted as the other Rose Sisters prevent her from attacking. As an elite Petrucci is immortal anyway.
  • DICE: The Cube That Changes Everything: For the final quest X decides to halt the rest of the Dice games and makes everyone battle royale each other under limited time until there's only one left.

    Web Originals 
  • This exchange from ASDF Movie 8:
    Girl 1: My boyfriend said I'm the most beautiful girl in the world!
    Girl 2: [giggles] My boyfriend said that, too!
    Girl 1: [stabs Girl 2] THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE.
  • Survival of the Fittest. It's based off Battle Royale, therefore this should also be fairly self-explanatory. For those of you not in the know, the idea is that an island full of students are to kill each other until there is only one survivor.
  • The Kazahana Family Mass Battle web collaboration by Lifepoint One Entertainment focuses on a family whose first head has decreed that the legacy of his fortune be sealed, and passed onto a direct descendant of his own blood, 600 years after his death. One of the Kazahanas, unsupervised by the others, sowed his seeds far and wide, and 600 years later, there are now hundreds of Kazahana descendants, and with only one of them destined to claim the fortune, the stage is set for a bloody and violent battle.
  • Being based on Fate/stay night, Fate/Nuovo Guerra follows this convention, though exactly how long until one is left is vaguer, as the 'seven mages' limit has been removed.
  • The first season of Re Evolution used this trope.
  • Shack Tactical has an Arma mod called "The Game", where a large group of civilians have been poisoned, and will only be given a dose of the cure after they kill their "quarry", another random civilian who is also poisoned. If they fail to kill their target, the poison kills them. Once they do kill their target, they get enough of the cure to prolong their life... and a new quarry to kill. Meanwhile, that person could be the quarry of one or several other civilians who are equally desperate to live, and equally willing to kill in order to keep living. Rinse and repeat until only one civilian is left standing. (And just for fun x-factors, killing a civilian who isn't either your quarry or hunting you will make you lose health, and there's also a local police force, most of whom are incompetent and overwhelmed, but some are just looking for a chance to get in on the action.) Here's a short clip of The Game to give you an idea of what it's all about.
  • When The Derp Crew has gaming sessions, ZeRoyalViking and AphexArcade sometimes get into a rivalry due to both of them being named Steven, and try to kill each other in-game and declare that only they can be the true Steven.

    Western Animation 
  • How Leonard of Ugly Americans regenerated after Mark accidentally killed him. Though it wasn't supposed to be that way, the regeneration urn holding his pieces together broke.
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force has this bit.
  • Kim Possible's Mission Control Wade says this to Rufus after it becomes apparent that, thanks to some brain-enhancing machinery, the naked mole rat might be smarter than him. Wade must take his role as The Smart Guy very seriously.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode Princess Twilight Sparkle Part 1, Princess Luna declares herself the only princess in Equestria before becoming Nightmare Moon.
  • This is why Foop fights Poof in The Fairly OddParents!, believing there can be only one fairy baby in the universe. However, Fridge Logic dictates that without Poof, Foop can't exist either. This comes up in the special "Timmy's Secret Wish".
  • Roger on American Dad! believes that Christmas cheer works this way.
    Hayley: Wow, great sweater, Roger.
    Roger: [drunkenly] Thanks, I totally sniped it from a guy on eBay. I not only stole the sweater, I stole his holiday spirit and that made my holiday spirit grow stronger. Because, that's how it works, right? Like "Highlander"? There can be only one?
  • In the Rick and Morty episode "Mortyplicity", it's revealed that Rick made a series of Ridiculously Human Robots as "decoy families", which then end up killing each other believing they're the real ones. "Rick" refers to the phenomenon as an "Asimov Cascade" and references Highlander during his explanation, before expressing disappointment that no one else saw it.
  • Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) states that there is only one "Destroyer", and it is him, not an empty suit of armor. Drax quotes this trope during his battle with the Destroyer Armor in episode 13 "Stuck in the Metal with You".
  • In a clear nod to the above-mentioned scene in Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie, the crossover in OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes has Metal K.O. fall into a vat of water. When Sonic goes to pull him out, Metal K.O. slaps away his hand, declaring, "There is only one little buddy!"

    Real Life 
  • United States Presidential Campaigns. This show lasts for over a year, with plenty of suspense and commentary. The losers get to make tearful speeches, either endorsing the winner at the convention, or conceding defeat in the general election. A nonlethal example, the Consolation Prize usually being either a Cabinet position or the lecture circuit depending on whether or not one's party wins. Sadly, the election does not involve the candidates dueling each other with swords...
  • The Roman Emperor Diocletian chose to divide it into two parts (east and west), each ruled by an Augustus (Diocletian in the east, Maximian in the west) assisted by a Caesar, who would, on the death of the Augustus, take his place and appoint a new lieutenant-emperor. This system meant there would always be at least four people with imperial rank. It worked well initially under Diocletian, but, within a generation of his death, the whole thing was back under the control of a single emperor (Constantine the Great) via forcible removal of the others.
  • For unexplainable reasons, the human race is constantly trying to find "the best X of all time", all the time.
  • Tournaments. Any kind. Sports, Chess, Video Games... The whole point is to keep pairing people/teams up until only one remains and is declared the winner.
  • This is quite common in the upper echelons of modern business culture. Big companies in particular usually have a strict limit on how many people can hold certain positions with lots of influence and responsibility, and these numbers grow ever smaller the higher you get until you reach the very top, where naturally only one person can hold the reins. Getting promoted into these spheres is often only possible when one of the current incumbents retires or leaves the company for other reasons, and the viciousness of the scheming and backstabbing among power-hungry managers has been known to reach Klingon Promotion levels on occasion.
    • On a smaller scale, this is how promotions and job interviews tend to work in general: several people throw their hats into the ring, but only one usually gets the job. Some companies even hold actual competitions between the applicants that can stretch over multiple days. These are usually aimed at assessing not only the applicants' expertise but also their capability to keep it together in prolonged high-stress situations.
  • Heartwarmingly subverted in the high jump at the 2020 Olympics. The two top scores, posted by Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy, were identical, so the officials were prepared to stage a jump-off to break the tie for gold, but Barshim and Tamberi, who had been close friends for many years, told the officials they didn't want the tie broken and asked if the rules allowed for them to both win gold. The official told them that it was allowed as long as both of them agreed to it, and the pair were later seen holding hands on the medal platform as they received their gold medals.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): There Can Only Be One


Evil Steve

In another universe, there's a Steve that's traveling the multiverse to kill other Steves to collect their Steveness. Unfortunately for him, he accidentally gets taken out by Principal Lewis in his car.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / EvilDoppelganger

Media sources: